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ARABS-ISRAEL - Mar 16 - Jericho Pull-out Under Way Despite Final Hitch.

The Israeli army begins pulling back from the West Bank town of Jericho, the first area to be returned to PA control since Israel reoccupied the territory in 2002. The much-delayed handover was again held up at the last minute when it emerged the Israelis had forgotten to bring a document needed to formalise the handover. Israeli and Palestinian commanders toured the outskirts of the oasis town in the Jordan Valley during the morning to negotiate final details of how far the writ of the Palestinian security forces would run. Asked if the two sides would seal the agreement with a handshake, Israeli liaison officer Sharon Biton, said: Whenever we meet, we usually kiss, but not in front of the cameras. After all, everyone has a mother at home". The withdrawal is part of a promised Israeli pullback from West Bank towns that was agreed at a summit in Egypt last month between PA president Mahmoud Abbas, and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon. Abbas has been criticised by Palestinians for not insisting on a speedier withdrawal. However, a senior Israeli commander in the West Bank said the PA had been reluctant to take responsibility for some areas. The Palestinians did not receive all they asked for in Jericho; the Israeli army will retain checkpoints on the outskirts, although checks on Palestinians leaving will be random. Ahmad Riyd, senior Palestinian officer in Jericho, sought assurances that a fortified Israel emplacement north of the town would be reduced to the status of an observation post. "The Palestinian citizen needs to feel there is a change and that the humiliation of the checkpoints has ended", he told Moti Almoz, Israel's Jericho area brigade commander. "I will go personally to the checkpoints to see things through Palestinian eyes", the Israeli commander told him. For the time being Israel will not allow its citizens to enter Jericho. That means the Oasis Casino, formerly the town's biggest employer, is unlikely to reopen since most of its former customers were Israelis. The Jericho handover is due to be followed next week by the transfer of Tulkarem and Qalqiliyah, both walled off from Israel by the West Bank separation barrier. The senior West Bank commander told the FT that the army had offered to allow the PA to assume security control in Nablus and Jenin, which have been the focus of militancy during the four-year intifada, but that the Palestinians were reluctant to take responsibility. "We authorised them to carry weapons inside Nablus. Even if they're not going to fight terror, they can at least enforce law and order", said the officer. He said the situation had entered a new phase since Abbas's election. "We understood we would have to leave the cities and that would mean certain limitations on our abilities. I previously didn't have to ask permission to go in and arrest someone. Today every arrest has to go through the defence minister".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Geographic Code:7PALE
Date:Mar 19, 2005
Words:486
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