Israelis start West Bank pullback

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The Independent Online
ISRAEL IS to start its pullback on the West Bank today after the cabinet yesterday finally approved the withdrawal agreed three weeks ago at the Wye Plantation in the US but which was held up by disputes over detail.

In the first stage of the pullout from territory captured by Israel in 1967, the army is handing over to full Palestinian control 160 square miles of hills and valleys around the country town of Jenin in the north of the West Bank. Another 44 square miles come under joint Israeli-Palestinian control.

The Israeli army is expected to use large black and yellow road markers to demarcate the frontier of the new territorial jigsaw puzzle on the West Bank, where some 165,000 Jewish settlers live among 1.5 million Palestinians. Israel will also release 250 Palestinian jail inmates, though Palestinians complain these are mostly criminals, rather than security or political prisoners.

The way for the implementation of the agreement was cleared yesterday when the Israeli cabinet voted by seven to five with three abstentions to go ahead with it.

Ministers were earlier shown Palestinian decrees banning illegal guns and a ban on incitement to violence. Ten Palestinians alleged to be involved in acts of violence against Israel were also jailed by the Palestinian Authority, supervised by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

The first stage of Israel's 12-week redeployment on the West Bank will not make a dramatic difference to the lives of Palestinians living in the Jenin area, which is largely agricultural. No Israeli settlements are being dismantled though several are being fortified because they will in future be close to Palestinian-controlled territory.

At Psagot, near the Palestinian town of Ramallah, Israeli troops were starting to build concrete trenches as firing positions yesterday. Elsewhere they were unloading rolls of barbed wire.

It is the first Israeli pullback since the partition of Hebron last year and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has sought to secure his right-wing support by portraying the Wye Agreement as containing the very minimum of concessions to the Palestinians which he could negotiate. Earlier this week the Israeli parliament approved the accord by 75 to 19, with the opposition voting in favour of it.

In a sign that friction between Israel and the Palestinians is not going to decrease, Israel has accelerated the legal process of taking over 125,000 acres or 10 per cent of the West Bank as state land that can now be used for the expansion of settlements.

The government has set aside $45m (pounds 270m) to strengthen the fortifications of 18 settlements. Israel is also looking for $1.2bn from the US to fund redeployment, according to the Israeli press.

The territorial withdrawal by Israel under the terms of the Wye Agreement, in effect the much-delayed interim phase of the Oslo accords, entails handing control of 14.2 per cent of the West Bank to the Palestinians and establishing joint Israeli-Palestinian control on 13 per cent.

This will take place in three stages, dependent on security.

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