Israel withdraws from Bethlehem

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Israel completed its withdrawal from Bethlehem and nearby Beit Jalla today and said it will pull out of four more West Bank towns if the Palestinians pledge to stop attacks

Palestinian security officials said they were patrolling positions Israeli forces evacuated, keeping the peace as called for by a US–brokered withdrawal agreement.

The Israelis said it was a test case for withdrawals from parts of four other towns occupied by Israel last week, Jenin, Qalqilya, Ramallah and Tulkarem.

Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben–Eliezer told Israel Army Radio that the pullbacks could proceed "the moment anyone gets up on the Palestinian side and says they take responsibility for security."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said that before further pullbacks, the Palestinians must arrest militants, outlaw rogue groups violating a cease–fire and turn over the assassins of ultranationalist Israeli Cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi, gunned down in Jerusalem on Oct. 17.

The differences reflect disagreements in Sharon's Cabinet. Representatives of Ben–Eliezer's moderate Labor party are growing uncomfortable with Israel's largest–scale incursion into Palestinian territory in seven years, while Sharon's hard–line allies are calling for even stiffer action.

In Hadera, four Israeli women were shot dead yesterday by two militants from the Jenin refugee camp. They were members of the Palestinian security forces and also the militant Islamic Jihad, Palestinians said.