Israel's Cabinet approves troops next West Bank troop pullback

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The Independent Online

The Israeli government today overwhelmingly approved a troop pullback from five percent of the West Bank, ushering in the next phase of its interim land-for-security agreement with the Palestinians.

The Israeli government today overwhelmingly approved a troop pullback from five percent of the West Bank, ushering in the next phase of its interim land-for-security agreement with the Palestinians.

The 17-1 vote, with one abstention, came just after Israeli troops evicted hundreds of Jewish settlers from an illegal West Bank encampment that had turned into a symbol of resistance to Prime Minister Ehud Barak's land-for-peace deals.

The eviction, coupled with the approval of the next pullback, will further improve the atmosphere as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators try to reach agreement on the broad outlines of a final peace treaty by February, said Israeli Trade Minister Ran Cohen.

"This is an excellent step forward for the peace process between us and the Palestinian Authority," said Cohen told The Associated Press after the three-hour Cabinet meeting.

In the interim peace accord signed in September, Israel pledged to withdraw from 18.1 percent of the West Bank in three stages, ending in January. In 11 percent of the land targeted for withdrawal, Israel previously had sole control, while in the remaining 7.1 percent, it ruled jointly with the Palestinians.

In September, Israel transferred 7 percent of the West Bank to Palestinian administrative control, while remaining in charge of security.

In the second stage, to be carried out Monday, Israel will transfer two percent of the land from joint to sole Palestinian control, and will hand three percent from sole Israeli control to joint administration. The two largest chunks of land are around the northern West Bank town of Jenin and a nature reserve to be established east of the southern West Bank town of Hebron.

The withdrawal map was to go on display at Israel's parliament later Wednesday before being shown to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

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