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Israel to withdraw from two West Bank towns



JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel will withdraw its troops from the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jala on Saturday, a move spurred by talks with Palestinian officials and intense international pressure.

The agreement came during a trilateral meeting Friday involving Israeli and Palestinian officials and U.S. mediators, more than a week after Israeli forces swept into six Palestinian towns following the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehaven Ze'evi.

"Israel intends to withdraw from the Palestinian areas when and where the Palestinian Authority decides to observe the cease-fire," Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said earlier Friday.

Another high-level meeting will be held Sunday to discuss Israel's withdrawal from the four other Palestinian areas in the West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian security officials said.

The agreement followed another day of violence, with three Palestinians killed as they tried infiltrate a Jewish settlement in Gaza, according to Israeli military and Palestinian sources.

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The Izzedine El Kassam brigades of the Hamas military wing claimed responsibility for the attempt to penetrate the settlement of Dugit, on the northern Gaza strip.

"The IDF force identified three armed Palestinians near the settlement, charged towards them and killed them," an Israel Defense Forces spokesman said.

Israel radio reported that the electronic fence surrounding the settlement in northern Gaza was cut, sending a signal that alerted Israeli soldiers.

The three dead have been identified as Iyad Al-Batsh, 21, Othnan Razayna, 23, and Fuad El-Dahshan, 17. Five other Palestinians died in West Bank gunfire Thursday.

Palestinian officials condemned Ze'evi's killing and said they had arrested 33 members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which claimed responsibility for the killings. The Palestinian Authority has also outlawed the PFLP's military branch.

But Israel said its military action was necessary because it did not feel the Palestinian Authority was doing enough to round up Ze'evi's killer or killers. More than 40 Palestinians have been killed during the past week. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has called on Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian areas of the West Bank and said that targeted assassinations and retaliatory strikes would only make the situation even more volatile.

"All you have to do is look at the events of the past several days to see that things get worse," Powell said.

In addition, the United States called on Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat to arrest those responsible for last week's assassination.

Other nations have also been pressuring Israel to pull back its troops, urging both sides to return to the peace table. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer met Friday with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat after meeting Thursday with a consortium of diplomats.



 
 
 
 


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