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Israel prepares to release cities to Palestinians

Palestinians pass by an Israeli soldier guard at Surda junction near the entrance to the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Palestinians pass by an Israeli soldier guard at Surda junction near the entrance to the West Bank town of Ramallah.

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RAMALLAH (CNN) -- Israel has agreed to hand over security control of four more Palestinian cities -- Jericho, Qalqilya, Tulkarem and Ramallah -- the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Ministry of Defense said Friday.

The Israeli ministry, however, said it will be an incremental change of authority. Next week, the Palestinian Authority will take over Jericho and Qalqilya. In two weeks, the handover of Tulkarem and Ramallah will occur if the Palestinian Authority meets three conditions: a cessation of terror attacks, steps by the Palestinian Authority to fight the terror infrastructure, and the initiation of an Israeli-approved supervision plan of wanted men.

A statement from the Palestinian Authority did not refer to the conditions. It said the agreement to turn over the cities came Friday afternoon in a meeting between the Palestinian minister of internal security, Mohammad Dahlan, and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

The two sides agreed to meet Sunday to set a timetable for the handover, it said. In addition, the two sides agreed the handover of the four cities should be completed no later than September 29, the statement said.

It was the second meeting between the two ministers in less than 24 hours.

In the meeting, the Palestinians demanded that Israel remove the roadblocks that surround the cities involved in the handover and increase the number of permits that allow workers and businessmen from those cities to enter Israel.

Israel promised to accede to that request gradually and said it would also increase the number of permits for Palestinians in cities yet to be handed over to the authority, according to the statement.

In addition, the Israeli side promised to dismantle a number of the army roadblocks that are scattered throughout the West Bank and to ease the movement of Palestinians through the rest of the roadblocks, the statement said.

Previously, Israel had turned over Gaza City and Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority.

Israel said previously the handovers were intended to strengthen the hand of the Palestinian Authority against militants.

Separately, Palestinian officials have asked Israel to allow Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to travel to Gaza to visit the grave of his sister, who died a few days ago, Palestinian sources said.

The request came in a meeting between Palestinian Internal Security Minister Mohammed Dahlan and Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, whom sources said indicated he would like to approve the trip.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon must approve such a request. Israeli officials have said previously that Arafat can travel anywhere he wants but indicated they would not allow him to return.

Arafat has been a virtual prisoner in his compound in Ramallah since Israeli troops moved into the city in December 2001.

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