Tel Aviv renews withdrawal pledge

Israel has agreed to start a long delayed withdrawal of occupation forces from the West Bank cities of Jericho and Tulkaram.

    Jericho residents hope the withdrawal really will go ahead

    According to Israeli army radio on Monday, Tel Aviv had promised to withdraw troops from five West Bank cities before the 8 February peace summit in Egypt but the step was delayed for weeks because of disagreement over the scope of the withdrawal.
       
    Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz agreed at a meeting with Palestinian Interior Minister Nasir Yusuf to pull Israeli forces away from Jericho, at the banks of the Jordan River on Wednesday, and Tulkaram early next week, the radio said.
       
    Meanwhile, a group of 40 Americans, led by a New York state assemblyman, arrived in Israel on Monday in a show of solidarity with Jewish colonists living in the occupied Gaza Strip who are facing eviction back to Israel.

    The group is protesting against the planned evacuation of the 21 illegal settlements in Gaza as part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan, scheduled for this summer.

    Under the plan, Israel will pull out of the entire Gaza Strip but just four out of the dozens of West Bank settlements.

    US visitors

    "Why can't Jews and Palestinians live together if there is going to be peace?" asked the group leader, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat from Brooklyn.

    "Why should we throw Jews out of their homes? The only people who have thrown Jews out of their homes are the enemy," he said.

    Hikind said the trip was the first of many in which thousands of US Jews would come to Gaza to protest over the pullout. His group is to spend three days in Gaza. About 8500 settlers live in the occupied Gaza enclaves.

    Sharon has explained his pullout plan by saying that a small number of Israelis living among more than 1 million Palestinians is an untenable situation.

    At nightfall on Monday, several dozen settlers and their backers blocked a main highway at the entrance to Tel Aviv to protest against the planned pullout, causing a huge traffic jam.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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