ABC News: "Israeli forces pull out of Jericho , aiding Abbas"
"accord allows armed 'Palestinian police' to "keep militants in check" (!)
March 16, 2005
"...Palestinians flashed V-for-victory signs and sat down to festive picnics in Jericho as cranes loaded concrete blocks onto Israeli trucks at the city's main entrance and the two sides' officers met to wrap up the details.
The accord allows armed Palestinian police to operate with the obligation to keep militants in check.."
Israel Forces Pull Back from Jericho, Aiding Abbas
Mar. 16, 2005 - Israeli forces pulled back from Jericho on Wednesday, strengthening the hand of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as he seeks to commit militants to a formal ceasefire so that he can talk peace with Israel.
The withdrawal, delayed for weeks by disputes over its scope, marked the launch of a planned handover of five cities in the occupied West Bank to Palestinian control agreed at a Feb. 8 summit between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"From this moment we are resuming our control over the Jericho area," Palestinian security General Ahmed Eid said seconds after shaking hands with his Israeli counterpart in a short ceremony on Jericho's outskirts.
It was the first in a series to be held over coming hours in areas around the biblical oasis town where Palestinians were establishing a security presence to replace Israeli soldiers dismantling roadblocks.
The handover was expected to be completed in the afternoon.
Palestinians flashed V-for-victory signs and sat down to festive picnics in Jericho as cranes loaded concrete blocks onto Israeli trucks at the city's main entrance and the two sides' officers met to wrap up the details.
The accord allows armed Palestinian police to operate with the obligation to keep militants in check. In return, Israel agreed to end arrest raids and lift tough restrictions on movement of Palestinian inhabitants.
Israeli officers said the Jericho area would be given over to "full Palestinian security control," ending a military encirclement, and residents could travel freely to Ramallah, the hub of Palestinian government and commerce in the West Bank.
But Israeli soldiers would retain control over the nearby Jordan Valley transit highway used by many Israelis.
Sharon pledged to move troops away in phases from four other West Bank cities -- Tulkarm, Ramallah, Qalqilya and Bethlehem -- after Abbas promised to ensure militants mounted no further attacks from those areas.
KEY CEASEFIRE TALKS IN CAIRO
Abbas, elected in January to succeed the late Yasser Arafat on a platform of ending violence and embarking on "road map" negotiations for a Palestinian state, is meeting militant groups in Cairo this week to get them to declare a formal ceasefire.
A tacit deal to observe calm wrung by Abbas from militant leaders soon after his election has been prone to violations, including a Feb. 25 suicide bombing that killed five Israelis.
Militant leaders said any formal ceasefire depended on what Israel had to offer.
The Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups have demanded a timetable for an Israeli troop withdrawal and prisoner release as part of a package including a suspension of attacks on Israel, possibly for three months.
Abbas told the opening session of the meeting on Tuesday that the summit agreement on what he called "calm" with Israel had already produced benefits, but he said the Jewish state had to fulfil its part of the deal.
The Jericho handover had been delayed several times by differences over the number of checkpoints Israel would dismantle on roads leading to the city, once a popular spot for Israelis who flocked to its casino.
The desert city, whose region has a Palestinian population of around 40,000, has been largely calm throughout most of a Palestinian revolt that erupted in 2000.
Palestinians want the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as Arab East Jerusalem for the capital of a future state under the U.S.-devised "road map."
Sharon has announced plans to evacuate Israeli settlers and soldiers from Gaza later this year. But he has vowed to keep larger settlements in the West Bank and all of Jerusalem and is building a barrier around them.