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Israel, Palestinians Seek to Restore Truce

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    Israel, Palestinians Seek to Restore Truce http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story2&u=/ap/20050201/ap_on_re_mi_ea/israel_palestinians By MARK LAVIE,
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2005
      Israel, Palestinians Seek to Restore Truce

      By MARK LAVIE, Associated Press Writer

      JERUSALEM - Top Israeli and Palestinian security officials discussed restoring
      calm after a Palestinian girl was killed by gunfire and militants retaliated with
      mortar shelling of Jewish settlements, breaking an informal cease-fire that had
      brought rare calm to an area torn by four years of bloodshed.

      Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and senior Palestinian security adviser
      Mohammed Dahlan met late Monday at a hotel north of Tel Aviv. The planned agenda
      included measures to take advantage of the reduction in violence, like handing
      over West Bank towns to Palestinian control.

      But Monday's violence overshadowed the meeting, posing the first test of an
      informal truce worked out by the new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, in talks
      with militant groups.

      Ten-year-old Norhan Deeb was standing in her schoolyard in the Rafah refugee camp
      on the Gaza-Egypt border when she was hit in the head by a bullet. She died a few
      minutes later in a hospital, doctors said.

      Palestinian witnesses said the gunfire came from Israeli forces on the border,
      but the Israeli military said soldiers did not open fire in that part of Rafah,
      though there were two gunfire incidents elsewhere.

      "According to our examination, the girl apparently was not shot by Israeli army
      gunfire," the military spokesman's office said. Security officials, speaking on
      condition of anonymity, blamed Palestinians firing in the air to celebrate their
      return from the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, but residents denied that.

      Retaliation was swift. Palestinian militants fired at least 10 mortar shells at
      nearby Jewish settlements, damaging a building. No one was hurt.

      A statement issued by Hamas threatened further retaliation "if the crimes
      continue," implying that it would hold its fire if there is no further violence.

      That was the understanding of the Israeli military - that Hamas was trying to set
      a pattern of retaliation whenever it perceived an Israeli act of violence, all
      within the framework of a cease-fire.

      Mofaz told Dahlan that such an understanding was unacceptable, according to
      Israeli security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

      Mofaz said the Palestinian Authority (news - web sites) must stop the mortar
      fire, regardless of the explanation, and Palestinian police must progress from
      deployment to action to stop attacks. He said their performance in Gaza would
      influence the extent to which Israel would hand over responsibility in the West
      Bank, according to the officials. Over the past 10 days, Palestinian police have
      deployed through Gaza for the first time in several years.

      Dahlan asked Israel to reopen border crossings that were closed after recent
      Palestinian attacks, the officials said. Mofaz responded that Rafah crossing
      between Gaza and Egypt would be reopened on Tuesday. It was closed Dec. 12 after
      Palestinian militants tunneled under the Israeli army post there and blew it up,
      killing five soldiers.

      However, Mofaz said the vital Karni point, the main crossing for food and other
      goods in and out of Gaza, would remain closed until the Palestinians improve
      security measures there. Six Israelis were killed in a Palestinian bombing and
      shooting attack at the crossing on Jan. 13, and it has been closed ever since.
      Also, he said, the Erez crossing in northern Gaza would not be reopened now.

      The officials said Mofaz expressed willingness to free several hundred
      Palestinian prisoners in the framework of easing tensions. In public statements,
      Palestinians have demanded freedom for all 7,000 prisoners Israel is holding.
      Israel has consistently refused to release Palestinians held for serious attacks
      against Israelis.

      Pushed aside because of the day of violence was the issue of transferring control
      of West Bank towns to the Palestinians. Israeli officials said no moves would be
      made before a Thursday meeting of Israel's Security Cabinet, made up of senior

      Palestinians originally expected to receive control of at least one or two of the
      five towns on the list by Wednesday. The Israeli officials said agreement was
      shaping up on a staged handover, starting with Ramallah - where Abbas' government
      has its headquarters - and Qalqiliya, on the line between the West Bank and

      Other towns to be handed over are Jericho, Tulkarem and Bethlehem. The main
      centers of militant activity - Nablus, Jenin and Hebron - are to remain under
      Israeli military control.

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