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Roadblocks Block Deal on IOF Withdrawal

Roadblocks Block Deal on IOF Withdrawal from Palestinian Cities

PNA Rejects ‘Cosmetic’ Pullouts, Security Meeting Fails to Agree on Timetable

A Palestinian – Israeli meeting Sunday to work out the terms for the withdrawal of Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) from more reoccupied cities in the West Bank failed because of Israel’s insistence on maintaining its military roadblocks that are paralyzing the daily life of Palestinians.

A spokesman for Palestinian Minister of State for Security Affairs Mohammed Dahlan said the two sides adjourned after four hours of talks and will resume negotiations Tuesday.

The talks on the handover of Jericho and Qalqiliya stalled over Israel’s insistence that even after Palestinian security forces take over responsibility for the towns, the IOF will retain roadblocks controlling movement of Palestinian civilians, spokesman Elias Zananiri said.

Zananiri said the main sticking point was Israel’s refusal to dismantle roadblocks surrounding Qalqiliya, Jericho, Tulkarm and Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government, which curtail the movement of local residents.

"We are not interested in cosmetic pullouts,” he said, adding the Palestinians hoped for Israeli flexibility on the matter in a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

"The meeting between the two sides ended without agreeing on a timetable for the withdrawal from Palestinian cities because the Israeli side insisted on keeping the military roadblocks,” he said.

"The Israeli side has raised some security issues to justify keeping these roadblocks, which we believe will make the withdrawal cosmetic.”

"Israel said they would withdraw from Qalqilya but they want to maintain the checkpoint at the entrance to the city. We reject this completely. It goes against the agreement between Dahlan and (Israeli “Defense” Minister Shaul) Mofaz,” he said, referring to a meeting between the two Friday when the withdrawals were agreed.

Israeli military sources confirmed the talks had ended "without reaching any conclusion” and said there would be no withdrawal from either town Monday as had been planned.

Instead, senior security officials from both sides would meet again "in a couple of days,” the source said, without elaborating on why Sunday’s talks had broken down.

More than 162 IOF roadblocks have paralyzed Palestinian life in many areas and are one of the main points of friction.

Speaking a day before Sunday meeting, Dahlan stressed the importance of removing IOF roadblocks from the West Bank.

"Any withdrawal must also involve lifting checkpoints from around the cities to guarantee free movement for all the people,” he told reporters in Ramallah.

IOF troops never reoccupied Jericho during the past three years, and the only Israeli military presence is at roadblocks on the outskirts. Soldiers are also posted outside Qalqiliya, staging arrest raids from time to time.

"If the checkpoints are not removed, then this withdrawal means nothing,” Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amre said Sunday. "The withdrawals re about freedom of
movement,” he added.

The Palestinian leadership on Sunday rejected “Israeli pretexts to obstruct the implementation of the roadmap.”

The withdrawal of the Israeli occupation Forces (IOF) from reoccupied Palestinian areas “must take place from all cities and areas according to the roadmap, to pre-September 28, 2000 positions,” the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said, following a meeting chaired by President Yasser Arafat and attended by Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Palestinian official news agency WAFA reported.

Separately President Arafat earlier urged the Israeli side to implement the stipulations of US-sponsored “roadmap” without wasting more time.

“The Israeli side is required to implement the stipulations of the roadmap instead of wasting time in explicit attempts to fragmentize it and circumvent it,” he said.

The Palestinian and Israeli officials met near Jerusalem to discuss the details of the agreement reached by Shaul Mofaz and Mohammed Dahlan on handing over security control of Jericho and Qalqilyah to the Palestine National Authority (PNA).

Representing Israel at the meeting were commander of the IOF Central Command Major General Moshe Kaplinski, Head of the Plans and Policy Directorate Major General Giora Eiland, and Shin Bet officials. The Palestinian delegation was headed by Haj Ismail.

An IOF spokeswoman confirmed that the Sunday night meeting failed to produce an agreement, but did not elaborate except to describe the meeting as “businesslike” and say the two sides would reconvene soon.

Meanwhile, Qalqiliya Mayor Maarof Zahran said residents aren't particularly looking forward to the handover, which he described as "a new Israeli trick.”

He said residents barely feel the presence of the IOF soldiers, who enter the town for night raids and often remain on the outskirts during the day.

The mayor said military roadblocks and the newly built Israeli Apartheid Segregation Wall surrounding the town on three sides prevent residents from reaching their small farms.

"They have surrounded the city,” Zahran said. "And now they come to ask the Palestinian Authority to keep their security inside the city. This is nonsense.”

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