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Palestinians open fire at Israeli military post in West Bank

Palestinians open fire at Israeli military post in West Bank

JERUSALEM — Palestinian militants wounded two Israeli border policemen in a shooting attack on a military post near a West Bank shrine Monday, the latest attempt to disrupt a delicate cease-fire.

Despite the violence, both sides said progress has been made on transferring West Bank cities to Palestinian security control, after weeks of deadlock over whether Israel would remove army roadblocks outside the towns as part of such a pullback. The Palestinians had insisted on the removal of roadblocks, which have severely disrupted daily life in the West Bank in more than four years of fighting.

The town of Tulkarem was to be transferred Tuesday, with the army removing a road barrier that separated Tulkarem from the West Bank's largest city, Nablus, Palestinian security officials said. However, the main army checkpoint outside Tulkarem will remain in place, the officials said.

Israeli army officials said the tentative agreement still requires government approval.

The Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas were to meet Tuesday to discuss the handover of West Bank towns, the highest-level negotiations over the issue.

Monday's shooting took place in the West Bank city of Hebron, at a checkpoint guarding the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a shrine revered by Muslims and Jews. One of the border policemen was seriously wounded. The army said the shots came from the Hebron city center, and that troops were searching for the attackers.

Since Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Abbas declared an end to violence at a Feb. 8 summit, there has been a sharp drop in fighting. But sporadic violence has persisted. In the most dramatic instance, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed five Israelis outside a Tel Aviv nightclub on Feb. 25. The assailant, dispatched by the Islamic Jihad group, came from a village near Tulkarem.

While failing to scuttle the truce, the suicide bombing prompted Israel to freeze plans to turn over security control in five West Bank towns to Palestinian forces.

Israeli and Palestinian commanders met Sunday to discuss the transfer for the first time since the suicide bombing. Officials on both sides said Tulkarem would be handed over this week.

Izzedine al-Sharif, the governor of Tulkarem, said that Israel agreed in Sunday's meeting to remove a gate that had closed the road linking Tulkarem and Nablus. Israel will keep in place a large roadblock south of the town in place. After the pullback, some 2,500 Palestinian police would deploy in town, he said.

The senior Palestinian participant Sunday's talks, West Bank commander Hajj Ismail Jabber, said "it was agreed in principle that the Israeli army will begin Tuesday withdrawing from Tulkarem and the areas around the town, and afterward we will discuss the Israeli withdrawal from the other towns in the West Bank."

Also Sunday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi met Israeli leaders, the first such visit in more than four years. Jordan recently named an ambassador after leaving its embassy vacant through most of the current conflict. Al-Mulqi called for intense peace efforts in meetings with Sharon and other Israeli leaders.

Copyright © 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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