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Israel, Palestinians agree on Gaza pullout steps

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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, June 8 (Reuters) - Israel and the Palestinians said on Wednesday they had agreed to closely coordinate security steps for the Jewish state's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip in August.

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz and Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Youssef reached a deal after weeks of disagreement over how to jointly bar militants from taking over Gaza and staging attacks after the withdrawal, officials said.

Israel plans in mid-August to begin evacuating all 21 Jewish settlements it has built on occupied land in the Gaza Strip and four of 120 in the West Bank. The pullout is expected to take about a month.

"The two ministers agreed to coordinate the security side of the withdrawal at the ministerial level and on the level of security planning," said Tawfiq Abu-Khoussa, a spokesman for Youssef, adding teams from both sides would meet next week.

"They plan to tackle every detail of the withdrawal plan," said Abu-Khoussa.

An Israeli Defence Ministry official said there would be "coordination in the field" to enable the Palestinians to deploy security forces "to make sure that militants don't take over" areas vacated by Israel.

Israel would inform the Palestinians in advance when settlements were to be evacuated so "the Palestinians would take care that terrorist groups don't interfere", the official said.

Israel had long urged the Palestinian Authority to help coordinate the pullout, particularly by reining in militants who have often targeted Gaza settlements during 4 1/2 years of conflict.

But Palestinian officials had balked. Some stormed out of a meeting on Monday night, accusing their Israeli counterparts of poor faith by failing to present them with information on the settlements.

Abu-Khoussa said Wednesday's meeting in Tel Aviv "was positive" despite a rash of violence in Gaza this week.

Mofaz and Youssef also discussed Israel's long-promised handover of security responsibilities for three West Bank cities and would pursue the issue again next week, Abu-Khoussa said.

Israel has relinquished control over two West Bank cities, Jericho and Tulkarm, that it recaptured when a Palestinian uprising began in September 2000. But it has delayed progress on three others to demand that the Palestinians rein in militants.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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