Palestine accepts Israel withdrawal proposals

THE Palestinian Cabinet yesterday accepted Israel’s proposal to begin withdrawing troops from some parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in exchange for security guarantees.

This comes even as Israeli troops hunting terror suspects killed five Palestinians in three separate raids.

The approval of the plan was preliminary, pending an Israeli-Palestinian security meeting at which details would be discussed, said Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath.

The decision marked a possible way for Israel to ease its military presence in Palestinian areas and came as a senior Palestinian delegation left for talks with US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington.

Israeli troops reoccupied seven of the West Bank’s eight major towns and cities in June in an attempt to prevent attacks on their citizens.

Under the withdrawal plan presented by Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, troops would gradually begin withdrawing from Palestinian-ruled parts of Gaza and the West Bank town of Bethlehem, in exchange for Palestinian guarantees that no attacks would be launched Israeli troops, meanwhile, launched several strikes against Palestinian terror suspects yesterday.

In Bethlehem, troops arrested Yehiyeh Daamseh, a local leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade militia and an explosives expert accused of sending several suicide bombers to Israel.

Palestinian security officials said troops discovered an explosives belt in the house Daamseh had rented. Army bulldozers then razed the home.

The demolition came a day after Israel’s Supreme Court upheld the army’s right to destroy homes of terror suspects without warning.

Thirty-five Palestinian families, whose homes are slated for demolition under a new Israeli policy, had sought 48 hours warning to take legal action.

In a second raid, Israeli troops killed Ziad Daas, a local leader of the Al Aqsa militia in the West Bank town of Tulkarem. Daas had been wanted by Israel for alleged involvement in the execution-style killing of two Israeli restaurant owners in Tulkarem in December 2000.

Witnesses said Israeli commandos, backed by jeeps, armoured cars and helicopters, surrounded Daas’ hideout. Gunmen opened fire from inside the building.

Daas was on the roof when he was shot by a sniper. A bystander and a third person were also killed, Palestinian security officials said.

In the Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis, a 26-year-old Hamas activist, Hussam Hamdan, was killed by a shot to the chest while he was sitting on the roof of his house, relatives said.

The Islamic militant group held Israel responsible for his death. Dozens of Hamas supporters gathered outside the hospital where Hamdan’s body was taken and shouted “revenge, revenge”.

Also yesterday(OK), Israel sent tanks and helicopters into the northern Gaza Strip. Between 15 and 30 tanks and armoured vehicles, backed by helicopters, moved to within half-a-mile of the Jebalya refugee camp north of Gaza City, firing shells and machine guns at houses, Palestinian security officials and residents said.

A 28-year-old Palestinian policeman died after being shot in the head, apparently by a stray bullet, as he slept on his roof, hospital officials said.

The Israeli military said troops were shot at and returned fire. It said three wanted Palestinians were arrested during searches. Tanks began pulling back from the area about two-and-a-half hours after they entered.

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