Israel said it was ready to hand over control of several &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/hotspots/2002/02/19/26494.html ' target=_blank>West Bank towns to the Palestinians within days, further fuelling optimism of a genuine breakthrough in the Middle East peace process.
The announcement came ahead of a breakthrough summit between &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/main/2002/04/22/27872.html ' target=_blank>Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and new Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas which Israel's public radio said had been lined up for February 8.
"The transfer of control of some towns in the West Bank should take place in the next few days," Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz told Israeli radio after meeting with former Palestinian security minister Mohammad Dahlan on the issue. "We are finalising the details on the choice of towns and an exact date for their transfer," he added, as Turkish Press reported.
The Defense Minister did not say which Palestinian cities are to be turned over, nor exactly when the transfer of security responsibility would take place. Mr. Mofaz said he would hold further talks with Palestinian security official Mohammed Dahlan to work out details.
Palestinian sources, however, said their forces would assume responsibility for first &to=http:// english.pravda.ru/hotspots/2002/05/02/28167.html ' target=_blank>Ramallah, then Tulkarem, Qalqilya and Jericho.
Mr. Mofaz said the Palestinians have shown a willingness to assume security responsibility and move forward with security cooperation with Israel. The Israeli official also said that a wide range of issues was discussed during his first round of talks with Mr. Dahlan on Saturday night, says Voice of America.
According to the Guardian, the renewed peace hopes came after a sharp drop in violence. Abbas has obtained a promise from armed groups to halt attacks on Israel and has deployed Palestinian police across the Gaza Strip. In response, Israel's army chief said he would halt military operations in Gaza and scale them back in the West Bank. On Sunday, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia met with leaders of militant groups in Gaza. Participants affirmed their agreement to suspend attacks on Israel.