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Saturday, 27 October, 2001, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Israel set for West Bank withdrawal
An Israeli soldier directing a tank in Bethlehem's narrow streets
Israel says it reserves the right to deploy its army
Israel is due to withdraw some of its forces from Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank later on Saturday.

The Israelis plan to pull troops and tanks out of Bethlehem and its suburb of Beit Jala in the evening.


We continue to urge the Israeli Government to withdraw from all Palestinian-controlled areas

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher
The withdrawal was announced on Friday after Israeli and Palestinian officials reached agreement on security measures.

Raanan Gissin, an advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the pull-out would serve as a "test case" for similar withdrawals, which would require "complete quiet" in the area.

But the Palestinians say calm can only begin after Israel pulls out.

"Our position is that calm could only begin by Israeli withdrawal from our areas," said Jibril Rajoub, the chief of Palestinian preventive security in the West Bank.

Palestinian officials said the parties would meet on Sunday to discuss further Israeli redeployments.

Quiet night

A BBC correspondent in Jerusalem says Friday night was the quietest night in the West Bank since the Israelis went into six Palestinian areas last week, following the killing of the Israeli tourism minister, Rehavam Zeevi.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed during the Israeli incursions, many of them in the village of Beit Rima.

Map
The United States, which chaired the meeting between the Israelis and Palestinians, has led international demands for Israel to pull out.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush was pleased with the first step of the withdrawal, but said the president expected Israel to complete it.

He said the president also called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to "make a 100% effort to reduce the violence," and for the sides to resume peace talks.

Before Friday's meeting, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement calling for the "immediate withdrawal of all Israeli forces" from Palestinian areas.

Friday violence

On Friday, Israeli troops shot dead three armed Palestinians who the army said were trying to infiltrate a Jewish settlement.

The militant Palestinian group Hamas said the men were its fighters and had attacked the Israelis with a mortar, machine guns and grenades.

Funeral of one of three Hamas militants killed by Israeli soldiers as they were trying to infiltrate a Gaza settlement
Three Hamas men were killed as they tried to infiltrate a settlement
Israeli soldiers also shot and killed an Israeli Bedouin Arab by the fence between Israel and Gaza. The army said he ignored orders to stop as he drove a tractor through the fence.

The Israeli army initially said it planned to remain in the reoccupied areas until the Palestinians handed over the militants responsible for the assassination of the Israeli tourist minister.

That has not happened. By Israel's own admission, two of those responsible for the murder remain at large.

The BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Jerusalem says that even before it has happened, the permanence of any Israeli withdrawal remains open to question.

The Israelis have repeated that they reserve the right to deploy their army as they see fit, according to their security needs.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Jerusalem
"The first tanks may shortly be rolling out of Bethlehem"
Centre for Palestinian Research's Dr Khali Shikaki
"This is an outcome of September 11th"
Israeli PM's spokesman Raanan Gissin
"We are ready to pull out immediately"
See also:

26 Oct 01 | Middle East
US unease over Israeli actions
25 Oct 01 | Middle East
Arabs see advantage in terror war
24 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israel says raid nets key suspects
18 Oct 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Israel mourns minister
17 Oct 01 | Middle East
Questions over Israel security failure
22 Oct 01 | Middle East
Watching the Palestinian night
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