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Saturday, 17 November, 2001, 21:45 GMT
Israelis leave West Bank town
Israeli soldier in Beit Jala
The incursions began nearly a month ago
Israel has withdrawn its troops from the northern West Bank town of Tulkarm, army sources have said.

The troops moved into the town almost a month ago following the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.

But Israeli forces will remain in positions outside the town and it will still be closed, meaning that residents are barred from leaving and entering.

And while Israel said the withdrawal was complete, Palestinian officials said the occupiers were maintaining two small positions inside the town.

Of the six cities entered by Israeli troops last month, only Jenin remains occupied.

The move comes after repeated calls from the United States and European Union countries for an Israeli pull-back.

A delegation of the EU met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Saturday and is due for talks with Israeli leaders on Sunday.

The delegation, headed by current EU president Guy Verhofstadt, European Commission head Romano Prodi and foreign policy chief Javier Solana, said that a Palestinian state was an essential element of any peace deal.

It is seeking to inject new life into stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Mr Verhofstadt said after the meeting with Mr Mubarak that there was an urgent need for stability in the region.

This is the highest-level European mission to the region since the latest conflict between Israel and the Palestinians erupted 14 months ago.

The EU delegation has no concrete proposals to put to Middle East leaders. Mr Solana said that what was needed was not a new initiative, just the political will to implement existing ones.

Low expectations

But according to the BBC's correspondent in Jerusalem, James Reynolds, few in the Middle East think the Europeans will make much progress alone.

On Monday, US Secretary of State Colin Powell is due to deliver what is being regarded as a key speech on the Middle East. Analysts believe that progress will only be made via the US, not the EU.

The EU delegation's trip comes amid a new flurry of Middle East diplomatic activity on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

BBC Cairo correspondent Caroline Hawley says that in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks, everyone seems to be talking now about the need for a Palestinian state to help eliminate the sense of injustice on which terrorism feeds.

The BBC's Barbara Plett
"The Israelis are easing their grip on West Bank cities, but they are not letting go"
Dr. Hisham Awartini, resident of Tulkarem
"The tanks were pulled out, but now they are surrounding Tulkarem"
See also:

16 Nov 01 | Middle East
Israeli anger over Peres' UN speech
22 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israel keeps grip on West Bank
13 Mar 01 | Middle East
EU urges Israel to end blockade
17 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israeli minister shot dead
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