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Monday, 19 August, 2002, 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK
Analysis: Agreement on 'Gaza First' plan
Palestinian man watches tank roll past near Ramallah
It will be the first security co-operation between the two sides in months

The Israeli defence ministry says it has reached an agreement with the Palestinians for a phased withdrawal from areas of the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem, but there is confusion as to the timetable of events.

Hamas militant
Israel wants clear signs militants are being reined in
The announcement of the agreement follows a meeting between the Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and the Palestinian Interior Minister, Abdel Razzak al-Yahya.

As breakthroughs go this one appears very small, but it could be significant.

The three-hour meeting was part of efforts to draft a road map for a process which would eventually see Israeli forces return to positions they held before the start of the Palestinian uprising nearly two years ago.

Statements from the two sides since the talks appear to show there is still some uncertainty over what has actually been agreed.

'A different road'

The Palestinians speak of Israel promising to begin pulling troops out of Gaza and Bethlehem.

Building in ruins following Israeli air strike
The killing of another Palestinian militant could destroy the agreement

But the Israelis are speaking of a step-by-step process whereby any withdrawals are phased with clear demonstrations by the Palestinians that they are taking steps to control militants and prevent attacks on Israel.

Yafa Ben Ari, spokesperson for the Israeli foreign ministry, said the steps were "confidence building measures" aimed at "implementing step by step the idea of putting an end to terror and violence and embarking on a different road - a road that will open the possibility of a political negotiation in the future".

She stressed that Israel required not just a quelling of current violence but also that "warnings of future terror activity must cease".

Delicate process

If this plan does go into effect, it will mark the first time in months that Israel and the Palestinian authority have resumed security co-operation.

But much depends on what happens on the ground.

After months of Israeli military action the Palestinian security infrastructure is in tatters, and there must be real doubts over whether it will be able to deliver on any promise to control militants.

Israeli forces continue to control seven of the eight main population centres on the West Bank.

And if Israel carries out another of its targeted killings of Palestinian militants, or if there is another Palestinian suicide bombing, this whole delicate process could be blown right back to square one.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Hawley reports from Jerusalem
"Opposition has been voiced to this deal"
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Yafa Ben Ari
"We are giving the Palestinians a chance to take charge of the security situation"

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