Israel suspends withdrawal from two West Bank towns

Sunday, October 28, 2001

BETHLEHEM, West Bank -- Israel suspended a planned withdrawal from two West Bank towns Saturday after it said Palestinian gunmen fired on its soldiers. A Palestinian was killed in one clash, bringing the death toll to 38 in Israel's weeklong occupation that prompted a U.S. rebuke.

Israel had been scheduled to withdraw from Bethlehem and Beit Jalla late Saturday in what it said would be a test case for withdrawals from four other West Bank towns it occupied starting Oct. 18 in search of Palestinian militants who killed Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.

It wasn't clear how long the suspension would last, or whether it was just a delay of a few hours. Israeli officials would only say they would not withdraw from the biblical town of Bethlehem and nearby Beit Jalla while under fire.

"The pullback from Bethlehem and Beit Jalla by (Israeli defense) forces is suspended for the time being because of noncompliance (with) the agreements reached by the Palestinian police forces, and the continuation of the firing from these areas," said Raanan Gissin, an aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Gissin said the pullout would take place when the Palestinian Authority complies with the agreements reached Friday in a three-way meeting with U.S. officials.

"The agreement brokered by the American representative last night talked about a pullback of Israeli troops, but a complete cease-fire in the Beit Jalla and Bethlehem areas. That hasn't happened," he said.

Israeli officials had stressed that Palestinians must enforce a full cease-fire declared Sept. 26, ensure security for the pullout to be completed and for withdrawals to take place in the remaining towns, Jenin, Qalqilya, Ramallah and Tulkarem.

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