TEL AVIV, Israel -- Israel began pulling out of a West Bank town early Monday, the military said, more than two weeks after invading six towns following the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister.
The Israeli forces were withdrawing a few hundred yards to the edge of Palestinian-controlled territory in the town of Qalqilya and into Israel, the military said.
The planned withdrawal went ahead despite an attack in Jerusalem Sunday by a Palestinian gunman who opened fire on a bus, killing two Jewish teen-agers and wounding more than 40.
The U.S. government had demanded repeatedly that Israel pull its forces out of the West Bank towns it took over after ulltranationalist Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi was assassinated on Oct. 17 by militants from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The group said the move was revenge for Israel's killing of PFLP leader Mustafa Zibri.
The United States is concerned that the increased Mideast tension could interfere with its effort to bring moderate Arab nations into its coalition to fight the Taliban regime and accused terrorist leader Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Last week, Israel withdrew troops from Bethlehem, the most sensitive of the towns Israel invaded, because it is the traditional birthplace of Jesus. Israeli forces also left Beit Jalla.
Israel holds parts of three other Palestinian towns -- Tulkarem, Jenin and Ramallah, the West Bank center of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, which governs Palestinian areas.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Israel would pull out of towns as security agreements are reached with the Palestinians, who work to prevent militants from leaving the towns to carry out attacks. Peres said such agreements had been reached in the three towns from which Israel withdrew, and in Jericho and Hebron.
While pulling back from the three towns, the Israelis did not release their overall grip on the West Bank, maintaining roadblocks that confined Palestinians to their towns and villages.