Jerusalem, June 15 (Reuters): Israel and the Palestinians pursued a security deal today focussed on an Israeli troop pullback in return for a crackdown on Islamic militants after a week of violence that battered a US-backed peace plan.
In another challenge to the “road map” affirmed at a June 4 peace summit in Jordan, Jewish settlers have quietly set up five new outposts in the occupied West Bank since Israel began dismantling such sites last week, a monitoring group said.
The US and Egypt, concerned about the killing of more than 50 people in Israeli-Palestinian violence over the past week, sent envoys to try to move the plan along. A deal was shaping up for an Israeli troop withdrawal from the northern Gaza Strip and the West Bank city of Bethlehem in exchange for a Palestinian Authority pledge to assume security control of the two areas and rein in militants, officials said.
Palestinian information minister Nabil Amr said details would be discussed at a meeting today between Israeli Major-General Amos Gilad and Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan, a follow-up to talks the two held yesterday.
The US has appealed for restraint from both sides after a surge of bloodshed that included the killing of four soldiers in Gaza, a Palestinian suicide bombing on a Jerusalem bus and Israeli air strikes on militants.
President George W. Bush’s envoy, veteran diplomat John Wolf, yesterday met Israeli domestic security chief Avi Dichter and Dov Weisglass, a top adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Bush followed this today with a blast at the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which has been behind much of the anti-Israeli violence and rejects peace proposals.
“The free world and those who love freedom and peace must deal harshly with Hamas and the killers,” Bush said during a holiday in Maine.
In Washington, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, asked in an NBC television interview if the government would move against five new outposts a monitoring groups said settlers had set up in the West Bank, replied: “Absolutely. This is a commitment we have taken.”