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13 Dec 2004 15:29
Israeli troops will withdraw from Palestinian cities and towns for 72 hours during next month’s Palestinian presidential election, the Israeli defence minister said on Monday.
Israel has said it will do its utmost to allow the election of the Palestinian Authority president to go smoothly.
However, Monday’s comments by Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz marked the first time Israel provided details on troop deployment during the vote.
“We will leave the Palestinian cities for a period of about 72 hours—that is the day before, the day of and the day after the election,” Mofaz said.
The Palestinian Authority wants Israeli troops to withdraw from Palestinian towns well before the January 9 vote.
Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Israeli troops should withdraw from Palestinian towns immediately to enable candidates to campaign.
Israel should also lift travel bans on Palestinians and remove checkpoints, Erekat said.
“I urge Mr Mofaz and urge the Israeli government to take the high road and to really open the cities and towns from today,” Erekat said.
Israel set up a network of roadblocks in the West Bank after the outbreak of fighting in September 2000, to keep out Palestinian assailants.
In the spring of 2002, Israeli troops reoccupied most West Bank towns in response to a particularly deadly Palestinian suicide bombing. Since then, troops have withdrawn from some of the towns.—Sapa-AP
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