Israel begins pullout from W. Bank areas by departing Jenin

JERUSALEM — Israel has begun redeploying from the West Bank town of Jenin, the first of six Arab population centers to be turned over to the Palestinians before year's end.

Israeli police left the Jenin police station Wednesday, relocating to a nearby army base.

Later in the day, five Palestinian liaison officers arrived at the joint district coordinating office south of Jenin, which will serve as the center for coordination between Israeli and Palestinian officers on security matters after the redeployment is completed.

The Palestinian officers were greeted by crowds of cheering Palestinians waving flags.

The officers arrived from the West Bank Jericho enclave wearing their uniforms and carrying weapons, which had no ammunition inside them.

That was the result of a compromise with Israeli officials, who, fearing disturbances, had wanted the officers to arrive without uniforms or weapons.

The Israeli pullback from Jenin is expected to take about three weeks. During that time, Israeli and Palestinian liaison officers will work out the details of future cooperation plans.

In the coming days, civilian responsibilities will be transferred to the self-rule government in advance of the Israeli troop pullback, and Palestinian police officers will take up their posts inside Jenin.

Until the Israeli withdrawal is completed, the police station vacated by the Israeli police will remain under the Israeli army's command.

The army declared Jenin a closed military area Wednesday to prevent Palestinians who did not live there from entering. The restrictions were imposed to prevent Palestinians opposed to the accords from inciting violence, officials said.

The withdrawal from Jenin comes as part of the recently signed accord for expanding West Bank autonomy. Israel's withdrawal from five other West Bank towns — Tulkarm, Kalkilya, Nablus, Bethlehem and Ramallah — is expected to be completed by the end of December.

The redeployment from large parts of Hebron, which has some 450 Jewish settlers living among about 100,000 Palestinians, is expected to be completed by the end of March.

Elections for a Palestinian council are scheduled for January.

Jewish settlers, meanwhile, returned Wednesday to Givat Hadagan, a hilltop near the West Bank settlement of Efrat, in their latest effort to establish dwellings there.

During the summer, scuffles broke out between Jewish settlers and Israeli security forces at Givat Hadagan and other West Bank hillsides, where settlers protested Israel's plans to turn the region over to Palestinian self-rule.

The settlers said that even though they did not want to clash with Israeli security forces they would not leave the hilltop voluntarily.