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Palestinians Take Control of Jericho in West Bank

Israeli forces transferred the West Bank city of Jericho to Palestinian security control on Wednesday, Palestinian security officials said.

"From this moment we are resuming our control over the Jericho area," Palestinian police chief in Jericho Brig. Ahmed Eid told reporters after shaking hands with Israeli Colonel Moti Almos in a short ceremony on Jericho's outskirts.

Soldiers were dismantling the main highway roadblock outside Jericho and Palestinians were establishing a security presence to replace Israeli soldiers withdrawing checkpoints.

Israeli army radio reported Israeli troops pulled out of one of its checkpoints around the West Bank city further north, allowing Palestinians access to another West Bank city of Ramallah.

The military changed regulations concerning its southern checkpoint as well, so that troops will from now on only check Palestinian cars leaving the city, not those entering.

The radio added the main north-south highway running through the Jordan Valley, which will remain under the Israeli control, will also be opened to Palestinian vehicular traffic.

The handover of security control over Jericho was agreed in a Monday meeting between Palestinian Interior Minister Nasser Youssefand Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz.

The handover was postponed several times due to disagreements over checkpoint numbers to be removed and whether a nearby village of Oja would be handed over.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has pledged to move troops away from four other West Bank cities -- Tulkarm, Ramallah, Qalqilya and Bethlehem -- as part of a ceasefire agreement reached at a summit between Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Feb. 8 in Egypt.

It was agreed Palestinians will take over security control of Tulkarem as early as Sunday, followed by Qalqilya later next week.

(Xinhua News Agency March 17, 2005)

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