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Israel Will Begin Withdrawal of Troops Under New Peace Deal

By Tracy Wilkinson
Los Angeles Times
JERUSALEM

The first withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank under terms of a new U.S.-brokered peace agreement begins Friday, despite a political backlash within the Israeli government and a simmering dispute over Palestinian prisoners.

It is the first time in 22 acrimonious months that Israel has relinquished land captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War to Palestinian control, and it is a move that might cost Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu his government.

Sometime after daybreak, Israeli soldiers will set up concrete brown-and-yellow markers designating new Palestinian territory and Palestinian police will go on patrol.

The transfer of the 9 percent of West Bank land - an oddly shaped patch of nearly 200 square miles - to full or partial Palestinian rule is a principal requirement facing Israel under the land-for-security agreement signed at the White House last month.

Despite many reservations, Israel on Thursday agreed to move ahead with the pullback after Palestinian authorities issued a new law against incitement and ordered the confiscation of illegal weapons, part of their pledged fight against terrorism.

The Palestinians also submitted a list to Israeli security agencies of 10 accused terrorists wanted by Israel whom the Palestinians said they have arrested; the arrests were confirmed by the CIA, which has agreed to monitor compliance, an Israeli official said.

The Israeli Cabinet, at the end of a meeting described as bitter, ordered the withdrawal, although more ministers abstained and voted against it than those voting in favor.

Netanyahu's decision now to negotiate a hand-over of territory, running counter to the basic philosophy of the Israeli right wing, has cost him the support of much of his Cabinet and the political coalition led by his conservative Likud Party.

Friday's withdrawal, the first of three stages, will transfer 2 percent of the West Bank to joint Palestinian-Israeli control, while an additional 7.1 percent that includes approximately 23 towns and villages will go to full Palestinian rule.