Sunday, March 30, 2008

Something is Wrong in the Balance of Steps Here

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel and the Palestinians on Sunday agreed to a series of ''concrete steps'' aimed at paving the way for a final peace agreement later this year, beginning with an Israeli pledge to remove some 50 roadblocks in the West Bank, U.S. officials said.

The officials, traveling with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, also said the Palestinians had agreed to step up their efforts to ''prevent terror'' in the West Bank.

Israel maintains hundreds of checkpoints, roadblocks and other travel restrictions in the West Bank, measures it says are needed to stop suicide bombers. The Palestinians say the restrictions are excessive and have stifled their economy. They have made removal of the checkpoints a top priority as the two sides, with U.S. backing, try to negotiate a final peace agreement by the end of the year.

In its statement, the U.S. said Barak and Fayyad agreed Palestinian security forces in the West Bank must assume ''greater responsibility.'' Israel has complained the Palestinian forces have not done enough to control militants.

Pic source

The statement said the Palestinians would soon deploy additional security forces in the West Bank town of Jenin, a hotbed of militant activity, and ''work to prevent terror.'' Last week, Barak said he had agreed to let the Palestinians deploy some 600 Jordanian-trained officers in Jenin.

Among the new measures are plans to build new housing for Palestinians in 25 villages, connecting Palestinian villages to the Israeli power grid and an agreement by Israel to allow larger numbers of Palestinian laborers and businessmen to work inside Israel.


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