RAMALLAH, West Bank – The Palestinians accepted Israel’s proposal for a withdrawal of troops from parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip – even as Israeli soldiers killed six Palestinians in separate raids Wednesday.
Palestinian security officials and members of Israel’s Shin Bet security services planned to meet later Wednesday to map out details of the proposal, which calls for the Palestinians to take over security in vacated areas and to prevent militant attacks from those areas.
The Palestinian Cabinet’s approval was provisional pending the outcome of the meeting, and obstacles were still likely even if it were finalized. Late Wednesday, top officials of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement denounced the decision, saying it had been made without their consultation and amounted to a betrayal of the Palestinians’ 22-month uprising.
In Washington, a senior Pales-tinian delegation arrived for talks with Secretary of State Colin Powell and other U.S. officials.
The delegation’s head, Saeb Erekat, bristled at a blunt critique of the Palestinian leadership by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld a day before.
Rumsfeld said the Palestinian Authority was entangled with terror and that he doubted Israel could turn over territory to it because of its poor track record.
Rumsfeld also referred to the West Bank as ”so-called occupied territory,” signaling he does not share the Bush administration’s view of Israel’s presence on the land, captured by Israel in the 1967 war.
”I thought there was only one American foreign policy,” Erekat told reporters in Washington after his arrival there.
He also denounced as ”unacceptable” Bush’s calls for a new leadership to replace Arafat. ”We have a Palestinian leadership that was elected,” Erekat said.
Under the withdrawal plan presented this week by Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, troops would gradually begin withdrawing from Palestinian-ruled parts of Gaza and from the West Bank town of Bethlehem in exchange for Palestinian guarantees that no attacks would be launched from these areas.
Israeli troops have been holding some Palestinian-run areas of Gaza since sometime after the outbreak of fighting nearly two years ago and reoccupied seven of the West Bank’s eight major towns and cities in June in an attempt to prevent attacks on Israelis.
The Palestinian Cabinet on Wednesday endorsed the withdrawal idea. ”There is preliminary approval for the Israeli security plan,” said Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath.
Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said ”the test will be whether they fulfill their part and take serious steps to fight terrorism.”
But the Fatah rejection cast a shadow over the potential deal. Fatah officials said the group’s central committee – made up of 17 Palestinians whose support is critical to Arafat – would meet Thursday to discuss the decision.
”The Ben-Eliezer plan is like treating cancer with aspirin,” said Jibril Rajoub, a central committee member and the recently fired head of preventive security in the West Bank.
He said Fatah now had to act on its own to represent the true needs of Palestinians ”far away from personal interests of a group of individuals within the Palestinian Authority.”
In other developments Wednesday, a truck carrying diesel fuel exploded after a small bomb underneath it detonated, police said. The driver was slightly injured.
Police spokesman Gil Kleiman said it was too early to tell if criminals or Palestinian militants were responsible.
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