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Israel OKs Settlement Withdrawal

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Middle East Truce Approved
The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

February 21, 2005

For the first time since it seized the lands in the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has agreed to dismantle a large handful of settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, disputed territory also claimed by Palestinians. The Israeli Cabinet voted on Sunday to approve Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw the settlers as part of an overall agreement with newly elected Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to try to seek a peaceful resolution to the land conflict that has divided the region for many years.

Abbas has managed to keep a fragile cap on Palestinian hostilities against Israelis; Sharon, in return, has convinced his Cabinet that withdrawal is a good idea. In all, 21 West Bank settlements and four in the Gaza Strip will be dismantled, making room for Palestinians to live on land the ownership of which has continued to be bitterly disputed for more than half a century.

The issue of land ownership remains contentious, however, in connection with a land "barrier" that Israel is building in the area. Saying that it needs protection against frequent suicide bombings, Israel has been constructing a large fence to seal off the border between Israeli and Palestinian lands. Such attacks at the hands of Palestinian militants have been sparse in the past few weeks, but they continue to be a deadly threat, one that Abbas is working hard to counter.

Another part of the truce agreement reached recently has been put into effect: More than 500 Palestinian prisoners were released today.

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