The agreement, reached late Sunday in a meeting between the Israeli defense minister and the Palestinian interior minister, is the first tentative security accord between the two sides in over a year. Under the terms of the deal, tentatively called “Gaza-first,” Israeli troops will withdraw from Bethlehem and parts of the Gaza Strip in exchange for Palestinian assurances of a reduction in “terror and violence.”
Thousands of people took to the streets of Bethlehem, marking the end of nearly two months of Israeli military curfews. While no longer patrolling Bethlehem, Israeli troops continue to surround the city.
Further withdrawals are planned from other parts of the West Bank as Palestinian security forces resume control and work to curb terror attacks being planned in those areas. Israeli officials have said that pullouts from the Gaza Strip would be next but could be limited due to the strength of militant groups there.
“If Palestinians show a readiness to fight terrorism we will ease conditions more,” Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said.
Despite the deal, violence continued in Gaza Tuesday as a sniper from the militant Islamic group Hamas killed an Israeli soldier guarding a Jewish settlement. Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group, have said that they reject the security agreement and vowed to continue violent attacks on Israelis.
“The security the Zionists are seeking through the ‘Gaza-first’ plan is not going to be achieved,” said a Hamas leaflet.
Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said that Palestinian officials must try to arrest the Hamas sniper responsible for Israeli soldier’s death as well as those behind recent mortar attacks on Jewish settlements.
“I turn to the heads of the Palestinians and say that if you don’t deal with this, we will,” Ben-Eliezer said on Israel Radio.
Also Tuesday, a 15-year old Palestinian boy was killed by Israeli army fire and Israeli special forces killed the brother of Ahmed Saadat, the jailed leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
According to media reports, Israeli troops entered the Ramallah apartment of Mohammed Saadat as part of a raid and shot him as he tried to escape arrest. Israeli military officials had no immediate comment.