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Israel to Lift Curfews; Gaza Stages Rally

July 04, 2002|From Reuters

JERUSALEM -- Israel approved a plan Wednesday to gradually lift daytime curfews that have locked hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in their homes in West Bank cities. Meanwhile, in the Gaza Strip, thousands of Palestinians chanting "more attacks and explosives belts" took to the streets to protest U.S. calls to replace Yasser Arafat as Palestinian Authority president.

Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said the army will lift daytime curfews in seven major Palestinian-ruled cities "so that normal life can be gradually restored."

Gissin said it would be left to Israeli commanders to determine when the security situation permitted an easing of restrictions. Israel will continue to keep 700,000 Palestinians confined to their houses at night as the army hunts for militants it says are behind a recent wave of bombings.

Israel reoccupied Nablus, Tulkarm, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Kalkilya, Jenin and Hebron after 26 Israelis were killed in two suicide bombings last month.

President Bush has urged Palestinians to replace Arafat, saying he and his Palestinian Authority have been irreparably tainted by terrorism.

But amid the U.S. demands for reforms, Jibril Rajoub denied news reports this week that he had been dismissed as the powerful head of preventive security in the West Bank. "I think someone is trying to harm the whole security services and leak such lies and baseless stories," said Rajoub, considered one of Arafat's potential successors. Palestinian Authority sources said Arafat had received a recommendation from his new interior minister, Abdel Razak Yehiyeh, to fire Rajoub but was reluctant to act on it.

Arafat has set elections for January, but that has not been enough to mollify the U.S.

In Gaza City, thousands rallied in support of Arafat in one of the biggest demonstrations by his Fatah movement in months.

An activist from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed offshoot of Fatah that has carried out suicide bombings that have killed dozens of Israelis, pledged over a loudspeaker that any Palestinian openly challenging Arafat's leadership would be killed.

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