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Steps to Implement Wye Draw Immediate Criticism

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Just days after Israel began to implement the Wye agreement, the Jewish state has drawn fire from West Bank settlers and the Palestinian Authority.

The settlers’ complaints came after Israel carried out last Friday the first of three further redeployments in the West Bank called for under the accord.

Palestinian officials focused on another Israeli action taken that day — the release of 250 Palestinian prisoners.

On Sunday, settler groups responded to the redeployment by setting up encampments at two West Bank sites.

In one incident, settlers gathered on a hilltop near the settlement of Itamar, saying they wanted to expand the community.

And near the settlement of Sebastia, several dozen people gathered at an abandoned rail station, saying they would establish a museum and yeshiva at the site. The Israeli army responded by sealing off the area around the station.

Meanwhile, settler leaders complained about the inadequacy of the army’s defense plans for Jewish settlements affected by last Friday’s redeployment.

The leaders charged that the plans were outdated and that greater emphasis should be placed on security on roads that link the settlements.

Army officials responded that they were working in full cooperation with the settlements and that plans were being drawn up for each community affected by the redeployments.

In last Friday’s redeployment, Israel transferred 2 percent of the West Bank, or some 44 square miles, from sole Israeli control to joint control with the Palestinian Authority. Israel also handed over 7.1 percent of land in the region to sole Palestinian control.

Most of the redeployment was carried out near the West Bank town of Jenin. The second redeployment called for in the Wye accord will be centered around Ramallah and the third around Hebron. All three redeployments, which are linked to Palestinian steps to live up to security commitments, are scheduled to be completed by January.

Along with the redeployment, Israel carried out the prisoner release, which led the Palestinian Authority to complain that 150 of the 250 people freed were common criminals and that the Wye agreement stated all should be political prisoners.

“We did not seek U.S. President Clinton’s guarantees in order to secure the release of car thieves,” Dr. Ahmed Tibi, an adviser to Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, told Israel Radio.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied that he had violated the Wye agreement. His position was upheld by a U.S. Embassy spokesman, who said in a statement that the United States was unaware of any violation of the accord regarding the releases.

Despite the prisoner dispute, celebrations were held over the weekend in the West Bank towns that became part of the self-rule areas.

In a separate development, Israel bulldozed a home near Hebron where two brothers who allegedly planned suicide attacks against Israelis were killed in September by Israeli troops.

The killings of Imad and Adel Awadallah, leaders of Hamas’ military wing, set off days of unrest in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel’s High Court had reportedly issued an order to stop the demolition of the house, but the razing had already begun.

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