Israelis, Palestinians Reach a Deal over Safe-passage Security Issues

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to open a safe-passage route next week for Palestinians traveling between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The announcement came after the two sides worked out their remaining differences over security procedures Monday night.

Sunday’s scheduled opening of the route was delayed after the two sides were unable to agree on two issues — whether Israel would be allowed to detain Palestinians traveling the route who are suspected of hostile activities, and who would be responsible for issuing the magnetic cards Israeli authorities would use to track the Palestinian travelers.

At a news conference Monday night, Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami said Israel was satisfied that its sovereignty over the route was undisputed.

At the same time, Palestinians said they had received assurances that the route would not be exploited by Israel to arrest Palestinian suspects.

The second issue, over the permits, was resolved through a compromise under which the Palestinians will handle applications for the permits, then pass them on to an Israeli liaison office, which will distribute them.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the route would operate 10 hours a day, seven days a week.

According to Israeli-Palestinian agreements, Palestinians using the route – - which runs from Gaza to a town near Hebron — would be given a two-hour time frame to make the trip. Palestinians would be barred from stopping or leaving the route at any point in between. Israeli checkpoints at either end would conduct security checks.

The two sides are expected next week to work out the details for a second safe- passage route between Gaza and Ramallah.

Israeli right-wingers have protested that the routes could be turned into launching pads for attacks by Palestinian terrorists.

On Sunday, before the announcement that the first route’s opening would be delayed, several hundred Israelis protested along the route.

Prime Minister Barak said this week he considered the safe-passage route a “temporary” measure.

Addressing the opening of the Knesset’s winter session Monday, Barak reiterated his proposal for building an elevated highway that would provide a physical separation between Palestinian and Israeli travelers.

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