JERUSALEM – Israel will let 16 of about 55 Palestinians expelled from the West Bank (search) return home Friday, and it has concluded that demolishing the homes of Palestinian homicide bombers and gunmen does not deter attackers and should be stopped.
Both decisions were in keeping with concessions Israel (search) made to the Palestinians at a summit earlier this month where both sides declared an end to four years of hostilities.
On Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet is set to vote on a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip (search) and four West Bank settlements this summer. Easy passage is expected.
Mohammed Dahlan (search), a security adviser to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, told Israel Radio on Friday that the pullout would not take place under Palestinian fire. But he called on Israel to evacuate a military patrol road between Egypt and Gaza that was one of the deadliest spots during the hostilities, warning it could become more volatile.
The Cabinet is also expected to vote Sunday on a revised route of the barrier Israel is building to separate it from the West Bank. The modified route hews closer to Israel's border before the 1967 Mideast war but puts two major West Bank settlement blocs near Jerusalem on the Israeli side of the barrier.
Israel has destroyed about 2,475 Palestinian homes as a punitive measure since it captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war, including 675 in the past four years of fighting, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.
House demolitions, along with other army practices such as targeted killings of Palestinian militants, were suspended after Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared a truce earlier this month. On Thursday, they were discontinued as a matter of policy.
The military has concluded that now that things are quieter, "it's not the time to use this policy," a military official said on condition of anonymity.
Human rights groups have condemned the demolitions as collective punishment and demanded for years that they be halted.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz also decided Thursday to allow the return, beginning Friday, of Palestinians expelled during the uprising from the West Bank to Gaza on suspicion of terror activities.
Additionally, 20 of 39 Palestinians expelled to Europe after a monthlong siege at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002 are to be readmitted to the West Bank after Israel transfers control of Bethlehem to the Palestinians. That handover was set to take place in the coming weeks.
The first 26 Israeli families are to be evacuated sometime between April 30 and May 2 from the Peat Sadeh settlement in southern Gaza, said Shimon Cohen, the head of the Hof Ashkelon regional council. The settlement is to move to a farming community near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, he said.
Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief, told Israel Radio Friday that the withdrawal would not be conducted under Palestinian fire.
But he warned that if the Israeli military does not leave the Philadelphi corridor on the Gaza-Egypt border, then the patrol road risked turning into another Chebaa Farms, a disputed area near the Israel-Lebanon border where Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas periodically launch attacks on Israeli soldiers, Israel Radio said.
The Israeli Cabinet is also scheduled Sunday to vote on a revised route of the barrier Israel is building to separate it from the West Bank. The new route puts the Gush Etzion settlement bloc and Maaleh Adumim, the largest settlement in the West Bank, on Israel's side, much to the dissatisfaction of the Palestinians, who say the route prejudges the outcome of any peace deal by determining the future of nearby Jerusalem.
The route was modified to run closer to pre-June 1967 lines after Israel's Supreme Court ordered that planners must try harder not to disrupt the lives of Palestinians.
Israel says it is building the barrier to block homicide bombers and other Palestinian attackers who have killed hundreds of Israelis in four years of fighting. The Palestinians say the project illegally seizes land they claim for their state.