Israel pledges roadblock removals

Israel will also okay building in 25 Palestinian villages, US officials say after joint meeting.

rice fayad barak 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
rice fayad barak 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel and the Palestinians on Sunday agreed to a series of "concrete steps" aimed at paving the way for a final peace agreement later this year, beginning with a pledge to remove some 50 roadblocks in the West Bank, US officials said. The officials, traveling with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, also said the Palestinians had agreed to step up their efforts to "prevent terror" in the West Bank. The US issued its statement after Rice met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad in Jerusalem. It said the two men had agreed on "concrete steps" to implement the road map. "This is a program that will improve the daily lives of Palestinians and help make Israel secure," the statement said. It continued by saying Israel would remove 50 travel barriers located in and around Jenin, Tulkarm, Kalkilya and Ramallah. Israel also promised to dismantle one permanent roadblock, and - as reported last week - will allow the deployment of 700 Jordanian-trained Palestinian police in Jenin and let them take delivery of armored vehicles. In its statement, the US said Barak and Fayad agreed Palestinian security forces in the West Bank must assume "greater responsibility." The statement added the Palestinians would soon deploy additional security forces in the West Bank town of Jenin and "work to prevent terror." Barak and Fayad agreed to pursue the measures with "special, immediate emphasis and work," the statement said. "We've been told that this is going to start and, hopefully even be completed in a relatively short period of time," Rice told reporters. "I am expecting it to happen very, very soon. We will be monitoring and verifying," she added. The statement also said the two sides agreed Sunday to take new steps to promote economic development in the West Bank. Among the new measures are plans to build new housing for Palestinians in 25 villages, connecting Palestinian villages to the Israeli power grid and an agreement by Israel to allow larger numbers of Palestinian laborers and businessmen to work inside Israel. "We all want to work hard for the improvements that can lead to a successful conclusion of the Annapolis process," said Rice at a press conference with Barak and Fayad following their meeting. "We have just had a very good meeting. We are discussing the situation on the ground and the importance of improvement in that situation along the lines of one of the Annapolis tracks. I am pleased to say that the two gentlemen have met before I was here and they have said they will continue to meet as is necessary," continued the secretary of state.