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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Israel Eyes Talks, Eases Restrictions

JERUSALEM -- Israel's defense minister said Monday he hoped to hold security talks with Palestinians in the next few days, but the killing of a teenage Palestinian girl only hours before dented hopes of reviving dialogue.

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer's comment on Israeli Army radio followed a decision by Israel on Sunday to ease some restrictions on Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and to start handing over frozen tax revenues.

The United States has also said it will have its most senior contacts with the Palestinians next week since it called last month for Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to be sidelined.

The resumption of security talks would further raise hopes of a breakthrough to stem bloodshed. But any optimism has been tempered by new violence, including the killing of the 14-year-old Palestinian girl by Jewish settlers on Sunday.

"This week, I expect to start security contacts with the Palestinian leadership," Ben-Eliezer said, suggesting talks may begin with Palestinian Interior Minister Abdel Razzak al-Yahya or another senior official on Monday or Tuesday.

"I hope it will go well. Then it will be possible to say that we are starting in a direction that we might expect will bring stability in the area."

There was no immediate comment from Palestinian leaders. They welcomed the resumption of talks between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian moderates earlier this month following a four-month freeze, but both sides say they are not peace talks. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whose government and army have been criticized at home and abroad over a bloody airstrike on a militant's home in a crowded area of Gaza City last week, has ruled out peace talks in the near future.

But he announced plans Sunday to ease restrictions in the West Bank, where troops have 700,000 Palestinians under curfew following a wave of suicide bombings by militants spearheading the 22-month revolt against Israeli occupation.

Sharon's office said he had ordered cutting the duration of curfews, issuing work permits for 12,000 Palestinian laborers and dismantling some checkpoints. An Israeli political source said the checkpoints were "mostly minor."

In other gestures following the internationally condemned airstrike that killed 15 people in Gaza last week, Israel agreed to hand over $15 million of tax funds frozen after Palestinians rose up against Israeli occupation in September 2000.

Expected talks between the Palestinian and Israeli finance ministers did not immediately go ahead. There were conflicting reports about whether the money had been transferred.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said he saw no sign that the restrictions in the West Bank had been lifted.

"I see all checkpoints and roadblocks that surround our towns, villages and refugee camps. [They] have tightened their siege and closure on the movement of goods and people," he told reporters.