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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Delays, Death Threats Hamper Mideast Peace

JERUSALEM -- A Palestinian negotiator said Tuesday he had reached final agreement with Israel on the handover of the West Bank town of Jericho to Palestinian control -- originally planned to take place today -- including the removal of the main Israeli roadblock in the area.

However, Israeli military officials said negotiations were continuing.

In Israel, hundreds of Jewish settlers and their supporters blocked several main roads during evening rush hour Monday, scuffling with police, burning tires and causing traffic jams, to protest Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip this summer. Police dragged protesters away and detained dozens.

The protest came as Jewish extremists increasingly targeted politicians who support the withdrawal. Several Cabinet ministers have received threatening letters in recent days, alarming law enforcement officials who fear ultranationalists could try to harm Israeli leaders.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told legislators Monday that he had hired private security guards to protect the grave of his wife, Lily, for fear it would be desecrated by opponents to his withdrawal plan.

The handover of five West Bank towns to Palestinian control was agreed in principle by Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting last week. However, a last-minute dispute over the removal of roadblocks and the area to be handed over held up the first Israeli pullback, from Jericho.

The Palestinians consider Jericho a test case for future withdrawals.

They insisted that all roadblocks surrounding the town be removed, and that the adjacent village of Al Awja be included in the handover.

In the past, Israel temporarily pulled out of some West Bank towns, but left roadblocks in place, severely restricting Palestinian travel.

The United States has urged Israel to move quickly to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians in order to boost support for Abbas.

A removal of roadblocks would be the clearest sign of change, but Israel is reluctant, citing security concerns.

n Officials said Tuesday that Israel intends to build a new settlement in the West Bank that could take in settlers uprooted from Gaza, drawing swift protest from Palestinians, Reuters reported.

"Israel is throwing sand in our eyes by continuing with the settlement process [in the West Bank]," Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie told reporters.