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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jericho Handover Accomplished Peacefully

JERICHO, West Bank -- Israel on Wednesday handed this quiet West Bank town to Palestinian security control, Palestinian commanders said, ending a weeks-long impasse over the removal of army roadblocks and giving a fresh boost to Mideast peacemaking.

Jericho is the first of five West Bank towns to revert back to Palestinian control in coming weeks, part of an attempt to restore the situation that existed before the outbreak of fighting in September 2000.

As part of the pullback in Jericho, Israeli troops were removing one roadblock, while two other barriers were to remain in place during a monthlong period in which the ability of the Palestinian forces to keep calm will be tested. The Palestinians had insisted that all checkpoints be removed, but accepted the compromise.

Israeli travel restrictions have severely hampered daily life in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in more than four years of fighting, and the removal of barriers sends a message to ordinary Palestinians that an informal truce with Israel is beginning to pay off.

Israel says the barriers were erected to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen from reaching Israeli targets; hundreds of Israelis have been killed in attacks by militants since 2000.

Palestinians found it difficult to believe their lives are going to improve.

"Even if they remove one checkpoint here or there, there are dozens of others," said Ayman Shaabna, 19, standing in line at the main checkpoint.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the handover of the town is the first step in gradually returning to peace.