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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Second West Bank Town Handed Over

TULKAREM, West Bank -- Israel completed the handover of the West Bank town of Tulkarem to Palestinian control Tuesday, ceremonially unlocking a gate that had blocked traffic between the town and main points in the West Bank.

Israeli and Palestinian commanders sealed the handover with a handshake at the gate, which is to be removed later. The transfer of control to Palestinian forces, which began Monday night, has nudged along a conciliation process that has proceeded fitfully since leaders announced an end to four years of bloodshed.

The transfer could help Palestinian officials carry out a new directive restricting weapons in the hands of militants, who insist they will comply only if Israel withdraws from West Bank towns. Tulkarem residents welcomed the handover, but said they did not think it signaled a big move toward broader Palestinian-Israeli peace.

Tulkarem, located in a sensitive position on the line between Israel and the West Bank, is the second of five West Bank towns where Palestinian security forces are to assume responsibility. Its transfer had stalled over whether to include nearby villages and roads.

Since Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared an end to violence at a Feb. 8 summit in Egypt, violence has dropped considerably, but not all confidence-building measures -- transfer of the towns and release of additional Palestinian prisoners -- have been implemented.

Tulkarem residents said they expected more order in their lives now that Palestinians have reassumed control of internal police matters, and Israeli troops were less likely to come into the town to make arrests. But they did not foresee more than incremental changes.

"We'll have traffic cops, we won't have the chaos in the streets that we have today. They'll be able to stop cars from being stolen, and movement in and out of the town will become easier now that they've removed the gate," said Nashat Salem, 46, owner of an electronics store in the center of town.

"But on the path to peace, I'm not so sure we're going anywhere," Salem said.

Israeli and Palestinian security officers hammered out a compromise over Tulkarem in two meetings Monday.

The main sticking point had been two villages north of Tulkarem, where Israel says an Islamic Jihad cell responsible for a Feb. 25 suicide bombing in Tel Aviv operates.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israel was not satisfied with Palestinian actions against militants there. Palestinians have said that they cannot be expected to enforce security measures in towns and villages where they are not in control.

n Israel on Monday publicly confirmed plans to build 3,500 new housing units in the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Maale Adumim, The New York Times reported. Palestinians angrily responded that such an action would violate the Middle East peace plan and would be a major obstacle to resolving bitter disputes over nearby Jerusalem.