JERUSALEM — In a double-edged message ahead of the arrival of a U.S. envoy, Israel on Thursday eased its restrictions on West Bank towns but also detained five suspected militants in two raids into Palestinian territory.
A U.S.-drafted truce deal calls for Israel to stay out of Palestinian-controlled areas and lift travel restrictions on Palestinians.
U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who arrives in the region Thursday, will be trying to implement the truce deal, which was drafted last year by CIA chief George Tenet and was accepted by both sides. A truce is to be followed by mutual gestures outlined by an international commission headed by former Sen. George Mitchell.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Wednesday that Israel will not begin implementing the Tenet deal until there have been seven days of complete calm. The Israeli government acknowledges that there has been a sharp drop in Palestinian attacks but says conditions for a formal truce have not yet been met.
On Thursday, Israeli tanks withdrew from the West Bank town of Jenin and a neighborhood of the West Bank town of Ramallah. However, a tank and an armored personnel carrier remained in a northern neighborhood of Ramallah that overlooks the office of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Troops also lifted blockades of the West Bank towns of Qalqiliya, Tulkarem, Jenin and Hebron. Motorists were stopped and questioned by troops but permitted to pass. No restrictions were eased in the Gaza Strip, residents said.
During the past 15 months of fighting, Israel has enforced stringent travel restrictions on Palestinians.