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Remains of Palestinian militants leave Israel for Gaza

Remains of Palestinian militants leave Israel for Gaza

The Israeli military delivered the bodies of 15 militants to the Palestinians for burial yesterday, a day after Israel's Cabinet approved the names of 500 prisoners to be released and security commanders prepared for the handover of a West Bank town to Palestinian control.
The latest sign of the rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinians came as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced that he would ask the Cabinet next week to formally serve notice of the government's intention to withdraw from Gaza and four West Bank settlements.
The planned pullout has created a politically charged atmosphere in Israel, and prominent Israeli politicians yesterday called for detaining Jewish extremists without trial or charges, as a response to a wave of threats against government ministers who support the withdrawal.
The bodies of the militants, who had been killed in attacks against Israeli army outposts in Gaza and other Israeli targets over the past two years, arrived at the Erez crossing yesterday afternoon. The remains were loaded into 15 Palestinian ambulances and driven into Gaza, where an honor guard and hundreds of relatives awaited them.
It was not clear why Israel had kept the remains of these particular attackers.
The bodies were released a day after Israel's Cabinet approved the names of 500 Palestinian prisoners to be freed, and security commanders prepared to hand over the West Bank town of Jericho to Palestinian control. All three measures are part of a package of overtures agreed on last week at a summit where Sharon and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas declared a cessation of 4 1/2 years of hostilities.
Abbas told The New York Times that the war with Israel is in effect over, and that Sharon is speaking "a different language" to the Palestinians. He also spoke of a new beginning for the region, and said he has reined in Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants following a Hamas attack on Jewish settlements in Gaza after the summit.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was to meet later Monday with Sharon aide Dov Weisglass to discuss the release of additional Palestinian prisoners. Palestinians want Israel to release Palestinians serving long terms for involvement in attacks on Israelis.