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Monday, January 31, 2005; Page A17

Israel Signals Pullback From West Bank Cities

JERUSALEM -- Israel is likely to pull its troops back from several West Bank cities within days, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said Sunday, in a further sign of cooperation with a new Palestinian leadership.

"I think there is an opportunity to create a new reality," Mofaz told Israel Radio after talks late Saturday with Palestinian official Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief, on confidence-building steps.

"It is very possible responsibility will be transferred [to Palestinian security forces] in some of the cities in the next few days," Mofaz said. "We are supposed to meet again to finalize the issues."

Palestinian sources said Israel agreed this week to a handover of five West Bank cities, where militants wanted by Israel would be kept in check by the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people, mainly settlers, gathered in front of Israel's parliament building in Jerusalem to protest Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to close down all 21 Jewish settlements in Gaza and four of 120 in the West Bank.


MADRID -- An explosive device blew up in a seaside hotel in southeastern Spain, injuring at least one person, after a warning call in the name of the Basque separatist group ETA, officials said.

The device had been hidden in a backpack and left on a patio in the 280-room hotel, but the building was evacuated before the explosion, an Interior Ministry source said.

Local police said two people had been injured, but the Interior Ministry said later that the only person hurt at the hotel, where 160 people were staying, was a guest who suffered damaged eardrums.

VATICAN CITY -- Pope John Paul II shooed a dove -- a symbol of peace -- out his apartment window, chuckling with children who watched in delight as the bird flew back into his room overlooking St. Peter's Square.

The pontiff was addressing thousands of young people from an Italian Catholic organization that had marked January as a month to promote peace. He was flanked at his studio window by a pair of 8-year-olds, a boy and girl.

John Paul prayed that young people, "who so desire peace, become courageous and tenacious builders" of reconciliation.

LONDON -- Britain's first openly gay lawmaker revealed that he had been HIV-positive for 17 years, saying he was inspired by Nelson Mandela to tell the public he had the virus that causes AIDS.

Chris Smith, 53, the governing Labor Party's former culture secretary, said he was responding to the former South African president's call earlier this month for more publicity about AIDS to fight the stigma attached to the disease.

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