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Hundreds of Palestinian troops take up positions in Jenin
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    JENIN, West Bank — Hundreds of flag-waving Palestinian troops took up positions in the former militant stronghold of Jenin on Saturday, part of President Mahmoud Abbas’ attempt to assert control over once lawless West Bank towns and encourage an Israeli withdrawal.
    The Israeli military and Abbas sharply disagree over whether the Palestinian forces are ready to replace Israeli troops in the West Bank, the only area Abbas controls following the June 2007 violent takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas militants.
    The West Bank city of Nablus, which several months ago became the test case for Abbas’ forces, is still raided regularly by Israeli troops searching for fugitives. Palestinian officials say such raids undermine their security forces, but Israel says Palestinian troops too often co-opt, rather than confront militants.
    Jenin is the second town in which newly trained Palestinian troops were deployed in large numbers, and the city of Hebron is next.
    ‘‘I hope this will be a step in the direction of restoring full (Palestinian) security jurisdiction in these areas,’’ said Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. ‘‘So far this has not been done, and if the Israelis continue coming ... to Nablus and Jenin, this would undermine our effort.’’
    About 480 officers from the National Security and the Presidential Guard, dressed in black and khaki uniforms, marched into Jenin. Thousands flocked to the town’s center to cheer on the forces, which will beef up the area’s existing force of 1,500 officers.
    The deployment of the security forces is part of Palestinian commitments under the U.S.-backed ‘‘road map’’ peace plan. Abbas is to rein in and disarm militants, while Israel must freeze settlement expansion and remove dozens of illegal settlement outposts.
    In violation of its commitment, Israel has issued construction bids for hundreds more homes in settlements since the relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in November. It also has failed to remove the outposts. On Friday in London, the ‘‘Quartet’’ of Mideast mediators — the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — again demanded that Israel halt construction.
    In Gaza, Ayman Taha, a spokesman for the Islamic militant group Hamas, said Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman is expected to arrive in Israel in coming days for truce talks.
    Egypt is trying to broker a cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas rulers of Gaza. Palestinian militants routinely fire rockets from Gaza toward Israeli border towns, and Israel often responds with deadly incursions into Gaza, and kills militants in targeted attacks.
    Hamas demands that Gaza’s borders, virtually closed for more than a year, be opened as part of a cease-fire. Israel has been cool to the proposal, fearing that such an arrangement will extend Hamas rule and allow the militants to build up their military arsenal.
    There was no immediate Egyptian confirmation on Suleiman’s arrival date, but Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Friday that he expected Suleiman to visit Israel, where he would meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
    Also on Saturday, a Palestinian man died of injures sustained after Israeli forces shot him close to a checkpoint, Palestinian police said.
    Israel’s army said the 30-year-old man approached the checkpoint carrying a knife and attempted to stab a soldier. The army said Israeli troops opened fire and wounded the man.
    Associated Press writers Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City, Nasser Shiyoukhi in Hebron and Maggie Michael in Cairo, Egypt contributed to this report.

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