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The Israeli defense minister promised the Palestinian premier that Israel would
The Israeli defense minister promised the Palestinian premier that Israel would ease restrictions on the West Bank without compromising Israeli security, the ministry said on Thursday.

Talks between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad were held late Wednesday at Barak's residence in Tel Aviv.

"Barak has confirmed to the Palestinian premier that Israel intends to ease restrictions in regard to the West Bank population of the Jordan River, while maintaining security for Israeli citizens as a priority," the Israeli Defense Ministry said in a statement.

President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party controls the West Bank after being ousted by rival Islamic group Hamas from the Gaza Strip in a bloody conflict last June. At talks this week both sides failed to overcome their differences, but agreed to start further dialogue in early April.

Abbas is insisting, however, that Hamas hand over control of the Gaza Strip as a pre-condition to further talks.

Speaking to reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, presidential adviser Nabil Amr said: "The ball is now in Hamas's court."

Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and some European countries, has called for reconciliation, but refused to back down on demands to give up control of Gaza.

Israeli troops ended a devastating offensive in the Gaza Strip in early March, which saw 120 Palestinians killed, many of them women and children. Israel said the offensive was in response to continued rocket attacks on Israeli border towns from the Gaza Strip.

Although Israel and the radical movement in Gaza have officially denied a ceasefire agreement has been reached, there has been a sharp decline in rocket attacks in recent weeks.


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