Jerusalem, July 25, 2003

Statement from PM Sharon’s Bureau
(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Israel has decided on the following series of steps in order to advance the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority:

1. Release of prisoners: As of today, Israel has released approximately 250 Palestinian prisoners. Similarly, the Ministerial Committee on Prisoner Affairs decided – several days ago – to approve the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners and to reconvene at the beginning of August in order to discuss changes in the criteria so as to facilitate the release of hundreds of additional prisoners. However, Israel has made it clear that it will not release prisoners with blood on their hands.

2. Checkpoints: Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has ordered a review of the overall policy on checkpoints in Judea and Samaria, as well as the security aspects for the checkpoints’ existence and modus operandi. Pending the conclusion of this review, three main checkpoints have been removed: Between Ramallah and Jerusalem, between Ramallah and Nablus and between Bethlehem and Hebron. In addition, it was decided that the Nablus-Jenin route will be opened to public transportation, and the opening of a bypass near Morag junction in the Gaza Strip will be considered at a meeting to be held between the two sides at the beginning of next week.

3. Transfer of security responsibility for additional cities: Israel will transfer security responsibility for two additional cities in Judea and Samaria. The decision as to which cities, the nature of the security responsibility and the transfer timing will be made at a meeting to be held at the beginning of next week between Defense Minister Mofaz and Muhammad Dahlan, the PA minister responsible for security affairs.

4. Israel is continuing to dismantle unauthorized outposts according to a Defense Ministry plan, the implementation of which has been assigned to the law enforcement authorities.

5. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will consider ways to reduce – by as much as possible – infringements by the security fence on the Palestinian population’s daily lives.

6. Israel will enact additional measures designed to ease and improve economic conditions for the Palestinian population: The numbers of work permits for Gaza residents will increase by 5,000. 2,500 work permits will be issued to residents of Kalkilya. 1,000 additional work permits will be issued to Bethlehem residents; tourists will be allowed to enter Bethlehem. Conditions will be eased vis-?-vis the passage of goods and merchants. The international crossing points will be open for longer hours, etc.

7. Israel will transfer NIS 72 million to the PA from funds that have been collected – and were being held – by the Airports Authority.

8. Negotiations have begun between officials from the State of Israel and the PA on the expansion of joint industrial zones and improvements in their activities, improvements in the activities of merchandise loading and unloading terminals, and additional measures to advance trade between Israel and the Palestinians.

9. The various Israeli-Palestinian joint committees – such as on incitement and legal affairs – have begun working. It has also been decided to establish a professional team to evaluate Palestinian prisoners’ detention conditions.

Israel expects the Palestinian Authority to work towards dismantling the terrorist organizations according to the agreed-upon security plans, and carry out the reform process in the areas of security, governance, economic affairs, social affairs and legal affairs, in order to advance the peace process.