(Communicated by the Interior Ministry Spokeswoman)

Interior Minister Ophir Pines-Paz held a working meeting today (Monday), 7 March 2005, with Palestinian Authority (PA) Interior Minister Nasser Yousef; officials from their ministries also attended the meeting.

Interior Minister Pines-Paz commended his PA counterpart on taking up his office and said that while both he and the Interior Ministry were greatly interested in enhancing cooperation with PA Interior Minister Yousef and his ministry, this must be done in parallel to an improvement in the Palestinian struggle against terrorist elements.

Interior Minister Pines-Paz noted the progress that has taken place in the struggle against terrorism since Abu Mazen’s election but emphasized the government’s dissatisfaction over the pace of progress in the security sphere and referred to the serious terrorist attack that recently took place in Tel Aviv in which five Israelis were murdered, the perpetrators of which are still at large.

Interior Minister Pines-Paz said that the Disengagement Plan would be implemented in any event and added that it should be carried out in a coordinated manner that would serve the interests of both sides. The Interior Minister added that the government would not tolerate the withdrawal from Gaza being marked by terrorist actions.

Interior Minister Pines-Paz said that while he would like to ease restrictions on Palestinian residents, this must be done in a manner that maintains a balance between security and humanitarian needs, and added that the negotiations must not become focused solely on the release of prisoners, which affects only the smallest proportion of the Palestinian public.

PA Interior Minister Yousef also expressed his hope for cooperation their respective ministries and governments. He raised several issues in the civilian and security spheres, including family reunification, border crossings, the separation fence, activity by Palestinian institutions in eastern Jerusalem, permits for Palestinian workers, etc.

The two ministers agreed to establish joint working teams composed of personnel from their respective ministries in order to deal with joint problems on an ongoing basis. It was also decided that the ministers would meet again in order to evaluate progress on the various issues.