December 7, 2008 in Nation/World

Travel eases in West Bank

Israel lifts restrictions as Muslim holiday nears
By ALI DARAGHMEH Associated Press

NABLUS, West Bank – Palestinian motorists drove freely out of this bustling West Bank city for the first time in six years Saturday after Israel eased long-standing travel restrictions in an apparent goodwill gesture ahead of a Muslim holiday.

The move was the latest sign of improving cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. After years of fighting, Israel has begun to allow Palestinian security forces in the West Bank to maintain law and order in several major Palestinian population centers in recent months.

In contrast, Israel continues to battle militants in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Late Saturday, Israel launched a pair of airstrikes against rocket launchers in northern Gaza. One attack wounded two militants as they tried to fire a rocket, one critically, Palestinian officials said. The army confirmed the airstrikes.

In Nablus, Palestinians crowded into cars to take advantage of their newfound freedom.

“I hope this is permanent,” said Wissam Hassouna, a 37-year-old grocer who planned to go for a drive with his wife and children.

Israel maintains hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints throughout the West Bank, saying they are needed to control militants. The Palestinians say the travel restrictions have made life unbearable and stifled their economy.

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