The Israeli army is expected hand over control of Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority this week, Israeli military sources reported on Sunday, adding that the transfer could take place as early as Tuesday

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon agreed on the transfer in a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a few weeks ago.

Sharon told Abbas that Qalqilia would be transferred one week after handing Bethlehem to the P.A. According to Israeli sources the transfer was delayed “after a series of shootings” occurred against settlers and soldiers in the West Bank.  

The Israeli army claimed that “an unusually large number” of shooting incidents took place on Sunday in the Gaza Strip, and that such shooting incidents in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have increased in recent days. 

According to an army source, nine shooting incidents took place in the Gaza Strip, mostly in Gush Katif, by Sunday afternoon. The army also claims it found two 25-kilogram bombs near the Sofa crossing. The bombs were detonated in a controlled explosion.

Also, P.A Minister of Civil Affairs Mohammad Dahlan and General Yousef Mishlib, the Israeli government’s coordinator of government affairs in the Palestinian territories,  met on Sunday evening and decided to reactivate joint committees this week. The two sides have long planned to set up joint working committees to focus on security and other issues.

Dahlan and Mishlib also agreed to keep the Karni and Rafah crossings opened during disengagement, while the Eretz crossing will be closed for a period of time.

Meanwhile, Israel and the European Union resumed imeetings discussing the crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel and the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is expected to meet on Monday with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, then with Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres. Israel reportedly wants to maintain control over customs at the Rafah Crossing, or hand the responsibility over to a European committee.

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