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Israel returns Jericho to Palestinian control

Town is first of 5 West Bank cities to be handed over

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The city of Jericho is now under Palestinian control.
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JERICHO, West Bank (CNN) -- Israel transferred security control of the West Bank city of Jericho to the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday, but not without a brief delay in a formal signing ceremony.

Jericho is the first of five cities where the Palestinian Authority will assume control.

Israeli forces began pulling back from Jericho earlier Wednesday, but the signing of a formal agreement to hand over control of the city was stalled at the last minute.

Without offering specifics, the Israel Defense Forces said there were "technical problems" but the problems were resolved during a meeting with Palestinian officials and the transfer document was formally signed.

Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erakat said the formal signing was held up when an Israeli commander asserted that Israel's attorney general had to review the agreement.

He said Israeli negotiators hadn't mentioned such a document review during three weeks of talks.

Live television pictures showed an Israeli checkpoint being dismantled and Palestinian police setting up a new one. Two other checkpoints are scheduled to be taken apart in about a month.

The West Bank town of Tulkarem is set to be handed over next, according to understandings between the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority. Qalqilya, south of Tulkarem, will follow.

No date has been set for the handover of two remaining cities, Bethlehem and Ramallah.

An IDF statement said an agreement was finalized Tuesday night for the transfer of Jericho.

"The IDF views the transfer of security responsibility as a coordinated and gradual process which will take place on grounds of confidence-building measures," the statement said.

"The success of the process depends on the commitment of the Palestinian security forces to a joint fight against terrorist activity."

The IDF rarely entered Jericho, and observers said the practical effect of Wednesday's transfer is that goods and people will be allowed to move more freely, a step that likely will boost the local economy.

As part of the agreement, the responsibility over law and order in Ujja, a village near Jericho, will be transferred to the Palestinian Authority, the IDF said, while part of Route 90 that passes through Ujja will remain under Israeli responsibility.

CNN's Guy Raz and Michal Zippori contributed to this report.

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