WASHINGTON - The US administration said on Thursday that it appreciates the steps Israel has taken to ease the day-to-day lives of Palestinians in the West Bank. State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly: "We understand that Israel's taken steps to curb movement and access in the West Bank, including the removal or easing some of the IDF checkpoints. We appreciate these positive steps, which are consistent with the Israeli government's commitment to help improve the lives of average Palestinians. But we also recognize that there is work that has to be done in this regard."
Asked whether he agreed with the Palestinian Authority's comments that Israel should not reserve the right to enter Palestinian cities in the event of a security threat, Kelly said the US "recognizes that Israel has legitimate security concerns that must continue to be safeguarded."
Kelly added that efforts to "maintain security while maximizing movement of Palestinian people and goods (are) critical, and of course our ultimate goal is a comprehensive peace based on a two-state solution. This is our objective and we're pursuing it vigorously."
The State Department spokesman said he did not agree with Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal's statements made earlier in the day that while Hamas welcomes the new US administration's rhetoric they were seeing little change on the ground. "We're encouraging all parties to take steps that will lead to a renewal of the negotiations," he said.
Israel has agreed to largely keep its forces out of four West Bank cities to try to boost the US-backed Palestinian security campaign.
Israeli and Palestinian security sources told Ynet on Thursday that Israel has agreed to refrain from entering Bethlehem, Ramallah, Jericho and Qalqilya, except in cases where the army has intelligence pointing to an imminent terror attack. The agreement was reached following a meeting between Israeli officials from the Civil Administration and top Palestinian security officials held in Bethlehem Wednesday evening.
In addition to this a number of military checkpoints were removed from the Nablus, Jericho and Ramallah areas.
Ross to oversee Mideast affairs
Meanwhile on Thursday the White House named veteran Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross to a key policymaking job overseeing a region encompassing the Middle East, the Gulf, Afghanistan, Pakistan and South Asia.
Ross, who had been at the State Department as special advisor for the Gulf and southwest Asia, will serve as special assistant to the president on the region that sweeps across the Middle East, the Gulf,
Afghanistan, Pakistan and South Asia. He will work with top officials on policy issues including Iran and Iraq.
"Dennis Ross will become Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for the Central Region with overall responsibility for the region," said National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer.
There had been intense speculation in Washington in recent days about Ross's appointment, with some reports saying he would be demoted from his State Department job, and others suggesting a promotion.
AFP contributed to this report