JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said on Thursday it would curtail its military activities in four West Bank cities to help a US-backed move to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The announcement, that will give Palestinian security forces a free hand to operate in the cities, coincided with efforts by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ease tensions with US President Barack Obama over stalled peacemaking with the Palestinians. A senior Palestinian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, dismissed the move as a public relations sham. He said Israel should halt incursions without exception. Israel has rebuffed US calls for a halt to Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank. On Monday Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak will meet Obamas Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, in Washington to try to narrow differences. As of today, Palestinian security forces will be able to operate freely in the cities of Qalqilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jericho, an Israeli military official said. The official said Israeli troops would still be able to operate within those cities, battlegrounds during a Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, in cases of urgent security need. Abbass Western-backed government is based in Ramallah. More than 1,600 security men loyal to Abbas have undergone US-funded training since January 2008. They are derided as collaborators by the Hamas fighters who seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after routing Abbass forces there. Israel has slowly come to back the US training programme as a test of Abbass ability to rein in militants, as demanded in a 2003 peace road map for establishing a Palestinian state. Abbas has ruled out resuming peace talks with Israel until it halts settlement activity, also required under the road map. An Israeli security source said the army would act as little as possible to allow the Palestinians to take more initiative and responsibility over their own security. Israeli forces would stay out of the four cities except in circumstances of 'ticking bombs, or a planned attack against Israelis, the Israeli security source said. The senior Palestinian security official countered: If there is to be a change, they (Israeli troops) should stop the incursions, not enter under the pretext of 'ticking bombs. The changes set out by Israel fell far short of Palestinian demands it pull its forces back to positions they held before the outbreak of the uprising. Israel has been reducing its presence in parts of the West Bank, where anti-Israeli violence has declined. But the army still carries out routine patrols and occasional arrest raids. Under US pressure, Israel has taken down some West Bank checkpoints, including one at the entrance to Jericho. But hundreds more remain, restricting Palestinian travel and trade. Israel says the changes were meant to bolster Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas, which won a 2006 Palestinian election but is shunned by Western powers for refusing to renounce violence and for rejecting Israels right to exist. Israel informed the Palestinians it would limit army operations in the four cities at a meeting of senior officers on Wednesday. A senior Western security source said other West Bank cities could be added later. US and Israeli security officials have voiced increasing confidence in Abbass security forces, which carried out deadly raids against Hamas militants in Qalqilya earlier this month. Officials said the changes agreed by Israel would give those forces greater freedom of movement around the clock. Until now, Israel limited those movements, particularly at night.