- RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters)
- U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni met Yasser Arafat under the guns
of Israeli tanks on Friday, but Israel kept up its West Bank offensive
despite President Bush's call for a withdrawal.
- Bush's intervention and Israel's decision to let Zinni
meet the Palestinian leader in his besieged headquarters in Ramallah raised
some hope of a breakthrough to end the violence.
- But at least 16 Palestinians died in fighting overnight
and on Friday, and officials on both sides said Bush's statement left
some leeway to pursue its offensive until Secretary of State Colin Powell
visits the region next week.
- Raising the specter of Middle East conflict spreading
to a second front, Israeli jets hit the outskirts of Lebanese border towns
after Lebanon's Hizbollah guerrillas attacked a number of Israeli positions
in a disputed frontier area, witnesses said.
- Palestinian officials said Zinni told Arafat at a
that a series of "broad U.S.-Palestinian meetings would be held in
the coming hours."
- But they later said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
had refused to let Arafat meet the Palestinian officials who were due to
see Zinni and the talks with Zinni might be scrapped.
- Explosions and gunfire rang out across Palestinian-ruled
Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, and up to 200 Palestinian gunmen and
civilians remained trapped in the Church of the Nativity in a four-day-old
standoff with Israeli troops.
- Four priests managed to slip out of the church, with
the army's help, the military said.
- The worst fighting was in the northern city of Nablus
overnight, where nine Palestinians were killed. Clashes also broke out
in the city of Jenin, where five people were killed.
- CRACK IN ARAFAT'S ISOLATION
- Zinni, a former Marine Corps general, was the first
dignitary allowed in by Israel for face-to-face talks with Arafat since
its forces smashed into his compound a week ago.
- Zinni, whose efforts to forge a truce after 18 months
of conflict had been stymied by the bloodshed, was driven to Arafat's
in a heavily protected convoy. Troops threw stun grenades to turn back
a convoy of foreign journalists.
- The first crack in Israel's "isolation" of
Arafat opened up after Bush signaled a policy shift by pressing Israel
to end its military campaign, in which it has reoccupied every West Bank
city except for Jericho.
- "The storms of violence cannot go on," Bush
said in his statement on Thursday. "Enough is enough."
- Bush, who had previously defended Israel's actions as
an understandable response to recent suicide bombings that killed dozens
of Israelis, switched course under pressure from European and Arab allies
to halt the spiraling Middle East violence.
- Sharon often pays heed to such admonitions from
which provides Israeli with $3 billion in annual aid, much of its devoted
to military purposes.
- NEW VIOLENCE
- Nine Palestinians were killed and 24 wounded as battles
raged through the night in Nablus, the West Bank's biggest city,
security officials and witnesses said.
- In the northern city of Jenin, hospital sources said
a police officer and four other Palestinians were killed.
- Ali Jabbarin, deputy director of al-Razi Hospital in
Jenin, said one man was wounded by Israeli gunfire outside the hospital
and begged for help as nurses watched for several hours while he bled to
death because troops prevented them from reaching him.
- The army had no immediate comment.
- A 14-year-old girl was killed by Israeli helicopter fire
in her home in the town of Toubas, and a 17-year-old youth was killed by
tank fire near Nablus, witnesses and officials said.
- A rocket fired by a helicopter gunship hit two cars in
the city of Hebron, wounding 11 civilians, hospital sources said.
- Along with calling for an Israeli withdrawal, Bush called
on the Palestinians to stop suicide bombings in their revolt against
occupation. He also criticized Arafat, who has been penned up in Ramallah
- PRAISE FOR BUSH STATEMENT
- Arafat said he accepted Bush's call for an Israeli
as a prelude to achieving a cease-fire and peace talks. Israeli Foreign
Minister Shimon Peres welcomed Bush "joining in the effort to bring
about a cease-fire."
- The U.N. Security Council endorsed the Powell mission
in a 15-0 vote and demanded Israel withdraw from Palestinian cities.
- Israel launched its offensive last Friday after a
suicide bomber killed 26 Israelis. It says it wants to root out people
responsible for a spate of attacks.
- Palestinians say Sharon's offensive aims to oust or kill
Arafat, destroy his Palestinian Authority, scrap interim peace deals signed
since 1993 and block their hopes of independence. Israel says it will not
harm the Palestinian leader.
- Opinion polls published on Friday showed 72 percent of
Israelis supported waging "wide-scale war" in the West Bank and
that the launch of the army offensive had boosted support for Sharon.
a quarter of respondents in one poll said they wanted Arafat
a euphemism for killing him.
- Major-General Giora Eiland, head of the army's planning
division, expressed satisfaction with the West Bank offensive, saying
had arrested more than 1,200 people, including dozens he described as
dangerous terrorists" and seized more than 2,000 weapons.
- At least 1,179 Palestinians and 413 Israelis have been
killed since the uprising began in September 2000.