Israel Starts Withdrawing From
Two West Bank Towns


(CNN) -- The Israeli army announced late Monday it is beginning to withdraw troops from the West Bank towns of Qalqilya and Tulkarem after its forces "seriously harmed the terror infrastructure" there.
The withdrawal began hours after U.S. President Bush reiterated his demand that Israel withdraw "without delay" from Palestinian areas and after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the Knesset that the overall military operation would end when the "mission was completed."
Col. Moshe Fogel, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, told CNN the forces may "continue withdrawing" from other West Bank areas, but that would be contingent on Israel's gains against terrorists.
"We're not going to leave until we're making sure we are hitting hard at the terrorist infrastructure," Fogel said. "We're intent upon going through and capturing as many terrorists as we can."
He said it is Israel's goal to stop terrorists "before they get to Israeli coffee houses, Israeli restaurants and blow up innocent men, women and children."
Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer "in coordination" with Sharon had ordered troops to redeploy around Qalqilya and Tulkarem and "cordon off the cities," according to the Israeli Defense Ministry.
The ministry statement said the decision was reached "in view of the fact that the IDF operation in those cities has been completed."
The operation "seriously harmed the infrastructure of terror" and resulted in the arrests of dozens of Palestinian militants and the capture of weapons, the statement said.
The White House made clear Monday night that while it welcomed Israel's commitment to withdraw from the two towns, it did not consider the pledge enough to meet the administration's demand for a complete Israeli pullback "without delay."
"It's a start," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said in a statement. "As the president said last Thursday, all parties in the Middle East have responsibilities and the president expects all parties to step up to them."
Bush also said the Arab world had a responsibility to work for peace by standing up and condemning terrorism.
In his Knesset speech, Sharon told the legislators that when the operation ends, the military will withdraw to "security zones" to prevent future terrorist attacks on Israel. He did not spell out where those zones will be, but the presumption is the West Bank.
Sharon also praised the Saudi peace initiative of Crown Prince Abdullah and said he would talk with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell about a peace summit "with the responsible leaders in the Middle East." (Speech excerpts)
After his speech, Sharon met with U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni met, according to the prime minister's office. The meeting was scheduled after several other Bush administration contacts with the Israeli government conveyed frustration that Israel had not heeded Bush's weekend call to end the offensive, a White House spokesman said.
Powell arrived Monday in Morocco on the first stop of a Middle East trip. He is expected in Israel on Wednesday or Thursday, but officials noted his schedule could change with the situation in the Middle East. Powell said Sunday he would meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat during his trip "if circumstances permit."
The United Nations and the European Union both issued fresh appeals Monday for an Israeli withdrawal. (Full story on diplomatic action)
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat called Sharon's speech "disastrous."
"When he is defying, he is really defying President Bush's call for withdrawal, for stopping incursions," Erakat said. "He's saying I will delay my presence. Clearly he has resumed occupation and announced now that he will create buffer zones in areas where the Israelis will resume the occupation."
Shortly after Sharon's Knesset speech, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein announced an immediate halt to oil exports for 30 days or until Israeli forces unconditionally withdraw from Palestinian territories. Oil prices jumped on world markets shortly after Hussein's announcement. (Full story)
Raids in Ramallah, roundup in Nablus
In Jenin, Palestinian sources said the Israeli military was in almost total control of the city and its refugee camp. They said only one group of Palestinian gunmen was putting up resistance after a number of others gave up.
Israel Defense Forces said two of its soldiers were killed Monday in fighting in Jenin.
Israeli forces fired at least 19 missiles into the Jenin refugee camp early in the day. Soldiers used loudspeakers to warn residents to evacuate before launching the strike. When some residents refused, they were evacuated by force. Most residents were still in the camp when the strike began.
There was no immediate word on Palestinian casualties. The IDF said searches in the camp turned up explosives labs, Qassam rockets, an unexploded car bomb and mortar shells. (Full story)
In Nablus, the West Bank's largest city, Israeli troops surrounded a group of Palestinian gunmen in the casbah, the center of the city, Palestinian sources said. The IDF said "close to 100" gunmen had surrendered, and 13 weapons caches and explosives labs had been uncovered.
The incursions into Jenin and Nablus were expected to end by Monday, said Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, head of the Israel army's operations section. He said the timetable depended on the number of civilians in each place.
In Ramallah, Israeli forces raided the offices of several news organizations and one U.S. aid organization Monday, using gunfire and explosives to enter the buildings, according to eyewitnesses.
Israeli troops have taken control of six Palestinian towns in the West Bank since the offensive began March 29. The operation started during a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings over the Passover holiday. Israeli officials have said their goal is to capture terrorists' weapons and destroy their bomb-making capability.
While the West Bank operation continued, the IDF said it was sending more troops to its northern border with Lebanon in an attempt to control cross-border attacks from Hezbollah militants. (Full story)

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