Arafat Defiant After Siege -
One Killed In Bethlehem

By Diala Saadeh

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - A defiant Yasser Arafat emerged from his shattered headquarters on Thursday at the end of a month-long Israeli siege, flashing a V-for-victory sign to cheering supporters.
The Palestinian president, freed from virtual house arrest under a U.S.-brokered deal, blinked in the sunlight as he stepped from his office into a black Mercedes to begin a tour of the battle-scarred West Bank city of Ramallah.
"With our blood and our souls, we will redeem you, Abu Ammar," hundreds of Palestinians chanted, using Arafat's nom de guerre, as they thronged around him hours after Israeli forces completed their withdrawal from the presidential compound.
Asked how he felt as he toured a ministry building, Arafat pointed to a group of children and said: "One of these children will wave the flag over a Palestinian state."
Jubilation over Arafat's release was tempered by anger over a U.N. decision to call off a probe into Israel's assault on the Jenin refugee camp and a standoff at Bethlehem's Nativity Church, where troops shot dead a Palestinian man on Thursday.
Arafat called the Bethlehem siege a "religious crime." An Anglican bishop said after talks with Arafat that the Palestinian leader had said he was ready to go to the church to try to end the standoff and pray with the people inside.
The lifting of Arafat's confinement ended one of the most bitter episodes since the Palestinians rose up against Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip 19 months ago, although hopes of a breakthrough to end the violence are slim.
It met a key demand of world leaders seeking an end to a month-old Israeli army offensive in the West Bank and smoothed the way for a visit planned by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Washington next week to meet President Bush.
Arafat's defiant appearance and the enthusiastic reception underlined how the siege ordered by Sharon failed to isolate the Palestinian leader, whose popularity among his people has grown along with international sympathy for him.
Sharon, who launched the West Bank offensive on March 29 after Palestinian suicide attacks, said he could not guarantee Arafat would be allowed to return if he traveled abroad.
"We're not asked to give any guarantees, we're not going to give any guarantees, because usually in the past when he left, it was always a sign for a wave of terror," Sharon said in an interview with the U.S. television network ABC.
But Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo told Reuters that Arafat had an "international guarantee" that he would be able to travel and return home.
The White House urged Palestinians, Israelis and Arab leaders to "look at themselves hard" and build on the progress made by Arafat's release.
"The president thinks the important step for all three parties is to now ask themselves what they can do to bring peace to the region, not what they can do to speak ill of others," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
In a sign that tensions remain high, Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian, identified by witnesses as a security force member, and wounded two other people in the Church of the Nativity compound in Bethlehem.
The army said it fired on armed men in the courtyard of the church, where troops have been locked in a standoff with gunmen holed up among priests and civilians since Israeli forces entered the West Bank town on April 2 to hunt for militants.
The church stands on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born.
Witnesses said 11 peace activists later entered the church with rice, sweets, salt and sugar, and vowed to stay in solidarity with those inside. Peace activists also stayed in Arafat's compound throughout the siege there.
Anglican Bishop of the Middle East Riah Abu al-Assel said after talks with Arafat in Ramallah: "He (Arafat) said he is prepared to risk his life. We are prepared to go as far as entering and worshipping and praying together with those who are hostage in that church."
Continuing their hunt for militants, Israeli forces briefly raided the West Bank town of Tulkarm and said they arrested 15 Palestinians and discovered an explosives laboratory.
Palestinian witnesses said three tanks entered the Rafah refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip and the Israeli army said one person was killed and three wounded by Israeli gunfire. Hospital sources said one of the injured was a 12-year-old child.
In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he would disband a U.N. team that was to have investigated Israel's assault on the Jenin camp and Palestinian allegations of a massacre there, after failing to secure Israeli cooperation.
Israel, which denies Palestinian charges that a massacre occurred in Jenin, said the mission had been flawed from the start and that the grounds for it no longer existed.
Arafat had hardly left his Ramalah compound since early December, when he was trapped there by Israeli forces.
The siege was tightened on March 29, when the Israel offensive began and Sharon blamed him for the wave of suicide attacks. Arafat has denied any involvement in the attacks.
The deal to end the siege followed an initiative by Bush. Palestinian, U.S. and British officials escorted six men wanted by Israel from Arafat's compound to detention in Jericho which will be supervised by a U.S. and British team.
The end of the siege eased oil market fears of a spread of violence and potential supply disruptions from the Middle East, bringing prices down by around $1 a barrel on Thursday.
At least 1,333 Palestinians and 458 Israelis have been killed since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000.

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