- RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters)
- A defiant Yasser Arafat emerged from his shattered headquarters on
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
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,
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
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.
- BITTER EPISODE ENDS
- The lifting of Arafat's confinement ended one of the
most bitter episodes since the Palestinians rose up against Israeli
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip 19 months ago, although hopes of a
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
underlined how the siege ordered by Sharon failed to isolate the
leader, whose popularity among his people has grown along with
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
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.
- TENSIONS HIGH
- 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
- 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
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
- Continuing their hunt for militants, Israeli forces
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
was killed and three wounded by Israeli gunfire. Hospital sources said
one of the injured was a 12-year-old child.
- ANNAN DISBANDS MISSION
- 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.