- RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters)
- Israel withdrew its forces from most of the West Bank city of Ramallah
overnight but said it would continue to besiege Yasser Arafat's compound
until suspected assassins holed up inside were handed over.
- Israeli forces stormed into West Bank towns and refugee
camps three weeks ago to rout militants responsible for suicide bombings
in Israel, sparking fierce fighting and devastation in some areas which
provoked an international outcry.
- The Israeli army said its forces had pulled out of all
of Ramallah except Arafat's headquarters and that troops would complete
a withdrawal from the West Bank city of Nablus later on Sunday. Troops
would encircle the city to enforce a tight closure.
- Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said
forces would stay put outside Arafat's compound until three people it
of assassinating a cabinet minister last year and a suspected arms smuggler
were extradited to Israel.
- "We are demanding these people be extradited so
they can be put on trial," Ben-Eliezer said. Israel also wants
chief financial officer Fuad Shubaki, who it suspects of smuggling arms
from Iran into the Palestinian territories.
- He declined to comment in an interview with Israel Radio
on whether Israel would storm the compound if the standoff continued saying
only that Israel would "find a way that will be
- Palestinians have rejected extraditing the men but Arafat
offered Friday to try the suspects in a Palestinian court.
- Witnesses said tanks had departed from three strategic
points in the center, north and western parts of Nablus while other army
vehicles had quit the nearby Balata refugee camp.
- The Israeli government promised Saturday to cooperate
with a U.N. Security Council mission to probe its crushing assault on the
Jenin refugee camp, the scene of the fiercest battles of Israel's West
- WEST BANK WITHDRAWALS
- The army said Saturday it had left Jenin and the camp,
but remained deployed around them to keep "terrorists" from
out into Israel, and it slapped a curfew on three villages close to the
"Green Line" boundary.
- International officials have urged Israel to lift curfews
where fighting has stopped to ease access for relief agencies and help
civilians start to get on with their lives.
- The army vacated two other West Bank towns last week
but continues to encircle them. The same strategy would apply to further
withdrawals, with the option of renewed raids to catch militants who
through the cracks, Israel says.
- Palestinian leaders have ruled out any cease-fire without
a total army withdrawal from towns that obtained autonomy under interim
peace deals in the 1990s, and an end to encirclements which have paralyzed
daily life there.
- A cease-fire could lead to renewed negotiations on a
permanent peace settlement. Secretary of State Colin Powell spent a week
in the region this month trying in vain to broker a truce but plans to
return at an unspecified date.
- President Bush said Israel must press ahead with its
withdrawal from Palestinian cities but did not repeat earlier demands for
an immediate end to its offensive.
- "All parties must realize that the only long-term
solution is for two states -- Israel and Palestine -- to live side by side
in security and peace. This will require hard choices and real leadership
by Israelis and Palestinians, and their Arab neighbors," Bush said
in his weekly radio address.
- Palestinians said they hoped the U.N. Security Council's
unanimous decision Friday to send a "fact-finding" team to the
Jenin camp could spawn an international criminal trial of Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon and other senior figures.
- "We have nothing to hide and we will gladly
with this U.N. inquiry," Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Sharon, said
after the United States forced a dilution of an initial Council resolution
demanding an "investigation" into a "massacre."
- Israel has vigorously denied Palestinian allegations
of a massacre in Jenin camp, saying the vast majority of casualties were
gunmen who battled with Israeli troops by using civilians as "human
shields" and booby-trapping their homes.
- 'TERRIBLE HUMAN TRAGEDY'
- Watching residents scrabble through rubble in the camp's
bombed and bulldozed main square for bodies and possessions, U.S. assistant
secretary of state for the region, William Burns, called Jenin a
- A Jenin hospital official said the body count in the
refugee camp had risen to 39 but added that it could climb to between 200
and 400. Israel says about 70 Palestinians died, mostly fighters.
Israeli troops were killed in Jenin.
- "We have found 38 (Palestinian) bodies so far --
11 in the first days of the fighting. The assessment is that there are
a few dozen more bodies under the rubble," an army spokesman
- The army is also locked in a stalemate with Palestinian
militants holed up with more than 200 policemen and civilians inside
fabled Church of the Nativity, vowing not to vacate the town until the
wanted gunmen surrender.
- Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser said earlier high-level
talks involving European, U.S. and Vatican officials on solving the
at one of Christianity's holiest sites were going on.
- At least 1,289 Palestinians and 453 Israelis have died
since the Palestinian uprising in pursuit of a state erupted 18 months
ago after talks on a permanent peace accord collapsed.