- JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's
crushing offensive in the West Bank ended in stalemate at the besieged
compound of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and at Bethlehem's Church
of the Nativity where defiant gunmen are holed up.
- Warily watching the tinderbox standoffs, the United States
played for time in a high-stakes waiting game as it pondered its next move
in a global war against terrorism, a campaign that could include an assault
- "That's our message right now: Give us time to find
a way out of this and let's not try to solve it through the use of any
violence," Secretary of State Colin Powell said on CNN amid European
Union calls on Israel not to raid Arafat's office.
- Powell spoke after Israeli tanks rumbled out of Ramallah
on Sunday but continued to ring Arafat's office in the battered city to
press home demands for the extradition of four wanted Palestinians, including
suspected killers of a cabinet minister.
- Palestinian officials said William Burns, U.S. assistant
secretary of state for the Near East, would meet Arafat on Monday.
- Troops quit Nablus but remained around the Bethlehem
church revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus, now a sanctuary
for wanted Palestinian militants trapped with more than 200 policemen,
clerics and civilians.
- "We will not surrender and we warn (of the consequences)
of the slow death we are subjected to," a group of die-hard militants
in the church said in a statement.
- Elsewhere in the West Bank, dazed Palestinians suddenly
free of Israeli curfew emerged from their homes to piles of garbage, smashed
shops and streets chewed up by tank tracks.
- Palestinian officials called the pullbacks a sham, noting
that Israeli forces were keeping a stranglehold on areas just outside the
cities they have left in what the army called encirclements to keep suicide
bombers out of Israel.
- NO VICTORY CALL
- Without declaring victory, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon announced that "this stage" of Operation Defensive Shield
had ended, three weeks after it began in the wake of suicide bombings that
killed scores of Israelis.
- "We have achieved very profound results but the
struggle against terrorism continues. However this time, it will work according
to a different method," Sharon told reporters.
- He was apparently referring to buffer zones which he
wants to establish inside the West Bank to block Palestinian suicide bombers.
- Since the operation began on March 29, Israeli officials
have made clear they did not expect the punishing sweeps for militants
to stop suicide bombings cold, preparing an anxious public for the prospect
of more bloodshed in Israeli streets.
- Powell, who failed to win a truce during a Middle East
mission that ended on Wednesday, said he would ultimately like to see Israeli
units that have been redeployed around Palestinian cities back in their
- "And I would like to see the cities opened up, so
that we can start to see normal life resume and so that there are no restrictions
with respect to the provision of humanitarian aid," Powell added on
CBS television's "Face the Nation."
- Powell also repeated his call for Arafat to lead his
people to a negotiated settlement.
- HEAVY TOLL
- Palestinian leaders said the offensive caused hundreds
of casualties, wiped out Arafat's security services and wrecked many of
the nascent institutions of his Palestinian Authority.
- The scale of devastation, especially in the Jenin refugee
camp, has provoked ferocious criticism from abroad and an exchange of accusations
between Israel and the Palestinians.
- Stung by Israeli criticism of his Middle East envoy,
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan expressed "full confidence"
on Sunday in Terje Roed-Larsen, saying he had conducted himself with professionalism
- Israel's cabinet discussed cutting ties with Roed-Larsen
who on Thursday accused the army of using "morally repugnant"
means in its assault on the Jenin refugee camp, where Palestinians have
accused Israeli forces of committing a massacre.
- No decision was made but Israeli Cabinet Secretary Gideon
Saar, among other officials, described Roed-Larsen's comments as "distorted,
harmful and one-sided." Israel has called the camp a bastion of terror
and denied allegations of a massacre.
- "Let me be very clear, I have not and I am not accusing
anyone of massacres," Larsen told Israeli Army Radio on Sunday.
- "We do not have the full facts from Jenin but what
I saw (on Thursday) was truly appalling. The destruction was massive and
the stench overwhelming."
- Israel promised on Saturday to cooperate with a U.N.
Security Council mission to discover what happened in the camp, scene of
the fiercest battles of the offensive.
- Peter Hansen, the head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian
refugees, told Reuters 800 dwellings had been destroyed and many more damaged
in the camp, leaving 4,000 to 5,000 people homeless.
- Mohammed Abu Ghali, director of Jenin hospital, said
the body count from the camp had risen to 45. He stood by his earlier estimate
that the final toll might be 300 to 400.
- Israeli officials say a few dozen people, mostly militants,
were killed in Jenin, along with 23 Israeli soldiers.
- At least 1,292 Palestinians, including a man shot dead
on Sunday at an Israeli roadblock near the West Bank city of Tulkarm, and
453 Israelis have been killed during the 18-month-old Palestinian uprising.