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Sharon Reconsidering US Visit

Aides to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon say he is considering postponing a planned visit to the United States because of the rapidly deteriorating security situation at home. The possibility of Mr. Sharon delaying talks with President Bush was raised following two drive-by shooting attacks by Palestinian militants that killed five Israelis.

Mr. Sharon is scheduled to meet President Bush at the White House on November 11 to discuss a new set of peace proposals, following more than a year of Israeli-Palestinian clashes.

But aides to Mr. Sharon told VOA that the prime minister is considering postponing the meeting, following Sunday's shooting attacks by Palestinian militants that left five Israelis dead.

In spite of those attacks, the Israeli security Cabinet gave the army the go-ahead to withdraw from the Palestinian towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jala in the West Bank.

The pullback was completed early Monday, and is meant to be a test case for a wider withdrawal from all Palestinian-ruled towns.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres says there was never any intention to permanently re-occupy these areas.

Israel launched a military offensive in the West Bank following the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi by a radical Palestinian group.

Analysts say the fact that the Palestinian gunmen were able to infiltrate the Jewish State, after the Israeli army had encircled West Bank towns, may have exposed a weakness in the government's military strategy.

The Jerusalem Post's defense reporter, Arieh O'Sullivan, says the Israeli army prided itself "on being the breakwater against terror attacks on Israelis, claiming it was drawing the enemy's fire and its deployment was blocking attacks."

He says the Palestinians "wanted to prove the army wrong, that blockades and closures do not prevent attacks, ... and they succeeded."