Israeli military forces have withdrawn from the West Bank town of Jenin as two U.S. envoys began a mission designed to end 14 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.
Under cover of darkness, Israel pulled its soldiers out of Jenin, the last of six Palestinian-ruled towns it raided in October following the assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister by Palestinian militants.
An army spokesman says troops re-deployed to positions outside Jenin from "where they can continue to protect the safety of Israelis."
The pullback had been postponed in the past due to what the Israeli defense ministry said was a continuing threat of suicide bombing attacks from militants in Jenin.
The United States has repeatedly called on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian-ruled territory in the West Bank.
A Palestinian security official called the re-deployment cosmetic because soldiers continue to remain in positions around the town.
The action came as U.S. envoys began a new diplomatic effort to end more than a year of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed.
State Department envoy William Burns and retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other top officials.
In a move designed to show Israel's security needs, Mr. Sharon took the envoys on a helicopter tour of the Jewish state and the Palestinian territories.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres says he hopes the mission will result in the implementation of recommendations made by an international commission headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. "It will require a great deal of work. It is not simple," Peres continues. "But there is an objective need to bridge over between the present situation and the beginning of the political negotiations in accordance with the Mitchell report. We are following the sequence of the Mitchell report, which begins with a cease-fire, then a cooling off period, then confidence building measures and then the political negotiations."
The United States says General Zinni will stay in the region as long as it takes to nail down (achieve) a cease-fire.
Prime Minister Sharon says there must be seven days of "absolute quiet" before Israel will agree to move ahead with negotiations.
The Palestinians say this demand will sabotage the peace mission.
Mr. Burns and General Zinni are scheduled to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Wednesday.