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Israel Eases Arafat Travel Ban

Israel's Security Cabinet Sunday decided to keep Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat confined to the West Bank city of Ramallah. Mr. Arafat will be allowed to leave his compound, where has been under virtual house arrest for two months but is banned from traveling outside the city's limits.

The Security Cabinet, after three hours of deliberations, decided that Mr. Arafat would be able to move freely around the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The only concession made by the cabinet was to permit the Palestinian leader to leave his compound in the city, where has remained a virtual prisoner since December.

However, the Cabinet said Mr. Arafat must not be allowed to travel outside Ramallah, a decision that has prompted expressions of outrage from the Palestinian leadership.

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called the decision "shameless," saying that it proved Israel is not interested in ending the current violence and getting the two sides back to the negotiating table.

The Israeli Cabinet discussions were initiated after the Palestinian Authority announced last week that it arrested three suspects in the October 2001 assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had demanded their arrest as one of the conditions for allowing Mr. Arafat the freedom to travel.

The Israeli defence minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and the foreign minister, Shimon Peres, argued that the Palestinian leader had met Israel's demands. But Mr. Sharon disagreed, along with some right-wing Cabinet ministers, who threatened to bolt the coalition, if all restrictions against Mr. Arafat were removed.

The decision appeared to be an attempt to reach a compromise between these competing positions and to prevent some factions from leaving Mr. Sharon's government.