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US Envoy Allowed to Meet with Arafat - 2002-04-04


Israel says it will let U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who has been confined to his West Bank headquarters for nearly a week by an Israeli military siege. Israeli troops and tanks clashed with Palestinian militants across the West Bank for a seventh day and tanks are on the move into Hebron.

A statement issued after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's meeting with the U.S. envoy says Mr. Sharon has decided to grant Anthony Zinni's request to meet with Yasser Arafat, a request he had denied earlier in the week.

Mr. Zinni met Thursday evening with Israel's defense minister, amid expectations he could travel to Ramallah as soon as Friday.

Mr. Arafat has been confined to a few rooms in his Ramallah headquarters since last Friday, when Israel's military assaulted the compound, and surrounded the Palestinian leader there.

Two European Union diplomats left Israel Thursday, after Mr. Sharon refused them permission to meet with Yasser Arafat.

Israel's announcement came shortly after U.S. President Bush called on Israel to end its military offensive in the West Bank. At the same time, Mr. Bush had harsh words for Palestinian leader Arafat, saying he had failed to stop suicide bombings and other attacks against Israelis.

President Bush is sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region next week in an effort to revive cease-fire negotiations.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has welcomed news of Mr. Powell's trip, and says the way out of the crisis is to end Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories. There has been no official reaction yet from Palestinian leader Arafat.

For now, Israel's military offensive shows little sign of abating. For a seventh day, troops and tanks battled Palestinian militants in and around seven West Bank cities, including Nablus, the largest city on the West Bank, and tanks were moving into the town of Hebron late on Thursday.

In Bethlehem, a standoff continues between Israel's army and Palestinian gunmen hiding inside the Church of the Nativity, one of Christianity's holiest shrines.

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