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US Envoy Set for Meeting With Arafat - 2002-04-05

U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni is scheduled to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Friday, as part of continuing American efforts to end the Israeli Palestinian crisis. At the same time, Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has made it clear his country's military offensive will continue.

Prime Minister Sharon told Mr. Zinni, a retired general, that he could meet Friday with Mr. Arafat in his besieged headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Mr. Sharon gave his backing to the move, the first time he has made such a concession, after vowing to keep the Palestinian leader isolated from the outside world.

The Israeli Prime Minister on Thursday refused to allow a high-level European Union delegation to see Mr. Arafat.

In a meeting with Mr. Zinni on Thursday, Mr. Sharon said the Israeli military operations in the West Bank would continue, in order that "Palestinian terror and its organizers be suppressed".

Mr. Sharon's comments came after President Bush called on Israel to withdraw its troops and announced he was dispatching Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region. That trip is expected to take place next week.

Meanwhile, the Israel Army announced Friday it is holding 900 Palestinian prisoners and has confiscated a large amount of explosives, some of which Israel says, had been earmarked for suicide bombings and weapons.

Israeli troops remain in Ramallah, where Mr. Arafat remains under siege, and in other major cities across the West Bank.

In some of the latest violence, three Palestinians were killed Friday in Nablus, the largest city in the territory. In the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin, in the northern West Bank, at least four Israeli soldiers were killed in intense fighting with Palestinian gunmen.