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Israel: Jenin Withdrawl Complete


Israel says it has completed its withdrawal from the West Bank town of Jenin and the refugee camp there. The pull-out came one day after a U-N envoy visited the camp and described the situation "as horrific beyond belief."

Jenin has been the scene of heavy fighting between Israel troops and Palestinian gunmen in recent days. The soldiers pulled out Friday, retreating to the outskirts of the town, where they appear poised to return on short notice.

The troops encircle both the city and the refugee camp, in what the Israeli Army says is an effort prevent Palestinian terrorists from leaving the area to launch attacks against the Jewish State.

The pull-back came as United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, called for a multi-national peacekeeping force in the Middle East, an idea that Prime Minister Sharon has again flatly rejected. Israeli forces are also preparing to withdraw from the West Bank town of Nablus but are set to remain stationed outside Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says that Mr. Arafat will remain a prisoner of the compound until he agrees to hand over wanted Palestinians inside his offices. Mr. Sharon accuses Mr. Arafat of harboring suspects wanted in connection with the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister, Rehavam Ze'evi in October last year.

Israeli troops also continue to maintain a siege around the Church the Nativity in Bethlehem, the shrine built over the spot where tradition holds Jesus was born. Mr. Sharon says soldiers will only pull-back if the Palestinian gunmen inside the sanctuary give themselves up. The Prime Minister says the wanted Palestinians must either agree to stand trial in Israel or go into permanent exile.

Mr. Sharon says that only under these conditions will he guarantee that the lives of the gunmen will be spared.

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