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Palestinian Prisoners to be Guarded by Americans, Britons - 2002-04-29


Preparations are underway to implement a U.S.-brokered deal to end the Israeli military siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's West Bank compound. Under the plan, six Palestinian prisoners are to be placed under the guard of American and British personnel.

Under the American plan, accepted by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, British and American guards are to be dispatched to the West Bank. The guards will monitor six Palestinian prisoners to ensure they stay behind bars.

Four of the prisoners have been convicted by a makeshift Palestinian military court of assassinating Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi; the fifth is the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmed Saadat. His group has claimed responsibility for the murder. The sixth is one of Mr. Arafat's top financial advisers, Fuad Shobaki, who has been linked to a failed attempt to smuggle weapons from Iran to the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo says that the six will be moved soon from Mr. Arafat's Ramallah compound to a jail in Jericho in the West Bank.

Israel's defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, says that Israeli troops will withdraw soon from Mr. Arafat's Ramallah offices, and that, in fact, the Palestinian leader is now free to travel wherever he chooses.

Mr. Arafat has been a virtual prisoner in Ramallah since December, when Israeli tanks blockaded his headquarters, demanding the extradition of the wanted Palestinians.

At the same time, the Israeli army is maintaining a siege around the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built over the spot where tradition holds Jesus was born.

Israel is demanding the surrender of Palestinian gunmen who have taken refuge inside the shrine. Israel says one of its snipers on Monday shot dead a Palestinian militant who emerged from the church carrying a rifle.

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