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US, Britain Working to End Standoff Around Arafat's Headquarters - 2002-04-30

U.S., British, and Palestinian officials are to meet again Tuesday to work out the details of a plan to end the Israeli military siege around the West Bank headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Efforts are intensifying to implement President Bush's plan to end the Israeli military blockade around Mr. Arafat's compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

The Palestinian leader has remained a virtual prisoner in his offices since December, when Israeli troops positioned tanks around his headquarters.

Under Mr. Bush's plan, accepted by both sides, Mr. Arafat will be allowed to travel freely after six wanted Palestinian militants are transferred to a Palestinian prison, where they will be guarded by British and U.S. personnel.

A delegation of British and U.S. representatives is due to inspect the prison facilities in the West Bank city of Jericho, where the militants are to be placed behind bars.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that a State Department official is being sent to the region to help with the preparations. Mr. Powell said that the details of the plan should be worked out soon but gave no further details.

He also said that he expects the stand-off between Israelis and Palestinians around the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to end soon.

Soldiers continue to surround the shrine, built over the spot where tradition holds Jesus was born, demanding the surrender of wanted Palestinians who have taken refuge inside the sanctuary.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops continued to launch raids into other parts of the West Bank. Soldiers swept into a village near Bethlehem Tuesday, searching houses and arresting suspected Palestinian militants.