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Israeli Troops Begin Withdrawing from Hebron - 2002-10-25

Israeli troops began withdrawing from Palestinian neighborhoods in the divided West Bank city of Hebron on Friday. The pull-back came just hours after Israeli forces poured into another West Bank city in search of Palestinians responsible for a suicide bombing.

The Israeli army conducted a partial pull-out from the West Bank city of Hebron, as it stepped up its actions in Jenin against Palestinian militants.

Israel re-occupied Hebron and most other cities in the West Bank in June following a campaign of suicide bombings. But Israel promised that the troops would gradually pull out from each one, if the security situation improved.

The withdrawal from Hebron came just hours after Israeli troops raided Jenin.

The army says - what it calls Operation Vanguard - is aimed at rooting out Palestinian terrorism in Jenin and surrounding villages.

In April, more than 20 Israeli soldiers were killed during fighting with Palestinian militants in the Jenin refugee camp. Some 30 other Palestinians also died in the clashes.

Dore Gold, a senior advisor to Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, says Israel is determined to prevent Jenin from once again becoming what he called a hub of Palestinian terrorism. "Israel will not allow Jenin to once again become the capital of the suicide bombers, as the Palestinians called it, prior to Operation Defensive Shield last April," he said.

Israel says the main target of the raid is a cell of the militant group Islamic Jihad, responsible for many suicide bombings in Israel including an attack on bus in northern Israel on Monday, which killed 14 people.

The Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat described the Israeli operation as a continuation of what he called the "crimes" committed against his people by the Israeli army.

The Jenin raid came after U.S. envoy to the Middle East, William Burns, met Israeli and Palestinian officials to a promote a new international peace plan.

Mr. Burns says that the Bush administration will continue to work within the so called Mid-east Quartet made up of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations to find a way to end the violence and re-start negotiations. "We have listened carefully to the comments, the suggestions, the reactions we are getting and as I said we will work very thoroughly with our quartet partners in producing a practical pathway to move toward that vision," said William Burns.

The Mid-east quartet has drawn up a plan that calls for a final peace treaty and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005.