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Sharon Offers End to Army Raids if Arafat Declares Halt to Violence - 2001-09-16

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday called on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to end the violence, and in return, he will halt army operations in the West Bank and Gaza. Mr. Sharon's statement comes after Israeli tanks moved into the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Prime Minister Sharon says he is ready to stop Israeli incursions into Palestinian territories, if Mr. Arafat declares a cease-fire. The Israeli leader says, if it is quiet for 48 hours, he will give the green light for Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to meet with Mr. Arafat to work out a longer truce and cooling-off period.

The Peres-Arafat meeting had been expected last week, but was postponed because of differences over the location and agenda of the talks. On Friday, Mr. Sharon ignored U.S. calls for the truce talks, and vetoed the meeting that had been tentatively rescheduled for Sunday.

The Sharon statement comes after a drive-by shooting late Saturday night in a Jerusalem neighborhood, which killed one Israeli and wounded another. Within a few hours, Israeli tanks and troops moved into the nearby West Bank city of Ramallah. Gun battles raged for several hours, before the Israeli troops pulled back.

Tensions are running high since the terrorist attacks in the United States. Israel has been on high alert, shutting down its airspace for more than 24 hours and sealing off the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Tanks moved to the edge of the West Bank town of Jenin last week, and helicopters have fired missiles at Palestinian police buildings in Jenin, Jericho and Gaza City.

At the same time, Israelis and Palestinians have organized a variety of events to show their solidarity with Americans. Jerusalem's mayor has temporarily renamed one of the main streets "New York Street," and the defense minister has changed the name of a Tel Aviv road to "Pentagon Street".

Most Palestinians have expressed their outrage, or remained silent, while some groups have organized candle-light vigils to offer their condolences. But the Foreign Press Club, based in Israel, has accused the Palestinian Authority of harassing photographers and TV crews trying to film some Palestinians celebrating the terrorist attacks.