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Israel to Discuss Troop Withdrawal from Occupied Territories - 2001-10-25

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has scheduled a meeting with top security officials to discuss the withdrawal of troops from areas in the West Bank. The discussions come one day after Israel raided a Palestinian village, leaving at least five people dead.

Israeli forces pulled out of the village of Beit Rima, near the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Combat helicopters, tanks, and troops entered the village to capture militants suspected of involvement in the assassination last week of Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi. The military says the operation was "to prevent terrorist activities against Israeli citizens and soldiers."

The Palestinian Authority called the incursion a "massacre" and declared Thursday a day of mourning.

In the latest bloodshed, Israeli soldiers inside Bethlehem shot and killed two men, including a member of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's elite Force 17 security unit. The Israeli military says troops fired at armed Palestinians.

Despite the Israeli military actions, the head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service in the West Bank, Jabril Rajoub, says it is best for the Palestinians to observe a ceasefire even though it has been shattered by recent violence. "Because of the situation in the world and because Arabs do not want war, there is pressure from our friends and our allies, therefore for our benefit we should respect the ceasefire," said Jabril Rajoub through an interpreter. "We should give a chance and power to our friends to convince the whole world to put pressure on Israel. To respect the ceasefire is going to be our source of power and not a sign of weakness."

Israel has been under pressure from the United States and other countries to withdraw its soldiers from Palestinian-ruled towns that it seized after Mr. Zeevi's assassination. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, returning from a trip to Washington, said he hopes such a pullout will come within days. "We do not intend to remain in the territories," he said. "We do not intend to destroy the Palestinian Authority. We have not given up our commitment to achieve a ceasefire that may lead to a peaceful negotiation."

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says Israel will withdraw from the territories if Palestinians extradite the killers of Mr. Zeevi, arrest suspected terrorists, and disarm militant groups.

The United States has been seeking calm in the region as it recruits support from Arab and Islamic nations for its international coalition against terrorism.