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Israel Ends Travel Ban on Arafat

Israel has ended its travel ban on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, a move seen as a peace overture ahead of the visit of the American Middle East envoy, Anthony Zinni.

The Israeli announcement says Mr. Arafat is now free to move around the Palestinian Authority territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

He will still need Israeli permission to travel abroad. That includes a trip Mr. Arafat wants to take at the end of March to Beirut for an Arab League summit to debate a Saudi peace plan for the Middle East.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lifted the travel ban because of the arrest of six Palestinian suspects in the October assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.

Mr. Arafat had been confined to his headquarters in Ramallah in the West Bank since December, when the Israeli military imposed a siege on the building.

Despite the Israeli announcement, it is not clear Mr. Arafat will leave the Ramallah compound. His Gaza Strip office was destroyed Sunday in an Israeli missile barrage, launched in retaliation for a Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem Saturday night.

The Sharon move to lift the siege comes ahead of a visit to the region this week by American Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni. The Zinni mission is aimed at establishing a cease-fire between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The Israeli military Monday continued sweeps in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Palestinian sources say several people were killed and wounded.

Israel also rounded up hundreds of teenage boys and men in the West Bank refugee camp of Dheisheh, near Bethlehem.

The security crackdown follows the deadliest week of violence since the Palestinian uprising began in September of 2000.