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US Envoy Meets Arafat; Fierce Fighting Rages in Jenin, Nablus - 2002-04-05

U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni has met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at his Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank. The discussions came after U.S. President Bush on Thursday announced he would send Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region next week. The Israeli army fired stun grenades at journalists to prevent them from approaching the meeting site.

The first meeting lasted about an hour-and-a-half. Mr. Arafat's spokesman gave no details on the substance of the talks. But he said American and Palestinian officials would hold more talks later in the day.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat was not at the meeting. But he said the focus of the discussions was on efforts to revive U.S. peace initiatives, including the so-called Tenet cease-fire plan and the Mitchell plan, as well as a recent U.N. resolution calling on Israel to withdraw its forces from the West Bank.

"The meeting concentrated on the necessity to move toward implementation of the Tenet plan. President Arafat informed General Zinni of our acceptance of the political outline of President Bush, namely implementation of Security Council resolution 1-4-0-2, implementation of Mitchell [confidence building measures], stopping [Jewish] settlements, and meaningful negotiations that would lead to ending the Israeli occupation and to establish a Palestinian state," Mr. Erekat

Mr. Zinni is the first foreign diplomat to visit Mr. Arafat in Ramallah since Israeli tanks and troops trapped him in his office building a week ago.

At the time, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Mr. Arafat an enemy of Israel, and promised to isolate him from the rest of the world.

Israel TV said Prime Minister Sharon gave Mr. Zinni a message for Mr. Arafat, demanding that he hand over the suspected assassins of an Israeli government official.

Mr. Zinni has been in Israel for nearly a month on his third attempt to broker a cease-fire and end 18 months of bloodshed. His efforts were set back last Wednesday, when a suicide bomber killed 25 people in a seaside resort at the start of the Passover holiday.

Two days later, Prime Minister Sharon launched a major military offensive in the West Bank. Since then, Israel's army has attacked all major West Bank Palestinian cities, except Jericho.

Fierce fighting still rages in the northern towns of Jenin and Nablus and surrounding Palestinian refugee camps.

In Hebron, an Israeli helicopter attacked a suspected Islamic Jihad militant, but missed its target, injuring five bystanders. The suspect escaped.