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West Bank Fighting Shows Little Signs of Easing Ahead of Powell Trip - 2002-04-06

Fierce fighting continues in the West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus on the eighth day of Israel's military offensive. The military campaign shows little sign of easing ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's expected arrival next week.

Residents of Palestinian refugee camps in Nablus and Jenin have been trapped in their homes as Israeli tanks and helicopters battle with Palestinian militants in the streets.

Israel's military says it killed a man in Jenin with explosives strapped to his waist. A Hamas leader told reporters in Jenin the militant group was handing out explosives and hand grenades to camp residents. Israeli troops have attacked most of the major cities in the West Bank, except Jericho, which remains a quiet oasis.

In Ramallah on Friday, Israeli troops searched the home of Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo but did not arrest him.

Inside Israel, security is on high alert after Hamas vowed to retaliate for the killing on Friday of six of its members in the West Bank. Israel's military says one of those killed had planned the suicide bombing attacks in Netanya last month that killed 26 people.

Also Friday, U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah. He is the first foreign diplomat to meet with Mr. Arafat since Israel's military surrounded his compound eight days ago and confined the Palestinian leader to a few offices inside. The two men talked about efforts to get the ceasefire talks back on track but details of the meeting have not been made public.

Mr. Zinni has been in Israel for nearly a month trying to broker an end to 18 months of violence. Israel and the Palestinian have disputed the timing of implementation. Mr. Zinni was trying to narrow their differences but the effort collapsed ten days ago after the deadly suicide bombing in Netanya. Two days later Prime Minister Ariel Sharon launched the military campaign across the West Bank.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell now will add his political weight to the effort when he arrives in the region on Monday. A Palestinian negotiator says no Palestinian official would meet with Mr. Powell, if the U.S. diplomat does not meet with Mr. Arafat.