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Israel Accepts Deal to End Ramallah Standoff - 2002-04-28

The Israeli government has accepted a proposal by President Bush aimed at ending the siege around Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah. At the same time, it again refused to allow a U.N. fact-finding mission to investigate Israel's military assault against the Jenin refugee camp.

Under the Bush plan, American and British guards will be dispatched to the West Bank to ensure that the killers of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi remain behind bars in their Palestinian jail, following their trial and conviction in a Palestinian court.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has kept Mr. Arafat as a virtual prisoner in Ramallah, demanding that the murderers be first extradited to stand trial in Israel.

It is believed that the compromise will now allow Mr. Arafat to travel freely in Palestinian-controlled areas for the first time since last December.

However, Palestinian officials say they would not make any decision until the U.S. proposal has been formally presented to them. They say the idea was raised informally during Secretary of State Colin Powell's meeting with Mr. Arafat earlier this month.

But Gaza Security chief Mohammad Dhalan noted that elements of the proposal did overcome Palestinian Authority objections to turning the prisoners over to the Israelis.

In a separate development Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet again delayed a decision to cooperate with the United Nations investigation team to look into events in the Jenin refugee camp during an Israeli army operation to root out suspected terrorists. The U.N. team, assembled in Geneva, canceled plans to fly to Jerusalem late Sunday.

Palestinians claim the Israelis killed hundreds of civilians in Jenin, but Israel claims fewer than 50 Palestinians, mostly gunmen and bombers, died. Israel lost 23 soldiers in the battle.