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Bush Pleased With Pullout But Will Watch Israeli Actions Closely - 2002-04-29

White House officials say President Bush is pleased with initial steps being taken to end the Israeli siege of Yasser Arafat's compound Ramallah. But officials make clear they are not taking anything for granted and will continue to monitor the situation very closely.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer says there have been positive developments in Ramallah as Israeli and Palestinian leaders move to implement a deal to end the stand-off in the West Bank city. But he cautions that things are never easy in the Middle East, and hope has a tendency to rise and fall.

The siege of Ramallah began on March 29, when Israeli forces surrounded Yasser Arafat's headquarters. Six men wanted by Israel were inside the compound, and the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed the troops would not leave until these men were turned over.

The Palestinian Authority tried and convicted four of the men on charges connected to the murder of an Israeli cabinet minister. But the Sharon government would not relent.

The plan put forward by President Bush was a compromise. Under the deal, the six men will be transferred to a Palestinian jail, but they are to be monitored by American and British security personnel.

Mr. Fleischer said it appears the transfer will take place in a day or two. He said once it occurs, the siege of the Palestinian headquarters will end and Yasser Arafat will be free to leave. "Everything will happen in very short order," he said.

The White House spokesman stressed the president wants to build on the success in resolving the situation in Ramallah. He made specific mention of efforts to get a U-N fact-finding team into the West Bank town of Jenin, saying everyone is working hard to come up with an acceptable solution.

Mr. Fleischer was then asked about Israel's decision Monday to send its troops into the West Bank town of Hebron, a move triggered by a Palestinian attack Saturday on a Jewish settlement.

He chose his words carefully. He noted a terrorist attack led to the Israeli military action. But he then went on a say that President Bush looks at events in the Middle East from a broad perspective and wants all parties to focus on ending the violence and promoting peace.