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Tuesday, 27 November, 2001, 05:44 GMT
Israel pulls back in 'goodwill gesture'
Israeli tanks outside Jenin
Israel has been under intense international pressure to withdraw
Israeli forces have pulled out of the West Bank town of Jenin, the last of six Palestinian towns occupied by Israeli forces last month.

The West Bank towns Israel has occupied over the last month
The withdrawal comes on the day that two American envoys are meeting the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to try to arrange a ceasefire between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Gideon Meir, spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said the withdrawal was a gesture of goodwill as the talks with the US envoys started.

The US officials - former General Anthony Zinni, and assistant Secretary of State, William Burns - plan to stay in the region until a truce has been achieved.

But a statement from Mr Sharon's office repeated that he wanted to see a week without violence before a peace plan could be implemented, a condition that Palestinian officials say means that any peace moves are doomed to fail.

Retribution

Israeli troops began their incursions into the six West Bank Palestinian towns on 18 October following the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

They had remained inside Jenin, citing security threats, after their withdrawal from the other five towns - Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Beit Jala.

The two US envoys arrived only hours after a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, slightly injuring two Israeli border guards.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas said it carried out the attack in revenge for the Israeli killing of a Hamas leader, Mahmud Abu Hanoud, on Friday.

Spiralling violence

It was the latest incident in a spate of violence sparked by Friday's killing of Mr Hanoud in a missile attack by an Israeli helicopter gunship.

Mahmud Abu Hanoud
Mahmud Abu Hanoud: Latest victim of Israel's "assassination policy"
On Saturday, an Israeli soldier was killed in a mortar attack in the Gaza Strip and on Sunday a 14-year-old Palestinian boy was shot by Israeli soldiers during a Hamas protest outside the West Bank town of Bethlehem. He died later.

At least three other Palestinians were wounded when Israeli helicopters attacked targets across the Gaza Strip in response to Saturday's mortar attack.

In another development, Israeli security services said they had arrested more than 15 Palestinians in connection with an alleged Iraqi-backed "terrorism ring" in the West Bank towns of Ramallah and Jenin.

Timetable sought

The envoys' mission follows last week's speech by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in which he spelled out Washington's vision for the Middle East.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Colin Powell: A new drive to revive the stalled peace talks
BBC Middle East correspondent Barbara Plett says they will be greeted by a stack of reports documenting the Israeli view that the Palestinian authority is involved in the violence.

Israel has appointed a right-wing reservist general, Meir Dagan, as head of its negotiating team.

For their part, the Palestinians are looking for a clear timetable leading to changes on the ground, such as a pullback of Israeli troops and an end to military operations that provoke revenge attacks.

The envoys are expected to press both sides to implement the terms of a ceasefire negotiated five months ago by US Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet which never took hold.

Ceasefire plan

Mr Tenet's plan called on Israel to stop military incursions into Palestinian towns, to stop killing suspected militants and to lift travel restrictions between Palestinian-controlled areas.

He called on the Palestinians to stop attacks on Israel, to take action against militant groups and to collect illegal firearms.

Mr Sharon, due to visit Washington later this week, said the US mission would put Mr Arafat's intentions to the test and insisted that Israel would try to reach a ceasefire.

The BBC's correspondent says some analysts believe Mr Sharon's political future will be threatened if the violence ends. His coalition government might split over how to approach peace talks.

Nearly 1,000 people, most of them Palestinians, have been killed since the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation began in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in September 2000, shortly after peace talks stalled.

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The BBC's Barbara Plett reports from Jerusalem
"Israel was under a lot of pressure from the Americans to withdraw"

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