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Tuesday, 1 January, 2002, 12:20 GMT
US envoy returning to Mid-East
Palestinians pass an Israeli roadblock near Behtlehem
Zinni's return follows a lull in violence
The United States is sending envoy Anthony Zinni back to the Middle East in an attempt to end more than 15 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Mr Zinni left the region on 16 December after a three-week mission during which a wave of Palestinian suicide bomb attacks were launched inside Israel, leading to a series of Israeli reprisal strikes.

We welcome this decision of the US administration to send General Zinni to the region

Saeb Erekat, Palestinian negotiator
He will return on Thursday, a spokesman for the US embassy in Israel said.

His mission, the spokesman said, will be to ensure that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is keeping a tight rein on militants and to urge Israel to ease restrictions on the Palestinian territories.

The decision to revive Mr Zinni's mediating role follows a marked drop in violence between the two sides over the past two weeks.

Peace plans

Both Israel and the Palestinians welcomed the announcement.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Reuters news agency that the Palestinians "hope [Mr Zinni] will propose a timeline and mechanism for implementing the Mitchell and Tenet plans".

The US originally dispatched Mr Zinni to the region in November to try to implement two US initiatives - a peace negotiations plan recommended last May by former US senator George Mitchell, and a ceasefire negotiated last June by US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director George Tenet.

An Israeli official told Reuters that Israel also welcomed Mr Zinni's return and hoped "he convinces [Palestinian leader Yasser] Arafat to fight with more zeal against terrorism".

Arafat under pressure

The Palestinian Authority has arrested scores of Palestinian militants amid intense international pressure to crack down on terrorism in the wake of December's suicide attacks against Israeli targets.

Arafat has called for an end to attacks against Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, however, has said Mr Arafat is not doing enough and has repeatedly ruled out returning to peace talks until there is a complete cessation of violence.

US embassy spokesman Paul Patin said Mr Zinni would tell the Palestinians their actions against militants was "encouraging" but must continue, while he would press Israel for an "easing up on travel for Palestinians".

Israel says it has maintained a blockade of Palestinian towns and villages across the West Bank to stop attempts by Palestinian militants to infiltrate Israel and launch attacks.

See also:

31 Dec 01 | Middle East
Anger over Gaza killings
30 Dec 01 | Middle East
Israel sees peace hope
29 Dec 01 | Middle East
Palestinians urge return of US envoy
15 Dec 01 | Middle East
US recalls Mid-East envoy
15 Dec 01 | Middle East
US blocks Mid-East observers
28 Nov 01 | Middle East
US Mid-East envoy calls for change
29 Nov 01 | key documents
The Mitchell report
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