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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 19:29 GMT
Israel stages West Bank pull-out
Palestinians pass an Israeli roadblock near Bethlehem
Mr Zinni's return follows a lull in violence
Israel has begun withdrawing troops from areas of the West Bank, as United States special envoy Anthony Zinni begins a fresh attempt to kick start long-stalled peace talks.

Forces had been pulled out of Jenin, Hebron and part of Ramallah.


We hope that Zinni's visit will go in the right direction so that we can put things back on track

Yasser Arafat
Blockades have also reportedly been lifted around Jenin, Qalqilya, Hebron and Tulkarm.

In separate operations overnight, Israeli troops seized five suspected Palestinian militants.

Four alleged Islamic Jihad activists were arrested in Hebron, along with another, believed to be a member of Hamas, in the nearby village of Kufr Roman.

International efforts

Mr Zinni met with Israeli security officials soon after his arrival on Thursday afternoon.

He is due to discuss a number of issues with Palestinian and Israeli officials, including establishing a sustainable ceasefire, and the full implementation of the US-backed Mitchell peace plan, US officials said.

Mr Zinni is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Friday.

The former US general has called for a joint security meeting between Israel and the Palestinians to be held on Sunday, Israel army radio reported.

He will return to Washington early next week to report to the Secretary of State, Colin Powell.

The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, is due to arrive in Israel on Sunday, to coordinate with Mr Zinni and to build on his efforts, EU diplomats said.

Security measures

A number of Palestinian towns in the West Bank have been occupied for several weeks following a wave of attacks against Israel.

The Israeli army said that a partial occupation of Jenin had ended and the Atira district of Ramallah had also been evacuated.

Anthony Zinni
Both sides are optimistic about Mr Zinni's visit
But a troop presence continued in most of Ramallah, where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been confined for the past month.

The withdrawal follows a two-week period of relative calm.

However, Mr Sharon has reiterated a demand for a complete seven-day cessation of violence before any ceasefire deal will be considered.

The Palestinians want an immediate implementation of the peace process, arguing that Israel's demands mean a single militant could block the peace effort.

A US State Department spokesman declined to endorse Mr Sharon's demand for a week of total calm, but spoke of pressing Mr Arafat to dismantle "terrorist cells".

Soaring violence

General Zinni began his mission to the region in November and December, but he was recalled to Washington amid some of the worst violence of the 15-month intifada.

Arafat has called for an end to attacks against Israel
Mr Arafat is under pressure to crack down on militants
The BBC's Caroline Hawley says his return is an acknowledgement of what American officials have described as progress in Mr Arafat's efforts to crack down on militants.

Since a string of suicide bombings against Israeli targets in December, the Palestinian leader has ordered a halt to all armed operations against Israelis and moved against militant groups.

He has closed down offices, made arrests and shut down workshops making mortars.

Palestinian hope

Mr Arafat has welcomed the initiative as an opportunity to resume efforts to find peace with Israel.

"We hope that Zinni's visit will go in the right direction so that we can put things back on track," Mr Arafat said.

But BBC correspondents say a four-day visit may be too short to enable General Zinni to resolve differences over the Mitchell plan and get an agreed timetable for its much-delayed implementation.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"Ariel Sharon is still demanding a week of complete calm"
Israeli government spokeswoman Yaffa Ben Ari
"We are answering the need to ease Palestinian suffering"
Palestinian activist Mustafa Barghouthi
"It is not really much as they are still in control of all the roads"
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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