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Friday, 4 January, 2002, 06:42 GMT
US envoy resumes Mid-East mission
A banner calling for peace - the banners were posted all around Israel, the West Bank and Gaza
Violence has eased ahead of Mr Zinni's visit
US special envoy to the Middle East Anthony Zinni is due to meet the Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Friday amid renewed efforts to kickstart long-stalled peace talks.

Mr Zinni is scheduled to see Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his farm in the morning, before holding talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.


The Israeli withdrawals from Jenin and parts of Ramallah are certainly positive steps

US State Department
As he prepared to do so, Israeli forces entered a village in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank.

The mayor of Tel, near Nablus, said up to 20 Israeli tanks had entered the village shortly before dawn. There were no immediate reports of fighting.

A day earlier Israel had withdrawn troops from areas in the West Bank - a move the Palestinians dismissed as a public relations stunt.

Soldiers pulled back from the towns of Jenin and Hebron and part of Ramallah hours before Mr Zinni's arrival, and lifted blockades around other towns in the Palestinian territories.

The former US general will raise a number of issues during his visit, including establishing a sustainable ceasefire, and the full implementation of the US-backed Mitchell peace plan, US officials said.

Anthony Zinni
Both sides are optimistic about Mr Zinni's visit
Mr Zinni is reported to want a joint security meeting to be held between the two sides on Sunday, before he returns to Washington to report to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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

Security operations

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

The Israeli army said that a partial occupation of Jenin had ended and that troops had also withdrawn from the Atira district of Ramallah.

But a troop presence continued in most of Ramallah, where Mr Arafat has been confined for the past month.

Arafat has called for an end to attacks against Israel
Mr Arafat is under pressure to crack down on militants
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.

Crackdown

Mr 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.

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.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Orla Guerin in Jerusalem
"The General wants to get both sides closer to the table"
The BBC's James Reynolds
"The village has been sealed off"
The BBC's Caroline Hawley
"One person has now been killed in the raid"
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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