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Saturday, 6 April, 2002, 19:42 GMT 20:42 UK
US and UK demand Israel pullout
Tony Blair and George Bush
President Bush emphasised the leaders' friendship
US President George Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair have called for an Israeli withdrawal from cities in the West Bank "without delay".

After talks in Texas, the two leaders issued a joint call for an immediate Palestinian ceasefire and a crackdown on "terrorist networks" and Mr Bush condemned Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for "failing his people".

I expect (Israel) to heed the call from their friends

US President George Bush
The Israeli military offensive on the West Bank has continued to escalate since Mr Bush issued his first call for a withdrawal in a speech on Thursday.

Fighting continued to rage between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen on Saturday, with reports of 30 people being killed at a Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin. Seven Israeli soldiers are reported to have been killed in the city in the past two days.

'Broken promises'

"I don't expect [Israel] to ignore. I expect them to heed the call, heed the call from their friends the United States, and heed the call from their friends... Great Britain," Mr Bush said.

Mr Bush's warning to Israel - his strongest yet - has sparked speculation that an announcement of a pullout could come within the next day.

Chairman Arafat had opportunity after opportunity to be a leader, and he hasn't led and I'm disappointed

US President George Bush
But Saturday saw fighting on the West Bank spread as Israeli army units moved into the autonomous towns of Yatta, south of Hebron, and Qabatiya, north of Nablus, while fierce clashes were also reported around Nablus itself.

A stand-off at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem continued for a fifth day.

Mr Bush spoke scathingly about Mr Arafat, who, he said, had failed to earn his trust and had "not lived up to his promises" to crack down on terrorists.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell will begin a tour of the region on Sunday, but says he has no plans to meet Mr Arafat.

Smoke over Bethlehem
Fighting continued to rage on the West Bank
This has sparked outrage among other Palestinian leaders who say they will boycott Mr Powell if there is no meeting with Mr Arafat.

Mr Bush called on Arab nations "to step up and lead - to lead against terror, to get an immediate cease-fire".

Mr Blair stressed the importance of restarting dialogue.

"We are also trying to help secure a way out of the present impasse so that we can get into a political process where some of these underlying issues can be resolved satisfactorily for the long term," he said.

Israel has not yet issued a response to Mr Bush's comments.

But the BBC's Caroline Hawley says that officials do not consider the call for a withdrawal "without delay" to be a demand for "immediate withdrawal".

"Once we finish the job then we will be withdrawing our forces 'without delay'," one official told the French news agency, AFP.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, meanwhile, accused President Bush of "playing with words," the agency reported.

Iraqi policy

The situation in Iraq, which was originally expected to dominate the meeting, remained on the agenda, despite the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We must heed the threat [of weapons of mass destruction] and act to prevent it being realised

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair
Both leaders expressed their support for a change of regime in Iraq.

"The world would be better off without him [Saddam Hussein] and so would the future," said Mr Bush, who warned of the possibility that Iraq could link up with a terrorist network and spread weapons of mass destruction.

The UK prime minister said: "We must heed the threat [of weapons of mass destruction] and act to prevent it being realised".

However both avoided mentioning directly any plans for military action.

The leaders also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, particularly the UK's military contribution to the international troops there.

The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"Both men are desperate to see calm restored in Middle East"
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"It does look like this will end in a military operation against Iraq"
Tim Reid, Washington Post
"The US sees Israel as a fellow victim of fundamentalist terror"
See also:

06 Apr 02 | Americas
Bush and Blair's united stance
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
Battle rages in Palestinian camp
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bush intervenes in Mid-East crisis
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
EU proposes crisis diplomacy
06 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell calls on Israel to withdraw
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