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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
US steps up pressure on Sharon
Palestinian boys stare at an Israeli soldier during a brief lifting of the curfew in Ramallah
Sharon said the army would complete its mission
The US administration has reiterated its call for an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian areas.

[Colin Powell] doesn't have a magic wand so we should not expect miracles

Kofi Annan
Middle East special envoy Anthony Zinni met Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to deliver "a serious message" from President Bush, a White House spokesman said.

The American call to withdraw was echoed by leaders around the world, as heavy fighting continued to rage between the Israeli army and Palestinian gunmen.

Earlier on Monday, Mr Sharon told the Israeli parliament that the military campaign in the West Bank would continue until "terrorist organisations" were crushed.

Global appeal

Mr Bush restated his demands of Israel and the Palestinians in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Monday.

The army will continue operating until... it has dismantled Arafat's terror infrastructure and the murderers have been arrested

"I meant what I said to the prime minister of Israel. I expect there to be withdrawal without delay," Mr Bush said.

"I mean what I say when I call upon the Arab world to strongly condemn and act against terrorist activity," he added.

European Commission President Romano Prodi repeated the call for Israeli forces to withdraw and urged Israel to guarantee safe access for aid workers to the Palestinian population.

And the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, added his voice to the call but cautioned against expecting too much from the present peace mission of US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"It's not going to be easy. He doesn't have a magic wand so we should not expect miracles," Mr Annan told reporters.

'Gunmen surrender'

Israeli forces continued bombarding refugee camps in Nablus and Jenin on Monday.

The Israeli army said almost 200 Palestinian gunmen had surrendered in Nablus, but this could not be independently confirmed.

A Palestinian youth carries relief goods donated by the International Red Cross in Bethlehem
The Red Cross distributed food to areas in Bethlehem
Palestinians in the refugee camps described bodies lying in the streets and people bleeding to death because ambulances could not reach them.

The army has denied deliberately leaving the dead and wounded unattended and says the victims cannot be rescued under fire.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the Jenin clashes.

Israel sent troops and tanks into Palestinian cities on 29 March after a suicide bombing that killed 27 people at the start of the Jewish Passover holiday.

Sharon's defiance

Speaking during a stormy special session of parliament on Monday, Mr Sharon said Israel had no choice but to act with all its might - and he again accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of betraying promises to abandon terrorism.

"The army will continue operating until the mission has been completed, until it has dismantled Arafat's terror infrastructure and the murderers have been arrested," he said.

He added that the army would set up defensive buffer zones once it had withdrawn from the territories.

Enlarge image Click here for map of Israeli operation

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Mr Sharon's comments undermined Mr Powell's visit to the region.

"He is telling Powell: 'Don't come because we have finished everything, we are setting up buffer zones, we will continue the occupation and we will not end our operations'," he said.

Mr Powell, speaking in the Moroccan city of Agadir at the start of his Middle East tour, said the Israeli operation was creating significant and severe strategic problems.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Casablanca says this is a reference to the strain the Israeli action is placing on America's relations with moderate Arab countries, such as Morocco and Egypt.

Vatican apprehension

The situation around Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity - sacred to Christians as the birthplace of Jesus Christ - remains tense, with more reports of heavy gunfire.

The Holy See considers the respect of the status quo of holy places to be an absolute priority

Vatican spokesman
The Vatican said it was following the situation with great concern, as both sides denied blame for the outbreak of shooting.

"The Holy See is following with extreme apprehension the situation in Bethlehem, and is trying to ascertain the truth of the most recent developments," said Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

He said the Vatican had reiterated to Israel "that the Holy See considers the respect of the status quo of holy places to be an absolute priority".

British Foreign Minister Ben Bradshaw
"We have reached a new stage in the whole situation"
Gideon Meir, Israeli Foreign Ministry.
"We will start to withdraw in the coming days"
See also:

08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell demands Israeli withdrawal
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israelis back Sharon
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell's peace mission begins
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Sharon strengthens coalition
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Vatican outrage over church siege
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Troops mobilised for Lebanon border
06 Apr 02 | Americas
Bush and Blair's united stance
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