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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
Israel stalls over troop withdrawal
Colin Powell and Ariel Sharon
The United States remains Israel's staunchest ally
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he hopes to end the army's offensive "very soon" - but he has not given the United States any timetable for a troop withdrawal.


I'm pleased [Sharon] is anxious to bring these operations to an end as soon as possible

Colin Powell
Mr Sharon was speaking after a first round of talks in Jerusalem with the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, who has called for an immediate Israeli military withdrawal in the West Bank.

The meeting occured only hours before a suicide bomber, reportedly a woman, blew herself up near a market in the centre of Jerusalem, killing at least six people and wounding 30 others.

Asked whether Israel had set a timetable for withdrawal, Mr Powell said: "I don't have a specific answer on timing". But he said there would be further discussions on the issue during his visit.

UN calls

Earlier, the Israeli army acknowledged that its assault on the West Bank town of Jenin had caused many casualties.

But the army corrected its earlier statement that hundreds of Palestinians had been killed in Jenin. It said hundreds had been wounded there, and the figure for those killed was closer to 100.


  Town-by-town guide to the West Bank operation

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Friday called for an international force to be deployed to quell the violence.

"The situation is so dangerous and the humanitarian and human rights situation so appalling, the proposition that a force should be sent in there... can no longer be deferred," Mr Annan said.

Even before Mr Powell's talks started there were signs that Washington might settle for less than an immediate Israeli withdrawal, the BBC's Jon Leyne reports from Jerusalem.

Speaking at the news conference with Mr Sharon, Mr Powell said "Israel has a right to respond to terrorism - the question is how do we get past just the response".

While reaffirming that the US-Israeli friendship "cannot ever be broken" he stressed the need for Israel and the Palestinians to resume negotiations.

Mr Powell is set to travel to the besieged West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Saturday, where he said he would press for action.

It is not yet clear whether Friday's Jerusalem bomb blast will affect Mr Powell's itinerary for the next few days.

"[The United States wants] action that will bring this violence under control, action that will give hope to the people of the region. I will stress this to Chairman Arafat," he said, before the bombing.

Violence

A Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli border guard and a Palestinian labourer in an attack on Friday near the Erez crossing point between the northern Gaza Strip and Israel.

West Bank casualties
About 100 Palestinians killed, many others wounded in Jenin camp, Israeli army says
23 Israeli soldiers killed in Jenin camp, including 13 caught in ambush
Palestinians say more than 500 Palestinians killed overall in Israeli offensive

Four Israelis and three Palestinians were also wounded before the gunman was shot dead by Israeli border police. The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Palestinians have called on the United Nations to investigate what they said was an Israeli massacre of Palestinians in a refugee camp in Jenin, captured by Israel on Wednesday.

They said there were extra-judicial executions in the camp, although there is no independent verification of that.

The British ambassador to Israel has voiced his government's grave concern over the reports. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he was "deeply shocked".

Jenin ruins

Journalists got to the outskirts of Jenin on Thursday for the first time since Israel took control of the town.

Palestinians among rubble in Jenin
Jenin fell to Israeli troops after an eight-day battle
There were widespread reports of badly damaged buildings but no sign of bodies.

Israel launched its massive assault on the West Bank two weeks ago following a spate of deadly Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel.

On Thursday, Mr Sharon said he had "warned the Americans that the Israeli army would not withdraw from Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah until all the [Palestinian] terrorists there have surrendered".

Mass arrests

Israel says it has detained more than 4,000 Palestinians and seized thousands of illegal weapons and explosives since it began its offensive in the West Bank on 29 March.

Nearly half the number of Palestinians arrested were detained after the militant strongholds of Jenin and Nablus fell to Israeli troops.

By Friday morning, Israeli troops were still present in the Palestinian towns and villages of Ramallah, Nablus, Qalqilya, Bethlehem, Jenin, Dura, Dahariya and Kufar al Abad.

In Bethlehem, a stand-off which began on 2 April around the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ, continued.

There are still more than 100 armed men inside the church, including 30 militants on Israel's wanted list, the army says.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Israeli communications minister Ruby Rivlin
"The Palestinians forced war upon us"
Palestinian authority spokesman Jihad al Wazir
"Israel is sanitising the scenes of the massacre in Jenin"
The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"For more than a week now Israel has ignored US demands"
See also:

12 Apr 02 | Middle East
Netanyahu talks tough to US
12 Apr 02 | Middle East
UN chief wants international force
12 Apr 02 | Middle East
Palestinian society lies in ruins
11 Apr 02 | Middle East
Jenin after the battle
11 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel steps up Palestinian arrests
10 Apr 02 | Middle East
Jerusalem's deserted streets
11 Apr 02 | Middle East
Arafat 'not a partner for peace'
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