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Thursday, 18 April, 2002, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
Israel tanks leave Jenin camp
Israeli troops and Palestinians in Jenin
The US is pressing Israel to withdraw its forces
Israel has begun to withdraw its forces from the West Bank towns of Jenin and Nablus, the scene of heavy fighting during the past two weeks.

Witnesses saw 50 tanks leaving the battered Jenin refugee camp.

Colin Powell
The US says Colin Powell's mission was not a failure
The Israeli Defence Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, said on Israeli television that he hoped a withdrawal from most parts of the West Bank - apart from Ramallah and Bethlehem - would be finished by Sunday.

In Bethlehem, a hitch appears to have stalled the first face-to-face talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators trying to resolve the stand-off at the Church of the Nativity.

The partial pull-out comes a day after the departure of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who left the region without achieving a ceasefire or a full withdrawal of Israeli troops.

An army source told the BBC that the withdrawal began during the night and would continue for the next three days.

Search for bodies

Witnesses reported seeing five people dug out from the rubble of their home in Jenin refugee camp on Thursday.

They said they had heard others crying for help.

UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, who visited the refugee camp on Thursday, said the devastation was "horrific beyond belief" and he criticised Israel for not allowing rescue teams in after the battle.

The BBC's Richard Miron, at a military checkpoint just outside Jenin, said tanks and armoured vehicles had pulled back from the town and at least part of the refugee camp.

A curfew has been lifted and aid has entered the camp and been distributed. A source inside the camp says that civilians appear to have adequate supplies.

Aid agencies have been sifting through the rubble in Jenin, looking for bodies, following claims by the Palestinians that a massacre took place there.

Israel denies the claims and so far only a few bodies have been recovered.

  Click here to see town-by-town update

Mr Ben-Eliezer said troops would continue the siege of the church in Bethlehem, where about 200 armed Palestinians have been sheltering for more than two weeks.

He said that the army would also continue to surround Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah, where it believes the man responsible for the killing of the Israeli tourism minister, Rehavam Zeevi, is hiding.

Jordanian visitor

In another development, Palestinian sources said that Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher met Mr Arafat in his battered headquarters on Thursday.

Reports said he arrived by helicopter at a military liaison centre north-east of the town and then drove to the meeting.

The Jordanian news agency said Mr Arafat's personal physician went with Mr Muasher to give the Palestinian leader a thorough check-up.

The Israelis have so far allowed only Mr Powell, US envoy Anthony Zinni and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher to visit Mr Arafat.

Timeline for withdrawal

US President George W Bush is insisting that Mr Powell's 10-day peace mission has not been a total failure.

Mr Powell said on Wednesday that the withdrawal from the West Bank was proceeding more slowly than he wanted, but Israel had given him a "timeline" and he had been "assured of results in the next few days".

Church of the Nativity
The two-week-old church siege in Bethlehem continues
President Bush said progress had been made during Mr Powell's visit and that "the only long-term solution is for two states - Israel and Palestine - to live side by side in security and in peace".

Mr Powell said a ceasefire was impossible until Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory ended and the Palestinians fully renounced violence.

Palestinian officials have said there will be no deal or truce until Israel makes a full withdrawal.

The Palestinian Authority issued a statement branding Mr Powell's visit a "failure".

"Israel assumes the whole responsibility for Powell's failure to obtain an immediate (Israeli) pull-out from all the towns and areas that were entered," it read.

The BBC's Richard Miron
"Elsewhere on the West Bank there is still tension"
PLO's Legal and Communications adviser Diana Buttu
"There is now a humanitarian crisis that Israel leaves in its wake"
UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen
"It is the most sad and terrible thing I have ever seen"
See also:

17 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: US drawn into Mid-East chaos
17 Apr 02 | Middle East
Analysis: 'War crimes' on West Bank
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Arafat aide chides Arab leaders
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Inside ruined Jenin
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Powell makes final ceasefire push
17 Apr 02 | Middle East
US puts funding pressure on Arafat
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