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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Israel loosens grip on Jenin
Israeli tank
President Bush has praised the Israeli withdrawal
The Israeli army says it is has left the West Bank town of Jenin and its refugee camp, but will continue to surround them to prevent "terrorist attacks".

The withdrawal from Jenin - scene of the fiercest fighting during Israel's military operation in the West Bank - began on Thursday, as a UN envoy visiting the camp described the situation there as "horrific beyond belief".

The forces which began leaving the city are now encircling the city and the refugee camp to prevent and thwart terrorist activity

Israeli army statement

In other developments, a Palestinian suicide bomber exploded his car near the entrance to the Israeli settlement block of Gush Katif in the Gaza Strip on Friday, killing himself and injuring a soldier.

Witnesses said Israeli troops staged an incursion into an area round the southern Gaza village of Al Qarara following the attack.

Israeli troops were also reported to have killed three Palestinian men during an overnight incursion into the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.

Israel said it was conducting a "routine operation" when its troops came under fire.

Also in Gaza, two armed Palestinians disguised as Israeli soldiers were shot dead by the army near the Netzarim Jewish settlement, a military spokesman said.

More incursions

In Ramallah on the West Bank, a nine-year-old Palestinian boy and a teenager were killed by Israeli fire in separate incidents on Thursday evening and Friday morning, Hosni Atari, the head of the city's hospital, told news agency AFP.

Israeli forces are also reported to have made more incursions in the West Bank overnight.

AFP reported that troops and tanks went into the town of Dahriya, south of Hebron, and imposed a curfew.

Israeli army radio said that tanks moved into the town of Qalqilya, from which it had partially withdrawn 10 days ago, and left after making a number of arrests.

The BBC's Jonny Dymond, in Jerusalem, says the situation around Jenin is likely to be similar to that at Qalqilya.


  Click here to see town-by-town update

Although Israel says its withdrawal from Jenin is complete, troops are stationed around the refugee camp - which is within the town - and also around the town itself.

Our correspondent says the military might want to carry out more "pinpoint" operations to make arrests and a complete withdrawal from Palestinian controlled territories is now not on the Israeli agenda.

Israel invaded the Jenin camp on 3 April, saying it was a hotbed of Palestinian militancy and declaring it a closed military zone.

US President George W Bush said on Thursday that he believed the Israeli withdrawal was going to schedule.

Describing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as "a man of peace", Mr Bush said Mr Sharon had begun his promised withdrawal and it was being done "quickly".

Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat called Mr Bush's comments "a gift, a reward for Sharon's policy of state terrorism and war crimes".

Israeli officials say that by Saturday troops will have left most West Bank areas apart from Ramallah and Bethlehem.

Peacekeeping force

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has said a multinational peacekeeping force is needed in the Middle East because the Israelis and Palestinians are now so far apart.

He said he expected the US to play an "important role" although a White House spokesman later said America would only back civilian monitors.

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen
The UN envoy was shocked by what he saw in Jenin

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, who toured the Jenin refugee camp on Thursday, said it was "morally repugnant" that Israel had not allowed emergency workers in for 11 days to provide humanitarian relief.

But his words drew a strong rebuke from Zalmon Shoval, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who said Israel was fighting for its life.

"Mr Larsen has no business whatsoever to tell us what is right or wrong," he told the BBC.

"The UN has not played a very positive role In preventing terrorism. If he doesn't like it, Mr Larsen can go home."

I do believe Ariel Sharon is a man of peace. I'm confident he wants Israel to be able to exist at peace with its neighbours

George W Bush

Palestinians claim hundreds of bodies are buried beneath the rubble, but Mr Shoval said only about 65 bodies had been recovered, of which five were civilians.

Israel says troops will continue to surround the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where a group of armed Palestinians are among more than 200 people who have been holed up for more than two weeks.

Talks aimed at ending the siege were cancelled on Thursday and more gunfire was heard near the church later in the day.

Israel says it will also continue to isolate the Ramallah headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat where they say a suspect in the killing of an Israeli minister is hiding.

The BBC's James Reynolds
"Israeli forces withdrew, but only so far"
UN Relief and Works Agency's Peter Hansen
"There has been many killed and much suffering"
See also:

19 Apr 02 | Middle East
Hamas leader held in Bethlehem
19 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel assesses Jenin action
18 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel accused of using 'human shields'
17 Apr 02 | Middle East
US drawn into Mid-East chaos
18 Apr 02 | Media reports
Mid-East press raps Powell
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
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