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Monday, 29 April, 2002, 22:46 GMT 23:46 UK
Moves to end Arafat siege
Palestinians are lined up in Hebron, as Israeli soldiers search them
Several arrests have been made in Hebron
American and UK security experts have held talks with Palestinian officials in the West Bank town of Ramallah, as part of a deal with Israel to ease the siege on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters.

In the coming days... we will completely evacuate the area, and at that moment, Arafat can go wherever he wants

Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer
The meeting, described by a Palestinian official as "positive", dealt with the technical details of transferring six militants, who are wanted by Israel and are holed up with Mr Arafat, into international custody at a Palestinian prison.

The six are most likely to be transferred to Jericho, where they will be guarded by US and UK wardens, the official said. He added that another meeting would be held on Tuesday.

As diplomatic efforts were under way in Ramallah, Israeli tanks backed by helicopter gunships moved into the West Bank town of Hebron, imposing a curfew and making house-to-house searches for Palestinian militants.

Nine Palestinians are reported to have been killed in the operation, which Israel says is in response to an attack on the nearby Jewish settlement of Adora on Saturday in which four Israelis, including a five-year-old girl, were killed.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, a Palestinian man has been shot dead in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, following an exchange of fire between Palestinians and Israeli forces around the church.

Bethlehem legislator Salah Taamari told Reuters news agency that 18 civilians were expected to be allowed to leave the church on Monday, but they had not left by sundown.

The Israeli army also launched an incursion into the Rafah refugee camp in the southern part of the Gaza Strip on Monday evening and a Palestinian was reported shot dead by Israeli gunfire near Deir al-Balah.

Arafat deal struck

Under the US-proposed deal, Israel will withdraw forces ringing Mr Arafat's headquarters and allow him to travel freely after the six militants are transferred.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the American guards would be non-military, but "not pinstriped diplomats".

He declined to say if CIA personnel would be involved.

"The prisoners will be in Palestinian jails and Palestinians will remain involved and they will do so with United States and British involvement which was agreeable to all the parties," Mr Fleischer said.

Palestinian court hearing
Four of the men were sentenced at a court hearing on Thursday
Israel's Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer said he expected the Ramallah siege to be lifted within days.

"I believe that in the coming days when a spot has been found for [the militants]... and the apparatus for guarding them is in place, we will completely evacuate the area, and at that moment, Arafat can go wherever he wants," he told Israel radio.

Four of the six militants were convicted of the killing of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi at a makeshift trial at the compound on Thursday and sentenced to long jail terms.

Israeli tanks encircled Mr Arafat's compound on 29 March as part of the offensive launched after Palestinian suicide attacks killed scores of Israelis.

More attacks feared

Israel moved its forces into Hebron before dawn, saying it was acting on information that more attacks were being planned by Palestinian militants.

Israeli tanks in Hebron
Nine Palestinians were killed in Israel's incursion in Hebron
Palestinian security sources said one of those killed was an activist in the militant group, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade and the other eight were policemen and civilians.

Army spokesman Brigadier General Ron Kitrey said several suspected militants had been arrested, including three leading members of the militant group Hamas.

He said troops had found suitcases filled with explosives.

Confrontation over Jenin

The United Nations has expressed disappointment at the continuing failure of Israel to agree to the deployment of a UN team looking into the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin.

Israelis mourn Adora victims
The four Israelis killed at Adora included a five-year-old girl
But diplomats in New York said the Security Council again deferred voting on a resolution to demand Israel's full co-operation with the fact-finding team, which was appointed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan one week ago.

Mr Sharon had reportedly accepted the Arafat compromise only after getting US backing in the confrontation over the Jenin fact-finding mission.

Israel has placed a series hurdles to prevent the mission from starting its work, saying there must be changes in its composition and mandate.

The team will investigate Palestinian accusations that Israeli forces killed hundreds of people, including civilians, during its incursion into the Jenin refugee camp - the scene of some of the bitterest fighting in Israel's West Bank operation.

Israel says far fewer people were killed, most of them gunmen.

The BBC's Barbara Plett
"All eyes are on Yasser Arafat's compound"
Israeli government spokesman Avi Pazner
"We want to be sure that when the fact-finding mission comes, it will look at the facts"
The BBC's Richard Miron in Bethlehem
"Manger Square rarely witnesses any peace these days"
See also:

29 Apr 02 | Middle East
Expert weighs up Jenin 'massacre'
29 Apr 02 | Africa
Tutu condemns Israeli 'apartheid'
29 Apr 02 | Middle East
UN welcomes UAE Jenin pledge
25 Apr 02 | Middle East
Zeevi dispute unresolved
29 Apr 02 | Middle East
Ramallah deal hinges on prisoners
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