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Tuesday, 30 April, 2002, 08:02 GMT 09:02 UK
UN waits on Israeli Jenin decision
Israeli troops in Bethlehem
The US says there will be a solution in Bethlehem soon
The Israeli cabinet is meeting to debate its response to the UN request to send a fact-finding team to the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin.

Frustration appears to be mounting among UN diplomats over Israel's delay in letting in the team, which is due to investigate allegations of war crimes by Israeli soldiers during their search for militants in the camp.

We're waiting now for the Israeli cabinet to meet and discuss this and make a final decision yes or no

Fred Eckhart
UN spokesman

The team had planned to arrive on Saturday but negotiations in New York became stuck on Israel's concerns about its credentials and aims.

The Israeli army extended its operations in the West Bank on Tuesday, moving into the village of Shawarwa, near Bethlehem.

There have been signs of progress on another key issue in the conflict - the blockade of Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

British and US officials are due to hold new talks in Ramallah on Tuesday on moving six men wanted by Israel to a Palestinian prison, opening the way for Mr Arafat to leave his compound.

Israeli terms

Ariel Sharon's cabinet has already postponed its debate on Jenin three times, most recently on Monday.

"We're waiting now for the Israeli cabinet to meet and discuss this and make a final decision yes or no," said Fred Eckhart, spokesman for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Israel insists that the UN team should have a purely fact-finding brief, as its ambassador to the UN, Aron Jacob, explained:

"We are concerned and we want to be sure that it is well understood and well defined what exactly the team is going to do in Israel."

'Wanted terrorists'

The Israeli army was engaged in more operations on Tuesday.

Troops arrested "wanted terrorists" after tanks and armoured vehicles moved into Shawarwa village, Israel radio said.

Troops also moved into a village close to Jenin on Monday night.

In the town of Hebron, troops surrounded the central Aliyah hospital "following reports that some terrorists sought refuge there".

The army entered Hebron on Monday in response to an attack on a nearby Jewish settlement on Saturday in which four Israelis were killed.

Ramallah deal

Meanwhile, US diplomatic efforts are due to continue in Ramallah over the blockade of Mr Arafat.

Israel has agreed to withdraw its tanks and grant Mr Arafat freedom of movement once six Palestinians wanted by Israel are under US and UK custody.

Israeli soldier with Palestinian detainee in Hebron
As well as Hebron, Israel raided the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip on Monday

"In the coming days... we will completely evacuate the area and, at that moment, Arafat can go wherever he wants," said Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer.

The six men - who are inside the compound with Mr Arafat - are most likely to be transferred to Jericho, where they will be guarded by US and UK wardens.

Four of the six men have been convicted by a Palestinian court of the killing of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi and sentenced to long jail terms.

Powell optimism

US Secretary of State Colin Powell says he believes there will be a solution to Israel's siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

  Click here for Nativity siege timeline

"I think it will be solved in the very near future," he said in Washington, without elaborating.

A fresh round of talks is due to take place in Bethlehem after a gun battle with Israeli soldiers on Monday resulted in the death of one of the scores of Palestinians who have been sheltering inside the church for four weeks.

The disagreement centres on the fate of suspected militants inside the church: Israel wants to try them itself while the Palestinians are insisting that they should handle any accusations against them.

Edward Mortimer, advisor to UN Secretary-General
"The next step should be political...we need to get at the causes of these sad events"
The BBC's Barbara Plett in Jerusalem
"All eyes are on Yasser Arafat's compound"
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
29 Apr 02 | Middle East
Ramallah deal hinges on prisoners
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