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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 09:49 GMT 10:49 UK
Israeli forces return to Ramallah
Israeli troops withdraw from Ramallah
The army withdrew from Ramallah two weeks ago
Israeli forces have raided the West Bank cities of Ramallah and Nablus, killing one Palestinian and arresting more than a dozen others.

It is the first time troops have gone back into Ramallah since the army withdrew from the self-rule area two weeks ago.

At the end it's very possible there will be a Palestinian state

Ariel Sharon, Israeli prime minister
The operation came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said a Palestinian state would probably become a reality.

Earlier, the United States welcomed an announcement by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat that he planned to reform the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian officials said 11 tanks backed by a helicopter thrust into the Ramallah suburb of Beitunia in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Israeli media said an elite unit of undercover commandos stormed a building, killing a 25-year-old member of the Palestinian Preventative Security Service.

Four other Palestinians from Mr Arafat's Force 17 guards were arrested before troops withdrew a short time later.

Palestinian sources said at least 12 Palestinians were detained when troops raided Nablus also on Thursday morning.

State 'a possibility'

As Israel continued its operations against suspected Palestinian militants, Prime Minister Sharon held out the possibility of Palestinian independence.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon said the time was not ripe to discuss Palestinian independence

In an interview on Israeli television, Mr Sharon said it was "very possible there will be a Palestinian state" after lengthy negotiations.

The Israeli leader said that the present time was not right to discuss Palestinian statehood, and it would only be considered after violence ended and the Palestinian leadership carried out internal reforms.

Mr Sharon's comments came days after his own Likud party turned against him and voted to reject the idea of Palestinian sovereignty.

US 'pleased'

The prime minister was speaking after Yasser Arafat said he planned to restructure the Palestinian Authority.

Yasser Arafat
Arafat is under pressure to carry out reforms

The US welcomed the Palestinian leader's announcement and offered to help.

"I'm pleased that Chairman Arafat is speaking in these terms and we stand ready to help with this process," said US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

But, he said, "we can help, we can encourage, we can press them, we can contribute to it, but it is something that has to come from within if it is to be real and if it is going to stick".

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Mr Arafat told him he planned to hold elections by the autumn.

Speaking on the 54th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, Mr Arafat acknowledged the Palestinian leadership had made mistakes and needed to "correct its march towards independence".

See also:

15 May 02 | Middle East
Arafat commits to Palestinian reform
10 May 02 | Middle East
Rebuilding the Palestinian Authority
14 May 02 | Middle East
Sharon demands Palestinian reforms
15 May 01 | Middle East
Flashback: Palestine's catastrophe
14 May 02 | Middle East
Rights group criticises settlements
12 May 02 | Middle East
Likud embarrasses Sharon
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