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Thursday, 8 August, 2002, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Palestinians seek US support
Israeli tank in Nablus
Israel has destroyed militants' houses in West Bank
Palestinians are preparing for their first high-level talks with US officials in months, as a tentative agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel over a phased withdrawal appears to have collapsed.

Shortly after talks between the two sides ended, Israeli troops and tanks swept into Gaza, killing a Palestinian and wounding four others, local sources said.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
Israel says Arafat has to crack down on militants
As the violence continued, the central committee of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement held talks with the Palestinian leader to debate the plan under which Israel would pull out of some territories in return for an end to attacks on Israeli targets.

The Palestinians have accused Israel of reneging on its offer to withdraw from areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip - hours after the Palestinian Authority had agreed in principle to accept the so-called "Gaza first" plan.

Later on Thursday, a Palestinian delegation will meet US Secretary of State Colin Powell for the highest-level meeting between the two sides since President George W Bush called in June for Mr Arafat's removal.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Washington says the issue of Mr Arafat's future - the issue on which Palestinians and Americans most violently disagree - will be hanging over the talks.

'No crisis'

The Palestinian delegation is expected to ask Washington to help get the scheme for a phased Israeli withdrawal working.

Earlier in the week, there appeared to be an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians on the issue.

But later Palestinian officials accused Israel of changing the terms of the plan.

The Palestinian cabinet secretary, Ahmed Abed al-Rahman, told the BBC that Israel was now asking the Palestinians to begin arresting militants and collecting weapons before any withdrawal from Gaza.

Palestinian officials said Israel had also backtracked on an agreement to pull out of one West Bank town as well as Gaza.

But Israeli Transport Minister Ephraim Sneh said it was exaggerated to "talk of crisis".

Further talks on the plan are expected to be held next week.

Military action

As political moves to find solutions to the crisis continued, there was more violence and military action on the ground.

Israeli soldier ion Bethlehem
Palestinians say Israel promised to withdraw from Bethlehem

In Gaza, about 25 Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles moved into the northern town of Beit Lahiya on Thursday morning for the second time in two days.

Hundreds of residents threw stones at the Israeli forces, who opened fire, Palestinian sources said, killing a 17-year-old youth and wounding several other people.

Israeli bulldozers tore down hundreds of trees and destroyed crops before pulling back after two hours, reporters said.

Israel said its incursion in northern Gaza was part of a continuing attempt to break what it calls a large terrorist infrastructure.

Israeli troops also briefly swept into central Gaza after two mortars were fired at an Israeli settlement, while forces pulled out of the town of Rafah on the Egypt-Gaza border four days after tanks went in.

In the West Bank, troops destroyed four homes - two belonging to two suicide bombers, one to a man who supplied explosives for an attack, and the fourth to a Palestinian militant accused of involvement in attacks against Israel.

Barbara Plett reports
"The Israeli plan to end its military clamp down is clearly fragile"

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