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Tuesday, 1 October, 2002, 18:51 GMT 19:51 UK
Israeli army returns to Arafat compound
A Palestinian bulldozer works to clear rubble in Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah
Much of the compound has been reduced to rubble
Israeli soldiers have resumed positions outside Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah, amid reports that suspected militants have escaped after a siege was lifted on Sunday.

Israeli marksmen were seen moving back into several buildings around the compound, Palestinian security officials said. The army had no comment.

Israeli media said on Monday some of the 50 Palestinians whom Israel wanted in connection with suicide bombings had sneaked out after the army pullout.

Yasser Arafat
Yasser Arafat has condemned US decisions on Jerusalem
Israel ended its 10-day siege of the presidential complex after heavy pressure from the United States.

The withdrawal was seen as an embarrassment for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and he has come in for serious criticism in Israel.

The assault - which saw most of the Palestinian leader's complex demolished - was in response to a suicide bomb attack on a Tel Aviv bus a fortnight ago that killed six people.

Inside his surviving offices, Mr Arafat convened his Cabinet on Tuesday for the first time since before the siege and condemned new US legislation urging recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Palestinians want to make East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 war, the capital of their future state while Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital.

US President George W Bush signed a spending bill on Monday urging his administration to shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Efforts 'undermined'

The bill also said that no money could be spent on official US documents mentioning Israel without identifying Jerusalem as the capital.

Saeb Erekat, a member of the Palestinian Cabinet, said Mr Bush's signing of the bill "undermines all efforts being exerted to revive the peace process and put it back on track".

He called it "a flagrant violation" of agreements signed by the United States and Israel to negotiate the permanent status of Jerusalem.

But Mr Bush himself insisted that "US policy regarding Jerusalem has not changed".

Jerusalem is a major thorn in the side of the peace process.

Israel annexed the eastern part of the city, including sites sacred to Muslims and Christians, after capturing it during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Pilgrims blocked

In the West Bank, Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer has re-imposed a ban on Jewish pilgrims travelling to the Tomb of Joseph in the town of Nablus, according to Israeli radio.

Palestinian policemen stand guard on the biblical Tomb of Joseph
The Tomb of Joseph is in a Palestinian-controlled area
He said the ban had been renewed for security reasons and that anyone caught flouting it would be arrested.

To reach the tomb, worshippers have to pass through the middle of Nablus.

But to do so they need prior permission from the army, as Israeli citizens are normally forbidden from the area which is under Palestinian control.

Joseph's tomb was the site of a synagogue until the Israeli army evacuated it in October 2000, following heavy fighting in the early weeks of the Palestinian uprising.

It was later rebuilt by the Palestinians as a mosque.

Many Jews believe the site to be the final resting place of the biblical patriarch Joseph, while Muslims believe an Islamic cleric Sheikh Yussif (Joseph) Dawiqat was buried there two centuries ago.

Talks deadline

In a speech at the UK's ruling Labour Party conference, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said peace talks in the Middle East must be revived by the end of 2002, with the goal of a viable Palestinian state and an Israeli nation free of terror.

"By the end of the year, we must have revived final-status negotiations, and they must have explicitly as their aims an Israeli state free from terror, recognised by the Arab world, and a viable Palestinian state based on the boundaries of 1967," he told conference delegates on Tuesday.


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