Tags: Israel | Pulls | Troops | Before | Zinni's | Visit

Israel Pulls Troops Before Zinni's Visit

Thursday, 03 January 2002 12:00 AM

Troops also have lifted most closures, removed some roadblocks and eased traffic through others in the West Bank.

The U.S. envoy, retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, arrived Thursday and conferred with senior Israeli military and intelligence chiefs.

There was no word on what was said there. However, in recent days Israeli officials confirmed a sharp decline in the volume of Palestinian attacks.

The pullback began before dawn and continued through much of the day. By evening military sources said the army has pulled out of all the fully autonomous Palestinian areas they have seized in recent weeks, except a neighborhood in Ramallah close to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's office.

A high-placed Israeli military source confirmed that the tanks would continue to hold positions near Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

The Israelis are trying to pressure Arafat to arrest two leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has claimed blame for the slaying of Tourism Minister Rehavaam Zeevi in October, and the two suspected killers who found refuge in Ramallah.

The Israeli tanks pulled out of Jenin, a neighborhood in Ramallah, and an area in Nablus, the Israel Defense Forces spokesman said. The three are autonomous Palestinian cities.

Palestinian Public security chief in the West Bank Brig. Gen. Haj Ismaeel Jaber confirmed the Israelis withdrew from areas they occupied in December in the southern entrance to Jenin and near the village of Qabatia, but the Palestinians are pressing for more pullbacks.

The Israelis intend to maintain the closures they have imposed around Ramallah and Nablus, officials said. However, they lifted the closures they had imposed on Hebron, Kalkilya, Tul Karem, Yatta, and Samu. In recent days they lifted the closures on Bethlehem and Jericho.

A military source said the army physically removed six roadblocks in the West Bank and allowed freer movement through eight others. However, some soldiers reportedly said they were confused by the changing orders.

In some places in the West Bank, roadblocks still forced Palestinians to trudge through muddy roads, and soldiers checked drivers' papers. The Defense Minister's media adviser, Yarden Vatikay, announced decisions to ease movement on the Gaza-Rafah road and in the Mouassi area in the Gaza Strip. The Rafah Crossing to Egypt will be open to midnight, rather than 3 p.m., he said. However, a military source said movement there has not been eased yet.

The Israeli plan also calls for allowing Palestinian police officers to move between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and letting permanent Palestinian employees at the Allenby Bridge between the West Bank and Jordan and at Rafah return to their posts, Vatikay said.

The Israeli moves coincided with Zinni's arrival for a four-day visit.

Zinni is scheduled to meet Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at his ranch northeast of the Gaza Strip this morning and later travel to Ramallah to confer with Arafat.

Sharon on Wednesday reiterated he would not let Arafat leave Ramallah until the Palestinian leader arrests the people involved in Minister Zeevi's death.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters Wednesday that Zinni will focus on security steps that the Palestinian Authority should take "to combat terror and to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, and to promote a continued reduction in the level of violence."

He will discuss with the Israelis "economic measures that they can take to ease the pressure on the Palestinian population," Boucher added.

Zinni is expected to return to Washington early next week to brief Secretary of State Colin Powell.

In his last trip, Zinni sought to ease Israeli restrictions on Palestinian workers. The European Union also has urged Israel to ease its economic pressure.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said in a statement that he hoped the Israeli moves "will contribute to the trend of relaxation on the ground."

He called on the Palestinian Authority to "carry out the necessary intensive operations against terrorist elements and their infrastructure in order to make progress toward the beginning of the implementation of the Tenet and Mitchell plans."

On Wednesday night, Israeli troops arrested a person suspected of being an Islamic Jihad militant and his three brothers in Hebron, while another unit arrested an alleged Hamas militant in Ruman. The brothers were detained so officials could determine if they also belonged to Islamic Jihad.

Thursday was a fairly quiet day, though Palestinians fired at an Israeli border post near Rafah leading to an exchange of fire, the IDF spokesman said. Sappers detonated two explosive devices found in the West Bank, but no casualties and no damage was reported, the army spokesman added.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Troops also have lifted most closures, removed some roadblocks and eased traffic through others in the West Bank. The U.S. envoy, retired Marine Corps Gen. Anthony Zinni, arrived Thursday and conferred with senior Israeli military and intelligence chiefs. There was no...
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Thursday, 03 January 2002 12:00 AM
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