Israel arrests alleged bombing mastermind Mideast: Sharon to press offensive but withdraw from two key areas. - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Israel arrests alleged bombing mastermind Mideast: Sharon to press offensive but withdraw from two key areas.

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Posted: Tuesday, April 16, 2002 12:00 am

By HADEEL WAHDAN

The Associated Press

RAMALLAH, West Bank Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Monday that Israeli

troops would press ahead with a campaign against Palestinian militants in two

major West Bank towns despite U.S. pleas for a full withdrawal. Israel also

grabbed a senior aide to Yasser Arafat whom Sharon says was behind suicide

bombings.

But Sharon told President Bush in a telephone conversation Monday that Israeli

troops would, within a week, pull out of Jenin and Nablus, White House

spokesman Ari Fleischer said. However, Sharon said in a CNN interview that

Israeli forces would remain indefinitely in Ramallah, where they surround

Arafats headquarters, and in Bethlehem until terrorists surrender for trial

or exile.

Altogether, we are on our way out, Sharon said in the first indication of a

time frame for ending the large-scale campaign against Palestinian militants

that began March 29.

Sharon said Israeli forces will not leave Bethlehem until the standoff is over

and will not leave Ramallah until those behind the October assassination of

Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi are handed over.

In response, Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said, We

dont plan to deal with these conditions. He must leave every city that has

been reoccupied without any conditions. We are not going to bargain with the

Israelis over every town and village.

Sharon and Bush spoke for 15 minutes, Sharons office said early Tuesday.

According to Fleischer, Bush told Sharon that an Israeli pullout from Jenin

and Nablus will increase the prospects to bring peace to the region.

Bush also appealed to Sharon for the humane treatment of Palestinian civilians

in the areas overrun by Israeli troops in recent weeks.

In Ramallah, elite Israeli troops seized Marwan Barghouti, a popular figure in

the West Bank who Israel says is the leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade,

which was behind the latest suicide bombing, an attack in a Jerusalem market

Friday that killed six people plus the woman bomber.

In the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, medics began retrieving

bodies, but it might be days until it becomes clear how many Palestinians died

in the fiercest battle of Israels offensive, a point of contention between

the two sides.

In Bethlehem, Israeli troops exchanged fire with Palestinians inside the

church compound, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born.

Two Palestinian policemen one seriously wounded several days ago and the

other reportedly suffering a nervous breakdown also surrendered to Israeli

troops ringing the shrine, witnesses said. They became the first Palestinians

to surrender in the 12-day stand off.

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