Arafat meets with U.S. envoy over standoffs in West Bank

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- While an Israeli army bulldozer crushed cars in the parking lot outside, Yasser Arafat met with a U.S. envoy in his besieged office Monday to discuss the standoffs there and at Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

Arafat and the envoy, William Burns, also talked about truce prospects and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, according to Palestinian and U.S. officials.

The armed standoffs in Ramallah and Bethlehem have persisted for three weeks with few signs of a settlement in either case. Until they are resolved, there is little hope for an Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire.

Burns met Arafat for about two hours at the Palestinian leader's compound, where about 300 aides, security guards and foreign volunteers have been confined to several rooms by Israeli troops since March 29.

The Palestinians said they will not begin truce talks until Israeli forces leave all Palestinian-run areas in the West Bank.

Israel said it will lift the blockade in Bethlehem once gunmen holed up in the church there surrender.

In Ramallah, Israel is demanding Arafat hand over five suspects in October's assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister as well as the alleged mastermind of a large arms shipment to the Palestinian Authority intercepted by Israel. Arafat has refused.

As Burns and Arafat met, an Israeli bulldozer destroyed several cars parked outside and began building a rampart, said Netta Golan, an Israeli-Canadian activist in the compound. Burns came out to see what was going on before resuming the meeting, she said.

Israeli police said 10 international activists, nine from France and one from Brazil, were arrested after they walked out of Arafat's headquarters on Tuesday.

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