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Israel seals off Gaza, West Bank until Friday

Bush, Hariri
Bush, right, meets with Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri in Washington on Tuesday  

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Lebanese PM in Washington

Anti-Israel rhetoric in Tehran


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel imposed a blockade in Gaza and the West Bank, preventing Palestinians from traveling to jobs in Israel until Friday, an Israeli army spokesman said.

As ceremonies were held across the Jewish state Wednesday in memory of its fallen soldiers, militant Islamic groups vowed to conduct more bombings during the blockade, The Associated Press reported.

Israel said it ordered the closure for security reasons on its memorial day, which began at sundown Tuesday, and for its Independence Day, which begins at sundown Wednesday.

CNN's Mike Hanna has more on Israel's pause for reflection

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CNN's Mike Hanna has more on the increasing violence in the Mideast

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At a checkpoint near a Jewish settlement in Gaza, CNN's Ben Wedeman shows how Palestinian traffic has been slowed by Israel

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CNN's Jerrold Kessel: International pressure for peace

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That action came despite Washington's advice against a "full-blown closure," said a U.S. State Department official.

According to the official, the United States "recognized Israel's need to take security measures, but advised against taking any steps that take away from the Palestinians' economic livelihood and ability to move."

Israeli has tightly restricted travel in the West Bank and Gaza since an outbreak of violence last September. Many Palestinians have been cut off from jobs in other parts of the region by the closures.

The Palestinians had asked the Israelis to lift the restrictions in place at all Palestinian areas, saying the closures amount to a collective punishment of all Palestinians for the actions of a few -- and foment the unrest that spawns violence.

But Israel holds Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority responsible for the latest violence -- including a series of bombings in the last two weeks -- which erupted seven months ago.

Earlier Tuesday, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Israel will begin to ease restrictions on the Palestinian town of Jericho in the next few days.


The Israelis agreed to ease the restrictions on Jericho during talks with Palestinian security officials, who pledged to keep the West Bank tourist town safe when that happens.

Lebanese PM in Washington

Peres said continued violence would hamper Arafat's ability to get help from U.S. officials.

"I think that if the shooting doesn't stop, it will be very hard for Arafat to go to Washington," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has met with U.S. President George W. Bush, and Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was in Washington on Tuesday to meet with him.

Hariri said after the meeting that he and Bush had discussed the Middle East peace process in general terms, saying that the president "made it very clear ... that the United States is engaged in the peace process."

"We would like to see the United States play a more effective role to push the peace process forward," Hariri told reporters.

Nasrallah speaks during a conference in Tehran on Tuesday  

Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon last year after an 18-year battle with Hezbollah guerrillas determined to drive out the Israelis, who had occupied a stretch of land along the border as a security measure.

Anti-Israel rhetoric in Tehran

While Hariri was in Washington, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah was at a conference of anti-Israeli groups meeting in Tehran, Iran.

"Victory belongs to us," Nasrallah said.

Other speakers were harsh in their condemnation of Israel.

"The oppressed people of Palestine, whether those who dwell in that bloodstained holy land or those who continue to bear the brunt of hardship and displacement worldwide, are all in all the victims of Zionist discrimination and aggression," moderate Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said.

Iran's supreme leader, however, went further, claiming evidence proving "that the numbers of the Jewish Holocaust were exaggerated to solicit international sympathy and lay the grounds for the occupation of Palestine and justify the atrocities of the Zionists."

"Supporting the Palestinian people is one of our important Islamic duties," said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.

Violence intensifies in Mideast
April 23, 2001
Bomb kills 2, wounds 39 at bus stop near Tel Aviv
April 22, 2001
Israel, Palestinians meet for security talks
April 21, 2001
Israeli police enter disputed compound
April 20, 2001
Blast rocks central West Bank town
April 19, 2001
Sharon's U.S. test
April 18, 2001

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Israeli Prime Minister's Office
The Knesset, Israeli parliament
Israel Defense Forces
Permanent Mission of Israel to the U.N.
Palestinian National Authority
Palestinian Red Crescent
Permanent Mission of Palestine to the U.N.
U.S. State Dept: Near eastern affairs
U.N. The Question of Palestine
E.U. Middles East policy

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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