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Israel enters West Bank villages

Arafat
Palestinian officials say that Powell will now meet with Arafat on Sunday.  


JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Hours after a suicide bombing at a Jerusalem bus stop killed six people, the United States postponed a planned meeting Saturday between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said U.S. officials have told him the meeting would be postponed until Sunday. But a State Department spokesman said no firm arrangements have been made for a Sunday meeting.

Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers moved into Burqeen on the outskirts of Jenin refugee camp early Saturday, announcing a curfew in the village over loudspeakers.

CNN's Rula Amin, reporting from the village, said there was sporadic firing as the Israeli forces occupied the village.

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The decision to cancel Saturday's talks was announced after a meeting Friday evening between U.S. Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni and two key Arafat aides -- Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan and Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

Dahlan said the meeting was a one-sided one, in which Zinni asked the Palestinians to fulfill their commitment to put an end to the violence. But he said only after an Israeli withdrawal and time for Palestinians rebuild their institutions can it take steps to end violence.

"The Palestinian Authority is under siege, imprisoned and ridiculed," Dahlan said.

During the meeting, Zinni was called away to take a telephone call from Powell and did not return, sources said. They said they were informed later of the change in time for the meeting.

Powell had been under pressure from the Israelis to delay the meeting since Friday's terror attack at Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market. Six people died and more than 60 were wounded, according to medics at the scene. (Images from the blast)

Officials said the suicide bomber detonated explosives either on or near a bus. The open-air market was crowded as shoppers bought groceries in anticipation of the Jewish Sabbath, which began at sundown. (Detail map)

"The bus stopped and an explosion took place on the right side of the bus, windows smashed, fruit and vegetables were spread all over," a tour guide who witnessed the blast told CNN. "It was all black where the explosion was... then I saw people with no head and no arms."

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a military wing of Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for Friday's bombing in telephone calls to news organizations. The Al Aqsa spokesman said the bomber was a young woman.

In Washington, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday would be a "good day" for Arafat to publicly renounce terror attacks to the Palestinian people in Arabic. (Full story)

A senior Palestinian official said the Palestinians think the postponement of the Powell-Arafat meeting is being used as "blackmail" to pressure Arafat into condemning Friday's bombing. The official said Arafat will not condemn the bombing until the United States and Israel condemn the killing of hundreds of Palestinians in Israel's current military campaign in the West Bank.

Powell met earlier with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to discuss how Israel might end its military operation in Palestinian cities. The meeting took place about two miles (three kilometers) away from the attack scene.

Friday's terror attack was the sixth suicide bombing targeting Israeli civilians since a Passover bombing in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya that killed 28 people. The following day, a militant wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for a shooting in a Jewish settlement near Nablus that killed four Israeli settlers.

In response, Sharon's ordered Israeli troops into Palestinian-controlled cities across the West Bank, and Israeli troops have kept Arafat confined to an office building in his Ramallah compound. Earlier, in a news conference after the Powell-Sharon meeting, Powell said the two men had not yet reached an agreement on a schedule to end the Israeli operation. "We don't have a specific timetable," said Powell. (Full story)

But Sharon did say he hopes to conclude what he called the war against the Palestinian "infrastructure of terrorism" shortly.

Other developments

The humanitarian situation inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is quickly deteriorating, according to a church official trying to negotiate an end to the standoff that has lasted more than a week at the holy site. He described the situation Thursday as a "volcano" that is "waiting to erupt." (Full story)

Hezbollah guerrillas opened fire with mortar or anti-tank weapons toward Israeli positions in the Shebaa Farms area Friday, the Israel Defense Forces said. The incident came as Powell was visiting the border region.

The head of Hezbollah early Thursday offered to free an Israeli reserve officer abducted in October 2000 in exchange for Israel sparing 100 Palestinian fighters in Jenin. (Full story)



 
 
 
 






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