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Zinni: Both sides want end to 'terrible situation'

Zinni and Arafat met in Ramallah on Friday
Zinni and Arafat met in Ramallah on Friday  

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- U.S. Middle East Envoy Anthony Zinni came out of a meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Friday saying he believed both Israelis and Palestinians are committed to finding a way out of the last 18 months of violence.

The retired Marine Corps general said leaders on both sides told him they want to end "the terrible situation" they find themselves in.

Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said Arafat's talks with Zinni were "frank and candid" and said Arafat promised to do all he could to help achieve a cease-fire.

Zinni's meeting with Arafat came just hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered Israeli forces to redeploy from Palestinian cities they had occupied in recent days

Before meeting with Zinni, Arafat accused the Israelis of putting on a show for the U.S. envoy.

"They are trying to give only a picture for Zinni that they have left Ramallah," Arafat said. "What's the meaning of leaving Ramallah and they are still in all the other cities and towns and camps everywhere in Palestine? We can't accept this and the crimes which have been done against our holy sacred places in Bethlehem."

Aides to Arafat told CNN the Palestinians presented a number of ideas to Zinni on how to end the violence.

Zinni went to Ramallah after meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres earlier in the day.

CNN's Michael Holmes gets reactions from various Israelis and Palestinians on the Zinni mission's probability for success (March 14)

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Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres expressed his optimism about Zinni's visit.

"I hope that he will do his best and be able to do something concrete on the ground, " Peres said. "I'm sure the United States expects Israel to listen to Arab needs as well and that is what we are doing in a very open manner and fair way and I hope it will lead to some ... achievements."

Zinni returned to the region Thursday and in a meeting with Sharon Thursday night bluntly told him the United States wanted Israeli forces out of the Palestinian controlled areas, U.S. sources said.

The Israel Defense Forces said Friday its troops had completed their pullout from the centers of Ramallah, Qalqilya, Tulkarem, Nablus, Bethlehem, and Jenin, but remain positioned on the outskirts of the Palestinian cities.

Some of the forces remain in parts of "Area A," which, under the 1993 Oslo peace accords, is supposed to be under full Palestinian control, the IDF said. (More on the Oslo accords)

The forces have also left the Al-Bureij refugee camp in Gaza, IDF said.

More than 40 Israeli tanks and armored vehicles began pulling out of Ramallah late Thursday, hours after Sharon ordered them to redeploy "because the mission has been completed successfully."

Palestinian sources reported the tanks and armored personnel carriers withdrawing from the town in all directions.

Shortly before the withdrawal, Palestinian sources said two tanks were hit by Palestinian-fired rocket-propelled grenades. The IDF would neither deny or confirm the report.

Palestinian Authority officials had said they would not take part in any peace talks until Israel withdraws its forces from the West Bank and Gaza, where Israelis in the past week have carried out their largest offensive since the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Appearing on CNN, George Mitchell -- the former U.S. senator whose commission laid out the groundwork for an immediate cease-fire followed by a cessation of Jewish settlement construction in the territories and the resumption of peace talks -- said it is imperative for both sides to bring an end to the cycle of violence. (More on the Mitchell report)

"It is possible to step back from the brink and to move gradually toward a stable peace by eliminating the high level of violence and emotion that is now occuring," Mitchell said. "Can (Zinni) do it? No one knows, but you have to try. He's got to keep at it, stay there, and pursue it, notwithstanding the setbacks that may occur," Mitchell said.

Israeli armored personnel carriers pull out of Bethlehem in the West Bank on Friday  

"There isn't any way out of this on the current track and they've got to find a way to get back to the negotiating table," Mitchell said. (Full Story)

Sharon's office issued a statement saying that he hopes that completion of the mission "will enable us to go forward with the diplomatic effort to reaching an immediate, total cease-fire."

The Israeli government has said its operations in the Palestinian territories were intended to attack what they called the "terrorist infrastructure" endangering Israelis. Palestinians have said many innocents have been killed in the operations and that the military campaign itself is a form of terror.

Meanwhile, the violence continued in the region Friday morning. In northern Gaza, Israeli forces surrounded a number of Palestinians, killing one, the IDF said, after discovering a number of grenades in the area near the Israeli settlement of Dugit.

Also, six Palestinians were arrested overnight in the West Bank -- three in the village of Talouza near Nablus and three in Qalqilya. The IDF found two houses in Qalqilya with explosive belts and bombs.

Palestinian security sources said a mother and four children -- two girls and two boys -- died near Al Boureij camp in Gaza. They said the four either stepped on an explosive or were hit by a tank shell.

There was no immediate comment from the IDF.




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