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Celebrations in Arafat's compound

Gunfire at Church of Nativity

Members of Arafat's personal guard celebrate after Israeli troops withdrew from his compound in Ramallah early Thursday.  

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Supporters and security forces inside Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound celebrated early Thursday after Israeli forces withdrew, following the transfer of six Palestinians accused of being terrorists to U.S. and British officials.

Arafat's security forces waved guns and flags and chanted that they would always support him.

The transfer of the six men that Israel accuses of terrorism was part of the U.S.-brokered deal to end the monthlong siege of Arafat's compound. (Arafat compound)

"I have to go and see and shake hands with my people who have suffered and faced the crimes, the disaster," Arafat said. "I will go to see what has happened in all our cities and towns -- the disasters, the crimes, the losses (of) all our infrastructures."

The blockade of Arafat's compound was one tactic in an aggressive Israeli military operation launched in late March against terrorism in the West Bank that followed a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians.

The Palestinians were taken to a Palestinian-controlled jail in the West Bank town of Jericho, where they will be held under the watch of a team of U.S. and British security personnel.

The transfer paved the way for Arafat to leave the compound where he has been confined to several rooms. The Israelis have not allowed Arafat to travel outside Ramallah since the first week of December.

Arafat held a news conference a few hours after the Israeli withdrawal and denounced the gunfire that broke out at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which has been the scene of a standoff between Palestinians inside the church and Israeli forces encircling the area. (Full story)

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan disbanded the team he had put together to find out what happened during the Israeli military action in the Jenin refugee camp last month. Palestinians first alleged a massacre took place and later accused Israel of war crimes. Israel has denied the charges and refused to cooperate with the U.N. team's investigation, questioning its makeup and mandate. (Full story)

Convoy to Jericho

A convoy of armored vehicles arrived at the compound Wednesday night to transport the Palestinians, hours after a deal was finalized to free Arafat in exchange for the transfer of the six Palestinians.

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Israeli officials said Israeli tanks and troops would leave Ramallah as soon as the prisoner transfer took place.

The six Palestinians wanted by Israel are Arafat's paymaster, Foaud Shubaki; Ahmad Sa'adat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; and four men wanted for the assassination last October of Israeli Tourism Minister Rechavam Ze'evi.

Israel accuses Shubaki of being Arafat's contact with Iran and Iraq and of having arranged a shipment of weapons aboard the vessel Karine-A, which Israel intercepted early this year in the Red Sea. Israel says Sa'adat is responsible for sending the four men to kill Ze'evi in retaliation for Israel's killing of Abu Ali Mustafa, the previous head of the PFLP.

The four were convicted by a makeshift Palestinian court inside Arafat's compound and sentenced to terms of one to 18 years. Israel rejected the action and demanded the right to try them in an Israeli court.

Israeli military says it has left Hebron

The Israel Defense Forces said early Wednesday it had withdrawn from the West Bank town of Hebron after arresting more than 150 Palestinians accused of terrorist activity and finding caches of explosives and weapons.

Palestinian sources, however, said some Israeli forces remained in the West Bank city.

Israeli troops moved into Hebron late Sunday and early Monday and completed their withdrawal late Tuesday, the IDF said. Of the 150 Palestinians arrested, 52 were on Israel's wanted list, the IDF said.

The operation followed an attack Saturday in which Palestinian gunmen killed four Israelis in the nearby settlement of Adora.




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