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Israel leaves Arafat compound

Arafat accuses Israel of 'trying to deceive' United Nations

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat acknowledges supporters outside his West Bank compound on Sunday.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat acknowledges supporters outside his West Bank compound on Sunday.

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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered troops to end the 10-day siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound. CNN's Ben Wedeman reports (September 30)
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Jerrold Kessel:  U.S. pressured Israel to redeploy in Ramallah

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel pulled tanks and troops out of Yasser Arafat's compound in the West Bank on Sunday after Israel's top security officials agreed to ease the military's grip on the Palestinian leader's Ramallah headquarters.

But Arafat and other Palestinian officials scoffed at the move, calling it "cosmetic."

Troops have repositioned themselves about 40 yards outside of the compound as Israel says it wants to be sure that wanted militants it says are in the compound cannot flee the area. A curfew for Ramallah residents that lasted from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. has been reimposed.

"The Israeli cabinet forum decided that the Israel Defense Forces will remove its forces from the vicinity of the Muqata'a [compound] in such a way that it will be possible to ascertain that the wanted terrorists are not freely able to leave the site," according to a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office.

In response, Arafat said the Israelis "are trying to deceive the Security Council resolutions, and for this we are asking from the Security Council the accurate implementation of their resolution."

The U.N. resolution -- adopted last week by a 14-0 vote with the United States abstaining -- called on Israel to end the siege of Arafat's compound, and for the Palestinian Authority to meet its commitment to end violence against Israelis.

Arafat emerged from the compound after the withdrawal to cheers from supporters, who perceive the move as a victory for their side. He also met Sunday with U.N. special envoy Terje-Roed Larsen to discuss the Security Council resolution.

Larsen praised the Israeli move and said he was told by Israeli authorities that the Israeli troops will withdraw to their "pre-crisis" positions -- the deployment before this latest compound siege began.

"It was a good move, it was the right thing to do, and it was a courageous move," Larsen said. "I commend the government of Israel for doing that."

Also he said that "hopefully, Israel will continue its withdrawal consistent with the latest Security Council resolution which calls for Israel further to withdraw up to the September 2000 positions which the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] had."

Israel's decision to relax the siege in Ramallah came after Sharon received a personal message from U.S. President George Bush in recent days, asking the Israeli leader to immediately pull his forces back from Arafat's compound.

"Israel will make every effort to accommodate the U.S. in its ongoing efforts against terror and against Iraq while ensuring its own immediate security concerns," according to the statement from Sharon's office.

White House 'pleased,' Palestinians apprehensive

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, "The president is pleased and calls now on all parties to live up to their responsibilities for peace and security in the region and reforms in the Palestinian Authority."

Asked about Palestinian criticism that the Israelis had only pulled back a short distance and that it was a "sham" to say the siege had been lifted, Johndroe would only say, "We are aware of those reports and monitoring developments, but I have nothing further to say at this time."

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said he feared the move would only be a "cosmetic change."

"I hope the siege of President Arafat's compound will be totally lifted and we will not merely see cosmetic changes of Israeli tanks being repositioned from inside the compound to the entrances of the compound," he told CNN.

The siege and demolition of most of the buildings in Arafat's Ramallah compound followed two suicide bombings that killed six Israelis and a Scottish student two weeks ago.

Israel stopped its demolition of the compound last Sunday, but maintained its siege around the one building still standing.

Erakat said the Palestinians "appreciate the U.S. efforts exerted," and urged Bush to follow up with action.

"What is needed now from President Bush is a comprehensive attempt to revive the peace process and break this vicious cycle," he said.

Israel wants about 50 wanted Palestinian militants it says are inside the compound. Arafat said there are no militants in the building and he is not handing over any Palestinians to Israel.

Israel's statement Sunday said anyone inside the Ramallah compound not involved in terrorism was free to leave, but "if the wanted persons try to leave, they will be stopped and arrested."

Yonatan Peled, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, told CNN that Israel expects the Palestinians to "fulfill their commitment in fighting against terror."

"We still expect these people who are accused, who have blood on their hands, and are wanted terrorists, to either give themselves in or be surrendered, so that they can be brought to justice and brought to a fair trial -- as is customary everywhere in the world," he said.

Other developments

  • In the village of Herbata, west of Ramallah, the Israel Defense Forces announced the discovery of an arsenal. The items included "two explosive belts, an explosive suitcase ready to be activated, an explosive material typed TATP, instructions for making Qassam rockets and explosive devices and a bag containing tools for explosive devices making." The IDF said that "the weaponry was placed in a well in the village and was detonated in a controlled manner."
  • Sharon on Sunday is heading to Russia, where he will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and others. Along with the United States, the United Nations and the European Union, Russia is one of the members of the Quartet, which is trying to spur stability and peace in the Middle East.
  • -- CNN Correspondent Ben Wedeman contributed to this report

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