Contacts Begin Over Ending Siege of Arafat's Ramallah Muqata

Palestinians say won't accept Israeli demands for surrender of wanted men; IDF ends demolitions under U.S. pressure, but siege continues.

Initial contacts began Sunday to end the IDF siege of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's compound (Muqata) in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

At the same time, negotiations began to secure the surrender of 19 Palestinians wanted by Israel, who are holed up with Arafat inside the compound. The Palestinians said, however, that they would not accede to Israeli demands regarding a handover of the men.

Some 200 people are thought to be inside the compound; Israel requested Sunday a list of all those inside, Israel Radio reported.

Following U.S. pressure, the IDF pulled out its bulldozers Sunday after they demolished most of the buildings in the compound over the weekend, and allowed a delivery of food and water and other personal items.

The White House delivered a strong rebuke Sunday over the operation, calling it "not helpful."

"Israeli actions in and around the Muqata are not helpful in reducing terrorist violence or promoting Palestinian reforms," said White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo.

Mamo also strongly condemned the Palestinian suicide bombings and called on the Palestinians to stop such attacks while urging Israel to "continue considering the consequences of its actions."

The decision to cease the bulldozer work was taken Sunday afternoon, after senior defense establishment figures met in Jerusalem, and the bulldozers left the compound a few hours later.

The delivery came after Palestinians handed Israel a request for provisions, which was approved by security officials.

The provisions include including shampoo, brooms and three cartons of underwear, the IDF said Sunday.

The army spokesman released a list Sunday of the food and equipment from the Palestinian Authority that it allowed into the compound. On the list were 47 different items, including "1,000 pittas, 100 bottles of water, 15 gallons of yogurt, 30 cartons of humus, five gallons of shampoo, three cartons of underwear (all sizes), 20 brooms and dust pans - and one carton of cigarettes for the 200 men in the office building."

The release of the list followed charges from Palestinians that Israel was trying to starve the people in the building.

Arafat: I'll rein in militants, if siege endsHa'aretz has learned that Arafat offered to rein in the various armed groups responsible for terror attacks against Israeli civilians, in exchange for an end to the IDF siege of his Ramallah compound.

The proposal was made over the weekend to Jordanian and Egyptian officials via a senior PA figure.

The Itim News Service reported that the proposal is based on the deal that brought to an end the month-long siege of Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity in May, whereby the wanted men in the church were exiled to the Gaza Strip and to several European countries.

The PA official who informed the Jordanians and Egyptians of the offer, however, denied that it included any deal to exile the wanted men. Instead, he said, the proposal includes an undertaking by Arafat to restrain armed militants - including Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Five Palestinians killed during protestsFive Palestinians were killed in the West Bank on Saturday and Sunday during Palestinian demonstrations in support of Arafat.

Protests resumed in several West Bank towns and in the Gaza Strip on Sunday afternoon, a day after four Palestinians were shot dead and some thirty were injured in clashes with the IDF. On Sunday a Palestinian teenager from Nablus was killed by IDF fire.

On Sunday night, hundreds of Palestinian youths gathered at Ramallah's Manara Square - in defiance of an official curfew - by IDF sources said that troops would not attempt to break up the demonstration.

Israel offers Arafat a one-way ticket out of RamallahIsrael reiterated that it will not hurt Arafat and that it would allow him to go abroad as long as he does not return to the territories.

The IDF renewed Sunday the water supply to the Muqata, after it was cut off earlier in the day. Palestinians said Sunday that the Muqata's air conditioning, electricity and phone lines had also been cut off. The IDF said that it was not aware of a water problem, but said that if it would receive a request to supply food or water, it will do so.

Palestinian sources said that Israel has rejected a U.S. initiative to solve the crisis in the Muqata, Army Radio reported Sunday. The radio said that PA parliament speaker Abu Ala spoke over the weekend with Sharon, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, and said that the ministers did not intend to solve the crisis. He said, however, that Sharon promised that Israel does not intend to harm Arafat.

The IDF also reimposed a curfew Sunday on all West Bank cities except for Bethlehem. A curfew was also imposed on Jericho for the first time since Operation Defensive Shield in April.