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Israel agrees to US plan which will end Arafat siege
29 April 2002
Britain was instrumental in securing an agreement yesterday for lifting the Israeli siege of Yasser Arafat's office, but the Israeli cabinet remained defiant over a United Nations' fact- finding mission to investigate the devastation of the Jenin refugee camp.
Amid allegations that Ariel Sharon and his government are attempting to cover up atrocities in Jenin, the UN Security Council held a late-night emergency session on Israel's refusal to allow the three-member team the access they have asked for.
Israel's decision is in defiance of a UN resolution to send a team of fact-finders to investigate the Israeli army's invasion of the West Bank camp to crush militants. The death toll so far comprises about 50 Palestinians nearly half civilians and 23 Israeli soldiers.
It came on a day of diplomatic manoeuvering which also saw the Israeli cabinet and Mr Arafat approve a sudden new proposal from President George Bush, as the US sought to find another way out of the Middle East crisis.
Under it, four members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine accused of assassinating Israel's tourism minister last year and found guilty in a lightning hearing by one of Yasser Arafat's military courts would be held in a Palestinian prison with US and British guards.
Israel has long been demanding their extradition. This arrangement would be in return for an end to Israel's military siege of Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah. The US plan appears to build on a British proposal to provide monitors to reassure the Israelis that suspects held by the Palestinian Authority would not be released. It is thought the jailers would be civilians.
Under the plan, which was discussed with Mr Arafat by US and British consular officials, he would be allowed to move in the Palestinian-administered parts of the occupied territories. In accepting the proposal, Israel is hoping the US will respond by supporting its demands for changes to the UN mission which it regards with deep suspicion.
Phil Reeves and David Usborne