Israeli siege on Arafat HQ may end tonight

Published May 1st, 2002 - 02:00 GMT

The Palestinians have agreed to a detailed plan for transferring six wanted men from Yasser Arafat 's compound to a West Bank prison, paving the way for the Palestinian leader's release from Israeli confinement, possibly by nightfall, a Palestinian official said Wednesday. 


Mohammed Rashid, an Arafat adviser, told The Associated Press that the six prisoners were expected to be moved from Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah to the town of Jericho within several hours. Rashid was directly involved in the negotiations. 


Immediately after the prisoners have left Ramallah, Israeli tanks would leave the Palestinian city, including Arafat's headquarters. "Ramallah will be freed by tanks immediately after the prisoners leave the compound," Rashid said. 


But in a possible new complication, Arafat said Wednesday afternoon that he would not release Fuad Shubaki and Ahmed Saadat, Secretary General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, whom Israel believes to have ordered the assassination of tourism minister, Rehavam Zee’vi. Shubaki is alleged of masterminding a Palestinian arms shipment intercepted by the Israeli navy in January. 


Earlier, Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said the transfer arrangements were largely in place, but that some details concerning the safety of the prisoners and other issues were still unresolved. Erekat said it was "possible" the prisoners would be transferred later Wednesday. 


Under a deal with the United States, Israel would release Arafat after the six men have been transferred to a prison in Jericho, where they will be guarded by American and British wardens. 


In Bethlehem, two Palestinian policemen emerged from the Church of the Nativity on Wednesday. Nearly 200 other Palestinians, including about 30 wanted by Israel, remain holed up in the church, and there were no signs the month-long standoff was ending. Additionally, a Palestinian policeman was injured by Israeli fire Wednesday.  


In a West Bank village near Bethlehem, an 11-year-old Palestinian boy was killed and two other youngsters were critically wounded in a mysterious explosion. 


Elsewhere, in Gaza Strip, five Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, including a two-year-old girl. ( 

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