- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 18, 2001

JERUSALEM Israeli troops withdrew from the West Bank town of Tulkarem yesterday, the army said, in the latest in a series of pullbacks from six towns the military entered last month and provoked strong U.S. complaints.
Palestinian officials said the withdrawal had begun but was not yet complete. A pullback from Tulkarem in the northern part of the West Bank would leave troops only in the town of Jenin.
The United States has demanded repeatedly that Israel immediately withdraw from Palestinian territory and not return.
Israel has said its military strikes are aimed at preventing shooting and bombing attacks by Palestinian militants. The incursions began in October after the assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.
The Israeli military said troops completed their withdrawal from Tulkarem late yesterday. The town will remain closed, meaning residents are barred from leaving and entering, the army said.
The Palestinian governor of Tulkarem, Izzedine Sharif, said he was informed by Israel that troops would leave by late yesterday, but he said that after nightfall, soldiers still held two rooftop positions, with tanks parked outside.
Separately, in the West Bank town of Ramallah, a group of senior European Union officials met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and told reporters that a viable Palestinian state must be an element of any Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
The delegation included European Commission head Romano Prodi, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and the current EU president, Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt.
The envoys arrived from Egypt, where they met with President Hosni Mubarak earlier yesterday. They will meet Israeli leaders today a day before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is expected to outline a new peace effort in the Middle East.
Israel said it does not expect major developments from the European visit. Israeli leaders are likely to tell the envoys today that Europe should adopt a more balanced stance on the Middle East, an Israeli official said on condition of anonymity.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians hope Mr. Powell's speech tomorrow will detail how to implement Security Council resolutions calling for Israel's withdrawal from occupied lands and an approximate deadline for a comprehensive peace agreement.
"If it lacks these two elements, I think we will just be running in circles," Mr. Erekat said yesterday.


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