- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

JERUSALEM Israel decided yesterday to draw tanks back from Yasser Arafat's compound but continue restricting him to the West Bank city of Ramallah a half-step that led angry Palestinians to cancel planned cease-fire talks with Israeli security officials.
While the Palestinians had hoped that last week's arrests of three top suspects in the October killing of Israeli Cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi might end Mr. Arafat's almost three-month confinement, Israel demanded again yesterday that they be handed over and that other suspects be arrested as well.
But an Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, suggested that yesterday's decision was only preliminary, and that Israel expected the security meeting to be held today delayed by only one day. The Defense Ministry, meanwhile, said the army would exercise restraint in hopes of enabling a truce.
Mr. Arafat has been restricted to Ramallah since early December, shortly after a wave of suicide bombings in Israel, and tanks moved steadily closer to his compound, eventually surrounding it.
Israel's Security Cabinet, made up of senior ministers, said in a statement yesterday that such pressure caused last week's arrest in the West Bank city of Nablus of the three members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which claimed responsibility for Mr. Zeevi's assassination in October.
Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Israeli tanks would soon be pulled back from Mr. Arafat's compound to unspecified new locations.
But Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat maintained that this "changes nothing" because Mr. Arafat had been able to get around Ramallah already; in recent days he prayed at a mosque about a mile away and attended the opening of a play.
"This is a very terrible decision," said Mr. Erekat. "Why is it that every time we try to proceed with the peace process … they take such decisions? We expected to hear a decision that will revive hope. … Enough trying to humiliate us."

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