JERUSALEM – Israeli tanks and troops began a limited withdrawal from the city of Ramallah on Saturday as international officials sought to determine what happened in the West Bank city of Jenin.
According to Palestinians' accounts, the Israeli military massacred civilians in Jenin during its 3-week-old offensive – an accusation Israel denies. The U.N. Security Council on Friday night approved sending a U.N. team there to investigate.
Saying it has nothing to hide, Israel agreed to the investigation.
In Ramallah, Israeli forces began withdrawing from parts of the West Bank city, with some forces stopping just outside of the city. Witnesses say dozens of tanks and armored personnel carriers were moving toward Israeli military bases near the edges of Ramallah.
"Any place that we've finished ... we pull out," Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said.
Forces were not recalled from Yasser Arafat's Ramallah headquarters, however, where the Palestinian leader is confined to several rooms. Israel has said troops will remain in place at Arafat's headquarters until he turns over suspects in the October assassination of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi.
The withdrawal is expected to continue elsewhere in the West Bank. Prior to the pullout in Ramallah, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said that troops will have pulled out of Nablus by Sunday morning.
Troops would not pull out from Bethlehem, according to Israeli officials. A standoff between Palestinian gunmen inside the Church of the Nativity and Israeli Soldiers that began April 2 continues with a priest inside the church saying that the food supplies have run out.
Meanwhile, rescue workers are sifting through the rubble of the refugee camp to recover bodies and possible survivors. A 17-year-old boy named Sari Badi was pulled from the basement of a house where he was trapped for nine days. Badi said he was pinned by a wall that collapsed on his leg when the neighboring house was crushed, but was able to reach a jar of cheese, which he survived on.
"I couldn't believe I was going to live, I still can't believe it," he said in an interview at Jenin hospital, where his light injuries were treated.
Hospital officials, however, cast doubt on Badi's story. Red Cross spokeswoman Jessica Barry said, "We can't confirm his story. We don't have details on how long he was trapped."
Israel withdrew its troops from Jenin on Friday and promised more pullbacks over the weekend. But as it scaled back its presence in West Bank cities, violence raged in the Gaza Strip.
A lone Palestinian rushed a heavily fortified Israeli crossing point on the edge of the Gaza Strip, killing an Israeli border policeman with gunfire and grenades before being shot down by an Israeli tank.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia linked to Arafat's Fatah movement, said it was behind the assault and named the attacker as Eiman Judeh, of Gaza City.
In a funeral procession in Gaza City, hundreds of chanting Palestinians carried the black-draped coffins two Islamic Jihad militants who were killed in a gunbattle Friday with Israeli troops. Israel said the militants were attempting to stage a terrorist attack on the settlement of Netzarim.
"Sharon should expect all doors of hell to break loose," vowed one masked Palestinian, referring to the Israeli prime minister. "We are ready for martyrdom. But the occupation will never be safe on the land of historical Palestine, from the river to the sea," the man told the crowd.
The two militants were among seven Palestinians, including two children, killed by army fire on Friday. Also, an Islamic Jihad activist suicide bombed an army checkpoint in Gaza, killing himself and wounding two soldiers.
The Israeli offensive in the West Bank began on March 29 with the goal of rooting out Palestinian militias after a flurry of suicide bombings. The operation has not targeted the Gaza Strip, which is where the Islamic militant Hamas group's leadership is located but which has not been the recent source of suicide bombers.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops have captured or killed at least 15 Palestinians on its most wanted list, according to the findings of AP reporters in Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron, who questioned Palestinian security officials, activists of the militant groups, hospital workers and relatives of those on the list published in January by the Israeli Yediot Ahronot newspaper.
Residents of the Jenin refugee camp picked through heaps of debris Friday, salvaging what possessions they could and looking for loved ones. One man salvaged a television. A woman saved a stringed lute. A girl found her white roller-skates.
So far, area hospitals have listed 43 bodies as having been retrieved from the camp. Of those, six were women, children or elderly men.
The camp was the scene of a week of intense fighting between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen. The Palestinians say hundreds died, including civilians, when Israeli forces destroyed more than 100 homes. Israel believs the death toll is in the dozens and consists of mostly gunmen.
U.N. Mideast envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, who toured the camp last week, said Israel's military campaign created a dire humanitarian situation and called the devastation "appalling," but said "I am not accusing anyone of massacres."
In the West Bank, international and local aid organizations attempting to deliver food and medicines to Nablus were refused entry to the city by soldiers, despite having been granted prior permission, a relief worker said.
"We got the green light in the morning, but when we got to Nablus it seems the situation had changed," said Peter Holland, of Oxfam Quebec, adding no explanation was given for the reversal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.