Sharon: Israel Pulling Out of West Bank
JERUSALEM – Israel will pull its troops out of all West Bank cities except Ramallah and Bethlehem within a week, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Monday in a wide-ranging interview with Fox News.
Sharon said Israel plans to withdraw from Jenin, the scene of the heaviest fighting, within a couple of days, and expects its troops to be out of Hebron by the end of the week.
Sharon later told President Bush over the telephon that Israeli troops would, indeed, within a week, pull out of Jenin and also Nablus, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
The prime minister indicated to Fox News that Israel also will pull out of Bethlehem immediately after the siege at the Church of the Nativity is resolved. Approximately 200 Palestinians and clergymen have been holed up in the church for more than a week.
But Sharon said there was no timetable to remove troops from Ramallah, where Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has been confined to his compound for more than two weeks.
"In Ramallah, maybe it will be more complicated, because we have Mr. Arafat there," Sharon said.
He said the killers of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in October 2001 remain in Ramallah.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo rejected Sharon's withdrawal plan, saying:
"He must leave every city that has been reoccupied without any conditions. We are not going to bargain with the Israelis over every town and village."
Early Tuesday Israeli tanks re-entered Tulkarem, one of two towns evacuated April 9. Witnesses said tanks rolled in from four directions, covered by attack helicopters. The military said the incursion was aimed at making arrests, not reoccupying the town.
Also, the military said forces were searching for suspects and weapons in the Askar refugee camp next to Nablus as well as the West Bank villages of Hirbet Beit Hassan, Fara, Luba Sharkiyeh, A-Ram and Anata.
In the Fox News interview, Sharon also said:
• A Middle East peace conference he proposed to Secretary of State Colin Powell could take place within weeks.
"I believe that within several weeks it will be such a meeting and we will be able really to go forward," he said, sidestepping questions on whether he would support such a conference if Arafat were in attendance.
• Israel will hold a trial for Marwan Barghouti, a top aide to Arafat who was captured in Ramallah on Monday.
"Like in every democratic country, he will be tried in Israel and put in prison," Sharon said.
Barghouti is a leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which has claimed responsibility for a series of shootings and suicide bombings against Israelis.
Sharon said Israel and the United States have agreed on what must happen in resolving the standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem — and that the solution would require having those deemed connected with terrorist acts tried in Israel or deported, perhaps with British assistance.
"We are ready to withdraw from Bethlehem," Sharon said.
"There we have a problem ... 200 terrorists taking shelter in Church of Nativity ... they have to surrender," he said.
Sharon said a British plane could be used to take those deported to an unspecified third country.
"Those not involved in terror will be freed immediately," he said. "The others will be tried by Israel or be deported."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.