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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Sign of End to Israeli Offensive

JERUSALEM -- Israeli troops swept through a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem and two villages in the West Bank, removing residents from their homes and making arrests as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was bringing his truce mission to an end without signs of a breakthrough.

Israeli military operations showed no signs of easing Wednesday, and Palestinian President Arafat complained to Powell that rather than withdraw as Washington had demanded, Israel was reoccupying towns it had previously left.

In a two-hour meeting with Powell, the Palestinian leader demanded that the U.S. government work to break his isolation by the Israelis.

"They are continuing their aggression against the Palestinian people," Arafat said in a darkened hallway of his battered headquarters after Powell left. No one escorted the secretary to his car, and Powell left Ramallah without comment to return to Jerusalem.

Palestinians officials said Powell asked Arafat to comply with Israel's request to hand over wanted suspects holed up with the Palestinian leader in his Ramallah headquarters and to facilitate the surrender of gunmen who took refuge in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity. Arafat repeated his demand that Israeli forces immediately leave Palestinian cities.

The Qatar-based Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera quoted Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo as saying "the Powell-Arafat meeting was catastrophic."

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has eased objections to Yasser Arafat's taking part in peace talks. Powell, after meeting Sharon on Tuesday, indicated he would be satisfied with achieving something less than a formal truce before leaving for Egypt later Wednesday and then for Washington.

On Tuesday night, Israeli forces sealed off the Palestinian neighborhood of Issawiyah in Jerusalem, removing residents and searching their homes for terrorist suspects.

Residents said the Israeli military brought bulldozers into the village. Men were taken to a gas station and women and children to a school. Police imposed a nearly 18-hour curfew -- rarely done inside Jerusalem's city limits -- when families were barred from returning to their homes. Many slept in their cars.

In the northern West Bank, the Israeli army conducted searches and arrested suspects in the village of Silat a-Hartia, northwest of Jenin, and in Balaa, a village east of Tulkarem, a spokesman said.

On Tuesday, Israeli forces entered three Palestinian villages near Jerusalem -- Abu Dis, Izzariyeh and Sawahra As-Sharkiyeh -- declared a curfew and searched for suspects, while Sharon pledged to pull his forces out of all Palestinian territory except Bethlehem and Ramallah within a week.

An Israeli military official said information had been received indicating an attack was in the works and the attackers would be from Abu Dis and Izzariyeh.

Since the fighting began 18 months ago, 1,508 Palestinians and 468 Israelis have been confirmed killed, but the Palestinian death toll from fighting this week, mainly in the Jenin refugee camp, was still unclear.

Israeli troops and tanks were still surrounding Arafat's office Wednesday, holding the Palestinian president a virtual prisoner, but Sharon indicated he was backing away from his policy of isolating the Palestinian leader and excluding him from peace efforts.

Putting forward a proposal for a regional peace conference, Sharon said at first that Arafat would not be allowed to attend. But on Tuesday, he softened that, telling Israel TV that who represents the Palestinians is "a secondary issue." He said, "It's not important to me which of them will be here."

At the Jenin refugee camp, scene of the heaviest fighting between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen and bombers, Red Cross teams joined the Israeli military in searching for bodies. Israel said it allowed humanitarian groups to bring food and medicine into the camp and were working to restore water and electricity.

Palestinians continued to charge that Israeli forces committed massacres in the camp, and that there was a shortage of food, water and medicine.