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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mideast Sides Meet to Discuss Standoff

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- For the first time in the five-day siege of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's compound, Israeli and Palestinian officials met Monday to try to end the standoff.

Israel later eased Arafat's isolation by allowing a Palestinian Cabinet minister to brief him on the negotiations.

The meeting came a day after Israel halted the demolition of Arafat's headquarters, reportedly amid intense U.S. pressure.

Israeli troops Monday maintained their siege of Arafat's office -- the only building left standing -- where he is holed up with about 200 aides and security guards.

With the blockade now in its fifth day, Palestinian protests and international criticism of the Israeli operation intensified.

Palestinians observed a commercial strike in parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Monday.

In Gaza City, thousands marched in support of Arafat, most of them schoolchildren bused to the rally. "We are not going to raise the white flag," a senior Arafat aide, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, told the crowd.

The United Nations Security Council convened in New York on Monday to discuss the operation. European and Arab states demanded flatly that Israel end its siege.

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer, met with Ariel Sharon at the prime minister's sheep farm over the weekend. Kurtzer told Sharon the assault on Arafat's compound is disrupting preparations for a possible attack on Iraq and is liable to disrupt internal reforms in the Palestinian Authority, media reports said.

Publicly, the United States said the Israeli operation was not helping efforts to fight terrorism. Israeli Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar said the United States "understands Israel's right to self defense. ... On the other hand, they have concerns and this is natural."

Monday's meeting between Israeli military officials and Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat took place at Israel's Beit El military base north of Ramallah, Palestinian officials said. Erekat later drove to Arafat's compound in a Mercedes, escorted by an Israeli army jeep.

Israel demanded that the Palestinians put together a list of all the people holed up with Arafat, the officials said. Israel says Arafat is not a target of the assault, but demands the surrender of everyone in his office, alleging that suspected terrorists are hiding inside.

At first, Israel had demanded the surrender of about 20 suspected militants, including the Palestinian intelligence chief, Tawfik Tirawi.

But Arafat will not agree to hand over any militants, said Palestinian legislative council member Hatem Abdel Khader who spoke to him by phone Sunday. "I will not kneel before Sharon, or raise a white flag to Sharon," Arafat said, according to Abdel Khader.