US Meets Arafat

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ON THURSDAY, President Bush signaled a stepped-up U.S. involvement by announcing that Secretary of State Colin Powell would visit the region next week. He also accused Arafat of not confronting terrorists, and said his difficult situation was largely of his own making.

In a rapid follow-up, Zinni became the first senior official in eight days to meet with the Palestinian leader, who has been confined by Israel troops to a few rooms in his West Bank headquarters since last week.

There was no comment from Zinni after the 90-minute meeting but Arafat adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh said there would be more meetings between Palestinian and U.S. officials later in the day.

"The meeting looked into President Bush's speech, the need to halt Israeli military incursions into Palestinian areas, an immediate end to settlement and siege, and the unconditional implementation of the Tenet and Mitchell reports," Rdeneh said, according to a report by the official Palestinian news agency, WAFA.

A Palestinian political source told Reuters that chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, Gaza Strip Preventive Security head Mohammed Dahlan and intelligence chief Amin al-Hindi were expected to meet Zinni in Jerusalem later Friday.

Israel had initially turned down Zinni's request to see Arafat but relented after Bush's speech Thursday. Powell called Arafat early Friday, Abu Rdeneh said.

In a related development, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas and stun grenades at journalists trying to cover the Zinni-Arafat meeting, and tanks pointed barrels at the group.

NBC's Dana Lewis was among media members arrested by Israeli forces, who told journalists they were working illegally in a "closed military area." Meanwhile, there were no signs that Israel intended to comply, at least in the short term, with demands from the United States as well as separately from the United Nations to withdraw its forces from the West Bank.

"We are continuing the operation we started," Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said.

At least 26 Palestinians, including several gunmen and a 14-year-old girl, were killed Friday. The Israeli military retrieved the bodies of five men in Bethlehem, apparently killed by fellow Palestinians as suspected informers for Israel.

Also, Israeli forces detained Palestinian Cabinet minister Yasser Abed Rabbo on Friday, according to his wife, Ilyana.

If confirmed, the report would make Abed Rabbo the first senior Palestinian official detained in the weeklong Israeli military offensive.