Zinni's Visit Spurs Concessions on Blockades
Ephron, Dan, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Byline: Dan Ephron
HEBRON, West Bank - Israel eased its blockade on the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Palestinians kept militants in check on the first day of U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni's visit to the region yesterday, but diplomats said the chances of a breakthrough during his four-day mission appeared slim.
Israeli bulldozers cleared away roadblocks at the entrances to several towns in the West Bank, including Hebron and Bethlehem, allowing access to roads that had been sealed off for months. Troops also pulled out of some Palestinian-controlled territory in Jenin and Ramallah in the West Bank, but tanks still surrounded the towns and laid siege to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's office in Ramallah.
"This roadblock had been here for more than a year. It's a real surprise to see it go," said Mahmoud Khalili, a Hebron resident who watched soldiers remove barricades at one entrance to his town.
The Israeli measures follow more than two weeks of relative calm in the West Bank and Gaza, spurred at least in part by Mr. Arafat's appeal to his people in a Dec. 16 television address to put down their weapons.
Gen. Zinni, a retired Marine general who was named Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's special envoy to the Middle East in November, hopes to press the two sides into a full-fledged cease-fire followed by renewed peacemaking.
When Gen. Zinni was here last month, a surge of violence - Palestinian suicide attacks and Israeli military raids - left more than 100 people dead. This time, top Palestinian officials have been shuttling between Mr. Arafat and leaders of the Islamic Hamas to ensure the militant group continues to hold its fire.
Gen. Zinni is due to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this morning and later travel to Ramallah for talks with Mr. Arafat.
A U.S. official here said Gen. Zinni will try to persuade Mr. Sharon that the much-reduced level of violence warrants Israeli political concessions to the Palestinians, including a freeze on the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The American troubleshooter will urge Mr. Arafat to dismantle Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad group and make sweeping arrests.
"I think in both cases, he'll get some lip service but he won't get real results," said one Western diplomat stationed in the region. …