RAMALLAH, April 21: Israeli tanks rumbled out of two West Bank cities on Sunday after a crushing three-week occupation, but kept up sieges of Yasser Arafat’s headquarters and the Nativity Church in Bethlehem.

In a Vatican sermon, Pope John Paul called for an end to the standoff at the Nativity Church, saying it was marked by “blackmail and an intolerable exchange of accusations”.

Amid continued international outcry in some quarters over Israel’s policy, the army said it had left Ramallah and Nablus.

The pullout was delayed as soldiers removed ultra-Orthodox Jews who had slipped into Nablus to hold unauthorized prayers at an important shrine, military sources said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon launched a rolling reoccupation of West Bank towns and refugee camps on March 29.

Palestinian leaders say the offensive has caused hundreds of casualties, wiped out Arafat’s security services and wrecked many of the nascent institutions of his Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called Israeli pullbacks a “big deception”, saying Israel was still exercising security control of all Palestinian-ruled parts of the West Bank.

“By doing so, they have turned these areas into big prisons. We no longer can pursue our security duties,” he said.

The scale of devastation, especially in the Jenin refugee camp, has provoked blunt criticism from abroad and a fierce exchange of accusations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The European Union’s External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten accused Israel of “hijacking” the US-led “war on terror” and said in a BBC interview that its crushing use of force against Palestinians would prove counter-productive.

Israel promised on Saturday to cooperate with a UN Security Council mission to discover what happened in the Jenin camp, scene of the worst bloodbath in the offensive.

THOUSANDS MADE HOMELESS: The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees informed newsmen 800 dwellings had been destroyed and many more damaged in the camp, making 4,000 to 5,000 people homeless.

“Certainly there is evidence of overwhelming and apparently disproportionate use of force, even if a battle was going on in Jenin camp,” UNRWA Commissioner-General Peter Hansen said.

Mohammed Abu Ghali, director of Jenin hospital, said the body count from the camp had risen to 42. He stood by his earlier estimate that the final toll may be 300 to 400.

Eyewitnesses later saw two more bodies being extracted from the rubble.

In Ramallah, shaken residents emerged from their houses after 23 days of rarely interrupted curfew to inspect damage.

Townspeople removed barbed wire from abandoned Israeli tank positions. Garbage littered streets torn up by Israeli armour.—Reuters

Opinion

A decade of change & stagnation
Updated 20 Sep 2021

A decade of change & stagnation

Over a decade, three more women out of 100 aged between 19 and 39 have acquired college degrees, compared to only two more men.
All about life
Updated 20 Sep 2021

All about life

There is no shortage of issues on which the Single National Curriculum has stirred controversy.
‘Honourable men’
20 Sep 2021

‘Honourable men’

Is it ambition to support our athletes only after they bring us glory?
Concerns of proxy wars
Updated 19 Sep 2021

Concerns of proxy wars

A lobby in the US favours a plan for proxy warfare so that America can sustain its global influence.

Editorial

20 Sep 2021

Banking for women

AS the old adage goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. How far the new State Bank initiative —...
Off the red list
Updated 20 Sep 2021

Off the red list

There are aspects of coronavirus management, especially by developed nations towards those less so, that smack of discrimination.
20 Sep 2021

Exciting frontiers

HISTORY was made on Wednesday at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral. It was not the launch of the first, or...
Talking to the Taliban
Updated 19 Sep 2021

Talking to the Taliban

PRIME Minister Imran Khan has announced that he has started a dialogue with the Taliban for the formation of a...
New Zealand’s departure
Updated 19 Sep 2021

New Zealand’s departure

THERE was chaos and despair when New Zealand decided to call off their tour of Pakistan barely minutes before the...
19 Sep 2021

Crucial polio campaign

THE national vaccination campaign that kicked off in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Friday is being described by experts as...