Israeli Pullout From Jenin Complete, Trouble Continues

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Israel completed its pullout from Jenin and its nearby refugee camp on Friday but the standoff continued at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat remained surrounded in his Mukata'a compound headquarters in Ramallah.

In Washington, President Bush welcomed home Secretary of State Colin Powell and dismissed the idea that his mission to the Middle East had been a failure.

Powell returned to the capital without having obtained a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians but Bush said progress had been made nevertheless.

"Progress is made," Bush told reporters on Thursday, "as a result of the United States and the Secretary of State going to the region and convincing the parties that we'll never get to peace if there's violence.

"The situation prior to the Secretary's arrival was at a boiling point, and thanks to his hard work, he has laid out not only a vision of hope, which is important, but has convinced others that these terrorist acts will forever and constantly undermine the capacity for peace," he said.

Bush pledged that the U.S. would stay involved.

Ambassador William Burns was reportedly meeting with Palestinian and Israeli officials on Friday to continue the work that Powell began. But the U.S. Embassy here could not confirm his meeting schedule.

Bush said the Palestinians must act to condemn terror and noted that the Israelis are withdrawing from Jenin and Nablus.

"And neighbors in the region must condemn terror, cut off funding for terror, must make it clear that people who suicide bomb are not martyrs, that they kill or are murderers of innocent people," he added.

Back in the region overnight, Israeli troops briefly re-entered the PA city of Kalkilya for what the army called a special operation, but left shortly thereafter, an army spokesperson said.

Regarding Jenin, the army said it had "fulfilled its mission."

"The forces which have pulled out of the city are surrounding it together with the refugee camp in order to prevent terrorist attacks and the penetration of terrorists into Israeli territory," a statement said.

In Bethlehem, negotiations continued in an attempt to coax some 200 gunmen holed up in the church revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus to surrender. One Palestinian who was wounded was removed from the church and a priest who was not well was also allowed to leave.

According to an army spokesperson, the wounded Palestinian who was taken to an Israeli hospital told officials that there were some 25 to 50 children in the church. It is not clear who they are or why they were in the church.

Also in Bethlehem, Israeli troops arrested two Hamas militants. One of them, Halad Ibrahim Tapesh, was a high-ranking officer in the organization's military wing.

Further south in the Gaza Strip, Israeli troops discovered a 100-kilogram (220 pound) bomb and safely detonated it. A car bomb also exploded at a Gaza Strip junction on Friday, killing the driver but causing no injuries.

Earlier, Israeli troops foiled an infiltration attempt into the Gaza Strip settlement of Netzarim. Two Palestinians, disguised as Israeli soldiers, were shot and killed. Assault rifles and a ladder were discovered by the bodies, an Israeli army spokesperson said.