RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- A U.S. envoy met Monday with Yasser Arafat to try to resolve the key dispute holding up the start of cease-fire talks -- standoffs between Israeli troops and wanted men in the Palestinian leader's West Bank headquarters and Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.
In new violence, masked Palestinian militiamen shot three suspected Palestinian informers in a downtown square of Ramallah. A large crowd quickly formed, with some bystanders trying to block ambulances from reaching the wounded, one of whom later died. In the Gaza Strip, Israeli undercover forces killed two Palestinians.
The U.S. envoy, State Department official William Burns, met with Arafat for about two hours at the Palestinian leader's compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Arafat and about 300 aides, security guards and foreign volunteers have been confined to several rooms by Israeli troop since March 29.
Netta Golan, an Israeli-Canadian activist in the compound, said that while Burns was holding talks with Arafat, an Israeli bulldozer crushed several cars parked outside and began building a rampart near one of the walls. She said Burns came out to see what was going on before resuming the meeting.
Key issues in the Burns-Arafat talks were to be the standoffs in Ramallah and Bethlehem, truce prospects and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, according to Palestinian and U.S. officials.
The Palestinians say they will not begin truce talks until Israeli forces have left all Palestinian-run areas in the West Bank. Israel says it will lift the blockades in Ramallah and Bethlehem only after gunmen holed up in the two compounds surrender.
Israel demands that Arafat hand over five suspects in the assassination of an Israeli Cabinet minister in October, as well as the alleged mastermind of a large shipment of Iranian arms to the Palestinian Authority intercepted by Israel. Arafat has refused to give up the six, which Israel says are in the Ramallah compound.
In Arafat's headquarters, speculation was running high that Israeli forces would try to break in and snatch the wanted men. Palestinian officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Secretary of State Colin Powell last week refused to give Arafat a guarantee that Israeli troops would not seize the fugitives.
Israeli military commentator Alex Fishman on Monday appeared to confirm the Palestinian apprehensions, writing that "as of last week, various government spokesmen have begun to scatter hints about an upcoming infiltration of the compound, the removal of Arafat, sending him away and capturing wanted men."
Israeli officials close to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said, however, that the government was carefully weighing the regional implications if army commandos were to storm Arafat's refuge.
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