RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Israeli and Palestinian officials met Monday to try and end a five-day siege of Yasser Arafat's office. Israel eased Arafat's isolation, letting a Palestinian Cabinet minister brief him on the negotiations.
The meeting came a day after Israel halted the demolition of Arafat's headquarters, reportedly amid intense U.S. pressure. Israeli troops on Monday maintained their siege of Arafat's office -- the only building left standing -- where he is holed up with about 200 aides and security guards.
With the blockade in its fifth day, Palestinian protests and international criticism of the Israeli operation intensified.
Palestinians observed a commercial strike in parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Monday. In Gaza City, thousands of people marched in support of Arafat, most of them school children bused to the rally.
The demonstrations were evidence that contrary to the Israeli intention of isolating Arafat and neutralizing him, the assault boosted his sagging prestige, said Israeli analyst Danny Rubinstein.
The U.N. Security Council was to convene Monday to discuss the operation. European and Arab states demanded flatly that Israel end its siege.
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Kurtzer, met with Ariel Sharon at the prime minister's sheep farm over the weekend. Kurtzer told Sharon the assault on Arafat's compound is disrupting preparations for a possible attack on Iraq and is liable to disrupt internal reforms in the Palestinian Authority, media reports said.
Publicly, the United States said the Israeli operation was not helpful to efforts to fight terrorism.
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