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U.S. Orders Halt to Falluja Operations

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A halt to Marine operations in Falluja was announced today by the top American administrator in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, so that talks could be held with a delegation of sheiks and the city's residents could collect their dead and wounded.

But the situation on the ground was far from clear.

Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, commander of the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment, told news agencies that his forces were continuing to respond to insurgent attacks.

"I would not describe this as a cease-fire," The Associated Press quoted the colonel as saying. "We are still aggressively defending our positions. However we have ceased offensive operations for now."

However, the coalition's deputy director of operations, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, insisted that a unilateral cease-fire was in force.

"We suspended unilaterally the operation at 12 noon," the general told CNN.

At the same time, a live report from Falluja by Al Jazeera television monitored in Baghdad showed a helicopter releasing some kind of fire on a part of the city called Hay Jolan.

The Arab station also showed Iraqi medics and residents in the city gathering up dead bodies and wounded people and quoted the medics as saying that until now there had been no chance to collect the victims of the four days of heavy fighting.

A doctor at one of the city's hospitals, Rasi al-Esawi, said that 141 bodies had been collected at his medical center since the fighting started, with 30 collected just today.

The live coverage on Al Jazeera showed convoys of Iraqi cars coming into Falluja. The station, monitored in Baghdad, also reported shelling from American tanks, but the reports could not be verified.

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