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Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|"Israeli tanks return to Arafat compound"|
|06/06/02 at 17:27:57|
Israeli tanks return to Arafat compound
From Christopher Walker in Jerusalem
Israeli tanks re-entered the West Bank town of Ramallah late last night, approaching the compound of Yassir Arafat, the Palestinian leader. Witnesses said that there was heavy gunfire as the tanks took up positions near the compound.
Israeli military sources would say only that an operation was under way in Ramallah. It was not clear whether the Israelis were attempting to renew their siege of Mr Arafat’s headquarters or would try to expel him.
The incursion followed the worst suicide bombing in ten weeks, in which 16 people died yesterday in Megiddo, northern Israel, and a response by the Israeli Government to send tanks back into Jenin, a town it considers to be a terrorist stronghold.
Palestinian sources said that the shooting in Ramallah broke out after about 50 Israeli tanks, backed by armoured vehicles and six bulldozers, rolled into the town. A witness said that the tanks had fired about 30 shells towards Mr Arafat’s headquarters, killing at least one of his personal guard and destroying the third floor of one of the buildings in the complex.
The bombing of a moving Israeli bus by a car packed with explosive marked a new development in suicide attacks against Israeli targets because vehicles can cause much greater devastation than an individual carrying explosives.
Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Islamic Jihad. A spokesman for the militant group said that it was timed to coincide with the 35th anniversary of the start of the 1967 War, in which the Israelis captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
“A seeker of martyrdom . . . detonated an explosives-laden car that he drove near a Zionist bus near Megiddo junction,” the group said in a statement. “On the 35th anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem, we say again to the leadership of the enemy: We will continue to smash Sharon’s defensive wall and the Zionist entity will enjoy no safety or stability while it occupies our land, Palestine.”
“Following this attack, there will be no sanctuary and no safe haven for any terrorist,” a spokesman for Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, said after a three-hour meeting of Israel’s security Cabinet.
The attack also coincided with a visit to Israel by George Tenet, the CIA Director, which was aimed at trying to to curb the bloodshed, and will further complicate international efforts to revive the Middle East peace process. These efforts include visits to Washington over the next few days by Mr Sharon and President Mubarak of Egypt.
The 16 people killed in the attack included 13 Israeli soldiers in their late teens and early 20s. Thirty-eight others were injured, ten seriously, in what was the highest toll of any attack since the Israelis launched Operation Defensive Shield against Palestinian towns in late March. It was the sixth attack since that six-week operation ended.
At the beginning of a large-scale invasion of the West Bank on March 29, after an earlier string of Palestinian suicide bombings, Israeli tanks crashed through the outer wall of the large compound in Ramallah and surrounded Mr Arafat’s office, trapping the Palestinian leader inside for 34 days.
Islamic Jihad said that the suicide bomber came from Jenin, just ten miles from Megiddo, but refused to identify him to avert Israeli reprisals against his family. Nevertheless, within hours of the claim up to 30 Israeli tanks backed by Apache helicopters entered the town. The helicopters strafed targets with heavy machinegun-fire and troops started to round up Palestinians, according to Israeli state radio. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
The refugee camp in Jenin was the scene of fierce fighting in April during Israel’s month-long West Bank offensive.
A unit of the Israeli Army also entered the Palestinian town of Bethlehem last night and began to search a mosque, witnesses said. The soldiers did not meet any resistance.
The Palestinian Authority condemned the suicide attack and denied that Mr Arafat was in any way responsible. Palestinian sources said that members of Islamic Jihad would be rounded up if the group was proved to have been responsible.
However, an aide to Mr Sharon called the bombing “another cowardly act of terror by the Palestinians, showing again that murder and the Palestinian Authority are indistinguishable”.
President Bush condemned the attack “in the strongest terms”, his spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said.
Mr Mubarak is to meet Mr Bush at Camp David tomorrow and is expected to urge a fast timetable for achieving a Palestinian state. Mr Sharon is expected to meet Mr Bush in Washington on Monday.
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