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|Israeli Tanks Enter Arafat Compound|
|09/20/02 at 00:14:18|
Israeli Tanks Enter Arafat Compound
Thu Sep 19,10:02 PM ET
By STEVE WEIZMAN, Associated Press Writer
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) - A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up on a crowded Tel Aviv bus killing five other people Thursday, and Israeli tanks roared back into Yasser Arafat ( news - web sites)'s West Bank compound. The violence snuffed out hopes that after a six-week lull the conflict was winding down.
The nail-studded bomb scorched the bus and sent passengers fleeing out of shattered windows, as the vehicle lurched forward for 50 feet on the downtown boulevard, the driver's burned body slouched over the wheel. Forty-nine people were wounded.
Hours later tanks moved in and fired in the direction of the Palestinian leader's battered office as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ( news - web sites) convened his Cabinet in emergency session, fueling speculation about whether he intended to confine Arafat to the building or perhaps to expel him from the West Bank.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, though media reported conflicting claims from the militant Islamic Jihad and Hamas groups. The attack — along with a suicide bombing Wednesday that killed an Israeli policeman — ended a relative lull that lasted six weeks and raised hopes that two years of violence might be winding down. The burst of violence came after Israel turned down a Palestinian offer for a phased cease-fire.
In Gaza City early Friday, Israeli forces entered a mixed industrial-residential neighborhood and blew up three metal workshops, witnesses said. Two Palestinians, a 25-year-old woman and a 35-year-old man, were killed by gunfire, doctors said. Nearby houses were damaged by the explosions. Israeli tanks were withdrawing from the area before daybreak, residents said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment. In the past, the Israelis have destroyed workshops where they said weapons were made.
And in Abu Dis, a West Bank suburb of Jerusalem, Israeli bulldozers destroyed the family homes of two Palestinians who killed 11 people and themselves in Jerusalem in a Dec. 1 bombing.
Earlier Thursday, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was killed in Ramallah when he broke an Israeli curfew to buy cigarettes for his father. Witnesses said he was shot by Israeli soldiers. The military had no comment.
Hours after the Tel Aviv blast, tanks were sent into the Ramallah compound.
The Israeli military said that "in response to the terrorist attack, Israeli forces surrounded the compound." Soldiers with loudspeakers called on wanted Palestinians inside to surrender, naming Tawfik Tirawi, a senior security commander, an Israeli official said.
After its session, the Israeli Cabinet issued a statement blaming the violence on Arafat, "who established the coalition of terror." It said operational decisions were made, but did not elaborate.
Israel Radio said the Cabinet decided to isolate Arafat in his office and demand the surrender of wanted Palestinians inside. Sharon resisted calls to expel Arafat, saying such a measure would cause Israel political damage. Last spring, Israeli tanks confined Arafat to his office for nearly six weeks.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a senior Arafat aide, said the Israelis were targeting Arafat and called for international intervention to stop the incursion. "Arafat is fine, but the situation in the compound is very dangerous," Abu Rdeneh said.
Two Palestinian security officers were wounded as the tanks moved into the compound firing shells and machine guns, Palestinian officials said. Israel TV reported a huge bulldozer knocked down some trailers in the compound where Palestinian security officers were stationed.
Israel says Arafat's Palestinian Authority ( news - web sites) has done nothing to stop terror attacks despite issuing occasional condemnations. The Palestinians say Israel's reoccupation of most Palestinian cities and decimation of Arafat's security forces has robbed him of any ability to stop the militants.
After the suicide bombing, the authority issued a statement condemning attacks against all civilians, Israeli and Palestinian. It denounced the bombing, saying it "gives Sharon's government and his occupation army the pretext to continue killing."
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Ghassan Khatib said Sharon had provoked the attacks because of Israel's months of curfew imposed on West Bank population centers. "Civilians are paying the price for the policy of Sharon," he said. "The Israeli government has to stop its strategy of using force to achieve its objectives."
The bus exploded at the corner of Allenby and Rothschild streets in downtown Tel Aviv, a diverse area that houses a Starbucks coffee shop, the Tel Aviv Great Synagogue, upscale cafes and working-class bars in close proximity.
"People were yelling, `Take us out of here,'" said a witness, Herzl Ben-Moshe, who rushed to the bus to help rescue passengers.
One man with blood over his bare chest was wheeled away by paramedics. Another man sat on the sidewalk, crying.
After the attack, Hamas spokesman Ismail Abu Shanab told The Associated Press he expected to see "a series of operations against the Zionist enemy, as a result of the daily brutal crimes against our people." But he stopped short of a Hamas claim of responsibility.
The Islamic Jihad group said it sent the bomber in Wednesday's attack, who blew himself up a bus stop in Israel's north, killing a policeman.
In Washington, President Bush ( news - web sites) condemned the bombings. "If you want people to grow up in a peaceful world, all parties must do everything they can to reject and stop violence," he said.
The Israelis also reimposed curfews on five Palestinian centers in the West Bank — Nablus, Tulkarem, Qalqiliya, Jenin and Ramallah.
Curfews in effect for weeks at a time after the June incursion had been eased recently, and Israeli Foreign Ministry official Gideon Meir said this was the reason why two Palestinian suicide bombers succeeded in slipping through Israeli security two days in a row, blaming the Palestinian Authority for allowing militants to "hold the Palestinian people hostage."
Israel has held Ramallah under siege for most of the year, with tanks breaking into Arafat's city-block-sized compound several times, destroying some of the buildings. Arafat has been inside the building most of the time since last December.
Israel took over most of the Palestinian towns in the West Bank in mid-June after back-to-back suicide bombings in Jerusalem killed 26 people.
In all, 1,868 people have died on the Palestinian side and 617 on the Israeli side since violence erupted in September 2000, burying peace talks in which Israel had offered the Palestinians statehood in more than 90 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, but came short of meeting Palestinian demands.
On Tuesday, Israel turned down a Palestinian proposal for a two-stage cease-fire. The plan, presented during talks in New York, called for an end to attacks on Israeli civilians in the first stage, and later, after some Israeli moves, a comprehensive truce.
Israel rejected the proposal, saying it would leave Jewish settlers and soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip ( news - web sites) as targets for Palestinian attacks in the first phase.
|09/20/02 at 00:28:48|
|Israel Blows Up Arafat's Buildings|
|09/20/02 at 13:54:01|
Israel Blows Up Arafat's Buildings
Fri Sep 20,12:33 PM ET
By JAMIE TARABAY, Associated Press Writer
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) - Israeli soldiers blew up three buildings in
Yasser Arafat ( news - web sites)'s compound Friday, rocking the office where
he was holed up and sending huge clouds of smoke into the air. The assault
with tanks and bulldozers came in retaliation for a Tel Aviv bus bombing that
killed six people.
Israel's defense minister said he wanted to isolate the
Palestinian leader, but not harm or expel him.
Bulldozers began digging a deep trench near Arafat's
office building, one of the last structures to remain
standing in the sprawling complex.
Israel said it wants 20 wanted men hiding in the
compound to surrender. Overnight, 20 Palestinians
walked out of the headquarters, walking in single file
with their arms raised, and were taken into custody.
However, the army said none was on the wanted list,
and that several were released after questioning.
Israel wants Arafat to hand over several senior
Palestinian officials — including the intelligence chief
in the West Bank — sought by Israel for involvement
in attacks on Israelis.
Israeli snipers also killed an Arafat bodyguard.
In the Gaza Strip ( news - web sites), a 15-year-old
Palestinian boy, a 25-year-old woman and a mentally
handicapped man were killed in Israeli incursions and
a clash between soldiers and stone-throwers.
Outlining Israel's objectives in raiding Arafat's
compound, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin
Ben-Eliezer said troops would not leave until all the
wanted men had surrendered, but would not use force
to arrest them. "In terms of the chairman,"
Ben-Eliezer said, referring to Arafat, "we have no
intention of expelling him or firing at him. We want to
Washington cautioned Israel not to go to far with its
"Significant, quiet progress had been made behind
the scenes in the Palestinian Authority ( news - web
sites) and there had been a sustained period of quiet
without homicide bombings in Israel," White House press secretary Ari
Fleischer ( news - web sites) said Friday.
Yet Arafat's aides said he was in grave danger, noting that Arafat's office shook
badly with one of the explosions. "They (soldiers) continue blowing up buildings
around us," said adviser Nabil Abu Rdeneh.
Despite the Israeli assault, the third since March, Arafat was in relatively good
spirits, those around him said. He was kept awake at night by the sound of
shooting and bulldozers toppling walls, but performed the Friday prayer — the
highlight of the Muslim week — in his office before taking an afternoon nap.
Water and electricity had not been cut, unlike in earlier raids.
Throughout the day, Arafat spoke to several Arab leaders, who told him they
would seek an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss a
demand for an immediate Israeli withdrawal, said Abu Rdeneh.
The latest strikes came after a rare emergency session of the Israeli Cabinet
late Thursday. Ministers blamed Arafat for the Tel Aviv bombing, saying he
established a "coalition of terror."
It was not immediately clear how long Arafat would remain under siege. In
March and April, he was confined to several rooms in his office building for 34
days. In June, troops reoccupied Ramallah and most other West Bank towns,
and Arafat has not ventured from his compound since then, even on days when
a military curfew was lifted.
In Thursday's bombing, a suicide bomber detonated nail-studded explosives on
a crowded bus in a shopping and business district in downtown Tel Aviv, killing
six people in addition to himself, and wounding about 50. Among the victims
was Jonathan Jesner, a 19-year-old Jewish seminary student from Scotland,
who was critically wounded in the blast and died of his injuries Friday. Jesner
was buried in Jerusalem on Friday.
The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing in a
leaflet sent to the Arab satellite TV station Al Jazeera. Hamas said the bus
bombing was the third in a series of planned attacks against Israeli targets as
revenge for Israeli military strikes.
Several hours after the Tel Aviv bombing, Israeli tanks and bulldozers drove into
Arafat's compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Bulldozers leveled several trailers used by security guards, and on Friday
morning troops blew up three buildings — two of them already partially
damaged in previous raids and one under construction. All three buildings had
been used by Arafat's security forces.
Also Friday, snipers killed an Arafat bodyguard, who was standing in a hall
were the Palestinian leader usually receives large delegations. A second
Palestinian man was seriously wounded by army fire.
Among the 20 Palestinians sought by Israel are the West Bank intelligence
chief, Tawfik Tirawi, and Mahmoud Damra, the head of Arafat's elite bodyguard
unit Force 17 in Ramallah. Both men have been accused by Israel of
involvement in attacks on Israelis, but no specific charges have been made.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ( news - web sites) was quoted as saying
Tirawi would be given a fair trial in Israel. Palestinian officials said U.S officials
urged them to hand over 19 men on Israel's wanted list.
In Gaza City early Friday, Israeli forces entered a mixed industrial-residential
neighborhood and blew up three metal workshops, witnesses said. Two
Palestinians were killed and nearby houses were damaged by the explosions.
Israeli tanks withdrew from the area before daybreak, residents said.
Near the town of Rafah, on the Egyptian border, two soldiers were hurt, one
moderately and one lightly when an explosion went off near their armored
personnel carrier, the army said. Soldiers trying to salvage the vehicle were
attacked by stone-throwers and responded with gunfire, killing a 15-year-old boy
and wounding nine other people, hospital officials said.
Meanwhile, at the sidelines of a world mayor's conference in Athens, a
Palestinian and two Israeli mayors decided to sit down and talk about peace
not as opposing parties but as "human beings."
|Israel Tightens Siege on Arafat|
|09/21/02 at 00:25:18|
|Israel Tightens Siege on Arafat |
Fri Sep 20,11:41 PM ET
By JAMIE TARABAY, Associated Press Writer
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) - Israel tightened its siege on Yasser Arafat ( news - web sites) early Saturday, after blowing up or flattening nearly every building in his sprawling compound and enclosing him in offices surrounded by a deep trench and coils of barbed wire.
The scope of the Israeli action made it apparent that Arafat was caught in Israel's tightest chokehold yet. U.S. officials urged Israel not to go too far in its reprisal for a Tel Aviv bus bombing that killed six people.
The compound resounded with gunfire and explosions sporadically throughout the day and into the night. The Israelis blew up three buildings in the morning, three loud explosions were heard hours later, and several other powerful blast went off early Saturday.
A Palestinian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Israeli troops had been working all night to demolish the wing which had housed Arafat's security guards.
By dawn Saturday, much of the compound — the size of a city block filled with buildings and mobile homes — was in ruins both from the day's violence and two earlier sieges. Just Arafat's office was left standing.
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an aide to Arafat, said Israeli troops late Friday fired several tank shells at the stairwell in the section where Arafat is, to prevent people from moving between the first and second floor.
The U.N. Security Council called a meeting on the violence for Monday morning at the Palestinians' request.
One tank shell destroyed the stairs to the ground floor below Arafat's quarters, and Israeli snipers took up positions in windows facing the rooms, Abu Rdeneh said. Two more shells were fired at another section of the building, he said.
"President Arafat and those with him are danger," Abu Rdeneh said, adding that he believed the building could collapse.
With the demolition of the walkway between the two sections of his office, Arafat and a few associates, along with about 20 wanted men, were isolated in one area and separated from most of his guards in the other section, Abu Rdeneh said.
Twenty-seven guards surrendered to Israeli troops, holding up their shirts to show they weren't carrying weapons or explosives.
The White House and the European Union ( news - web sites) urged Israel to show restraint, suggesting that too harsh a reprisal for a Tel Aviv bus blast claimed by Arafat's Islamic militant rivals would upset quiet efforts to reform the Palestinian Authority ( news - web sites) and secure a truce. Six people were killed in Thursday's bus attack.
Israel said troops would only withdraw after the surrender of the 20 wanted men, who include West Bank intelligence chief Tawfik Tirawi. Arafat's aides said he would not hand over anyone to the Israelis.
Enraged by the bus attack, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ( news - web sites) reportedly raised the idea of expelling Arafat at an emergency Cabinet meeting Thursday. Defense minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, said the plan — for now — was to isolate, not oust the Palestinian leader.
However, TV reports said the ultimate goal of the current assault is to make Arafat seek exile voluntarily, by confining him to a tiny area and making life in the compound unbearable. Ben-Eliezer, arguing that an outright expulsion is counterproductive and would only boost Arafat's standing, proposed that plan to Sharon in the Cabinet meeting, TV's Channel Two said.
Arafat has said he would never again leave the Palestinian lands.
Israeli bulldozers also started digging a deep trench around Arafat's office building and troops later ran bared wire around the building. Those inside said they feared the building could collapse. Security guards said a bulldozer had broken a hole into the building, near an elevator shaft.
Five Palestinians died and 25 others were wounded in during Israeli military action Friday. The dead included an Arafat bodyguard shot by snipers in the Ramallah compound.
In Gaza City, Israeli forces blew up several metal workshops where the army said weapons were made. Two Palestinians were killed and nearby houses were damaged by the explosions.
Near the town of Rafah, on the Egyptian border, Israeli troops fired on stone-throwers, killing two Palestinians and wounding 25 others, hospital officials said. The clash came after two soldiers were hurt when an explosion went off near their armored personnel carrier. The army said the soldiers were trying to salvage the vehicle were they were attacked.
The Israeli strikes were triggered by Thursday's attack, in which a suicide bomber set off nail-studded explosives on a crowded bus, killing himself, five Israelis and a 19-year-old Jewish seminary student from Scotland.
The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility in a leaflet sent to the Arabic satellite TV station Al-Jazeera.
Arafat's sprawling compound was heavily damaged in Israeli raids earlier. During a major offensive in March and April, Israeli troops confined Arafat to a few rooms for 34 days.
In June, troops reoccupied Ramallah and most other West Bank towns, and Arafat has not ventured from his compound since then, even on days when a military curfew was lifted.
Arafat was in relatively good spirits Friday, those around him said. He was kept awake at night by the shooting and bulldozers toppling walls, but performed Friday prayers — the highlight of the Muslim week — in his office before taking an afternoon nap. Water and electricity had not been cut, unlike in earlier raids.
Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayad, who said he got a few hours of sleep rolled up in a blanket on the floor, said the mood around Arafat was defiant. "We are confident of our ability to overcome this crisis," he said by telephone.
Throughout the day, Arafat spoke to several European officials and Arab leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ( news - web sites), Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Jordan's King Abdullah. Arafat asked them to pressure Israel to lift the siege. Arab leaders told Arafat they would seek an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss a demand for an immediate Israeli withdrawal, said Abu Rdeneh.
Washington cautioned Israel to show restraint, while also urging the Palestinians to try to prevent attacks on Israeli civilians. "Israel has the right to defend itself and to deal with security, but Israel also has a need to bear in mind the consequences of action and Israel's stake in development of reforms in the Palestinian institutions," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer ( news - web sites).
The flare-up comes at a time when the United States, because of its showdown with Iraq, is particularly in need of Arab good will. Harsh Israeli action against Arafat could spoil that.
The army has not released a complete list of names of wanted men, but detailed allegations against four, including Tirawi, the intelligence chief, and Mahmoud Damra, head of Force 17, Arafat's elite bodyguard unit, in Ramallah.
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