Sat, Mar 30, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Arafat under siege as Israelis storm his headquarters

ISOLATE THE `ENEMY'Palestinians said Yasser Arafat's life was in danger as Israel sent in troops and tanks to punish him for failing to stop militants


Also yesterday, Israeli police stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, firing stun grenades to disperse stone-throwing Muslim worshippers. The compound, the third holiest shrine of Islam, is revered by Jews as the site of their biblical Temple.

In response to the attacks, Israel's Cabinet met for an all-night session Thursday. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced yesterday that Israel now considered Arafat an enemy and would completely isolate him. The Cabinet also approved a large-scale military operation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the callup of thousands of reserve soldiers, the largest mobilization in a decade.

Sharon did not explain what branding Arafat an enemy would mean in practical terms, but left open the possibility that the leader could be expelled from the Palestinian territories at a later time, as several Israeli Cabinet ministers have demanded.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said that no Palestinian engaged in terror activity against Israel was immune from Israeli reprisals. Asked whether that also applied to Arafat, the defense minister said the Palestinian leader would not be harmed physically.

Ben-Eliezer said there was no intention to capture territory; rather, "to fight against the terrorist infrastructure."

Sharon, referring to Zinni's truce effort, said Israel was prepared to do everything it could for a cease-fire, "but all Israel got in return was terrorism, terrorism and more terrorism."

Arafat, in turn, accused Israel of scuttling peace efforts. "This brutal aggression is a response to the Arab summit in Beirut," Arafat told Abu Dhabi television. "This is the Israeli response to any peace attempt. Because they don't want peace, they don't want peace."

Tanks also surrounded Arafat's compound, and fired shells into the walls. Troops seized two buildings in the complex. "The Israeli forces are surrounding my office with tanks," Arafat said. "They are shelling the headquarters and we have some people who are injured, and can't move them to the hospitals."

Arafat said Thursday night he was ready for an immediate, unconditional truce, but he stopped short of formally declaring a ceasefire.

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