Israeli tanks encircle Arafat headquarters after six Israelis k

Saturday, January 19, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Two Israeli tanks and an armored personnel carrier parked outside Yasser Arafat's headquarters on Friday, confining the Palestinian leader to his office complex a day after a Palestinian gunman burst into a banquet hall and gunned down six Israelis.

The unprecedented restriction on Arafat's movement came in retaliation for the first deadly attack on Israeli civilians in more than six weeks.

Israeli F-16 warplanes also razed a large Palestinian Authority government complex in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, killing a Palestinian policeman and injuring 61 officers and civilians.

Israel said it was turning up pressure on Arafat to go after Palestinian militants. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's adviser, Raanan Gissin, said Arafat was "restricted to his quarters until he fulfills his obligations" and that troops placed Arafat's headquarters under "tight closure," though other Israeli officials said Arafat had not been told he couldn't leave the compound.

Arafat restricted

Arafat had been confined to Ramallah for the past few weeks, with Israel saying he can only travel once he arrests the assassins of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, but Friday's restrictions of his movement were unprecedented.

Arafat has complained that Israel's reprisals were part of a secret plan by Sharon to topple him. Israel's Cabinet has not made a decision to oust Arafat, but Sharon has called Arafat a bitter enemy and a terrorist.

Arafat remained secluded in his office Friday, even avoiding a walk across the courtyard of his compound to the mosque where he normally attends noon prayers, the highlight of the Muslim week. Instead, he prayed with aides and security guards in an empty, carpeted room.

Palestinian security officials said Arafat skipped the walk to the mosque because he did not want to expose himself to Israeli view.

Two tanks and an armored personnel carrier were parked just a few yards from the entrance to the headquarters. Israeli bulldozers also piled earth across one of the four access roads to Arafat's compound, blocking it to traffic. Nearly two dozen tanks took up positions in about half of Ramallah.

4,000 protesters

At one point, about 4,000 Palestinians marched toward Arafat's office to protest the Israeli incursions and demand the release of suspected Palestinian militants held by the Palestinian Authority, including Ahmed Saadat, whose faction killed Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in October. "Palestinian Authority, traitors, release the political prisoners," the crowd chanted.

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