Israel pins in Arafat, plans raid

Peres says leader won't be harmed

he is called a `liar'

Palestinian asks Bush's aid

Suicide bomber kills himself, injures 32 in Tel Aviv cafe

March 31, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM - Israeli forces tightened their grip around Yasser Arafat yesterday, sealing the Palestinian leader into three rooms of his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Arafat was able to hear his captors through the wall of his office, Palestinian officials said, as he nursed a dying cell phone battery that sustained his remaining link to the outside world.

Palestinian officials said late last night that Israeli troops had announced over loudspeakers that they were preparing to storm the office in pursuit of wanted men.

The Israeli invasion, in its second day, followed a string of Palestinian attacks that killed 30 Israelis over three days this week. Last night, another suicide bomber set off a charge in Israel, this one inside a cafe in downtown Tel Aviv. The bomber killed only himself but injured nearly three dozen people, the Israeli police said.

Shimon Peres, the Israeli foreign minister, said that Israel would not harm or expel Arafat, and that it was restoring electricity, water and telephone service to his compound.

"Also, his compound is being guarded so he won't be hit," Peres said in a telephone interview.

But Yasser Abed Rabbo, the Palestinian minister of information, dismissed Peres' claims. "He is a liar," Abed Rabbo said. "They are all liars."

He said that Israeli forces had used bulldozers and tanks to flatten other buildings in Arafat's compound, and he repeated Palestinian claims that the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was out to kill Arafat.

Abed Rabbo hailed the U.N. Security Council vote yesterday morning, which called for Israel to pull back its troops from Ramallah and other Palestinian cities.

But he added that the move now required forceful action by President Bush.

"It needs one serious push from Bush, in order to make it really news and not just another message," he said. "This administration is fond of sending us visions and sending the Israelis green lights. Visions - we are fed up with them."

The Palestine Red Crescent Society appealed to the Israeli army to permit food and water into Arafat's compound. Gideon Meir, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Arafat was seeking to portray himself as a victim. "He is not a victim, he is a terrorist," Meir said.

As night fell, Arafat managed a candlelight interview in his ruined headquarters with Reuters television, which has a bureau in Ramallah with a Palestinian crew.

"I appeal to the international community to stop this aggression against our people, this military escalation, this killing," Arafat pleaded in English.

Then, in Arabic, he added: "Together we will march until one of our children raises the Palestinian flag over the churches and mosques of Jerusalem," accusing Israel of "terrorist racist actions using all kinds of American weapons."

For a second day, tanks and troops were ranging throughout Ramallah. In at least one neighborhood, the wealthy Al Bireh area, Israeli soldiers called over loudspeakers for Palestinian boys and men ages 15 to 45 to gather at a school for questioning. Soldiers were sifting the population for terrorists, an army spokesman said, adding that they were asking men to assemble voluntarily in hopes of avoiding entering people's homes.

The army said it had arrested 145 people, and Peres said two of those arrested were responsible for attacks on Israelis.

Palestinian officials said that the army has seized a local television station and that soldiers were broadcasting pornographic videotapes. An employee of the U.S. consulate who was in Ramallah confirmed that such programs were on the air. The Israeli army said soldiers interrupted the station's broadcasting, but had not substituted any pornography for the usual programming.

Abed Rabbo said the bodies of five Palestinian policemen had been found in the Cairo-Amman Bank. The men had been shot in the head, evidently at close range, he said. The Arabic-language network Al-Jazeera broadcast videotape of the bodies.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli army said soldiers raided a building in Ramallah and came under fire. She said Palestinian gunmen in one room started shooting at the troops, who fired back, killing them at close range. Two Israeli soldiers were wounded in the exchange, she said.

Peres declined to say if he fully supported the military campaign, but he argued that Israel had little alternative after the latest string of Palestinian attacks. One of them, a suicide bombing Wednesday night in Netanya, left 22 Israelis dead.

"I got calls from all over the world, saying the international situation of Israel is in danger," the foreign minister said. "Maybe. But we have to answer our own people. What are we going to do?"

The problem, he said, was Arafat.

"He must decide if he is a national leader or a religious leader," Peres said, "if he is a national leader who opposes terror, who is for a dialogue and negotiations, or a religious leader that uses slogans that can be translated easily as permission to continue the terror."

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