Tanks Hit Arafat's Office -
Two Palestinian Children
Killed In Rafah

By Saud Abu Ramadan

GAZA (UPI) - Israeli tanks opened fire at Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's office in Ramallah Saturday, wounding several of his bodyguards.

One of Arafat's bodyguards, talking to reporters by telephone, told the Palestinian WAFA news agency, "Today's was the most intensive firing in the (10 day) siege."

The Israel Defense Forces spokesman said an anti-tank missile was fired "in response to repeated shooting from that compound."

Israeli troops have isolated Arafat, top aides, and other Palestinians in what remains of his headquarters. They have said they will not harm the Palestinian leader.

Others inside the three-story building said the gunfire also hit the second floor where Arafat is staying. "The hall where the Palestinian Cabinet holds its weekly meetings, it was damaged," said the bodyguard, adding that Arafat was only a few yards away.

Palestinian officials said this was the second attack on Arafat's building during the current siege.

Israeli troops also late Saturday shot dead two Palestinian children and wounded 10 others in Rafah town in southern Gaza Strip, Palestinian hospital sources in said.

They said a girl,6, and a boy,13, were killed when two Israeli tanks drove into Tel al Sultan neighborhood, firing indiscriminately.

The Israeli army entered Rafah hours after two Palestinian members of the militant Islami Jihad movement penetrated the Israeli settlement of Rafiah Yam in the southern Gaza Strip, killed a soldier and wounded five. The two raiders were also killed.

Four militants were killed near the Askar camp in the West Bank town of Nablus when soldiers saw them plant explosive charges. A tank fired and killed them, the IDF spokesman said. Soldiers fired at another Palestinian who was carrying an explosive belt near the Jenin refugee camp. They charge exploded and killed the man, the spokesman added. A member of the militant Hamas movement was killed east of Rafah when the bomb he was making exploded.

Palestinian officials said earlier Saturday that the Israeli army has killed at least 30 people in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin.

Israel said some of the heaviest fighting was going on in that that camp and was aware of 14 to 15 "terrorists that were killed." Seven of the 12 Israeli soldiers killed since Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield were killed in Jenin, air force commander Major General Dan Halutz told reporters.

The army entered the camp on Tuesday as part of the current Israeli offensive which Israeli authorities say is aimed at eradicating the terrorist threat to Israel. Israel has deployed hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles around major Palestinian settlements.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo urged the international community to stop "this massacre" and also asked the Red Cross to help the people stranded in the camp.

Residents said the army was using women and children as human shields to stop Palestinian militants from retaliating.

They said that earlier Saturday the Israeli army announced on loudspeakers that the curfew had been eased and women and children could go out to buy food and medicine.

"As the women and children came out, the Israeli army arrested them and forced them to sit on their tanks and drove the tanks into the camp in an attempt to arrest the militants," a Palestinian militant, who identified himself as Jamal, told United Press International.

"It is a war crime to use defenseless women and children to achieve a military objective," he said.

Residents said dozens of militants had strapped explosives on their bodies and were threatening to blow themselves up if Israeli soldiers enter their homes.

Jamal said the Israeli army is using seven Apache helicopters as well as four F-16 warplanes, adding that it is the first time the army has used such weapons against a refugee camp.

A Palestinian refugee, who identified himself as Adnan, said that during the last four days Israelis also have demolished dozens of houses.

"Helicopters and tanks have been shelling the camps while bulldozers are leveling our homes to the ground," he said.

He accused the Israeli army of "carrying out a war against unarmed civilians, using sophisticated weapons."

More than 15,000 refugees, mainly women and children, live in this camp. But Israel says the camp also harbors dangerous militants who have attacked Israeli targets in the past.

Another Jenin resident, Nasser Abu Baker, accused Israel of carrying out a systematic campaign to eliminate Palestinians. "More than 15,000 people remain locked in their homes as shells fall on their roofs. They will be killed if they stay inside and shot dead by the Israeli soldiers if they go out," Baker said.

Israel Saturday showed pictures suggesting Palestinian militants fired from mosques. The pictures, which Gen. Halutz said were taken from an intelligence gathering aircraft, show bursts of smoke emerging from a minaret. Gen. Halutz said the gunmen were then seen leaving the mosque to another location.

Friday Israeli troops Friday intercepted what the army spokesman described as, "a Hamas terror squad belonging to the Izzadin Al Qassam Brigade" led by "the most senior operative active today in the area, Qais Adwan." The army said Adwan was involved the Passover eve attack on a hotel in Netania where 26 people were killed and a subsequent attack on a restaurant in Haifa where 16 Israelis were killed.

In a leaflet distributed in the West Bank and Gaza, the Muslim fundamentalist Hamas movement vowed to "continue its efforts to destroy the Jewish entity" despite the current military offensive.

In another development, the Palestinian National Authority sent an urgent appeal to the United Nations and to the United States urging them to end the military operation in Jenin.

A senior Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, contacted U.S. officials Saturday, urging them to use their influence to stop "the massacre of the refugees in Jenin."

Palestinian medical sources say that 21 Palestinians have also been killed in the West Bank town of Nablus since Friday evening, adding that the Israeli army is still operating in the old city of Nablus.

They said that many injured people and dead bodies are lying in the streets and the Israeli army is preventing medical teams from picking them up.

Israeli soldiers also killed four more Palestinians in the West Bank towns of Hebron and Ramallah on Saturday, the sources said.

In neighboring Lebanon, Israeli warplanes bombed several border hideouts of the Hezbollah group after Hezbollah guerrillas fired machineguns and rocket propelled grenades into Israel. Israeli jets carried out at least four sorties, hitting targets near the Kfar Chouba village in southern Lebanon, Lebanese officials said.

The attack caused some Lebanese families to flee the area but there was no word on casualties.

Some unidentified militants also fired Katyusha rockets into the village of Ghajar that straddles the Israeli-Lebanese border wounding five people including a three years old boy. Hezbollah denied any link with the attack. Major Gen. Halutz said the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command that is based in Damascus was involved in some of the recent attacks.

The Israeli army has arrested three Palestinians in connection with the attack.

(With reporting by Abdel Mawla Khaled in Sidon, Lebanon and Joshua Brilliant in Tel Aviv, Israel)

Copyright © 2002 United Press International

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