Israel Talks of Arafat Exile -
Invades More Towns

By Mohammed Assadi

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Tuesday Yasser Arafat could have a "one-way ticket" to exile as troops invaded more West Bank towns and met fierce Palestinian resistance in Bethlehem.
"It has got to be a one-way ticket. He would not be able to return," Sharon said during a visit to a West Bank army base.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian leader, who has sworn to "die a martyr" rather than bow to Israel, would never leave his homeland voluntarily.
"Arafat said there is not a single Palestinian who will accept going into exile under any circumstances," he said.
Israel says its five-day-old campaign is aimed at isolating Arafat, Sharon's old foe, and "uprooting terrorists" behind suicide attacks that have killed dozens of Israelis.
But Erekat said Sharon wanted to kill Arafat, who is holed up in his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, despite Israel's repeated assurances to the contrary.
Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissed the idea that Arafat should be expelled, saying the Palestinian president had an important role to play in the quest for Middle East peace.
"Sending him to exile will just give him another place from which to conduct the same kinds of activities and give the same messages as he is giving now," Powell said.
Israel sent tanks into Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus, before dawn and fierce fighting erupted as outgunned Palestinians fought to keep Israeli troops out of Manger Square.
Witnesses reported clashes near the Church of Nativity, built over the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born.
A small contingent of tanks also entered Jenin in the northern West Bank, apparently as a prelude to a full incursion as more tanks massed outside, witnesses said.
Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships pounded the headquarters of a Palestinian security chief, Jibril al-Rajoub, near Ramallah, for several hours, charring the outer walls and leaving large holes in the red-tiled roof.
Some 400 people inside eventually agreed to surrender and Israeli media said they were taken away for questioning.
Rajoub, who was evacuated earlier, denied Israeli charges that there were militants wanted by Israel sheltering in the compound. He said the people inside had surrendered of their own accord.
"They left for their own sake because they ran out of food and ammunition. There was not a single bullet left, not a single bottle of water," Rajoub told Reuters. "We wished that someone would intervene. Nobody intervened."
Witnesses said the latest casualties included an 80-year-old Palestinian man who was shot dead outside his house in Bethlehem and a woman and her son also killed there.
Majdi Benoura, 30, a Palestinian cameraman working for Qatar's al-Jazeera station, was wounded in the neck as he was filming from the roof of the city's Star Hotel, colleagues said.
The Russian Orthodox Church sent an angry message to Israel demanding an immediate withdrawal from a Russian church building it said Israeli troops had occupied in the Bethlehem battles.
European Union president Spain summoned the Israeli ambassador to Madrid to demand that Israel quit Palestinian cities, in line with a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted Saturday, and restore Arafat's freedom of movement.
Spain later called a rare emergency meeting of EU foreign ministers for Wednesday to discuss the Middle East crisis. A spokesman said the meeting would be in Brussels or Luxembourg.
"We cannot confuse the fight against terrorism with the destruction of the Palestinian Authority," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told Reuters in Madrid. "The solution to the conflict is not a military solution."
Oil prices hit a six-month high on fears that unrest could spread in the Middle East, which holds two-thirds of world oil reserves, though no support emerged for Iraq's proposal to use an oil embargo to put pressure on Israel's supporters.
Raising the prospect of a second front opening in addition to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas attacked Israeli positions in an area near the border and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Israel said it had sent warplanes into action in response, It gave no details but witnesses said Israeli warplanes fired at least four missiles from warplanes at the edges of the nearby Lebanese border town of Kfar Shouba.
Troops also thrust into the northern city of Tulkarm and nearby villages. In Tulkarm, soldiers ordered terrified residents to stay indoors.
Israel army radio said two Palestinians had been found dead in a car near Tulkarm, with a note from a group calling itself "The Tears of the Widows and Children." The radio said police believed a Jewish underground group was behind the killings.
Israel's military offensive began Friday when it sent tanks to besiege Arafat's headquarters after a suicide bombing in the coastal resort of Netanya two days earlier. Israeli media said Tuesday the death toll in that attack had risen to 25.
But the military campaign has so far failed to halt suicide bombings, of which there have been six in as many days.
At least 1,140 Palestinians and 403 Israelis have been killed since a Palestinian revolt began in September 2000.

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