Gunbattle Continues At Arafat's Compound

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Israeli and Palestinians exchanged gunfire on Sunday at the headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Arafat has been trapped in the besieged compound in Ramallah, West Bank, since Friday when Israeli forces stormed the base as part of what it says is a crackdown on terrorism.
The latest assault comes in the wake of a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on Saturday which injured 29 people.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN that Arafat's bodyguards exchanged fire with the Israeli soldiers, and some Palestinian guards were wounded.
Erakat said Israeli troops had entered Arafat's compound. The Israeli military said it had returned fire when a Palestinian gunman came out of the building containing Arafat's office and opened fire on them.
An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said the soldiers did not enter Arafat's office, but would not comment on whether the Israeli forces entered the building housing his office.
An Israeli spokesman has said the siege -- denounced by the Arab world (Full story) -- would last as "long as it is necessary" to root out terrorism, blaming Arafat for ordering attacks against Israeli civilians.
Just blocks away from the Ramallah compound, Arafat's mother-in-law Ramounda Taweel said: "We are hearing the helicopters and tanks ... we are hearing the shooting."
Two Palestinian guards were seriously wounded, Palestinian sources said, and ambulance services could not reach the men.
Saturday's terror attack in a crowded shopping area in Tel Aviv injured 29 people -- one critically and six seriously -- Israeli police reported.
Witnesses described the blast in My Coffee Shop, about three blocks from the Mediterranean coast, as "huge." Shards of glass littered the street and bloody bystanders were led away as ambulances raced to the scene.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades -- the military wing of Arafat's Fatah movement -- claimed responsibility for the attack, as it has for a recent series of such bombings. The dead bomber was identified by Israeli television as a 23-year-old man from Nablus in the West Bank.
The bombing was the fourth Palestinian terror attack since the beginning of the Passover holiday Wednesday night. The attacks have killed 28 Israelis and wounded more than 100. In the most deadly attack, a suicide bombing in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya claimed 22 lives.
In response to that attack, Israeli forces entered Arafat's headquarters Friday, punching holes in the walls, bringing in tanks and armored vehicles, fighting room-to-room and arresting dozens of Palestinians inside. At least five Palestinians and one Israeli officer were killed in Friday's fighting.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said Saturday he feared for Arafat's life "and the lives around him. This is a very grave development and it could lead to a massacre." Israel officials have said they will not harm Arafat.
Arafat, who appealed to the world community for help, was holed up in a two-room office -- lacking electricity and running water -- with Israeli tanks just outside.
"I am appealing to the whole international world to stop this aggression against our people," he said by cell phone Saturday, "this military escalation day by night, this killing .... Where has this been done all over the world?" He made similar comments Friday. (Full story)
Gideon Meir, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said the incursions would last until Israeli Defense Forces succeeded in their campaign against terrorism.
He said the goal of the military operation in Ramallah was to "isolate" Arafat -- whom Prime Minister Ariel Sharon labeled an "enemy" on Friday -- so he "will not be able to instruct his terrorist organizations."
Palestinians have blamed Israel for the escalating violence, pointing to the incursions as antagonistic and demanding a withdrawal of Israeli forces.
But President Bush, speaking from his Texas ranch, said Arafat must do more to stop violence.
"I think Chairman Arafat could do a lot more. I truly believe that. I believe he needs to stand up and condemn, in Arabic, these attacks," Bush said. (Full story)
Bush also said he understood "Israel's need to defend herself and I respect that," but he urged the Israeli government to "make sure that there is a path to peace as she secures her homeland."
In response to the Israeli incursions, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution early Saturday demanding Israel withdraw from Palestinian cities, including Ramallah. The resolution also called on both sides to cooperate with U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni's cease-fire efforts. (Full story)
Zinni has spent the past two weeks in the region pushing for the implementation of a plan to break the cycle of attack and reprisal, and on Thursday the Arab League adopted a Saudi-proposed blueprint for peace. Bush said Saturday he has asked Zinni to stay in the region as "an opportunity for people to come together."
Just outside Ramallah, in al Bireh, Israeli forces rounded up hundreds of Palestinian males between the ages of 15 and 45. About 260 men were taken into a nearby school for questioning. Israeli forces have detained about 140 men in the past two days.
Meanwhile, the bodies of five Palestinians, four in military-style uniforms, were found shot to death in another building in downtown Ramallah on Saturday. (Full story)
The Israeli army said a gunfight began when a Palestinian opened fire on soldiers outside the building and then threw a hand grenade.
"In response, the Israeli army forces entered the building to search for the gunman, and when they entered, the gunmen opened fire from one of the rooms," the army said.
Other developments
Arafat speaks by candlelight from within his compound on Saturday.
* An Israeli army spokesman said the army had surrounded the office of Jibril Rajoub, head of preventive security in the West Bank, in Beitunia near Ramallah. Rajoub, speaking on CNN shortly after the arrival of the troops, said the Israelis had demanded "wanted people" inside the headquarters.
* Israeli military sources said an Israeli army armored personnel carrier entered the Palestinian-controlled area of Hebron after gunfire came from the area. The carrier entered the area to "conduct searches and was planning to leave the area when they were finished searching," a military source said. But Palestinian security sources said three Israeli tanks and a jeep entered the area firing tank shells and machine guns.
* Israeli outposts near the Lebanese border came under fire Saturday by Hezbollah forces, according to Israeli military sources. The Hezbollah militants fired missiles and mortar bombs toward the army border posts in Shebaa Farms, the sources said. Israeli forces returned fire and no Israeli soldiers were injured in the attack, the military sources said.
* Israeli border police killed a Palestinian gunman in an exchange of fire Saturday on the Israel-northern West Bank border near Bakah al Sharkiah, Israeli police said. An Israeli police officer was wounded.
* The IDF said its troops moved into the Arab town of Beit Jala overnight Friday, after a mortar was fired into the nearby Jewish neighborhood of Gilo on the outskirts of Jerusalem. No one was injured in the attack.

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