Israel Steps Up Pressure
On Beleaguered Arafat

By Mohammed Assadi

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Israel stepped up pressure on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on Sunday in defiance of a United Nations call to withdraw its forces from Palestinian cities.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said Israeli forces had given an ultimatum to Arafat supporters holed up inside his besieged compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Saturday evening, threatening to storm the headquarters to arrest wanted people.
"This step is a plan by (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon against President Arafat's life. This is a very grave step," Abed Rabbo told Qatar's al-Jazeera television.
He said the Israelis were calling on people inside Arafat's office to surrender "or they will go in."
An Israeli official denied any ultimatum had been given.
According to Israel radio, Israeli military officials met the governor of Ramallah and assured him the army had no plans to storm Arafat's office, but said those inside had been "offered the chance to come out without their weapons."
Israel has repeatedly denied it intends to hurt Arafat.
In the latest violence sweeping the region, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a busy Tel Aviv restaurant on Saturday, wounding 32 people in an attack claimed by a group affiliated to Arafat's Fatah organization.
The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said in a statement it had carried out the bombing in reprisal for Israel's invasion of Ramallah and vowed further attacks.
A defiant Arafat, in a candlelit interview at his tank-encircled headquarters, asked the world to end what he called Israel's assault on his people.
"I appeal to the international community to stop this aggression against our people, this military escalation, this killing," the Palestinian leader told Reuters television.
The Israeli army has cut off water and electricity to Arafat's compound but said on Saturday it had let Palestinian ambulances deliver food, bottled water and candles.
Israeli security sources said Israeli officials believed that among those hiding in the compound was the mastermind of the assassination of Rehavam Zeevi, a far-right Israeli cabinet minister shot dead by Palestinian militants in October.
Israeli forces swept into Ramallah, nine miles north of Jerusalem, on Friday after Israel declared Arafat its enemy and vowed to isolate him after a suicide bombing which killed 22 Israelis.
Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Sharon, denied Israeli forces had handed an ultimatum to Arafat.
However, he said Israel wanted to "isolate Arafat and take all necessary measures to uproot terrorist organizations that have found refuge there (in his headquarters)."
Israel's siege of Arafat's compound severely dented hopes raised by an Arab summit's endorsement of a Middle East peace plan and caused fury across the Arab world.
The world has shown itself powerless to stop the violence which has raged in the region since a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation began 18 months ago.
The international community tried again on Saturday when the U.N. Security Council, with rare support of the United States, called for Israel to withdraw from Ramallah and other Palestinian-ruled cities.
Israel criticized the resolution for failing to stress Palestinian responsibility for "terrorist" attacks which it said had prompted its drive into Palestinian areas.
The Palestinian Authority said the resolution was positive and demanded that Israel lift its siege of Arafat's compound at once and pull out of Ramallah and other Palestinian towns.
President Bush, spending Easter weekend at his Texas ranch, called on both sides to find a way to peace.
But he placed the onus for the latest violence on the Palestinians, saying he understood Israel's decision to defend itself and making no call for Israeli forces to withdraw from Arafat's Ramallah compound.
"All of the leaders in the world must stand up against terror...and that especially applies to Chairman Arafat," Bush told reporters.
Elsewhere, 11 more deaths were reported in the region, bringing the toll to at least 1,123 Palestinians and 384 Israelis killed since the Palestinian revolt began.
The bodies of five Palestinian policemen were found in a Ramallah building vacated by Israeli troops hours earlier.
Palestinians accused Israel of killing them in cold blood. Israel said they had been shot in a close-range battle in which two Israeli soldiers had been wounded.
One of Arafat's bodyguards and an intelligence officer were killed in firefights with Israeli troops in the presidential compound on Saturday, Palestinian security sources said. Another Arafat bodyguard died of wounds he sustained on Friday.
Fresh violence erupted when two Palestinians on their way to carry out a suicide bombing in Israel died during a firefight with Israeli border police. An Israeli policeman was killed.
Israeli jets fired missiles near Lebanese border towns on Saturday after Hizbollah fighters attacked Israeli posts in a disputed frontier region, witnesses and security officials said.

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