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Israeli Soldiers Storm Arafat's Compound; At Least Six Dead - 2002-03-29


The Israeli government has declared Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat an "enemy," and soldiers have stormed his compound in the West Bank. At least five Palestinians and one Israeli have been killed in the raid. In Jerusalem, a female suicide bomber detonated explosives in a supermarket, killing herself and at least two other people.

Israeli tanks shelled Mr. Arafat's walled compound in Ramallah, and troops seized buildings inside the facility, triggering a heavy exchange of gunfire.

Palestinian officials say Israeli soldiers opened fire at Mr. Arafat's private office, and that his life is in danger. A structure near the office caught fire, but aides say the Palestinian chairman was not hurt in the assault.

The raid is the closest Israeli forces have come to Mr. Arafat during 18 months of bloodshed.

A defiant Mr. Arafat said Israel wanted him "under arrest, in exile or dead."

The military moves came after Palestinian suicide, shooting and knife attacks killed about 30 people in the past few days.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the government now considers Mr. Arafat an enemy of the Jewish state.

"We regard Chairman Arafat as an enemy because he decided about a strategy of terror and formed a coalition of terror. Therefore, he is going to be isolated," Mr. Sharon said.

Mr. Sharon has said the military will carry out widespread operations and reserve forces will be called up for active duty.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat charged the Israelis with declaring an all-out war on the Palestinian people. "You have to keep in mind that violence will breed violence, bullets will breed bullets, extremism will breed extremism, and I am afraid Sharon's actions today are pushing the Palestinians and Israelis deeper and deeper into this vicious cycle of violence and killings and bloodshed," Mr. Erekat said.

In the latest violence, a female Palestinian suicide bomber blew herself up in a Jerusalem supermarket. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah faction, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The blast occurred in a Jewish neighborhood, as Israelis were shopping before the start of the Jewish Sabbath.

The upsurge in violence appeared to undermine U.S. Middle East envoy Anthony Zinni's efforts to broker a cease-fire and end a year-and-a-half of bloodshed.

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