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Israel Claims Control of Arafat Compound - 2002-03-29


Israeli tanks and troops on Friday moved into Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's West Bank office compound. Meanwhile, a teenage suicide bomber blew herself up at a supermarket in southern Jerusalem.

A top Israeli commander says his forces are in control of the compound with the exception of Mr. Arafat's main office building. He told reporters that large amounts of weapons had been seized and 60 people arrested.

Israeli troops battled Palestinian security forces inside Yasser Arafat's Ramallah headquarters most of the day after tanks moved through the exterior walls.

As night fell, Israeli forces cut off electricity throughout Ramallah and destroyed a generator in Mr. Arafat's compound.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the military operation early Friday morning after declaring the Palestinian leader an enemy. Mr. Sharon is calling up more than 20,000 reservists for what he calls widespread operations to disrupt and destroy terrorist networks.

Mr. Sharon says the military strike at Mr. Arafat's headquarters does not aim to harm Mr. Arafat personally but the Palestinian leader told Arab TV that Israel wants him, in his words, under arrest, in exile or dead.

The Israeli military actions come in response to a series of suicide bombings and shooting attacks against Israelis that have killed more than 30 people in the last three days.

Yasser Arafat has been in phone contact with several Arab leaders and with U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, who has been trying to broker a ceasefire to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Meanwhile, the violence spread to Jerusalem during the day when rock-throwing Palestinian youths clashed with Israeli police at the Muslim holy site known as Haram As-Sharif in East Jerusalem.

Palestinian sources say Israeli police have started rounding up activists of Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement.

A few hours after Israel's strike on Mr. Arafat's headquarters on Friday, a teenage suicide bomber blew herself up in a Jerusalem supermarket.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah faction, has claimed responsibility for that attack. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade was officially designated as a terrorist group this week by the U.S. State Department.

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