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Palestinians Accuse Israel of Escalating Conflict - 2001-08-10

Palestinian leaders are charging Israel with escalating the current conflict after Israeli police seized the Palestinians' main headquarters in East Jerusalem Friday. The Israeli move was in response to a suicide bombing that killed 16 people and wounded about 90.

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat called Israel's takeover of Orient House, the Jerusalem headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization, an "escalation and provocation."

In a highly symbolic move, Israeli police took over the main Palestinian political headquarters in East Jerusalem and other buildings in and around the city.

The action was in retaliation for Thursday's suicide bombing in a Jerusalem restaurant.

Israeli forces also seized buildings in Abu Dis - a Palestinian village on the edge of Jerusalem - that has been proposed as the possible seat of government for a future Palestinian state.

Mr. Arafat made his remarks as he toured a police building in the West Bank town of Ramallah that was destroyed by Israeli warplanes after the suicide attack.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat says the seizure of Orient House is a major provocation. "The sight of the Israeli flag on the Orient House will not be seen by the Palestinians other than a major, massive aggression against their nationhood, against their aspirations, against their sovereignty. Israel is really inviting just more bloodshed and enlarging the cycle of violence and counter-violence," he said.

The Israeli moves came after the suicide bombing that was one of the deadliest attacks in more than 10 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The Palestinian militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the bombing, saying it was in response to Israel's assassination of Palestinian militants.

Israeli Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar says the seizing of Orient House is a message to Mr. Arafat that he will not make political gains through violence. "We still hope that the Palestinians will understand that it is inconceivable to live in a situation in which our citizens are attacked, shot, killed, injured by Palestinians, and people will expect us to go on with the peace process. We are not, we are not going to negotiate under fire," he said.

Among those killed in the suicide bombing were five members of a single family - three of them children - several teenagers, and a pregnant woman. Many were buried Friday in Jerusalem.