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Israel Attacks Palestinian Radio, Television in West Bank - 2002-01-19

Israeli soldiers set off an explosion in the offices of Palestinian radio and television in the West Bank Saturday in retaliation for an attack by a Palestinian gunman that left six Israelis dead.

Under cover of darkness and backed by tanks, Israeli soldiers took over the Voice of Palestine building in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The soldiers confiscated some equipment, then detonated explosives inside the building, setting it on fire and destroying much of the complex.

The Voice of Palestine renewed radio broadcasts from a smaller, private station in the West Bank.

The Israeli army says it carried out the operation in retaliation for a deadly attack by a Palestinian gunman Thursday night in the northern town of Hadera.

The gunman burst into a banquet hall and sprayed a crowd of Jewish partygoers with automatic weapons fire before being killed by police.

Hours later, Israeli F-16 warplanes destroyed a government complex in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, and tightened the siege around Chairman Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah.

Palestinians described the destruction of their broadcasting facilities as a crime and an attack on Palestinian sovereignty.

A close advisor to Mr. Arafat, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, accused the Israeli government of destroying all hopes of returning to the peace process.

"This Israeli escalation is aiming to damage the peace process and to damage any effort to safeguard the peace process. We hope that the world community, the United States, would put enough pressure on the Israelis to stop this escalation and this aggression, because everybody will lose in this confrontation," he said.

Israel has frequently accused the stations of broadcasting incitement and propaganda since the Palestinian uprising erupted nearly 16-months ago.

Israeli Cabinet minister Danny Naveh accuses the Palestinian Authority of failing to take measures to stop the violence and crackdown on militants.

"The Palestinian Authority is responsible for that. They have never really taken any action to stop terrorism. They haven't arrested terrorists. They haven't done anything against the infrastructure of the terrorist organizations, and we have no choice but to take serious actions, based on our right for the self-defense of the Israeli population," he said.

Israel demolished one of Voice of Palestine's transmission towers and another building last month, but the station continued to broadcast on local frequencies in the West Bank and Gaza.