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Israeli Forces Withdraw from Arafat's Compound - 2002-06-06

Israeli military forces have withdrawn from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters, after a brief raid that killed at least one Palestinian and wounded six others. The incursion was a response to a Palestinian suicide bomber who killed 17 Israelis Wednesday.

Israeli tanks and troops stormed Mr. Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Soldiers used explosives and armored bulldozers to destroy buildings in the compound, including the headquarters of the Palestinian intelligence services.

The Israeli army says Palestinian security personnel in the headquarters shot at approaching troops, who returned fire.

A tank shell hit less than two-meters from Mr. Arafat's bed, and in several rooms of his office windows were shot out, pictures were shattered and debris dangled from the ceiling.

After the soldiers pulled back to the outskirts of Ramallah, the Palestinian leader emerged from his office flashing a "V for victory" sign saying the Israeli raid will only increase the "steadfastness" of the Palestinian people.

"This aggression against the headquarters of the Palestinian people, what is the meaning of it? They are saying, or they try to say that they can defeat us," he said. "No one can defeat the Palestinian people who are defending the holy, sacred Christian and Muslim holy places."

In a statement the Israeli army says it raided Mr. Arafat's headquarters because it is the "center" of the Palestinian Authority, which the army says is "directly responsible" for terror attacks launched against Israelis.

"The target was the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority because we hold the Palestinian Authority responsible for the continuous terror attacks on our streets," said Gideon Meir, a spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry. "We have to respond appropriately. I think that what we did was a minimum response to a vicious terror attack, continuous suicide bombers who are coming to explode themselves among innocent Israelis and the Israeli citizens expect from the government to protect them."

Wednesday, a Palestinian suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives next to a crowded Israeli bus. Most of those killed in the explosion were Israeli soldiers.

The Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing and says it is hunting for the militants who dispatched the bomber.