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Israeli Forces Launch Major Raid into Ramallah - 2002-06-10

Israeli military forces have launched a major raid into the West Bank city of Ramallah, arresting at least 20 Palestinians. Clashes erupted and at least one Palestinian was killed.

Backed by combat helicopters, Israeli tanks, armored personnel carriers and soldiers moved into Ramallah, imposing a curfew and surrounding Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters. An Israeli army spokesman says troops ringed the compound to prevent Palestinian militants from taking refuge there. Mr. Arafat is in his headquarters and was not hurt during the raid.

Israeli forces entered the compound last week and destroyed several buildings after a Palestinian suicide attack killed 17 Israelis.

On Monday soldiers also searched house-to-house in the Amari refugee camp, arresting Palestinians wanted for questioning. Troops also moved through the suburb of Beituniyah and neighboring El-Bireh. Sporadic explosions and gunfire echoed across Ramallah several hours after the troops entered the city.

Israeli military sources say the operation is aimed at "arresting militants and destroying the terror infrastructure." They say the raid will be of "limited duration."

The incursion came hours after Mr. Arafat reduced the size of his cabinet in an effort to reform the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Arafat appointed a new interior minister (Abdel Razak Yehiyeh) to lead the police and intelligence services as well as a new finance minister (Salam Fayyad).

Israel and the United States have called on the Palestinian leader to reform the authority to end corruption and stop attacks against Israelis. Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo says presidential and parliamentary elections will be held next January and municipal elections will take place before the end of this year.

Since the Palestinian Authority was formed in 1994, elections have been held only once, in 1996.

A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reacted coolly to the Palestinian reforms. Dore Gold said, "the real question is whether Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian leadership will abandon violence as a political tool."

Meanwhile, a large explosion rocked the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, injuring dozens of people and damaging a number of houses. Palestinian officials did not say what caused the blast.