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Israel Continues Siege in Ramallah - 2002-09-26

All that was left of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah Monday was one building. He and 200 others remained inside. Barbed wire surrounded the compound along with Israeli tanks and troops. Israel continued to demand the names of the people inside the building as well as the surrender of 20 wanted terrorists it said were inside as conditions for ending the siege.

Mr. Arafat refused to turn over the names. Palestinian reports said he had told aides he would rather die a martyr than humiliate himself by surrendering to Israel. In Bethlehem, about 3,000 Palestinian students staged a strike to show support for their besieged leader.

By telephone, Mr. Arafat delivered a speech to the assembled crowd, calling on them to defy the Israeli crackdown. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Israel will not back down. Meanwhile in Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush said the siege of Arafat’s headquarters is not helpful to the cause of peace in the Middle East.

“(And) I laid out what that path to peace was, here in/at the Rose Garden. First of all, we all have got to fight terror, but as we fight terror, particularly in the Middle East, they’ve got to build the institutions necessary for a Palestinian state to emerge.”

President Bush made the remarks after meeting with his cabinet at the White House Tuesday. It was the first time he had commented publicly on the siege. He also said he still believes it is possible to fight terrorism and at the same time give hope to the Palestinian people.

Mr. Bush said that is the message the U.S. sent to the U.N. Security Council when it abstained from voting on a resolution, which demands Israel end the siege. The council passed the resolution early Tuesday morning. The U.S. had wanted a resolution that was more critical of Palestinian terrorist groups that have attacked Israeli civilians. Israeli officials rejected the resolution, saying the siege will end when the suspected militants either surrender or are taken prisoner.