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Israeli Troops Take Positions Near Arafat's Ramallah Compound - 2003-09-11

Israeli troops have taken up positions across from Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The move comes amid increasing calls by Israeli ministers to force the Palestinian leader into exile.

Israeli soldiers have commandeered the Palestinian Cultural Ministry close to Mr. Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, forcing the officials there to evacuate their offices.

The building gives the troops a vantage point looking directly toward the complex, known as the Muqata, most of which has been destroyed in previous Israeli military sieges of Mr. Arafat's offices.

The building was occupied hours before the Israeli Security Cabinet is to discuss Israel's response to a recent wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.

Two such attacks on Tuesday killed at least 15 Israelis.

Israeli officials hold Mr. Arafat ultimately responsible for the latest violence.

Before the meeting, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said that a majority of the Security Cabinet favored exiling Mr. Arafat, but whether that will be decided remains unclear. Some observers said such a move would be possible only with at least the tacit support of the U.S. administration.

Israeli radio, quoting senior Israeli military officials, said that the takeover of the Palestinian offices in Ramallah is "deterrent in nature." The officials described the move as a "message and a signal" to the Palestinian Authority and Mr. Arafat.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon before cutting short a tour to India to head home, said that the response to the suicide bombings would be, in his words, "harsh and swift." But he refused to specify what measures would be taken.