- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

RAMALLAH, West Bank Israel began its most sustained assault yet on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's administration yesterday, using warplanes to strike at his compound in Gaza and sending tanks to within 200 yards of his headquarters in the West Bank.
The measures were taken a day after Israel severed all ties with Mr. Arafat, blaming him for Palestinian violence against the Jewish state, including recent attacks that killed 44 persons in 11 days. Israel also sent tanks and troops after one of Mr. Arafat's top lieutenants in the West Bank, Marwan Barghouthi, commandeering his home and confining his wife and children to a room in the apartment but failing to nab Mr. Barghouthi himself.
In a bid to stop the rush of violence, U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni met Prime Minister Ariel Sharon late yesterday but said nothing upon leaving the Israeli leader's office in Jerusalem. Israel Radio said Gen. Zinni asked Mr. Sharon to explain the significance of Israel's decision to cut relations with Mr. Arafat.
Mr. Barghouthi, who heads Mr. Arafat's Fatah faction in the West Bank and who is one of the most popular figures in the 14-month-old Palestinian uprising, had been sought by Israel in connection with many shooting attacks. The apparent decision to arrest him signals an escalation in Israeli actions. While Israel accused the 42-year-old Mr. Barghouthi of orchestrating attacks, for the most part it had refrained from going after Palestinian political leaders. The move to detain him left some wondering what was stopping Israel from doing the same to Mr. Arafat.
"This Israeli government wants to terminate the peace process. It wants to say that it is waging a war against the Palestinian people and their leadership," said Nabil Shaath, a minister in Mr. Arafat's Cabinet.
Mr. Barghouthi's wife, Fadwa, said 10 soldiers showed up at her door around noon yesterday, looking for her husband. They searched the apartment and shut the Barghouthis seven in all, including Mr. Barghouthi's brother, who was visiting from Saudi Arabia in one of the children's bedrooms, she said.
"They asked me where Marwan was hiding. I told them that he wasn't here," she said, talking to a reporter from the window of her second-story apartment. The soldiers were still there hours later. They told Mrs. Barghouthi they would be staying several days. Two tanks and three armored personnel carriers surrounded the building.
Israel's chief army spokesman, Ron Kitry, described the commandeering of Mr. Barghouthi's home as a tactical measure and said his family was "free to go as they choose."
"From tactical considerations the forces at the site decided to take over houses which have commanding positions to give them a good lookout," Mr. Kitry told Army Radio.
Mr. Barghouthi is a lawmaker on the Palestinian legislative council and an outspoken advocate of the Palestinian uprising. He speaks fluent Hebrew from years spent in Israeli jails.
While tanks rumbled into other Palestinian areas, Israeli planes and helicopters struck near a mosque in Gaza where Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin was praying and at buildings of the Voice of Palestine radio, witnesses said.
An Israeli army spokesman said soldiers killed a Palestinian gunman who fired on an Israeli convoy in the Gaza Strip. Palestinians said two others died in daylong Israeli raids.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said international intervention was needed "to stop Sharon's war."
The strike on Voice of Palestine marked the third time that Israel had tried to silence the radio station in the past year. Palestinians described it as an assault on free speech, but Israeli leaders said Voice of Palestine was broadcasting inflammatory rhetoric.

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