- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 19, 2002

From combined dispatches

RAMALLAH, West Bank Israeli troops blew up the Voice of Palestine radio station early today, setting the five-story building on fire when the explosive charges detonated, witnesses said.

A Reuters cameraman at the scene in the West Bank city of Ramallah said the explosives sent up a large cloud of smoke and debris into the sky still dark before dawn. Flames burst out from inside the building.

Israeli soldiers, accompanied by tanks and bulldozers, had entered the building to lay the charges and clear away its occupants and onlookers. The army had no immediate comment.

The explosion capped a 24-hour Israeli ground and air assault on the Palestinans a day after a Palestinian gunman burst into a banquet hall and killed six at a bat mitzvah.

Two Israeli tanks and an armored personnel carrier parked outside Yasser Arafat's headquarters, confining the Palestinian leader to his office complex yesterday.

Israeli F-16 warplanes also razed a large Palestinian Authority government complex in the West Bank town of Tulkarm, killing a Palestinian policeman and injuring 61 officers and civilians.

Israel said it was turning up pressure on Mr. Arafat to go after Palestinian militants. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's adviser, Raanan Gissin, said Mr. Arafat was "restricted to his quarters until he fulfills his obligations" and that troops placed Mr. Arafat's headquarters under "tight closure," though other Israeli officials said Mr. Arafat had not been told he couldn't leave the compound.

The Palestinian leader had been confined to Ramallah for the past few weeks, with Israel saying he can travel only after he arrests the assassins of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi, but yesterday's restrictions of his movement were unprecedented.

Mr. Arafat has complained that Israel's reprisals were part of a secret plan by Mr. Sharon to topple him. Israel's Cabinet has not made a decision to oust Mr. Arafat, but Mr. Sharon has called him a bitter enemy and a terrorist.

Mr. Arafat remained secluded in his office yesterday, avoiding a walk across the courtyard of his compound to the mosque where he normally attends noon prayers. Instead, he prayed with aides and security guards in an empty, carpeted room.

Palestinian security officials said Mr. Arafat skipped the walk to the mosque because he did not want to expose himself to Israeli view.

Israeli bulldozers also piled earth across one of the four access roads to Mr. Arafat's compound. Nearly two dozen tanks took up positions in about half of Ramallah, and troops searched the home of the Palestinian intelligence chief, Tawfik Tirawi.

At one point, about 4,000 Palestinians marched toward Mr. Arafat's office to protest the Israeli incursions and demand the release of suspected Palestinian militants held by the Palestinian Authority, including Ahmed Saadat, whose faction killed Mr. Zeevi in October.

"Palestinian Authority, traitors, release the political prisoners," the crowd chanted.

About 200 marchers later threw stones at Israeli tanks. Troops fired tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets and live rounds. Three Palestinians were wounded by live fire, including one who was in serious condition.

Later yesterday, about 400 Palestinians protesting the detentions tried to storm Mr. Arafat's compound, pelting the entrance with rocks, sticks and bottles.

The protests highlighted Mr. Arafat's dilemma. If he dismantles militant groups, as demanded by Israel and the United States, he risks widespread street violence. If he does not act, Israel is likely to step up reprisals.

Since announcing a truce Dec. 16, Mr. Arafat's security forces have arrested several militants, often triggering clashes with the suspects' supporters. This week's detention of Mr. Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, set off daily protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

After 16 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting, there is growing dissatisfaction with Mr. Arafat's rule. The economy is in a shambles, many Palestinians grumble about government corruption and others complain that the uprising against Israel has brought nothing but hardship.

This week's bloody events began with the killing of a Palestinian militia leader widely attributed to Israel that triggered revenge attacks, including the shooting spree inside a banquet hall in the Israeli town of Hadera late yesterday.

In the banquet hall, about 180 guests were celebrating the bat mitzvah, or coming of age, of 12-year-old Nina Kardashova. The girl was dancing, surrounded by her family when the gunman burst through the glass door, screamed in Arabic and opened fire.

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