- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

From combined dispatches

RAMALLAH, West Bank Israeli tanks and troops withdrew from around Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters yesterday and started leaving the West Bank city of Ramallah after a siege of more than two days.

People emerged from their homes, where they had been kept under curfew, and dozens of Mr. Arafat's guards marched through his presidential compound, shaking their assault rifles in the air and chanting, "We will give up our lives for you," referring to the Palestinian leader.

The army's withdrawal, as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon talked with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London, ended a tense standoff.

Tanks had encircled Mr. Arafat's battered compound on Monday but had not entered it. The army said the raid was intended to seek out militants blamed for suicide bombings against Israelis in the 20-month-old uprising against Israeli occupation.

At least 20 tanks, armored vehicles and jeeps left the city after retreating toward the outskirts of Ramallah from positions across the city, local residents said.

Israeli army radio said the withdrawal was expected to be completed during the night.

A Reuters correspondent saw Mr. Arafat in his headquarters soon after the tanks withdrew. He said the Palestinian leader looked well and was smiling as he received Miguel Angel Moratinos, the European Union's Middle East envoy.

The Israeli army said it had arrested about 75 Palestinians and confiscated many weapons in Ramallah since Monday.

"The action was done quietly, and I think the results are quite impressive," Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer told Israel's Channel Two television before the withdrawal began.

Mr. Sharon, on his way back to Israel from Washington, met Mr. Blair in London to brief him. In Washington, President Bush closed ranks with the Israeli head and criticized Mr. Arafat.

A British spokesman said Mr. Blair underlined the need for an "early restart to the political process." An Israeli official said Mr. Sharon called for a "cessation of terror and for real reform in the Palestinian Authority as conditions for progress."

Peace remains a distant prospect after the deaths of at least 1,394 Palestinians and 509 Israelis since the Palestinian revolt began in September 2000 after peace talks stalled.

In the latest violence, a Palestinian blew himself up outside a sandwich shop in the Israeli coastal town of Herzliya on Tuesday, killing the 15-year-old daughter of Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer team director Arieh Hershkowitz. Eight persons were hurt.

The Israeli army said it foiled a major Palestinian attack yesterday by blowing up a car containing 330 pounds of explosives near a Jewish settlement in the southern Gaza Strip.

Soldiers spotted the car, which also contained two mortar shells, in a restricted zone of the occupied territory near the northern Alai Sinai settlement, a military spokesman said.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops occupying the foothills of the Golan Heights fired machine guns at a village in south Lebanon yesterday, witnesses said.

Israeli helicopters also flew over the edges of the village, which faces the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms area, the correspondent said.

Israeli troops in Shebaa Farms occasionally fire tank shells and machine guns on Lebanon to ward off attacks by the Hezbollah movement, whose war of attrition helped drive Israel from south Lebanon in 2000 after a 22-year occupation.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide