- The Washington Times - Monday, June 24, 2002

JERUSALEM Israeli forces entered Ramallah early today and began to surround the shell-shattered compound of Yasser Arafat, who had accused Israel of moving toward a return to the days of complete control over Palestinians' lives.
The move into Ramallah widens the Israeli military's scope of control over once-autonomous Palestinian areas. Israeli troops now control most Palestinian population centers in the West Bank including Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarm and Bethlehem and have placed residents under curfew.
The incursion came moments after word that Palestinian authorities had placed the spiritual leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas under house arrest in the Gaza Strip. Yesterday, the Palestinians arrested dozens of Hamas members in Gaza.
An order had been issued for the house arrest of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, Palestinian security sources said. Seven Palestinian police cars blocked the street on either side of the Gaza home of Sheik Yassin, who has been placed under house arrest in the past.
Mr. Arafat and his aides were inside as a half-dozen Israeli tanks took up positions around his Ramallah compound. Palestinian intelligence officials said about 40 tanks were seen entering the city from the northeast to the northwest. Two Israeli helicopters covered the incursion from above.
"A large number of tanks and Israeli jeeps are surrounding the president's office from all sides," Nabil Abu Rdeneh said from inside the compound.
Witnesses said two Israeli army jeeps have pulled up outside al-Amari refugee camp and three parked in front of the government hospital.
Israeli officials earlier denied any intention to re-establish civil administration of the West Bank, which would make Israel responsible for municipal services, building permits, education and vital records.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Cabinet also approved a security plan that includes building concrete barriers and electronic fences in hopes of preventing attacks on its territory.
Israeli Cabinet Secretary Gideon Saar said the government was considering the possibility of deporting families of Palestinian suicide bombers to the Gaza Strip, but would not act unless the Israeli judiciary said such action was legal.
"The position of the Israeli government is that the terror of suicide bombers obligates the consideration of unconventional means," Mr. Saar said.
Israeli forces moved into the West Bank town of Qalqiliya at daybreak, widening the military's scope of control over once-autonomous Palestinian areas.
Between the back-to-back suicide bombings in Jerusalem that killed 26 Israelis Tuesday and Wednesday, Israel's Cabinet said troops would seize and hold Palestinian areas until the attacks ceased.
Two Palestinian police officers were killed yesterday, one when army forces entered al-Yamun village near Nablus and the other when an Israeli tank shell hit a building in the Tulkarm refugee camp. Palestinian witnesses said children were throwing stones at the tank. The army did not comment on either death, but said Palestinian gunmen in Tulkarm fired on Israeli forces.
Also, an Israeli officer wounded in a June 15 Palestinian attempt to infiltrate a Jewish settlement in Gaza died of his injuries, the army said.
To deal with the expanded West Bank operation, the army yesterday began drafting a brigade of about 4,000 reserve troops, army officials said.
Speaking after the weekly Cabinet meeting, hard-line Israeli Cabinet Minister Effi Eitam said Israel was at war and would remain in Palestinian areas "for many months, responsible for security there."
"For all practical purposes, Oslo died a long time ago," he said, referring to the 1993 peace deal founding the Palestinian Authority. "None of the agreements exist anymore."
Mr. Arafat accused Israel of intending to manage all aspects of Palestinian life in the occupied areas, including civilian affairs. An Israeli military administration presided over Palestinians until the creation of autonomous areas began in 1994.
"This situation is very serious and difficult," Mr. Arafat said yesterday after meeting European officials at his Ramallah offices. "It is clear that this is a continuation of the occupation in our towns and refugee camps."
Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said after meeting Mr. Arafat that it is "unacceptable to reoccupy Palestinian cities and to turn the clock back, to return to the civil administration in the West Bank, which is a military administration."
Israeli officials have stressed that the potentially long-term incursions would not lead to the re-establishment of Israeli control.
"Israel will be there in military presence only, in order to crush terror," said Raanan Gissin, spokesman for Mr. Sharon. "The Palestinian administration, where it exists, will remain. We are not going to re-establish the civil administration."
But in areas under Israeli-imposed curfew, Palestinians have reported problems with municipal services, including garbage removal and electricity.
Mr. Gissin acknowledged Israel would assist when necessary, but a former chief of the civil administration, Brig. Gen. Gadi Zohar, said there will be no choice.
"We are responsible for what happens there," Gen. Zohar told Israel Radio. "Sooner or later, we'll find ourselves bringing the civil administration back."
Israel's Cabinet officially approved a security plan establishing buffer zones around Palestinian areas in the West Bank, Mr. Saar said. The plan includes the security fence already being built, in some areas, along Israel's unmarked border with the West Bank.
Israeli officials deny the barrier is a precursor to a border, insisting the fence is being built for security reasons.
In an apparent crackdown on militants, Palestinian police in the Gaza Strip arrested dozens of members of the militant group Hamas, a group spokesman said. Hamas has taken responsibility for scores of bombings in Israel. Those arrested included leader Mohammed Shuhab of a local Gaza group.

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