- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

JERUSALEM Israeli tanks firing heavy machine guns broke into the compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in the West Bank city of Ramallah early today, Palestinian security sources and witnesses said.
The sources said the shooting broke out after around 50 Israeli army tanks, backed by armored vehicles and six giant bulldozers, rolled into the Palestinian-ruled town.
Mr. Arafat was reported inside the compound but was unharmed.
The army attack came after a massive bomb yesterday killed at least 17 Israelis, 13 of them soldiers, unleashing a new cycle of violence in the Middle East.
The powerful explosion from a Palestinian suicide bomber ripped through a packed bus in northern Israel. Dozens were wounded in the attack, a major setback to Middle East peace moves.
The militant Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the car bombing.
[In Washington, the White House condemned the suicide bombing and said it wanted results in battling terrorism, regardless of who held the Palestinian leadership.
["Chairman Arafat is the leader of the Palestinian Authority, but there are many other people who play constructive roles," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said before the Israeli attack. "What the president is interested in is results from whatever corner they may come from."
["If that's Chairman Arafat, that's fine with the president; if it's others, that's fine with the president," Mr. Fleischer said.
[Mr. Fleischer had no immediate comment on the Israeli attack, but the White House reiterated President Bush's skepticism about Mr. Arafat's trustworthiness in battling terrorism.
["In the president's eyes, Yasser Arafat has never played a role of someone who could be trusted or who was effective," Mr. Fleischer said.
[One White House official said on the condition of anonymity that the United States was neither asked for nor did it grant a "green light" for the Israeli action in Ramallah. The administration has said that Israel does not seek U.S. approval for such attacks.]
Mr. Bush waved off reporters' questions last night at a White House barbecue and did not mention the situation to gathered lawmakers.
One of Mr. Arafat's personal bodyguards was killed in the Israeli attack, the Palestinian Red Cross said.
A spokesman said Tarek Al Khandkhaji, 20, was killed when Israeli tanks fired dozens of shells at Mr. Arafat's base.
Mussa Abu Hmeid, head of the West Bank hospital system, said six Palestinians were wounded.
Hours after the Palestinian suicide attack, the Israelis delivered their first response. Their tanks rolled into the West Bank city of Jenin in what the army said was a routine patrol carried out almost daily in Palestinian cities and towns to seize suspected militants.
The Israeli security Cabinet held an emergency session to weigh more broadly its responses to the explosion. It was not clear how long the raid into Jenin would last. Jenin is the Palestinian-ruled city that was home to the bomber, Ramzi Samudi. Israel has long viewed Jenin as a hotbed of terrorism.
The morning rush-hour blast at Megiddo Junction, a mainly Israeli Arab area close to the northern West Bank and an Israeli jail housing hundreds of Palestinians, turned bus No. 830 into a fireball as it headed from the coastal city of Tel Aviv to Tiberias by the Sea of Galilee.
Witnesses said a car driven by the bomber exploded beside the bus, sending smoke and fire coursing through both vehicles.
"There was a big blast and plumes of smoke. One soldier emerged with a broken leg," eyewitness David Bador told Israel's Channel Two television. The driver, who had survived three previous attacks, escaped with cuts and bruises.
The charred bodies of a couple locked in an embrace could be seen hanging from a rear window, together with three bodies clad in olive-green army uniforms lying in front of the wreckage.
At least 45 persons were wounded, 10 of them seriously, in what military sources said was the 10th car-bomb attack in 20 months of the current Palestinian uprising.
In a departure from recent suicide attacks, the assailant used a moving car capable of carrying large amounts of explosives, said Reuven Paz, an Israeli counterterrorism specialist. Until now, suicide attacks largely have involved individuals on foot who were wearing less-powerful explosives belts.
Israeli officials said Palestinian militant groups are trying to carry out a so-called mega-attack that would cause many casualties.
Army spokesman Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey said yesterday that in the March 27 Park Hotel bombing that killed 29 Israelis, militants planned to release lethal cyanide gas but were held back by technical difficulties. He said no cyanide was found at the scene: "We are talking about an intention."
The blast in the coastal town of Netanya triggered Israel's six-week military offensive against Palestinian militants in the West Bank.
Last month, militants detonated a bomb under a tank truck as it was refueling at Israel's largest fuel depot in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.
An initial police investigation indicated the bomber had carried out yesterday's attack, the most severe leveled against Israelis since the end of Israel's military offensive in the West Bank last month, by driving a stolen Renault van from the West Bank into Israel.
Because of the bombing, which coincided with the 35th anniversary of the Six Day War of 1967, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon delayed his scheduled departure for the United States, canceling weekend meetings in New York. He now is to leave Saturday night for talks in Washington on Monday with Mr. Bush, Mr. Sharon's office said in a statement.
Mr. Sharon is eager to emphasize to Washington, while it is formulating its policy toward Mr. Arafat, his opposition to negotiating with the Palestinian leader or holding any political talks before a cease-fire.
While Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority issued a statement condemning yesterday's suicide attack, Israeli and Palestinian officials pointed familiar fingers of blame at one another. Abdel Rahman, an aide to Mr. Arafat, attributed the bombing to "continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian areas."
David Baker, an official in Mr. Sharon's office, rejected that claim and said it was clear that the Palestinians "have no intention of giving up their campaign [of violence]."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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