- The Washington Times - Friday, June 7, 2002

JERUSALEM Fighting raged yesterday between Palestinians and Israelis in a suburb of Ramallah, where a defiant Yasser Arafat showed reporters a gaping hole in his bedroom wall that was made during a six-hour Israeli assault on his compound.

The Israeli show of strength, undertaken in retaliation for a suicide bombing Wednesday that killed 17 Israelis and injured dozens more, destroyed three buildings in the compound and killed a Palestinian intelligence officer.

The forces withdrew with their tanks after six hours in which Mr. Arafat's living quarters was largely destroyed, but returned later yesterday to the city's Betounia suburb, where they arrested six men, including a suspected member of the militant Hamas group.

Troops returned Palestinian gunfire from tanks and helicopters as leaders from both sides traded verbal barbs, lowering the already measured expectations for President Bush's coming meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak this weekend and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on June 10.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, an Israeli civilian died from injuries sustained in a shooting attack north of Ramallah, and Israeli forces left the city of Nablus, which they entered a week ago to hunt for Palestinian militants and explosives.

Israeli soldiers also withdrew from the West Bank city of Jenin, where the army earlier in the day was said to have gained control over most neighborhoods.

Mr. Arafat wide-eyed as he surveyed the damage to his headquarters including a dust-covered bed, shattered bedroom mirror and bathroom tiles accused Israel of trying to kill him.

"I was supposed to sleep here, but I had work to do downstairs and did not go to sleep. They shelled this room wanting me to be here," said Mr. Arafat, who is known to favor working at night.

The Israeli army denied targeting the Palestinian leader. "If there had been any intention of harming Arafat, it would not have been a problem," Capt. Jacob Dallal was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

The army acted "in the wake of a wave of Palestinian terrorism sweeping the state of Israel," including Wednesday's attack on a bus in northern Israel, it said.

Responsibility for the latest bombing was claimed by the militant group Islamic Jihad, but Israel said in a statement that the Palestinian Authority is "directly responsible for terrorism that originates in its territory."

Throughout the day mourners buried victims of the attack, including Adi Dahan, 17, whose brother was killed in an accident just six weeks earlier.

Palestinian official Saeb Erekat called for U.S. and European intervention following what he called a "major, major escalation" by Israel. But Mr. Arafat himself seemed to have been left nonplussed.

"This will not affect the Palestinian people. On the contrary it will increase the steadfastness of this people," Mr. Arafat said as he toured the compound, flashing a V-for-victory sign at cheering supporters.

Mr. Arafat did condemn the latest suicide bombing and ordered the arrest of Islamic Jihad leaders.

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