- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank Yasser Arafat pledged a policy of "steadfast confrontation" against Israel yesterday and issued a hard-line statement in Arabic after a week of Israeli attacks on the West Bank and Palestinian bombings of the Jewish state.
"Despite the Israeli brutal and criminal aggression and attack, including the killing and assassinations, we shall remain standing tall and never kneel except for praying. We will steadfastly confront the enemy," Mr. Arafat was quoted as saying by WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency.
Mr. Arafat made his remarks while surveying a marketplace and building damaged during the Israeli incursion in Ramallah.
Elsewhere in the West Bank yesterday, Israeli soldiers raided a refugee camp that has become stronghold of Palestinian militants after attacks on Israel's largest fuel depot, a pedestrian mall and a nightclub.
Palestinian militiamen In the Tulkarm refugee camp ambushed Israeli soldiers riding atop an armored personnel carrier at the camp's entrance, wounding two soldiers.
In the hail of gunfire, one of the soldiers fell from the vehicle, said a Palestinian gunman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Israeli army said one soldier was killed.
Tank gunners fired shells and machine guns, and four Palestinians were wounded, including a woman and a 4-year-old, Palestinian doctors said.
The Israeli military confirmed the exchange of fire.
Israeli troops imposed a curfew in Tulkarm.
As fighting persisted, an adviser to Mr. Arafat said the Palestinian leader would hold general elections this winter only if Israeli troops pull back to positions they held before the outbreak of fighting in September 2000.
Israeli forces, however, looked poised to stay in the West Bank.
Israel TV's Channel Two reported that the army has been given a green light to launch a new military campaign, including raids into Palestinian cities that could last for several days. Raanan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said he was not aware of government approval for a new offensive.
An Israeli missile strike in Nablus two days ago killed a senior commander of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement, one of his fighters and a bystander.
Referring to the dead only as "Palestinians," WAFA reported the killings as "brutal Israeli aggression."
An official Palestinian statement carried later by WAFA said, "The Israeli acts indicate that Israel has rejected peace, which is the Palestinian strategic choice, and they have decided to continue endangering the security and stability in the Middle East and the world."
The news agency made no reference to claims of responsibility by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade for the last two major suicide bombings. One of the attacks, said to be retaliation for the assassination, killed two Israelis in a suburb south of Tel Aviv on Wednesday night.
In a suicide-bombing attempt early yesterday, a militant was shot dead as he tried to ram his car into a crowded nightclub in Tel Aviv.
The Al Aqsa Brigade later faxed Reuters news agency a statement saying its operative, on behalf of Fatah, had carried out the "remarkable, heroic operation in the heart of Tel-Aviv."
[Mr. Arafat's office issued a statement yesterday denying that his Fatah movement was linked to the Al Aqsa militia's leaflets claiming responsibility for recent attacks. That statement highlighted growing division within the Palestinian factions over bombing attacks, the Associated Press reported.]
A remote-control bomb blew up a truck at a fuel depot, also in Tel Aviv, on Thursday, but no group has claimed responsibility.
Mr. Arafat has condemned suicide bombings in an apparent response to U.S. efforts to broker a cease-fire and restart peace talks.
But Mohammed Dahlan, a top Palestinian official and a potential successor to Mr. Arafat as chairman of the Palestinian Authority, appeared to give a green light to strikes against Israeli civilians.


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