- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 21, 2002

RAMALLAH, West Bank Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, caught in the tightest Israeli chokehold yet, pleaded for the world's help after troops blew up buildings in his compound yesterday and started digging a deep trench and running coils of barbed wire around his office.
The White House urged Israel to show restraint, suggesting that too harsh a reprisal for a suicide bombing claimed by Mr. Arafat's Islamic militant rivals would upset efforts to reform the Palestinian Authority and secure a truce.
Early today, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thami said he had received a promise from Israel that its forces would stop their military action against Mr. Arafat's headquarters immediately and will not harm him.
"I have received a promise from the Israeli leadership to stop now the military action around the president's office," the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite television showed the sheik saying.
Israel said troops would withdraw only after the surrender of 20 wanted men holed up in the compound, including West Bank intelligence chief Tawfik Tirawi, who is accused of involvement in shooting attacks against Israelis. Mr. Arafat's aides said he would not hand over anyone from his entourage.
During the day, 20 men did leave Mr. Arafat's compound and surrender, but it turned out none were wanted by the Israelis.
Late yesterday, Israeli bulldozers began demolishing a second-floor walkway linking the two parts of Mr. Arafat's office building, effectively cutting him off from most of his security forces, Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rdeneh said.
Mr. Abu Rdeneh said Mr. Arafat and a few close associates, along with about 20 wanted men, were in one part of the building. Those inside feared the building could collapse as a result of the demolition of the walkway, he said.
Yesterday morning, troops blew up three buildings, two of them already partially damaged in previous raids and one under construction. All three buildings had been used by Mr. Arafat's security forces.
Mr. Arafat was in relatively good spirits yesterday, those around him said. He was kept awake at night by the shooting and bulldozers toppling walls, but performed Friday prayers in his office before taking an afternoon nap. Water and electricity had not been cut, unlike in earlier raids.
Throughout the day, Mr. Arafat spoke to several European officials and Arab leaders, including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Jordan's King Abdullah II. Mr. Arafat asked them to pressure Israel to lift the siege. Arab leaders told Mr. Arafat they would seek an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss a demand for an immediate Israeli withdrawal, Mr. Abu Rdeneh said.
Washington cautioned Israel to show restraint, while also urging the Palestinians to try to prevent attacks on Israeli civilians. "Israel has the right to defend itself and to deal with security, but Israel also has a need to bear in mind the consequences of action and Israel's stake in development of reforms in the Palestinian institutions," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon reportedly raised the idea of expelling Mr. Arafat at a Cabinet meeting Thursday, just hours after a suicide bomber set off nail-studded explosives on a crowded bus, killing himself, five Israelis and a 19-year-old Jewish seminary student from Scotland. Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said the plan for now was to isolate, not oust the Palestinian leader.
The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility in a leaflet sent to Al Jazeera.
In other developments yesterday, four Palestinians were killed by army fire, including an Arafat bodyguard shot by snipers in the Ramallah compound and three civilians killed in Israeli forays and clashes in the Gaza Strip.


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