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Arafat's security network under apparent attack

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- The heart of Yasser Arafat's security network appeared to be under attack by Israeli forces early Tuesday, with explosions coming from the 5-acre site here as Israeli helicopter gunships hovered overhead.

CNN Correspondent Michael Holmes observed the explosions around the headquarters of the Palestinian security service from about a mile away and said the extent of the action -- or what exactly was being hit -- was not immediately clear.

The activity began around 2 a.m. (6 p.m. EST), Holmes said.

Jibril Rajoub, head of Palestinian preventive security in the West Bank, spoke to CNN by phone from inside the compound and said 400 people, including women, were inside the compound and that the facility was under attack from the ground and air.

The facility houses a jail, but it was not immediately clear how many of the 400 people were prisoners there.

Israeli tanks and armored vehicles surrounded the building Saturday, saying the Palestinian Authority was holding dozens of wanted terrorists inside.

Israel tells journalists to leave West Bank

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Adam Shapiro, of the International Solidarity Movement, is inside a Palestinian compound as Israeli forces advance (April 1)

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Gunfire breaks out as international pro-Palestinian activists try to block Israeli forces on the West Bank. CNN's Michael Holmes reports (April 1)

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CNN's John Vause reports on the new normal in Jerusalem (April 1)

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CNN's Andrea Koppel says the Bush administration is caught between its goal for a mideast cease-fire and zero tolerance for terrorism (April 1)

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Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said his strategy was to "reduce as much as possible the active terror activity -- to calm the situation."

"That will probably cause us to enter every place in the territories," Ben-Eliezer said. He said that did not mean Israel had an interest in taking Palestinian territory.

He said Israeli forces would enter the territories to "destroy the terror infrastructure and then to pull back."

In an apparent attempt to further isolate Palestinian leader Arafat, the Israeli government Monday closed the West Bank and warned foreign journalists to leave.

Palestinians reported Israeli helicopter gunships firing on Bethlehem late Monday, hitting three buildings. The Israeli army confirmed it was conducting an operation in Bethlehem but had no further comment.

The Bethlehem incursion came hours after a car bomb blew up at a checkpoint in West Jerusalem, killing the bomber and seriously wounding an Israeli policeman. The bombing raised the count to seven terror attacks -- six suicide bombings and one shooting -- in six days. (Full story)

Elsewhere, Palestinian sources said tanks entered Qalqilya in the north and Al-Khader, a Palestinian town south of Bethlehem.

Arafat -- whose morale was said to be "very good" -- remained bottled up in his headquarters. (View a map of Arafat's compound.)

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Arafat, told him: "Do what you promised. Do what you have to do, not for Israel, but for your own people."

Peres said Israel wants a cease-fire, does not intend to kill Arafat and does not intend to reoccupy the Palestinian territories.

Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, contended the Israelis were trying to kill Arafat and appealed to the United States to take action.

"The situation is very bad," he said. "... [W]hat we need now is action. This U.S. inaction is really very, very bad."

White House changes tone on Mideast

The Bush administration Monday called on Israel to withdraw its forces from around Arafat's Ramallah compound and said Arafat must forcefully denounce terrorism.

"We want all of these things to happen now," said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker. "The time is now for a cease-fire and the start of Tenet." He was referring to the cease-fire plan negotiated last June by CIA Director George Tenet.

Under mounting international pressure to soften its hard line against Arafat, the White House on Monday intentionally elevated Arafat's role as a potential peacemaker and rejected Israel's attempt to brand him as an enemy of the state. (Full story)

In another significant development, the White House declared that President Bush's doctrine on global terror -- that any nation or group that harbors a terrorist will be regarded as a terrorist and potentially subject to U.S. reprisals -- does not apply to the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday blamed the recent wave of violence on Arafat and called him the "head of a coalition of terrorism" and "the enemy of Israel and the enemy of the free world."

The violence escalated last week, beginning with a suicide bombing at an Israeli seaside hotel during Passover. On Friday, the Israel Defense Forces responded to that attack, targeting Arafat's Ramallah compound.

Additional attacks followed. At least 42 Israelis have been killed and more than 100 wounded in terror attacks since the Passover bombing Wednesday night.

Other developments

Israeli troops exchange fire with Palestinians in downtown Ramallah.
Israeli troops exchange fire with Palestinians in downtown Ramallah.  

  • An intense firefight erupted in the downtown area of Ramallah on Monday. Israeli tanks and a vehicle-mounted anti-aircraft gun fired on an office building as Israeli helicopters circled the city. Palestinians responded with automatic weapons fire. CNN personnel reported seeing one Palestinian and one Israeli soldier injured.
  • The IDF reported that it has arrested more than 700 terror suspects in Ramallah.
  • At the United Nations on Monday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the Security Council that a third party needs to intervene in the Mideast, saying that "the parties left to themselves cannot resolve this issue." After the session, Annan told reporters, "We all keep saying, 'It can't get worse.' And yet it gets worse by the day."
  • The Security Council rebuffed Palestinian supporters who urged passage of another resolution that would demand Israel withdraw from Ramallah and other cities in the Palestinian territories. The Security Council will discuss the Mideast muddle over lunch Tuesday.
  • Eight Israeli soldiers were injured -- one severely -- while conducting house-to-house searches in Qalqilya. According to an IDF source, they were wounded when an explosive device went off in one of the houses being searched.
  • Five Western peace activists and a Palestinian cameraman were wounded when they tried to block Israeli forces from entering a West Bank refugee camp near Beit Jala, Palestinian sources said Monday. Israeli authorities said they were checking the report.
  • In Tulkarem in the West Bank, Palestinian militants shot and killed at least seven Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel, Palestinian security sources said. The militants opened fire after bursting into a building where Palestinian intelligence officers were holding suspected collaborators, the sources said.


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