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Israeli tanks advance on Arafat's compound

Action follows Tel Aviv terror attack that killed 5

Smoke rises above Ramallah after an explosion inside Arafat's compound Friday
Smoke rises above Ramallah after an explosion inside Arafat's compound Friday

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CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports on a suicide blast on a bus in Tel Aviv, Israel, that killed at least five people and the bomber. (September 19)
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Hours after a suicide bomber killed five people in Tel Aviv, Israeli troops in tanks and armored personnel carriers advanced on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound Thursday, Palestinian officials said.

The troops fired machine guns and bulldozed a wall around the buildings.

Israeli troops in a jeep and bulldozer inside the compound were shouting through a bullhorn calling on everybody to come out "with their hands on their heads."

The message, which was repeated numerous times, was heard by nearby CNN Producer Sausan Ghosheh.

Soon afterward, eight men came out of a building with their hands in the air. Daniel Ayalon, Israel's ambassador to the United States, said the men who surrendered were some of the 19 Israel demanded give themselves up.

However, Palestinian sources inside the compound said the men were Palestinian political prisoners, or collaborators. Some of the prisoners' Palestinian security guards were part of that group as well, the sources said.

An Israeli bulldozer with lights mounted on it also moved into the compound amid heavy gunfire, and proceeded to flatten trailers which had been set up as makeshift offices after Israeli troops destroyed the Palestinian two other compound buildings in a raid in June.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said Arafat had not been hurt. Erakat said he had been speaking with Arafat by telephone when the firing began.

He said Arafat told him that two of his guards had been wounded and "the situation is continuing."

As the Israeli military carried out the operation, the full Israeli Cabinet met in an emergency session Thursday night. The Cabinet ruled that Israel will isolate Arafat in his compound until further notice, and demanded that the wanted Palestinians Israel believes are holed up in the compound be handed over.

The military action came hours after a terror attack on a Tel Aviv bus that killed five and injured dozens more.

"People were hurting, screaming," Zohara Pillo told The Associated Press about the scene of the bombing. "The driver was sitting in his seat and his hands were on the window. He was dead. He was all blackened." (Full story)

'Very tense' situation

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Gideon Meir said the military operation is part of a larger effort across the West Bank to halt the movement of Palestinian terrorists.

Five people were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv Thursday.
Five people were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv Thursday.

"We have to tighten our security around the cities and that is what we are doing," said Meir, referring to the Palestinian cities ringed by Israeli troops.

Palestinian sources in Gaza reported Israeli tanks moving into the area from the Erez border crossing to the town of Beit Houron and from the Nahal Oz border crossing into the Gaza neighborhood of Segayieh. The sources said as many as 35 tanks are involved in the operation, as well as an Apache helicopter. The Israel Defense Forces would not confirm the reports.

Israel has occupied Ramallah since late March, and Arafat has not traveled away from his compound since last December.

Arafat spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said Arafat's compound was being shelled by the tanks. Arafat remained in his office, he said.

Palestinian Authority Labor Minister Ghassan Khatib is inside the compound and spoke to CNN by phone, describing the situation as "very tense."

He said the troops were shooting at the buildings and windows in the compound, and he claimed Palestinians were not firing back. "There was only firing from one direction," Khatib said.

"We hear the Israelis announcing in the loudspeakers that nobody is allowed to enter, to leave the compound, or to move between the different buildings on the compound, and anybody who will be seen outside will be shot and dead," Khatib said.

He said Palestinian officials have begun speaking with U.S. officials and Arab officials in an attempt to try to "convince the Israelis that this escalation against the compound of the president is not going to be helpful."

The Israeli military action followed two suicide bombings in Israel in the last two days.

Bus driver saved lives

In Thursday's attack, a suicide bomber set off a blast on a crowded city bus in Tel Aviv that killed five people.

"A bus just blew up in front of my eyes," said CNN sound engineer Michael Harris, who was near the scene. He described the blast as "enormous."

Ambulance services said at least 60 people had been wounded. At least five of them were reported to be in serious condition. The bomber was killed, police said.

The Tel Aviv police chief told Israeli television that the bus driver is believed to have tried to block the bomber as he boarded the bus. That, said the police chief, probably lessened the number of casualties.

The Israeli government said that both Hamas and Islamic Jihad had claimed responsibility for the attack.

The explosion went off just after 1 p.m. local time (6 a.m. ET) on Allenby Street in a crowded shopping district.

Dozens of emergency workers rushed to the scene. Television pictures showed rescuers aiding victims who sat on the shady, tree-lined sidewalks.

Police brought in bomb-sniffing dogs and canvassed the area, looking for other explosives. None were found.

Bush: 'Reject and stop violence'

The blast came one day after an Israeli policeman was killed and two other Israelis were wounded when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a bus stop near the town of Umm el-Fahm in northern Israel. (Full story)

Ra'anan Gissin, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Palestinian terror groups remained "highly motivated" to carry out attacks in Israel.

Gissin said the Palestinian Authority was taking "no action whatsoever to stop the terror activity." He said Israeli military activity in the Palestinian territories was the only reason there had been "a lull in the successful terrorist attacks" for six weeks prior to Wednesday.

But Erakat said the Palestinian Authority was doing "everything we can" to stop the violence.

He said the Palestinian Authority "condemns any attack on Israeli citizens" and said the only way stop the violence is to "resume a meaningful peace process."

President Bush expressed his condolences to the families of the victims.

"We strongly condemn terror, we strongly condemn violence," Bush said. "And we continue to send our message to the good people in that region that if you are interested in peace and if you want people to grow up in a peaceful world, all should do everything they can to reject and stop violence."

Elsewhere, an 11-year-old boy was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers outside his house Thursday morning in the El-Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, according to Palestinian police and the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

The Israel Defense Forces said it was checking the report.

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