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Israel: Demolition at Arafat compound ending

Arafat spokesman says operation is ongoing

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat talks on a mobile phone as aides look on in his Ramallah office on Sunday.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat talks on a mobile phone as aides look on in his Ramallah office on Sunday.

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CNN exclusive video of Israeli gunfire at the compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, West Bank (September 20)
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- After nearly three days of demolishing buildings in Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound, Israel's army said Sunday it was halting the process and was sending food and water to the people who remained inside the lone building left standing.

However, Arafat's spokesman Nabil abu Rudeineh told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" that was untrue.

"They are still continuing their digging and bulldozing," he said. "The Israelis are still playing with fire."

CNN Correspondent Ben Wedeman in Ramallah said a truck carrying supplies from the Israel Defense Forces had arrived at the compound, but, contrary to Israeli statements, the excavators were still at work.

The items sent by the Israelis included gas, cigarettes and batteries, in addition to grains, vegetables, dairy products and water.

Earlier in the day, the White House reiterated its displeasure with Israel's actions.

"Israeli actions in and around the Muqata [Arafat's compound in Ramallah] are not helpful in reducing terrorist violence or promoting Palestinian reform," said White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo. "We urge Israel to continue considering the consequences of its actions on progress in reaching the goals" outlined previously by President Bush.

Mamo also condemned the back-to-back Palestinian suicide bombings last week that prompted the Israeli siege in Ramallah.

"It is clear that the Palestinians need to take comprehensive steps to stop terror attacks. It is also important for Palestinians to understand that terrorist violence does grave damage to Palestinian aspirations for a Palestinian state. We urge Palestinians to do everything necessary to end terror attacks," Mamo said.

The suicide bombings killed six Israelis and a Scottish student.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer" said since the Palestinian Authority refused to police its own people, Israel's hand was forced.

"We warned about additional suicide bombers," said Peres. "The Palestinian leadership did not give orders to stop it. They did not give orders to initiate it, but neither did they give orders to stop it. We said, 'Please tell your official police force to intervene to stop it.' They did not."

Earlier Sunday, a close aide to Arafat said "the situation is really dreadful" in the compound.

Jonathan Jesner, 19, a Scottish student killed in Thursday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.
Jonathan Jesner, 19, a Scottish student killed in Thursday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat said he talked to Arafat about 10:15 a.m. (3:15 a.m. EDT) Sunday, and the leader was in good spirits, despite no running water, no land-line phones and shortages of food and medicine.

Erakat said Arafat's office was the only building left standing, and even that structure sustained heavy damage.

Israeli forces called over loudspeakers until 9:30 a.m. Sunday for those inside the compound to evacuate and head toward the eastern grounds.

Erakat said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was "determined to take the matter to the point of no return," saying the Israeli leader had refused to negotiate with Palestinians through a third party.

Palestinian protesters take to streets

Deadly demonstrations against the Israeli military action in Ramallah continued in the West Bank town of Nablus on Sunday, where the Palestine Red Crescent said a Palestinian was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier around noon.

The Israeli military could not confirm that report.

Late Saturday, hundreds of Palestinian protesters defied a curfew in the West Bank and took to the streets to support Arafat.

"Isolating Arafat in this way is only making him more popular," said Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher.

According to the Palestine Red Crescent, two demonstrators were killed by gunfire in Ramallah, one in Tulkarem and one at Balata refugee camp near Nablus. At least 25 others were wounded, according to the Red Crescent.

Demonstrations also broke out in Gaza, according to Israeli military sources, who reported the Saturday night protests were orchestrated to break out simultaneously.

In Ramallah, about 1,000 people gathered in the main square dispersed into surrounding streets when Israeli tanks approached. The demonstrations ended in the early morning hours of Sunday.

The Israeli military sources said that the Ramallah demonstration was led by Palestinian gunmen and that Israeli soldiers used crowd dispersal methods, including shooting into the air and shooting toward the protesters' legs.

The Israeli sources said six people were wounded in Ramallah, and confirmed the deaths in Tulkarem and Balata refugee camp.

About 10 to 15 gunmen were among the 100 protesters in Tulkarem, shooting into the air and toward army posts, the sources said.

Israel seeks surrender of 50 Palestinians

The Israeli military tightened its grip on the compound Saturday, while Israeli officials insisted that the Palestinian leader would not be harmed in the siege, which they said was aimed at isolating Arafat and forcing the surrender of about 50 Palestinians on the IDF's list of terrorists.

At one point, the Israelis planted their blue-and-white Star of David flag on the grounds of the compound. Palestinian flags still flew from the buildings.

Israeli military sources said Saturday that the 50 wanted men were among about 200 people still inside the compound. Nineteen Palestinians, all of them police officers, left the compound Friday and another 19 left Saturday, they said, but none was on the wanted list.

But despite the Israeli claims, said Rudeineh, "There are no wanted people in the compound."

CNN Jerusalem Bureau Chief Mike Hanna contributed to this report.



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