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Israel declares Arafat 'enemy'

Israelis set up blockades in the West Bank following the Passover bombing.
Israelis set up blockades in the West Bank following the Passover bombing.  

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Friday that the nation's Cabinet has declared Yasser Arafat an "enemy" and that Israel will do everything in its power to "isolate" the Palestinian leader. Sharon said Arafat is heading a "coalition of terror."

As Sharon spoke, Israeli tanks and bulldozers were tearing down the fences and walls surrounding Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah, while he was inside.

Israel's moves come after a Palestinian terror attack killed 21 people at a Passover dinner Wednesday night in the Israeli coastal town of Netanya. The militant wing of Hamas claimed responsibility for that attack, a suicide bombing. Hamas also claimed responsibility for a shooting Thursday in a Jewish settlement near Nablus that killed four Israeli settlers.

Gunfire and tank fire was reported as Palestinians and Israeli forces clashed Friday in Ramallah. Israeli snipers were poised on buildings outside Arafat's complex and were shooting into the Palestinian headquarters compound, Palestinian sources said.

Sharon's remarks came at a news conference after an all-night Cabinet meeting.

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Arafat held a news conference in Ramallah on Thursday, saying Palestinians were ready to implement a U.S. cease-fire plan "without any conditions." (Full story)

But Israeli officials were skeptical. "We have a right to defend ourselves," Ra'anan Gissin, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, had said while the Cabinet met behind closed doors.

"We're quite fed up with those declarations that Arafat makes every time he feels the pressure is mounting on him," said Gissin. "He has to take real action. Declarations won't do. They won't get him off the hook."

Before Friday's move into Ramallah, the Israeli army had said it was calling up reserve forces in response to recent Palestinian terrorist attacks. The army did not say how many reservists were being called up.

Palestinians have expected Israeli retaliation for a Hamas terror attack Wednesday that killed 21 Jews celebrating Passover.

"What is expected is an attack by Israel forces," Farouq Kaddoumi, the Palestinian Liberation Organization's political chief, told delegates Thursday at the Arab League summit in Beirut, Lebanon. "We are expecting large-scale operation, retaliation in next few hours."

Four killed

Fresh violence erupted against Israelis earlier Thursday, even as Arafat announced he was ready to implement the Tenet cease-fire proposal "without conditions."

Shortly after Arafat spoke, a Palestinian gunman opened fire Thursday at the Alon Moreh Jewish settlement near Nablus, killing four settlers before Israeli forces shot him dead, the Israeli army said. Another settler was slightly wounded in the attack.

Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist group that has been labeled by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the gunman was from the Askar refugee camp near Nablus.

Hamas has carried out other attacks on Israeli military and civilian targets during the 18-month-old Al Aqsa Intifada, including Wednesday's "Passover massacre."

After that attack, a top Israeli official said the government would use all "necessary measures" to stop further terrorist attacks.

Wednesday's terror attack in Netanya came on the first night of the Jewish religious celebration of Passover during a traditional Seder at a seaside hotel. More than 170 people were wounded. (More on the bombing)

A source at the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem said Thursday that Israel had not responded to Wednesday's terror attack because the government continued to support U.S. Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni's efforts to reach a cease-fire. He is still in the region, and U.S. officials said Zinni will remain there to try to negotiate a cease-fire.

"Israel will do the most it can," said the source, adding that Israel has followed a policy of retaliatory restraint for the last 10 days. During that period, the source said, Israeli authorities have intercepted 11 would-be suicide bombers.

-- CNN Correspondents Michael Holmes and Christiane Amanpour and CNN Producer Pierre Klochendler contributed to this report.




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