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Michael Holmes: Inside Arafat's compound

CNN's Michael Holmes  

RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the takeover of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's compound on Friday was the beginning of an operation against Palestinian militants that is to last weeks.

Israeli tanks, armored vehicles and troops entered the Palestinian Authority's compound and arrested as many as 70 Palestinians, the Israel Defense Forces said.

CNN Correspondent Michael Holmes describes the situation after witnessing part of the military operation.

HOLMES: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and two of his closest aides were holed up in a two-room office in his Ramallah compound Friday, with Israeli tanks and troops waiting just outside.

CNN's Michael Holmes describes the scene as Israeli tanks moved into the Arafat compound in Ramallah, West Bank, on Friday. (March 29)

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Arafat and his advisers were in Arafat's regular office in the compound. Two Israeli tanks sat at the bottom of the stairs that led up to the office.

It's not far from where the tanks are to Arafat's office. However, there had been no attempt to go up those stairs, and Israeli troops were next door, in one of the other buildings in the compound.

To get to those offices, one would go through a very large steel gate, then walk 100 meters and go through another big gate. Both those gates have been just flattened by tanks.

The tanks were in the heart of the compound, and one could fairly safely say that far from surrounding Arafat's compound, the compound had been taken over. There was small arms fire, grenades going off, and it appeared to be very much a room-to-room situation, as Israeli troops moved through the buildings in the compound.

There was a lot of damage done to the perimeter of the West Bank headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. Walls have been knocked down in at least seven places, cars have been run over by tanks, and even outside the walls of the compound it was just a complete mess.

The tanks knocked over light poles, ran over cars, chewed up the road. It looked something like a disaster area. There were holes in buildings, and stitched across at least three buildings were the pockmarks from very heavy-caliber weapons.

So all in all, it was a very tense situation inside the compound, with something of a standoff emerging. What the Israeli government and the Israeli army plan to do next is anyone's guess.




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