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Archive for Monday, January 21, 2002

Palestinians demonstrate in support of Arafat

January 21, 2002

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— Palestinian protesters marched by the thousands on Sunday to protest Israel's blockade of Yasser Arafat, who remained confined in his West Bank compound for a third day behind a cordon of Israeli tanks.

Another tank deployed to the town of Ramallah to pressure Arafat got stuck in a narrow street on Sunday and became the focus of a gunbattle as a bulldozer tried to free it. Twelve Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were wounded.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has confined Arafat to Ramallah since December, saying he will not leave until the Palestinian Authority arrests the assassins of an Israeli Cabinet minister. Israel tightened its grip Friday, moving tanks and armored personnel carriers just outside the gates of Arafat's office.

On Sunday, several hundred Palestinian journalists and academics who support Arafat's Fatah movement marched to the Palestinian broadcasting center destroyed in an Israeli explosion a day earlier.

"Defend the Palestinian territories and defend our President Arafat," said a Fatah leaflet distributed by the marchers.

In Gaza City, several thousand supporters, most of them Fatah members, marched to Arafat's seaside compound, though the Palestinian leader hasn't been able to work there in nearly two months.

Arafat "is a symbol of our dignity and we are not going to keep silent when we feel we have been humiliated by Sharon and his government," said one supporter, Ali Abu Mustafa.

Several Israeli newspapers speculated Sunday on whether Arafat might resign or flee the Palestinian territories.

"The Israeli government is living with illusions, and are trying to transfer these illusions to the Palestinian people," said Arafat spokesman Nabil Aburdeneh. "The Israelis are using psychological warfare against the Palestinians by putting Arafat under such a humiliating siege."

Israel tightened its siege against Arafat on Friday after a member of a militia linked to Fatah opened fire on an Israeli bat mitzvah, or a coming of age celebration, killing six people.

"To my regret, we are experiencing renewed escalation in the conflict," Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said after a Cabinet meeting. "We are interested in calming the situation, not in escalation, but we cannot be inactive in the face of the campaign of terrorism."

On Saturday, Israeli soldiers blew up the Palestinian broadcasting building in Ramallah. Israel has said the radio station was used to incite Palestinians against Israel.

Radwan Abu Ayyash, head of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corp., rejected the claim.

"This is not an (Osama) Bin Laden training center, it is not a center for heroin or drug rackets, this is something cultural, civilian and human," he said.

Employees from the Voice of Palestine radio and Palestinian television moved into other offices and returned to the airwaves after only a few hours.

Arafat called for immediate foreign intervention in the conflict.

"I call on the international community to make an immediate move to rescue the situation before it explodes," Arafat said Saturday night.

On Sunday, the military wing of the Democratic Front for Liberation of Palestine said it had decided to resume attacks on Israelis. Since the Palestinian uprising began in September 2000, the DFLP has been responsible for a handful of shooting attacks on Israeli targets.

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