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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002, 16:09 GMT 17:09 UK
Caught in Ramallah's rage
Israeli tanks inside the Preventive Security headquarters in Ramallah
Israeli troops enter security headquarters in Ramallah
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Barbara plett
By Barbara Plett
BBC correspondent in Ramallah
Heavy gun battles have been raging between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

Stranded guests at the Royal Court Hotel have been watching the fighting from the ground floor window.

They have now been trapped for four days by the curfew, and have started rationing their food.

Israeli soldiers force a Palestinian man to pull up clothing in pouring rain before letting him pass
Palestinians come up against Israeli checkpoints in the streets
Wada Abdul Salem is worried. "For the first day, we collected all the food in one room and we started having three meals a day," she said.

"Then yesterday we cut it to two and I think maybe today and from now on, I have got to start to have one meal only."

They spend their time constantly watching the television - but they have seen plenty of drama from their own windows, such as soldiers searching a home next door and firebombing a police station.

They hear fierce gun battles up the road, and there are warnings that hundreds of men are being taken away handcuffed and blindfolded. But Jamousha Hadi still ventured out.

"I saw a dead body on the corner of the main street. I got so scared, I had to come back here to the hotel. I've never seen any killing in the streets before," he said.

Ghost town

On the streets now, there are only tanks and armoured press vehicles.

Driving through the streets of Ramallah it feels like a ghost town - everything is quiet and there's not a soul on the street.

An old man hails us - he seems to want us to do something. He has been waiting for two hours for an ambulance.

I'm not afraid of the Israeli soldiers, even if they have bullets and tanks. I have the strength of my will and if they shoot I don't care because I'll become a martyr

Palestinian boy
As we approach the town centre - where the Israelis have massed their forces - I can see at least five tanks, one coming right at us.

We deliver bread to several families and then we are stopped by an unexpected sight.

Boys and a few men are playing football on the street - too bored to stay indoors when the tanks roll away, even if they have just gone around the corner.

Gesture of defiance

"Aren't you afraid to come out into the street when the Israelis said there's a curfew?" I ask.

"I'm not afraid of the Israeli soldiers, even if they have bullets and tanks. I have the strength of my will and if they shoot I don't care because I'll become a martyr," says one boy in reply.

Coffins of three members of Koren family killed by suicide bombing in Haifa on Sunday
Israel has been battered by a spate of suicide bombings
They jeer at a tank rumbling by in the distance. These are tough refugee kids - maybe future volunteers for suicide bombings.

And that is Israel's nightmare. That is what it is trying so hard to stamp out - but on this street, it is only fuelling defiance.

The sound of pitched battle a few blocks down doesn't send anyone running. People here believe this is the beginning of full reoccupation, tacitly backed by the United States.

Even if it isn't, Palestinians say they won't accept the peace terms dictated by Israel - not even if they're imposed by military might.

The BBC's Barbara Plett in Ramallah
"Witnesses say there is a large amount of damage"
See also:

02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Gun battles rage in Bethlehem
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel holds veteran French activist
25 Mar 02 | Middle East
Profile: Jibril Rajoub
01 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli papers demand clearer goals
01 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Israel 'dragging Mid-East into war'
31 Mar 02 | Media reports
Arab press rails at Sharon
30 Mar 02 | Middle East
Sharon's strong-arm tactic
01 Apr 02 | Middle East
Washington accuses Syria of terror role
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
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