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Wednesday, 25 September, 2002, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Palestinians 'will not surrender' to Israel
Israel has laid siege to the Ramallah compound since 19 September
Israel says the siege goes on until the 50 men give up
The head of West Bank intelligence, Tawfiq Tirawi, has said that he and the other men besieged in Yasser Arafat's headquarters would rather fight to the death than surrender to the Israeli Army.

Mr Tirawi is on a list of 50 Palestinians said to be in the Ramallah compound of the Palestinian leader who are wanted by the Israelis.


All the wanted [men] have the same stance, they prefer martyrdom to surrender - I am a wanted man because I am a patriot

Tawfiq Tirawi
In other developments, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has accused Israel of blocking talks between Palestinian leaders and representatives of the so-called "quartet" on the Middle East - senior diplomats from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Also on Wednesday, Mahmoud Abbas, an Arafat loyalist and one of the leading candidates to succeed him, said all efforts to restructure and reform the Palestinian authority have been halted by the siege at the Ramallah compound.

"There is no way to discuss such issues while our president is under such cruel and unprecedented aggression," Mr Abbas said.

Israeli troops on Wednesday blew up three homes of alleged Palestinian terrorism suspects in the West Bank - including one belonging to the leader of Hamas in the town of Hebron, Abdel Khaled Natche.

Near the Palestinian city of Nablus, Jewish settlers on Wednesday celebrated the establishment of Rehalim, describing it as a new settlement of 14 houses that will be home to 24 families.

The Israeli defence ministry, which is responsible for settlement activity in the occupied territories, said it was unaware of the establishment of a new settlement.

Compound destroyed

Mr Tirawi, Mr Arafat and more than 200 others are trapped in the last building left standing in the Palestinian leader's compound.


Map showing location of compound in Ramallah
Arafat's Ramallah compound
  • Known as the Muqata'a
  • Built by the British in the 1920s
  • Palestinians took control in 1994, a year after Oslo peace accords
  • Largely destroyed by Israeli forces

  • Israel has said that the siege will continue until the 50 men surrender.

    Israeli forces invaded and started destroying the compound on 19 September following two suicide bomb attacks in two days.

    The Lebanese daily, al-Mustaqbal, and the Israeli daily, Maariv, both quoted Mr Tirawi saying all 50 wanted men were ready for martyrdom.

    "I have never given up in my life. I don't know what surrender is. I have the right and the obligation to defend myself. I intend to fight. Both Yasser Arafat and I will fight until the last minute," he told Maariv.

    "I look at your tanks, at the snipers, at the whole army, and feel joy. Because I know that these two rooms, in which we are huddled together with president Arafat, are stronger than all this might," he added.

    Mr Tirawi, who last week said he was not in the compound, denied Israeli allegations that he was involved in terrorism.

    "I challenge you. Show me this information, any proof, about carrying out terror attacks in Israel," he told Maariv.

    "I am a wanted man because I am a patriot. It is a political decision not connected to security."

    "All the wanted [men] have the same stance, they prefer martyrdom to surrender," Mr Tirawi told Lebanon's al-Mustaqbal newspaper.

    'Unhelpful'

    On Tuesday, President Bush repeated his criticism of the Israeli siege.

    US Ambassador to the UN James Cunningham (L)
    The US abstained at the UN, where it normally votes against resolutions critical of Israel
    He described the Israeli action as unhelpful, but defended a US decision to abstain from a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Israel to stop its military action in Ramallah.

    He said the abstention should send a message to all parties that they had to stay on the path of peace.

    Observers in Washington say the Bush administration wants to avoid inflaming Arab opinion as it prepares for possible war against Iraq.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    Barbara Plett reports from Ramallah
    "It looks like Arafat could be under seige for a long time"

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    See also:

    24 Sep 02 | Middle East
    23 Sep 02 | Middle East
    22 Sep 02 | Middle East
    21 Sep 02 | Middle East
    22 Sep 02 | Middle East
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