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Sunday, 20 January, 2002, 17:22 GMT
Thousands demand Arafat's release
Palestinian rally in Gaza
Protesters accused the outside world of keeping silent
Thousands of Palestinians marched through the Gaza Strip on Sunday protesting at the Israeli blockade of Yasser Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.

The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has said Mr Arafat is now effectively a prisoner of Israel.


[Arafat] is dying to travel and fly off. It's making him sick since he knows he is locked up in our jail

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Tanks moved in on Friday in response to an armed attack on a bat mitzvah party in northern Israel last week which left six people dead.

The blockade has also drawn a response from the militant Palestinian group, Islamic Jihad, which threatened to resume attacks on Israel if the siege was not lifted.

An unnamed representative of the group in Gaza told the French news agency AFP that the group would not "stay with its hands tied".

Sharon chuckles at Sunday's cabinet meeting
Sharon: "Arafat opens the windows, he sees our tanks"
AFP estimated that 10,000 people demonstrated in the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

Hundreds of people also demonstrated in Ramallah itself, where a gun battle erupted with Israeli soldiers when a tank became stuck in a narrow road.

Twelve Palestinians and one Israeli was injured, AP news agency reported. The Israeli army said a bulldozer was trying to free the tank.

'In our jail'

Mr Sharon was quoted by the Israeli daily Maariv on Sunday as saying Mr Arafat was being blockaded to keep him from doing "harm".

"It is preferable that Arafat stays locked in Ramallah instead of being expelled from the territories as he could cause more harm outside," he said.

"He opens the windows of his Ramallah offices, he sees our tanks and knows he has nowhere to go.

"He is dying to travel and fly off. It's making him sick since he knows he is locked up in our jail."

Yasser Arafat, photographed in Ramallah on Sunday
Arafat has been confined to Ramallah since Demember
A spokesman for Mr Arafat, Nabil Aburdeneh, accused Israel of waging psychological warfare against the Palestinians "by putting Arafat under such a humiliating siege".

Last week, a Palestinian gunman killed six people at a private party in a banqueting hall in the northern Israeli city of Hadera.

The Israeli Government blamed Mr Arafat for the attack - the first on civilians inside Israel in a month - and vowed to "teach him a lesson".

Hundreds of people, who were celebrating a teenage girl's coming-of-age, or Bat Mitzvah, were caught up in the shooting at Hadera.

The militant al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade - a Palestinian armed group associated with Mr Arafat's Fatah organisation - claimed the attack.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Janet Barrie
"The past week has seen a return of tit-for-tat reprisals"
See also:

18 Jan 02 | Middle East
'Another dark day in Israel'
03 Jan 02 | Middle East
Tough times for US Mideast envoy
14 Jan 02 | Middle East
Leading Palestinian killed in blast
10 Jan 02 | Middle East
Palestinian militants abandon truce
14 Jan 02 | Middle East
Profile: Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade
20 Jan 02 | Middle East
The Palestinians under closure
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