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Wednesday, 20 February, 2002, 14:14 GMT
Fear and pride in Ramallah
Young Palestinian girl walks past car hit by Israeli air strike
Ramallah has been the focus of recent Israeli raids
Palestinians in the West Bank city of Ramallah say the atmosphere is "extremely tense" following the latest series of Israeli air strikes.

The Israelis launched one of their heaviest bombardments of Palestinian areas on Wednesday morning, after losing six soldiers in a Palestinian guerrilla operation at a checkpoint in the West Bank.

Israeli soldier prevents photography at checkpoint outside Ramallah
Palestinians view checkpoints as gratuitous humiliation
"People have been very nervous, because they knew it was a targeted attack on soldiers, so they were saying this is going to be a 'big one'," Ramallah resident Rita Giacaman told BBC News Online.

Rita was woken at about 0415 on Wednesday by the sound of Israeli helicopters over the town, which is the commercial and administrative capital of the West Bank.

"The more you experience shelling and bombing, the more you fear," she says. "You know, it's like a bee-sting, you get sensitised."

We're caught in a cage like rats, subjected to collective punishment for acts that we did not commit

Ramallah resident Rita Giaqoman
"Immediately I jumped out of bed and, believe me, my heart went into my throat. All we wanted was for them to fire their rockets, so we could get rid of the fear."

A few hours later, Rita went through the common Palestinian experience of passing through an Israeli checkpoint to get to work. But having got through, she heard that the checkpoint was being closed even to people on foot.

It took her the next three hours to negotiate her way back through the checkpoint, so she could get back to Ramallah to pick up her children from school.

Support for attack

Ramallah woman walks past wreckage of car
Ramallah residents feel trapped by the blockade
"We're caught in a cage like rats," Rita says. "We're subjected to collective punishment for acts that we did not commit."

Another Ramallah resident, Adil al-Zarigh, says that - despite the harsh Israeli retaliation that everybody was expecting - people are supportive of Tuesday's attack on the Ayn Arik checkpoint, which is about 3 kilometres west of Ramallah.

"It is the first or second time that Palestinians are doing the right thing - attacking these checkpoints which have only been put there to humiliate the population," he told BBC News Online.

"People are proud that this is not against civilians [like the suicide bombings in Israeli cities], it is against occupying soldiers."

Man inspects missile fired at building in Ramallah used by Palestinian police
Israel fired dozens of rounds at various targets in Ramallah
And now there is a sense of catharsis, that perhaps after a new level of violence has been reached, the dust is settling - until the next militant attack and the next Israeli raid.

"It's like in the jungle... after the tiger has taken his fill of blood, the small creatures go back to their activities," another Palestinian told the BBC.

"People look and see that 11 Palestinians have been killed, that's twice the number of dead Israelis, so probably the bombardment will finish," he said.

Ramallah resident Rita Giacaman
"Immediately I jumped up and my heart went into my throat"
Ramallah resident Adil al-Zarigh
"Many people are proud of what has been done yesterday"
See also:

20 Feb 02 | Middle East
Dissent in the ranks
18 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel reservists back occupation end
25 Jan 02 | Middle East
Yasser Arafat's dilemma
16 Feb 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
02 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are the suicide bombers?
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