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Saturday, 30 March, 2002, 06:48 GMT
Arafat cornered by Israeli forces
Israeli offensive in Ramallah
Israeli tanks smashed their way into the compound
Israeli forces say they now control most of the West Bank headquarters of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, after an intensive military operation in the area.

Israel has warned that the Ramallah offensive is just the beginning of a long campaign against Palestinian militants.


The killing of Arafat would be the mother of all mistakes

Nasser al-Kidwa
Palestinian UN envoy
The assault began on Friday, a day which also saw a 16-year-old Palestinian girl blow herself up in a Jewish neighbourhood of West Jerusalem, killing two other people and injuring more than 20.

The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis, at which Secretary General Kofi Annan said he was deeply alarmed by the escalation of violence.

He called on the Israelis to halt their assault on the Palestinian Authority. "Such use of force will bring neither peace nor security to Israel," he said.

He also condemned as morally repugnant the actions of Palestinian suicide bombers.

The chief Palestinian delegate at the meeting, Nasser al-Kidwa, said that if Israel harmed Mr Arafat it would be making "the mother of all mistakes".

His Israeli counterpart replied by accusing Mr Arafat of having no intention of reaching a peaceful settlement.

Heavy fighting

After smashing in to Mr Arafat's Ramallah compound with tanks, Israeli troops advanced from room to room, fighting Mr Arafat's bodyguards.

At one stage, they entered Mr Arafat's offices. However, they have now left the building and fighting is reported to have died down.

Yasser Arafat in his compound
Arafat remains defiant
But Mr Arafat's isolation is almost complete. Snipers are said to be surrounding his offices and all power has been cut off.

At least five Palestinians - including one of Mr Arafat's bodyguards - are reported to have been killed and 30 wounded. More than 50 are said to have been detained.

Two Israeli soldiers have also died in the country's biggest offensive against the Palestinian leader since his people began an uprising 18 months ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned that the campaign would last for weeks, if not months.

The offensive is not confined to Ramallah. Early on Saturday morning, Israeli tanks also went into the Palestinian area of Beit Jala, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem - where Christians are observing Easter weekend.

Arafat's safety

The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has said that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has given him assurances that Israel will not seek to kill or capture Mr Arafat.

He added that while he understood the Israeli government's need to respond, Mr Sharon should consider carefully the consequences of Israel's actions.

But the Palestinian leader scoffed at the assurances of his personal safety.

Israelis at the scene of a suicide bombing
Two Israelis died in the latest suicide bomb attack
"They are shelling us continuously," Mr Arafat said in a telephone interview with CNN, during which machine-gun fire could be heard in the background.

Mr Arafat said his people would never give up their fight for an independent state, and that he hoped the Israeli operation would make him a martyr.

In the latest Palestinian suicide attack, the female bomber struck at a crowded shopping centre in the Kiryat Yovel neighbourhood of Jerusalem, killing two people.

The Friday attack was claimed by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant group linked to Mr Arafat's Fatah movement.

Another suicide bomb attack, which killed 20 Israelis on Wednesday night, led to the latest Israeli retaliatory action.

At a cabinet meeting to decide Israel's response, Mr Arafat was declared an enemy.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Hawton
"The conflict looks set to escalate"
The BBC's Michael Voss reports from New York
"The mood at the UN has been one of strong condemnation"
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan
"Destroying the Palestinian Authority will not bring Israel closer to peace"
See also:

29 Mar 02 | Middle East
US plea to halt Mid-East carnage
29 Mar 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Jerusalem supermarket bomb
29 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Unremitting conflict
28 Mar 02 | Middle East
Arabs offer Israelis peace plan
28 Mar 02 | Middle East
Bush condemns 'callous' killing
21 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
02 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are the suicide bombers?
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