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Sunday, 31 March, 2002, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Gun battle erupts in Arafat offices
Yasser Arafat at his offices on Saturday with visiting aid workers and supporters
Arafat says he will never surrender
Israeli troops have fought a fierce gun battle with the bodyguards of besieged Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in rooms adjacent to his West Bank office.


I have one choice: to be one of the Palestinian martyrs

Yasser Arafat

A Palestinian television reporter on the scene in Ramallah said a number of Mr Arafat's bodyguards had been wounded.

The BBC's Barbara Plett, reporting from Ramallah, says there was heavy machine-gun fire and a loud explosion, but the shooting later subsided.

Israeli troops are reported to have entered the Ramallah governor's office next to Mr Arafat's office.

The Israeli army accused Mr Arafat's bodyguards of having opened fire from the dining room on the ground floor, then from one of Mr Arafat's rooms.

But a Palestinian official said Israeli soldiers had broken down the dining room door, triggering the gun battle.

The compound is surrounded by tanks, and supplies of water and electricity were for a time cut off.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres insisted that the Israeli operation was not directed at Mr Arafat himself.

Jordan summoned the Israeli ambassador to its foreign ministry on Sunday to protest strongly over Israel's assault.

The Palestinian leader earlier issued a defiant statement, telling the American Fox television network that he would never surrender.

"They (the Israelis) have declared it many times: 'We want Arafat dead or a prisoner, or to kick him outside of Palestine.' And I have told them I have one choice: to be one of the Palestinian martyrs." Mr Arafat said in a telephone interview.

Ambulance drivers were reported to be negotiating with Israeli troops over the removal of the casualties.

Mass arrests

Elsewhere in Ramallah, the Palestinians reported mass arrests, as the Israelis used loudspeakers to summon all males between 16 and 50 for questioning.

UN resolution
Calls for Israeli withdrawal from Ramallah and other West Bank cities
Calls for immediate moves towards ceasefire
Approved by 14 votes to 0
Proposed by Norway
Vote backed by US, boycotted by Syria
Saturday saw a Palestinian suicide bomber blow himself up in Tel Aviv, injuring at least 29 people.

US President George W Bush has spoken of his deep concern at the loss of innocent lives.

He again said Mr Arafat could do more to end the violence, but also urged the Israelis to make sure there was still a path to peace.

The European Union has demanded the immediate implementation of a United Nations resolution urging Israel to withdraw from all West Bank cities and calling on both sides to move immediately towards a ceasefire.

Israel has criticised the resolution, saying it will not pull out of Ramallah.

Protest in Bahrain
Anti-Israeli anger has spilled over in many Arab cities
The Tel Aviv suicide attacker struck at a coffee shop in an area packed with young people at the end of the Jewish sabbath.

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

The faction said that two other men shot dead at the village of Baka al-Garbiyeh on the Israeli border were attempting a suicide mission into Israel.

Israeli border police lost one of their own officers in the gun battle that erupted after they stopped the two men's car.

The Israeli bullets reportedly detonated an explosives belt worn by one of the two which blew him up along with the vehicle.

Arab citizens across the Middle East have demonstrated in their thousands against the Israeli military action in the West Bank, with angry protests reported in Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Syria and Kuwait.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Paul Wood
"Mr Arafat is defiant"
Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator
"President Arafat is in real danger"
Ehud Barak, former Israeli Prime Minister
"The attacks on civilians...left our government with no choice"
See also:

30 Mar 02 | Middle East
US backs UN on Mid-East crisis
30 Mar 02 | Middle East
Sharon's strong-arm tactic
30 Mar 02 | Middle East
In pictures: Ramallah takeover
28 Mar 02 | Middle East
Arabs offer Israelis peace plan
21 Mar 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
02 Dec 01 | profiles
Who are the suicide bombers?
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