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Page last updated at 11:50 GMT, Sunday, 22 September 2002 12:50 UK

Inside Arafat's compound of rubble


Yasser Arafat has been under virtual house arrest at his headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah since the end of 2001.

On 20 September 2002, the Israeli army laid siege to the compound, leaving it almost in ruins.

Ten days later tanks, bulldozers and diggers rolled away, leaving only one building of the once-sprawling compound standing. It was a three-storey block housing the Palestinian leader's office.

In addition to shelling and bulldozing the compound, the army used explosives to tear down its structures, including the main interior ministry building.

Mr Arafat, however, has still received international envoys at the compound. Earlier this year, callers included Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN's Middle East envoy, Miguel Angel Moratinos, his EU counterpart, and Andrei Vodobin, the Russian envoy. They were representing the three members of the quartet backing the "roadmap" to Middle East peace.

Known as the Muqata'a, the walled compound first started by the British in the 1920s has always been used for military purposes - and has often held Palestinian detainees.

Finishing off the job

After more than a week only one building was left standing
The Israeli army laid siege to the compound in September 2002
The Palestinians took control of it in 1994, a year after the Oslo peace accords, when it was transformed into the Ramallah governorate.

Mr Arafat had a new residential block added in 1996 and he moved in - effectively making the Muqata'a his official West Bank headquarters.

Also inside the compound - which is about 55 metres long on each side, or the size of a city block - is a helipad which Mr Arafat used frequently for trips outside the West Bank before he was first confined to Ramallah in December 2001.

Behind the high walls, the Palestinians also had a VIP guesthouse, prison, offices of three security services, sleeping quarters for guards, a large kitchen, a car repair shop where mechanics worked on Mr Arafat's armoured Mercedes and a large meeting hall.

All these buildings were destroyed when Israel intensified operations and took over most of the compound in late March 2002.

Mr Arafat's office block was left standing, but the top and ground floor of the three-storey building were hit by machine-gun fire and shells.

When Israeli forces went back into the compound in September, they also demolished several of the remaining buildings.

British rule

Israeli soldiers know the compound well, for it was their own headquarters in the city from the 1967 war until 1994.

They also used it as a prison for holding Palestinians.

During the British mandate rule of Palestine, the buildings served as a military headquarters, a court of law and a prison, capable of housing about 400 prisoners.

It was built by Sir Charles Tegart, a British engineer who oversaw the construction of a large number of reinforced concrete police stations in the region.

When the British left in May 1948, Jordan took over, using the compound again as a prison and as a residence for Jordanian army officers and their families.

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