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Monday, 1 April, 2002, 03:25 GMT 04:25 UK
Israel extends West Bank grip
Israeli tanks outside Bethlehem
Israeli tanks moved into two towns overnight
Hours after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared war on what he called Yasser Arafat's "terrorist infrastructure" tanks were on the move into two Palestinian towns in the West Bank.

This terrorism is activated, co-ordinated and directed by... Yasser Arafat

Ariel Sharon

Mr Sharon had been speaking in a televised address to the nation after two suicide bombings killed 17 people and injured more than 30 on Sunday.

Israeli forces are in control of Qalqilya, close to the Israeli cities of Tel Aviv and Netanya, which have both been targeted by Palestinian suicide bombers.

Ariel Sharon makes his TV address
Ariel Sharon wants to isolate Yasser Arafat
And at dawn on Monday, tanks entered Bethlehem, approaching within 500 metres of the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ.

On Friday, a female suicide bomber from Bethlehem blew herself up in Jerusalem supermarket, killing two Israelis.

In Qalqilya, the Israeli military said it was conducting searches for militants and weapons in order "to destroy the terrorist infrastructure" in the town.

Power and water supplies were cut off as at least 60 tanks took up position, and there were reported of some exchanges of fire.


In his television addres, Mr Sharon said Israel was "at war", and described Mr Arafat as the head of a "coalition of terror," who was directing attacks against Israeli citizens.

Haifa bomb damage
The Haifa blast destroyed a restaurant
He said Israel would strike relentlessly at Palestinian militants. Only then, he said, would a ceasefire be possible.

Mr Sharon described Mr Arafat as an "enemy of the free world".

"We must fight this terrorism, in an uncompromising war to uproot these savages, to dismantle their infrastructure, because there is no compromise with terrorists," he said.

The prime minister convened his cabinet on Sunday to discuss the suicide bombings and the military offensive which has cornered Mr Arafat inside his Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank.

Israel has now declared Ramallah a closed military area and has ordered all journalists to leave.

Israeli troops fought a fierce gun battle with Mr Arafat's bodyguards on Sunday, reportedly wounding several of them.

Despite the fighting, a group of about 30 Western pacifists defied Israeli tanks and marched into the building, where they are vowing to act as a "human shield" around Mr Arafat.

Mr Arafat has issued a defiant statement, telling the US Fox television network that he will never surrender.

He said on Saturday that he had the option of becoming "one of the Palestinian martyrs".

Wave of bombings

The worst suicide attack on Sunday was in the Israeli port city of Haifa, where a bomber brought carnage to a restaurant, killing 15 people and himself. More than 30 others were injured.

Two Palestinian militant groups - Hamas and Islamic Jihad - claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in Haifa.

The blast blew the roof off the restaurant, which its owner said had been a popular eatery with both Jews and Israeli Arabs.

Yasser Arafat in his compound
Yasser Arafat is just metres away from Israeli troops
Less than two hours later, another suicide bomber attacked an office for paramedics in the Jewish settlement of Efrat, south of the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

At least four people were reported to be wounded, one critically. The bomber was killed.

The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Israelis wake each morning wondering where today's bomb will be"
Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon
"This terrorism is activated, co-ordinated and directed by one man"
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
speaks on the siege of the PLO headquarters
See also:

31 Mar 02 | Middle East
Jordan warns Israel over crackdown
28 Mar 02 | Middle East
Deadly suicide bomb hits Israeli hotel
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?
31 Mar 02 | Media reports
Arab press rails at Sharon
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