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Thursday, 4 April, 2002, 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK
Palestinian nerve centre hit
The burnt out headquarters of Colonel Jibril Rajoub in Ramallah
The attack on the compound could have major implications
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Barbara Plett
By the BBC's Barbara Plett
Ramallah, the West Bank

Israeli forces are in control of the Palestinians' West Bank security base just outside Ramallah, after heavy fighting which virtually destroyed the large compound.

Israel said it was trying to get 50 wanted men who had taken refuge inside the complex.

But the attack could have far-reaching implications. The Preventive Security Headquarters was the nerve centre of the Palestinian security apparatus, key to co-ordination with Israel and contacts with the United States.

Senior Israeli security sources say the militants were handed over to stop the fierce bombardment of the compound

This was the organisation responsible for rounding up militants behind anti-Israeli attacks.

Its head, Jibril Rajoub, was the Palestinian point man for security co-ordination with the Israelis.

The complex had a prison for those arrested in crackdowns by Mr Rajoub's forces - it seems these were among the wanted men Israel was seeking, and eventually apprehended.

Deal denied

Senior Israeli security sources say the militants were handed over to stop the fierce bombardment of the compound, and that the agreement was mediated by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

Ariel Sharon
Sharon: Opposes security co-ordination with Palestinians
Mr Rajoub, who slipped out of the compound before the fighting, denies there was any such deal.

But the Islamic militant group Hamas does not believe him.

It says six of its members were in the complex, adding that Mr Rajoub made an agreement without consultation and would be held responsible.

Intelligence source

This does not do much to improve the security chief's image - he is already viewed as a collaborator by many Palestinians.

It also represents a dilemma for the Americans.

Security co-ordination was the basis of the 1993 Oslo peace agreement which Mr Sharon views as a dangerous mistake

It was the CIA which equipped Mr Rajoub's headquarters and trained his men, so it had a vested interest to intervene.

A former CIA official told CNN that the Preventive Security forces were an important source of intelligence in America's war against terrorism.

He said the attack on their headquarters damaged the information exchange on radicals, both inside and outside the Palestinian territories.

Oslo 'mistake'

Israeli intelligence services that have worked closely with Jibril Rajoub also have a vested interest in security co-ordination but, according to some analysts, the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does not.

They say that is because he wants to keep all security control in Israeli hands.

Security co-ordination was the basis of the 1993 Oslo peace agreement, which Mr Sharon views as a dangerous mistake.

His war against terrorism certainly amounts to a destruction of the Palestinian Authority set up by Oslo.

The Israeli media said soldiers had been given pictures of key Palestinian political leaders who could not be killed, but it seems nothing else is sacred.

See also:

03 Apr 02 | Middle East
Ramallah awakes to carnage
03 Apr 02 | Middle East
Bethlehem church under siege
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Gun battles rage in Bethlehem
01 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israeli papers demand clearer goals
01 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Israel 'dragging Mid-East into war'
31 Mar 02 | Media reports
Arab press rails at Sharon
30 Mar 02 | Middle East
Sharon's strong-arm tactic
02 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel's history of bomb blasts
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