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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Palestinian society lies in ruins
Palestinians pass shattered building in Ramallah
Israel is accused of deliberate destruction
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By the BBC's Barbara Plett in Ramallah
line
City officials are still assessing the damage at Ramallah's municipality building.

Israeli soldiers entered on the second day of the invasion on a search-and-destroy mission.


Israel will have no-one with whom to negotiate an agreement and there will be no-one to take over the administration of the residents' needs

Uzi Benziman
Israeli journalist

They pulled files from shelves and dumped them in a heap on the floor, they smashed holes in the doors, they damaged or stole computer hard drives in every office.

Explosions that blew open two safes also blew up part of the second floor.

"I think it is part of their plan to destroy the Palestinian infrastructure, including the basic services supplied to people like the municipalities," says city councillor Ziad Khalaf.

He is talking about basic services such as land records and building permits, the stuff it takes to govern Ramallah.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has vowed to destroy the "terrorist infrastructure" in the West Bank and Gaza.

He says his sweeping operation is meant to root out the militias that send suicide bombers and to collect the weapons and explosives they use.

What that means on the ground is the destruction of the Palestinian Authority, the institutions set up in the Oslo Peace Accords, that Mr Sharon now calls a regime of terror.

Wasteland

This is not new, just more intense.

The prime minister has consistently bombed Palestinian government and security offices during the intifada, but in this invasion he has finally gutted the Palestinian Authority.

"The infrastructure of civilian life has been destroyed," wrote Ronni Shaked recently in Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

Israeli soldiers in Ramallah
Israel says Arafat will not control the militants
"In all the conquered cities, the centres of authority - the police stations, the security organisations' headquarters, the government offices - have been destroyed.

"Even the Bureau of Statistics in Ramallah was destroyed. Will Israel be willing to rebuild this scorched earth? This is highly unlikely."

At the moment even cleaning up is barely possible.

Residents can only leave their homes briefly for a few hours every few days, when the army lifts a curfew rigidly enforced by snipers.

Breakdown

During brief periods of freedom they discover what Tom Kay found at an eye clinic in a medical aid centre downtown.

He is a British national living in Ramallah.

"Here the soldiers literally went from the top to the bottom of the building," he says.

"They pulled every machine on to the floor and smashed it. All the computers are gone, the optemetric equipment was on the floor upside down, all the glasses are in piles on the floor.

"Every door has been broken into whether it was locked or not but, in addition, next to the door, they have smashed a man-sized hole through just to make sure."

At the education ministry, often accused by Israel of incitement, officials picking through the debris say 50 years of final exam results have been lost.

Israel says all this is necessary because Yasser Arafat will not crack down on the militants who, it says, have joined forces with Palestinian security organisations.

It is true the intifada has blurred the lines between policeman and militant, a process accelerated by the army's months-long targeting of Palestinian security buildings.

The campaign climaxed with the bombardment of the Preventive Security Headquarters near Ramallah, the institution responsible for security co-ordination with Israel, which was the backbone of the Oslo agreement.

Now there is no-one to enforce a ceasefire, should one be declared.

Sharon's logic

Mr Sharon profoundly opposed Oslo and its plan for a Palestinian state in most of the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel.

He envisages a more limited entity with much more limited powers.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
Sharon has never accepted dealings with Arafat
He also profoundly opposed Oslo's rehabilitation of the man he will always regard as a PLO terrorist.

His siege of Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah caps a long campaign to "neutralise" the Palestinian leader.

Some commentators believe he has gone a long way to reordering the Oslo reality.

After the war, Israel "will be faced with a situation in which there is no central government in the PA and with the total anarchy that will develop in the absence of such authority," writes Uzi Benziman in Israel's Haaretz daily.

"Israel will have no-one with whom to negotiate an agreement and there will be no-one to take over the administration of the residents' needs."

So what comes next?

An analyst at the Israel Centre for Counter-terrorism, Boaz Gaynor, told Britain's Observer newspaper: "If Sharon is serious about destroying the operational capability of the PA and terror groups, then, yes, it means Israel's reconquest of the West Bank and Gaza."

See also:

12 Apr 02 | Middle East
Israel stalls over troop withdrawal
11 Apr 02 | Middle East
Jenin after the battle
10 Apr 02 | Middle East
Jerusalem's deserted streets
11 Apr 02 | Middle East
Arafat 'not a partner for peace'
08 Apr 02 | Middle East
Vatican outrage over church siege
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