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Sunday, 22 September, 2002, 18:51 GMT 19:51 UK
US criticises Arafat siege
Israeli troops in the razed Ramallah compound
Israel said the demolition had finished
The United States has criticised Israel for the first time over its destruction of the compound headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

A spokeswoman for President George W Bush said Israel's siege of Mr Arafat's building was "not helpful" - an apparent shift in position by the White House which earlier said Israel had a right to deal with security.


Israeli actions in and around the Muqata'a [Arafat compound] are not helpful in reducing terrorist violence or promoting Palestinian reforms

Jeanie Mamo,
White House spokeswoman
Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in support of Mr Arafat on Sunday - many in defiance of military curfews - while international protests against the siege grew.

As night fell, Israel announced it was halting the demolition which has left just one building standing in the compound - the one which Mr Arafat is still occupying - but said the siege would continue.

The White House joined widespread opposition to the siege of the compound - known as the Muqata'a - voiced earlier by Arab and European nations.

Spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said: "Israeli actions in and around the Muqata'a are not helpful in reducing terrorist violence or promoting Palestinian reforms."

Consequences

Last week, the official White House line was that "Israel has a right to defend itself and to deal with security", though a spokesman did call on Israel to consider the consequence of its actions.

A BBC correspondent in Jerusalem said at that time that until there was a strong reaction from the US, Israel was unlikely to change its action.

Ms Mamo also issued a condemnation of attacks against Israelis.


Map showing location of compound in Ramallah
Arafat's Ramallah compound
  • Known as the Muqata'a
  • Built by the British in the 1920s
  • Palestinians took control in 1994 year after Oslo peace accords
  • Largely destroyed by Israeli forces

  • "It is clear that the Palestinians need to take comprehensive steps to stop terror attacks," she said.

    "We urge Israel to continue considering the consequences of its actions.

    "It is also important for Palestinians to understand that terrorist violence does grave damage to Palestinian aspirations for a Palestinian state."

    Arafat defiant

    An Israeli Army bulldozer was driven out of the compound with sources saying demolition work had been completed.

    During the day, the army has kept up pressure on Mr Arafat by intermittently cutting water and power supplies.

    But the 72-year-old leader remained defiant, refusing to give in to the Israeli Government's demands that he surrender 50 suspected militants Israel says are among 250 people still in his offices.

    Popular protests began on Saturday night when the army announced on loudspeakers at the compound that troops were about to blow up Mr Arafat's office unless the wanted men surrendered.

    Thousands demonstrated in various Palestinian areas and at least five people were killed in clashes with troops.

    Palestinian girls protest
    Troops fired tear gas at protesters breaking military curfews

    The army later made it clear there were no plans to blow up the building and Israel has said it does not intend to harm Mr Arafat.

    Deputy Defence Minister Weizman Shiri said Israel would like Mr Arafat to leave of his own accord, but warned that he would not be allowed back.

    Inside the compound, the Palestinian leader is reported to have told his entourage that he wanted God to "grant him the honour of martyrdom" and said no-one would be handed over to Israel.

    Israel initially said there were 19 wanted men in the compound, including members of the intelligence service and Mr Arafat's personal bodyguard, but a senior army officer said the figure increased because the army had not had a complete picture of who was inside.

    International reaction

    France has condemned the siege on Mr Arafat's compound as "unacceptable" and called for it to be halted immediately.

    Denmark, the current president of the European Union, said Israel's actions would neither curb terror nor improve security for its civilians.

    The Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has called on the United States to intervene immediately; and Jordan said Israel's actions threatened the stability of the region.

    Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit of Turkey - Israel's principal ally in the region - also said he was "extremely upset" by an attack on "the legitimate representative" of the Palestinian people.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Barbara Plett
    "The real purpose is to get Arafat"
    Israeli government adviser Dore Gold
    "Whoever engages in terrorism is wrong and has to be stopped"
    Palestinian Nabil Rudeineh from inside the compound
    "These attacks should be stopped"

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    See also:

    22 Sep 02 | Middle East
    22 Sep 02 | Middle East
    21 Sep 02 | Middle East
    20 Sep 02 | Media reports
    19 Sep 02 | Middle East
    19 Sep 02 | Middle East
    19 Sep 02 | Middle East
    20 Sep 02 | Scotland
    22 Sep 02 | Middle East
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