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Tuesday, 24 September, 2002, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Ramallah in ruins
Israeli army vehicles pass ruins of compound
Scar in the city's fabric - Arafat's bulldozed HQ

Rattling through Ramallah's near deserted streets it takes some effort to remember that this was supposed to be the capital of the Palestinian state-to-be.

Now it looks like nothing more than any other West Bank town with the familiar detritus of occupation and sporadic resistance.

The Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency is deserted and shuttered

The streets are nearly empty and children cluster under doorways, waving at passing vehicles. Even under the tightest curfews they are the most difficult to keep cooped up 24 hours a day.

A few cars are on the roads, either desperate taxi drivers or Press vehicles, their windscreens and doors emblazoned with the letters "TV" in black masking tape in the hope of saving them from sometimes over-zealous soldiers.

But most of Ramallah looks like a dusty ghost town.

Black scorch marks where impromptu fires have been lit mark the roads. Colourful shopping facades are mocked by the empty streets. The Palestinian Investment Promotion Agency is deserted and shuttered.

If the Israeli army ever withdraws from the cities and towns of the West Bank, the agency will have its work cut out but that seems a dim prospect now.

Reduced to rubble

On the door of one building, whose roof affords a good view of the Palestinian leader's compound, is a neat hand-written sign.

It tells the journalists who tramp up and down the stairs of the private apartment block that they should restrict their visits to between 10 in the morning and 10 in the evening. Thus is the occupation institutionalised.

Israeli soldiers in Ramallah
Ramallah is firmly under Israel's thumb
Ramallah looks in good shape in the golden glow of the early evening - certainly not a war zone as some of the television pictures might suggest.

With everyone forced inside their homes there is a bizarre peacefulness about the place - none of the hooting and honking that accompanies life in so many Middle Eastern cities.

But straight ahead lie the grey ruins of the muqata, the sprawling compound where Yasser Arafat's administration was once headquartered.

It is now little more than a vast eyesore, a scar in the fabric of the city.

Buildings have been shoved to the ground and trampled by Israeli bulldozers. Grey crumbled stone is everywhere. One building is listing to one side, its tottering interior walls exposed by the removal of its long outer wall.

You can see directly into what were once offices.

Frustration

Some buildings are still standing: Yasser Arafat's offices, where hundreds are resisting the Israeli military machine that surrounds them, a building that was once used as a conference centre and another structure whose former use is not clear.

But the rest of the compound is now rubble, surrounded by barbed wire, surrounded by the army.

Back in town some children and young adults are milling around the main square, warming up for a planned demonstration.

One man, 23-year-old Mazid, expresses his frustration at how the conflict is now understood.

"Who are the terrorists?" he asks, answering himself in the next breath. "It is Sharon, with American guns and Israeli soldiers."

Our brief interview is interrupted by an Israeli armoured personnel carrier rumbling towards the square.

Breaking the silence

Late on Monday night a demonstration shatters the silence of the curfew.

From the main square, Manara, and all around town, residents are banging together anything they can get their hands on - spoons on pots, wooden sticks on pipes, hands on sheets of metal.

Ramallah protesters
Protesters used anything which came to hand to add to the din
They draw attention from both other residents and the Israeli military.

Manara square is a cacophony of desperate, defiant and depressed people, waiting for the military to interrupt their civil disobedience.

Some had been told about the demonstration an hour or two beforehand, but others had come when they heard the noise.

There is no sign of the factions who so often organise these demonstrations.

'A just peace'

One middle-aged resident, who will only identify himself as George, explains what he and the others are doing there:

"People are here because they are fed up of occupation.

"They don't want more Israeli soldiers, the unemployment rate is 50% on the West Bank, in Gaza 70%, the economy is very, very bad, settlements are everywhere, confiscating lands. People are frustrated, they want peace, but a just peace."

After a couple of hours of ear-splitting demonstration and some tear gas and stun grenades from the army, the demonstrators - numbering no more than 400 or so at the high point - drift back home.

A few more street signs lie smashed up in the road. There are some more scorch marks in the road. Empty silence returns to the streets of Ramallah.


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