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Arafat calls on world to help convince Israel to pull back

Bush demands Palestinian leader condemn bombers

 

Tracy Wilkinson

Edmonton Journal

Sunday, March 31, 2002

A besieged Yasser Arafat and about 100 of his die-hard supporters appealed to the world for help Saturday against Israeli forces that have destroyed and occupied most of the place where the Palestinian Authority president lives and works.

Huddled in hallways and confined to two floors of Arafat's headquarters, Arafat and his associates erected a barricade and stacked desks against windows in anticipation of a final Israeli assault, according to people who visited.

Israel, for its part, ignored international pleas to reverse its invasion of this West Bank city and instead expanded its military offensive.

U.S. President George Bush said Saturday that he held Arafat personally responsible for the waves of suicide bombings in Israel, and strongly sided with the Israeli government even while warning that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon should temper military action to preserve a "path for peace."

Breaking a two-day silence on events in the Middle East, Bush summoned reporters to the gates of his ranch during a driving rainstorm. He had just received news of yet another deadly bombing in Israel, this one in Tel Aviv, he said, and he pointedly made no effort to sound evenhanded about who was to blame for the rising violence.

"I fully understand Israel's need to defend herself. I respect that," Bush said.

"As she does so, I urge that their government, the Israeli government, makes sure that there is a path to peace as she secures her homeland."

Several times he sidestepped opportunities to assess Israel's decision to raid Arafat's compound, and he made no mention of the U.N. resolution that Saturday called on Israel to pull its forces back from Ramallah, where the compound is situated -- even though the United States had voted in favour of the measure just hours before Bush spoke.

Instead, Bush focused most of his comments on Arafat, suggesting that the suicide bombing attacks "aren't just isolated incidents" and maintaining that Arafat has the power to slow them down, if not turn them off.

"Yasser Arafat should have done more three weeks ago, and should do more today," Bush said. "I believe he needs to stand up and condemn, in Arabic, these attacks."

Israeli forces rounded up hundreds of Palestinian men -- including emergency medics and police -- in what the Sharon government has described as a hunt for terrorists.

Sharon declared Arafat an enemy last week, dispatched scores of tanks into the West Bank and Gaza Strip and mobilized 20,000 reservists for a "long and complicated war" against Arafat and the suicide bombers and other extremists who have attacked Israelis.

The offensive followed a suicide bombing Wednesday that killed 23 people -- the deadliest such attack in 18 months of violence. There have been three more since, including one in Tel Aviv on Saturday that injured 32 people but killed only the bomber.

One of Arafat's bodyguards and an intelligence officer were killed in sporadic gun battles around the compound.

And the bodies of five Palestinian policemen were found in a building seized and then abandoned by Israeli forces. Palestinians said the men were executed in cold blood; the army said their deaths resulted from a firefight.

Arafat, said to be following the news with a small radio, might have taken comfort from the UN Security Council's call for Israel to leave Ramallah. The resolution passed 14-0 around dawn Saturday.

 Copyright  2002 Edmonton Journal