A Palestinian Cabinet minister said Sunday that Israeli forces stormed Yasser Arafat's besieged three-story office building, and that there were exchanges of fire between soldiers and Palestinian security guards. The report could not be confirmed independently.
Palestinian sources said soldiers entered the dining room adjacent to Arafat's office and that several members of his presidential guard had been injured by shots fired by the troops.
The Israeli army would not say whether the troops were inside Arafat's office, but said they had not moved closer to the Palestinian leader in recent hours.
Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo and several Palestinian security officials said Israeli forces stormed Arafat's office building Sunday morning, and that several Palestinian guards were wounded in an exchange of fire.
Earlier Sunday, Israeli officials said there was suspicion several top fugitives, including the assassins of an Israeli Cabinet minister, were being sheltered by Arafat, but the government did not publicly demand their surrender.
Earlier, Palestinian sources said Saturday night that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has received an ultimatum from the Israeli army that if he does not hand over individuals in the building who are on Israel's wanted list, soldiers will enter the building to capture the men themselves.
Israel Radio, however, quoted army sources as saying that no ultimatum had been delivered to Arafat.
Following U.S president Bush’s comments about the situation, the Palestinian news agency responded harshly on Sunday, criticizing U.S. Mideast envoy Anthony Zinni and warning Arab leaders they could be overthrown for failing to back the Palestinians.
Wafa, said Arafat "shocked the invader" by refusing to surrender, and complained that the United States and Arab leaders were harming the Palestinian cause.
In a statement signed by the political editor of the agency, Wafa said the United States "is godfathering Israel." The agency also charged that Arab leaders were preventing their people from demonstrating against the United States and Israel. "When nations get fed up by their leaders, they will find the way to remove them," Wafa said.
Meanwhile, Arafat, confined to his destroyed headquarters in Ramallah, on Saturday told Fox TV that surrender was out of the question. He ended the interview with Fox by saying he had a call from Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Asked about the possibility of surrender, Arafat told Fox, "I have one choice, to be a martyr. ... We will never surrender. ... We are in complete siege."
When asked if he had a message for President Bush, Arafat replied, " ... to immediately implement the cease-fire, and start the implementation of the Mitchell and Tenet reports."
The siege continued for a second day Saturday and the Palestinians said they were awaiting a final assault on Arafat.
Palestinian security officials said they heard an Israeli soldier shout outside the compound late on Saturday: "The time has come to start the countdown." Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, who stayed in touch with Arafat by cellular phone, said Israeli forces were so close that Arafat and his aides could hear the Hebrew spoken behind nearby walls.
In other military measures, Israeli forces entered Seida, a village near Jenin in the West Bank and killed two Palestinians, one of them an Islamic Jihad activist, villagers said. The Israeli military said Israeli soldiers returned fire from a building, killing two gunmen, and Israeli soldiers left the village after the operation.
Israel is expected to broaden its offensive in Palestinian-controlled areas in coming days. The army has issued 20,000 mandatory call-up notices for reservists, at this stage. Reservist units, regular infantry brigades, tank units and various support forces will participate in the Israeli wide-ranging operation on the West Bank. (Albawaba.com)
© 2002 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )