An emergency session of the Israeli cabinet unanimously decided Thursday evening to "isolate" Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat rather than expel him, and called for the immediate handing over of 20 Palestinians wanted by Israel who are holed up in the compound.
The Israeli cabinet decided against expelling Arafat from Ramallah to the Gaza Strip or any other location due to the objection of Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.
Ten Israeli tanks, troop carriers and jeeps entered Arafat's compound, sparking exchanges of fire that left two Palestinians injured, Palestinian security sources said.
Top Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rudeina confirmed two bodyguards of the Palestinian leader were injured. According to reports, one of the injured man later died of his wounds.
The armour rolled to within 30 metres of the headquarters and soldiers announced over loudspeakers that a curfew in Ramallah applied inside the compound as well, AFP reported.
The firing with heavy machine-guns quickly died down, but officials inside the building said the situation was extremely tense. One senior Palestinian said that if Israeli troops tried to "enter president Arafat's offices, the soldiers inside will fight to the last man, including the president."
An Israeli army spokesman said the Israeli forces only opened fire after Palestinian gunmen shot at them as they moved in to surround the headquarters building.
Israeli media have reported that security sources suspected 25 wanted Palestinians were sheltering inside Arafat's offices, including the West Bank intelligence head, Tawfiq Tirawi, accused by Israel of involvement in attacks against Israeli targets.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat said he had called members of the Middle East diplomatic "quartet," made up of the United States, United Nations, the European Union and Russia, urging them to rein in Israel's "escalation." He also called Jordan and Egypt. (Albawaba.com)
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