Since early Tuesday morning, Israeli tanks and troops have been encircling the headquarters of the Palestinian Preventative Security Chief, Jibril Rajoub, in the town of Beitunia, near Ramallah.
According to Israeli claims, some 200 Palestinian activists that were inside the complex, surrendered in the afternoon to Israeli troops, as was agreed by the two sides. According to the Israeli army, an additional 200 activists were still inside the headquarters, including operatives wanted by Israel.
A Palestinian source said that according to the U.S.-brokered cease-fire, the Palestinian activists would be detained by Israel for 24 hours to determine whether any of them are wanted by Israel.
Israeli sources said that Rajoub was providing shelter to dozens of Palestinian activists on Israel's wanted list.
Until the cease-fire deal reached, Israeli tanks and helicopters shelled the complex. Rajoub said at least 20 of the hundreds of people trapped in his compound were wounded in the Israeli assault.
Palestinian sources said that Israel was demanding that all those inside the headquarters surrender themselves. Several Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah commanders, including experts in the preparation and dispatch of suicide bombers, are said to be inside the complex, some of who came from the Gaza Strip.
Speaking to Israel Radio, however, Rajoub denied that West Bank Tanzim leader Marwan Barguothi was inside the complex. "It's only a matter of minutes or hours until it becomes clear that Marwan Barguothi is not inside the complex."
Rajoub added that, "I did not educate my people to surrender to anybody. That's not our attitude and not our culture. I cannot give any order other than to fight to the last bullet."
In Ramallah, the bodies of 25 Palestinians killed in the Israeli incursion were stored at a hospital morgue, with doctors saying Israeli troops have barred them from burying the dead.
On Tuesday, a bulldozer was tearing up the asphalt outside the hospital parking lot, and hospital officials threatened to bury the dead there in protest.
A 56-year-old Palestinian woman who had a cast removed from her leg was shot and wounded, apparently by an Israeli sniper, as she left the hospital, said Dr. Hosni Atari. Soldiers prevented medics from treating her and she died, Atari said.
Elsewhere, there were reports of heavy gunfire in and around Bethlehem's Manger Square, with about a dozen Palestinian gunmen taking cover behind buildings and firing assault rifles at Israeli tanks deployed some distance from the square. Israeli tanks fired heavy machine guns at the armed Palestinians.
The Israeli army said Palestinian gunmen were shooting at Israel soldiers from the Santa Maria Convent.
Near the convent, 64-year-old Samieh Abdeh and her 38-year-old son Khaled were wounded by Israeli fire at their home, then bled to death after Israelis prevented ambulances from reaching them, Abdeh's son Sami told AP.
Earlier Tuesday, a 60-year-old Palestinian security guard was shot to death in Bethlehem and an Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper near the city.
Church officials denied a report by the Rome-based missionary news service Misna that a 65-year-old Italian priest, Jacques Amateis, was killed in the Santa Maria Convent. The priest was well, officials said.
Israel is currently engaged in a hunt for Marwan Bargouthi, the leading Fatah figure in the West Bank, and one of the security apparatus' 'most wanted', according to Major General Yitzhak Eitan, GOC of Israel Army’s Central Command.
Eitan told the Tel Aviv-based Ha'aretz daily Tuesday that Israeli troops were tightening their grip on the PA's preventative security complex in Beitunia, where he estimated that 35 wanted Palestinians were holed up. Eitan believed that Bargouthi himself managed to flee Beitunia before Israel launched its operation there.
Eitan is, in effect, confirming a report published in Tuesday's Washington Post, which claimed that Israel had decided to arrest hundreds of Palestinian activists, including several of Yasser Arafat's political and military deputies. The report was based on an interview with a senior Israeli security figure. The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the decision represented a change in policy for the Israeli government, which has guaranteed immunity for Arafat's closest circle of Palestinian Authority cronies.
Bargouthi, 42, is an eloquent speaker and a charismatic figure, and is often mentioned as a possible successor to Yasser Arafat. Despite the fact that Bargouthi has been described as a key figure in Palestinian attacks, Israel has refrained from arresting him because of his huge popularity, his close relations with Arafat and his influence on the decision-making process.
"We're going to arrest him, of course," said the source. "Our big mistake is we used to respect the [Palestinian] VIPs too much."
According to information in the hands of the Washington Post, Israeli is looking into the possibility of arresting several senior figures in the Palestinian security service. Among those being eyed are Tawfiq Tirawi, head of intelligence in the western West Bank, and Rashid Abu-Shbak, second-in-command of the preventative security in Gaza.
According to Israel, Tirawi has been involved in the planning of several attacks against Israeli targets over the past 18 months. Abu-Shbak is a key figure in the production of missiles and rockets in Gaza. (Albawaba.com)
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