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While Palestinians march, Israel ends demolition work

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 23, 2002

JERUSALEM -- Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated across the West Bank and Gaza in support of Yasser Arafat, defying Israel's efforts to leave him powerless in his largely leveled compound. Four Palestinians were shot and killed by Israeli troops trying to enforce curfews.

Sunday evening, the Israeli army said it was ceasing demolition work around Arafat's headquarters building in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Most of the buildings that were not destroyed in earlier raids have been razed in the past three days.

But the building in which Arafat and about 200 other Palestinians were cooped up remained under a tight military siege, ringed with barbed wire and Israeli troops. From within Arafat's headquarters, his aide, Nabil Aburdeineh, said the Israelis had ceased demolition only because they had finished destroying the rest of the compound.

Aburdeineh said the Israeli army maintained constant psychological pressure on the men inside. Water pipes to the building were severed, he said. The Israelis allowed Palestinians to repair them, only to sever them again. The Israelis also promised to allow a food delivery, but it never arrived, Aburdeineh said. The army also removed all the building's air conditioners.

On Saturday evening, the Israelis informed the trapped Palestinians that they intended to blow up an adjacent building, warned that the explosion could collapse Arafat's building, and told the besieged men to leave. They refused, and the army apparently abandoned its plan.

Neither the government nor the army made an official statement about ending the demolition. But Israeli news organizations made the announcement, citing various Israeli sources as saying that the work was halted because of pressures from Washington and the rising anger among Palestinians.

The Bush administration has reportedly urged Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to show restraint and publicly said that Israel should consider the effect of what it was doing on the fledgling Palestinian reform movement.

The White House stiffened its criticism on Sunday, when a spokeswoman, Jeanie Mamo, said the actions at Arafat's compound "are not helpful in reducing terrorist violence or promoting Palestinian reforms."

In the middle of the night on Saturday, heeding calls from Fatah, Arafat's movement, and from mullahs in the mosques, more than a thousand Palestinian men, women and children marched onto Ramallah's central Manara Square. They defied Israeli demands to disperse and chanted, "We will give our soul and blood for Arafat."

Similar protests were reported in Gaza City and in the West Bank in Qalqilya, Tulkarem, Hebron, Tubas, Salfit, Bethlehem and Jericho. It was the first mass wave of support for Arafat in many months. Two protesters were shot dead in Ramallah, one in Tulkarem and one in Nablus.

The protests confirmed the warnings of some Israeli politicians and columnists that the assault on Arafat would only revive his standing among Palestinians.

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