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Ailing Arafat trapped as Israel targets compound; MIDDLE EAST.

Byline: CHRIS JONES

BELEAGUERED and ailing Yasser Arafat was last night trapped in the West Bank as the Israeli military took the war against terror to the very heart of the Palestinian leadership.

The 73-year-old was bundled into an underground bunker when Israeli helicopter gunships targeted his Ramallah compound with three missiles.

Israel claimed Arafat was not the target but "we had to hit something close to him personally."

Israeli aircraft dropped missiles and bombs on Palestinian security offices across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, killing two Palestinians and injuring more than 100 in one of the most intense strikes in 14 months of fighting.

Israel said it was sending a stern warning to the Palestinian leader that there would be even harsher reprisals if he did not crack down on militants who have been carrying out attacks on Israelis.

"The purpose was to send a clear military message, 'Friends, we've had enough, take the responsibility that you have and stop the terrorism', " said the Israeli army spokesman Brigadier General Ron Kitrey.

The air attacks came in response to weekend suicide bombings and shooting attacks on Israelis by Islamic militants that killed 26 people and wounded nearly 200.

Kitrey said yesterday's raids targeted Palestinian Authority installations because the Islamic militants' headquarters "are secret and cannot be hit in this type of attack."

Arafat, speaking after the air strike on his Ramallah compound, accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of trying to undermine his efforts to combat terrorism.

The Palestinian Authority has rounded up 130 members of the militant Islamic Jihad and Hamas groups since the weekend, and Palestinian officials said the sweep would continue despite the Israeli raids.

The Israelis "don't want me to succeed and for this he [Sharon] is escalating his military activities against our people, against our towns, against our cities, against our establishments, " said Arafat, who suffers from Parkinson's disease. "He doesn't want a peace process to start."

Israel has dismissed the arrest sweeps as window dressing, saying Arafat was only targeting secondary activists, not the real planners of terror attacks.

The deadliest strike came in Gaza City, where F-16 warplanes dropped three bombs that flattened a building of the Preventive Security Service in a residential neighbourhood. The blasts sent debris and shrapnel flying in a wide radius, and hundreds of panicked school children ran for cover, engulfed by a cloud of smoke.

Doctors said a 15-year-old boy and a member of the Preventive Security Service were killed in the attack, and more than 100 bystanders were injured, including dozens of youngsters.

"Sharon has declared war on us.

God help us, " said Ayman Abdul Jawad, 13, as he ran in the street with friends, blood on his head.

In all, eight Palestinian security offices were hit - four in the West Bank and four in Gaza.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 5, 2001
Words:470
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