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Israelis Press Arafat Siege, Palestinians Complain of US "Bias"
Published on Tuesday, June 11, 2002 by Agence France Presse
Israelis Press Arafat Siege, Palestinians Complain of US "Bias"
 
Israeli troops pressed their latest siege of Yasser Arafat's base here for a second day as the Palestinians bitterly accused the United States of "total bias" towards the Jewish state.

The angry Palestinian comments Tuesday came a day after US President George W. Bush emerged from talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and expressed support for Sharon's hard-line positions on the 20-month-old conflict.

Meanwhile, three people aboard an Israeli schoolbus were reported wounded Tuesday, one seriously, when an explosive device went off as the vehicle was traveling in the southern West Bank.

Scores of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles rolled into Ramallah early Monday in their largest incursion in weeks and encircled Arafat's headquarters for the second time in four days.

Israeli bulldozers used rubble and car wrecks to seal off the compound already battered by a short but ferocious tank attack Thursday and a five-week siege that ended on May 2.

An Israeli army spokesman said Tuesday that nine more Palestinians suspected of involvement in terrorist activities had been arrested, bringing the total from the latest operation to 31.

Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer said Monday that among those arrested was the Ramallah head of the radical Palestinian group Islamic Jihad which claimed last Wednesday's bus bombing that killed 17 Israelis.

Israeli state radio said the Israeli troops were looking particularly for Mahmud Naif, who they say is a member of an armed wing of Arafat's Fatah movement.

Palestinian minister for civil affairs Jamil Tarifi told AFP his son Yusef, the public prosecutor for the Ramallah area, had also been picked up.

"This is an operation of intimidation aimed at proving that the Israeli soldiers can act where they want," said Tarifi, who was one of several ministers retained after a recent cabinet reshuffle.

The army said it had found two booby-trapped cars containing 60 kilograms (132 pounds) of explosives destined for attacks on Israel, as well as five Kalashnikov assault rifles and false Israeli papers.

Tanks continued to surround Arafat's headquarters "to prevent terrorists from trying to take refuge there to escape arrest," the army spokesman said.

Ben Eliezer said Monday the operation would last "a day or two" and added that the Israelis had no intention of entering the compound.

Palestinian officials meanwhile reacted furiously to what they said was a green light given to Sharon by Bush during their talks at the White House.

"This is a proof that this is an administration that cannot be trusted," said Palestinian information minister Yasser Abed Rabbo. "They have violated all their commitments and promises to the Arabs."

"The Arabs now should convene and hold an emergency summit to discuss this total American bias toward Israel," he said.

Bush, speaking a day after Arafat's Palestinian Authority announced a new cabinet, said Monday that "no one has confidence in the emerging Palestinian government."

The US president also refused to condemn the latest incursions, saying Israel had a right to defend itself, and said the time was not yet ripe for a Middle East peace conference.

"It is a shame that Bush says he does not trust the new Palestinian government which was even prevented from holding its first meeting because of the Israeli occupation," Abed Rabbo said.

"Bush is literally supporting the same position of Sharon and supporting the policy of occupation."

Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator, also reacted sharply to Bush's comments, saying "the Israeli aggression will escalate because Sharon has received a green light from Bush."

Elsewhere on the ground, Israeli medical sources said that three people aboard an Israeli schoolbus were wounded, one seriously, when an explosive device went off near the city of Hebron.

It was not known if the victims were children. The bus was traveling from the Jewish settlement of Kyriat Arba, near Hebron, the largest city in the southern West Bank.

Palestinian security officials said the bodies of two men suspected of collaborating with Israel were found in Hebron.

Palestinian officials also said two Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire in the town of Khan Yunes in the southern Gaza Strip.

Copyright 2002 AFP

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