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Sharon Proposes Arafat's Exile as Israeli Forces Shell His Compound
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS . NY Times . 2 april 2002

The Palestinian security building near Ramallah was hit today as Israel widened its five-day military offensive.
A Palestinian building under Israeli fire near Manger Square in Bethlehem today.
A Palestinian building under Israeli fire near Manger Square in Bethlehem today.

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Israeli tanks and helicopters shelled a heavily fortified Palestinian security headquarters in an all-night assault Tuesday. Fighting raged outside Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, and Israel's prime minister proposed exile for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Four Palestinian civilians and an Israeli soldier were killed in fighting in Ramallah and Bethlehem, and West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub said at least 20 of the hundreds of people trapped in his compound were wounded in the Israeli assault. Israel said top militants it seeks were in the compound, a claim denied by Rajoub.

In Bethlehem, Israeli helicopter gunships hovering over Manger Square exchanged fire with Palestinian gunmen near the Church of the Nativity, built over the grotto where tradition says Jesus was born. There was also a heavy exchange of fire outside a convent. 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.

Tuesday's fighting came as Israel widened its five-day-old military offensive, ``Operation Protective Wall,'' launched to uproot militants blamed for a string of terror attacks on Israelis.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Tuesday he has proposed that European Union envoy Miguel Moratinos or other diplomats fly Arafat into exile, raising the idea in public for the first time

``I told him (Moratinos), if they would like, they will fly with a helicopter and will take him (Arafat) from here,'' Sharon said during a tour of West Bank army bases, in remarks carried by Israel Radio. Arafat ``will not be able to return.'' Sharon said such a step would require Cabinet approval.

Arafat has been confined in his offices by Israeli troops holding his Ramallah headquarters since Friday. Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said that Arafat ``will not leave Palestine.''

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday that Washington has told Sharon to ``use care'' in his offensive and advised him that in the end the operation will not stop suicide attacks and a political solution will be needed.

While pressing Palestinian leaders to stop anti-Israeli violence, U.S. officials have also told Sharon, ``We know you have an inherent right of self defense but you need to do this ... and get it over with as quickly as possible,'' Powell told CBS' ``The Early Show.''

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the offensive would last three to four weeks, the first senior official to give a timeframe. However, Sharon has said the campaign was open-ended.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said it was time for Sharon and Arafat to move aside. ``These two people are both more than 75 years old and have lived this conflict for a very long time -- too long if you ask me,'' Solana told Spain's Cadena SER radio.

Early Tuesday, Israeli tanks rolled into the West Bank towns of Tulkarem and Bethlehem. Israeli forces already control the towns of Ramallah and Qalqiliya.

In Ramallah, about 700 Palestinian suspects have been rounded up since Friday, the army spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ron Kitrey, said. In all, the bodies of 25 Palestinians killed in the Israeli incursion in Ramallah 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.

In the Ramallah suburb of Beituniya, Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships shelled Rajoub's Preventive Security Service headquarters in an all-night assault, after about 400 people inside refused to surrender.

Rajoub said the situation there is ``very, very bad,'' but that he ordered his men not to give up.

After daybreak, there were no signs of movement in the compound. Two buildings were blackened by fire, and holes were visible in the walls of several other buildings in the compound.

In Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, the heaviest fighting raged around Manger Square, where an Israeli helicopter hovered, trading fire with gunmen, according to live footage broadcast by the local Shepherds TV station. The gunmen also came under fire from Israeli tanks deployed some distance downhill from the square.

The military said 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 said.

The Israeli military was not immediately available for comment on the deaths in Ramallah and Bethlehem. 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.

In an appeal to President Bush, the leaders of Christian denominations in the Holy Land asked to ``stop immediately the inhuman tragedy'' taking place in Palestinian towns and villages.

Israeli forces have entered Bethlehem several times in the past 18 months of fighting, but kept a distance from the Church of the Nativity, one of Christianity's holiest shrines. Palestinian gunmen frequently use the area as a refuge.

Israeli troops have also taken over Al-Khader and Beit Jalla, two towns neighboring Bethlehem.

Despite the military offensive, attacks on Israelis continued.

Near downtown Jerusalem, a Palestinian detonated explosives in his car after he was stopped by police, killing himself and a police officer late Monday. Police said the driver was planning an attack in the center of the city. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militia linked to Arafat's Fatah movement, claimed responsibility.

Palestinians opened fire on an Israeli car in the West Bank late Monday, wounding three members of a family before one of the gunmen was shot dead by soldiers. A Palestinian fired on a home in the Jewish settlement of Ramon in the West Bank, wounding a resident before soldiers killed the gunman.

Two Palestinian motorists were killed in a shooting ambush near the Jewish settlement of Kohav Hashahar. Police were checking whether the attack was committed by Jewish extremists.