Israel Forces Take Qalqilya, Unofficial Moves to Deport Arafat
Three days into the massive counter-terror military operation Israeli launched last Friday, March 29, Israel troops and tanks moved from four directions on their second target: the West Bank town of Qalqilya.
Yasser Arafat was meanwhile penned in two rooms of his three-storey government center in Ramallah. Israeli soldiers had fought their way and broken through walls to the adjoining room. By Sunday afternoon, the gunbattle had died down. Israeli tanks were lined up neatly in the parking lot. Food was delivered to Arafat’s quarters with a steady supply of candles.
Taking advantage of his personal immunity – the result of a pledge Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon gave President George W. Bush – Arafat refused Israel’s demand to turn over the terror activists and masterminds he was harboring in his quarters, including Tawfiq Tirawi, general intelligence chief and commander of the Fatah’s al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, PFLP secretary Ahmed Sadat and the assassins of Israeli minister Zeevi.
Between 50 and 60 of the deadliest terror activists on Israel’s wanted list are believed to be sheltering in Arafat’s quarters and the command center of West Bank Security chief Jibril Rajoub’s in Bitunya, which is likewise surrounded.
Some of the wanted men attempted Sunday to slip out with a group of left-wing pro-Palestinian protesters from European countries who gained access to Arafat. The fugitives were picked up and Ramallah declared a closed military zone.
Thus far, Israeli troops have captured 500 suspected terrorists in Ramallah. Thirteen Palestinians were killed since Friday.
Intelligence operatives accompanying the troops scoured the files in the Palestinian leader’s headquarters, collecting documentary evidence linking Arafat and members of his inner circle to the orchestration of terror atrocities. They also turned up huge depots of banned weapons, such as 43 RPGs, 200 Kalashnikov assault rifles and anti-tank missiles, as well as millions of counterfeit Israeli currency notes and a good stock of Jewish skullcaps.
Although Arafat’s lines were cut off, the Passover suicide offensive he launched in Israeli cities appeared unstoppable, having been set in motion, as debkafile reported earlier this month, long before the Israeli offensive – and regardless of the US mediator Anthony Zinni’s arrival on March 14 to try and negotiate a truce.
Israeli forces were sent into Ramallah in the wake of the Seder suicide attack, in which 22 Israelis died and 131 were injured. Back-to-back attacks on Sunday alone raised the Passover death toll to 45 dead and 213 injured in six outrages.
In Haifa, 16 Jews and Arabs were killed and 38 injured in an Arab-owned restaurant that was burned to the ground by an Israeli Arab suicide bomber who lived in the Palestinian town of Jenin. In the Gush Etzion bloc town of Efrat, south of Bethlehem, a Palestinian sanitary worker in the local first aid station blew up his place of work, injuring six Israelis, the duty paramedic critically.
Saturday night, a popular Tel Aviv restaurant was struck by another suicide bomber, leaving 30 youngsters out for a good time, maimed.
Sunday morning, intercity traffic in central Israel was thrown into havoc when police blocked sections of the old Mediterranean coastal highway because of a terror alert.
Clearly, the Israeli operation has a long way to go. Sunday afternoon, with 30,000 reservists in the process of mobilization, the Israeli defense cabinet approved the military action’s expansion beyond Ramallah. Prime Minister Sharon went on the air with an address to the nation.
Declaring Israel was at war, he focused heavily on the culpability of one man – the chairman of the Palestinian Authority – as the root, source, leader and instigator of terrorism, obstacle to peace, enemy of Israel and the free world, and threat to regional stability.
He vowed to root out terrorism so as to clear a path to peace at what he called a crucial moment in Israeli history.
In addition to pointing the finger of blame at Arafat, debkafile‘s political sources report Sharon became involved in secret preliminary diplomatic moves to “root out” Arafat by sending him into political exile. This was the subject of the first conversation he held with King Muhammad VI of Morocco Sunday. The initiative appears to have come from parties concerned with Arafat’s well-being, namely the UN Secretary and some Arab and EU governments. The live wires behind the initiative are the Moroccan King and UN and European Middle East envoys, Terje Larsen and Miguel Moratinos.
A parallel track is reportedly active to pick Arafat’s successor after he exits the scene, a discussion which also touches on the fate of Palestinian leaders listed by Israel as terror activists.