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Report: Israelis Enter Arafat’s Office

March 31, 2002

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ Palestinian security officials said Israeli forces stormed Yasser Arafat’s office Sunday, exchanging fire with Palestinian guards a few yards from the Palestinian leader. The army denied troops were inside the three-story building.

An Associated Press reporter speaking by phone to Palestinians inside Arafat’s office could hear the sounds of heavy gunfire. Palestinian officials said Israeli troops took over Arafat’s personal quarters on the second floor.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, speaking on Israel Radio as the fighting was reported in Arafat’s office, said: ``Our decision not to harm Arafat still stands. There’s no change. We don’t want to turn it into a world war, into a regional war. We don’t want to turn the entire world against us.″

The Israeli military denied that Palestinian forces entered Arafat’s office on Sunday.

Arafat’s compound has been under Israeli control since Friday, with the exception of the office building where Arafat and his aides have been holed up.

Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo and several Palestinian security officials said Israeli forces stormed Arafat’s office building Sunday morning, and that several Palestinian guards were wounded in an exchange of fire.

Security officials said troops cut a hole through one of the walls and reached Arafat’s second-floor private quarters. It was not immediately clear where Arafat was during the fighting, though some officials said he was just yards away from the battling forces.

Earlier Sunday, Israeli officials said there was suspicion several top fugitives, including the assassins of an Israeli Cabinet minister, were being sheltered by Arafat, but the government did not publicly demand their surrender.

``We are not making any demands,″ said Danny Seaman, director of the Government Press Office. ``We either take them (the wanted men) or we won’t.″

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