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Palestinians Rally Around Arafat

January 26, 2002

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RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ About 2,000 supporters rallied Saturday outside Yasser Arafat’s compound where the Palestinian leader has been confined by the Israelis and come under sharp criticism from President Bush.

At one point, some of the demonstrators were invited inside the large compound to speak to Arafat, who condemned Israel’s air strikes Friday against Palestinian security installations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel said the raids were in retaliation for a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv earlier Friday.

The Israelis ``believe that the F-16s that hit Tulkarem, Gaza and Khan Yunis yesterday can shake the Palestinian people ... but we are the strongest people,″ Arafat told the crowd.

Each side blames the other for the latest escalation in the violence. Palestinian officials accuse Israel of inflaming tensions by renewing its policy of targeted killings of militants.

But Israel says it is acting because Arafat has not done enough to round up the militants. Israel has kept Arafat confined to Ramallah for almost two months, and on Jan. 18, Israel’s army sent tanks and other armored vehicles to surround his compound.

Israel says it will not allow Arafat to leave Ramallah until he arrests the suspects in the October killing of an Israeli cabinet minister.

On Friday, President Bush declared he was ``very disappointed″ with the Palestinian leader over a shipment of weapons that was apparently headed for the Palestinians. Israeli forces intercepted the shipment last month in the Red Sea.

``Ordering up weapons that were intercepted on a boat headed for that part of the world is not part of fighting terror, that’s enhancing terror,″ Bush said. Arafat has denied any involvement in the affair.

Bush was considering sanctions against the Palestinian Authority, including deciding whether to cut diplomatic ties.

On Friday, the suicide bombing attack claimed the life of the bomber and wounded 24 bystanders in downtown Tel Aviv.

Afterward, seven people were injured in the Israeli warplane attack in Gaza.

The Israeli army said in a statement that Tulkarem was targeted because the attacker in Tel Aviv, Safwat Khalil, had come from the town.

However Khalil’s family lives in the small West Bank village of Beit Wazan, near Nablus. Grieving over his death Saturday, Khalil’s family said he was an 18-year-old vocational school student who had recently become a devout Muslim. The militant Islamic Jihad group claimed responsibility for the attack.

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