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Arafat isolated amid ruins

Ramallah, Sept. 20 (Reuters): Israeli forces destroyed most of the buildings in Yasser Arafatís West Bank headquarters except his private offices today in a siege intended to isolate him after a resumption of suicide bombings.

Powerful explosions sent huge clouds of white dust and smoke into the air and the blasts echoed through the deserted streets of the city of Ramallah as one building after another was blown up with dynamite or levelled by armoured bulldozers. Palestinian officials said Arafat was unhurt in the army siege but one of his bodyguards was killed. The siege, after two Palestinian suicide bombings ended a six-week lull in such attacks, raised fears of a fresh surge of violence as Washington mulls military action against Iraq.

Blaming the attacks on Arafat, Israel said it stormed his base yesterday to isolate him and force the surrender of up to 20 wanted militants inside. Twenty people did surrender, but an Israeli military source said not all were on the wanted list.

The army also enforced curfews on six of the eight Palestinian-ruled cities in the West Bank and sent troops and tanks on a raid into the northern Gaza Strip, in which Palestinian hospital sources said two Palestinians were killed.

Palestinian witnesses said a Palestinian youth was also killed in a gun battle that erupted near Gazaís border with Egypt after militants damaged a tank with an explosive device. Two soldiers were also hurt, the army said. The army blew up or bulldozed more than 10 buildings or mobile buildings in Arafatís compound, already battered by other Israeli incursions following Palestinian attacks in Israel.

Two huge blasts flattened a white stone building used by Arafatís security forces and a military intelligence headquarters. No one was inside at the time.

The action underlined Arafatís physical as well as political isolation as he struggles to control militants behind suicide bombings, carry out reforms sought by the US and reassert his authority in a disgruntled parliament.

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