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26 September 2002 Edition

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Sharon wreaks havoc

SILVIO CERULLI reports from a besieged Ramallah


     
For the Israeli premier there is only one person responsible - Yasser Arafat - who does not control the Islamic movements and whose security services have been wiped out by the IDF since September 2000
Obviously the latest crisis in the Occupied Territories did not begin with the suicide-bombing in Tel Aviv last Thursday, claimed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad operating together, in which six lives were lost.

Before the atrocity we have had six weeks without a martyr and yet more than 70 Palestinian civilians were killed by the Israelis, often "by mistake", as the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) usually refers to the murder of innocent people. Each time the Palestinian leadership succeeds in building a new breathing space for peace efforts and negotiations, Ariel Sharon intensifies the brutality of the Israeli occupation. In this contest, there is little doubt that the Tel Aviv bombers provide him with the "legitimacy" to step up the repression.

But after the bombing, Sharon did not target Jihad' strongholds in the West Bank, or Hamas' infrastructures in Gaza. For the Israeli premier there is only one person responsible - Yasser Arafat - who does not control the Islamic movements and whose security services have been wiped out by the IDF since September 2000. For the Israeli government, the Palestinian President is guilty of 'failing to stop the terrorists', something the Israelis have failed to achieve over the last 54 years.

Merkavas and the D-9s, the huge IDF bulldozers, moved in. They occupied Arafat's compound in Ramallah, for the fourth time since the start of the Intifada. They razed everything to the ground, they blew up the bridge linking the Presidential Palace to the conference centre, they replaced the Palestinian flag with the Star of David.

Although the IDF have mined the two remaining buildings, about 200 people are still inside the shattered shelter. According to the Israelis, alongside Arafat there are 20 "dangerous terrorists", who are on the Israeli wanted list. It is exactly the same wording they used twenty years ago, on the eve of the Sabra and Chatila massacre or, more recently, before they slaughtered the West Bank' city of Jenin. "The Israelis have stopped firing at us now but we can still hear tanks and explosions. We are all fine, the President is fine but it is hard to figure out what lies ahead. The tanks' shells have opened holes and craters and the building may crush on us at any time", says Ibraimh on a mobile phone from inside the Muqata.

On Saturday night the IDF ordered everyone out of the building threatening a "huge explosion". Trenches and barbed wire have been placed around the palace. Those inside have pledged to resist and the prospect of a new lenghty siege, similar to the one around Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity last April, is looming large. Like then, Israel insists on a list of the 200 men in the Muqata, but after the Bethlehem lesson (when the IDF received the list of those trapped in the church it blew up their houses and arrest their families), Arafat and his comrades are not prepared to give up.

"Sharon's plan is to erase the Palestinian national identity once and for all, to get rid of any prospective of a Palestinian autonomy, to kill off the peace process, to bury fifty years of Palestinian revolution", claims Ibraimh. "There are no wanted men here and the suicide bombings are only an excuse. This siege only strenghten the hardliners, on both sides. Sharon has been trying to kill him for years, he fears the President may be able to carry the reforms process through, achieve a ceasefire from the armed groups and eventually win a new democratic mandate at the next January' elections. But he is wrong. We will only get out of here as free people, without white flags."

As the same Israeli public opinion acknowledges, Arafat's siege does little to stop the martyrs or to bring a ceasefire any nearer. On the contrary, the assault at the Muqata has prompted mass demonstrations and street protests, breaking the military curfew. On Tuesday a Palestinian newspaper thanked Sharon for "bringing new leaf into the Intifada", with the return of civil resistance and spontaneous revolt against the Israeli occupation.

For the Israeli premier there is only one person responsible - Yasser Arafat - who does not control the Islamic movements and whose security services have been wiped out by the IDF since September 2000

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