Arafat surrounds compound with junked cars, concrete barrels

Friday, May 7, 2004

RAMALLAH The Palestinian Authority has fortified the headquarters of chairman Yasser Arafat to prepare for any military showdown with Israel.

Palestinian forces brought concrete barrels and abandoned cars to surround Arafat's headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah. PA sources said the fortification was ordered by Arafat's Force 17 praetorian guard, responsible for the security of the chairman.

Israeli forces have deployed outside Arafat's offices and earlier this week briefly raided the compound, Middle East Newsline reported. The sources said the Israeli troops have engaged in what they termed threatening moves almost nightly in what appeared to comprise psychological warfare against Arafat.

On Thursday, Palestinian bulldozers brought scores of automobile wrecks to the PA compound. At the same time, cement trucks were filling hundreds of barrels around Arafat's offices.

PA sources said the fortification of Arafat's headquarters was meant to slow down any Israeli military advance so the PA chairman could call for reinforcements and telephone his allies in Egypt and Europe. They said Arafat believes Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was planning to raid his offices, capture the chairman and expel him either abroad or to the Gaza Strip.

Arafat has been holed up in his Ramallah headquarters since early 2002. Israel has allowed him to leave for abroad, but refused to guarantee that he could return.

At a news conference, Arafat dismissed any Palestinian plan to resist an Israeli attack on PA headquarters. He said Israel understands that he was ready to die rather than surrender to Israeli authorities.

In Washington, the Bush administration has changed its policy toward Arafat's prime minister, Ahmed Qurei. President George Bush plans to send his first letter to Qurei that will outline the U.S. vision of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

U.S. officials said the letter would be the first by Bush to the PA prime minister. They said this would represent an expansion of the administration's dialogue with the PA.

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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