Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Dozens of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles surrounded Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's West Bank headquarters in Ramallah early Friday, after Israel declared him an "enemy."
The military action follows a series of deadly terror attacks that left more than two dozen Israelis and tourists dead and more than 100 wounded in about 36 hours.
There was no immediate reaction from Washington but sources here said that the mission of U.S. special envoy General Anthony Zinni to bring about a ceasefire would continue.
According to reports from Ramallah, the tanks fired missiles into the Mukata'a compound, where Arafat has been holed up for months, and had broken down one of the surrounding walls. There were also reports of gunfire between the Israeli army and Palestinian gunmen.
Lt. Boaz Pomerantz, 22, was killed in the fighting in Ramallah this morning, an army spokesman said. Several other soldiers were reportedly wounded in the exchanges. Thirteen Palestinian security forces were also wounded, Palestinian sources said.
Arafat told the Qatari-based Al-Jazeera television network that his compound was under Israeli tank and gunfire.
Arafat is Israel's 'Enemy'
Following an all night cabinet session, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told his nation that the government had approved "principles for extensive operational activity against Palestinian terrorism."
"As we speak, the IDF [army] is already inside the 'Mukata'a' in Ramallah," Sharon said in an early morning televised press conference.
Sharon said the Israeli action came in response to the "horrific terrorist attacks" during the last few days, including the attack on a festive meal opening the Jewish holiday of Passover at a hotel in Netanya in which 21 people were killed.
On Thursday evening, four members of the same family were killed in their home in the settlement of Eilon Moreh, near Nablus, when a Palestinian terrorist infiltrated into the community, entered their two-story house and opened fire on the family.
Friday morning two more Israelis were killed in another infiltration by a Palestinian terrorist into the settlement of Netzarim in the Gaza Strip.
"All this has happened at a time when Israel's hand was - and still is - extended towards peace," said Sharon, who was flanked by several cabinet ministers, heads of various political parties as he spoke.
"We have done everything in our power to achieve a cease-fire and an immediate entry into the Tenet process in order to advance any possibility of a cease-fire," Sharon said in reference to the ceasefire brokered by CIA chief George Tenet last June, which never took hold.
"All we have received in return was terrorism, terrorism and more terrorism," he said, adding that no sovereign nation would "tolerate" such events.
Reading from a cabinet statement, Sharon said, that according to the recommendations of all the security agencies, Israel would "act to crush the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure, in all its parts and components, and will carry out comprehensive activity to achieve this goal."
He also said that Arafat had been declared an enemy of the State of Israel and would be "isolated." Sharon later declined to further explain what he meant by "isolated" and what his isolation was designed to accomplish.
Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer said that Israel had only one goal and that was to wage war against terrorism and its infrastructure. The operation will concentrate in Ramallah, which has become what he called the "capital for terrorism."
The government has authorized the mobilization of some 20,000 reservists in order to carry out what is expected to be a lengthy operation in the PA-controlled areas.
Although Arafat had "turned himself into an enemy," Ben-Eliezer said Israel had no intention of hurting the Palestinian leader.
Zinni To Stay
Undaunted by the situation on the ground, Washington's envoy Zinni will be staying in the region to try to bring about a ceasefire.
"The general's mission continues," said U.S. Embassy spokesman Paul Patin by telephone on Friday. According to Patin, Zinni has meetings scheduled on Friday with both Israeli and Palestinian officials, although he could not say at what level.
Arafat aide Nabil Abu Rudeineh appealed in a television interview from within the compound for the U.S. to "order" Israel to stop the attacks.
Calling the Palestinians "freedom fighters," Abu Rudeineh said that the Palestinians are ready for peace but that they would fight to "the last moment." He also said that Arafat was making telephone calls to leaders of the Arab world.
Arafat also reportedly spoke to Zinni on the telephone Friday morning while under siege.
On the al-Jazeera television station, Arafat appealed to the Muslim world to come to the aid of the Palestinians. He also said that he believed Israel wanted to kill, capture or expel him but he wanted instead to be a martyr. The Palestinian flag would one day fly over the mosques and churches of Jerusalem, he added.
The upsurge in violence is taking place against the backdrop of a declaration by the 22-member Arab League following a summit in Beirut.
Arab leaders unanimously accepted a Saudi proposal to offer Israel peace and normalized relations with the Arab world in exchange for a complete withdrawal from areas Israel captured during the 1967 Six-Day war, the establishment of a Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital and a just resolution to the plight of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Israel reacted cautiously to the declaration, which was presented by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to the summit just hours before the Palestinian terror attack on guests at the Passover celebration.
Sharon spokesman Ra'anan Gissin was quoted as saying that the call for the return of refugees and a return to the pre-1967 ceasefire lines were "non-starters." But if it could be used as a framework for negotiations with Israel it could be positive, he said.
Dovish Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said that Israel viewed "positively every initiative aimed at arriving at peace and normalization."
"In this respect, the Saudi step is an important one, but it is liable to founder if terrorism is not stopped. We cannot, of course, ignore the problematic aspects, which arose at the Beirut Summit and the harsh and rejectionist language used by some of
the speakers," Peres said in a statement.
He added that details of a peace plan had to be discussed directly between Israel and the Palestinians, which could only take place after the PA puts an end to terror.
The U.S. welcomed the acceptance of the Saudi initiative at the summit.
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