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Israeli forces seize Arafat hq.

RAMALLAH (WEST BANK) MARCH 29. Israeli troops today stormed the headquarters of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat and shelled a three-storey building where he took cover in a windowless room _ Israel's opening shot in a large-scale military campaign in response to anti-Israeli attacks that killed 30 civilians in three days.

After declaring Mr. Arafat an ``enemy'', Israeli forces also seized the West Bank town of Ramallah, to which Arafat has been confined for four months. Five Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed in the fighting here.

A defiant Mr. Arafat huddled with his closest advisers in a groundfloor room, as Israeli troops, punching holes through walls of adjacent buildings, moved closer to the Palestinian leader. At one point, Mr. Arafat's guards exchanged fire with approaching Israeli forces, in which one guard was killed and 25 were wounded.

After nightfall, Israeli forces cut off electricity to Mr. Arafat's office building, destroyed a generator and entered Arafat's three-storey office building, confining him to the middle floor, where he has his main office, dining room and sleeping quarters, said a senior Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said he was in contact with Mr. Arafat by cell phone.

Maj. Gen. Yitzhak Eitan, commander of the Israeli troops said they were in control of the compound, with the exception of Mr. Arafat's office building. He said large amounts of weapons were found and about 60 people were arrested.

With a submachine gun placed next to him on a table, Mr. Arafat spoke by phone to a dozen world leaders and demanded immediate international intervention. His aides said the situation was very volatile and that Mr. Arafat's life was in danger.

Mr. Arafat said he did not fear death and would not be cowed down. ``They want me under arrest or in exile or dead, but I am telling them, I prefer to be martyred,'' he said in a telephone interview with Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite television channel. ``May God make us martyrs''.

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, a 18-year-old Palestinian girl blew herself up at the entrance of a Jerusalem supermarket killing herself and two Israeli civilians, and wounding at least 19 shoppers. A militia linked to Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement claimed responsibility.

The violence appeared to doom the latest U.S. truce mission, though the U.S. envoy, Anthony Zinni, was to remain in the region. Mr. Zinni spoke to Mr. Arafat by phone on Friday and met the Palestinian Cabinet Minister, Saeb Erekat, in the West Bank town of Jericho.

The fighting came a day after an Arab summit in Beirut, Lebanon, approved a plan that calls on Arab nations to develop normal relations with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Mideast war. The plan marked the first time in more than a half-century of Mideast conflict that Arab states have made such an offer. Israel said it would study the plan, but that its top priority was responding to Palestinian attacks.

Israeli police stormed the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, firing stun grenades to disperse stone-throwing Muslim worshippers. The compound, the third holiest shrine of Islam, is revered by Jews as the site of their biblical Temple.

In response to the attacks, Israel's Cabinet met for an all-night session. The Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, announced that Israel now considered Arafat an enemy and would completely isolate him. The Cabinet also approved a large-scale military operation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the callup of thousands of reserve soldiers, the largest mobilisation in a decade.

Mr. Sharon did not explain what branding Arafat an enemy would mean in practical terms, but left open the possibility that the Palestinian leader could be expelled from the Palestinian territories at a later time, as several Israeli Cabinet ministers have demanded.

The Israeli Defence Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, said no Palestinian engaged in terror activity against Israel was immune from Israeli reprisals. Asked whether that also applied to Mr. Arafat, he said the Palestinian leader would not be harmed physically. — AP

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