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Israel Warns Syria and Hizbullah

By VOA News

Israel said Hizbullah guerrillas appear to be massing near its northern border and it is warning the terrorist group, as well as Syria that they are not immune from military retaliation. The warning followed several days of cross-border rocket and mortar attacks Israel blames on Syrian-backed Hizbullah fighters based in south Lebanon. Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Israel would not hesitate to take defensive actions even though it has soldiers engaged elsewhere.


Sharon Offers Arafat Offers Arafat 'One Way Ticket'

By VOA News

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he would allow Yasir Arafat to leave his Ramallah compound, with what he called "a one-way ticket."

The Israeli prime minister raised the possibility of exiling the besieged Palestinian leader during a visit Tuesday to a West Bank army base. He said European Union representatives could, if they want, fly Arafat out by helicopter. But Sharon said if Arafat leaves, he would not be able to return. He also said Arafat could not take anyone with him. Sharon said there are "wanted people and murderers" holed up with the Palestinian leader.

Palestinian officials said Arafat would not accept exile from his homeland under any circumstances. Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat told reporters that Arafat believes not a single Palestinian will accept going into exile. The Palestinian leader has said he would die a martyr rather than give in to Israel.

In Brussels, European Union officials in Brussels said. Arafat remains their chief Palestinian negotiating partner in any Mideast peace talks. Secretary of State Colin Powell said he has asked Sharon not to force Arafat into exile. Powell said the Palestinian leader still has a role to play in the Mideast peace process.

He said that sending Arafat into exile would just give him another place to "conduct the same kinds of activities and give the same messages he is giving now." Powell also said that Israel has a right to defend itself from terrorist attacks. He said the decision on when to withdraw from the West Bank will be up to the Israelis. Powell said he expects a troop withdrawal once Israel has "dealt with the terrorist threats."

The Israeli cabinet last week decided to confine and isolate Arafat, but left open the possibility of expelling him at a later stage. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said such a decision could not be taken without full approval of the cabinet, adding that he voted against it in a earlier cabinet debate.


Palestinians Take Refuge At Christian Holy Site in Bethlehem

By VOA News

Palestinian gunmen battling Israeli forces in Bethlehem have taken refuge in the Church of the Nativity, one of the holiest sites in Christianity. Scores of armed gunmen entered the church after several hours of fighting with Israeli forces who moved into Bethlehem early Tuesday. Israel accused the gunmen of shooting from inside the church, a charge the Palestinians denied.

The church is built over the traditional birthplace of Jesus, the Christian messiah. At least seven Palestinians have been killed in the Bethlehem fighting. Three of them were from the al-Aqsa Brigade, an offshoot of Yasir Arafat's Fatah group that has claimed responsibility for several suicide bombings inside Israel.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian suicide bomber has blown himself up at an Israeli checkpoint in the northern West Bank. No one else was killed or wounded in the incident late Tuesday at Baka al-Sharkiya, near the Palestinian town of Tulkarem.

Earlier, the Palestinians surrendered a major security compound outside Ramallah after a fierce assault by Israeli forces. Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships blasted the compound of the Palestinian Preventive Security service in Beituniya for hours Tuesday. Israeli forces later took away about 200 Palestinians for questioning. Israel said that wanted militants were being sheltered in the compound, a charge denied by West Bank security chief Jibril Rajoub.

Palestinian leader Arafat remained trapped inside his headquarters in Ramallah, where he has been closely surrounded by Israeli forces since Friday. Ramallah officials buried at least 15 Palestinians in a mass grave Tuesday after the local morgue filled to overflowing and bodies began to decompose.


Experts: Sharon Repeating Lebanon History

By Ross Dunn (VOA-Jerusalem)

The two key leaders in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon - were in a similar situation 20 years ago. Many experts in the region believe history may be repeating itself.

It was from Beirut, Lebanon, that Arafat was sent into exile in 1982, after being defeated in a military campaign masterminded by then Defense Minister Sharon.The two have clear memories of the siege of Beirut that led to Arafat being banished to Tunisia, where he lived in exile until 1994, when he was authorized under peace process accords to establish Palestinian self-rule inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Arafat, the Palestinian leader, who remains inside his Ramallah headquarters under virtual house arrest, told CNN he feels he is re-living the past. "For me it is not the first time. He [Sharon] has to remember what happened in 88 days in Beirut."

Sharon hardly needs reminding. He has expressed sorrow at failing to order the assassination of Arafat as the Palestinian leader stood on the docks at Beirut in 1982, waiting to sail into exile. An Israeli sniper reported he had Arafat in his sights for a clear shot. But Sharon could not give the command because of a commitment Israel had given to the United States not to harm the Palestinian leader. Sharon said last week that he regretted having been forced to give the same pledge again, this time to President Bush.

An Israeli commentator, Nahum Barnea, wrote in the Hebrew daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth that Sharon "has not changed his basic conception since 1982."

Barnea said that for the prime minister, "the score is still unsettled from then, waiting to be closed." The commentator said this explains what he called Sharon's "tremendous urge to humiliate Arafat," a humiliation that Barnea said "has no logical use, but is just an old desire for revenge." But Barnea also said he believed that Arafat "bears the main responsibility for the disaster that has fallen on him and on his people."


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