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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Arafat denounces Israeli siege
wreckage of car after Gaza missile strike
Israel is targeting militants in pinpoint strikes
The besieged Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, has condemned Israel's latest incursions, as tanks surround his battered West Bank headquarters.

Mr Arafat, who is blockaded in Ramallah, said the Israeli Government "has revealed to the world its real intentions as well as its expansionist goals and has ridiculed our calls for peace".

BBC correspondents say that a curfew has been put into effect in Ramallah and the streets are deserted, with residents stockpiling food as the Israeli military appears to be preparing to stay.

Israel's crackdown on Palestinian militants spread to the Gaza Strip on Monday, with a helicopter missile strike that killed six Palestinians.

The Israeli army says a leading member of the Islamic militant group Hamas, identified as Yasser Rizek, was among those killed in the attack.

At least four missiles slammed into a car in Rafah, near the border with Egypt, killing the passengers and driver, Palestinian hospital officials said.

The Israeli cabinet has authorised the army to take Palestinian-administered territory and hold it until suicide attacks are halted.

Hamas under pressure

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has told members of his Likud Party that a "massive operation" would continue in the West Bank for as long as was necessary to halt the suicide bombings. He also spoke of a "sustained operation" against Hamas in Gaza.

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin
Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin has clashed with Mr Arafat before
Earlier, it was reported that Mr Sharon had threatened a "massive" assault on Gaza - which has been spared from the recent pattern of incursions seen in the West Bank - but this was quickly denied by an aide of the prime minister.

In Gaza City, Palestinian police surrounded the home of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas.

Shooting was reported after police announced that Sheikh Yassin had been placed under house arrest.

At least one person was reported wounded in the clash between Palestinian police and Hamas supporters.

In a defiant message, Sheikh Yassin said he had not been told he was under house arrest and would ignore any restrictions on his movement.

"I will pursue a normal life and I will go out," he was quoted as saying.

Hamas has claimed responsibility for several suicide attacks, including last week's bombing in Jerusalem which killed 19 people, triggering the latest Israeli offensive.

Targeting militants

The militant group threatened Israel with reprisals after Monday's air strike.

Yasser Arafat
Much of Arafat's Ramallah HQ lies in ruins
"This criminal act will not go unpunished," said Ismail Abu Shanab, a senior Hamas official.

Eleven people were wounded in the air strike, which targeted a taxi and two other cars, turning one of them into a mound of twisted metal, witnesses said.

Israel Radio said Yasser Rizek was believed to be responsible for an attack several months ago in which four soldiers were killed, as well as other "terrorist" operations.

It was the latest Israeli strike under the policy of targeting Palestinian militants suspected of organising suicide bombings.

Arafat surrounded

Israel's incursion in Ramallah followed similar incursions in Qalqilya, Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus and Tulkarm.

Israeli troops near Arafat HQ in Ramallah
Troops imposed a curfew in Ramallah
The cabinet is also considering the possibility of expelling relatives of suicide bombers from the West Bank.

One suggestion is that they could be taken to the Gaza Strip, which has more secure borders with Israel.

Israel has called up 2,000 army reservists for its "crushing offensive" against Palestinian suicide bombers.

Troops used bulldozers to move debris to block the five entrances to Mr Arafat's shattered compound in Ramallah.

Palestinian cabinet minister Saeb Erekat said Israel was destroying the Palestinian Authority "to replace [it] with the Israeli civil administration and Israeli military government".

But the Israeli Defence Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, denied any such plan, saying he wanted a deployment of no more than six months.

The BBC's Paul Wood
"No invasion of Gaza is planned"
Arthur Lenk, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman
"The way the Palestinians can help their people is to stop the violence"
Saeb Erekat, Senior Palestinian negotiator
"I hold Israel responsible for this escalation in violence"

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See also:

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18 Jun 02 | Middle East
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