Israel kept up the pressure on Yasser Arafat on Sunday, maintaining its tanks on the streets of Ramallah right outside the Palestinian leader's offices, provoking more armed clashes and threats from Islamic radicals.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was quoted in the daily Maariv as saying "it is preferable that Arafat stays locked in Ramallah instead of being expelled from the (Palestinian) territories as he could cause more harm outside."
"He opens the windows of his Ramallah offices, he sees our tanks and knows he has nowhere to go. He is dying to travel and fly off, it's making him sick since he knows he is locked up in our jail," Sharon said.
The hardline militant group Islamic Jihad said its armed wing would renew attacks Israel if the siege on Arafat was not lifted.
The group, together with its larger counterpart Hamas, also warned last week it would resume strikes if the Palestinian Authority did not release Ahmed Saadat, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
Another group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, called for Palestinians to launch suicide attacks on the Israeli army, and for human shields to be formed against the "crimes" of Israel.
Clashes erupted Sunday for a third consecutive day in the town where Arafat has lived since December 3 when Israel destroyed his three helicopters and refused to allow him to leave the town until he arrests Saadat and the PFLP killers of tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi.
At least 15 Palestinians were wounded in the clashes, including two people shot in the head, in the street fighting, and Israeli blew up the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation building Saturday.
The Israeli daily Haaretz quoted military sources as saying that Israeli strikes in retaliation for the killing of six people at a family party in Hadera, northern Israel, last week would continue, with the focus on the Palestinian Authority and Arafat's Fatah faction.
Israeli security sources quoted in the daily Yediot Aharonot said West Bank Fatah leader Marwan Barghuti had given the Hadera attack the green light and hinted he could be put on Israel's list of possible targets for assassination.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell said recent events had created a very dangerous situation in the Middle East.
"It's a very dangerous situation," Powell told US television from Tokyo where he is attending an international conference on funding for the interim Afghan government, referring in particular to a ship Israel seized full of arms allegedly sent from Iran and destined to the Palestinian Authority.
"And a particularly complicating situation at this time, or event this time, was the ship, the Karine A, bringing those weapons into the region," said Powell, who demanded an explanation from Arafat.
"And when you have the kind of senseless violence, terrible, terrible tragedies of the kind we saw at the celebration of a young girl's bat mitzvah, that just sets us back," Powell added, speaking of the Hadera massacre.
In another sign of growing tensions within Palestinian society, Palestinian police used tear-gas Saturday to disperse a protest in Ramallah by 400 PFLP supporters whose leader was arrested by the Palestinian Authority last week.
The protest was the latest in a series of small rallies demanding Saadat's release. He was arrested by Arafat under pressure from Israel, which has refused to allow him to leave Ramallah until Zeevi's killers are jailed.
The PFLP gunned down Zeevi in revenge for Israel's assassination of Saadat's predecessor Abu Ali Mustafa, accused by the Jewish state of masterminding a string of car bombings.
Israel dismissed Saadat's arrest as a sham and said Arafat could not leave in any case until the actual killers were jailed.
Shortly before dawn Saturday, Israeli troops supported by 20 tanks blew up the Palestinian radio station in Ramallah.
The army said the destruction was part of its response to the Hadera shooting by a gunman from Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a radical Fatah splinter group which has swung into violent action after one of its leaders was killed last week in a blast widely blamed on Israel.
The sudden upsurge in violence has crushed hopes that a truce declared by Arafat in mid-December could lead to a peace breakthrough.
The Palestinian leader, meanwhile, issued an urgent appeal to US President George W. Bush to send his special envoy Anthony Zinni back to the region. He also asked the European Union to put an end to "Israeli aggression."
Sporadic violence flared across the Palestinian territories overnight, with heavy exchanges of fire reported in Ramallah, while shots were also fired at army posts near neighbouring Jewish settlements.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, an Israeli military base near Nablus was targeted as well as a border guards' position in Bethlehem, military sources said.
Israeli vehicles were shot at near Nablus and Hebron while a bomb was set off near Jenin in the north as an Israeli military vehicle drove past. A Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip was also fired on.
(China Daily January 22, 2002)