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April Fool’s Day = The Siege of Ramallah and Related Weblinks to Other Articles

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  • Peter S. Lopez de Sacra
    ... April Fool’s Day = The Siege of Ramallah and Related Weblinks to Other Articles April 1, 2002 Residents Cower in Ramallah, Now a Ghost Town Occupied by
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2002
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      April Fool�s Day = The Siege of Ramallah and Related
      Weblinks to Other Articles

      April 1, 2002
      Residents Cower in Ramallah, Now a Ghost Town Occupied
      by Israelis

      RAMALLAH, West Bank, March 31 � This once bustling
      hillside city, the commercial, political and
      intellectual capital of the Palestinian West Bank, was
      a ghost town today, quiet except for Israeli tanks and
      armored personnel carriers.

      On the third day of the siege of Yasir Arafat's
      compound, Israeli soldiers have all but taken over the
      city. They have sandbagged positions and put snipers
      on rooftops. They have intensified their hunt, house
      to house, building to building, for any Palestinian
      men they can find, dragging them off, sometimes
      blindfolded, for questioning.

      The Israeli tanks and armored bulldozers have crushed
      automobiles (including a few BMW's), knocked over
      power poles and torn up water mains. In the center of
      town, hardly anyone dares venture outside, and even in
      remote neighborhoods, it is rare to see anyone, not
      even a face peeping from a window.

      Electricity and running water are out in some sections
      of town. With stores closed, food is running out.

      The Israelis have commandeered whole buildings,
      forcing families into a few rooms and, Palestinians
      say, smashing and stealing their possessions.

      "We used to see scenes like this in refugee camps and
      now it's us," said a well-to-do academic who preferred
      not to give his name.

      A decade ago, after the Oslo accords, this was a place
      of hope. Although there are squalid refugee camps on
      its edges, Ramallah has been largely a middle-class
      city. Its name in Arabic means Hill of God, and in
      Ottoman and British times it was a cool summer refuge
      for rich Palestinians. It was a place for business
      people, and for intellectuals from Bir Zeit

      The Quakers came here and built a Friend's School,
      which is still open. The Roman Catholics built an
      elegant stone compound. Many people emigrated to
      America; some married there, and many returned to
      build flashy mansions, often after their children grew
      into teenagers and became tempted by modern ways.

      A substantial portion of the population is
      part-American. It was possible to run into a young
      woman shrouded in Islamic black who announced,
      "Chicago Bulls rule!" and turned out to be a
      journalism student from Northwestern University,
      visiting home.

      With the dream, finally, of a Palestinian nation,
      people and money poured back in, to a shopping mall, a
      hotel tower with a swimming pool and plenty of marble,
      even a brewery making Taybeh, an amber beer.

      That was before Friday.

      At Ramallah Hospital, where posters of suicide bombers
      decorate the walls of the wounded, Dr. Munzer Sharif,
      the Palestinian Authority's deputy minister of health,
      was in his usual basement office today, answering his
      usual constantly ringing phone as an ambulance
      screamed in with a wounded man.

      Two Palestinians were killed today after they opened
      fire on Israeli soldiers. Dr. Sharif said there were
      more bodies they could not reach, perhaps seven. That
      would make the count 24 over three days, he said.

      In reality there seemed to be little fighting today,
      other than a few bursts of gunfire around Mr. Arafat's
      compound, apparently intended to keep him on edge.

      An Israeli commander, Maj. Gen Gioria Eiland, said at
      a military briefing this evening that the siege of Mr.
      Arafat, who has been holed up in the last two livable
      rooms of what was a British Mandate police station,
      would go on.

      "There are still dozens of wanted people inside,"
      General Eiland said. "Unless they come out, we will
      not change our way of treating this building."

      The Israelis were faced with a strange phenomenon
      today: about 100 European and American peace
      activists, led by Jos� Bov�, the French scourge of
      McDonald's and globalization, who have managed to
      infiltrate the town. About 60 managed to rush into Mr.
      Arafat's compound today to visit him, and 40 vowed to
      stay as human shields.

      "Our actions will prevent an attack on the building,"
      said Claude Leostic, one of the group. "We are staying
      here, and the Israeli Army should know that if it
      opens fire, it will also open fire on Europeans."

      An army spokesman said the group ignored orders to
      halt and "in doing so endangered their lives and the
      lives of the soldiers." The Israeli military said 13
      members of the group were later arrested after they
      left Mr. Arafat's office.

      Other members of the group joined doctors and other
      medical workers at Ramallah Hospital in a human wall
      that eventually swayed an Israeli unit not to raid the
      hospital to search for weapons or wanted men.

      The Israelis seem to view foreign journalists as a
      threat, too. This afternoon the army decreed: "The
      entire Ramallah area has been declared a closed
      military zone. No foreign citizens (including members
      of the media) are allowed to be in the closed zone.
      Anyone found in the closed zone henceforth will be

      A little while later, a reporter for The Boston Globe,
      Anthony Shadid, 33, was shot in the shoulder as he was
      walking near Mr. Arafat's headquarters. He was
      reported to be in stable condition. How he was shot
      was unclear. When a group of colleagues tried to see
      him at Arab Care Hospital near Manara Square, they
      were refused entrance by Israeli soldiers who had
      taken up positions inside the hospital.

      At a Foreign Ministry press headquarters in Jerusalem,
      government officials warned tonight that journalists
      caught here would have their press cards revoked.
      Organizations that continued to report from Ramallah
      could have problems, officials said.

      The army has already issued orders that no journalists
      are to be permitted past the checkpoints that surround
      most of the town, but it was possible to slip into
      Ramallah today by back roads and a dirt path.

      There are several dozen journalists here, many of whom
      have been here since Thursday, expecting an Israeli
      retaliation after a suicide bombing killed 22 people
      on Wednesday in Netanya. The journalists move
      tentatively through the streets in small convoys,
      their headlights flashing. Some cars are marked all
      over with strips of red tape spelling TV.

      The siege has been harsh on the residents.

      Dr. Jihad Mashal, who lives in a three-story apartment
      house near Al Amari refugee camp, said the four
      families living there � 24 people � had been ordered
      into a tiny, two-room basement apartment while
      soldiers took over the rest of the building.

      "The apartments are totally used by the army," Dr.
      Mashal said. "Some of them are used by the snipers,
      the upper floors. The other places are used by the
      soldiers to plan. They have maps of the city, colored
      ones, with a clear view of every single house. They
      removed all the furniture and they are using the space
      in the middle of the apartment for their maps.

      "We have rice, some cans brought from the apartment
      upstairs. We tried to ask them to let the children go
      out and play, to get some fresh air. We asked
      permission, but they did not allow."

      When Stephanie Koury, an Arab-American lawyer, tried
      to take a picture of her car, which had been crushed
      by a tank, a soldier pointed a rifle at her and told
      her to get back inside.

      "They went house to house, into every house in the
      neighborhood," she said. "There were 10 soldiers in my
      house for three hours. They went through my stuff �
      closets and drawers � in the kitchen, eating my food,
      fruit, bananas on the table."

      Then they asked her to give one of the soldiers a
      massage, which she refused. "It was disgusting," she

      Nidal Abdullah, 17, said he was one of those detained
      by the army.

      "They called everybody out of the houses," he said.
      "Any male from age of 16 to 45. They made us lift up
      our clothes to make sure we didn't have any weapons.
      Then they sat us all down in a field."

      The group was split up, and some 150 were sent to a
      school, where they were held overnight and released
      today. At the school, he said, "sometimes they would
      call a person outside and hit him a little, smack him
      around, not too hard, slap him in the face."

      Bahij Abdullah, 61, owner of a hardware store, said:
      "It's like a curfew here; nobody's moving. They are
      shooting at everything that moves. Yesterday someone
      was killed 10 meters from our house by a sniper."
      Residents Cower in Ramallah, Now a Ghost Town Occupied
      by Israelis = NYTimes {4-1-02}

      A Breach Prompts Israel to Bar Foreign Media From
      Ramallah = NYTimes {4-1-02}

      Sharon's Words: 'Israel Stands at a Crossroads' =
      NYTimes {4-1-02}

      Bomber Strikes Jews and Arabs at Rare Refuge = NYTimes

      Relatives and Neighbors Proud of Suicide Bomber =
      NYTimes {4-1-02}

      Big Raid May Be Near After Suicide Bombing Kills 14 =
      NYTimes {4-1-02}

      Bush Backs Sharon as Advisers Doubt Israeli Strategy =
      NYTimes {4-1-02}
      Israel's military on the move in West Bank = CNN World

      Pope Laments 'tragic' Mideast = March 31, 2002 Posted:
      6:44 AM EST (1144 GMT)

      Michael Holmes: Arafat remains defiant = CNN {3-31-02}

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