/ 1 January 2002

Arafat’s Hebron headquarters demolished

The Israeli army, using explosives and armoured bulldozers, completely demolished overnight the Hebron headquarters of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, witnesses said on Saturday.

The massive three storey building, which housed administrative and security offices, had been under siege since Tuesday, as Israeli forces sought the surrender of wanted Palestinian militants they said were holed up inside.

Palestinian security officials could not confirm whether there had, indeed, been anyone inside the building when the final assault by sappers took place after midnight.

Israeli army radio was mute on whether there had been any deaths in the blast, which it said involved two tons of explosives.

The witnesses said the building had been nearly levelled by charges placed inside and that the bulldozers had finished the job.

The explosion was so powerful that houses and vehicles several hundred metres away were damaged, their windows blown in.

”It was like an earthquake; all the furniture in my house moved,” said a nearby resident.

Early on Saturday morning, the Israeli bulldozers were continuing their work, clearing away the rubble.

Army officers quoted by the radio said there had been about 15 wanted Palestinians inside the building. They were said to be members of Tanzim, the Israeli term for fighters linked to Arafat’s Fatah organisation.

However a former Palestinian legislator who entered the building on Friday in a bid to negotiate a surrender said he had found no one inside, although he had not visited every room of the huge complex.

An Israeli army representative said more than 20 Palestinians had surrendered after the siege began on Tuesday, ”while other terrorists implicated in murderous anti-Israeli attacks remained entrenched inside”.

The representative added that the army had authorised ”senior Palestinian officials to make direct contacts with the terrorists in the building to encourage them to surrender. But the terrorists refused to give themselves up, and the army then decided to destroy the building in a controlled manner”.

Hebron is the seventh of the West Bank’s eight major towns reoccupied by Israel in the past week following deadly Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets the previous week that left 31 Israelis dead. – Sapa-AFP