Israel has vowed to continue its siege of the Ramallah headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, earning it rare criticism from its staunchest ally, the US. Talks, scheduled for 26 September, intended to resolve the stand-off were called off by the Palestinians, who accused Israel of preventing the so-called 'Quartet' - diplomats from the US, Russia, UN and EU - from meet with Arafat.
Israeli forces started destroying the presidential compound on 19 September, after two suicide bombs in as many days killed seven Israelis. Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer said on 25 September that the siege, imprisoning Arafat and 200 other Palestinians, would continue until 'the objective is achieved' and the 50 alleged 'terrorists' trapped in the complex surrender. Arafat has refused to hand over the men named on the Israeli list, who include Tawfiq Tirawi, head of intelligence in the West Bank.
The UN Security Council on 24 September passed a resolution demanding that Israel 'immediately cease measures in and around Ramallah', and put an end to 'the destruction of Palestinian civilian and security infrastructure'. However, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has brushed aside the resolution despite calls from the US, which chose to abstain, to comply. In an unusually direct rebuke, US President Bush on 24 September described the actions of its key regional ally as 'not helpful in terms of the establishment and development of the institutions necessary for a Palestinian state to emerge.Our abstention should have sent a message that we hope that all parties stay on the path to peace,' he added.
Israel tried to dismiss the significance of the US' refusal to veto the UN resolution, saying that Washington was acting to preserve the international coalition ahead of possible action against Iraq, but the White House denied any connection between the two events. While the Palestinian leadership welcomed the resolution as a step in the right direction, senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat warned that resolutions alone were insufficient. 'We need to see such resolutions implemented, because Israel is the champion of nations undermining Security Council resolutions and not implementing them,' he said.
Despite mounting international condemnation, Israel continued to intensify military actions in the Palestinian territories. Dozens of tanks and armoured vehicles, backed by helicopter gunships, entered suburbs of Gaza City on 24 September in a major invasion in which at least nine Palestinians were killed and many more injured. Other raids took place across the West Bank, with Israeli troops summarily demolishing the houses of Palestinians who they accuse of launching terrorist attacks.
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