Tags: Arafat | Surveys | Damage

Arafat Surveys Damage

Friday, 03 May 2002 12:00 AM

It was a visit he was forced to make in a convoy of cars borrowed from citizens since his own fleet of black Mercedes, Land Rovers and sport-utility vehicles was wrecked when Israeli troops brought Operation Defensive Shield to Ramallah.

The 34-day siege ended Wednesday night after men wanted in the slaying of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavaam Zeevi were transferred from Palestinian control and locked in a Jericho cell under British and U.S. control.

For some two hours Thursday Arafat drove around Ramallah, which has become the Palestinian Authority's temporary capital in the West Bank. Grinning and waving the V-sign for victory inside the car and outside, Arafat kissed and hugged friends and well-wishers and was especially warm to Mohammad Barakeh, an Israeli-Arab member of Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. Barakeh later appeared to wipe away tears.

Arafat wanted to give the impression that once again he survived Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's onslaught, and this time in better shape than before. In the 1982 Lebanon War, when Sharon was Israel's defense minister, Arafat was forced to leave besieged west Beirut.

"His presence [here] means this is a victory for us ... despite the destruction to the infrastructure, the people killed," director of Sheikh Zayed Hospital, Dr. Samir Saliba, said.

Arafat started his visit at a makeshift graveyard outside the government hospital. Palms open, he led his entourage in prayer. He next visited some of the wounded inside the hospital, shook their hands and wished them strength and a quick recovery.

One of the wounded, a 20-year-old man who wanted to be identified only as Hussein, said he was shot by Israeli troops while trying to buy bread during a curfew. Hussein was on his back, his leg in a cast on which a friend had drawn a picture of a handgun and wrote: "We will go on fighting and not surrender. Swear to God, we will take revenge."

"It makes me feel good to have him visit me in the hospital," Hussein said.

Doctors said Arafat himself seemed healthy. "He is walking. He doesn't look sick. I think he lost weight but in general he looks good," Dr. Saliba noted.

Arafat visited the Ministry of Education, the Palestinian Legislative Council compound, and the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Center. Children in blue uniforms came forward chanting, "Millions of martyrs are marching on Jerusalem."

It was a battle cry Arafat had chanted with supporters and which Israelis said prompted the wave of suicide bombings in Israel that led to Operation Defensive Shield.

Arafat inspected damage to buildings, walls, doors, central heating facilities and helped paint a wall. Standing in one room, his hands on his waist, he looked at the bare gray building blocks and scraps of iron protruding from the walls and said: "This is an international big crime. This is the pure Nazi picture of the Israeli army and Israeli leadership."

Arafat said the Palestinian people are the toughest people in the region, adding that "they [Palestinians] are ready to defend their holiest sites. But they believe that they will reach peace one day."

He said despite the widespread destruction, "we will build all that had been destroyed again."

"This [Israeli] aggression would never break the determination of our people in looking for freedom and independence," Arafat said.

He angrily condemned the continuation of the standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and said whatever happens in the church is an "awful crime against our holy sites.

"How could the world possibly be silent about this atrocious crime?" Arafat asked. "I don't care what would happen to me. What concerns me is what is happening at the church. This is a crime that cannot be forgiven."

Despite the warmth showed him by many Palestinians, there also was some muted criticism because Arafat allowed six men to be taken to the jail in Jericho.

"I don't agree the men should have been imprisoned," Hussein said.

A wounded fighter who did not want to be identified, said, "This is not a victory ... I feel we fought for nothing."

By early afternoon, the 72-year-old Arafat was back at his offices for a light meal and a rest. Outside, 3-year-old Mahmoud Abu Ghoush found new toys as he clutched in his little hands bullets he had collected.

Supporters stood on the steps of the building and chanted they would redeem their leader with their blood and spirit.

Arafat, in a military-style uniform and black and white kefiyyah headdress, chanted with them but instead talked about redeeming Palestine. His right hand waved the V for victory but a bearded aide standing behind propped it up.

Reporters were allowed to peek into what remained of the headquarters but not into the rooms where Arafat stayed.

The Israelis had been one floor above Arafat, the Palestinians said. There was extensive damage. Parts of the ceiling had collapsed and bullet holes were everywhere. Water from burst pipes trickled across the floor, broken desks were piled up in corners and ants energetically nibbled at leftover food.

The Israelis and the Palestinians had been close enough not only to shoot at one another but also to shout at each other. One of the Palestinians, Allm Omar, 29, said mostly they just traded vulgar insults.

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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It was a visit he was forced to make in a convoy of cars borrowed from citizens since his own fleet of black Mercedes, Land Rovers and sport-utility vehicles was wrecked when Israeli troops brought Operation Defensive Shield to Ramallah. The 34-day siege ended Wednesday...
Friday, 03 May 2002 12:00 AM
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