During the six-hour raid, the forces blew up three buildings, including the Palestinian intelligence headquarters, and shelled Arafat’s living quarters.
Palestinian security forces and Israeli troops exchanged heavy gunfire, according to the Israeli army. One Palestinian intelligence officer was reported killed in the assault.
Israeli forces withdrew from the compound by daybreak and, several hours later, Arafat emerged from his headquarters, giving victory signs and waving to the throngs of Palestinians who came to show support.
“This will not affect the Palestinian people. On the contrary, it will increase the steadfastness of this people,” Arafat said, to the cheers of his onlookers.
Arafat gave reporters a tour his damaged living quarters, pointing to his dust-covered bed, broken bathroom mirror and tiles. Arafat said he narrowly escaped Israel’s attempt to harm him and demanded immediate international intervention against such “fearsome aggression.”
“I was supposed to sleep here last night but I had some work downstairs…They shelled this room wanting me to be here,” Arafat told reporters, according to the Palestinian news agency. “Of course [the Israelis] knew where I was. Everybody knows this is my bedroom.”
Amid rising speculation that the Israeli government may seek to expel the 72-year-old Palestinian leader, a reporter asked Arafat if he would leave the region in the wake of Thursday’s assault on his living quarters.
Arafat answered, “Expel me?” he said. “I will die here.”
But, an Israeli army spokesman today denied that Arafat was a military target or that Israel wants to injure him.
“If there had been any intention of harming Arafat, it would not have been a problem,” Capt. Jacob Dallal told the Associated Press.
Several hours after its forces left Arafat’s compound, Israel sent tanks rolling into the Ramallah suburb of Beituniya and surrounded a large apartment complex. After heavy exchanges of fire between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops, Israeli forces arrested six men, including a suspected member of the extremist Islamic group Hamas.
The Ramallah incursion was in retaliation for Wednesday’s suicide car bombing that killed 16 Israelis, including 13 Israeli soldiers, in northern Israel. The Palestinian Authority and Arafat immediately condemned the bombing that the militant group Islamic Jihad conducted.
In a prepared statement, Israel’s Defense Ministry said it launched the Ramallah raid because “it was impossible to ignore the current murderous wave of terror” and that “all steps will be taken by the defense establishment and the army to stop the terror.”
The statement also said the Palestinian Authority is “directly responsible for terrorism that originates in its territory.”