Arafat calls for US help to free him

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A bitter Yasser Arafat today demanded that the Bush administration and the international community act together to free him from isolation imposed by Israel..

He accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of pursuing his offensive in the West Bank after promising to pull back.

"They are continuing their aggression against the Palestinian people," Mr Arafat said after a two hour meeting with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is winding down a 10-day peace mission that has produced few results.

Mr Arafat said he was appealing for international help to end Israel's siege of his Ramallah compound. "I have to ask the Bush administration, the international community, is this acceptable that I cannot go out the door," he said, his voice rising with apparent exasperation. Just next door, Israeli gunners peeked through half–opened windows and Israeli tanks ensured the confinement of the Palestinian leader.

"Who can accept this?" MrArafat asked. "They are returning back," referring to Israel's latest surge into Palestinian areas, after Mr Sharon had said he would withdraw Israeli troops within a week from all towns and villages except Ramallah and Bethlehem.

Prior to Gen. Powell's arrival for the meeting, top Arafat adviser Saeb Erekat said: "The situation is very grave. I don't know if we have a Palestinian Authority anymore." Notwithstanding U.S. calls a week ago for a total military pullback, he said, Israel "is deepening the occupation. The situation is worse than it was seven days ago."

As Gen. Powell and Mr Arafat talked, an Israeli soldier briefly waved his country's flag from the window of a building that troops have occupied adjacent to Arafat's headquarters, countering a Palestinian flag suspended from the windows of the besieged compound.

Israeli troops continued their operation today in a Palestinian village inside Jerusalem's expanded city limits,taking people from their homes and making arrests, witnesses said.