Israel blows up Palestinians' radio station

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The Independent Online

Israel blew up and set fire to the official Voice of Palestine radio station in the West Bank town of Ramallah yesterday, tightening its noose around Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli troops, with tanks and bulldozers, raided the station in a pre-dawn operation and cleared away people in the surrounding area before causing much destruction to the building, which also contained TV studios and offices, with controlled explosions.

The army announced that the operation was in response to the "murderous attack" on Thursday in which a Palestinian gunman burst into a hall in the Israeli town of Hadera and killed six people at a 12-year-old girl's bat mitzvah celebrations before being beaten to death by guests.

The Voice of Palestine was back on air within hours, transmitting on an FM frequency used by a private Palestinian radio station from a studio elsewhere in Ramallah.

It was far from the first attack by Israel on the Palestinians' official broadcasting organisations, but it was the largest. Israel has bombed TV and radio installations in the West Bank and Gaza before. The army demolished one of the Voice of Palestine's main transmitting masts last month, just yards from Mr Arafat's Ramallah office. Then too, the station returned to the air almost immediately.

The destruction yesterday was one of several actions by Israel in the aftermath of the Hadera attack. Its tanks moved to within 30 yards of Mr Arafat's Ramallah headquarters on Friday. An Israeli government spokesman said that the Palestinian leader was free to move only around its immediate vicinity. He was due to be visited there last night by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey.

Mr Arafat, who usually travels much of the time, has been confined to the West Bank town for six weeks amid simmering resentment in the occupied territories. This rose last week when his security forces arrested the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Ahmed Saadat.

Palestinian officials said the demolition of the radio station – long accused by Israel of transmitting inflammatory material – was part of a concerted campaign by Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, to destroy the Palestinian Authority.

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