by DEBKAfile, 1 April 2002

"In the last 24 hours, the Palestinians have produced new tactics for assailing Israeli armed forces engaged in a major operation to uproot Palestinian terror.

In Qalqilya Sunday morning, April 1, eight hours after a large Israeli tank and ground force took control of the West Bank city, seven Israeli soldiers were injured, one seriously, by a Palestinian trap. Sent to silence a rooftop sniper, they entered the room below – at which point six explosives planted in the room were detonated.

In Ramallah, one of the houses scoured by Israeli troops for terrorists and weapons was filled with gas during the night. The Palestinians attempted to ignite the gas when the soldiers were inside, but failed.

A far more complex and ambitious tactic blew up in their faces: the attempt to pit a unit of suicides, especially trained by al Aqsa Brigades commander Tawfiq Tirawi, against Israeli forces in Ramallah.

This was the first such battlefield confrontation.

It was preceded by an intelligence ruse. Taking advantage of the turmoil of the Haifa restaurant suicide bombing Sunday afternoon, March 31, a group of foreign pro-Palestinian campaigners – most from Europe – managed to get past Israeli forces in Ramallah and reach Arafat’s office. With them were some foreign correspondents.
When the group left the office, planted among them were several Palestinian terror chiefs wanted by Israel. The moment the campaigners were outside, they were surrounded by heavy Israeli forces and most of the Palestinian fugitives captured.

But the protesters performed a more important clandestine service for the Palestinians, as it later emerged:
While holed up in Ramallah, Palestinian strategists had devised a plan for deploying a unit of suicides for the first time in battle against Israeli troops. The unit’s mission was to fight the Israeli siege force and inflict heavy casualties, after which the survivors were to head for Arafat’s compound, break the Israeli encirclement and release their leader and his men.

Palestinian recovery of control of Ramallah’s center – even for a few hours - would have been a major victory, enabling Arafat to declare he had broken out of the Israeli siege in 2002, unlike the one in Beirut 1982. To carry this operation off required intelligence and a means of sending orders out of the besieged quarters to the unit. The European protesters were more than willing to oblige. As they advanced on foot through Ramallah to Arafat’s compound, they noted the positions of Israeli troops and tanks and made their report to the imprisoned Palestinian leaders. While the news cameras recorded the foreign supporters hugging and kissing the Palestinian leader, Tirawi took a group aside and briefed a small group on the orders to be conveyed to the suicide unit. When they left, they carried orders to the suicide unit waiting outside in central Ramallah.

That night, a contingent of 40-50 suicide combatants – some armed with explosive belts - went into action. As they advanced on the government compound, they were quickly surrounded by elite IDF troops, who fought their first hand- to-hand battle with a large contingent of suicides trained in military combat.

The battle lasted six hours. Palestinians with explosive belts strapped to their bodies attempted from time to time to approach Israeli soldiers and blow themselves up together – and were thrown back. The battle ended with the Palestinian unit destroyed or captured. Six were killed and four seriously injured. There were no Israeli casualties.
The defeat of Tirawi’s crack suicide unit ended Arafat’s hopes of fighting his way out of his corner. His best option now is to take advantage of the negotiating paths opened up since Sunday by a group of Arab rulers, led by Morocco’s king and European Union officials for his safe passage outside the area of conflict. Morocco appears to be willing to accept him as a political exile. Otherwise, he will stay on as an Israeli prisoner while the men around him gradually turn themselves in.

The defeat of the suicide unit has wider repercussions. Until Sunday night, the suicides were considered invincible, capable of bringing governments and armies low by terrorizing civilians. It is a fact that not a single Israeli child is to be seen on the country’s streets despite the Passover holiday, that Israel’s restaurants, cafes and shopping centers are shunned and the tourist industry has crashed all over the Middle East.

The Ramallah battle proved that suicides can be disarmed and vanquished when deprived of their primary weapon: their ability to instill fear.

Yet Arafat and his following are reported by DEBKAfile’s Palestinian sources to be utterly convinced they are within an inch of victory, that Israel has been brought to collapse by the seemingly inexhaustible supply of suicide bombers. They are now preparing a further escalation of their offensive by targeting Israeli leaders, starting with prime minister Sharon.

So confident is Arafat that he now talks to his confidants - not merely as Palestinian supremo, but as a leader of Middle East stature, who is capable of bending Arab regimes to his will with his ultimate weapon – suicidal terror."