Ramallah is located on a major crossroads in the West Bank, with a commanding view of its surroundings, ensuring a continuity of population from the city of Jerusalem northwards.
The Ramallah area is composed of two main sectors: the lower city of Ramallah and the city of el-Bira (a separate municipality) to the east. South of the city is the el-'Amari refugee camp and to its north is the town of Bir Zeit (known for its university, the largest on the West Bank), and the Jalazoun refugee camp.
Ramallah is one of the two major Palestinian seats of power. The central Palestinian governing institutions are located within Ramallah, including: offices of the Legislative Council, the executive branch and a large number of Palestinian West Bank security forces' headquarters.
Ramallah is a relatively modern city with Jerusalem-style high-rise buildings. In the past, Ramallah constituted a tourism and entertainment center. The Ramallah district contains 220,000 residents. Of these some 57,000 are located in the cities of Ramallah and el-Bira.
Arafat, until recently, had divided his time between Gaza and Ramallah, due to the presence of central governing institutions presence in both cities.
Ramallah Prison (al-Mukata'a) was established by the British in order to detain revolutionaries. Jordan used it as a military base. Israel used it as a prison for arresting Palestinian activists. This prison is considered the principal site for detaining security prisoners from all the districts of the West Bank. It is also considered important because the Presidential helicopter lands in it when the President arrives in the West Bank. The Presidential guard surrounds the area whenever the President is in Ramallah.
After the coming of the Palestinian Authority, the prison was transformed into a security compound that was divided into different sections to accommodate the different security services. General Intelligence is responsible for security matters and arresting political activists from opposition groups. Military Intelligence is responsible for security prisoners (collaborators with Israel). National Security is responsible for protecting the city of Ramallah by setting up checkpoints in the streets. Military Collaboration specializes in coordination with Israel.
Ramallah Axis of Terrorism
Since the beginning of the current conflict, Ramallah has stood out as a major center of terrorist activity against Israeli civilians and security personnel. According to Israeli authorities, the terrorist infrastructure in the city, and at times in the entire West Bank, are dependant on senior Fatah leadership and senior commanders of the Palestinian security apparatus.
Since the death of Raed Karmi on January 14, 2002, the city has been characterized as the capital of Palestinian terrorism, from which many terrorist attacks have emanated. Among those we may count the suicide attack in Tel Aviv's Sea Food Market restaurant, the terrorist infiltration of 'Ayn 'Arik, and the attack on civilians and IDF soldiers at the British Police roadblock.
Palestinian Security Forces
Due to the fact that Ramallah constituted an administrative and governmental center, the Palestinian Authority security forces established their headquarters in the city. The National Security headqarters is located in Ramallah's Mukt'ah as are the headquarters of Force-17, Preventive Security and Civil Police.
The Palestinian security forces, and especially Force-17, have played to varying extents, an active role in major terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and IDF troops perpetrated within in the Ramallah area, in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel. The mutual relationship existing between the Fatah in Ramallah and members of the security forces (often on a personal basis, due to the fact many security force personnel were originally from the Fatah) has blurred the distinction between the Palestinian security forces and the Fatah. The former participate actively in terror operations, either as individuals or on an organizational level (e.g. Force-17).
The Israeli government has singled out the Fatah, headed by Arafat as the major terrorist organization operating out of Ramallah. Marwan Barghouti, Secretary General of the Fatah, who is also head of the Tanzim, serves directly under him. Many senior Fatah leaders have established themselves in Ramallah. Fatah is accused of being responsible for a long list of deadly terrorist attacks (suicide operations, shooting attacks, kidnappings and bombings) which took the lives of many dozens of Israelis, though given the multiple linkages and affiliations between the various Palestinian factions, direct causation is as of yet still uncertain. Following the death of local Tanzim leader Raed Karmi on January 14, 2002, terrorist organizations have changed their modus operandi from shooting attacks on roads to suicide bombings in Israeli cities, and terrorist attacks against IDF checkpoints.
Other terrorist organizations operate from the city, among them the Hamas which had carried out the major suicide bombings in Jerusalem (e.g. the Sbarro pizzeria bombing, a Jerusalem pedestrian mall double-suicide bombing and the Cafe Moment attack which claimed the lives of 11 Israelis). Israel has accused terrorist operatives of enjoying the protection of the security forces who do not stop the activities in the city. Even though Ramallah is not the primary site of Hamas activity on the West Bank, Ramallah does constitute a "relay station" for suicide attacks in Jerusalem.
An additional terrorist organization that operates in and from the city is the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. This organization, even though it is relatively small, has chosen Ramallah as the main focal point for its military and political operations. The leadership of the terrorist organization within the territories are situated in Ramallah. It has carried out a large number of spectacular attacks which have claimed the lives of many victims. Among these: the bombings in the Ariel hotel and the Karnei Shalom mall, and the assassination of the late Minister of Tourism Rechavam Ze'evy, whose murderers departed from and returned to Ramallah. The organization now specializes in suicide bombings.
The remaining Palestinian terrorist organizations, such as the Islamic Jihad, maintain "representatives" in Ramallah. They reportedly cooperate together and with the official security forces of the Palestinian Authority.
Arafat pent his final three years confined to his Ramallah headquarters, only leaving when he fell seriously ill and was flown to France for treatment. Palestinians filed past the burial site of Yasser Arafat on Saturday 13 November 2004, a day after he was laid to rest in an emotional funeral in his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The Palestinian leader was laid to rest amid chaotic scenes, as thousands of mourners mobbed his coffin as it was carried on its final journey. Earlier, there was a funeral ceremony in Cairo, where foreign dignitaries paid their respects to the man who for decades was a symbol of the Palestinian resistance. Palestinian officials announced they expected to hold elections by January 9th to choose a successor. Within hours after Mr. Arafat's funeral in Ramallah on Friday, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for reinvigorating efforts to establish a democratic Palestinian state and peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The mood at Yasser Arafat's Muqata compound was calm and composed. Palestinians still filed past his marble coffin to lay wreaths, flowers and olive branches and to say prayers. But gone was the raw emotion that characterized his funeral a day earlier when tens of thousands of mourners swarmed in and around the compound to say good-bye to their leader of 40 years as he was laid to rest. While Friday had been dedicated to remembering the Palestinian leader, the talk Saturday turned toward the future. Palestinian law calls for elections within 60 days to choose a successor to Mr. Arafat as president of the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians officials said they expected to hold the vote within that timeframe. Some called on the international community to help by pressuring Israel into pulling back from the Palestinian territories to allow a proper election to take place.
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