updated 4/22/2004 3:29:00 AM ET 2004-04-22T07:29:00

Yasser Arafat forced 20 fugitives hiding in his West Bank headquarters to leave the premises early Thursday, fearing the Israeli army would invade the complex to grab them, one of the departing fugitives said.

The fugitives, all members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a militant group linked to Arafat’s Fatah faction, have been hiding from the army in Arafat’s headquarters for months. Israel has repeatedly demanded they be kicked out.

Last week, Israeli security officials summoned Ismail Jabber, commander of the Palestinian national forces, and told him if the fugitives were not forced out they would invade, and if necessary, pull them out of “Arafat’s desk drawer,” said a fugitive, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Following that, five of the fugitives left voluntarily. Overnight, at about 3 a.m., Arafat — under pressure from his aides to get rid of the fugitives due to signs Israel was preparing to invade the city of Ramallah — personally told the 20 remaining men to leave, the fugitive said.

He said they had left but were angry.

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