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Jerusalem: West Bank's Bloodiest Fight Takes Place; U.S. Envoy Finally Meets Palestinian Leader

Aired April 5, 2002 - 20:00   ET


BILL HEMMER, HOST: One of the bloodiest days of fighting to date in the West Bank takes place on Friday. And Anthony Zinni finally gets his long-awaited meeting with Yasser Arafat.


ANNOUNCER: America's envoy meets Yasser Arafat, but the journalists covering the story become the story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An Israeli soldier took aim and fired a baton round, a large plastic projectile that left a chip in our windshield. As we continued to attempt to leave the area, a jeep again tried to ram us, and then another shot.


ANNOUNCER: Revenge for the Passover massacre. Israel says it's killed the mastermind behind last week's deadly suicide bombing.

They're the last line of defense against the suicide bombers.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I heard the bomb, saw a flash, and I was thrown back. In the first seconds, I thought I had no legs.



HEMMER: Hello again from Jerusalem. In one of the bloodiest days yet of fighting on the West Bank, Palestinians say 25 Palestinians were killed on Friday. Meanwhile, Israel says it will not end its offensive until it's able to root out what it calls "the terrorist cells" operating now in various West Bank towns.

Meanwhile, diplomacy has shifted to a higher gear. The Secretary of State Colin Powell will be in the region on Monday. He will leave the States, Washington, D.C., on Sunday night. Earlier today, Colin Powell said the Israeli military operation should end, quote, "without delay."

Meanwhile, here in the region, diplomacy did continue. For the first time, Anthony Zinni, the U.S. envoy, did meet in Ramallah inside that besieged compound with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader. They talked for about 90 minutes, and aides to Arafat say he is committed to a cease-fire and the Tenet plan.

Also, Palestinians say that Anthony Zinni was able to broker a deal to get top Palestinian leaders together to talk about how to get out of this current crisis, but they also say the Israelis later blocked that meeting. Whatever the case, Arafat and Zinni did get together, and did talk, and journalists once again found themselves right in the middle of another story. In Ramallah tonight, once again, here's Michael Holmes.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anthony Zinni visited Yasser Arafat around midday, the meeting lasting an hour, some tentative steps taken, but the situation on the ground unchanged. Palestinian sources saying the meeting was, quote, "difficult," unquote.

Those sources said a three-man political security committee has been set up to work out the next steps. Yasser Arafat complained to Zinni that despite the demands of the United States president and governments around the world, Israeli tanks far from withdrawing from Palestinian-controlled areas, are still almost literally on his doorstep.

Earlier the media, including CNN, left in a convoy for the Palestinian Authority headquarters to cover the arrival of General Zinni, an important moment for United States-led peace effort. All was quiet at the compound, about 25 journalists standing, waiting, until two Israeli army jeeps stopped about 100 meters away, an unmarked blue Mercedes behind them. A tank swung its turret toward us.

Then, without warning, the jeeps accelerated toward the media and their vehicles, some of the journalists present having to scramble out of the way. It was unclear what the soldiers wanted. A couple of journalists saw the soldiers wave the media away. The vast majority heard or saw nothing before the first stun grenade was thrown.

It wasn't the last. As a confused media ran for cover, more grenades, perhaps half a dozen or more. If it had been unclear what the soldiers wanted us to do, by now it was very clear. CNN's vehicle rammed by one of the jeeps, despite the fact it was blocked in by another media vehicle and unable to move.

As the media convoy struggled to reverse away from the compound, an Israeli soldier took aim and fired a baton round, a large plastic projectile that left a chip in our windshield. As we continued to attempt to leave the area, a jeep again tried to ram us. And then another shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He just shattered the windshield, that shot, by the way.

HOLMES: Two rubber-coated steel bullets hit our rear window, leaving cracks, but without penetrating the reinforced glass.

Our journey away was difficult. It was blocked at a couple of points.

(on camera): Inside an hour of the incident at the compound, we were stopped by Israeli troops, who are now informing us -- sorry?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Military area. You can't stay here. Just go out.

HOLMES: Go where?


HOLMES: As you heard, we've just been told that this is a closed military area. We were told a little while ago that that had expired yesterday. It is now a closed military area. We're being ordered out.

(voice-over): Some of the media were questioned, had their press credentials and passports taken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want our IDs. IDs. Where are our IDs?

HOLMES: At this point, CNN was not questioned or interfered with. We specifically asked what the soldiers wanted us to do.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go back? Go back? OK.

HOLMES: We followed instructions and left the area.

Elsewhere in Ramallah, curfew lifted briefly for only the second time since the incursion began more than a week ago. People stocking up on essentials in a city running short. For a short time, the citizens of this city and journalists allowed to move freely.

Michael Holmes, CNN, Ramallah.


HEMMER: Late on Friday, Israel says it has struck back and struck back hard at leading Hamas members. It says it has now killed the suspected mastermind of the Netanya bombing, again, the one that went down 10 days ago at the beginning of Passover. Twenty-six Israelis were killed in that suicide bombing, again, 10 days ago.

The Israelis say Kias Adwan (ph), a leading Hamas member operating out of the town of Tubas in the West Bank, was killed along with five others.

Earlier Friday, reports of heavy fighting again today in Nablus and Jenin, reports in Hebron as well. The Palestinians say 25 Palestinians were killed during the Friday fighting.

Meanwhile in Bethlehem, the standoff does continue. Two hundred Palestinian gunmen still inside the Church of the Nativity. There have been talks of mediation for four days now, but as of tonight, though, those talks continue. No end in sight to this situation in Bethlehem.

Also in that town, even when it is quiet, it appears the tension is still thick and heavy. Today, Ben Wedeman went back to Bethlehem once again for us.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bethlehem's new masters patrol deserted streets. Palestinian resistance has died down, but Palestinian resentment hasn't. On a street corner, a pile of rotting rubbish and pictures by children of war.

(on camera): This appears to be some sort of school work, actually. Israeli soldiers firing at Palestinians. Here's one with (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Palestinian head dress, with Iraq.

(voice-over): We ran into Michael Nassar, a U.S. citizen desperate to get out. But he can't.

MICHAEL NASSAR, U.S. CITIZEN: Am I a criminal or what because I'm of Palestinian origin? I'm asking especially the people to write to their congressmen in order to evacuate those American citizens who are here waiting to be evacuated, who are in grave danger, without water, food and anything else.

WEDEMAN: U.S. diplomats say they're trying to arrange an evacuation, but has told Nassar he can't leave. Anyone born a Palestinian is bound by the rules that apply to all Palestinians here.

Near the Church of the Nativity, Israeli soldiers on guard. More than 100 armed Palestinians are reportedly holed up inside.

(on camera): Are they firing from the inside?


WEDEMAN: It's quiet?


WEDEMAN: Now, when can we get a little closer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, you cannot be here as well.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): We stayed anyway. As for them...

(on camera): Have you been given any indication when you might be going home?

(voice-over): For the first time in days, sunshine and the chance to go outside and run around. The curfew is still on, but the soldiers are down the alley, where we ventured, gingerly. There, two Palestinians, bound and blindfolded, at the top of the stairs. Then, Israeli armored vehicles cracked water pipes in the narrow streets. Like peace, a rare commodity in this region going to waste.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Bethlehem.


HEMMER: Throughout the week, we've been reporting on Arab protests taking place throughout the region here -- Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, other places like that. Tonight, though, live from New York City about 1,000 protesters now marching through Manhattan, saying what they believe should take place here in the Middle East. They say Israel should get out its current operation. Right now, again, in this live picture, marching in front of the Israeli mission there in Manhattan.

However, that operation did pick up steam once again today. And questions persist now, can Colin Powell make a difference when he comes here early next week? Andrea Koppel now and the secretary of state's mission beginning Sunday.


ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Outside the State Department, a peaceful protest calls on Israel to withdraw from West Bank cities.

It's the same message in cities throughout the Middle East, but with much angrier crowds, holding demonstrations against Israel and the United States. Among many reasons, Jordan's King Abdullah suddenly sent his foreign minister to Washington with an urgent letter for President Bush.

MUASHER: This has become an Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This has become an Israeli-Arab conflict. And it is threatening everything we have worked for for the last ten years.

KOPPEL: Also threatened, Yasser Arafat's role as the Palestinian leader, his credibility questioned by the United States.

BUSH: My worry is that Yasser Arafat can't perform.

KOPPEL: The White House said there are still no plans for Powell to meet Arafat next week. As for Israel, Powell signaled the U.S. wants action before he arrives.

POWELL: The president's expectation is that the incursions will stop, and the withdrawal process will begin, as soon as possible or without delay.

KOPPEL: But Jordan is pushing for an immediate Israeli withdrawal, and also wants Powell to bring a detailed timetable for a future peace deal. MUASHER: If the parameters of this final settlement are made clear, then I think everybody should be expected to do its parts; Arabs, Israeli and Americans, as well.

KOPPEL (on camera): If nothing else, Jordan's message to the administration is a preview of what Powell is likely to hear during his trip to the Middle East, when, as the old expression goes, he steps out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Andrea Koppel, CNN, at the State Department.



HEMMER: Will you see peace in your lifetime?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I used to think so. I was absolutely convinced. I worked hard enough to try to re-legitimize the language of peace. Now I am worried.


ANNOUNCER: Bill goes one on one with a top Palestinian lawmakers.

And later, they sacrificed themselves to save others.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Seeing all these people makes me scared sometimes, it's like a nightmare, but I must protect the people here.


ANNOUNCER: But live from Jerusalem is back in two minutes. But first, should Israel withdraw from Palestinian towns? To take the quick vote, head to The AOL keyword is CNN.


HEMMER: One of the more difficult things about covering this current crisis in the Middle East is the classic chicken and egg argument, who did what to whom and when did it happen first. You can waste a lot of time chasing that argument. On Friday, we sat down with Hanan Ashrawi, a leading member of the Palestinian delegation. We wanted to get her thoughts on the wisdom of suicide bombers, and the possibility for a break through.


HEMMER (voice-over): Mid-week, next week, Colin Powell is expected to be here. Is he wasting his time?

HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATOR: It depends on whether Colin Powell comes with a clear mandate and an operative word. Is he really going to intervene, is he going to present a concrete position, does he have the will and the political will to stand up to Sharon for a change, for once in their history. They have to tell Sharon that he has gone too far. That this is unacceptable.

HEMMER: They've done that now.

ASHRAWI: They did it without results. Because they did it without a real knowledge, without a real articulation of the consequences when they said Israel has to stop the incursions and to withdraw, Sharon said no, I'm going to do what I please. I have another week to continue to kill Palestinians.

HEMMER: Let's say the Israeli military pulls out. After that happens, did the suicide bombers come back?

ASHRAWI: It's not just a question of dealing with the latest escalation and the latest horror. The question is do you give people hope? Suicide bombers are not emerge from a vacuum. And they are not born, they are made. And we are not a suicidal culture or society. What they've done is driven the Palestinians to a point where they've created suicide bombers among us. And I think that if you give people hope, if you don't push them to the point of desperation, if you say that not only is there an abstract reason, but there is a concrete process for getting there, and your life is changing...

HEMMER: But right now, you know the Israeli military incursions took place because of what happened on Passover evening in Netanya and in the days after that.

ASHRAWI: No. No. That's a nonsequitor.

HEMMER: In the near term...

ASHRAWI: That's a nonsequitor. I would like to change this -- excuse me, this is the Israeli version. They try to find one incident and then they say we are reacting. It seems to me...

HEMMER: So you think they were going to do this anyway.

ASHRAWI: Oh, yes. The Israeli plan has never been a secret. I don't know if you have read, if you have heard, the moment that Sharon came into office, this was his plan. And it was no secret. They may have called it the field of souls, they may have called it the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) plan. But it was there, and he said it: The shelling, the shooting. Then the tightening of the siege, and then the incursions for a short while, and then the reoccupation. And then the destruction and the killing systematically. This was all planned, and it was all set in motion.

It was a plan waiting for the right occasion, and every step they escalate, and then they find a pretext for an excuse. So I'm not surprised by it.

HEMMER: You talk like the Israelis talk, though, when they say a year and a half ago when Ariel Sharon went to the Al Aqsa (ph) Mosque, that that's what helped them incite the Palestinian side. Your accusation is that Ariel Sharon had this master plan the whole time.

ASHRAWI: They had it and they published it. But Sharon was not actually in government during his incursion to the Aqsa Mosque. He had the plan then. He wanted to defy Netanyahu, and he wanted to create a situation of instability and conflict that would improve his chances. And that would get him into office. And he got precisely what he wanted.

HEMMER: Will you peace in your lifetime?

ASHRAWI: I used to think so. I was absolutely convinced.

HEMMER: And now?

ASHRAWI: I worked hard enough to try to relegitimize the language of peace. Now I'm worried that the brutality of Sharon, the ongoing shelling and killing and murder and assassination...

HEMMER: But he has the weight of the world right now on his back not to continue this.

ASHRAWI: He is creating -- it doesn't matter to the 14-year-old kid, young girl who has killed today, to the two sisters who were killed, to they're parents, brothers, sisters. You are not going to tell them that Sharon has the weight of the world on his back. They were killed today.

HEMMER: The Palestinians say it is the Israelis who have the F- 16s and the Apache helicopters. The Palestinians have people. Do you think suicide bombers are legitimate?

ASHRAWI: I think they're tragic. I think they're absolutely tragic. Their double victims. And they also happen to victimize other innocent people, so the tragedy is compounded. It is not a question of legitimacy. Palestinians do think, as a whole...

HEMMER: Do you support that?

ASHRAWI: No. I've come out openly, repeatedly, repeatedly saying that this shouldn't happen. I also feel sorry for the young people who find no other recourse but to turn their bodies into weapons when they don't have anti-aircraft, they don't have anti-tank weapons. And when they're being beaten and brutalized daily, that's their way of saying give me liberty or give me death. So, they choose death.


HEMMER: Hanan Ashrawi also expressed a lot of displeasure at Arab governments around the region, saying they simply have let down the Palestinian people. Meanwhile, the Israeli government insists it will not stay in the West Bank. It says once its military operation is finished, it will get out.

We'll be right back.

ANNOUNCER: Coming up, protecting the people.


CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Guards like Oleg Puhily (ph) work here, on the frontline against suicide attacks, working for minimal wage with minimal training, trying to prevent this supermarket from being targeted yet again.


ANNOUNCER: LIVE FROM JERUSALEM is back in two minutes.


ANNOUNCER: There have been 18 suicide bombings in Israel and the Palestinian territories this year. In addition to the 18 suicide bombers, more than 80 people have been killed and more than 700 people injured in those attacks.

HEMMER: One thing that Israel has done in recent weeks and certainly recent days anyway is to increase security here in Israel proper. Bags and people are checked in front of stores and restaurants before people enter. Tonight, the story of security guards now who put their lives on the line to help save others. Chris Burns tonight from Israel.


BURNS (voice-over): Anatoly Guslister (ph) still winces from the shrapnel that fractured his legs. A Jewish immigrant from Uzbekistan, Guslister is construction engineer who settled for a job as a security guard at a Jerusalem supermarket.

A week ago, a Palestinian woman strapped with explosives tried to get in. She refused to be searched. Guslitser shoved her away from the door and she blew herself up.

"I heard the bomb, saw a flash. And I was thrown back," Guslitser says. "In the first seconds, I thought I had no legs."

He is still haunted at night about the other guard at the store, who didn't survive. A teenage girl also perished. "I have dreams," he says. "I go to the shop and I see the guard after the bomb explodes."

The market is open again for business with two new security guards.

(on camera): Guards like Oleg Puhily (ph) work here on the front line against suicide attacks, working for a minimal wage with minimal training, trying to prevent this supermarket from being targeted yet again.

(voice-over): Puhily, a Russian immigrant with an engineering degree, took this job to support his wife and three children. "Seeing all these people makes me scared sometimes," he says. "It is something like a nightmare. But I must protect the people here."

Tel Aviv's lively cafe scene is also looking more like an armed camp, this after the latest wave of suicide bombings that killed 125 Israelis in March alone. Guards look for anyone or anything suspicious.

(on camera): Some people say that being a guard in places like this is like being a human shield. How do you feel about that?

OFER BELSHIMOL, SECURITY GUARD: A little bit afraid. But what we can do here in Israel? This is our city. We love Israel.

BURNS (voice-over): Do the security guards make cafe-goers any safer?

LISA PHILOSOPH, CAFE PATRON: Yes, absolutely. But I still look myself. I don't rely completely on them.

BURNS: Just down the street, another cafe is being rebuilt after a Palestinian suicide bomber blew it up last week, killing himself and an Israeli woman.

(on camera): Lifeguards aren't the only guards here on Tel Aviv's beachfront. Some restaurants have started posting watchmen just in case.

(voice-over): Watchmen like Charlie M'Hamed, an Israeli-Arab.

(on camera): And by stopping it, that could quite likely mean your life, too.

CHARLIE M'HAMED, SECURITY GUARD: Well, you know, everybody think about the life, everybody, all of us. But some of us, we have to keep the country, keep the restaurant -- we work here. We work. We have to keep it.

BURNS (voice-over): Even if it means sacrificing himself.

Chris Burns, CNN, Tel Aviv.


HEMMER: It has been about four days since the last explosion within Israel proper. And Israelis say the random violence here has simply changed their lives. And nowhere is that more evident than on the empty streets of Jerusalem by day.

I'm Bill Hemmer. Thanks for watching. We'll see you again tomorrow LIVE FROM JERUSALEM.


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