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U.S. Envoy Anthony Zinni Has Met with Arafat; Israeli Forces Keeping Up Massive Military Offensive in West Bank

Aired April 5, 2002 - 11:01   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: First up this hour, diplomacy in the Middle East. As you have heard, U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni has met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Our Michael Holmes is live in Ramallah with more on these face- to-face talks, and if in fact they were able to produce any progress.

Michael, hello.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, to you, Daryn.

Yes, that meeting began about six hours ago now. We're told it lasted about an hour. General Zinni going in a motorcade to Yasser Arafat's battered compound, and walking into the building and meeting face-to-face with the Palestinian leader.

Now Palestinian sources tell us that the meeting was in their words -- quote -- "difficult" -- unquote.

They did say that they had to decided after talks with General Zinni to set up a three-man protective security committee. Now what we're told that committee's job is to work out mechanisms by which they can implement and observe the U.N. resolution passed this last week, also the Tenet and Mitchell plans in full.

On this committee, the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat, a very seasoned negotiator, and we know that he is on the committee, and two other Palestinian Authority officials, including a senior official of the security apparatus here in the West Bank.

So this committee, we understand, will meet as early as this evening. It's about 6:00 p.m. here, and begin discussions. Where they lead remains to be seen. Anthony Zinni returned back to Jerusalem. He didn't have any other official meetings on his schedule, we're told -- Daryn.

KAGAN: So this three-man security committee, is this who Secretary of State Powell would meet when he comes to the Middle East next weak, or I would imagine those names would still be with Yasser Arafat?

HOLMES: This is all very new information, we're just sort of receiving, Daryn, but I would presume that to be the case, that this will be the committee that works how to put things in place, and will carry out further meeting with General Zinni, perhaps with Colin Powell if he chooses to meet with them. The Palestinian have said all along that they want Colin Powell to meet with Yasser Arafat.

Whether as a result of these talks today that demand is still in place is not yet clear. There may be a demand that Yasser Arafat meet with Colin Powell. But it may have been reduced to perhaps this security meeting, at least holding some talks with the secretary of state -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And of course not surprising that we would find this meeting between Anthony Zinni, the U.S. envoy, and Yasser Arafat to be newsworthy that it was finally taking place.

But apparently, Michael, as you went to cover that earlier today, and our CNN crew, you were not met exactly with a welcome mat by Israeli soldiers.

HOLMES: No cups of coffee waiting for us, Daryn. No, we got there, and we were there for some five minutes or so, no activity, all very quiet. We were a convoy of five armored media vehicles. About 25 journalists, and all of a sudden two Israeli army jeeps. There was a blue Mercedes behind us, them came roaring up to us. In fact, one of them rammed our vehicle what the lead of convoy. We were all standing around outside. A couple of people out near the jeeps said they saw the Israeli soldiers wave as if to say, go away.

But the bulk of us heard nothing until the first stun grenade came out. It was a session of loud bangs as six or seven of these stun grenades were thrown out of the jeep and into the group of journalists. We backed out, realizing very quickly that they didn't want us there. And as we were backing out, slowly, necessarily so, because it's a convoy of five heavy armored vehicles trying to back out, we had a hard plastic projectile, called a baton round, fired at fairly close range into our windshield, which was chipped, and after we got out in reverse and turned around to drive forward, we had two rubber-coated steel bullets fired into the back of our vehicle, a causing couple of decent-sized cracks and holes. It certainly wasn't a pleasant welcome.

But we were there before the jeeps, and nothing was happening, it was fairly quiet, and this happened all of a sudden. The general feeling among reporter was they could have asked us to leave, and we would have -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Would of. And somewhere got out of this.

Everyone's OK, despite all that?

HOLMES: Everybody is fine, Daryn. No problem.

KAGAN: Stay safe out there. Michael Holmes, reporting to us from Ramallah. Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces are keeping up their massive military offensive in the West Bank. More than a dozen Palestinians have died today.

With more on the escalation of violence, let's check in with Jerrold Kessel. He is reporting from Jerusalem.

Jerrold, hello.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Daryn.

And yes, the focus has been two places in the West Bank, where there's been some very fierce fighting in Nablus and in Jenin, and in the northern part of the West Bank. Now just one further point on that meeting between General Zinni and Yasser Arafat, we understand from other sources that there has been a complication to the extent that the Israelis are not allowing General Zinni to meet with other Palestinian delegations in advance of other meetings that they might have with Yasser Arafat, and also denying Palestinian leadership to meet with the Palestinian Authority president.

We haven't got the confirm from the Israeli side, but we do have that as an allegation really after the meeting between General Zinni and Yasser Arafat, but that Israeli incursion, that sweep that's continued, has been really deepening, and there has been some fierce fighting.

And to talk about that, we have here with us in our Jerusalem bureau Major General Giora Eiland of the Israeli army, and the head of the planning branch of the army.

Thank you for joining us.

I would like to ask you how long will the Israeli operation continue?

MAJ. GEN. GIORA EILAND, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: I guess that before I give you this answer, it is important to define the goals of this operation, and before that is it important to understand the background for this operation.

Now during March, we suffered from a terrible and very extensive suicide attacks conducted by the Palestinian Authority, that caused 134 Israelis dead and many others wounded. And the situation become completely unbearable. So we decided to begin this operation, and from a military point of view, there are two goals: number one, to achieve a significant reduction of the number of terrorist attacks.

So far we are quite successful about that, but of course, we cannot give guarantee that specific attacks will not occur in the future. And the second and much more continuous, if you want, the goal, was to try to dismantle or destroy the terrorist infrastructure and the terrorist infrastructure and the terrorist infrastructure that actually is behind all of these operations.

KESSEL: You say you begun the operation. You've got people on record saying you're in the middle of it. Are you worried that you will end up being in middle of it instead of the end, because you're worried that the United States is coming with this initiative to try to get a cease-fire in place.

EILAND: Fighting against a regime cannot be something that use finish in the certain time. There are no decisive victories in this kind of confrontation, so we do need time. Of course, the more time we have, the more success we will have. But so far, we are quite satisfied with the results we have.

KESSEL: Like what?

EILAND: We managed to capture more than 2,000 weapons of various types, and most of those are illegal weapons, like mortars anti-tank weapons, et cetera. We managed to capture about 1,200 people that are suspected as terrorist, and we believe at least dozens of them are a very dangerous one.

KESSEL: Since the Israeli operation began just a week ago, there's been no fewer than three devastating suicide bombings. Some people say that not only can't you stop them, but this might exacerbate, and you might have more suicide bombing because of an operation like this.

EILAND: This is exactly intent of the operation, to prevent this situation. And as I said, we found a lot of laboratories, depots, places where explosives are made, explosive belts are constructed, and we believe that if we have visible time to continue them, our successes will be continued. Of course, if we have to stop this operation, then we might achieve only part of our goals, but from military point of view, are not satisfying.

KESSEL: Thank you very much, Major General Giora Eiland of the Israeli army.

And we heard him saying there about the goals of this operation, not linking it on a political level to whether they will be interrupted by the arrival of Secretary of State Powell next week in the beginning of the U.S. initiative.

But the Palestinians certainly were in the wake of President Bush announcing that initiative yesterday, very hopeful not only that it would start right away, but that it would bare very immediate fruits in getting the Israelis to stop their operation. This is what we heard from the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: We hope that the vision outlined by President Bush will be transferred into a realistic political track, that will take into account the implementation for resolution 1402, the implementation of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and the Tenet and the Mitchell Report, and above all, to have a meaningful negotiations that will lead to ending the Israeli occupation and getting Israel to withdraw to the June 4th (ph), borders, including Jerusalem, so a Palestinian state can be established next to the state of Israel.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KESSEL: Well, there you have the two different, perhaps anticipation of this start of the American initiative. The Israelis hoping, as we heard from the IDF general, saying they hope to have time to at least go further, if not to conclude their objective of trying to root out the source of terror. Palestinians hoping that this initiative will be linked directly to the start of a very clear cut political momentum, to try to not only get cease-fire in place, but a political settlement in place. The story continues to unfold as does the diplomatic initiative.

KAGAN: Leading to next week which will be fascinating and hopefully a hopeful week as well.

Jerrold Kessel in Jerusalem, thanks very much.

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