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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Israel to Continue Offensive in West Bank

Aired April 8, 2002 - 07:01   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.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Up front this morning, though, in a speech to Israel's Parliament, Prime Minister Sharon said Israel's army would try to act quickly, but will continue its offensive in the West Bank. And in Bethlehem, Israeli fire came close to the Church of the Nativity, where Palestinian gunmen continue to hide inside.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel is standing by in Jerusalem with the very latest -- good morning, Jerrold.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Paula. And we heard a very stinging response from the Palestinians already to what you called rightly a sweeping statement by Ariel Sharon. Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, saying this was a devastating speech by the prime minister, completely eradicating any hope of any dealing between the Arab world, the Palestinians and Israel, while Mr. Sharon was in power. He said it was an attempt to undermine the Powell mission even before it got under way.

Well, maybe that and maybe not, but it certainly seemed to be an attempt to define the Powell mission in a different way from what it had seemed to be setting out, that is to getting a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat. Mr. Sharon saying that he could not deal with this Arafat regime, as he put it, a regime of terror, and he said that the Israeli military action in the Palestinian areas prompted, of course, as he said in that lengthy laying out in detail, because those devastating suicide bombings in Israel would continue until the goal had been met, the goal to dismantle the terror infrastructure.

That despite the president, President Bush calling for the Israelis to begin, without delay, the end of that military operation. And even once the operation is over, Mr. Sharon said, how he would handle the possibility of further terror coming about, he said that he would certainly begin to operate from what he called "security zones."

Now, this was undefined, but he did seem to be saying that he was going to redefine the contours of the land between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank on the presumption that there couldn't be such a cease-fire, but before that is happening, the ongoing Israeli military action.

And it came very close to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem today, fire broke out there as Israelis and Palestinians charging and countercharging of who started an incident, which led to the breaking out of that fire in a compound in a church adjacent to the Church of the Nativity. There, one Palestinian policeman was killed, two Israeli soldiers were wounded in the exchange of fire. Eventually, the fire itself was put out, and that standoff in the church where more than 200 Palestinians have been holed up for almost a week now, continues as it is ringed by Israeli troops.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli troops and helicopter gunships have continued their offensive against the militants, notably in the refugee camp of Jenin in the northern part of the West Bank, where at least 20 missiles were fired into that refugee camp after the Israeli troops had demanded that gunmen still holed up there come out and give themselves up. They didn't. They didn't respond to that Israeli demand, and the gunships went into action.

There has also been fierce fighting in the town of Nablus. The offensive continues. Mr. Sharon saying bluntly it will go on until his mission, as he defines it, is complete -- Paula.

ZAHN: And, Jerrold, against this backdrop, you know how the Iraqi president announcing that he will cut oil exports for 30 days or until Israel withdraws from the Palestinian territories. Any reaction -- official reaction from the Israeli government to that?

KESSEL: No. No reaction, but I think that's already the first ominous sign. Now, it is true, of course, that's coming from Iraq, which has, as we know, taken a very uncompromising view of events between the Israelis and Palestinians to say the least. But clearly, what Mr. Sharon seemed to be saying, perhaps in anticipation of events like this elsewhere in the Arab world, saying that doesn't matter, because I have the initiative. I am going to keep the initiative.

The initiative -- it's not so much that Mr. Sharon was defiant. He was saying this is the way the contours need to be laid out for the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, and this is what Israel has to do to stop terror from going again. And Mr. Sharon seemed adamant about saying I am going to do this. The only glimmer of hope that he seemed to hold out for Mr. Powell as he begins to get to the region was saying he accepted that the Saudi peace proposal had some kind of positive elements. It now needs to be built on in negotiations, said Ariel Sharon -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right. Jerrold Kessel, we are going to leave it there for the moment -- thanks so much for that live update.

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