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Israeli Military Pulling More Troops Out of West Bank Cities

Aired April 21, 2002 - 08:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Now to the Middle East, where the Israeli military is pulling more troops out of West Bank cities.

Tanks rolled out of Nablus and parts of Ramallah, but they haven't gone far.

CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is live once again in Ramallah with more details for us.

Hello, again, Nic.


Well, those APCs and tanks belonging to the Israeli army moved out of Ramallah overnight and within an hour of first light this morning, downtown we found storekeepers returning to their stores, sweeping out the glass, trying to get their businesses going again.

Some of the stores have not been effected at all apart from the fact that they've been closed during this period. Others have suffered quite extensive damage. Bullets have gone into the walls, windows, destroyed these sorts of things.

But what we have found downtown today in Ramallah, there are no longer any Israeli army check points or operations points throughout the central parts in the town here. There had been positions where Israeli army tanks and armored personnel carriers had been positioned.

Now a big cleanup is under way to get businesses trading again and get businesses trading again and allow people to come out of their homes. They were flooding out of their homes not longer after the businesses were up and running, to get their lives back to some semblance of normality.

However in the north of Ramallah, around the compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, there still remains a tight Israeli security presence.

We were around there this morning, dodging the barricades to get in, and we could see three tanks inside that compound, several APCs around it.

Residents in that neighborhood say that the curfew for them still exists, that they're being told not to leave their homes. Now, the Israeli government says that it will maintain that security presence around the Palestinian leader's compound because there are men in that compound it wants to try for killing an Israeli minister late last year.

Now, those people were brought to the Palestinian leader's compound just a few weeks ago. They were brought with the knowledge of American officials and with the understanding and assistance of the Israeli government at the time. They are now in that compound and that is the issue that is keeping the Palestinians and the Israeli’s positions apart here in Ramallah -- Kyra?

PHILLIPS: Nic Robertson with the latest from Ramallah. Thank you so much.

Israeli forces have a specific reason for staying outside Yasser Arafat’s office. They want Arafat to hand over five men suspected of murdering an Israeli official.

The Palestinian officials say this disagreement was settled long ago.

CNN’s Sheila MacVicar explains.


SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In early december, Israeli tanks surrounded the Ramallah headquarters of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

He was besieged and would only be free Israel’s, prime minister then said, if he ordered the arrests of those suspected of murdering Israel’s tourism minister.

Rehavam Ze’evi had been shot to death on the eighth floor of a jerusalem hotel on October 17th.

The Palestinians suspected of the murder at this hotel were arrested, by Mr. Arafat's police in February.

Sources tell CNN it was clear to both the governments of Israel and the United States that the Palestinians fully intended to bring the suspects to trial.

Three of them were found in the West Bank city of Nablus. Because Nablus and Ramallah are separated by land controlled by Israel, Palestinian officials sought guarantees they could be safely transfers and assurance Israel would not intercept the three.

A deal was brokered.

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Through the Americans, through the Europeans and through the Israelis. The Israeli prime minister knew about it. The Israeli defense minister knew about it. The Israeli chief of staff knew about it. And head of the Israeli intelligence knew about it. MACVICAR: The suspects were imprisoned in Mr. Arafat's compound. The plan was to try the men in a Palestinian court in Ramallah.

“There is no agreement between us and the Israelis that stipulates we hand accused people over,” says Col. Dafan (ph). “We are supposed to try them and Mr. Sharon agreed to that. All that were involved in this agreed to that.”

CNN sources confirm that was indeed what the Israeli and American governments agreed to.

But in what has become one of the key issues, Israel’s prime minister now insists Israeli tanks will not leave Ramallah and the siege on Mr. Arafat will not be lifted until the suspects, still in the compound, are handed over for trial in Israel.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: If those terrorists will be handed over to us, we’ll leave there.

MACVICAR: And when President Bush spoke on Thursday…

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: In Ramallah, there is an issue with the Ze’evi five killers.

MACVICAR: Palestinian officials were angered when the president appeared to suggest that he supported the Israeli prime minister's demand and that he ignored or did not know about the deal that U.S. Officials had made in February.

BUSH: I can understand why this prime minister wants them brought to justice. They should be brought to justice if they killed this man in cold blood.

MACVICAR: Palestinian officials accuse Israel’s government of moving the goalpost, of changing the conditions for lifting the siege.

ERAKAT: All of us agreed that they will be presented, brought to justice in a Palestinian court, in Ramallah.

MACVICAR (on camera):: So what changed?

ERAKAT: That's a good question for President Bush and for Sharon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's simply a question of Arafat not wanting to put on trial his buddies.

MACVICAR (voice-over): Prime Minister Sharon's spokesman says two months without a trial has been long enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The prime minister of Israel said it very clearly. On this issue, there will be no compromise.

MACVICAR: On Friday, U.S. Officials acknowledged they had been part of the deal to have the murder suspects tried in Ramallah and that they were trying now to get an agreement to end the siege, asking the Palestinians for a timetable for the trial.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We understand that Israel wants to get them in custody. We also understand the Palestinians have them in custody and under the Oslo accord should detain and prosecute them. That's what's made the situation difficult.

MACVICAR: Palestinian officials say that with their cities under Israeli attack or curfew for weeks, and Mr. Arafat besieged, it has been impossible to hold a trial.

They say that even under these conditions, they have begun the process of bringing the men to justice.

On saturday, Palestinian officials re-stated their willingness to stick to their part of the deal brokered in February.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We promise and we are sure that we will make justice with these people.

MACVICAR (on camera):: Israeli officials have said they will go and get the men if they are not handed over.

Palestinian officials say they fear Israel is creating a pretext to further raise tensions and is planning to send Israeli soldiers into the one building in the compound Mr. Arafat still uses, the same building where the suspects are housed in the basement.

And that would be one more very dramatic and very dangerous escalation.

Sheila MacVicar, CNN, Jerusalem.


PHILLIPS: Former President Jimmy Carter helped negotiate a framework for Middle East peace. In 1978 Camp David according.

He wrote about the current Mideast crisis in a “New York Times” op-ed piece.

This is what the former president had to say: “There is an ultimate avenue to peace in the implementation of United Nations resolutions. The basic premises of these resolutions are withdrawal of the Israeli’s from Palestinian land in exchange for full acceptance of Israel and Israel’s right to live in peace. It is time for the United States, as the sole recognized intermediary, to consider more forceful action for peace. The rest of the world will welcome this leadership.”

Meanwhile, President Bush is facing some difficult choice as he deals with the Middle East crisis.

Even as the president works for peace in the region, he's being pressured to take sides in the conflict.

White House correspondent Major Garrett reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The passions of the Middle East are boiling over on the streets of Washington, and with them, renewed domestic political pressures are bearing down on the Bush White House.

CROWD (chanting): One, two, three, four, end Sharon’s bloody war. Five, six, seven, eight, free the Palestinian state.

GARRETT: Pro-Palestinian protests saturday.

CROWD (chanting) Arafat must go! Arafat must go!

GARRETT: a pro-Israeli rally on Monday.

But there's one big difference. At the Israeli rally, prominent lawmakers and the number two man at the pentagon. But these key players skipped the Palestinian rally.

Even so, global protests for the Palestinians have also captured the eye of the White House.

But Israel has the ear of Congress, and lawmakers are leaning on the White House to stand with Israel and punish Yasser Arafat for failing to stop terror

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D) CALIFORNIA: I very strongly believe that the time has come to stand up. I think the time has come to standup. I think the time has come to standup take a position against this kind of really suicide bombing. It has been used as a major tool. I think that Yasser Arafat has spoken out off both sides of his mouth. I think the time has come for us to condemn that kind of leadership.

GARRETT: The White House has prevailed upon Feinstein and other senators to with hold anti-Arafat legislation, but the House of Representatives will proceed next week with a largely symbolic resolution condemning Arafat as a sponsor of terror, despite intense White House objections.

The resolution is expected to pass overwhelmingly.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, U. OF MARYLAND: While the president is being pulled in one direction internationally, he's being pulled by many members of Congress to not restrain Mr. Sharon and to put more pressure on Arafat. And he finds himself in a very, very difficult situation.

GARRETT: Lawmakers insist they're not trying to undermine delicate diplomacy, but are merely reinforcing the Bush doctrine against terror.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNEL (R) KENTUCKY: We're not meddling. I have a lot of confidence in the president and the secretary of state and the national security adviser. But members of the Senate want to go on record.

GARRETT (on camera): The congressional outcry has made a difference. It's one of the reasons the president backed off demands for immediate withdrawal from Palestinian territories. And it led to stepped up calls for Arafat and neighboring Arab nations to do more to fight terror.

Major Garrett, CNN, the White House.






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