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AMERICAN MORNING WITH PAULA ZAHN

Interview with Gideon Meir, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman

Aired April 24, 2002 - 07:19   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: We move on to the Middle East now, where getting to the truth will have to wait at least an extra day. At the eleventh hour, Secretary General Kofi Annan has agreed to Israel's request to delay a fact-finding team's visit to Jenin. The UN team plans to investigate allegations that Israeli forces massacred innocent Palestinians during fierce fighting earlier there this month.

Joining us now from Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Gideon Meir -- good morning. Thank you very much for being with us, sir.

GIDEON MEIR, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: Good morning, Paula.

ZAHN: Exactly what did you think was wrong with the team that the UN had constructed to go over today?

MEIR: Israel declared its willingness to cooperate with the fact-finding team, which was decided by the secretary general and endorsed by Security Council resolution 1405. The problem was that the composition of the team was not exactly what we thought about. Because since there was the first battle in Jenin, and it was important that the experts of -- that military specialists will be part of this team that will know to explain and to understand what actually happened there on the ground in Jenin, in the refugee camps, in the capital of terror, with the whole infrastructure of terror which was placed in Jenin.

ZAHN: So what you're essentially saying is you think the deck was stacked against you because there wasn't going to be any military representation? That the UN was trying to go after a specific result?

MEIR: I don't want to use this kind of language, but I would say that the fact that there were some drafts of terms of reference, which went not according to the resolution of the Security Council, at least did not express the spirit of the Security Council resolution. The fact that there were no experts on urban fighting, which was very important in order to really find what the facts were on the ground there during this first battle between the Palestinian terrorist and the Israelis.

The fact that Israel lost there 23 of our soldiers. The fact that so many Palestinians booby trapped themselves, booby trapped their friends (ph), booby trapped the buildings, is something that has to be checked. It's not only the Israel Defense Forces who has to be investigated. Everything which happened to Jenin, everything which led to the battle in Jenin has to be checked by this team.

ZAHN: You know doubt know that the critics of this move suggest all this is, is stalling on the Israelis part. Let me share with you something that Nasser Al-Kidwa said, who is the Palestinian observer to the UN -- let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NASSER AL-KIDWA, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UN: We thought that the Israeli side did not have anything to hide. Obviously, they do. But more importantly, of course, this is another flagrant violation of relevance to Security Council resolutions. And, of course, a violation of international law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Sir, that is a very serious charge put out by the ambassador, that the Israelis are breaking international law here. Your response to that charge?

MEIR: Paula, what else can we expect from a Palestinian representative. The breaking of the law was done by the Palestinian Authority and even by some UN organizations, who let this kind of terror infrastructure develop in the Jenin refugee camp for so long.

Where were all those humanitarian groups during the building of this infrastructure, during the building of this production line of massive terror explosive (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there? We have to remember 23 out of 100 suicide bombers came out of Jenin. Most of the suicide bombing which happened in Israel, where we lost our people, whole families, the massacres in Israel, came out of Jenin. And we went to Jenin in order to uproot terror.

I would like to make another point. We offered the Palestinians humanitarian help and they declined our help. We offered the Palestinians four ambulances and they declined our help. We offered the Palestinians blood from Israelis who wanted to donate blood to the Palestinians, and they declined it because it was Jewish blood. And, therefore, we had to bring blood from the helicopter -- blood from Jordan.

So all of this has to be checked by the team. And it's very important that everything will be open to the team.

ZAHN: If you get the people on the team that you want, do you think you're going to get a fair shake.

MEIR: We hope so. Our experience is not so good. But we hope that we will get a fair hearing there, that everyone who is involved with what happened in Jenin, what led us to Jenin, the doctors who saw all the Israelis wounded, the families of the killed and the wounded, will all be heard by this team.

ZAHN: And no doubt, you know that when people look at these pictures of the destruction in Jenin, there are some who believe clearly, they say, that the Israelis went too far. Justify this morning what people are looking at here. When they hear reports that offices were systematically destroyed and homes bulldozed over.

MEIR: Look, Paula, I myself went to Jenin. A week ago I was in Jenin and I saw that the devastation out of this first battle was only at 10 percent of the camp. You know, yesterday on CNN, you interviewed Talbot Maldawi (ph), one of those who were sending suicide bombers to Israel. And he said on camera that they were surprised that the Israelis came with infantry rather than target them with helicopters and F-16s.

So there was a real battle there. And the devastation that you saw was only in the center, where the center of terror was in the refugee camp. So, you know, the lens is not wide enough open to show the whole camp, and it shows only the center of the camp. But I was there myself, I saw it with my eyes.

ZAHN: We are going to have to leave it there this morning. Gideon Meir, of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, thank you very much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

MEIR: Thank you for having me.

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