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Israeli Troops Surround Arafat Compound

Aired March 29, 2002 - 16:35   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Christiane Amanpour in Jerusalem. We have now on the phone with us, from his besieged compound in Ramallah, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat.

Mr. Arafat, thank you for joining us. Can you tell me exactly what conditions are like at your compound right now?

YASSER ARAFAT, PRESIDENT, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY: Still you are not following. It's aggression. Again it's the Palestinian people in all West Bank and Gaza, where they are divided --completely separated. And also the aggression and the attack in Ramallah, against my headquarters and against the Palestinian people in Berah (ph) and Ramallah and all around it. And the same time they are increasing their forces, their military activities to follow up their aggression against many other places, many other towns, many other cities, many other areas in our Palestinian liberated areas.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Arafat, can you tell me please, has your -- the rooms that you're sitting in, have they been attacked? Have any of your rooms been attacked? Are you under direct physical threat right now?

ARAFAT: It seems that you are not following the TVs all over the world. They have destroyed completely seven of our buildings, completely, around my office, and firing my office with all their armament.

What do you expect? An Arafat that -- and they have to understand it is the Palestinian people who are facing this challenge. And we are sure that our people will continue to stick fast (ph) in the face of this terrorism. This is the real terrorists of the occupation.

And especially they are using all the American weapons against us, of F-15s and F-16s and Merkava and rockets and bombs and artilleries and everything.

AMANPOUR: Do you believe, Mr. Arafat, that they are trying to kill you, trying to harm you?

ARAFAT: What do they expect by shelling us continuously in the last 24 hours? What do you think...

AMANPOUR: Mr. Arafat, what about these...

ARAFAT: ... it is by chance? They're saying that the Americans said that Arafat would not be harmed. It is a problem of Arafat or is the problem of our people, of our liberty, of our independent Palestinian state, of our peaceful agreement between me and my partner, Rabin, who has paid his life for the peace of the brave which we have signed.

In the sight of God, we are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) continual peace of the brave, which I have signed with my partner, Rabin. But we have to remember...

AMANPOUR: Mr. Arafat...

ARAFAT: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) my partner, Rabin, is now in the power in Israel. We are following this with the peace process, with the majority of the Israeli people.

AMANPOUR: Secretary of State Colin Powell has spoken to you, I understand. He has also spoken publicly and called on you to rein in the violence. What do you make of that statement, and can you and will you rein in that violence?

ARAFAT: Are you asking me why am I under complete siege? You're a wonderful journalist. You have to respect your profession.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Arafat, I'm asking you simply a question.

ARAFAT: No, you have to be...

AMANPOUR: Are you able to rein in the violence?

ARAFAT: You have to be accurately when you are speaking with General Yasser Arafat. Be quiet!

AMANPOUR: Mr. Arafat, what did you make of Colin Powell's statement?

ARAFAT: You are covering with such questions these terrorist activities of the Israeli occupation and the Israeli crimes. Take care (ph) not to make these fatal mistakes.

AMANPOUR: Can I ask...

ARAFAT: Thank you. Bye-bye.

AMANPOUR: Well, you just heard a very angry and emotional Yasser Arafat. We have asked him his conditions in there. He spoke about the complete siege of his compound and the breaching of his compound. We also asked him whether he believes he's a target. He asked us, rhetorically, "What did we think about that?"

We asked him to react to Colin Powell's statement asking him to rein in the violence. And he basically said that we were not asking a fair question. Clearly, there is a great deal of pressure right now on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, pressure that the Israelis obviously intend.

That's it for the moment from here -- back to you in Atlanta.


AMANPOUR: I'm Christiane Amanpour in Jerusalem again.

We go now to Ra'anan Gissin, the Israeli government spokesman.

Mr. Gissin, on a day where Israeli tanks have rumbled into Ramallah, occupied parts of that area, surrounded Yasser Arafat's compound, breached the walls of that compound, we have just spoken to Mr. Arafat. And he, essentially, very angrily told us that there was no way that we should be asking how he could rein in violence on a situation like this.

Can you tell us how, militarily, you the Israelis, expect him to rein in the violence, when all their security apparatus is now under siege and has been, essentially, destroyed, and not just today, but over a period of several months and weeks?

RA'ANAN GISSIN, SENIOR ADVISER TO ARIEL SHARON: Arafat has become the con master in playing the victim. And it's not the first time that he plays this and tries to show the world, "Look how poor I am and what the Israelis have done to me."

Everything that's happened to Arafat happened because of his own deeds or misdeeds. He invited it on himself when he didn't fight terrorism, when he built around him in Ramallah, in his own compound, a center of terrorism. We have pledged that we will not harm Arafat, but, at the same time, that we will help him -- quote -- "rid" himself of his terrorist infrastructure that he built in his own compound.

I mean, we've confiscated hundreds of pieces of weapons, arrested 70 people who are on the most wanted list. And this is a man who pledges to fight terrorism?

AMANPOUR: Well, the question is, Mr. Gissin -- and it's a legitimate question -- what you have tried to do over the last several months, over the last year, and, indeed, in the last Israeli incursion, did not work. Your own military people say that it did not work. In fact, some of them even tell journalists that that invasion in March was mostly for show.

What exactly, precisely, do you expect to achieve by what you're doing now militarily, apart from conduct what you call your right to retaliate in self-defense?

GISSIN: That's exactly the point, Christiane, because, the last time an incident, we stopped in midcourse because we wanted to give peace a chance.

We wanted to give the political process a chance. We wanted to give Zinni a chance, so we stopped in midcourse. This time, we're going all the way. And we're going to destroy the military and terrorist infrastructure that he built around himself, because he failed to destroy. He will be fully protected. We're not going to touch him.

But everything around him, all the evil and the coalition of terror that he's built, we're going to destroy.

AMANPOUR: What does going all the way mean, Ra'anan? I mean, what does it mean? As a military strategist, you were previously in the army before being a government spokesman. What does it mean for a democracy to try to root out this?


GISSIN: Let me answer.

It means that, according to our assessment, the assessment of all our intelligence services, the only way that Arafat will ever act and the only chance for his taking a positive action against terrorism, as Colin Powell and other U.S. officials have demanded him for the last year, is when there is mounting pressure on him, international pressure, political pressure, military pressure.

And we have are contributing our part to that, because we are the victims of his actions. And, therefore, we have a right to use whatever means is going to work. And this time, I believe this will have better effect than the other measures that we used in the past, because we started to trust Arafat in his word that he will fight terrorism. He never did it. And he had all the chances in the world to do it. He missed them. He missed them and, as a result of that, caused much damage and danger to his own people.

AMANPOUR: You talk about the U.S. They've also asked you for restraint in this case. And, again, many of your military and political leaders say that there is no military solution to this, because, although you have an army, the Palestinians don't.

They point out that what the Palestinians have is a way of -- suicide bombers who are ready to do this. So, the question again is: What do you plan and how do you plan to achieve it militarily? And are you willing to enter a good-faith political dialogue to end this situation?

GISSIN: Of course we are, because we -- all along, we offered a real political dialogue.

The one that tried to deceive and con everyone was Yasser Arafat, because, while conducting a dialogue, he continued to harbor terrorists, to provide shelter, to assist them, to instigate the suicide bombers. And, therefore, we're going to work now, first on the military aspects. We will do whatever we can with the military force. And believe me, military force, perhaps, cannot resolve the overall situation, but it can create a difference in the situation on the ground that will force Arafat and other members of the Palestinian Authority who do want to reach peace to take real action against terrorism.

Terrorism will not tolerated here in the Middle East. And there will be no peace agreement with no one as long as terrorists rein. And we are going to bring about a situation -- it will take us some time -- it is not going to be easy -- in which the Palestinian will realize that terrorism doesn't pay. And then we'll be willing to sit as real partners through negotiation. And when they are, when they will be ready, they'll find us a willing partner.

AMANPOUR: Again, let me repeat myself.

Your own military officials and political officials, some of them have told reporters that the last such action did not work. It did not achieve what they wanted to achieve. And they say that a lot of this was for show. So I'm trying to ask you again, what do you plan to do militarily? And what do you hope that you can achieve militarily?


GISSIN: We achieved part of what we wanted, not everything, because, as I said, we stopped those military operations exactly because of what you're talking about.

We want to achieve a political solution. But without the proper decisive, continuous, relentless military effort that we are going to put now, we won't be able to achieve anything. We came to that sad conclusion after Arafat has deceived and conned us several times, 10 cease-fires that he violated. He has only himself to blame for that predicament that he finds himself in today.

AMANPOUR: Will you admit, will you acknowledge that the military tactics of this government, the promise to bring security over the last year, has simply not worked?

GISSIN: No, on the contrary, on the contrary. We could smack the Palestinian Authority in less than two weeks, or one week if we wanted. But we didn't choose for that, because we have no quarrel and no fight against the Palestinian Authority or against the Palestinian people. They are not our enemy.

Our enemy and the enemy of the civilized war is terrorism of the Yasser Arafat brand. The coalition of terror that he built is our enemy, because it is killing our men, women and children, who line the streets every Saturday and every Sunday. When you open television, you see their bodies. And that's the enemy. And, against this enemy, we have full right to take all the necessary measures, as the United States has taken in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.

AMANPOUR: On that note, we end it there.

I'm Christiane Amanpour in Jerusalem.