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Crisis in the Middle East: Diplomatic Initiatives Under Way Against Backdrop of Continuing West Bank Violence

Aired October 9, 2000 - 1:01 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The day of atonement officially is over in Israel, but fears of another Yom Kippur war are anything but over. Again today, the West Bank town of Ramallah was a cauldron of violence: on one side, Palestinians armed with rocks, guns and firebombs; on the other, troops and police, who received special dispensation from rabbis to break the Yom Kippur observance.

Israel has threatened to unleash all-out force if these riots don't end. In the past 12 days, more than 80 people have been killed in the riots, most of them Palestinians. Israel's cabinet, we're told, is contemplating all its options, political, military, diplomatic and otherwise.

And joining us now with the latest developments is CNN Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna.

Mike, what's new?

MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Lou , against this background of ongoing violence, a diplomatic initiative under way. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is due in the region within the next hour. He'll be holding talks, it is said, with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat.

Well, this afternoon, the violence in the West Bank town of Ramallah once again dashing hopes of those that would -- wanted a relative calm to be reestablished on the ground. Palestinian demonstrators once again coming up against Israeli security forces, the security forces responding initially with rubber-coated steel bullets, using tear gas on occasion, concussion grenades.

However, the battle continued and the Ramallah hospital reports that among some of the Palestinian victims, regular bullets or live ammunition were embedded in their bodies.

This violence coming shortly before the expiring of a deadline that Ehud Barak had set earlier this weekend. He had said that if the Palestinians do not end the violence by sundown on this day, then he will regard the peace process as over. How absolute the deadline was, well, that will be remained to be seen within the next few hours as the Israeli cabinet is due to hold an emergency session.

From the Palestinian side, though, they've rejected that ultimatum from the beginning, insisting that it is not up to them to end the violence, it is, they say, the responsibility of the Israeli government and, in particular, its security forces.

But the violence on this day a setback to these diplomatic moves, widespread efforts, talk now again of reconvening a summit in which the leaders can get together, sit down, talk face-to-face, and once again attempt to find some way of ending the hostilities which seemingly endlessly ongoing on the ground, Lou.

WATERS: Mike Hanna, despite all the meetings that are being called for, are there any positive signs that moderation is prevailing in any way since Hosni Mubarak's call for moderation within the Arab League? I'm talking specifically about the hostage taking of the Israeli soldiers. Is there any positive sign on that front, say?

HANNA: Well, on that particular front regarding the capture of three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas, we understand that, once again, concentration there on diplomatic efforts. Intermediaries have been actively involved, including, we understand, the Germans, including the International Red Cross. And on this day, the Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, was in Syria for discussions on this particular matter, we understand.

So those -- that issue is being dealt with on a diplomatic level at this particular point. There have been reports of offers of a prisoner exchange. No response from the Israeli government on this at this point. However, that is being dealt with at this moment on that diplomatic level. However, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has said he'll do whatever is necessary to ensure the return of those Israeli soldiers. That has risen fear of this conflict widening out of Israel and Palestinian territories into neighboring countries such as Lebanon Syria, Lou.

WATERS: We are also hearing talk here, Mike, of the possibility of Ivanov and Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general, of going into the West Bank region, perhaps having a calming effect on the Palestinian uprising there. Have you heard anything about that?

HANNA: There has been no confirmation of those reports that have been circulating around. But once again, the violence is depending on which sides' analysis of how it is formulating. You know, that depends on that. The Palestinians have said that the violence has been spontaneous, they have denied the Israeli allegations that it's been organized and premeditated. And if indeed it is spontaneous, if it is indeed a public expression of anger, that is something that is very difficult to control.

The Israelis insist that Yasser Arafat has the power to retain control within the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. If so, he has not exercised that control in recent days, although there has been evidence on the ground -- and one must stress this -- of, on several occasions, Palestinian security officials being seen to attempt to restrain the crowd. However, the emotions and the anger among the crowds have been intensely high and this has been a major problem to those attempting to restore some kind of normality on the ground, Lou.

WATERS: All right, and so we watch and we wait. CNN's Mike Hanna covering us in Jerusalem.

Natalie, what's next?

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Grim faces in Cairo as the Palestinian leader paid another visit to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The pair met for two hours, after which Arafat returned to Gaza, as Mike reported, to await a visit from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

For his part, Mr. Mubarak is said to be in close contact with numerous world and Mideast leaders, President Clinton among them.

Mr. Clinton is trying to arrange a Mideast summit which he, too, would attend. In the meantime, senior U.S. officials are said to be watching and waiting for Arafat to make a public call for peace.

Joining us now from the White House, CNN's Major Garrett -- Major.


Well, the president of the United States returned to the White House mere moments ago, exiting Marine One with daughter Chelsea. As he made his way to the White House, the president declined to respond in any way to shouted reporters' questions about the status of the peace process.

White House officials tell CNN the president will devote the better part of the afternoon and a good part of the evening to making phone calls to key leaders throughout the region. Expected on his calling list, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak; Mr. Arafat, the Palestinian leader; and Ehud Barak, prime minister of Israel.

The U.S. is sifting through all the various activities going on in the region. They are somewhat encouraged by the fact that U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is in the region. He might have a calming effect. And though the U.S. was disappointed earlier today, Mr. Arafat did not make a statement following his meeting in Egypt with Mr. Barak saying that the violence should come to an end. They're hopeful behind the scenes at least that after he meets with Mr. Annan, Mr. Arafat will in fact make such a declaration.

The administration is also watching very carefully the activities of the Israeli parliament due to convene. But as administration officials predicted earlier today, that hard and fast deadline that Mr. Barak had appeared to set earlier this weekend has slipped by. The peace process has not been formerly brought to a close; at least not from his perspective. U.S. administration officials hope to keep on the phones all week -- all the rest of today, for that matter, and to keep the peace process at least somewhat alive -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right, Major Garrett at the White House. We'll be in close contact with you throughout this day.



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