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Special Event

Crisis in the Middle East

Aired October 10, 2000 - 6:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, HOST: Even while the fighting continues on the ground, hopes for restarting peace negotiations are still in the air.

I'm Christiane Amanpour in Jerusalem with a special report on the crisis in the Middle East, and here are the latest developments.

There were new outbreaks of violence in the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday, but Israeli officials report a decrease in the West Bank fighting. Intense diplomatic efforts continue. The U.N. secretary- general, Kofi Annan, appealed to both sides to get back to the bargaining table. Meanwhile, President Clinton spoke with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, and the Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat, on Tuesday. But the White House says there are no plans for a summit.

The fighting, as we said, eased in the West Bank and Gaza, opening the way for intense diplomatic activity, trying to keep the peace process on track.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel has that report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Looking to win time, Kofi Annan told Palestinians and Israelis they must both work to stop the violence.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: I think we can rein in the situation. I think we have a window of opportunity to do it. It is not going to remain open forever.

KESSEL: Yasser Arafat says the U.N. secretary-general is alarmed at the level of Palestinian casualties and wants calm as much as Prime Minister Barak. But Barak still says Arafat must move first.

EHUD BARAK, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: We should tell you that we are at a crossroads where the real decisions have to be made now.

KESSEL: Still, sporadic clashes, but less intense, less widespread. Under Mr. Arafat's orders, repairs begun on the Jewish shrine called Joseph's Tomb. It was heavily vandalized on Saturday by some Palestinians after the Israeli army withdrew. Meanwhile, in the same West Bank town, perhaps beyond Yasser Arafat, some 200 armed Palestinians say they've formed a militia to, they say, "defend the Palestinian people, whose blood," they say, "is being spilt without protection."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

So plenty of pressures on Yasser Arafat, plenty of pressure on Ehud Barak. And each can see, as they contemplate the confrontation of the last week, the stark alternative to a peace agreement. But they still have to agree on how to end the fighting, and they're still worlds apart on what any agreement might mean -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Jerrold, Ehud Barak, the prime minister has another dimension to this problem, doesn't he? The three captured Israeli soldiers? What are the negotiations on that front?

KESSEL: Indeed, you're absolutely right, that we shouldn't neglect the fact that Kofi Annan's mission here is a double-barreled one: both, as he said, to try to get the fighting to stop here between Palestinians and Israelis, but to prevent it spreading beyond. And that could be very much a factor of the question of what happened to those three Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) and said they haven't been in touch with anybody from the United Nations, from the Red Cross, but he had word that they were well. But that wasn't enough, Ehud Barak. He insisted that there be access to them as soon as possible, and he said Israel would know what to do forcefully if such developments did not work in the favor of finding out what happened to those soldiers and their welfare.

Mr. Annan travels to Lebanon tomorrow and onto Damascus, and that will be part of his mission there.

AMANPOUR: To try to get access to see them. Jerrold Kessel, thank you very much.

While those diplomatic activities and efforts continue on the ground here, in the United States, President Bill Clinton has been working the phones, talking both to the Israeli prime minister and to the Palestinian leader.

CNN's John King joins us from the White House -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christiane, a phone conversation as well with Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general, so the U.S. president could get his take on developments in the region. U.S. officials say they are encouraged by reports today from the region, as you mentioned, that there appears to be less violence. Still, they say plans for any emergency summit or a presidential trip, a U.S. presidential trip to the region remain on hold.

U.S. sources telling us the Israelis are open to such a meeting as early as later this week. However, we're told the Palestinian leader, Mr. Arafat, says he still needs a little bit more time. He's not ready for a summit yet.

One of the complicating factors, we're told, that Mr. Arafat is under pressure from fellow Arab leaders who want the next meeting to be the Arab League summit scheduled in Cairo on October 21st. U.S. officials say they believe that is too long to wait. Still, though, they say you need to bridge the conflicting desires of the Israeli leader and the Palestinian leader for what they would be looking for from a Clinton trip to the region.

The options on the table include a full-scale summit with Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat, or perhaps even a presidential trip to the region where he would meet separately with the two leaders. U.S. officials say it's possible if they can't work that out, that they could settle for sending Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the region.

Again, all this very complicated -- no decision expected tonight, but U.S. officials privately saying they believe some slow, steady progress is being made, and that perhaps, by this time tomorrow, they will have all this sorted out. All indications are Mr. Clinton wants to visit the region, wants to personally intervene to try first to calm things down, then to put the peace process back on track.

But they say he's very frustrated as he tries to put the particulars together and negotiate just how such a summit could take place -- Christiane.

AMANPOUR: John, the United States has always been considered the only broker between these two sides. And yet, here is the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. How is his visit here being viewed by the White House, by the administration?

KING: It is being embraced by the administration, but in part, of course, because the mission is under way and the administration has no choice but to embrace it. They say the president had a very productive phone conversation with Mr. Annan today. However, U.S. officials would say they believe the only way to get the peace process back on track is through direct U.S. intervention.

They hoped to do that through a summit meeting -- very modest goals here right now, though they say first you must see a day or two of reduced violence. Then, they say, the president's most urgent mission: trying to rebuild trust between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Barak -- they say that quite complicated right now.

Also some frustration here, not only with Mr. Arafat -- the administration wants him to publicly condemn the violence, urge Palestinians to refrain from any potentially provocative activities. The Egyptians were to host the summit the president proposed. They said today they weren't interested -- some tensions not only with Mr. Arafat, but with the broader Arab world, as the president tries, working feverishly working behind the scenes, to play a positive role in this crisis.

AMANPOUR: John King, thank you very much indeed.

And we'll be back after a short break, as our special report on the "Crisis in the Middle East" continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: Both sides are calling on the other to stop the violence first. Today, the United Nations secretary-general called on both sides to do everything they can to end this crisis.

Joining us to discuss what seems to be an impasse are the Israeli Cabinet minister Yuli Tamir, and Mustafa Barghouti, the president of the Palestinian Medical and Relief Center and spokesman for the cause.

Can I ask you first, Minister Tamir, what can your government do to get back to a place where it doesn't look like they're using overwhelming force against stone-throwers and Molotov cocktail- throwers?

YULI TAMIR, ISRAELI CABINET MINISTER: Well, at the moment, if the violence will cease in the West Bank, Israel will obviously cease- fire. We have no intention to carry on any sort of violent activities. We are keen to stop these kinds of activities and to go back to the negotiating table. We were keen to do so in Paris. We're keen to do it now. The only thing that we want to make sure is that our soldiers and our citizens will not be harmed.

AMANPOUR: Minister, even your government's friends, even the supporters of President Barak -- of Prime Minister Barak are saying that he's just gone too far this time, that there simply is too much force being used against stone-throwers, and it's playing right into the other side's hands.

TAMIR: Well, first of all, you should be aware of the fact that in Israel Barak is criticized for using not enough power against the Palestinian uprising and that he has been seen as a soft-handed. And the truth of the matter is that stone-throwing and Molotov bottle- throwing could risk the lives of soldiers. The soldiers have very clear instructions to use live weapons only when their lives are under threat.

However, I think that if you watch the demonstration, you will see that very often soldiers are under threat, and we will not allow our soldiers to be under threat.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Mr. Barghouti, the Palestinians say that we are unarmed civilians being attacked. Clearly, there's no parity in the level of firepower, but you've seen -- you've seen wounded people. You've seen the demonstrations on the street. There's clearly also gunfire coming from the Palestinian side. The militias are using Kalashnikovs.

Would you admit that? Would you acknowledge that?

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, PALESTINIAN ACTIVIST: Absolutely. I think there was sporadic shooting from time to time from Palestinian policemen, but I must say that Mr. Arafat has managed to control the police completely now and...

AMANPOUR: But not the militias.

BARGHOUTI: And the militias. I think the shooting was totally sporadic from time to time. And you cannot really compare, when you say that Mr. Barak is using a soft hand, and we ended up in 10 days with 3,500 injuries and more than 80 people killed in comparison to three Israeli casualties.

AMANPOUR: Why...

BARGHOUTI: This is incomparable. This is an aggression. What has happened in the West Bank and Gaza Strip -- and I hope that the Israelis start to see that -- was nothing less than a massacre. This cannot happen to the civilian population.

AMANPOUR: Now that it's got to this point and each side is calling on the other one to stop, you know, stop it first, why have we not heard anything from Chairman Arafat telling people publicly to stop?

BARGHOUTI: Well, Mr. Arafat has controlled his forces, in my opinion, in a very impressive way, more than I would have expected. But you have to consider that the people in the West Bank and Gaza are uprising. They're uprising for their independence. We've been under occupation for more than 33 years, and believe me, every hour of these 33 years was full of humiliation and repression and oppression.

Believe me, there comes a time in people's lives when they cannot endure injustice anymore. And this time has come for Palestinians. All we want is independence. We want peace that is based on co- existence, but first we want to have an independent state. And we -- I think we are entitled to that.

AMANPOUR: Ask you, minister, a new sort of ugly dimension has come into this: Jewish settlers turning on Israeli citizens who happen to be Arabs. Can't you rein them in?

TAMIR: Well, there is an attempt to control the population. I think on both sides we're coming to a point where people just get out of control, and it's a mob reaction.

But I would like to comment on what has been said earlier. I think it is ironic that we see this uprising at that very moment that there is an Israeli government which is ready to offer a peace agreement, which I think is more generous than any other peace agreement that has been ever offered, and is ready to accept, through negotiation, an establishment of a Palestinian state.

So we should go back to the negotiating table and settle down this very, I think, long and unnecessary disagreement between us. We can come to an agreement. We have never been closer to an agreement. And it's about time to cease-fire, to stop the violence and to sit down again.

AMANPOUR: I want to ask you very briefly: Why did your government not stop Ariel Sharon from making that visit, which everybody has termed provocative, the man, the time, the place? Why did you not stop it?

TAMIR: Well, I wouldn't have advised Ariel Sharon to go and visit the mosque at that particular time. But it wasn't an illegal act. He has decided to take this act. We have coordinated this to begin with -- with the (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I think that no one anticipated what will follow.

But here again, I don't think that we can hang everything on Sharon's visit. Let's put those things behind us. Let's go back to the negotiating table. We are ready to do the best of our efforts to come to an agreement right now. The moment that Yasser Arafat is ready to say, yes -- we expected him in Paris, we expect him now. Cease-fire, and we'll renegotiate.

AMANPOUR: Very, very briefly, the last word: Will the Palestinians go back to the negotiating table? Is peace a valid prospect for them?

BARGHOUTI: Absolutely, if they're accepted as an equal partner. But here, what we need is not Israeli generosity but understanding that we have to be equal partners. The Palestinians demand a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, This is 22 percent of historic Palestine. This is a compromise, a big compromise, and what the Israelis have been trying to do is to compromise a compromise. We cannot accept that. There has to be minimum of justice in this process.

AMANPOUR: Thank you both for joining us, and clearly we'll be watching this situation as it develops over the next several days.

We've been talking about the fighting. Some of the worst fighting has been in the West Bank, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The Israeli response, as we've heard, has been so much tougher than it was during the Intifada partly because, also as we've heard, the Palestinian militias have been using automatic weapons to fire at Israeli forces. And the result, most of the casualties, nearly 90 people who have been killed, are Palestinians.

CNN's Mike Hanna went to Ramallah and saw the damage today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Yet again, conflict erupts at the road junction north of Ramallah, a constant flashpoint. A shower of stones from the Palestinian side, and occasionally a fire bomb. The Israelis says an estimated 19 soldiers have been injured in the conflict, most of them by gunshots.

The Israeli security forces respond with tear gas, concussion grenades meant to startle, disorient, and bullets.

(on camera): This is the point of view of the Israeli security forces. The Palestinian figures just down the road anonymous. When they get to hospital, they get names.

(voice-over): Twenty-five-year-old Sala (ph), shot in the abdomen; 27-year-old Nasser, with extensive head wounds; and 54-year- old Mohammed (ph), who was not taking part in any demonstration, but was shot in the leg while walking home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're losing everything for nothing. We're losing our dignity. We're losing our land, everything, for nothing.

HANNA: According to the records in the Ramallah hospital, 268 people injured in the 13-day conflict have been admitted, 58 under the age of 18. One-hundred and twenty-seven show wounds consistent with regular ammunition; high velocity, sharp-point bullets. The vast majority of the injuries in the upper body or the head.

(on camera): From your experience, does this indicate to you that these shots were intended, that these were aimed shots and not chance?

DR. HUSNI AL ATARI, FORENSIC SURGEON: Yes, definitely, and the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) high incidence of the live bullets in the upper part of the body. And hardly, you can't see one of them alive, which has been hit by a live bullet to his heart or his thorax, his chest. They bleed to death.

HANNA (voice-over): Thirteen Palestinians were dead on arrival or died shortly after admission.

Displayed here, pictures of the body of Issam Joudeh (ph). According to the doctors, the man had been burnt with some kind of electrical implement as well as cigarettes. The x-rays of his head indicate he was then beaten to death with heavy objects. The doctors here say he appeared to have been murdered.

(on camera): Now the Israelis claim that he was killed in a car accident.

DR. MUSA ABU HUMEID: Look, you see. This is a car accident?

HANNA (voice-over): Immediately after the funeral of Issam Joudeh, the demonstrators took to the streets, their anger sharpened and heightened by the belief that he'd been tortured to death.

Another confrontation with the security forces, another Palestinian is taken to the hospital, where his injuries and his name will be recorded.

Mike Hanna, CNN, Ramallah, in the West Bank.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: And when we come back after a short break, we'll hear from Palestinian refugees in Lebanon as they speak out on this crisis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: This crisis has swept through the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. About 360,000 Palestinians refugees live there. Most of them are descendants of those who fled their homes when Israel was created back in 1948.

CNN's Matthew Chance has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More Palestinian anger on the Lebanese-Israeli border, as peace in the region hangs in the balance. The protesters came to throw stones and abuse at Israeli positions across the fence. And there were moments when this brief confrontation threatened to escalate.

While we taped an interview, a grenade explodes nearby. Seconds later, a Palestinian youth throws another grenade into Israel, while those around him take cover. The clash was over with in minutes, but was a sharp reminder of just how quickly tensions here can boil over.

(on camera): These protests are about anger and frustration, not just at how Palestinians have been handled by the Israelis in Gaza and the West Bank, but also that, after years of peace negotiations, Palestinian refugees here in Lebanon feel they have gained very little.

(voice-over): Away from the demonstrations in the Ain al-Helweh refugee camp, the biggest in Lebanon, Abu Majid (ph) is typical of many thousands of people here. He and his family left what was Palestine in 1948 during the war in which the Israeli state was born. They even took their keys and the title to their property with them, believing they would be back in a matter of weeks.

ABU MAJID, PALESTINIAN REFUGEE: My father brought his key, but he lost it. But we are keeping many keys for our homeland in our hearts.

CHANCE: For Abu Majid and generations of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, there can be no peace until this issue, the right to return, is resolved.

Matthew Chance, CNN, South Lebanon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: And when we come back, we'll look at the small place that's at the very heart what's going on today.

(CHANTING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMANPOUR: At the heart of the bloody conflict between Muslim and Jew in the Middle East is a small piece of land that is supremely sacred to both.

CNN's Garrick Utley explains why Jerusalem arouses so much passion and so much violence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GARRICK UTLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Muslims praying on the top of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem; Jews praying at the foot of the Mount.

Two faiths, too little space.

And so religion impregnates politics, which begets violence: stones from the land of the Bible versus bullets, rubber and lead.

And what is this land, these 36 acres, that ignite these passions? Well, down there, on the west side of the Mount, is a wall 60 feet high made of limestone blocks; all that is left of the retaining wall built two millennia ago, in King Herod's time, to hold up the mount upon which the temple of the Jews, the second temple, was built.

Archaeologists say that temple was one of the wonders of the world.

HERSCHEL SHANKS, BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY: It was a magnificent building. It was shimmering white. It was said that, if you looked at it directly, you would be blinded. It was decorated in gold.

UTLEY: The temple was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70, and the Temple Mount remained derelict, while Christians nearby built their temple to Christ, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

And then, there was a totally new faith in town. In the seventh century, Muslims conquered Jerusalem and built a shrine on what became their holy site, too. They call it the Noble Sanctuary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This, for the Arab Muslims, was the very place that Mohammed, on his steed, Al Borak, lifted up from this rock, under the Dome of the Rock, to Heaven.

UTLEY: Muslims placed their Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in order to outshine the nearby Christian Church -- religious one- upmanship.

(on camera): But then, religions have often been more interested in competing with each other than showing charity. When the crusaders conquered Jerusalem, they turned the Dome of the Rock into a church and put a cross on top of it. When the Muslims retook the city, the cross came down.

(voice-over): For seven centuries, Muslims controlled Temple Mount, although Jews were allowed to pray beneath it. It was not until the Middle East War in 1967, when Israel occupied east Jerusalem, including Temple Mount, that Jews regained control of their holiest site: the old retaining wall of their temple.

SHANKS: This was the center of the universe, the navel. This is where Adam and Eve were created; this was where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac -- Mount Moriah it's called in the Bible -- but this became identified with this site. UTLEY: For Jews and Muslims, a small piece of land that stands at the heart of their dispute; because the fight is not over 36 acres of sand and stone. It is over divisions deeply rooted in faith. Divisions long on history and too short on compromise.

Garrick Utley, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: I'm Christiane Amanpour in Jerusalem. The MONEYLINE news hour is next.

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