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Fmr. U.S. NSA Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Palestinian Cabinet Member Hanan Ashrawi Discuss Escalation in Middle East Tensions

Aired October 12, 2000 - 11:15 a.m. ET


FRANK SESNO, CNN ANCHOR: We're joined now by Brent Scowcroft, former national security adviser, very familiar with the region. You've been watching these developments, these very dramatic developments, unfold today.

First of all, what is your take on exactly where this is headed. We're hearing some very dire words from the region, from Yasser Arafat and others, such as this is all-out war.

BRENT SCOWCROFT, FMR. NATL. SECURITY ADVISER: I think it's very dangerous. The two sides are both escalating, and I think it could turn into general chaos. I don't think war in the sense of an international conflict. But a very serious chaos if it's in not de- escalated.

SESNO: General, there is a call for the United States and for other countries to get more deeply involved. What can be done at this stage?

SCOWCROFT: I think at this stage, the best thing to try to do is to have the Israelis declare a cease-fire. Obviously, on the Palestinian side, there's a lot of mob action, inherently very difficult to control. The Israelis are still in control. If they would say, all right, stop. We're stopping, stopping all action, we're pulling back, let's talk, it might work.

SESNO: You have been in the White House. Have advised the president of the United States. You have tried to deal with the volatile situation in the Middle East. If the United States and other countries are leaning on Israel to do what you suggest, what is likely to be the response at this stage?

SCOWCROFT: I'm not sure, because the Israelis, with their attitude toward lives, especially of their soldiers, their automatic response is retaliation, if not escalation. That is very dangerous right now.

SESNO: And as we speak, we are seeing these very dramatic pictures on the ground, these explosions and tape from earlier of what this situation looks like. What does this leave of the peace process, which President Clinton has been so desperately trying to keep alive?

SCOWCROFT: I believe it's in very bad shape right now, very bad shape, and I think inadvertent, I really don't believe either Prime Minister Barak or Chairman Arafat wanted the peace process destroyed. But they each had games they want -- that's the wrong term. They each wanted something out of what has been going on, and now I believe it's pretty much out of control.

SESNO: As we see the pictures, and I hear you use the word destroyed, is that what we're watching before our very eyes, the destruction of the peace process?

SCOWCROFT: I think it's quite possible, not permanently, but a setback from what a couple of months ago looked like imminent success.

SESNO: If you had the job at the White House this very moment and you were advising the president of the United States, what would you be saying he should and could do right now?

SCOWCROFT: I as I said, what I think he ought to do is ask the prime minister to declare openly, publicly, a cease-fire, stopping all operations, and hope that that would be seen not only by Arafat, but by the mobs in the streets as a deliberate de-escalation. It might be possible to stop it.

SESNO: General, these pictures that we're seeing are also presumably being seen through out the Arab world. They're watching closely what's happening in the region. Talk about what is likely to happen there and the impact that's going to have.

SCOWCROFT: The Arab world undoubtedly now will rally around the Palestinians. Now what, in fact, they will do, I think the premature to say, but this is going to galvanize the Arab world.

SESNO: What impact have on U.S. interests and influence?

SCOWCROFT: U.S. interest will be involved, because if the Arabs try to do anything, for example, shutting off natural gas, other things to Israel, or a more general oil kind of embargo, the United States will be caught up in it, even though we're not a target.

SESNO: Very serious situation.


SESNO: General Brent Scowcroft, thanks very much.

Let's go back to Daryn now in Atlanta -- Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Frank, thank you very much.

To get more reaction about what is happening on the ground in Ramallah and Gaza, we have on the phone with us Hanan Ashrawi. She is a Palestinian spokeswomen. Thank you for joining us, ma'am.


KAGAN: What is your word about the damage and casualties on the ground today? ASHRAWI: Frankly, because I've been home, so I've been down so to speak, I'm unable to give you accurate numbers, because the latest foray of these attaches was just a few minutes ago. I don't know the length of the tally, but it's anywhere from 14-20 to people injured. I don't know how many seriously, how many killed.

But the thing is, there is a reign of terror here. The Palestinians are captured. We're closed in, besieged by attacks.

KAGAN: Where are you, ma'am? Can you tell us exactly?

ASHRAWI: I'm in my home, which is right next door to the president's offices and the offices of the officials.

KAGAN: So have you been able to hear the bombing all day long?

ASHRAWI: The bombing, they're saying they had four major forays, and they shelled the two police stations, one on either side of us now, and they shelled at least, I think neither the transmission tower. And the latest shelling I couldn't tell, but very, very close. Could be with the governments headquarter.

KAGAN: Actually our...

ASHRAWI: Across the street from my house, but the house keeps shaking and we keep these hearing explosions, and it's electricity off, it's entirely unsafe, and the city, as I said, is entirely isolated, besieged by tanks, even though the Palestinian people had going out into the streets and demonstrating, even in the midst of the shelling, protesting this and asking for protection, and saying will not be intimated, they will not be scared by Israeli shelling or bombing, and that they will continue to do business and fight for their people.

KAGAN: Do you feel safe within your home?

ASHRAWI: Not at all. Our house shakes with every bombing. We don't know where the next shell will come from. It's actually quite dangerous, especially we know when the electricity goes off, another foray is approaching. And the shelling quite close, actually.

KAGAN: Clearly, something has to happen to bring the situation under control. What do you think the Palestinian people, the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, can do to help in that process?

ASHRAWI: I think you're asking the wrong person again. It's not Arafat who's selling us. It's the Israelis, and it's the Israelis who have their tanks around us, and it's the Israeli snipers who have been killing us. It's the Israeli army that has been unleashing the full force of its brutality on a captive Palestinian population, and keeping and asking the victim always to appease the conqueror. It's the height of immorality as far as I'm concerned. I think it's about time that the U.S., that the international community would hold Israel accountable, stop Israel from bombing and shelling Israeli citizens, get them to withdraw from our land. What are they doing constantly unleashing the full force of their systematic statehood against the Palestinians? This is the question.

And Madeleine Albright instead of talking about the difficulty of the violence on both sides should understand that the real cause is the occupation, is the -- army brutality. It is not the fact that the Palestinian are not willing to die good little victims. We really need intervention, and the U.S. has to re-examine its policy, soul and its conscious if it wants to play any role in bringing about peace in the region. They have succeeded in destabilizing the whole Arab world. They have victimized the Palestinians once again, but I think they are also very negatively affecting their own strategic interest in the region.

KAGAN: As you mentioned, we did hear from Secretary Madeleine Albright, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, earlier, and she did. along with other U.S. government officials, call on Yasser Arafat to speak to his people; whether it's a message that you think Mr. Arafat needs to say or not, he has not addressed people. Where is he? And why haven't we heard from him?

ASHRAWI: President Arafat does speak to his people. He is in Gaza. I don't think that you can reduce the whole thing as to whether President Arafat or spoke or did not speak. The issue is that we are being bombed. The issue is that we are being bombed. The issue is that the Israeli army, the American Apache helicopters bombing my neighborhood, next door to my house, this is the issue. It's not whether Madeleine Albright wants Arafat to -- he's not at her beck and call. Maybe I should send message to Madeleine Albright. I did send her one. That she's approaching from the opposite point of view, that in order to be peace broker, you have to be evenhanded, you have to Recognize the humanity of the Palestinians. You can not an apologists for Israeli forever. There will be a time when Israel will be held accountable and when international law will prevail.

And I think that's the real problem with the peace process. The Israeli -- they're bombing again. I'm sorry, I have to go.


KAGAN: Hanan Ashrawi, we appreciate your time in talking to us today. Of course, you're in the middle of Ramallah, which is a very tense and dangerous place to be right now. We appreciate your time in talking to us on the phone right now.

We are trying to cover both sides of this.

Earlier today, our Ben Wedeman, who is in Ramallah as well, covering this story for us, talked to an Israeli general to hear the other side. Let's go ahead and listen to that sound.


COL. RAANAN GISSIN, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER: Well unfortunately, regrettably, this is part of the overall campaign of incitement and disinformation that we've following for the past 10 days. And I really regret very much that these events have to happen, particularly this heinous crime of lynching two Israeli soldiers. MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are seeing the helicopter gunships actually operating in Ramallah.

GISSIN: No doubt. You can't argue with the pictures. And no doubt that this kind of crime cannot go unpunished. And I don't have the details yet, because things are happening right. Now I can assure that you we're doing everything with utmost restraint and consideration as we've been acting in the past 10 days, and our purpose in the mission is to deliver a very stern message that these things cannot be tolerated.

HANNA: Colonel, we have had reports of tank fire in the region. Have tanks been deployed into Ramallah?

GISSIN: I don't know if tanks have been deployed. You know that for the past few days, we had tanks there in order to return fire that was fired into our settlement in Sagot (ph) and other places area. And the purpose of the placing of these weapons over there is really to try and limit the extent to which this unmitigated fire and indiscriminate fire that has been going on day and night for the past several days will stop.

We have -- our purpose the stop the fighting, to stop the shooting, and we've been trying to argue with the Palestinians that they should take control of the situation. But what happened today is -- seems complete lack of control, and unfortunately, instigated and supported, as we know, by some of the Palestinian police.

HANNA: Colonel, you're referring there to we have confirmed two Israeli soldiers killed by a crowd in Ramallah. What is your version of the cause of events what happened that led to these deaths?

GISSIN: Even if a war, even in a war, there is certain convention, human convention, international conventions, that cannot be trespassed, that cannot be violated, and they've been violated today in the worst way. They're talking about two, perhaps more. We don't have information for the other two. But two Israeli reservists, not combatants, who were gotten from their home and on their way to Beth-El, who strayed into Ramallah.

You know, we didn't close Ramallah. We left the roads open there, and they strayed into Ramallah, They were taken by the police to the police headquarters, and from the police headquarters, they were wrenched down and simply brutally lynched by the mob. And I can assure, there are pictures by APCTV. Unfortunately, the tapes have bee confiscated by the Palestinian police and Palestinian security forces, knowing very well the damage that that would cause them. But I can assure the people will come out.

And this is just incredible. We've seen the mutilated bodies. I think these are the kinds of things that you don't want to show on television, and I think some one will have to pay the full price for this kind of atrocities.

HANNA: Colonel, we are continuing to look at these pictures here from the West Bank town of Ramallah. We see tanks being there on the horizon. Would you characterize this operation we are seeing now as retaliation for the events of this morning?

GISSIN: I think more than retaliation, I think it's a sense of trying to restore the element of deterrence here, to prevent further escalation. What to we all want? We want to minimize and limit the number of people killed. The Palestinians are doing just the opposite, instigating for more violence, for more bloodshed. I mean, it's about time that they understand that this whole effort is useless, I mean, and that's the purpose of the deployment of tanks and the deployment of helicopter gunships there, to indicate to them -- and I really try to make very clear, to minimize collateral damage as much as possible. By the way, helicopter gunships and tank are more accurate than the sporadic fire that you can use with small firearms, and to indicate that we will not tolerate this kind of behavior, and therefore, we also issued warning to evacuate those areas that are being effected.


KAGAN: Once again, that was sound listening to earlier today, Mike Hanna talking to Colonel Raanan Gissin of Israeli army. As we've listening to Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on this all day long, one thing is clear" two passionate people who see the situation very differently.

With more, here's Bill.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Daryn, watching in the markets throughout this as well. There are a couple of concerns on Wall Street. The Dow had been down more than 300 points. It's come back somewhat. There you see it at 244, now 245, at 10,168. There appears to be three things at work here: the strife overseas, the price of oil, and earnings from the few specific companies.

Here's Allan Chernoff live in New York to shake it all down for us.

Allan, what's happening?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, let's talk about oil, first of all, the tension in the Mideast is driving the price of oil higher. In fact, right now up $2.25, the barrel at about $35.50, the barrel, so that's a big increase. That raises inflation concerns, and as a result a lot of financial stocks and bonds are getting hit very hard today. That is driving the Dow down.

But the main factor behind the decline in the Dow today is a warning, an earnings warning from Home Depot saying that earnings will be 28 cents a share for the third quarter, That being three cents short of exceptions. We're not seeing the same damage, though, in the Nasdaq. Because some...

HEMMER: Allan, I apologize for the interruption there.




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