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Crisis in the Middle East: Palestinian and Israeli Leaders Agree to Summit; U.S. Officials Launch Investigation Into Attack on USS Cole

Aired October 14, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: After more than a week of diplomatic scrambling, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat are finally persuaded to hold emergency talks toward ending deadly violence in the Middle East. But as he prepares to attend Monday's crisis summit in Egypt, President Clinton downplays the expectations.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We should be under no illusions.


BLITZER: The attack on the USS Cole. Who did it? And why? The investigation is under way, and the bodies of the victims are home at last.

Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Welcome to our viewers from around the world.

The stage has now been set for an emergency summit in the Middle East. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan made the announcement Saturday: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat will meet Monday at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on the southern tip of Sinai. President Clinton also will attend.

The immediate goal: to end more than two weeks of deadly clashes between Israelis and Palestinians.

We have two reports from the Middle East, beginning with CNN's Ben Wedeman.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The boys at the barricades heard about the upcoming peace summit in the Sinai, and kept on throwing stones.

Here, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's decision to attend the summit isn't going down well.

"No, he shouldn't go," says this stone-thrower. "Not after all those people were wounded and killed. What's the point?"

"We want an intifada," says another. "We don't want any more agreements. We want weapons, we want commandos."

It was another day of clashes in Ramallah. A daily, smoldering affair where Palestinian boys with stones take on Israeli boys with guns.

Life in the center of town is beginning to return to normal. But the past two weeks have dashed here whatever little hope there was for peace. After seven years of crisis after crisis, of sporadic bloodshed and acrimonious negotiations, people here say they haven't seen the benefits of peace.

Faith in diplomacy is hard to find. Yasser Arafat, they predict, will return from the summit empty handed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about time for all these Palestinian leaders to know, and I'm sure in their hearts they know it, they get nothing out of it.

WEDEMAN: And the United States, the so-called honest broker, doesn't seem, at least in Ramallah, to be so honest anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bill Clinton has too much dirt. He wants to cover up his dirt that he has. He didn't say nothing when they killed over 100 Muslims.

WEDEMAN: While the numbers of those killed may be in dispute, the bitterness on both sides is not. And that bitterness looms ominously over the summit.

(on camera): Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is scheduled to attend the U.S.-sponsored Sharm al-Sheikh summit to try to discuss peace at a time when many of his people seem to believe Israel only responds to the language of force.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Ramallah, on the West Bank.



FIONNULA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sabbath on the Haas Promenade overlooking the old city of Jerusalem and on the first day of the religious holiday Sukat. On any other Sabbath, this walk would be thronged with Israelis; not this weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The feeling in the air, it's not so good. People are afraid.

SWEENEY: The violence of the past two weeks may have shocked the world, but what has really rocked Israelis was the killing of two of their soldiers in Ramallah last Thursday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The conditions where they were killed means we are just beasts and not human people.

SWEENEY: Security is uppermost in Israeli minds, particularly in mixed neighborhoods such as Abatur (ph), home to both Palestinians and Jews.

This house still carries the scars of previous wars. The Tugold (ph) family has lived here since the 1950s and say the 1967 war was quieter than the current turmoil.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Arafat is responsible for taking the kids out and putting them in front of guns of soldiers because it looks good on TV and makes the Palestinians look like underdogs.

SWEENEY: All of which combines to make Monday's anticipated peace summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat contentious for the Israeli public.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure that it's a good time to speak because everybody in Israel is very, very angry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In Ehud Barak I've got, really, full faith. The only doubt that I've got right now, and I believed in the peace process before, is that Arafat is the right partner.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any talking is better than shooting.

SWEENEY (on camera): The Israeli security forces have warned of an impending attack by the Islamic resistance movement Hamas. Memories of previous suicide attacks are still fresh in the Israeli mind. And, while the streets of Jerusalem may be calmer than of late, there is a very real fear that the situation could again deteriorate.

Fionnula Sweeney, CNN, Jerusalem.


BLITZER: Monday's scheduled summit at Sharm el-Sheikh was long- fought and hard-won. But putting it together could prove the easy part, as we hear from CNN senior White House correspondent John King.


JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president made clear this is a summit of modest expectations, short-term goals.

CLINTON: Our central objectives must now be to stop the violence, to restore calm and safety, to agree on a fact-finding mechanism concerning how this began and how it can be prevented from occurring again, and to find a way back to dialogue and negotiations.

KING: CNN has learned that U.S. officials are drafting a joint summit declaration that condemns violence, but deliberately avoids, for now, the contentious issue of who is to blame for these past two weeks of unrest and bloodshed. JAMES STEINBERG, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: What is need now is a dramatic, clear signal that there is not going to be any more tolerance for violence. That need to come from Chairman Arafat, from the other Arab leaders and, certainly, from the Israelis as well.

KING: Administration sources also say there is a tentative agreement to have the United States lead a fact-finding inquiry into the roots of the recent violence. Israel refuses to have the commission led by the United Nations. And Mr. Clinton wants a summit agreement on a firm timetable for resuming the peace process, but senior aides say the president also recognizes the need for a significant cooling-off period before the fate of Jerusalem and other emotional issues are put back on the bargaining table.

ROBERT PELLETREAU, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR NEAR EAST AFFAIRS: The negotiators have gotten separated somehow from their constituencies. So there's got to be more focus and more attention paid to public opinion, to street opinion, to conditioning public opinion to the compromises that the leaders and the delegations know have to be made to reach peace agreements.

KING: Priority one is putting an end to the violence, and Mr. Clinton's somber mood reflected the White House view that there is no guarantee of summit success.

CLINTON: We should be under no illusions. The good news is the parties have agreed to meet and the situation appears to be calmer, but the path ahead is difficult.

KING: So difficult the president took no questions, believing the less said the better, for now.

(on camera): The president's lofty hopes for comprehensive Middle East peace deal are all but forgotten now. His urgent summit mission, simply to end the bloodshed or, as one senior U.S. official put it, we're calling this a summit, but it's really a salvage operation.

John King, CNN, the White House.


BLITZER: Much has changed in the Middle East since President Clinton hosted those Camp David peace talks only three short months ago. Was Camp David a missed opportunity, or will Sharm el-Sheikh save the crippled peace process?

Joining us now from New York are two Middle East analysts. Naomi Weinberger is the director of the United Nations studies program at Columbia University, and Raghida Dergham is senior correspondent for the London-based Middle Eastern newspaper "al-Hayat."

Thank you to both of you for joining us.

And Naomi Weinberger, let me begin with you. What, realistically, can we expect from Monday's summit?

NAOMI WEINBERGER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I think the best that we can get is a compliment by the leaders to seek to reduce violence and to appreciate a mechanism for investigating the causes; and I think they need to think about replacing the security mechanisms of the interim agreement, especially the idea of joint patrols and intimate security cooperation between the two sides. This isn't realistic in the current circumstances and needs to be reconsidered.

But as far as long-term negotiations, I'm not hopeful of really serious permanent-status talks any time soon. I think the Barak government can't offer what it had offered back in July and this will not be available to Mr. Arafat any time soon.

BLITZER: Raghida Dergham, what is your assessment? What, realistically, can be achieved on Monday?

RAGHIDA DERGHAM, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, "AL-HAYAT": Enhancing the peace, enhancing the -- what, you want to speak about it right now -- to call it the holding back on escalation.

But, I think there would be a necessity for an investigation and inquiry into what had happened in the last two weeks. But I think the most important thing would be the rescue of the partnership in the peace process after it had been, really, a policy in the last two or three days by the Barak government to undermine the Arafat partnership in the peace process, and I think this is essential.

The Arab world is very concerned that if the Israeli vote is, let go of the peace process then, I think, there would be going back to choosing other methods and I think all the governments in the Arab world are concerned as well as the people on the streets.

I have a feeling that there is a move amongst the Israelis as well as American commentators to sort of delegitimize Mr. Arafat as a peace partner and that brings us to a new ball game if that's the case.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Naomi Weinberger. Israelis are saying that they're not convinced any longer Yasser Arafat is committed to the peace process and Palestinians are insisting that they're not convinced that Ehud Barak is committed. Do you believe both of these leaders are still committed to the peace process?

WIENBERGER: I think that the best we can hope for right now is a stabilization period. I don't think they're going to be serious further concessions by either side, and I think we all really need to realize quite soberly that there's a very serious danger of escalation and that the most serious flash points would be violence involving the settlements and settlers who can be in a very, very compromised situation.

As a result of which, it's unrealistic to expect the Israeli army to be able to move back from areas of violence until some territory accommodation is reached so that either they're going to move further in or perhaps there may be some way of arranging evacuation of those settlers who are in the most isolated and compromised positions so that there isn't further bloodshed. There's, of course, also danger of contagion to southern Lebanon and very much compromising interests for stability in Egypt, in Jordan, in Lebanon and for the new Syrian regime. So this is a very, very dangerous period.

BLITZER: Let need bring Raghida back in. And do you believe, Raghida, that it's still possible for Arafat and Barak to trust each other and go forward in a revived peace process, given what's happened these past 2 1/2 weeks?

DERGHAM: It's very difficult, but it's a must. What happens right now is what will be the efforts into resumption of the confidence between the two parties and that's a very difficult thing to do.

But you know. when. again, the spin is on the settlers' interests rather than the interests of the partners in peace, the Palestinians under occupation, then it takes a different spin and it take a different direction and I'm very worried about the possibility of the resumption of that confidence as long as we have people attacking Arafat as a partner in peace, putting the settlers above the Palestinians who are under occupation. It's really turning things upside down.

And if that is the mood, the incitement and the accusation and the blame, and I feel that also in the Arab world there's enough incitement on that part that is equivalent to that on the American and Israeli side, then I don't believe there is a possibility to resume the peace process. It is time to stand back, sit back and assess what is needed to move forward rather than say Arafat is not a qualified partner or that the settlers are the ones who must be protected above those Palestinians under occupation.

It really is due time to step back and look at what is the cost of going into the war option. The peace option is best for both Arabs and Israelis and we really need to guard that away from this approach to say dismiss Arafat, disengage him, delegitimize him as a peace partner. This is very dangerous in my mind.

BLITZER: Naomi Weinberger, President Clinton will be attending this summit. Is he still the so-called honest broker? Can he really be effective in trying to ease this crisis given the fact he only has three months left in office?

WEINBERGER: I think the American role is essential. I think that this conference would not have occurred had the U.S. not insisted upon it and used its leverage over both parties. Even though the U.N. may have more impartiality, the U.S. has much more leverage. And that's what's critical.

I'd like to just clarify that I think that if the Camp David II formula that was almost accepted, that could have been accepted by Arafat, was based on building some sort of future marriage between the two that now the only formula that's going work is a clear-cut divorce. I think disentangling the two parties is the only way to go from here on. BLITZER: Raghida, what about the U.S role, President Clinton's role at this summit? What do you anticipate realistically he can do?

DERGHAM: At best, he can try to ease up on this impression that the Americans are really adopting the Israeli point of view, to give some signals that it is not so. But as to the Camp David, what was offered to Mr. Arafat at Camp David, that is a misconception that what Camp David offered Arafat, he was not able to take back home to his constituency. He was offered consecutive approaches and sort of cosmetic piecemeal, chopped up sort of sovereignty. He couldn't have taken it back to his constituency.

Right now there are enough ideas to bring about a third party sort of sovereignty on the holy places. Mr. Arafat was engaged in discussing them with Mr. Barak through the United Nations. It can be done again, but to really simplify it that Arafat missed his chance, and let's go right now to the drawing table and just say Mr. Barak cannot offer what he offered back in July is really to run away from what Barak offered.

It is really a dangerous approach to say you missed it and now we're going to really take it away from. He did not miss it. What he was offered in Camp David was a cosmetic, chopped up sovereignty. And right now the third party sovereignty over the holy places is being discussed, was being discussed before Mr. Sharon's visit to the Harem Al-Sharif and there is enough to build on.

It is really necessary to stop this escalation, incitement in order to really have that idea of going back to the peace process. Otherwise we're really all about doomed.

BLITZER: Raghida Dergham, thank you so much. Naomi Weinberger, thank you so much.

WEINBERGER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, we have to leave it right there.

And the crisis in the Middle East will be our focus Sunday on CNN's "LATE EDITION." Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak will be among my guests in a special two-hour program. The interview with the prime minister will be followed with an interview with Nabil Shaath, a member of the Palestinian Cabinet. Sunday's special "LATE EDITION" begins at noon Eastern, and for our international viewers, that's 1600 GMT.

U.S. authorities are now deep into the investigation of the bombing of an American warship in Aden. President Clinton is dispatching nearly 100 more personnel to Yemen to increase security during the investigation. CNN's Matthew Chance says the huge response to the apparent terrorist attack is creating resentment in the port city.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All but hidden from the public gaze, the USS Cole remains anchored in the port of Aden. The hole blasted into its steel hull now said to be more than 80 feet across -- twice as big as originally disclosed.

U.S. investigator already on the ground has been joined by specialists from the U.S. -- members of the foreign emergency support team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is an inter-agency support team whose purpose is designed to advise, assist and assess the situation that we have on hand here. It is a U.S. State Department-led initiative which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation and also Department of Defense personnel. They will be here to conduct a thorough in-depth investigation, hopefully to arrive at a conclusion here in the near future.

CHANCE: U.S. officials say the most likely scenario is that, as the USS Cole was refueling, a small, inflatable boat packed with explosives pulled up alongside the ship before detonating. That raises serious questions about how such a vessel was allowed into the area around the Cole and whether U.S. warships are adequately defended against close attack.

In the streets of Aden, people in this strict Muslim community reject any suggestion the apparent attack was a deliberate act of terrorism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Look, it even says in the newspapers that it wasn't deliberate. The technology needed to make this kind of powerful explosion we don't even have in Yemen.

CHANCE: And there is anger here at what many people feel is the disproportionate attention given to the incident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): There is just one American ship that explodes, and the whole world sits. But in Palestine there are hundreds of women and children being shot and nobody wants to listen.

CHANCE: It is in this atmosphere of resentment investigation to establish exactly what happened to the USS Cole is taking place.

(on camera): The president of Yemen, himself, has said that he does not believe that the USS Cole incident was a terrorist attack. This government is saying it's offering the United States all the cooperation and assistance it can and will accept whatever findings its investigators may find.

Matthew Chance, CNN, at the port Aden in Yemen.


BLITZER: The 39 U.S. sailors wounded in the USS Cole explosion were flown to a hospital in Germany for treatment. Some are in serious condition. Others may be headed home as early as Sunday. CNN's Chris Burns brings us up to date from the Landstuhl Medical Center. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS BURNS, CNN BERLIN BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Medical teams worked 'round the clock at Landstuhl Medical Center, the main U.S. military hospital this side of the Atlantic, taking in 39 sailors wounded in the attack on the USS Cole. Many of the 34 men and five women flown from Aden Djibouti aboard two hospital planes were said to suffer relatively minor injuries.

COL. JAMES RUNDALL, DEPUTY COMMANDER, LANDSTUHL MEDICAL CENTER: By far the vast majority are orthopedic: broken bones, dislocated shoulder in a couple of cases, lot of -- some bruises, and scrapes and cuts, one patient has some burns on her face.

BURNS: Six of the sailors required surgery and five remained in serious conditions in intensive care. Landstuhl's commander, Army colonel Elder Granger, said, considering the intensity of the blast, the injuries could have been far worse on a ship with some 300 aboard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see it as a blessing. I really did.

BURNS: Though the injured were reluctant to speak, officials relayed some of their stories.

(on camera): One sailor said he left the ship's galley minutes before the explosion devastated it. He got out with minor cuts and bruises. But another said the blast left him trapped in steel wreckage. In the smoke and the dark, he could feel the blood streaming down his head.

(voice-over): All but a half-dozen of the injured were to be sent home as early as Sunday, but those who perished remained heavy on people's minds here, especially among those who were their comrades.

Chris Burns, CNN. Landstuhl, Germany.


BLITZER: Still ahead on this special report: After several hours of waiting and worrying, nightfall brings a peaceful end to the hijacking of a Saudi Arabian airliner. And later: The crisis in the Middle East sparks accusations on the U.S. presidential campaign trail.


BLITZER: The passengers and crew of Saudi Arabian Airlines flight 115 are now safe. Their flight, which was hijacked over Egypt, later landed in Iraq.

CNN's Jane Arraf joins us now live on the telephone from Baghdad with details on how the crisis ended.

Jane, it's after 4:00 in the morning there, now. Tell us what this long night has brought to Baghdad.

JANE ARRAF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has been a very strange saga.

Starting at about 8:00 p.m. local time, earlier in the evening this plane landed after circling Damascus airport. Leaving from Saudi Arabia, the hijackers told the pilot that they wanted to go to Baghdad.

While this was happening, passengers onboard tell us that they thought it was a normal flight. A lot of them say it wasn't until the plane actually laded in Baghdad and sat on the runway for an hour that an announcement was made that people were negotiating with hijackers.

It ended peacefully. The Iraqi authorities say the two hijackers -- they had originally said four, but the two, who they say were Saudis, surrendered to them after saying that they had hijacked the plane and diverted it to protest Saudi repression. Those two men are now in custody.

The passengers are at the government-owned Rhashid (ph) hotel where they are safe and sound, but still a long way from home. No one is telling them yet when they'll be able to go. They originally thought tomorrow morning, but there's no word on that yet. But they are safe and many of them say it was not a traumatic experience at all, simply because they didn't know what was happening until they were actually told there was a hijacking going on; and then, a couple of hours later were led off the plane into the airport and to safety.

BLITZER: Jane, the relationship between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, obviously, has been extremely tense since the Gulf War. The two countries were at war.

How, if at all, will that play into the decision by the Iraqis to let the Saudi plane leave and continue on its route to London, presumably?

ARRAF: This could go a couple of ways. It's either a golden opportunity for Iraq to show that it is cooperating and actually do what it says it would do when this hijacking broke out, which is -- make sure to go to all lengths to take care of the comfort and safety of these passengers.

The passengers, by the way, include a member, according to Iraqi sources, of the Saudi royal family, one of the many princes. He's apparently 16 years old and is at the hotel under quite heavy security. If the Iraqi government did want to, this also could have been a way to put pressure on the Saudi government with its claim that the hijackers, being Saudi, did this as a way to protest against Saudi repression.

As you pointed out, there is quite a lot of bad blood between the two countries and President Saddam Hussein here continually called for the overthrow of the Saudi regime by the Saudi people. So this is certainly an interesting twist of events. Certainly an interesting twist for those passengers who thought they were head off to London and found out an hour after being on the tarmac that they had actually been hijacked to Baghdad.

BLITZER: OK, Jane Arraf staying up late in Baghdad for us, thank you so much for joining us.

And Saudi Airlines is hoping the passengers freed from the hijacked jet will be allowed to continue on the flight to London on Sunday.

Coming up, the latest on steps to end the violent bloodshed in the Middle East. And later, a solemn homecoming as the bodies of Americans killed on the USS Cole, return to U.S. soil.


BLITZER: President Clinton, right now, is deeply involved in trying to ease the crisis in the Middle East. But in only three months, another man will take over that job.

And, in the meantime, Al Gore and George W. Bush are both weighing in on the crisis.

CNN's Patty Davis has that.


PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vice president Al Gore welcomed the planned Mideast peace summit.

VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I think we need a lot of prayers to make sure that meeting is a success.

DAVIS: Gore's comments came at a campaign rally in Detroit, Michigan. The vice president has been splitting his time between the campaign trail and Washington, where he's been monitoring the Middle East crisis.

In Washington, Gore met Friday with Arab American leaders who called for a balanced response.

JAMES ZOGBY, ARAB AMERICAN INSTITUTE: More needs to be said about Palestinians who've suffered if we want to encourage a resumption of peace talks.

DAVIS: Arab Americans are a key voter block in Michigan, a state both campaigns consider crucial. Bush campaigned in the state Friday, saying the Middle East event showcased what he called the failed Clinton-Gore energy policy.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH(R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Energy security will be a priority of my foreign policy. I will rebuild American influence and credibility with the members of OPEC and with nation in the Persian Gulf.

DAVIS: A Gore spokesman accused Bush of using the situation to play politics.

CHRIS LEHANE, GORE CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: Clearly, in the governor's event yesterday he was trying to inject some of his commentary into what was going on in the Middle East. We believe the responsible approach is to keep presidential politics out of the Middle East and to keep the focus on peace in the Middle East.

DAVIS: But a bush campaign spokesman said quote: "America's energy and national security interests must always be addressed" and called the Gore campaign charges an "irresponsible accusation."

GORE: Jobs are at stake...

DAVIS: In Michigan, Gore was primarily stressing his domestic agenda. Leading a spirited get-out-the-vote rally.

GORE: Social Security is on the ballot this fall. Medicare is on the ballot this fall. Prescription drugs are on the ballot this fall.

DAVIS (on camera): The latest state-wide pole shows Bush gaining strength in Michigan, although Gore retains a slight lead. Both campaigns say they plan more visits and an all-out effort to win here.

Patty Davis, CNN, Detroit.


BLITZER: A CNN/"TIME" poll about violence in the Middle East shows Americans have strong opinion about the recent events in Israel; 40 percent of Americans in the survey say Israel is using too much force against the Palestinians; 31 percent disagree, 23 percent were unsure. 77 percent of those polled say Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat has not done enough to stop the violence. Only 8 percent agreed that he has.

And when asked if they think that peace can be can be achieved in the Middle East, 37 percent of Americans say yes, but more than half, 53 percent, say no.

As befits the volatile region itself, protests over the Middle East have been extremely vocal and they've been widespread. Arabs took to the streets of Cairo in support of the Palestinian cause. Similar pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli demonstrations have been held throughout the Arab world and beyond. Another Arab capitol, Baghdad, also saw anti-Israeli protests today.

Arab-Americans on both U.S. coasts are denouncing the violence in the Middle East. About 300 pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered in downtown Miami Saturday. Protesters hammered wooden stakes with cardboard tombstones into the ground, each bearing the name of a Palestinian killed in clashes with Israeli troops.

And in Los Angeles, Palestinian supporters held another rally to voice their frustrations. Many waved banners saying, "Stop killing the children."

Up next we'll take a closer look at one of the U.S. proposals going into Monday's emergency Middle East summit. And not all Jews and Palestinians are fighting among themselves; that story is also straight ahead.


BLITZER: An international effort is set to begin Monday, aimed at breaking the recent cycle of violence that is claiming so many lives in the Middle East. Word of the emergency summit may already be having a slightly positive impact.

CNN's Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna says, while the clashes have not ended, the fighting is not as fierce.


MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): There has been no cessation of hostilities in the wake of the summit announcement. In Ramallah, another confrontation between demonstrators and Israeli security forces, just one of several in the West Bank. More than 20 Palestinians are reported to have been injured all told.

But there has been a marked reduction in the intensity of the conflict; and both sides, now, apparently willing to talk without any preconditions.

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: I had hoped that we'd go to the summit having lifted the siege, having stopped the hostilities, having had the international inquiry so we can concentrate on what kind of transition we need between this period and back to the peace process.

But, unfortunately, we should not expect much out of this summit.

NACHMANN SHAI, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: We would like the violence to stop. Arafat can do it, we have no doubt about it. We will follow immediately. We have no interest in raising more tension. And then we can proceed -- not at this upcoming summit, but after, to talk peace with the Palestinians.

HANNA: The achievement of peace not on the agenda at the summit. The most the mediators are hoping for is an agreement to end the current round of violence.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: When so many lives are at risk, when so many killings are going on, when there's so much chaos and suffering -- isn't risk worth it?

HANNA: In Hebron, the funeral of a Palestinian killed in a confrontation with Israeli forces. A reminder, perhaps, to the leaders that on Monday it's not policies, but human lives at stake. A reminder, too, of the anger on the ground that will make agreement all the more difficult.

(on camera): Preparations for the summit are now well underway. But given the tension and uncertainty in the streets, the meeting can only be considered on when both leaders are in the same room.

Mike Hanna, CNN, Jerusalem.


BLITZER: The U.S. is proposing to lead a fact-finding panel looking into the causes of the violence in the Middle East. Their findings could be central to any future peace talks.

But CNN's Kathleen Koch says the panel's makeup has to be settled first.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every day the bloodshed and finger-pointing continue. So President Clinton lists as a central summit goal, getting some answers to the violence.

CLINTON: To agree on a fact-finding mechanism concerning how this began.

KOCH: But negotiators must first settle deep disagreements over the composition of a fact-finding group.

SHILBEY TELHAMI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: This is a question of mistrust. It's not a question of make up. It's not a question of who do you put on a team.

It is a question of, how do you get the confidence in the parties that this is going to be a fair process.

KOCH: The Palestinians want a United Nations investigation, but Israel believes the U.N. is biased. So a compromise being pushed by President Clinton has the U.S. leading the group. Possible participants, the two disputing parties as well as representatives from the U.N. and Europe.

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: We say that it should be an American source of authority, maybe with Israelis and Palestinians, of course but not an international body.

HASAN ABDEL-RAHMAN, PALESTINIAN CHIEF REPRESENTATIVE: We want a real international commission; a commission that is not biased, a commission that includes friends of Israel as well as our friends.

KOCH: Russia, too, wants to be involved. A Russian official tells CNN its exclusion would likely be viewed as, quote. "a slight, an attempt to isolate Russia from the peace process and diminish Russia's official role as a co-sponsor of the peace process."

(on camera): It's unclear what happens once a fact-finding group establishes the cause of the violence. Punishment is unlikely, but insiders believe any inquiry buys important time for negotiators to try to salvage the peace process.

Kathleen Koch for CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Jews and Palestinians may be passionately divided in the Middle East, but the situation is very different in San Mateo, California. That's where a group of Jews and Palestinians are living and working together to prove peace is possible.

CNN's Don Knapp reports.


DON KNAPP, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It would seem an unlikely group of friends, these folks who meet to discuss, not their differences, but what they, as Jews and Palestinians have in common.

HILDE GATTMAN, JEWISH AMERICAN: We know what it's like to be persecuted. I don't want to see other people persecuted.

KNAPP: Hilde Gattman and her husband Eric are German Jews who escaped the Holocaust. Adam Salem and his wife Nahida are Palestinians from Ramallah.

The group's dialogues don't always end in agreement. Elias Botto says Israel made him a refugee in his own land.

ELIAS BOTTO, PALESTINIAN AMERICAN: And I say, that house, before 1948, used to be mine in Jerusalem. And I still have the deed for it. An Israeli from Iraq is living in it now. And for this the sake of the peace I say, why not help me to move and live in the other half.

KNAPP: The Gattmans have children and grandchildren living in Israel. But don't always agree with the Israeli government.

ERIC GATTMAN, JEWISH AMERICAN: I believe Israel has made some mistakes and I think Arafat has made some grievous mistakes. I wish he had signed that agreement at Camp David. I also wish that Sharon had stayed off the mountain, where he had no business.

KNAPP: The Jewish-Palestinian living room dialogue group has met in one another's homes about 100 times over the past eight years. They met this time on our behalf.

LEN TRAUBMAN, PALESTINIAN AMERICAN: We hear each other's stories, we begin to see each other as equal and human and we start to want the best for each other. And this seems to be the missing part of the peace process.

KNAPP: They've raised money for schools and hospitals in the Middle East, always with the provision that both Jews and Palestinians contribute to projects that benefit both Middle Eastern Jews and Palestinians. They've even met socially for dinner dancing.

NAHIDA SALEM, PALESTINIAN AMERICAN: I have been called -- we're spoiled Americans, you know, we shouldn't be doing things like that with the Jews and, you're not getting anything out of it, like I told you. I keep saying there is hope. There is always hope.

KNAPP: And for eight years, the Jewish-Palestinian dialogue group has been keeping hope alive.

Don Knapp CNN, San Mateo, California.


BLITZER: Ahead in our special report, the U.S. military sends more help to aid in the investigation of the attack on the USS Cole. And we'll talk with a man who keeps up on the terrorist groups in the Middle East and asks who are the likely suspects in the Cole attack?


BLITZER: As the investigation into Thursday's suspected suicide bombing of the USS Cole got under way in Yemen, the first of 17 crew members killed arrived here on United States soil.

CNN's Carl Rochelle reports.


CARL ROCHELLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A transport plane carrying the bodies of five of the U.S. sailors killed in the bombing the USS Cole arrived in Dover Air Force base in Delaware, where only family members and military officials were allowed inside of the gates.

MAJOR FRAN SMOLINSKY, DOVER AIR FORCE BASE: A very solemn ceremony was held here on the flight line, a very small, but very respectful ceremony, in honor of these young Americans who gave their lives in honor of their country.

ROCHELLE: The apparent terrorist act was on mind of President Clinton and was the subject of his Saturday radio address during which vowed to find those responsible.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For only by defending our people, our interests and our values, will we redeem the lives of our sailors and ruin the schemes of their killers.


ROCHELLE: CNN has learned that 24 civilian engineers working for the Navy are headed over from the U.S. along with 10 tons of equipment to help pry apart the twisted metal and assist in recovery of the missing sailors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're really at the beginning stages of the investigation. We're really not focused on any one individual or any one group that we can say was responsible.

ROCHELLE: Investigators are not ruling out any terrorist organizations at the present time, and officials say they are trying to determine the validity of claims of responsibility made by some organizations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of the things they ought to be looking for, they'll need the cooperation of the government of Yemen for, and that would involve such things as the ownership of that boat that exploded, who the people were on board it, how it could have loaded explosives?

ROCHELLE (on camera): Even with the corporation of the government of Yemen, investigators don't expect any quick answers to who was responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole.

Carl Rochelle, CNN, the Pentagon.


BLITZER: There are so many elements involved with the suspected terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. To help put things into perspective, we are joined by CNN Terrorism Analyst, Peter Bergen.

Peter, we're beginning to get claims of responsibility. How realistic, how serious are these claims?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: There would be three claims of responsibility, Wolf. The U.S. counter-terrorism people that I've talked say there are a lot of claims in these kinds of circumstances, a lot of them are bogus. Anybody who has access to a paper can make a claim.

One of the claims is by a group called the Islamic Army of Aden. This is taken a little more seriously because they were behind a kidnapping attempt on Western tourists in 1997 in Yemen, so the Islamic Army is Aden is one of the groups that is obviously getting a bit of tension.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of analysts have speculated that this bombing has the fingerprints, has the earmarkings of Osama Bin Laden.

You've studied -- you're writing a book on Osama Bin Laden. Does it have his modus operandi?

BERGEN: Well, you have to ask who has the motive, capability and organization to pull off something that was obviously pretty sophisticated. And this is the kind of operation that the Bin Laden organization has allegedly done in the past.

The bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa two years ago took place one the same day within 15 minutes of each other -- a very sophisticated kind of operation. This boat attack also appears a rather sophisticated so Bin Laden is obviously very high on the list. Also he has family ties to Yemen and has supported groups in Yemen for quite some time.

BLITZER: Is it your sense that if you look at these kinds of terrorist incidents aimed at U.S. targets over the years, they happen in isolation or should Americans be worried, U.S. military and other personnel be worried that this is just the beginning of a coordinated attack?

BERGEN: I don't think there's really any pattern or rhyme or reason to these attacks, Wolf. There was planned attack on tourist sites in Jordan at Christmas which, you may remember, was foiled. Twenty-six people were arrested. Also there was at Christmas an attempt by an Algerian to come into Seattle and blow up the Seattle Needle, apparently.

But these things happen, you know, once a year, twice a year. You know, I don't think there's any pattern to them.

BLITZER: Is there anything else the U.S. government should be doing, the U.S. military should be doing in anticipation of further attacks?

BERGEN: Well, I think -- I'm sure they're doing everything they possibly can at the moment.

BLITZER: But there was supposedly some sort of intelligence report a month ago that an attack against a U.S. warship was potential, "The New York Times" quoting a source, an Arab intelligence source having provided this information to the U.S., which the U.S. sort of put on the back shelf.

BERGEN: One of the problems with that kind of intelligence, I think, is that you get those kinds of possible warnings of attacks all the time. I think the United States gets half a dozen a day of reasonably reliable reports of some kind of impending attack. You've got to sort out which ones are reasonable and which ones aren't.

BLITZER: It's been three or four years since the bombing of the U.S. Air Force barracks, the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia. Has anyone determined conclusively who was responsible for that, and is it possible we might never know who was responsible for the attack on the USS Cole?

BERGEN: I think that's a very good point, Wolf. If you don't have an arrest rather quickly and you're just left with the forensics, you don't really have any suspects in your custody -- as you say, in the Khobar Towers, we don't really know who did that. I mean, Iran was a suspect. People who may be related to bin Laden have been suspects. But there's no definitive and there may never be a definitive, just as in this instance here there may never be a definitive group involved.

BLITZER: OK, CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, thank you for joining us.

And a ceremony planned in Norfolk, Virginia for the Navy's 225th anniversary. We'll take a look at the whole meaning, a new meaning of that. We'll also take a look at the bittersweet affair, when we come back.


BLITZER: There was a bittersweet ceremony today in Norfolk, Virginia, the home port of the USS Cole. It was an event planned well before the tragedy, and now, more emotional than it was ever meant to be. That story from CNN's Gary Tuchman.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And at this point, we're going to have an unveiling of the statue.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The statue is called "The Joy of Homecoming." It shows the celebration Navy families have when a sailor comes home.

MAYOR PAUL FRAMIN, NOFOLK, VIRGINIA: It also serves as a vivid reminder that for our military families not all homecomings are happy.

TUCHMAN: The unveiling had been planned as part of a Fleet Week celebration here in Norfolk. in honor of the U.S. Navy's 225th birthday. But because of what happened half a world away, it also became a poignant ceremony honoring the casualties aboard the USS Cole.

REP. OWEN PICKETT: And so today with a heavy heart, we pray that God will grant the entire Navy family the peace, strength and understanding to sustain them in their grief during this difficult time.

TUCHMAN: And with the unveiling, a message was sent to all who would listen.

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The men and women of the United States military are on duty today to deter aggression, and if that fails, to protect freedom, no matter what the cost.

ADMIRAL ROBERT NATTER, COMMANDER, U.S. ATLANTIC FLEET: This tragic event will not deter our continued service to our country and our obligations as a global power with global responsibilities and interests.

TUCHMAN: A Navy family was chosen at random to do the unveiling. A mixture of happiness and sadness was felt as this family showed what a homecoming is all about.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Norfolk, Virginia.


BLITZER: And that's our CNN special report. "LARRY KING LIVE" is next. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.



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