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Crisis in the Middle EastAired October 16, 2000 - 8:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Israelis Palestinian confront each other on the streets of the West Bank hours before their leaders hold a diplomatic confrontation that may exceed expectations you just by taking place
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EHUD BARAK, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: I hope it won't fail. But if it will fail, we will have to face the realities.
SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: If Mr. Barak chooses to go in the direction of Sharon, I think he will kiss the peace process good-bye.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHEN: As President Clinton departs for the Middle East summit in Egypt, critics point to the last summit, at Camp David, as the reason for today's crisis in the Middle East.
Meantime, U.S. investigators search for clues to who carried out the deadly attack on the USS Cole as the injured return home.
Hello, thanks for being with us. I'm Joie Chen. This is a CNN special report.
It's now early morning in the Middle East, and in just hours Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat face off in Egypt in one of the most important meetings of their political lives. The goal: to end the current wave of deadly clashes between Israelis and Palestinians. The one-day talks are scheduled to take place in the Egyptian coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh. President Clinton is now en-route to the talks.
Earlier today, Israeli and Palestinian officials offered diminished expectations of the outcome. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak attacked PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in an interview, while Palestinians questioned the Israeli leader's commitment to peace.
There are also new developments in last week's bombing of the USS destroyer Cole. U.S. officials have expanded their investigation, which is now considered a terrorist attack.
Meantime, dozens of crewmembers injured in the attack returned to the United States Sunday afternoon aboard a military transport. Five sailors were killed, 10 others are still missing in the worst attack on the U.S. military in years.
Mr. Barak today condemned this weekend's kidnapping of an Israeli businessman and reserve colonel in Switzerland. The Islamic militant group Hezbollah is claiming responsibility. Also today, Barak and Palestinian officials publicly questioned each other's commitment to restoring order on the eve of the summit.
CNN's Jerrold Kessel reports Barak and Arafat also face strong opposition to tomorrow's summit from their own people.
JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Palestinians demonstrate against Yasser Arafat decision to go to the emergency summit. The banner at this demonstration declares no to the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, yes to the independence uprising and yes to its intensification.
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, PALESTINIAN ACTIVIST: Mr. Arafat is taking a very big risk by going to the summit because people are afraid that we will go back to the status quo from where we started.
KESSEL: With scattered clashes still going on, the Palestinian leadership says it will primarily be seeking international involvement to protect them from Israel's power. Israel charges the Palestinians really need to be protected from their own leadership.
EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: If Arafat wants to lubricate with the blood of the Palestinian people, the bringing back of international attention to his cause, it is legitimate, so to speak, but it is, in a way, a crime.
KESSEL: In Israel, the funeral of one of the two Israeli soldiers killed by a Palestinian mob in Ramallah last Thursday. Israel remains traumatized by the incident. The Israeli Cabinet in a presummit meeting laid out a series of demands that Mr. Barak will make of Mr. arafat. But increasingly, the Israeli prime minister is portraying Yasser Arafat as a man with whom there could be be no accommodation whatever.
BARAK: The real difference in the modern world between a legitimate leader that wants to be a head of state, a member of the United Nations, and a head of gang is the monopoly on the use and holding of weapons. Any regime, including autocratic regime, in this region make sure that they and only they, only the administration, is responsible for holding weapon. And they are not used against someone else without a clear-cut order.
KESSEL: The Palestinians, for their part, cast doubt on whether they can accept Mr. Barak as he flirts with Israel's political right.
EREKAT: So if he wants to make Sharon and the settlers and the extremists in Israel as his partner, I congratulate him. But he will not have a partner in us. KESSEL: Despite Kofi Annan's success in convening the summit, bitterness clouds any realistic hope of substantive peace moves being resuscitated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This summit could fail as well unless a new framework is developed. It cannot be left to the United States, which is biased to Israel -- and everybody would agree that the United States is biased to Israel -- to be the -- to own the monopoly of the peace talks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have some advice, free advice to Arafat: If there is a package that he doesn't accept, my advice is to keep a counter proposal, don't open fire.
KESSEL (on camera): Increasingly at best this has the look of being a summit of desperation.
Jerrold Kessel CNN, Jerusalem.
CHEN: The violent clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian demonstrators over the last 18 have now killed 100 people. All but seven are Palestinian. The latest victim, a Palestinian man, died earlier today of his injuries.
Before he lefty for the Mideast summit, President Clinton received a briefing from his national security aides. The White House is downplaying expectations for tomorrow's meeting, saying the primary goal is not a peace deal but a truce.
Here is CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace
KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. President Clinton, joined by his secretary of state and his national security adviser, headed off to the high-stakes Mideast summit, with his aides continuing to lower expectations even before that meeting gets underway.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Look, we don't have a lot of illusions about what can be accomplished at this summit.
SAMUEL BERGER, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It's not easy. And the tensions are high in the area. But I think the alternative is more violence, more bloodshed, more dying.
WALLACE: The U.S. will take that message to Egypt, where its primary goal is ending the violence which has claimed about 100 lives. The White House is careful not to assign blame, but Sunday, the president's advisers stepped up the pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
ALBRIGHT: We all know that Arafat is in charge of the Palestinian Authority. He has the responsibility for controlling the violence. We think he should do more.
WALLACE: Another immediate goal for the U.S. president: trying to broker a compromise over a fact-finding commission to investigate what led to the crisis.
Beyond that, the White House concedes, until there is a, quote, "cooling-off period," there is little chance of getting the two sides back to the peace table, back to where they were this summer, almost on the brink of a comprehensive peace deal at Camp David.
NAOMI WEINBERGER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I'm not hopeful really serious permanent-status talks anytime soon. I think the Barak government can't offered what it had offered back in July. And this will not be available to Mr. Arafat anytime soon.
WALLACE: Over the weekend, Mr. Clinton said he was heartbroken about the recent events in the Middle East after all the progress he has seen over the past seven and a half years. Now he heads to Egypt, with the challenge of making sure all that progress isn't lost to two weeks of violence.
Kelly Wallace, CNN, the White House.
CHEN: Meantime, the Israeli prime minister says he is ready to leave "no stone unturned," in his words, in his attempts to end the violence with the Palestinians.
Speaking on CNN's "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" today, Mr. Barak pledged to work for peace during tomorrow's summit.
BARAK: I believe that an end to violence could be accomplished, and in a way should be accomplished. I believe that the mechanism for making kind of tighter control, maybe an American-Israeli-Palestinian mechanism, to make sure that the security understandings are working.
BLITZER: Do you believe, Mr. Prime Minister, that the Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat, is still committed to the peace process?
BARAK: I cannot penetrate his soul. I judge him by his behavior. According to his behavior, he launched a wave of violence in the last few weeks when it was clear that there is on the table a possible framework agreement which reflects further flexibility of Israelis than ever in the past, and he chose not to go for it. That means that he deliberately decided to prefer confrontation.
Let me tell you, we will never lose our hope for peace. We will ultimately have peace with the Palestinian people. They're our neighbors, they're going to here forever. We will, at the end, live side by side as neighbors in peace, with the same people who are now incited to demonstrate against us, with those teachers and students who are now in the riot. But the leadership seems to be unripe, and leadership change its mind, leadership can open its eyes, leadership can be replaced by its own people. And even if with this leadership at this present time we cannot make peace, we will never lose the hope to make peace with our neighbors, the Palestinians, and we will ever -- whatever happens, we'll always leave certain door open for the possible change of approach or attitude on the other side.
BLITZER: Many Palestinians also say, Mr. Prime Minister, that if you bring Ariel Sharon and the Likud into your government and form a national emergency coalition, that in effect will totally end prospects for peace, that it would signal that the Israeli government, such a new Israel government, is no longer committed to the peace process.
BARAK: Look, it's once again propaganda. They're quite skillful in taking every situation and put it on its head. Look, for example, at the visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount. What it really showed is, how should we look at Arafat as custodian of holy sites. If this is the kind of free access and this is the kind of keeping holy sites that he can provide, it puts a major question mark on his demand to hold holy sites sacred for Christians and for Jews, or even for Muslims.
I don't think that Ariel Sharon is the reason. He's the excuse, and a very comfortable one. I don't think that it was the most brilliant idea of the year to have this visit, at this timing, on the Temple Mount. But the whole installation is the defender of Israel, defender of its capital, and it's open to visitors from every place.
What happens in if the Sharm el-Sheikh summit fails?
BARAK: I hope it won't fail. But if it will fail, we will have to face the realities. And I can repeat it once again, with the same determination that we struggled to find a way to make agreement with them, with the same determination, we will fight for our right to live here as a free, sovereign, democratic, open and pluralistic society within, or inside, this tough neighborhood of the Middle East. And we will fight and we expect honest people and honest governments all around the world to stand by us.
CHEN: Palestinian leaders, of course, see the situation as far more complex. Also on CNN's "LATE EDITION," chief Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat told our Wolf Blitzer that Mr. Barak is not as committed to the peace process as he claims.
EREKAT: Arafat was elected by the Palestinian people, he was not appointed by anyone, and he is accountable to Palestinian people. So he is the leader of Palestinian people. And he is seeking to be partner, not with this prime minister of Israel or that prime minister of Israel. He has said many times that he respects the democratic choice of Israelis, and he wants to make peace with all Israelis. But now, as the twisting of facts I have heard from Mr. Barak -- take this child, for instance, Mohammed Aldura. Where was he killed? He was killed in the middle of Gaza. The question to Mr. Barak, what are your soldiers doing in middle of Gaza? What are your settlers doing in middle of Gaza? What are your soldiers doing at the entrances of West Bank towns, villages and refugee camps? Do you want to live in a democratic, plural society? You're an occupation.
Today now when I'm talking to you, Wolf, 3 million Palestinians are subjected to a total siege by Mr. Barak: tanks surrounding the entrances of our towns, villages and refugee camps; nobody can move from a village to another, from a town to another; everything is put on complete hold. And this has been going on for the last six days. Rations are declining.
But, I heard Mr. Barak saying tonight that he really wants us -- when we are killed by his soldiers, not even to complain, not even to talk about it. The beginning of this conflict and the crisis and the tragic events -- he knows very well what made it happen.
BLITZER: So let me ask you this question...
EREKAT: You remembered...
BLITZER: I was going to say, so, I hear you saying that you are no longer convinced that Prime Minister Barak is committed to peace with the Palestinians. And if that is the case, what can be achieved at the summit at Sharm el-Sheikh?
EREKAT: Well, we will never abandon the peace process. There is nothing wrong with the peace process. Wolf, for the past few months we have witnessed Mr. Barak's noncompliance with the agreement signed. We have witnessed the continuation of settlement activities. We have witnessed him drifting from the terms of reference provided for in the Madrid peace conference. He culminated this by permitting Sharon to go to Haram al-Sharif against our warning and appeals to him not to do so.
And now he unleashes his might. We signed agreements with him, Wolf, that forbid us to have any army, navy, machine -- choppers or guns, and yet he unleashes his might, fire missiles at us, shoot at us trying to intimidate us. Is that the message of peace he is trying to send?
BLITZER: Well, if that is the case, what do you hope? What do you think can be achieved, let me get back to the question, at this summit at Sharm el-Sheikh?
EREKAT: Well, before Sharm el-Sheikh, we really appeal to the international community. People put it as conditions. It was not even conditions. We said to them, please, stop the siege and the tanks, the siege of the tanks of our villages and refugee camps, crossing borders, airport, whatever. Please stop Israeli hostilities against us, and send an international commission of inquirers. Why can't Mr. Barak accept it? What does he have to hide? Then everyone on earth said to us, go to Sharm el-Sheikh. Now we going to Sharm el-Sheikh, and instead of going there to put agenda of how to revive the peace process, how to start the process of healing, how to start the process of a transition back to the peace process, we are going to go there to urge the international community to convince the Israelis to stop their hostilities against us and to have them refrain, again, from firing missiles through their tanks or through their choppers at us. And we want the international community to send us an international commission of inquirers.
I'm afraid that Mr. Barak is going with a totally different agenda. He is asking Palestinians to accept to be killed without even opening their mouths. He wants to stay as an occupier without us saying anything about it. And he wants to subject us to his rule, and, yet, he wants the support of the international community.
And he fingers -- he points his finger at us, and I'm telling him, Mr. Barak, it is not time to assign blame. It is not time to assign blame. I'm not doing peace with you as a favor to you. And you are not doing peace with me as a favor to you. You know that we are playing in a game that cannot be played in accordance with a zero- sum game. It is either two winners or two losers. And with you and Mr. Barak, you are really putting both of us as losers.
I hope that the language of Mr. Barak of the last three weeks, the language of cannons, his choppers, his guns, will be silenced. And I hope that in Sharm el-Sheikh we can hear some language of sanity, wisdom, restoration. And I hope that the process of healing will begin.
But if Mr. Barak chooses to go in the direction of Sharon, I think he will kiss the peace process good-bye.
CHEN: We'll get more perspective on the upcoming summit in Sharm el-Sheikh later in this program with Egypt's ambassador to the United States appearing later in this hour.
Next up here, the attack on the USS Cole. The Pentagon answers critics who accuse them using Yemen as a refueling stop, while those injured in Thursday's blast return to their home port. And Hezbollah claims another kidnapping of an Israeli. The story from Beirut, and we'll talk to Lebanon's ambassador to the United States later in this CNN special report.
CHEN: Now to our other big story of the day, the USS Cole attack.
Investigators in Yemen have begun to question local workers who were at the site of Thursday's blast. The explosion killed 17 people and wounded 39 more. Because of Yemen's past association with terrorists, the Pentagon is having to defend its policy that allows U.S. warships to refuel there. We get more from CNN military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN MILITARY AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Was it misguided diplomacy that sent the USS Cole to refuel in Yemen, a country the U.S. State Department calls "a safe haven for terrorists"? No, argues the Navy's top admiral.
ADM. VERN CLARK, CHIEF OF NAVAL OPERATIONS: And this is about having a Navy that is in the four corners of the Earth, and representing the National Command Authority, and having an influence on world events. That's why we have a Navy.
MCINTYRE: Over the past year-and-a-half, U.S. Navy ships like the destroyer Cole have begun making regular stops in Yemen, part of a strategy strongly advocated by the former commander of U.S. forces in the region, General Anthony Zinni, who wanted to improve relations in Yemen and give the Navy more places to refuel.
CLARK: Here's the key point: Since then, 25 ships have conducted refueling operations in that port. The threat assessment had not changed one iota with regard to Aden. That's the bottom line.
MCINTYRE: But Zinni insists security was never compromised for the sake of diplomatic goals, telling CNN, quote, "I think there's a misconception that we went there accepting greater risks than other places for the sake of engagement. That wasn't the case."
Zinni points out U.S. ships making the trip from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf have only two options for refueling besides Aden: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. But they aren't rated much safer than Aden.
WILLIAM COHEN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Throughout the entire Middle East, throughout that entire area of responsibility, virtually all of the areas are high-risk.
MCINTYRE: Ironically, U.S. commanders consider some of the features of the port of Aden to be more secure, such as the offshore tanks that don't require U.S. warships to tie up to appear.
(on camera): The Navy admits it could use more refueling ships, but denies any shortage has resulted in its warships making any risky port calls. General Zinni says the only ports he considers perfectly safe are in Norfolk, Virginia and San Diego, California.
Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.
CHEN: The USS Cole has been docked in the port of Aden since Thursday. A heavy-lift transport ship will tow it back to Virginia for repairs. You see that this is a complicated operation. Bear in mind that this transport will be carrying a destroyer all the way back to home port in Virginia.
While U.S. Officials are not speculating on either a motive or the people behind the attack on the USS Cole, the governmental is so far not backing off its belief that it was an act of terrorism.
Joining us now to talk about some of the groups believed to be capable of an attack like this one is CNN's terrorism analyst Peter Bergen.
Peter, thanks for being with us.
Let's talk a little bit about Jamie McIntyre's report. The Navy is saying that other ships had refueled at Aden without incident all this time. The public position is that there is no real reason to suspect there was anything wrong, But what are you hearing from intelligence? Over the last 18 months, has there been any sign of stepped-up terrorist activity at Aden.
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, Joie, a U.S. intelligence official that follows the bin Laden organization very carefully said that in 1992 bin Laden actually bombed a hotel in Aden which was housing U.S. serviceman transiting the gulf. No U.S. servicemen were killed, but a tourist was killed. So the bin Laden organization, as a for instance, has operated not only in Yemen but in Aden itself in the last decade.
CHEN: But can we talk a little bit more specifically about the last 18 month since the refueling started again there, rather than looking further back. In the more recent times, the more recent months, had there been any indication?
BERGEN: Not that I know of. I mean, Joie, the calculation was made that Yemen was a, quote, "friendly" place. Obviously, retrospectively, that turned out to be wrong.
In 1997, going a little bit further back than the 18 months we were first talking about, a group of Western tourists including four Americans were kidnapped in Yemen. A botched rescue attempt left several dead. So there has been a long history of terrorism in Yemen.
U.S. counter-terrorism people tell me that Yemen has actually become more cooperative in the fight on terrorism in the last few years and they're cooperating pretty well with this investigation.
CHEN: Talking about cooperation, however, Yemen allowed maybe a week and a half or so ago a flight into Iraq, of course against what the United States would like to see happen. Was there any sort of signal from Yemen that it might have been raising ties with places and with peoples that the United States might not have favored, that might have problem with the United States?
BERGEN: Joie, I think one thing about Yemen is it's a country where the central government doesn't have a huge amount of control over everything that happens in the country. And there are these groups that do continue functioning and have obviously continued functioning right as we see in this incident with the USS Cole. CHEN: You talk about Osama bin Laden. Is that the operating assumption of U.S. intelligence, that bin Laden's organization is somehow involved in this?
BERGEN: State Department officials are careful to say, look, we're ruling no one in or out, including potentially state sponsors. But at the top of everybody's list has to be Osama bin Laden. He has family ties to Yemen, his father was born there. He has supported military groups in Yemen for a couple of decades now. He has issued fatwahs, religious rulings, asking for attacks on U.S. military targets in Yemen, and he has the capability and organization and motive to carry out such an attack.
CHEN: And Osama bin Laden's aim has been to get the United States out of this region.
BERGEN: Absolutely. His most important political aim is to remove U.S. troops from what he considers the Holy Land of the Arabian peninsula, which means both Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
CHEN: Why is there no credible claim of responsibility enunciated yet. Shouldn't a terrorist group want to come forward? Is this typical?
BERGEN: In recent years, we've seen less credible claims of responsibility because -- probably because the U.S. government sends cruise missile attacks in your direction if indeed you're determined to be behind an attack.
There have been some claims of responsibility on this particular incident, three so far. They're generally regarded to be probably bogus because pretty much anybody with a fax machine can make a claim of responsibility. There was a claim of responsibility by the Islamic Army of Aden, the group which was behind the kidnapping of the Western tourists I earlier mentioned. That has obviously been taken with a slightly higher degree of credibility.
But as you mentioned, Joie, it is increasingly less likely that you will you get a serious, credible claim of responsibility in such an intense.
CHEN: CNN's terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, thanks for being with us.
BERGEN: Thank you, Joie.
CHEN: Meantime, anxious relatives came to a Virginia naval base today to meet their loved ones who were wounded in the attack on the Cole. A Navy plane brought the 33 sailors from Germany to their Norfolk duty station.
CNN's Gary Tuchman has the story of their bittersweet homecoming.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the sun was beginning to set, their aircraft arrived back in the country they served. A C-141 medical transport plane with 33 wounded sailors from the USS Cole had arrived in Norfolk, Virginia. Waiting for them were spouses, parents and children. And then, about 25 minute after they landed, the sailors started disembarking to sustained applause. And then the reunions began with their grateful relatives.
They came off on crutches and on stretchers. Seventeen of their comrades were either killed or missing in the blast. Another six wounded sailors remain in a U.S. military hospital in Germany, but all the wounded are expected to survive.
CAPT. MARK SNYDER, MEDICAL CENTER SENIOR PHYSICIAN: Most of the patients are ambulatory patients. All of them have been treated at other facilities and have had the immediate concerns taken care of. Any of those that have had more serious injuries will arrive probably later on in the week.
TUCHMAN: A Navy band played, fellow sailors cheered and family members gave their thanks, knowing that a few days before their loved ones narrowly escaped death.
(on camera): All 33 sailors have been admitted to the Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. But many will be discharged on Monday, free to return to their loved ones who worried so much but are realizing how lucky they are.
CHEN: Other special courage continues in just a moment with a look at what sparked this latest Middle East crisis.
Coming up, experts examine the outcomes of Camp David.
And also ahead, Egypt's ambassador to the United States joins us with his insight.
Please stay with us.
CHEN: The reasons behind the latest Palestinian and Israeli clashes may remain mysterious to many of those of us looking from the outside and from around the world, but experts say the unrest was simmering long before the first stone was thrown.
CNN State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel examines what caused the anger to boil over.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To understand how all of this began, some say, it's necessary to look at how this ended.
July 25th: Two weeks of intensive peace talks at Camp David conclude without an agreement. WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The prime minister moved forward more from his initial position than Chairman Arafat on -- particularly surrounding questions of Jerusalem.
KOPPEL: For the Palestinians, and many in the Arab world, President Clinton's rush to blame Yasser Arafat was viewed as unfair and made him a hero. His aides say Arafat had told Secretary of State Madeleine Albright even before Camp David began, he wasn't ready.
HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN, PALESTINIAN REP, TO U.S.: We needed more time. That's what President Arafat was telling the U.S. and Israel.
KOPPEL: But Israel's prime minister was ready, and so under pressure from President Clinton, Arafat came to Camp David.
When it ended weeks later, Barak saw his support among the Israeli public evaporate. That, many believe, paved the way for hard- line politician Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in the old city. Before long, another Palestinian uprising had begun.
RAHMAN: Sharon's visit was provocative in more than one way. It was like a military incursion to invade Haram As-Sharif and reaffirm, quote-unquote, Jewish sovereignty over this noble sanctuary over the Muslim people.
KOPPEL: The Palestinians say they tried to stop the visit but Barak let it go forward and remains unapologetic.
BARAK: I don't think that Ariel Sharon is the reason. He's the excuse -- and a very comfortable one.
KOPPEL: Still others say the genesis of the renewed hostilities can be traced back to the Camp David summit, which while well intentioned, they say, was premature and too ambitious.
ROBERT PELLATREAU, FMR. U.S. ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: It got ahead of public opinion in the communities that would have to live with the results of the agreement. And that created a fertile ground, or maybe I should say an open pan of oil to which Mr. Sharon could throw the match.
KOPPEL (on camera): Now the challenge at this next summit in Egypt: to put out the fire.
Andrea Koppel, CNN, the State Department.
CHEN: Egypt once faced Israel at the negotiating table. Now, it is taking a leading role in the current crisis by agreeing to host the emergency Middle East summit.
To gain an insight into its unique perspective, we are joined by Egypt's ambassador to the United States, His Excellency, Nabil Fahmy.
Thank you for being with us, Mr. Ambassador. I want to refer first to Andrea Koppel's report, which we just heard, and the questions about the Camp David summit. And this was a rushed summit by many estimations, perhaps premature, perhaps even at its worst provocative. Given all that information, why go on with Sharm el-Sheikh at this point, when we know this is very, very rushed, under a great deal of pressure, a one-day summit with the lowest expectations possible. Why do this now?
NABIL FAHMY, EGYPTIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.S.: Well, first of all having done this for over 25 years, I have not and will never second guess somebody trying to achieve peace. Trying to achieve something a bit too early is better than not trying at all.
I think Camp David moved things forward. It did not conclude successfully because the proposals on the table were not sufficient to achieve that. With respect to Sharm el Sheikh, about 10 days ago we suggested the first Sharm el Sheikh summit in order to prevent the sequence of events which we saw over the last week. We see the meeting tomorrow, as quickly as it has been organized, as a lifeline to the peacemakers to try to preserve or to try to bring them back to the peace process. And to do so, we have to achieve some concrete agreements tomorrow. Hopefully, we'll do that.
CHEN: Are your expectations any higher than any of the other players in this who seem to say at best this going to give us some sort of a truce.
FAHMY: No, it's not a matter of high expectations, it's a matter of a commitment to peace. It is important for us to achieve, first of all, the end of hostilities, the excessive use of force and in connection with that the end of violence.
It's important also for it not to occur again. And consequently, you have to monitor the situation.
And thirdly, we really have to look at how -- and I underlined how rather than when -- how to move the peace process forward after that.
CHEN: Do you expect that will happen tomorrow?
FAHMY: We will do our utmost. We will do our utmost.
CHEN: Help us understand, with the situation your country is in as the host of this particular event, you're not simply playing a good neighbor here. After all, your country does have certain domestic concerns. You do not want to see the unrest spiral out any worse than it has.
FAHMY: Well, Egypt has been the pioneer of peace. We started it before there were peace partners. President Sadat all the way back in 1972, even before the October War, suggested unilateral initiatives regarding the partial withdrawal from the Suez Canal and that he would open that for maritime passage. In other words, resolving the problem through negotiations or after. There wasn't a partner at the time. We tried again and again until we had peace between Egypt and Israel, and we will support a comprehensive peace. That's the commitment that we're -- that's behind all this, and we will continue to pursue it. We have to have partners in this process.
The partners tomorrow are those, the Israelis and the Palestinians. There has to be equality, justice for all, in other words equal rights for the Palestinians like everybody else in the region, and security for Israel, like everybody else in the region. That's the commitment, and that 's the program we're going to pursue.
CHEN: But you'll forgive me, in your own country, though, do you see your own people of your own nation unified in wanting to see this process go forward? And if not, do you see a great concern for your own country to try to stop the unrest from spreading further than the borders that it's already crossed?
FAHMY: I appreciate the question. I understand where you're coming from. What you saw in terms of demonstrations in Egypt and the -- expressions were really expressions of frustrations, -- expressions of frustration that the peace process had not succeeded, that there had been Palestinian killed, over 100 Palestinians killed and 3,000 injured. It's not a reflection of a retreat from the peace process but a reflection of severe frustration that after all of these years we have not been able to put this tragic chapter in our history to rest.
The people of Egypt are committed to peace, but they can't do it by themselves.
CHEN: Egypt's ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Nabil Fahmy, thank you for being with us.
FAHMY: Thank you.
CHEN: And there's much more to come on this CNN special report. Will developments in Beirut cast a shadow on Monday's emergency summit? Lebanon's ambassador to the United States joins us from our Washington bureau right after the break.
Stay with us.
CHEN: The already bleak hopes of a breakthrough in tomorrow's emergency summit may have suffered another setback today. Hezbollah militants, already holding three Israeli soldiers, say they have kidnapped an Israeli businessman.
CNN's Brent Sadler files this report from Beirut.
BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was during an Islamic conference in Beirut that Hezbollah's chief delivered a dramatic statement, claiming the capture of another Israeli soldier.
SAYED HASSAN NASRALLAH, HEZBOLLAH SECRETARY-GENERAL (through translator): In a complicated security operation, the Islamic resistance was able to take prisoner an Israeli army officer with the rank of colonel.
SADLER: He was midsentence when the delegates cut in with an enthusiastic response.
After the Hezbollah announcement, Israel at first scoured the border area for clues to see if the claim was true. Later, though, Israel confirmed the overseas kidnapping of an Israeli businessman, an army reservist, taken in what Israel claims was a terrorist act.
It was little over a week ago that Hezbollah guerrillas launched a cross-border attack, snatching three Israeli sergeants, they're whereabouts and condition unknown.
In Lebanon, opinion is divided about whether Israel might be tempted to use force in the wake of the abductions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they should talk instead of capturing, because if they keep doing this, they're going to hit. You know, they're going to start bombing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I don't think they can do anything because they know we have three -- we actually have four now Israelis with us. So in case they do anything here, we have them in our hands.
SADLER: Thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese marched through central Beirut as news of Hezbollah's operation spread, claiming the latest Palestinian uprising, or Intifada for independence, is a legitimate struggle, thankful for what they regard as Hezbollah's practical support in taking another Israeli captive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a gift from Hezbollah to an Intifada to the Palestinian people.
SADLER: Hezbollah is both sympathetic, too, and supportive of the Palestinian struggle and is now using it own long and bloody experience battling Israel over formerly occupied south Lebanon to strike renewed blows at Israel, which, its feared, could spark a wider Middle East conflict.
Brent Sadler, CNN, Beirut.
CHEN: We turn now to Farid Abboud, who is Lebanon's ambassador to the United States. He joins us from our Washington bureau.
We thank you for joining us, Mr. Ambassador.
Do you have, or does your government have, any information about this latest Israeli who is being held?
FARID ABBOUD, LEBANESE AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: No.
CHEN: You can't tell us anything more about him, his condition or his situation?
ABBOUD: No, we don't have any information.
CHEN: I want to ask you to listen to a comment made earlier today by the Israeli prime minister, Mr. Barak, who spoke to Wolf Blitzer on our "LATE EDITION" Program. He talked about the three Israeli soldiers who were taken captive earlier. Can we listen to that now, please?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARAK: I expect that they will allow immediately the Red Cross or the U.N. or some official of an American or British or Russian embassy to get an access to them, and then they should be returned home. The whole event is a kind of blunt violation of United Nations Security-Council resolution 425, along which we pulled out of Lebanon to the letter. And this attack is a violence that we keep the right to respond for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHEN: The most important thing here is last part of his statement: a blunt violation which we keep the right to respond for. What does that mean to you're government?
ABBOUD: Mr. Barak seems to insinuate that he's going to attack civilians or civilian targets in Lebanon. That would be a blunt violation of any legal principles and any moral principles. The Israelis have done that in the past in my country, and that as also a grave violation.
The capture of three soldiers is simply a response of the continuing detention of 19 Lebanese in Israel. The United Nations security-general had requested Mr. Barak to release these Lebanese detainees and repeatedly, and Mr. Barak has refused. The Israeli Supreme Court itself has decided they these detainees were held illegally, because they do not constitute any threat to Israeli's security, and the Israelis are still refusing to release them.
So they are Lebanese detained in Israel. They should be released. Most probably, there will be negotiations which will be carried out by neutral intermediaries, and at the end of it the detainees will be released and the soldiers will be released.
CHEN: So you're talking about a trade then.
ABBOUD: Yes, an exchange of prisoners. But we should not forget that this capture of the three soldiers came after the Israelis had refused to release the detainees, which they held in spite of several treaties by the U.N. secretary general to that effect and the fact that the 425 resolution is not yet implemented in full, since it stipulates that all detainees should be released. And it also stipulates that the -- all Lebanese territories should be evacuated, which is not the case. The operation of the attack on these three soldiers occurred on Lebanese soil in an area which is still occupied by Israel.
CHEN: I appreciate your point. Going into tomorrow's event, the summit to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh, can you talk about the challenges that the Palestinian authority faces? After all, there isn't a complete unification of Palestinians in wanting to see a truce come into being. Do you have concerns for anyone who might want to derail this process to keep it from going forward, that they might trigger some sort of violence before it or during it?
ABBOUD: I think it will be a mistake to analyze the situation from a purely security viewpoint. The problem is political. What has happened is the peace process, on which the Palestinians have held a lot of hopes, is unraveling. It has been -- it has had very little reward for them. It has given them very little, and it is obvious that their frustration is immense.
Now on the other hand, the fact that shooting at demonstrations has become a routine by the Israeli army is something which is really the subject of great concern. If you have disturbances or demonstrations, you deal with them by other means by shooting in the heads. And that is what has been happening in the past, and that is not acceptable. Even if demonstrators misbehave or throw stones or burn tires or block roads, you do not shoot at them. Shooting is not a good way to deal with demonstrations and for political (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
CHEN: Farid Abboud, the Lebanese ambassador to the United States, we appreciate your being with us and your insight as well, sir.
ABBOUD: Thank you.
CHEN: And we'll return with more of our special coverage in a moment.
CHEN: There's been a certain sense of unease throughout the world that what has happen in the Middle East over the last couple of weeks could be spreading far beyond the shores of which it had started. Take case in point, there have been protests in many cities in the United States. But has the violence come to these shores as well?
On that point, FBI investigators got their first look today at the damage inside caused by an explosion and fire at a New York synagogue on Friday. This temple had been too unstable for anyone to go inside to investigate until today, when some areas of it were shored up be steel beams. About 100 federal, state and local officials are now involved in the investigation. The FBI says they have found nothing to indicate what caused the blast. Nor are they clear yet that it has any relationship to what has happened in the Middle East. Now on the latest CNN/"USA Today" Gallup tracking poll, in the race for president, Texas Governor George W. Bush maintains a slight lead over Vice President Al Gore. Of 727 likely voters, 48 percent favor Bush while 43 percent support Gore. The poll's margin of error of 4 percentage points means that the race is just about dead even. The candidates hold their finale debate on Tuesday.
Still ahead on this CNN special report, most of the sailors wounded in last week's bombing of the USS Cole are back on U.S. soil.
When we return from the break, a tribute to those who did not return.
CHEN: Keep up with development in the crisis in the Middle East and the investigation on the attack of USS Cole at our Web site. Get a 3D view of the damage done to the Cole and learn more about the sailors who were killed in the attack. You can find it all at CNN.com.
As 33 survivors of the USS Cole disaster return to their loved ones, the agony continues for families who suffered the ultimate loss. A memorial service was held today in Yemen for the 17 fallen sailors.
CNN's Charles Zewe has more.
CHARLES ZEWE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the listing fantail of the crippled USS Cole, sailors pause to pray for their dead shipmates, even as crews struggled to keep the $1 billion guided missile destroyer afloat. Bodies of the missing, investigators believe, may still be wedged in the wildly twisted wreckage of the gaping hole in the ship's side.
Even as 33 of the Cole's injured, some burned and hobbled, were flown home to tearful reunions with loved ones, members of Norfolk's tight-knit naval community paused to recall those who perished.
A chaplain who served in the Persian Gulf reminded churchgoers how something as seemingly routine as refueling a ship can define what it means to die for one's country.
REV. MICHAEL DIAZ, U.S. NAVY: Each of them was at their station, pulling on the lines or letting the lines free for, you know, to be captured down below, everyone in place. And at that moment, with the explosion, all of a sudden the ennobling, that is, that routine moment now is captured for all time.
These sailors, who died doing their duty at their post, give us today.
ZEWE: In Texas, missing sailor Tim Guana's family and neighbors gathered at a worship service. On her way into church, Sara Guana, his mother, said tears of grief over her son had turned to tears of anger.
SARA GUANA, MOTHER OF MISSING SAILOR: I'm crying because it's going to be five days already. If anything happens to those missing soldiers because they took too long to get to them, I'm going to blame the government.
ZEWE: Pastor Russell Mills prayed for a miracle, that somehow Guana might still be alive.
PASTOR RUSSELL MILLS: Father we pray that you dispatch your angels and bring the other sailors home.
ZEWE: But in the middle of the church, Sara Guana, tears streaming down her cheeks, clutched a picture of Tim in his uniform, trying to come to grips with the awful reality of losing a child.
Charles Zewe, CNN.
CHEN: That's it for our special report. Stay with CNN for the latest developments and full coverage of Monday's Middle East peace summit.
I'm Joie Chen. we'll have an update of the day's events next, followed by "CNN & TIME."
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