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Israel Strikes Palestinian Authority Compound in Gaza

Aired December 3, 2001 - 10:10   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And to underscore your point, we will, of course, be carrying Mr. Sharon's address as soon as that happens live here on CNN and throughout the world.

While we have been talking with Jerrold Kessel, our Matthew Chance has been making his way toward Gaza. We are told he is at a checkpoint there on the edge of Gaza -- Matthew, what are you seeing, what are you hearing?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Miles. I am, indeed, at the Erez Crossing, which connects Israel Proper into the Gaza Strip. For the moment, we're stuck on the Israeli side trying to get through the guards into the Gaza Strip itself. It seems pretty quiet from where we're standing at this stage in the evening, although of course, we are about five or seven kilometers from the center of Gaza City itself, about three or four miles away.

Having said that, in the distance, of course, we can see -- although it's going to get dark now, but we have been seeing plumes of dark smoke in the distance filtering up into the skies over the Gaza Strip. We also heard isolated gun shots coming from the ground, as well as that -- the sound of warplanes high in the skies over the Gaza Strip as well, well out of sight of our naked eyes at this point, and especially in the evening now that darkness is falling over the Gaza Strip.

Just to go over, though, the reports that have been filtering out, of course, and which we have been witnessing on live television, that nine missiles, according to witnesses inside the Gaza Strip, striking at the headquarters of the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat. I have to emphasize, of course, that Yasser Arafat himself is not in the Gaza Strip. He's in Ramallah in the West Bank, his headquarters when he's not in Gaza itself. So he is safe for the moment, it seems, from these missile attacks.

What we have been hearing from witnesses also that a large fire is still raging near the headquarters. It's not clear yet whether there have been any casualties. Certainly, that's exactly the kind of information we'll be gathering as soon as we get access to the Gaza Strip, hopefully within the next few minutes or so -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Matthew, I realize you're at a disadvantage as you wait at that checkpoint -- the Erez checkpoint. But as we look at these pictures, which clearly you cannot see from where you are, we see the flash of ambulance beacons and fire trucks that have responded to this as darkness falls on Gaza City. Do you have any sense of how significant the injuries might be? We are getting some reports from Palestinian sources that there are numerous injuries.

CHANCE: Well, I mean, it's certainly difficult for us to say, but certainly the reports that we've been hearing trickling out of Gaza at this stage, is that there have been buildings set in that compound, the headquarters compound of Yasser Arafat, perhaps buildings where guards, body guards, police force members of the Palestinian security forces that may have been housed.

The very fact, of course, is there are ambulances we are seeing screeching -- screaming, rather, through the streets of Gaza do imply that there are casualties. Of course, Miles, it's impossible for us to tell at this stage to gauge what the level of those casualties are. Though nine missiles causing wide-spread damage in the targets they struck. So, of course, we can't rule casualties out -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Matthew, let me ask you this. You said you saw evidence of aircraft -- Israeli aircraft still hovering over Gaza City. Do you have any sense as to whether this is the beginning of a larger attack, or have we seen it?

CHANCE: Well, as I say, there were noises of jet warplanes flying high, well out of our sight over this Erez border crossing inside the Gaza Strip, as we arrived here a few moments ago. It's difficult for us to gauge, of course, what the extent of the military action will be on the parts of the Israelis in the Gaza Strip, or elsewhere in the Palestinian territories.

Of course, over the course of today, since Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister's return from the United States to Israel, there have been a series of consultations of senior figures in his administration to decide a response -- an appropriate response to the killing over the weekend of some 28 people, including 3 suicide bombers in Jerusalem and in the coastal resort town of Haifa. The details of those consultations have not been made public. They have been held in secret.

A much larger cabinet meeting -- governmental meeting is being held in about two-and-a-half hours from now, where it's believed the strategy for a response to those killings over the weekend will be spelt out. But clearly, what we're getting is an indication of the seriousness that the military action might take from the Israeli side regarding the Palestinians.

O'BRIEN: Just to recap briefly, Matthew, I still have you on the line, looking at some live pictures here now, as darkness has fallen over Gaza City, you were looking at the compound, that is the headquarters and residence for Yasser Arafat. At least 10 Israeli missiles were fired upon that compound. We believe they were directed at Mr. Arafat's guards and his helicopter fleet. You can see the subsequent fire and the emergency response. We have very sketchy information on injuries. Indications are there are numerous injuries.

Matthew, it's worth pointing out, this is swift retaliation, apparently, for the series of suicide bombings over the weekend, which killed 26 people in Israel. I should note that the Palestinian Authority condemned those suicide attacks, rounded up more than 100 Hamas and Islamic jihad activists. Clearly, that was not enough to allay any concerns on the Israeli side -- Matthew.

CHANCE: That's right. Certainly there's widespread anger on the part of the Israelis and shock about what happened over the weekend with the killing of so many people by those suicide bombers. Certainly, there was a lot of pressure from his own public on Ariel Sharon, the prime of minister of Israel, to take some kind of decisive action. It's the kind of action he has taken in the past.

Critical for a moment, though, this whole cycle of violence and revenge killings perhaps has not -- has been perpetuated by these strikes. Certainly the Mitchell report, which is the working frame of reference for a long-term peace solution in the Middle East, stresses that first of all, that the violence must end on both sides before confidence can be built, and then negotiations can resume. But clearly, that's not the course that's being chosen at this stage either by the Palestinians or by the Israeli government.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Matthew Chance -- we're going to let you go, so that you can persuade your way past that checkpoint and get a little closer to the scene. Please check in with us, and please be safe, as you continue in your endeavors.

Let's turn it now to someone very close to Yasser Arafat, Saeb Erakat, who is the chief Palestinian negotiator on the line with us, live now from Jericho.

Mr. Erakat, you're seeing the same pictures we are, I presume, if not seeing it -- if you haven't had an opportunity to see it before your eyes. What is your reaction, sir?

SAEB ERAKAT, PALESTINIAN CABINET MEMBER: Well, so far, three of President Arafat's helicopters have been destroyed. His home was destroyed, and his headquarters was destroyed. And the message is very clear, you know, when the world is asking what Arafat will do, and Arafat declared a state of emergency in order to bring those who are behind the attacks in Israel, which we condemned to justice, now Sharon began speaking to us through the language of the missiles and the guns.

And this will only complicate matters. This will only breed violence. This will only breed bullets. This will only breed more bloodshed. And in order to save lives of Palestinians and Israelis, this must stop, because the only way to save lives of Israelis and Palestinians is not through this language. It's going to be through the language of peace and negotiations.

If he thinks -- if Sharon thinks he can intimidate the Palestinian people by doing that, I'm afraid to tell him that the only thing he's doing tonight is just making it more impossible for those of us who want to make peace -- to move forward. He is hitting, you know, with missiles in revenge. What will this do? Nothing whatsoever.

O'BRIEN: Well, can...

ERAKAT: We know that there were Palestinians groups trying to sabotage the peace process, and we condemn these attacks in Jerusalem and in Haifa.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Erakat...

ERAKAT: And at the same...

O'BRIEN: Mr. Erakat...


O'BRIEN: ... as you say, you indicate your express desire to seek peace. Can you see the Israeli perspective that when you say that, that's a hollow statement as the suicide bombings continue?

ERAKAT: That's precisely the point, you know, we need action. That's why we need to go ahead in implementing the Mitchell report and implementing the tenant plan. And the Israeli people must open up their eyes. I'm a father of four people -- four kids. I don't want to see my kids die, as it breaks my heart to see Israeli kids die in their streets. But what's the reason at the end of the day?

Do you know, sir, that Israel occupied me and my family and 3.2 million people for the last 34 years? Do you know, sir, that Israel is taking my land and building settlements? Do they expect to live in peace and security while their occupation goes on? We urge them, we appeal to them to come back to the negotiating table. We have recognized the state of Israel. They own 78 percent of the land, and we want to build a Palestinian state next to Israel on the remaining 22 percent. But I'm afraid that Mr. Sharon...

O'BRIEN: Mr. Erakat -- Mr. Erakat, the allegation on the Israeli side is that Mr. Arafat, at least tacitly, is giving consent to the actions of these suicide bombers, and not cracking down hard enough upon them internally, and thus, is allowing this cycle to continue. How do you respond to that?

ERAKAT: I respond to that, stop finger pointing and stop accusing Arafat. You can't tie Arafat's hand and tie his legs and blindfold him and throw him to the sea and ask him to be a good swimmer. Everybody on Earth, including President Bush, called on Arafat to take steps, and the president declared a state of emergency, and there are more than 200 people -- of Palestinians who were arrested, because we are following up and pursing those who planned the attacks on Israel.

Now, what do you expect what will happen? Because we have said the three elements that are required: What will Arafat do, how will Israel response, and what will the Americans do? If he thinks that in this region we need revenge, a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye, we're going to have cemeteries and more cemeteries full of Palestinians and Israelis. We need sanity, wisdom and courage. We need an American president who can stand up and say Arafat in your corner, Sharon in your corner, this is it. We will have to implement the Mitchell recommendations and the tenant plan in accordance with this timeline. That's what is needed now. Violence in this region will only breed violence, and extremism will bring extremism. And it will only silence the voices of moderates, people of goodwill, people who want to save the lives of Palestinians and Israelis are the first victims and targets of these acts of violence and counter-violence.

O'BRIEN: All right. Saeb Erakat, who is the chief negotiator for the Palestinians. We will be checking in with the Israeli side of things very shortly here on CNN in our effort to keep this balanced, obviously. Mr. Erakat, thank you for being with us from Jericho -- we will be checking in with him later as well.

Let's turn it now to the White House and the president. Ariel Sharon was in the United States, hurried back to Israel. The president, perhaps pointedly, did not offer any statements to Israel to restrain itself, saying in essence, we're not going to tell Israel what to do.

Major Garrett -- how do you read -- read the tea leaves there for me, if you will.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, let us first go over some official reaction from Bush White House, limited though it may be, to the fast-moving events in the Gaza and the entire Middle East region.

Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, just telling reporters that President Bush very well may have been aware of this attack from Israel as it was happening, because he was in the situation room conducing a National Security Council briefing.

No direct response from the White House press secretary to this military campaign, initiated by the Israeli government, but a recitation of what the administration said yesterday: "Israel is a sovereign nation that has an obligation and a right to defend herself," Ari Fleischer told reporters. But he said what Secretary of State Colin Powell also said yesterday, when uttering those very same words, that he -- that is to say Mr. Fleischer as speaking for the president, "wants both sides to understand the repercussions of whatever actions they take in the region."

Ari Fleischer was also asked by reporters if, in any way, the United States government has an opinion as to whether or not, as some in the Israeli government have argued, that the time has come to topple the Arafat leadership or the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Fleischer said, the president still holds out hope that negotiations can be conducted between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And that he wants his special envoy to those talks, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, to be able to continue talking to the Palestinian leadership and the Israelis. And in that context, Ari Fleischer said, the president would not support an effort to topple Mr. Arafat or his Palestinian leadership. One other point worth pointing out, Miles, Ari Fleischer was asked if the president considered Mr. Arafat as someone who harbors terrorists, because of the Islamic jihad and Hamas operating within the Palestinian movement. Mr. Fleischer said, unlike others who support terrorists and who give safe haven to terrorists, Mr. Arafat has committed himself to a series of peaceful negotiating processes, and it is the hope of this administration that he will take swift action against those responsible for these terrorist attacks, and when that action is taken, possibly movements can be made back to some type of negotiation -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, Major, I don't know if you could hear Saeb Erakat just a few moments ago, but he was calling upon the administration -- the White House to take a more active role in all of this. The administration kind of has its hands full, although there is an awful lot of linkage between what we're seeing here and what is going on in Afghanistan.

GARRETT: Well, I did hear what Saeb Erakat said, and I can tell you from the administration's point of view, there was one question that you asked that he simply did not want to address, which is: Does the Palestinian chairman, Mr. Arafat, have the authority, the ability, the wherewithal, the courage, some in this administration would say, to take decisive action against Islamic jihad, against Hamas?

And that's a very open question right now, because if Mr. Arafat does not, then the administration is not going to, as Saeb Erakat asked it to, stand there and say, the Palestinians in one corner; Israelis in the other corner, we are going to implement the Mitchell plan unilaterally. This administration is not interested in unilateral declarations to solve the Israeli-Palestinian disputes. They want the Israelis and the Palestinians to come to the table, to talk to each other cooperatively first about security, because without security, there can be no confidence in any other commitments they make politically. And that's going to be the administration's point of view.

So right now, as the administration has said over and over again, this is the vital, the crucial testing moment for Mr. Arafat. Can he take decisive action against these terrorist cells operating within the Palestinian movement? And if he can't, how can he be considered a credible negotiator in any peace process with the Israelis -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: I just can't help but note the interesting rhetoric here. On the one hand, you have Saeb Erakat -- as we once again continue to look at live pictures here of the compound headquarters in Gaza City of Yasser Arafat, his residence and his helicopters. Apparently, his helicopters were targeted -- his guards, not necessarily the residence or the headquarters itself.

As we look at these -- oh, here we have some videotape, which came down just a little while ago, images from the ground there. And once again, we are -- this is unfolding, and there apparently is the wreckage of one of the helicopters. And that's a very significant target, according to Jerrold Kessel in Jerusalem, our person in Jerusalem at the moment, who is indicating what helicopters mean in essence freedom of travel for Yasser Arafat. And clearly, using them as a target is a statement in and of itself.

But back to you, Major, on the issue of the rhetoric. On the one hand, you have Saeb Erakat talking about let's implement the Mitchell plan. On the other hand, you have the Israelis talking about the possibility, at least -- or at least it is bubbling up -- of toppling Arafat. That's about as far apart as you can get, isn't it?

GARRETT: Well, you know, you always hesitate in dealing with the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, Miles, to pronounce absolute. Is this as far apart as they can get? Well, quite possibly, I suppose they could get even farther apart. But this is as far apart as this reporter has seen this story go in a good, long while.

I mean, you've had the intifada, too, going on for nearly 15 months now. You have this incredible wave of violence this weekend. And from the Bush administration's perspective, not only is it a travesty for the Israeli population, the civilians affected by it, but it comes at the absolute worst time, from its vantage point, in dealing with this crisis.

I mean, let's recall: Within the last two or three weeks, the Bush administration has stepped farther out than any previous administration in dealing with the entire issue of Palestinian sovereignty. President Bush is the first president, Republican or Democrat, to utter the words "Palestinian state." Not only did he do that, he uttered that in the well of the General Assembly of the United Nations, as public and important symbolic a place as any president could utter that statement.

And he has also stepped up his own administration's involvement, by sending two special emissaries on his behalf to the region to talk to the Israelis and the Palestinians about working these things out. And just as that increased U.S. involvement begins, what happens? This wave of violence, which brings us back to that central question here at the White House: Is this an effort, by Palestinian militants, extremists, to undermine Chairman Arafat at the very moment that this president is trying to learn and turn to him somewhat more directly to resolve these long-simmering issues? The White House doesn't know the answer to that question, and is going to watch the events unfold in the next two or three days, and possibly longer, to try to get a sense of that -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Major, do we know if we're going to hear from the president shortly on this?

GARRETT: There is no indication whatsoever, Miles, that we're going to hear from the president today on this. There are no public events on his schedule. Things could change -- we'll keep you apprised.

O'BRIEN: All right. Major Garrett at the White House -- keep us posted from there.

Let's put it now back to the Middle East. With us on the line is Ra'anan Gissin, who is a senior adviser to Ariel Sharon. Mr. Gissin, I assume you are privy to some of these meetings, which Mr. Sharon came back for. First of all, give us a sense of some of the parameters of the discussion, and also a sense of: Is this the beginning of something much larger?

RA'ANAN GISSIN, SENIOR ARIEL SPOKESMAN: First of all, the discussions were very good, the discussion -- the prime minister has held in the United States. There is full understanding and cooperation, and I believe the understanding of the predicament of the position we are in is quite clear today in the United States, particularly after the United States and the people of the United States have suffered a similar attack.

We are faced with a situation of ground zero here in Israel, the same as you faced in New York and in the -- and the attack on the Pentagon. And there is one address, there is one person here that has to take the necessary measures in order to stop it, and that is Chairman Yasser Arafat. And these are things that he is obliged to do: fight terrorism, destroy the terrorist infrastructure, stop the incitement, which is fueling this hated and the assembly line of these human bombs that keep attacking us.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Gissin, as I understand it, though, the Palestinian security forces, in the wake of those suicide attacks over the weekend, which killed 26 people, rounded up more than 110 Hamas and Islamic jihad suspected activists or terrorists.


O'BRIEN: That was not enough to indicate -- that wasn't enough for you?

GISSIN: No, we don't need declarations or televised arrests. I mean, these revolving door televised arrests are not doing anything to stop the suicide bombers who are on the way. There are specific questions. A list of names was submitted to Yasser Arafat. He knows exactly who they are, and he knows what to do with it. And if they were behind bars, maybe 54 people, here in Israel, and 100 more would be alive, and the 100 others would not be lying in hospitals as they are.

And this is what he has to do. I mean, it's very clear. It's not just making a show and showing CNN and the rest of the world that he is doing something, but taking action to stop terrorism. Because without the stopping of terrorism, incitement and violence, there is no way that we can return back to the negotiating table. And...

O'BRIEN: All right...

GISSIN: ... it's up to him -- it's up to Yasser Arafat today, and the attack today on his helicopters were just to serve him a very clear signal. That what is happening there is going to continue if he does not assume the full responsibilities for agreements that he signed and for his own people. You're either on the train of freedom today or under its wheels, and Arafat has to make that decision. O'BRIEN: Dr. Gissin, we probably got a little bit ahead of ourselves here. If you could just tell us exactly what the targets were on this attack, and what -- is this the beginning of something much bigger.

GISSIN: Well, you know, I don't know what you mean by something much bigger. We have one main purpose here, and that's to exercise our right of self-defense, to defend our citizens against this murderous attack, which has been taking the lives of our citizens for the past 14 months. And we gave Arafat all of the opportunities to do what he needs to do in order to stop it, and he hasn't done it, and that all we are going to do. And to paraphrase President Bush, either Arafat brings it to justice, or we are going to bring justice to them.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Gissin, could I just ask you, though, the targeting today.

GISSIN: The target was -- and that, again, we had no intention of striking his home or his compound, and these were not -- these were not targeted. And I want to make it very clear. In order to send that clear signal, we have destroyed his helicopter, and we attacked the landing pad, where the helicopters are located and the garage of the helicopter. Just a very clear signal that he will have to pay a price if he doesn't comply and doesn't stand by the agreements that he signed. And believe me, he can do the job if he wants.

And televised arrests and declarations will not do. Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as the president, said that now is the time to do and not to make declarations. Arafat has the choice, the choice of his people, the choice of him, himself, and this is the moment of truth.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Gissin, let me just ask you this, though. Saeb Erakat was with us just a little while ago, and to paraphrase him, he says this only complicates matters, and that it just continues the cycle of violence. How do you answer those kinds of statements? How do you break out of the conundrum of violence?

GISSIN: You know, I'm really sick and tired of trying to defend (ph) this. There is no real cycle of violence here. It's not a symmetrical situation. We have not launched this brutal attack on innocent civilians. They have done that for the past year; 200 of our people are dead because of these brutal attacks. And there is one side that is instigating, using violence deliberately. Arafat has a strategy of terrorism, a coalition of terror, which is the largest from the Middle East to Afghanistan today. And he's using this strategy of terror in order to kill our people. We are doing what every other nation would do in exercising their right of self-defense. So there's no cycle of violence.

If Saeb Erakat is so concerned about the complication of the situation, then let him and his people, and the Palestinian Authority, assume the full responsibility of what happens with Islamic jihad and Hamas and stop that senseless killing. If they do that, then clearly, we can move towards -- back to negotiations, and back to reaching a political agreement. O'BRIEN: But surely, Dr. Gissin, at these meetings, the thought was considered that actions like these only emboldened those who might consider further suicide attacks, more death on the other side.

GISSIN: Well, look, the people who are launching attacks are here or in Afghanistan. When you look at what al Qaeda is doing, what Taliban is doing, there is no other solution but to fight them. There is no other solution but to remove them from the place where they are conducting their attacks. There is no reasoning with these terrorists, and Arafat must understand it, because if he doesn't bring justice to them, we will have to.

And also, if he doesn't bring justice to them, they will -- they will eventually be fighting him, because they will be challenging the Palestinian Authority, so has a very important choice and critical choice to make, not just for himself, but for his own people. Stop the suffering of his people. He needs to stop terrorism.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Ra'anan Gissin, who is a senior adviser to Ariel Sharon -- thank you very much for spending some time with us here on CNN. We appreciate that.

As we look at these pictures, file -- excuse me, not file -- but taped pictures, which were shot really moments ago, showing the damage in and around the hangars which store Yasser Arafat's helicopters. Dr. Gissin confirming that that that compound, where the helicopters are stored, was in fact the target of the Israeli attack. A lot of symbolism involved in that. We're going to get to Jerrold Kessel in just a moment to talk about that -- why the helicopters were chosen.

But we should recap for you -- show you some pictures that we've seen throughout this morning, of course, afternoon and evening there in Gaza City. This is -- was our first indication as the Israeli attack helicopters hovered over Gaza City. The compound there, you see in the center those hangars that we just saw those close-up pictures of; 9 perhaps 10 missiles fired on that compound, specifically aimed at the helicopters. A large fire occurred immediately thereafter, quite obviously, you can see the plume of smoke, ambulances racing to the scene.

No word on the number of injuries just yet. We have heard from some Palestinian sources they numerous, but beyond that, this is obviously an unfolding story, and we're trying to get those numbers for you. CNN's Matthew Chance is making his way to the scene as we speak.

Now, earlier today, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had held discussions with his cabinet ministers on what precisely to do. Dr. Gissin was referring to those meetings. This clearly the reaction. In the past, Israel has attacked the periphery of Yasser Arafat's places of travel and headquarters and residence; this perhaps taking it to a new level.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel has been watching this from his post in Jerusalem. He is back with us now, as we look at some more tape coming from the ground there, very near that helicopter compound inside Yasser Arafat's headquarters there in Gaza City on the coast of the Mediterranean. And as we look at the wreckage of that helicopter, I'm going to ask you, Jerrold, why the helicopters? Why is that so significant?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's a powerful symbol, Miles, of Yasser Arafat's itinerant nature and perhaps the itinerant nature of his mission, as he seeks to build his Palestinian state in the future. Because ever since he returned to Gaza and became -- and was the head of the -- then became elected president of the Palestinian Authority, he would have the right to travel with those Israeli security restrictions at will with these helicopters, which originally were a gift from the Egyptians to him to travel around the area and to hop consistently from his headquarters in Gaza to West Bank and back again.

And this provided him with that breadth of policy making and strategy, not just in a symbolic way, but enabled him the freedom to move around and to consult with neighboring leaders, with his own people on the ground in the two distinct areas, which he controls, or the parts of the two distinct areas who are on the West Bank and in Gaza. And this could be Israel, in a sense as it has done in the past, threatening to clip Yasser Arafat's wings, doing precisely that in practice and saying, you won't be able to travel in that way. That is the powerful symbol of the limiting of Yasser Arafat's authority.

Now, we were listening to Ra'anan Gissin, the spokesman of the Israeli prime minister, and talking, and I think there were some -- you can take his words with a pinch of salt, or you can take them at face value. But there were two key words that he consistently used. One, that this was a "signal," and the other, he kept saying "if." He must have said it 20 times, as he was talking to you. If Yasser Arafat does this, if Yasser Arafat doesn't do that, then Israel will do this and the other.

That, together with a signal, suggests if we do take it at face value, that this is not the start of a concerted campaign against Yasser Arafat, but a signal and more than that, and a real warning, that if he doesn't act in the way that is satisfactory to Israel, then perhaps they could take it further and really go after his whole administration -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, as long as you're doing that and sort of going back over to some of those interviews, I'd like you to apply your veteran and nuance here to Saeb Erakat's interview a little while ago. I assume you've had a chance to hear that. What struck you in that interview?

KESSEL: Yes, Saeb Erakat -- not only listening to him, but while you were talking to Gissin and others -- we were talking on the phone to other Palestinian leaders, and the message they were saying, very consistently, is that this is an Israeli action, and they are now taking it at face value of signal, and so forth.

They have been accusing the Israelis from even before the start of the Zinni mission, a week ago, where the United States began to get involved, sending Reserve Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni to the area to say your mission is -- the president and the secretary of state told him -- stay in the area until you get a cease-fire.

The Palestinians have been saying all along the Israelis are out to sabotage that, Mr. Sharon and his government don't want a peace process to get going again, don't want a real cease-fire. And that's really the message that Saeb Erakat was giving once again. This was the Israelis undercutting the peace process. We heard from other Palestinian leaders, who say they've been on the phone to the Americans in saying, You must step in now, or this will be the end of effort, that mission that you've set yourselves to, which we, the Palestinians say, are ready to get on board with, to go back to the peace table.

The Israelis, from their point of view, are saying exactly the opposite, but exactly the same thing. They saying it's the Palestinians who are trying to sabotage the Zinni mission and the failure of Yasser Arafat and unwillingness of Yasser Arafat to stop the militants was actually allowing them to sabotage the Zinni mission.

So the two sides showing much not just a gulf between them, but a disparate view of things, which leads them to same conclusion, that the other side wants to stop the United States and all the international efforts to get a cease-fire really in place. You pays your money and takes your choice of who's the more accurate or whether they're both accurate. Neither side really wants to get back to the negotiations in terms of a cease-fire. other than on their very own terms. That's the sad situation, perhaps.

O'BRIEN: Jerrold, in talking about the U.S. and Mr. Zinni's mission, hearken back to what Major Garrett was saying a moment ago, from the North Lawn of the White House, the White House is not at all inclined to become more actively engaged without some movement on the part of Yasser Arafat. I didn't hear much in the way of talk of movement from Saeb Erakat.

KESSEL: No, you're absolutely right. I think the Palestinians have misjudged the impact that those suicide bombing in Jerusalem on Saturday night and the one in Haifa yesterday on the bus might have had on the psyche both in the United States and among Israelis, seeing that this was perhaps people saying, We can't do business, we can't get back to a peace process when this is happening.

As one Israeli leader was saying here on CNN yesterday, that when Saeb Erakat says, Let's get back to peace table right away, the Israelis say that's cynical and hypocritical -- first they kill our kids -- whether it's Mr. Arafat or one of the radical groups -- and then immediately they say talk peace. That's a very difficult psychological mode to be in, say the Israelis.

I think it's very interesting to see as the suicide bombings have had an effect on the Israeli psyche, of people saying, You know what, there isn't a partner come what may. And that all the talk of getting to a cease-fire just isn't going to happen. That is a very indelible factor in the situation, which perhaps the Palestinians are misjudging and perhaps the Americans, given their own situation, are resonating with. That's why when you heard President Bush speaking and you heard the Israelis saying -- albeit we've heard it only from the Israeli officials -- saying that this time, there wasn't that magical or key word used by the United States in talking to the Israeli and saying restraint or measured reaction. They didn't. They said -- according to the Israelis, anyway -- the United States said, you can do what you deem best, but consider the consequences. That's been the U.S. message as we understand it -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Jerrold Kessel, in Jerusalem. We will be checking in, very shortly, with him.

Let's turn it back to Ra'anan Gissin, who is a senior adviser to Ariel Sharon.

Dr. Gissin, did you have an opportunity to hear Jerrold Kessel's reporting just now?


O'BRIEN: Basically, to put ourselves for the moment in the shoes of the Palestinians, the accusation is that the Israelis are deliberately scuttling any efforts on the part of the United States to engage in resuming the peace process, Mr. Zinni's mission specifically. How do you respond to that?

GISSIN: That's really cynical, and hypocritical, as Jerrold Kessel mentioned. Ever since Arafat has launched his strategy of terror, about 14 months ago, and built this coalition of terror, we've been making utmost efforts to try to get a cease-fire in place. We have adopted the proposals of the Mitchell Report, and we were willing to go at it even with the unilateral cease-fire. Every we did it, we met with new wave of terror activity launched from the Palestinian Authority, with the full knowledge, instigation, and at times, full cooperation of the security forces of Yasser Arafat, who joined forces today with Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Look, we're facing something which is similar to a Taliban-type regime, which is supporting terrorist activity. What should we do? Should we sit back and wait until they continue to kill us, and wait for mercy, or should we take action?

O'BRIEN: Can you give us a sense, then, as to the what-next? I expect you would anticipate some response from Yasser Arafat. What kind of word do you need to hear from him?

GISSIN: Look, it's not words; that's exactly the point. It's not words that we need to hear from Yasser Arafat, but he has to take action, he has to stop terrorism. And not just through televised arrests or making declarations that he is going to arrest Hamas leaders; there are specific people who are currently, at this moment, planning and perpetrating suicide bombing inside Israel. They're cranking in that assembly line in Jenin and in Nablus these people that they send to kill our young children, men, women, innocent people in the streets of Jerusalem or in Haifa. This has to be stopped.

And if he doesn't bring them to justice, to paraphrase President Bush, we will bring justice to them, and we will do whatever is necessary in order to stop it.

Arafat needs to arrest the people. He has the addresses. He has the names. He knows exactly who the people are. It's a moment of truth, it's true. But if he doesn't take control of the situation and doesn't fight Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they will be all over him in a very short while.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this, Dr. Gissin, before we let you you get away, this discussion which has bubbled up into the open, which has been in the background for such a long time, the idea of toppling the Arafat regime -- how does that sit with you?

GISSIN: Let me make it very clear. The policy of the government of national unity of Israel is not to decide who the leaders of the Palestinians will be. We are not in the position to decide who their leaders will be; they will have to bear the full responsibility and consequences of the leaders that they choose. If they want Yasser Arafat as their leader, they must understand the full consequences of what he is doing to them and where he is leading them.

There's only one thing that matters for us, and that is that whoever the leader of the Palestinian Authority is, they must comply and abide by the agreements that they signed. They agreed that they will fight and renounce terrorism, since 1993, when Arafat first signed that agreement with the late Prime Minister Rabin, and he has not fulfilled that.

We have suffered so many casualties, and I think it's about time they decide which road they are going to take. They can be on this train of the civilized world that is leading a war against terrorism, or they can be under the wheels of that train. And it's their decision. It's as simple as that. We will take the necessary action to defend ourselves. We are not going to engage in toppling Arafat, but the full consequences of his actions or inactions lie squarely on his shoulders.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Ra'anan Gissin, I'm going to have to leave it at that for now. We appreciate your time. Ra'anan Gissin is a senior adviser to Ariel Sharon.

We expect to hear from Ariel Sharon a little later in the day as we addresses the nation. CNN is planning live coverage of that.

Let's get an update on the casualties. We've had a lot of sketchy information at best as to the number of injured.

Mustafa Barghouti is head of Palestinian emergency services. He's on the line with us now.

What can you tell us, sir?

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, PALESTINIAN MEDICAL RELIEF SERVICES: I can tell you that the Israeli attacks have left tens of people injured. Ambulances are unable to get to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) aggression, and you cannot fight terrorism with state terrorism, and what Israel is doing by attacking civilian population is practically an act of state terrorism. They are trying to sustain an unsustainable military occupation.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Barghouti, I have to apologize: There were some transmission problems there. You said tens of people. Do you have more specific numbers. Can you give us an idea of the kinds of casualties we're seeing?

BARGHOUTI: We're trying to get the numbers, but unfortunately, up until now, the ambulances are unable to reach all the injured people. We don't have exact accurate estimates up to now, but we will let you know about it. Obviously, there have been attacks with missiles, not only from Apache helicopters, but also from the boat on the sea.

O'BRIEN: But you mentioned civilians. This was aimed at the headquarters compound for Yasser Arafat. The indications are that his guard force was targeted, as well as the helicopter fleet. Where were civilians injured?

BARGHOUTI: Civilians were injured in the streets because the attack ends not only at his headquarters but he also attacked civilians in the streets of Gaza. And his headquarters are in the middle of the city of Gaza.

O'BRIEN: Excuse me, sir, because this is a very important point. What sorts of attacks on civilians in the streets?

BARGHOUTI: They used Apache helicopters. The Apache helicopters bombarded people in the streets. They used their guns against civilian population in streets.

O'BRIEN: Where about did that occur, sir?

BARGHOUTI: Around the area where his headquarters are located and other regions where other political structures exist.

O'BRIEN: And how extensive were those attacks, by your reckoning?

BARGHOUTI: In my opinion, they're quite extensive. When you use Apache military helicopters and tanks and gunships with missiles against a population that is basically civilian and against the Palestinians who don't have actually an army to defend themselves. These acts can be very severe. This has happened before against us in other cities. They used F-16 jet fighters. I know that F-16 are now circling over Gaza. We could have attacks similar to this in Ramallah and in other regions.

It's basically a military might, the Israeli army, against the Palestinian civilian population. It's an effort to sustain an unsustainable military occupation. What Israel is doing is not an act of civilization, as Mr. Gissin was speaking about; what Israel is doing is occupying and oppressing another people. Israel is tale is becoming the last occupation in modern history. Their occupation is the longest in modern history.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Barghouti, we've gone a little bit afield of the area of emergency services, but I'd have to ask you if the tables turned and suicide bombers were attacking civilians in Palestinian- controlled areas, how would Palestinians respond to that?

BARGHOUTI: Well, in my opinion, this was a mistake. Civilians should not be attacked, whether Palestinians or Israelis. But one should look at the root of the problem: Israeli population. Even Mr. Colin Powell made the very right acknowledgement, that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) settlements must end and the Palestinian state must be established. The problem is that Mr. Sharon came to power with one aim: the destruction of the peace process, the destruction of every agreement that was achieved, and the destruction of the potential for peace coexistence (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that Palestinians are responsible.

During the period of cease-fire, Israel killed 200 Palestinians and assassinated 20 more. During this whole year, about 868 Palestinians were killed and about 25,000 people have been injured. If this had happened in the United States, you would be talking about 77,000 and 1.25 million Palestinians injured. On top of that, they have complete siege and closure of every city and every town of the West Bank. This is intolerable.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Barghouti, our time has expired. Thank you very much for your time. Mustafa Barghouti is head of Palestinian emergency services.

As we look at some taped pictures of firefighters fighting the fires in and around the helicopter compound of Yasser Arafat, just a little more than an hour ago that Israeli attack helicopters launched nine, perhaps 10, missiles at that location in Gaza City. According to Mr. Barghouti, tens of people injured. Beyond that, we can't get more specific. He makes the allegation that civilians were also targeted. Israelis have said it was a targeted attack specifically at that helicopter compound and those hangars.




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