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Israel Continues to Strike Targets in Palestine

Aired December 4, 2001 - 06:01   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: In the Mid East Israel continues to strike back for a wave of suicide bombings. Israel's prime minister is blaming Yasser Arafat and for the past 90 minutes or so, Israeli gun ships have been attacking the Palestinian leader's headquarters in the West Bank. Earlier Israeli airstrikes also destroyed Arafat's helicopters and landing pad.

In Gaza City, Israeli troops seized the international airport and bulldozed its runway and for more on this developing story in the Middle East we go to our Jerrold Kessel who's live in Jerusalem. What can you tell us Jerrold?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared that he was on an all-out assault on terror and in the last couple of hours this morning, although these air raids are now, as far as we understand it, over for now, the Israelis have been translating that the declaration by Mr. Sharon and his government to enter action with helicopter, gun ships striking at targets in Gaza and in the West Bank, and the most critical perhaps of these attacks that was carried out by the helicopter gun ships was at a target at a -- at a compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Yasser Arafat's personal headquarters there.

And Mr. Arafat was in the building next to that, which the Israeli missile struck. You can't get much closer than that that the Israelis were striking. Now the Palestinians are saying this is a declaration of war by the Israelis and the Israelis are saying that they are merely sending a signal, powerful after powerful signal albeit to Yasser Arafat that he must act to control the militants.

But the Israelis are saying pointedly they were not targeting and are not targeting Yasser Arafat. Nonetheless, they have launched their missiles from the helicopters at four installations in addition to that one in Ramallah and another one in the northern West Bank town of Salfit and two in Gaza City -- one in Gaza City, another in the southern part of Gaza.

All are close targets that are closely associated with the Palestinian authority and linked directly to Yasser Arafat. This following on the attacks on Mr. Arafat's helicopters yesterday on the Gaza International Airport. The symbols -- the most powerful symbols of the Palestinian aspirations to sovereign and statehood and now, coming closer to the bone, attacks very close to Yasser Arafat personally -- Kyra. PHILLIPS: Jerrold, you mentioned -- you talking about these Palestinian militants, many analysts have come out -- we, of course, have been talking about this lately and politicians and different types of representatives, specifically Yasser Arafat cracking down on his Palestinian militants, is he able to do that? Does he want to do that? Will he do it? This seems to be the main question and a lot of confusion, whether he really has control over these Palestinian militants or not -- and has the ability to stop them.

KESSEL: It used to be called the $64,000-question -- the million-dollar question, perhaps it's more than that because that's a question that has been on the agenda ever since the 14 1/2 months of violence has erupted between Palestinians and Israelis. Does Yasser Arafat have control of the situation? Does he wish to have control of the situation? And the question has been asked ever more acutely as the attacks have become ever more bloody from the Palestinian point of view in the terms of the militants launching, like the suicide bombing attack -- those devastated triple suicide bombings in the heart of Jerusalem and the Israeli city of Haifa over the weekend that's killed 25 people.

Well the Israelis say from their point of view, they do designate and say Yasser Arafat is responsible whether he can; whether he wants to, they say, is immaterial. He has to, and if he isn't able to do so, then he should -- then he is no -- in no way a partner for them. So they are putting the pressure on Mr. Arafat. They continue to put the pressure on him in every which way, now militarily. We had it in terms of rhetoric from Mr. Sharon last night in terms of this government position, which designates Mr. Arafat's authority as an entity which supports terror and this is clearly the Israeli government saying Yasser Arafat you must move against the militants or else.


PHILLIPS: Also taking a look at this -- at Ariel Sharon and Mr. Sharon saying that this is an all-out war on terror. You can't help but wonder Jerrold if this U.S. war on terror in Afghanistan is influencing Israel at all.

KESSEL: Well it clearly is an element that Mr. Sharon would like to play into that -- into that global war on terror by the United States. He keeps making the point that there is a parallel, that Israel is fighting its war on terror locally or be it, but that it is parallel to the United States global war on terror.

Mr. Sharon has stopped saying as he said quite frequently after September the 11th that Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian authority were like the Taliban or even as some say like Osama bin Laden. He stopped saying that, but the linkage that Mr. Sharon seeks to draw in people's minds of the parallel battles and the parallel wars on terror remains, and he is trying to force that message home.

But I think we should say that really the language that Mr. Sharon is using is more appropriate even than that link with the U.S. global war on terror and the kind of language that Israeli language that Israeli leaders including Mr. Sharon himself when he was the defense minister used back in the early 1980s before Israel launched its war, its invasion of Lebanon and the attacks there -- the language there was designated against the Lebanese authority, which was not doing enough to control what Israel said were the terrorists and the terrorists then in Israeli eyes were Mr. Arafat's PLO. I think that's more of the parallel now -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: CNN's Jerrold Kessel live in Jerusalem. Thank you so much.

Now we want to take you back over to Gaza, still at this moment under siege as Israel retaliates for a bloody series of terrorist bombings -- bombings we've been telling you about for the past couple of days. CNN's Matthew Chance is live in Gaza and he will bring us up to date -- Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right Kyra, and as you -- as I join you here from a rooftop in Gaza City, you can hear Israeli warplanes really screaming overhead continuing their strikes against installations here in the Palestinian authority control Gaza Strip.

I'm just going to step out of the way of the camera for a moment to give you a better picture of exactly what we are seeing here. This is Gaza City, home to more than a million Palestinians. Within just the last few minutes, we've been seeing repeated airstrikes again coming from Israeli warplanes, hitting various installations around Gaza City.

The latest reports that we have there are two national guard bases have been struck in the far north of the -- of the Gaza Strip on the front here where it borders Israel proper overlooking the no man's land that effectively separates it and Jewish settlements that have been built or rather Israel proper that separates it from Israel proper so there are Palestinian -- effectively Palestinian security forces there -- their bases that have been struck.

We haven't received any casualty reports from there as yet, but obviously this is a developing situation. Also the office of preventive security, which is of course closely associated with the Palestinian authority and let me just apologize for the rapid camera movements here. The situation is developing very quickly. We're trying to bring you the latest airstrikes as they come to us, but also they're taking us here slightly by surprise.

So we're having to move the camera very quickly. We also, as I was mentioning there, saw strikes on the office of preventive security. The organization, the wing of the Palestinian authority responsible for picking up Islamic militants, members of radical Palestinian groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Also attacks by Israeli helicopter gun ships here in Gaza on the presidential compound of Yasser Arafat. So here in Gaza as elsewhere on the West Bank we have been seeing attacks on installations that appear to be extremely closely linked, but with the government, with the Palestinian authority of Yasser Arafat. Kyra back to you. PHILLIPS: Matthew, as the airstrikes continue and continue to hit these specific targets, you've been describing the importance of these certain areas that have been blown up. The office of preventive security, you were just talking about, you mentioned Arafat's presidential compound. Is this just a living area for him or does he -- can you kind of describe his presidential compound and the importance of that area?

CHANCE: Well certainly I can because I visited it just this morning in the minutes before it was struck again by Israeli helicopter gun ships. It's a place where Yasser Arafat is the chairman of the Palestinian authority or president of the Palestinian authority as he prefers to be referred to. Is -- it's the center of his administration here and let me just tell you there's a plane flying overhead right now, so we're going to move the camera possibly again.

But as we do that, let me explain to you that these are offices that the Palestinian authority uses to run its administration here -- their installations. They run the various ministries out of here. Certainly Yasser Arafat is residing there as well when he's in the Gaza Strip. I have to stress to you at this stage though that he is not in the Gaza Strip at the moment. Our latest understanding is that he's in the West Bank town of Ramallah, some distance from the Gaza Strip across Israel proper.

And we're hearing reports obviously that we've been reporting as well, that there are repeated strikes continuing in Ramallah and elsewhere in the West Bank as well, particularly the building next to where Yasser Arafat is actually located, we're hearing from our reports coming out of there, that that was also struck. And so, these are the latest reports we having coming down to us. We're looking now across Gaza City where you can see there a plume of black smoke billowing high into the skies over Gaza.

Again, another airstrike live on CNN, coming from Israeli warplanes circling in the skies over the Gaza Strip. Obviously it's not clear to us yet exactly what's being struck. On this occasion its information that we're seeking actively here. We'll bring it to you as soon as we have it.

Let me just give you an indication of casualty figures though. Obviously again this is a very developing situation as we're witnessing now. The latest figures we have from Palestinian hospital officials are that at least two people have been killed as a result of these latest Israeli airstrikes and at least 80 people -- 8-0 people have been injured.

Now these are just preliminary figures. Obviously these airstrikes are continuing and obviously that casualty figure could increase. Back to you.

PHILLIPS: Matthew can we talk a bit about the Israel's military capability? First of all these airstrikes, are these F-16, F-18 -- what type of strike fighters are these? CHANCE: You know they're F-18's as far as I can make out. They're certainly not F-16's, as we've been hearing from some reports. But they're F-18's -- they're flying low below the clouds. Remember it's a very cloudy day today. The clouds are very low. Visibility is not good.

The other advantage that the Israeli warplanes have, of course, is that they can fly low unlike the scenes we were witnessing in Afghanistan over the last several months. The planes here -- the F-18 Israeli warplanes can fly below the clouds because remember the Palestinian authority has virtually no anti aircraft capability. Back to you.

PHILLIPS: All right CNN's Matthew Chance live in Gaza. We will continue to check in with you. Thank you very much.




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