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Israel Continues Air Attacks in Gaza

Aired December 4, 2001 - 05:00   ET


ANAND NAIDOO, CNN ANCHOR: We now welcome our viewers in the United States. There is breaking news out of the Middle East. There have been renewed attacks, Israeli air attacks against targets in Gaza. You're looking at live pictures. These attacks began about 20 minutes ago. Israeli aircraft fired missiles on targets, Palestinian targets, in Gaza City. There were also attacks at the Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza as well as the West Bank towns of Tulkarm and Qalqilya.

As I mentioned, that the attacks began about 20 minutes ago. They initially began with war planes flying over Gaza and then continued with helicopter gunships firing missiles at targets over Gaza.

We're joined now by a correspondent who is right at the scene there, Matthew Chance, who's watching these attacks and monitoring developments there -- Matthew.


I just stepped into the view of the camera because I just wanted to make sure we're all focused here on what exactly was going on. The situation is this. Over the past 20 minutes or so, there have been repeated, quite ferocious air strikes on various installations in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority controlled strip of land on the Mediterranean Sea just to the south -- that's, rather, to the west of where I'm standing right now.

And anyway you can hear in the distance, in the background on the streets of Gaza here over which we're looking in the middle of Gaza City there are the sirens of ambulances as they scream through the streets, obviously implying a number of casualties as a result of these air strikes.

We have no information at this stage, though, that those, of the number of casualties or, indeed, what casualties have been incurred as a result of these strikes.

What I can tell you, though, is that they have been ferocious. We have seen the Office of Preventive Security struck in Gaza City, just about 1,000 meters from where I'm standing right now, under a mile from here, these buildings just over there. It sent a big black plume of smoke high into the sky. I'm just receiving word, as well, from our staff here that it seems that the presidential compound of Yasser Arafat has also been struck. That's the same compound, remember, that was struck last night local time, on Monday night local time when Israeli helicopter gunships struck hard at the helipad there, destroying two helicopters, badly damaging a third one.

We visited that compound this morning. I can tell you, a lot of anger amongst Palestinian officials there, saying that this is a direct attack on the Palestinian leadership. Those attacks appear to be continuing as we speak -- Anand.

NAIDOO: All right, thank you.

Matthew, stay with us.

We're going to go now to Jerusalem, where at least let's -- we're going to go to Rula Amin first. She's just outside Ramallah -- Rula, what do you have there?

RULA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anand, I'm standing here right outside the offices of the Civilian Affairs Building. As you can see behind me, there's, this building has been damaged today. Israeli helicopters struck three missiles into this building. This is a building used usually to issue some birth certificates, death certificates, passports.

The main symbolic thing about this building is that it's right adjacent to Mr. Arafat's office. There's only a wall between this building and Yasser Arafat's headquarters. He was there when the Israeli helicopters struck and this comes after Mr. Sharon's strong words yesterday blaming Yasser Arafat for the violence, holding him responsible and saying that Mr. Sharon is going to act and he's not going to wait for Mr. Arafat to crack down on the Islamic militants.

At the same time, this comes at a time when there are a lot of Israelis who are calling for the Israeli government to come after Mr. Arafat. And this is a very strong message this morning for Mr. Arafat as the Israeli missiles strike right next to his building where he was sitting.

We spoke to Nadeen Abudanah (ph), who is the spokesman of Mr. Arafat. He said that they see this as a serious escalation. He thinks that the Israeli government is trying to target infrastructure targets for the Palestinian Authority to undermine the Authority and weaken it.

Actually, as we've been talking now to the people who are coming in to have a look at the damage, and a lot of them watch this and they perceive the Authority as very weak. They see that Mr. Arafat is sitting in this building, the Israeli helicopters are striking right next to him and the Palestinian Authority is not able to do anything about this.

Last night, Israeli tanks rolled into the outskirts of the Ramallah and Indira (ph) towns and there was not one shot fired. There was no clashes. We are told Palestinian officials have told their people, the gunmen, the militants, including the Palestinian Authority security people not to clash with the Israeli tanks.

So this actually also weakens Mr. Arafat in the eyes of Palestinians because they see him as unable to confront, even as Israel is striking at his Authority and at his infrastructure -- Anand.

NAIDOO: Rula, if you could just take us through what's been happening, the latest developments about these air attacks against targets in the West Bank in the last few hours.

AMIN: Well, here in Ramallah just like an hour ago Israeli helicopters struck missiles at this building behind me. It's the Civilian Affairs building where they issue birth certificates and death certificates, as I said before. In the city of Tulkarm, there was also an Israeli attack with F-16s at that security position. And Apache helicopters, I'm sorry. Apache helicopters are at that position in Tulkarm. Also, last night here Israeli tanks, they made a short incursion into the towns of Ramallah and Indira and Israeli tanks are still actually in the towns. This is an area which is supposed to be under, clearly, Palestinian control.

But as I said, these are here, like behind me are three people, three Palestinians were slightly injured. But the message is very strong. It's significant. It's symbolic because it's very close to Yasser Arafat and to his (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And it's a strong message to the Palestinians. All these people you see behind me coming to have a look at what has been happening here. And they are still anticipating, the Palestinian people here we have been talking to are still anticipating more attacks.

And they also look at the Palestinian Authority trying to see what kind of reaction the Authority will have to these attacks and then in many people's eyes this is another sign that Yasser Arafat is being weakened by the Israelis -- Anand.

NAIDOO: Rula, what about casualties after these attacks in that area?

AMIN: Here, as I said, there was only three people who were injured and, we are told, slightly injured. But in other areas there are other casualties. But we still cannot really determine the number of these casualties and how serious they are -- Anand.

NAIDOO: All right, thank you.

Rula, stay with us. We will be coming back to you.

But for now we're going to go to Jerrold Kessel. He's in Jerusalem -- Jerrold, what you got for us there?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anand, last night at this marathon session of the Israeli coalition government, Ariel Sharon passed a declaration which said that the Palestinian Authority is an entity which supports terror. And in that Israeli statement they made a very firm declaration of saying that they will step up the attacks on that Palestinian Authority until, in the Israeli statement, it roots out its terror roots. And now, translated to a degree, into action, as Israeli sweeping attacks across in Gaza and in the West Bank in at least five or six locations from the air.

It's not yet confirmed that they have, in fact, the attacks by those military jets, only by aircraft, by helicopter gunships, although there were certainly, as Matthew Chance was reporting, those F-16s in the air over Gaza City.

But there have been attacks, as Rula Amin was reporting, on the headquarters compound of Yasser Arafat in the town of Ramallah right on the building next door to where Yasser Arafat was at the time. Palestinian officials confirming he was there but was unhurt.

Attacks also in Gaza City at the -- according to the information we have, on a central building of the Preventive Security Force. That's the main security operation of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority in Gaza City. Another attack in the southern part of Gaza, also on a Preventive Security headquarters in Khan Younis in the southern part of Gaza. Attacks also in the town of Tulkarm in the northern part of the West Bank and reports of one in the village of Sulfeet (ph) in the central part of the West Bank. There's another unconfirmed report as yet of helicopters attacking targets in the town of Qalqilya.

So sweeping Israeli air action which is all being directed, it seems, against targets that are directly associated with the closest elements of power to Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian Authority. It couldn't have come closer to home, to Yasser Arafat, had they not struck at the building itself.

Now, it's interesting to hear the Israelis saying that at least of those, two of those targets, in fact, that one in Ramallah which, as Rula Amin was reporting, does, indeed, house the, a ministry of the interior of the Palestinian Authority, an office of that ministry of the interior. The Israelis are saying that their target there was apparatuses of the Islamic Jihad and Hamas, who are directly linked to the series of suicide bombings that were carried out in Israeli cities on Saturday. And they are saying the same thing, that the targets, at least in the town of Tulkarm, were again linked to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Now, of course, no way to marry the discrepancy in the reports from the different sides of what were the targets. But that's what the Israeli military sources are saying in respect to some of the attacks, in any event.

But clearly this is a translation of that decision taken at that very important meeting and very important declaration of the Israeli government under Mr. Sharon last night branding Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority as an entity which supports terrorism -- Anand.

NAIDOO: Jerrold, we're hearing a lot about the symbolism of these attacks. We heard that from Rula Amin talking to us from Ramallah about the symbolic nature of the target that was hit in the city over there. Is the intention on the part of the Israeli government to send a message through to Yasser Arafat to crack down or is it to actually topple the Authority?

KESSEL: Well, I think you're right to say that perhaps it's more than symbolism. I mean you don't come closer, don't cut closer to the bone than that attack by those helicopter gunships at the building next to which Yasser Arafat, the building next to which Yasser Arafat was himself at the very same time.

Last night's attack on Yasser Arafat's helicopters could have been seen as a symbolic, as a strike at the symbols of authority of Mr. Arafat. At the airport where, the Palestinian International Airport in the southern part of Gaza, which was plowed up, most of the runway, overnight by Israeli bulldozers, that was striking at an important concrete but also symbolic elements of the Palestinian sovereignty.

But this comes closer than that. It is more than a signal. It is telling Yasser Arafat quite clearly you must do what you've been told to do, and that is curb the militants. Otherwise, it could come even closer. Whether that's about toppling Arafat or not, the Israeli government has said specifically it should not out to do that, but the implications of this attack must be clear and starkly written in the nature of these attacks -- Anand.

NAIDOO: All right, thank you,

Jerrold Kessel, for that view there from Jerusalem.

Now we're going to go back to Rula Amin. She's in Ramallah with the latest on the attacks there -- Rula?

AMIN: Well, Anand, you know, as Jerrold has just said, this is, actually does weaken the Palestinian Authority. And as we heard yesterday from Palestinian officials, they were telling us that the Israeli attacks are not going to stop them from pursuing their policy of cracking down on Islamic militants, of trying to stop the violence.

But as we talked to field officers on the ground, official security officers, they are acknowledging that these attacks are hampering their efforts. They are saying it's very difficult for them to go into neighborhoods, to refugee camps, trying to arrest people when they can't actually protect the people.

And that's what we're hearing from the Palestinian streets. People are saying why are they arresting us when they can't even protect us? And this is something that is putting a lot of pressure on Yasser Arafat. He is in a very difficult situation. He's, on the one hand, he's being weakened by the Israelis. On the other hand, he is being demanded to act with a lot of cracking down on his own streets when he is not even able to deliver -- Anand.

NAIDOO: Rula, if, as you said, these attacks are weakening the Palestinian Authority and in consequence their ability to cracked down on these extremists, then it would appear to be counter-productive to the main Israeli demand that the Palestinians crack down on these Islamic extremists.

AMIN: Actually, Anand, that is the view from here. It's a totally different view from what you hear from the Israelis. Actually I was in Ramallah, in Jerusalem, we talked to Palestinians, who are saying these attacks are very counterproductive because Yasser Arafat is the voice of moderation. They say if the Israeli government is actually after Yasser Arafat and they're trying to weaken the Palestinian Authority, the alternative is going to be more extreme. And if Yasser Arafat is out of here or if the Israeli government is actually able and decided and was able to get rid of him, then they'll have to deal with more extreme groups like Hamas, like El Jihad (ph).

And they say these kind of actions, like the missile attacks, like attacking the Palestinian airport, like attacking Yasser Arafat's helicopters, actually does not give the Palestinian people any indication that there are any prospects to reach some kind of solution through peace negotiations.

There is a lot of skepticism here on the Palestinian streets in the intentions of Mr. Sharon. Many here don't believe that Mr. Sharon actually wants to get to the peace table and they say if he doesn't want to go to the peace table, why should Mr. Arafat deliver security for Israel -- Anand.

NAIDOO: All right, thank you, Rula Amin there talking to us from Ramallah.

And the breaking news out of the Middle East is that there have been renewed air attacks from Israeli war planes over Gaza and the West Bank.

We'll have more on these developments in the Middle East, but right now we're going to be taking a break.



ANAND NAIDOO, CNN ANCHOR: We now welcome our viewers in the United States. There is breaking news out of the Middle East. There have been renewed attacks, Israeli air attacks against targets in Gaza. You're looking at live pictures. These attacks began about 20 minutes ago. Israeli aircraft fired missiles on targets, Palestinian targets, in Gaza City. There were also attacks at the Khan Younis refugee camp in southern Gaza as well as the West Bank towns of Tulkarm and Qalqilya. >



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