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Israeli Airstrikes Hit Preventative Security Wing Office Of Palestinian Authority In Gaza City

Aired December 4, 2001 - 05:19   ET


ANAND NAIDOO, CNN ANCHOR: Now we're returning to the breaking news developments out of the Middle East. There are new Israeli air attacks over the West Bank and Gaza.

And for the latest on these attacks, we're going to go now to CNN's Matthew Chance. He is right on the ground there in Gaza with the latest -- Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anand. Over the past half an hour or so some dramatic scenes we've been witnessing here in the Gaza Strip from this location, of course, overlooking the rooftops of Gaza City, home to more than a million Palestinians and now scene of some quite ferocious strikes from Israeli war planes and helicopter gunships.

In the skies over Gaza right now, you can hear the jets screeching through the air. There have been no more air strikes within the last five minutes or so, but let me take you through the sequence of events as we've been witnessing them for the past half an hour.

Israeli war planes circling around Gaza for several minutes before finally hitting what Palestinian sources tell us, Palestinian officials there tell us was the office of the Preventative Security wing of the Palestinian Authority here in Gaza City. Of course, the Authority, which is responsible directly for picking up the Islamic militants of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, as they have been doing, according to Palestinian officials, in the past few days.

That attack from an Israeli war plane sending a plume of black smoke high into the sky over Gaza followed shortly by the arrival in the skies over Gaza City of several helicopter gunships that began firing machine guns and rockets at various other targets around the Gaza Strip, including, we're told by Palestinian officials, buildings in the President Yasser Arafat's presidential compound, the Palestinian Authority compound where, of course, on Monday night, just last night local time, there were attacks on helicopters, helicopter pads and the helicopters.

Now, the scene on the ground in Gaza City one of pandemonium. When these air strikes began, a lot of people ran out onto the streets to get out of those buildings they were in, to try and look to the skies and to see exactly what the situation was in the, on the ground out there.

There have been ambulances screaming through the streets of Gaza, implying a degree of casualties. In fact, the first word of casualties has filtered through to us. They're still, these all still very sketchy at this stage, but we are having confirmed from Palestinian hospital officials that there are two people who have been killed as a result of these air strikes and then a more vague figure of 80 people injured as a result.

But obviously this is ongoing. There are still Israeli war planes screeching through the skies overhead over where I'm speaking to you now. It's not clear that these air strikes have come to an end. The casualty figures may raise, may rise. Obviously that's something we're watching extremely closely, Anand.

NAIDOO: Matthew, as these air strikes continue, we do know that the Gaza airport was hit in an earlier air strike and one report tells us that that installation was left in ruins. Do we know if there are any other significant Palestinian Authority installations in this part of Gaza?

CHANCE: Well, I certainly think that the strikes that we have been witnessing over the past 30, 40 minutes from now have been targets, installations that are closely linked with the rule of the Palestinian Authority here. We've mentioned the office of the, Preventative Security office here in Gaza City, obviously something that's intrinsic to the Palestinian Authority, very closely associated directly with Yasser Arafat himself.

More than that, in fact, we've been receiving reports, again, that the presidential compound of Yasser Arafat has also been struck. We're hearing reports that more buildings have been struck there following the attacks by helicopter gunships on Monday night, which, of course, destroyed that helipad and those two Palestinian Authority helicopters.

So I think it's fair to say at this stage that the targets that are being singled out for attack by the Israeli security forces are ones which are almost exclusively, as far as we can see from this vantage point, ones that are closely associated with the rule of the Palestinian Authority here in Gaza -- Anand.

NAIDOO: And that vantage point where you are right now, Matthew, and looking at that area behind you, is that largely a residential area or would most of Gaza be residential?

CHANCE: Well, it's got, suddenly going windy here so I'm going to step out of the way of the camera to give you a bit of an idea of the lay of the land here. Now, there's a bit of a sand storm brewing here and so it's got very windy. Visibility is relatively low. But I think you can see the really compressed nature of Gaza City.

Here, remember, more than a million people are squashed into an area a little over 300 square kilometers. Remember, just 200 of that is actually occupied, is actually run, is actually inhabited by Palestinians. The other one third, in fact, more than a third is controlled by Israeli settlers surrounded by several thousand, tens of thousands, in fact, of Israeli troops here to protect them.

And what's left are 200 or so square kilometers, more than a million Palestinians crammed into one of the most highly populated areas per square kilometer in the world.

Now, the result of that, of course, is that mixed in with the official buildings of the Palestinian Authority, a lot of apartment blocks. Space is at a premium. We don't, we're not, it's not a place where you see large governmental compounds, perhaps with the exception of the Palestinian presidential compound, which, as I said, has also been struck. But a lot of these buildings are being used by the Palestinian Authority to install their ministries, their officials, their police. They're also being used, just the buildings next door, perhaps, being used clearly for residential purposes.

So it's a very inexact science, as well, striking at buildings in the, in this area so densely populated in the Gaza Strip. And so obviously there is the possibility of civilian casualties as a result of these very ferocious air strikes from the Israeli security forces.

I have to stress, though, at this stage, we're not receiving any reports here of civilian casualties. It's not being specified who's being injured, who's being killed. But we do know, according to Palestinian hospital officials, two people have been killed and 80 others have apparently been injured as a result of these latest attacks.

Now, in the skies over Gaza, you can hear once again Israeli jets flying overhead, presumably circling to look for more targets, if not possibly here simply to send a message to the people of Gaza that the Israeli security forces are, indeed, in control of the skies of the Gaza Strip -- Anand.

NAIDOO: All right, thank you, Matthew for that update there.

You're looking there, you were looking there at live pictures of Gaza City, where there have just been renewed Israeli air strikes against Palestinian targets in that part of Gaza.




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