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Israeli Airstrikes Single Out Palestinian Authority Related Targets

Aired December 4, 2001 - 05:47   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: More now on the breaking news -- more now on the breaking news.

In Israel, we've got Matthew Chance standing by as airstrikes, I understand, are continuing in Gaza and the West Bank -- Matthew, bring us up to date on what's happening at this moment.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There are still airstrikes continuing, still Israeli planes flying in the skies over the Gaza Strip. In fact, within the last few seconds, we just witnessed another airstrike coming from an Israeli warplane. Let me step out of the camera, so we can get a better picture of the lay of the land, and I'll take you through the sequence of events that we've been witnessing for over the past hour or so.

Within the last few moments, some kilometers to the north of where we are standing right now, an airstrike coming an Israeli warplane hitting some kind of facility. We can't say at this stage, it's too early exactly what was hit. In the minutes, though, before that -- and you can hear the Israeli warplanes screaming over the skies of the Gaza Strip right now as we speak.

But in the moments before that, we saw an airstrike from an Israeli warplane hitting what Palestinian officials tell us -- and there in the distance, a plume of black smoke billowing into the skies over the Gaza Strip, literally live on CNN, pictures of Israeli warplanes striking at installation across the Gaza Strip.

We have received word from Palestinian hospital officials that at least two people have been killed in this half an hour or so, it's an hour or so now, of airstrikes that we've been witnessing. Those figures, though, obviously are very sketchy at this stage. They are saying at least 80 people have been injured. These airstrikes, though, as we can see, are continuing.

Let me recap exactly what we've been seeing: Another airstrike there hitting some kind of building, sending black smoke into the skies over the Gaza Strip. Also, we saw the Office of Preventative Security, according to Palestinian officials, struck by Israeli warplanes, again, sending a lot of black smoke into the skies. There are also reports coming to us that the presidential compound of Yasser Arafat has been struck by Israeli warplanes. Now, those warplanes, as you can see live pictures of them now, flying through the very cloudy skies over the Gaza Strip. Visibility isn't what it was. Those planes, at times, over the past hour have been joined by helicopter gunships of the Israeli air force or Israeli army -- the Israeli Security Forces anyway. Helicopter gunships themselves firing at selected targets security. All of those targets, as far as we can make out, are very closely associated with the leadership -- with the Palestinian Authority government here -- back to you in Atlanta.

PHILLIPS: Matthew, continuing in this for a moment, we have mentioned a number of the targets known to be hit: Arafat's presidential compound, the Civilian Affairs building, Arafat's helicopters, Gaza International Airport. Any other confirmed targets that have been coming close to Arafat and, you know, personally and professionally?

CHANCE: Well, it's difficult for me to say here in Gaza. I can only really talk about what we've been witnessing here in the Gaza Strip. And those sites that have been hit, as you say, the Office of the Preventative Security agency here in -- well, the Preventative Security Office here, closely associated, of course, with the Palestinian Authority and under its control. Also, the compound -- the presidential headquarters compound has been struck again, this time by helicopter gunships.

Again, following the attacks on Monday night here local time, which destroyed the helipad there and two helicopters, badly damaging a third helicopter as well. We are also receiving reports that other Palestinian Authority installations are the targets that are being struck by these repeated airstrikes.

So, as I say, it does appear that the targets that are being singled out by the Israeli Security Forces are ones that are closely associated with the Palestinian Authority, if not with Yasser Arafat himself -- back to you.

PHILLIPS: Matthew, I asked Jerrold Kessel this same question, when we were talking to him in Jerusalem. What do you believe is keeping Israel from targeting Arafat directly?

CHANCE: I think it would be a concern that, first of all, there would be an international outcry if Yasser Arafat, the man so closely associated with the Palestinian cause, was effectively killed or assassinated by the Israeli government. I believe that if they wanted to do that, they could do that. Their intelligence is sufficient. Their intelligence is sufficient. Their capabilities, militarily, are obviously up to the mark.

The thing is, though, the big concern for the Israelis would be what would come after Yasser Arafat. This is a man, remember, who has been engaged in a peace process with the Israelis. What would follow Yasser Arafat is still a big question mark. Certainly, there are no obvious successors to the man who would lead the Palestinian Authority, certainly -- or the Palestinian cause at least. And we have to stress at this stage that it does appear that Yasser Arafat has been pretty much left out of this, although the buildings that have been struck, of course, have been very closely associated with his administration -- back to you.

PHILLIPS: Matthew, Ariel Sharon has been quoted as saying, "This is an all-out war on terrorism." I can't help to wonder, looking at the United States in the role that it's taking militarily against Afghanistan, do you see some type of influence here? Is the United States possibly influencing Ariel -- or Israel, rather, to get more aggressive on terrorism?

CHANCE: Well, it has obviously not been made public to us, the discussions that are being had between the governments in Tel Aviv and Washington. But, I mean, clearly, Washington is not even voicing the public calls for restraint that we've been hearing throughout the course of the latest Palestinian uprising, which has been running for about a year and a half now. We've seen regular calls by the U.S. administrations, various of them, for restraint on the part of the Israelis regarding their attacks on Palestinian Authority positions. We are not hearing that now, of course.

And so, perhaps the perception in Israel, amongst the Israeli governments, is that the Americans -- the United States administration are effectively giving the green light to this, if they haven't actually given a public green light to it.

PHILLIPS: Matthew, where is Arafat now? Is that known? Is he still holed up in his -- one of his buildings? Has he left the area?

CHANCE: Well, I mean the latest information that we have is that he's not in the Gaza Strip. He hasn't been here for the past 36 hours also. Our understanding that he is in the West Bank town of Ramallah, which is his headquarters -- the town where he has his headquarters in the West Bank, when he's not in the Gaza Strip itself.

Now, I understand, from the reports I've been hearing from the West Bank, that the building next to the actual building, where Yasser Arafat was located has been struck by some kind of attacks from the Israeli Security Forces. Our understanding at this stage is that Yasser Arafat is safe. Certainly, what we can report from the Gaza Strip is that Yasser Arafat, himself, is not here, although of course, many of the officials of the Palestinian Authority, the policemen on the streets, the security forces that they employ, and the officials that actually run the Palestinian Authority, many of them, indeed, are in place in their ministries here and in some of the offices that are coming under attack from the Israeli Security Forces -- back to you.

PHILLIPS: Matthew, what do you know about these refugee camps that have been hit?

CHANCE: I haven't had any reports at this stage from this vantage point here in Gaza City overlooking the rooftops of this very densely packed city that there have been any direct strikes on refugee camps. That doesn't mean it hasn't happened, simply that we've been very much tied to this location. We're getting very sketchy information about what's happening outside of the Gaza Strip. We certainly haven't heard any reports at this stage that refugee centers -- that concentrations of refugees, their camps have been struck by these strikes. So, obviously that's some of the information we're trying to get our hands on now. If that were the case, of course, we'll bring it to you as soon as possible.

PHILLIPS: Absolutely. And, Matthew, you're talking about the streets. What can you see from there? What kind of feel can you get for how these airstrikes are affecting just every day people trying to get to work, or get home to their families? Can you describe kind of what it's like from a civilian point of view?

CHANCE: Well, that's right. I mean, the people of the Gaza Strip particularly -- have a particularly hard time dealing with what is, after all, an illegal occupation, which has been condemned by the United Nations on several occasions, this Resolution 242, an occupation of Palestinian territories by the Security Forces here. The Gaza Strip, of course, is a sort of autonomous enclave, which is governed by the Palestinian Authority. But of course, the borders to the Gaza Strip have been routinely sealed off by the Israeli Security Forces.

The million or so Palestinians that live here have been routinely subject to closures, the inability to work. They have become used to seeing airstrikes and attacks by Israeli Security Forces throughout the last several months, particularly, but also throughout several years of Israeli occupation in the Palestinian territories.

Now, what they've been saying to us now is that they're not scared about what's happening. We have been seeing a lot of pandemonium in the streets. These are very heavy attacks, certainly heavier than many people here can remember ever taking place in the Gaza Strip in the last few years or so -- so extremely heavy. People are extremely concerned, but they're also extremely angry that this should be happening now at a time when many people feel that Yasser Arafat is already doing the work of the Israelis.

He is already, contrary to public opinion here, arresting many popular members of Palestinian militant groups, like Islamic Jihad and Hamas, taking them off of the streets, putting them in secure locations. That angered a lot of public opinion here. And so, people feel these attacks, by the Israeli Security Forces, are particularly unjustified.

But if you can just hear the noise of the Israeli warplanes streaking overhead. Once again, a lot of activity here on the ground -- back to you.

PHILLIPS: CNN's Matthew Chance -- thank you so much -- once again with the latest on the renewed airstrikes in Gaza. We'll continue to follow this breaking story. We want to thank our international viewers for joining us also. We're going to take a quick break and come right back.




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