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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Walls of Arafat's Compound Knocked Down

Aired March 29, 2002 - 07:02   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Up front this morning, there is breaking news out of Jerusalem and Ramallah. We have got Ben Wedeman in Jerusalem, Michael Holmes in Ramallah standing by with the very latest. Let's start with Ben Wedeman in Jerusalem this morning -- good morning, Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, good morning, Paula. At least 24 wounded, two seriously wounded, as well as possibly two dead in an explosion at a shopping market, a supermarket, in the southern part of Jerusalem. According to Israelis police, they believe that a female suicide bomber blew herself up at the entrance of this supermarket, possibly killing as well the security guard there.

Now, according to reports coming from the scene, there may also be still some unexploded bombs in the area, so the police are approaching it very carefully indeed.

Now, according to some reports we are getting, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has claimed responsibility for this bombing. That is a group that has been affiliated in the past with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

Now, as also we have been reporting today, Israel, this morning, declared that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is an enemy of Israel. In the early morning hours, Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers, supported by troops, entered the Palestinian West Bank town of Ramallah. They have surrounded there the headquarters of the Palestinian leader.

Now, despite all of this, the U.S.-Middle Eastern envoy, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, is in the region still trying, at this point, to work out some sort of cease-fire, according to what we are hearing. He is right now in a meeting with Saeb Erekat, who is the chief Palestinian negotiator. They are meeting in Jericho, but no signs here of a cease-fire -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Ben, we are going to get back to you in a minute or so. First though, we want to check in with Michael Holmes, who joins us from Ramallah -- good morning, Michael. What can you tell us?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Paula. Well, I can tell you that after an hour or so of comparative quiet here, and quiet is a relative term in Ramallah today, there is a lot more noise behind us. We just had 10 armored personnel carriers rumble towards the center of Ramallah, coming from the direction of a refugee camp here. And also I can hear helicopters overhead, and that's the first time we have heard that all day.

What we have heard plenty of is shooting. There has been firefights street to street, as well as the siege that Ben mentioned of Yasser Arafat's headquarters here in the West Bank. That siege, we got down there just after daybreak. There were tanks, armored personnel carriers, walls to the compound had been knocked down, and there was some serious firefights going on back and forth.

I can tell you we just came from a hospital; 25 of Yasser Arafat's security personnel wounded, one killed. We saw three of those wounded in a hospital here. The hospital was complaining that it took three hours to be allowed to go in and get them from the compound. One of those men has a bullet wound to the spine. He is now paralyzed. And another man shot in the face.

Also, a television news cameraman this afternoon shot in the face not far from here as he was driving in his vehicle.

It has been a day of a lot of confusion, and as I say, a lot of shooting, small-arms fire, tank rounds and also heavy-caliber machine guns. It will die down for an hour maybe, at the most, and then it will pick up again. We have seen armored personnel carriers and tanks not just around Yasser Arafat's compound, which is the focus of this action by the Israeli military, but they have also been in the center of Ramallah. I can hear machine gunfire behind me right now.

So the Israeli military presence here is reasonably widespread around the city. You do not see a citizen on these streets, only men with guns -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, Michael, what is the expectation? What are the Palestinians expecting Ariel Sharon to do further than what has been done?

HOLMES: I could just hear a tank round go off not too far away there, Paula, so obviously things picking up again. Yasser Arafat's people, their expectations are simple. They want the Israelis to withdraw from Ramallah, from the so-called Area A, which is meant to be under Palestinian control. Yasser Arafat literally under siege. There was a report that a tank round hit the building in which he is in in the compound.

Their claim is simple, that they are trying to move towards peace as per Yasser Arafat's press conference the other night, which we attended, where he said very clearly that he was prepared to call a cease-fire if Tenet -- the Tenet plan, devised by CIA Director George Tenet, is implemented in full. Now, that's a point of dispute with Israel.

But then to have this happen virtually just hours later caught the Palestinians by surprise, in an official sense, although certainly people on the street were out buying essentials yesterday. They probably had a feeling this was coming -- Paula. ZAHN: But is it the intention of the Israelis, when they talk about isolating Arafat, to get him to leave the West Bank altogether?

HOLMES: Yasser Arafat went on Arabic language television here today from his compound while under siege, and he said that his feeling was that the Israelis wanted to either arrest him, expel him or kill him. And he used the words, "I am prepared to be a martyr."

What the Israelis are planning to do at this stage is anybody's guess. They said they want to isolate him, hold him in that compound there and not let him go. How long that lasts and what it really achieves is anybody's guess. Certainly, there is a lot of resistance to this move by the Israeli military however, and the fights are still continuing -- Paula.

ZAHN: Michael Holmes, thanks for that update. We will be coming to you throughout the morning.

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