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White House Watches Middle East Violence Carefully

Aired March 29, 2002 - 11:21   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We just learned moments ago, as our Michael Homes has been watching the activities in that compound -- the Palestinian Authority compound, wherein Yasser Arafat is holed up right now -- the word is, that we're get from the ground there, is that 60 members of the Palestinian Authority, or of the Palestinian forces, have been arrested by the Israeli troops who were there on the ground, basically holding the compound under siege right now.

So we continue to monitor that. And we'll let you know.

We don't know who these 60 people are. Don't know whether -- and no word yet as of where exactly Yasser Arafat is. We have been hearing that there has been room-to-room fighting inside that compound, however. So we'll have an update for you on that as we get the information here.

So in the meantime, let's go on to check the wider view of this whole thing. U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni is pressing ahead with his mission despite this spiraling violence that we've seen in the Middle East.

Let's check in now with our Kelly Wallace at the White House to get the word on this White House mission -- Kelly.


Clearly a very, very difficult situation on the ground right now in the Middle East. And U.S. officials really huddling together to decide what to say and when to say it.

So far, the White House is really withholding comment so far regarding the Israeli tanks moving into Ramallah and firing on Yasser Arafat's offices there, other than to say the administration following the developments very closely.

Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the National Security Council, here telling us earlier this morning -- and we have a graphic -- a quote from Sean McCormack that we're going to put up there for you.

He said that general Zinni remains in the region, is in contact with the parties, and continues his work. We are monitoring events very closely and are assessing appropriate responses to developments in the region. The word is general Zinni spoke with, on this day, Yasser Arafat, that he has met with Palestinian negotiators, is expected to meet with Israeli officials as well.

We know Secretary of State Colin Powell working the phones a bit. He spoke Thursday night with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. That was before those Israeli tanks started moving into Ramallah. He also spoke with Amre Moussa, the head of the Arab League, Secretary General.

Clearly, a lot of attention will be on what this administration decides to say, Leon, because it's a delicate balancing act for this administration. It has said that Israeli does have a right to defend itself, to protect itself from acts of terror.

But at the same time, it clearly wants to have an evenhanded approach here. And it wants to make sure that both sides don't take steps that would only escalate the violence even further.

Already, Palestinian officials, though, are speaking out, protesting really the silence coming from the Bush White House so far. One official talked to my colleague, State Department Producer Elise Labbit (ph), saying, "This is taking place with American acquiescence. The feeling is that the U.S. endorse this."

So clearly, a lot of attention will be on what this administration decides to say and when. We know President Bush, Leon, monitoring the situation very closely from his Crawford, Texas ranch where he is now, and is spending the Easter holiday weekend -- Leon.

HARRIS: Yes, apparently may not be able to spend an entirely quiet holiday there. Kelly Wallace, thank you very much. We'll get back with you in just a bit.


HARRIS: Let's go over to Daryn right now.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, things far from quiet in Ramallah, where the action is taking place. And as we were just saying in the breaking news, as many as 60 Palestinians arrested inside the compound of Yasser Arafat.

Let's go to Jerusalem now. Our John Vause, who can tell us more about those arrests, and what's taking place there -- John, hello.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, all we can do is actually confirm for you that we're getting that information from the Israeli defense forces. But just who those people are and what they have been arrested for -- we're still waiting on those details to come through to us.

And of course, this is all part of the Israeli crackdown into Palestinian-controlled areas. However they deny vehemently they are trying to inflict personal harm onto the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, even though Palestinian officials say that the Israeli intent is in fact to kill the Palestinian leader.

But what they do say is that they have moved into Ramallah as part of a crackdown on militants, something which they have accused the Palestinian Authority of refusing to do.

One of those militants seen today blowing herself up at a Jerusalem shopping center. It's the third attack on Israelis since the start of Passover began -- the most violent of those attacks on Wednesday, where more than 20 people were killed in Netanya.

This latest attack, though, at this shopping center in Southern Jerusalem, killing two people, a man and a woman. That woman could be as young as 16 years old.

The suicide bomber herself also very young, a teenage girl, possibly 18 years old as well, a member of the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigade.

And as these suicide bombers do, she made a videotape before the attack outlining what she was doing and her reasons why. And in that videotape, she actually condemned Arab leaders for standing by as Palestinian women fought the Israeli occupation.

Also today, we know that from the supermarket that cleanup is underway there, now an all-too-familiar scene, as the Israeli authorities and the response teams move in to the scene of the suicide bombers. At last count, that's possibly the 61st suicide bombing since the Intifada began in September 2000.

Now, all this action today -- this action in Ramallah -- came after a cabinet meeting overnight, when the Israeli cabinet met to discuss their response to the violence in recent days here. They issued a statement saying that Yasser Arafat was in fact an enemy of Israel. And they said that this campaign would be continuous, long term and wide scale.

At a news conference, Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister -- he said that the Palestinian leader so far had offered only terrorism, terrorism and more terrorism. He also called up 20,000 reservists as a sign of things to come.

Also today, the West Bank town of Gaza -- hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated, all offering themselves up as potential suicide bombers.

And we heard earlier on CNN an interview with Leon Harris about -- from the mayor of Jerusalem, basically saying that Yasser Arafat is responsible for those bombers. He's the one that leads them. He's the one that inspires them.

The Palestinian leader, of course, denies that. He's saying that he can't control those militant groups, Daryn.

KAGAN: John Vause, reporting to us from Jerusalem.

John, thanks very much. We'll be checking with you throughout the day. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT



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