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Explosion Rocks Cafe in Tel-Aviv

Aired March 30, 2002 - 13:33   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.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now to Jerusalem, where an explosion has rocked Tel Aviv. That's where our Bill Hemmer is now. We want to bring him in the picture, if you can explain to us, Bill, what is happening there right now?

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fredricka, good evening. It's about 9:30 in the evening local time. Saturday night in the past has been a very vulnerable time for activity inside of Israel proper especially.

What we're hearing right now, an explosion described by some as a huge explosion in a market area of central Tel Aviv, along a road called Allenby (ph) Street. It's about three blocks in off the coast of the Mediterranean.

The area is described to us as having many restaurants and, in fact, the explosion itself, although we have not confirmed this, may have happened close to one of those cafes located in that area or possibly inside as well.

We're getting a Reuters report. They're quoting Israel's army as saying that the people in this area describe that explosion as huge, apparently they say, caused by a suicide bomber. No word on casualties and again, this is just coming to us quite fresh right now, but the indications we have from the scene is that the casualty toll right now is in the 10 to 20 range, possibly higher. We do not know. One report says one confirmed fatality.

But again, we should caution you. Oftentimes when these stories start breaking in the area, many times the initial reports can be wrong or lower or even higher at certain points. That's for us to be cautious right now. We're monitoring Israel television, Channel 2 at this time, and they say ambulances, police officers en route to the scene.

I mentioned it was Saturday night. You might remember two weeks ago on a Saturday night here in Jerusalem at a cafe, Cafe (UNINTELLIGIBLE), when more than 10 people were killed after a suicide bomber struck in that cafe. The reason why Saturday nights oftentimes can be quite vulnerable, that's when the Sabbath breaks here for the Israeli Jews and many people start filtering back out into the streets.

Also at this time, it is Passover. It is Easter weekend and, Fredricka, I've only been on the ground here about five or six hours but I can tell you, it is a far different scene for this holy week than we have seen in recent years. Many streets we see are virtually empty, hotel lobbies completely absent of people.

We'll continue to track it. We'll get more reports out of Tel Aviv when we can. Fredricka, back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Bill. We want to bring in a leading Israeli government leader, Saeb Erakat. He's on the telephone with us now to give us a better sense about reports of more Israeli tanks that are moving in to Ramallah. Can you hear me OK, Mr. Erakat?

SAEB ERAKAT, PALESTINIAN CABINET MINISTER: Yes.

WHITFIELD: All right, what is the strategy at this point? What is taking place?

ERAKAT: What is taking place is that President Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah is being sieged, controlled, and now the Israeli commander who is occupying the compound has notified some of our security officers that he will storm President Arafat's offices in the next hour. This is a very grave development.

It could lead to massacres, and you have to keep in mind that in the last 24 hours, they cut the electricity, the running water. There were no medical supplies. There were no food supplies. We can not contact President Arafat by phone. Everything is cut, and I really fear for his life and the life of the people around him.

As far as the city of Ramallah is concerned, they are rounding, the Israeli Army is rounding people between the ages of 15 and 60, taking them to schools, to mosques, and they have captured today five of the security personnel of the Palestinian Authority. After they surrendered, they shot them at close range, killed them, shooting them.

There are now Israeli tanks in (UNINTELLIGIBLE), into Hebron, into Bethlehem, into Jabalia (ph) and into (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I'm afraid that things are running out of hand and the situation is very deteriorating and very, very grave.

WHITFIELD: Mr. Erakat, let me clarify you as the chief Palestinian negotiator. Israel says that this strategy is one in which to isolate Mr. Arafat. Can you give us a better description of exactly where Arafat is in that headquarters compound, and if you could give us an idea about his condition and the surroundings of the location in which he's being held?

ERAKAT: The compound is composed of seven buildings. I think six of the buildings were totally destroyed, including the wall surrounding the premises. I think there are only three to four rooms, I'm not sure exactly, three to four rooms intact where the President is trying to function. There is no electricity. The electricity is cut. The running water is cut. There is no medical supplies. There is no food supplies, and now the tanks are moving into these four -- and now they are heading now, I just received a news item from the compound that there are missiles being fired at the compound.

The situation is very grave. I think they will storm the building and President Arafat is in real danger at this moment. I don't know. I lost all contact with them, and I'm telling you the whole Israeli army is going into incursions all over the West Bank and Gaza now.

WHITFIELD: You are hearing missiles being fired, or you are actually seeing them make strikes?

ERAKAT: No, Fredricka. I'm in (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They're calling me because I lost contact with the phones and the mobile. They have some communications they brought me from the head office where I am and they are notifying me of the developments by my ear. But now they are informing me that they are hitting missiles at the President's compound.

WHITFIELD: Israeli government officials say it is not intent to harm or kill Arafat. Your feeling are otherwise, that this military action would bring about nothing but harm, or an assassination or killing of Arafat in your opinion?

ERAKAT: Well, I don't know if they're playing with firecrackers out there. It's real missiles, real (UNINTELLIGIBLE), real machine gun fires. The situation is very grave, and deteriorating, and I heard people saying that they have a commitment that Arafat will not be touched.

I don't know what they've been doing to Arafat. Arafat's been without food, without medical supplies, without running water, without electricity, and now they have been officially notified by the Israeli commander who's actually buying the premise that they will storm Arafat's three remaining rooms in the next hour. This will lead to a massacre. So really Arafat's life is in real danger.

WHITFIELD: Mr. Erakat, do you feel -- OK, hold on a moment there on the telephone. We want to go to a press conference or an announcement rather of President George Bush from Crawford, Texas.

We will be hearing his audio. We won't be seeing him, but just listen.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... all of the leaders in the world must stand up against terror, must do everything in our power to cut off funding to terrorist organizations, to prevent terrorist organizations from finding safe haven.

And that especially goes to Chairman Arafat. I believe he can do a lot more to prevent attacks such as the one that just occurred in Tel-Aviv.

I am deeply concerned about the loss of innocent lives. It breaks my heart when children, innocent women and innocent men lose their lives. I fully understand Israel's need to defend itself. I have said that. We have seen a wave of suicide bombers coming into the heart of their cities, and killing its people. They have the right to defend itself, and as she does so, I urge that their government, the Israeli government, make sure that there is a path to peace, as she secures their homeland, that they've got to keep in mind the need that there's got to be a peaceful solution at some point.

So I've been assured by the Israeli government that -- about the well-being of Chairman Arafat, that he won't be harmed. I have heard him say that while that he's confined, he can't do anything to secure the region. I know he's got a lot of forces. He's got a lot of people that listen to him still, and he has got to speak out clearly. He's got to make it absolutely clear that the Palestinian Authority does not support these terrorist activities and use his security forces to prevent them from happening.

I've asked that General Zinni stay in the region. I think it's very important for our country to provide an opportunity for discussion, an opportunity for people to come together, and so Zinni will stay there. He'll stay there to continue to push for a process that will ultimately get us into Mitchell, and Mitchell is the best hope for peace. It's been agreed to by the parties. It is an opportunity for those who love peace to have a framework for peace.

Last night, our administration supported a U.N. Security Council resolution that urges for there to be a cease-fire to start the process that will end this cycle of violence.

We're on one of the holiest of holidays and we're worried about people needlessly losing their lives, and our prayers and thoughts go to the families of the victims. And I pray for peace, and I urge all parties to recognize that there are terrorists in this world who can't stand the thought of peace and all of us, all of us must work together to condemn, find and stop terrorist activities.

I'll be glad to answer any questions.

QUESTION: Mr. President, with this latest terrorist attack on a Tel-Aviv cafe tonight with many apparent casualties, does Chairman Arafat in your opinion really have any control over these suicide bombers?

BUSH: I think Chairman Arafat can do a lot more. I truly believe that. I believes he needs to stand up and condemn in Arabic these attacks. He's got a security force, admittedly somewhat on the defensive right now, but nevertheless, there is a security force, there's a security apparatus. We've been dealing with the leaders of the security apparatus, and they have got to do a much better job of preventing people from coming into Israel to blow up innocent people. The leaders in the region must do the same thing.

You know, I was pleased that Crown Prince Abdullah spoke out so forcefully for what he called normalization. We support that. But there is no normalcy when day after day killers destroy innocent lives. All the leaders must join with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to strongly condemn and stop terrorist activities.

I spoke to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and he told me, he said, you know, the world must fight off this terror, and the region can do more, in my judgment. The Iranians must step up and stop sponsoring terrorism. The Syrians must participate. If people want peace in the region, there has got to be a united effort against terror, and I do believe Mr. Arafat can do more. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you have made a lot of phone calls today, but not to Sharon, not to Arafat. Why not, and what is the next U.S. step?

BUSH: Well, first of all, my administration has made a lot of phone calls into the region on a daily basis. Secretary of State Powell will be speaking to Prime Minister Sharon again.

QUESTION: Today? (

BUSH: Yes, today, soon, as I understand, unless this current -- this recent bombing put the prime minister into, you know, a cabinet meeting and therefore won't be able to take a phone call, but he was supposed to have made a call like right now.

We're in constant touch with these governments, and the next step is to continue our call and our efforts and our push to fight off terror. It appears to me these aren't just isolated incidents. I mean, there's a pattern, a routine and a constancy, and we will continue to lead to talk and urge world leaders, particularly those in the region, to do everything they can to shut off the capacity of the people to come and bomb.

QUESTION: Why isn't Arafat called by Powell today?

BUSH: He may be doing that, I just don't know. But let me -- Mr. Arafat, he doesn't need a phone call from me. All he's got to do is watch what I just said. I believe -- and that message will be delivered to him.

QUESTION: Mr. President, did we reach the point where there needs to be more aggressive and more visible and public U.S. effort to quell the violence in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) greater outreach to the other nations in the region?

BUSH: Well, you may recall the vice president has just returned from the region, which is a significant outreach. We're spending a great deal of time in our capacity as a leader of a coalition against the war on terror to continue not only our war in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but also continue to fight terror in this region.

And every phone call I make, I remind people that if you're interested in peace, and the leaders I talk to are interested in peace, we all must come together to stop terror. Our role is very visible and our role is very active, and I firmly believe that we can achieve a peace in the region, but not until -- not until there is a concerted united effort to route terror out, because what we're seeing is -- we're seeing for example, in South Carolina, I remember talking to you all and saying -- this was on Thursday, or Wednesday, saying that I was optimistic that we had a chance to get into Tenet. And by the time I got on the airplane and landed in Georgia, there had been this awful suicide bombing. And so, it is clear to me that the more progress we make toward achieving a cease-fire or meaningful security discussions, the more a terror organization will try to disrupt the process. And therefore, the best way to make sure that we can get some meaningful dialogue going is to secure the -- to help secure the region, and in particular Israel's homeland, by a united front against terror. It's essential that we -- we, meaning those who long for a peace, and I repeat to you, every leader I've talked to said we need peace -- but there needs to be a focused coalition effort in the region against peace -- I mean, against terror for peace.

QUESTION: You mentioned a moment ago that Iran and Syria need to do more.

BUSH: Yes, I believe they do.

QUESTION: Can you identify other countries in the region who need to do more than they're doing?

BUSH: All the countries in the region must condemn terror, speak clearly about terror. I appreciate the fact that the Saudis have spoken about a vision for peace. I thought that was a very important statement. It recognized Israel's right to exist, and that's essential.

A corollary to that is, in order for Israel to exist, terror must stop. I -- I can understand why the Israeli government takes the action they take. Their country is under attack. Every day, there has been a suicide bombing, and every day the government sees the loss of innocent life.

On the other hand, I understand why some Palestinians feel so helpless. There is a loss of innocent life on the Palestinian side that's too much. The Palestinians, particularly those who long for a peaceful resolution, the independent statehood of the Palestinians is part of that peaceful solution. But they must do everything in their power to stop terrorist activity.

QUESTION: On Iran and Syria, do you have any evidence that those countries are directly involved in the latest terror bombings?

BUSH: No, I do not have evidence, but I have -- I saw, for example, that Syria once again walked out of the U.N. when there was a reasonable resolution put forward, that should say something. And secondly, I understand the connections between Hezbollah and Iran, and there has been no evidence -- again, I don't know who's claiming credit for this bombing; I haven't seen Hezbollah's name mentioned, but nevertheless that's terror. That's a terrorist organization.

And -- but no, I have no direct evidence. Nevertheless, I do know their influence in the region, and if they are interested in a peaceful resolution, they too need to be actively about cutting off funds, and you may recall there was a ship that was intercepted by the Israelis that came from Iran full of weapons.

And so there is -- my point is, is that there needs to be a focused international effort to condemn, strongly condemn, as well as route out terrorist activities. Otherwise, we will have a difficult problem in getting to a peaceful accord. There has been a framework laid out, and now the efforts will be focused -- like they have been, on getting into the framework.

In the meantime, Israel will defend herself, and again, I understand that. As I said in my statement, that I hope Israel keeps in mind that there needs to be a road to peace. It is in Israelis' interest, in my judgment, not only to defend herself, but to keep in mind that there has got to be a peaceful resolution in order for her people to be able to grow up in a secure and peaceful world.

QUESTION: Do you think that -- it seems as if, even though if they're not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Arafat, that they're trying to undermine him, undermine his leadership of the Palestinians. Do you think that serves any purpose?

BUSH: I think Mr. Arafat could have done more three weeks ago, and can do more today. I think that -- I know I have been disappointed in his unwillingness to go 100 percent toward fighting terror. That includes using the security forces to help prevent suicide bombers, crossing certain lands, and that also means speaking out clearly in his native tongue.

I fully understand the frustrations of the Israeli people. I sympathize -- and I sympathize with the frustrations of the Palestinian people, those who long for normalcy, those who want to send their kids to school and go to work. There's got to be a much more concerted effort by Chairman Arafat and others to stop terror. Terror is -- so long as there is this rein of terror, there will be no peace in that sense, so therefore stopping terror can make the conditions right for peace. (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

QUESTION: Mr. President, do we know in advance about the invasion, and what's your position, should Israelis get out of the compound? Should they continue their military action or quit?

BUSH: This is a -- Israel is a democratically elected government, and the government is responding to the will of the people for there to be more security, and Israel will make decisions necessary to defend herself.

My point to the Israeli government is, as you do so, keep in mind there must be an avenue toward a peaceful settlement. As you defend yourself, and you have a right to do so, please keep in mind and work with the region to develop a strategy that will end up in a peaceful settlement.

Thank you all for coming.

WHITFIELD: You've been listening to President Bush talking to reporters from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, responding to the Middle East crisis. He says there's got to be a peaceful solution. He says that he has been assured by the Israeli government that it is their objective as well to bring about peace. He said all countries in the region must condemn terror. But President Bush made it very clear that he feels that Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat can do more to control Palestinian militants, and he says, Arafat must do a better job preventing people from going into Israel, all this taking place as you're looking at the pictures right now. A blast had occurred in a cafe in Tel Aviv.

We'll of course be bringing you up to date on that in just moments. Dozens of people have been hurt, all of this taking place just hours after the United Nations agrees on a resolution that Israel must pull out of Palestinian territory.

Let's go to White House Correspondent Major Garrett who is with the President there. You can tell us a little bit better about what exactly President Bush's plans are now, as Israel continues to siege the Ramallah, the Arafat compound there. Major.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, let me help try for our viewers to set the scene a little bit and explain, first of all, why the audio was so muddy of the President and why we didn't see him.

The President moved to an area just outside of his ranch to talk to reporters. It was a hastily summoned meeting with reporters and the White House made a decision to only make the audio available on a live basis to our network and everyone else here covering the President.

We'll have pictures of that full encounter with the press corps shortly, but we could only bring you the live audio because of a decision the Bush White House made, and it was poor audio quality. But the one thing that the world was probably waiting to hear from President Bush was for him to say what the U.N. resolution passed by the Security Council said this morning. That is that the Israeli government should withdraw from Ramallah.

President Bush pointedly said no such thing. What he did say is that he understands that Israel is defending itself, has a right to defend itself, is a democratically elected government and is carrying out what it believes it needs to for its own self-protection and self- defense.

All the president would say in the way of characterizing what should or should not transpire, as Israeli defenses move into Ramallah and other places in the occupied territories is that the Israeli government should understand the consequences of its military actions.

That's exactly what Secretary of State Colin Powell said yesterday, so the President himself moved in no direction toward what some of the international community say the United States government should say, which is that Israel must immediately withdraw from Ramallah and make no other advances in the occupied territories. President Bush said nothing to the kind at all.

What did he say, again, is the repeated sense from him and his administration that the true cause of instability is Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians. And he used phrase that he'd only used previously talking about America, homeland security. He used it in applying it to issues being debated within Israel.

I would imagine in Israel that is a signal -- or will be interpreted at least as a signal -- that the president equates Israel's homeland security with America's homeland security. That's an important phraseology for the Bush administration in America; it now might be interpreted as an important bit of phraseology in Israel as well.

So if the Palestinians or the world community were looking for some signal from President Bush that the Israelis should pull back and reconsider any other future military actions in the occupied territories, it absolutely did not happen -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, Major, you prefaced this dialogue by saying the audio was a little distorted, was a bit difficult to hear. Did the president address his -- or at least give his response to the fact that Israel has not adhered to the newly agreed U.N. resolution, it has not pulled out? Wire reports are now saying that helicopters are firing missiles into Yasser Arafat's compound. Were you able to make out whether he made a direct reply to that?

GARRETT: I could not discern any direct reply to that, nor could any other reporters here at the work space near the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas. We will, of course, get a full transcript from the White House, but I am fairly confident, Fredricka, the president made no commentary about that issue whatsoever. Spending most of his time, devoting most of his importance to the issue of Palestinian terrorism, not what the Israeli government is doing militarily.

And when he did address these military actions, it was in the context of self-defense and protecting itself from future acts of terrorism, and also saying the world community needs to make a very profound and strong statement that peace will only be achieved when terrorism is routed out. That is not too dissimilar, Fredricka, from what the Israeli government has long said as well.

WHITFIELD: Now, Major, President Bush said he is putting the onus on Arafat, that Arafat needs to do more to control the Palestinian militants. He says that just as in Tel-Aviv, a cafe experienced there an explosion, we don't know exactly who is claiming responsibility. Dozens have been injured. Arafat himself said yesterday during a conversation with CNN's Christiane Amanpour that he is unable to do anything as long as he is isolated in the compound there. Did President Bush address that in any way?

GARRETT: Not specifically. But in a way, he said that one thing, for example, Yasser Arafat could do and it's something that Secretary of State Powell asked him to do after the Passover massacre, is to say on television viewable by Palestinians in the occupied territories and their sympathizers throughout the Arab world, if possible, and say in Arabic that acts of terrorism to achieve political goals is simply wrong, and will not be tolerated by the Palestinian Authority.

The Bush administration believes Yasser Arafat can and should do that. He was on cellular telephone a lot, speaking to our network, our senior international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. The Bush administration believes that's one step Arafat could take, and until he takes it, I think the pressure will still be on him to move against terrorism and not against Israeli defense forces.

WHITFIELD: All right, thank you very much. Great job. Major Garrett, reporting from Crawford, Texas there, traveling with the president. We want to take you now to Jerusalem, and that's where our CNN's Bill Hemmer is now, keeping an eye on the developments there in Tel-Aviv, where an explosion took place at a cafe there. Bill, what more can you tell us about what's taking place there?

HEMMER: Fredricka, police in Tel-Aviv indicate 24 wounded, at least five seriously right now. And those numbers may change, and go higher at some point very soon. Also, police indicate one fatality confirmed at this time, and they are indicating that fatality could be the body and the life of a suicide bomber. Again, this is central Tel-Aviv, along Allenby (ph) Street.

Chris Hrobesh is a CNN editor on the scene, and is joining us now by telephone. Chris, you are there, describe it to us and what are you hearing information-wise there?

CHRIS HROBESH, CNN EDITOR: Well, Bill, I was about six blocks from the explosion, having a drink with some friends. I didn't actually hear an explosion, but all of a sudden we heard ambulances, one, two, three, four, five, and from my brief experience in Jerusalem I knew that something was up. So everyone's cell phone started going off in the restaurant, which meant something was up.

I took off down the street to this cafe, called (UNINTELLIGIBLE), which is apparently a real hip place for people to go to dance, listen to music, mostly young people. Briefly, I talked to an aid worker really quickly and the only number I could get -- it was the end of his interview -- he said there were 24 evacuated. I didn't get a number of possible dead, but apparently, the word here is that it was a suicide bomber -- Bill.

HEMMER: Chris, can you describe the scene to us right now? We are looking at pictures from Israel television Channel Two. And at times it looks rather chaotic. We have seen flames in the background. What are you seeing?

HROBESH: Well, right now, I had to walk away from the main explosion because of the noise because I could not hear you. But I am stepping back on the street now. And they -- they are clearing everyone away because they are concerned about secondary explosions. As you know, a lot of times when these suicide bombers do the thing, they leave behind some unexploded ordnance for people that gather, and I can tell you there are several hundred people right now gathered who are looking on, who are upset. A lot of rhetoric being thrown around here.

OK, who was the guy?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). HROBESH: OK. We are (UNINTELLIGIBLE) possible eight. I can't confirm that, but that's just from one of the policemen on the street; that's not an official thing here. Like I said, they moved everyone back because they were concerned about the explosions, but people are very upset here, because Tel-Aviv has not been bombed as much as Jerusalem has, nonetheless people have had enough -- Bill.

HEMMER: Chris, listen, I am going to cut you loose to go collect some more information. Chris Hrobesh is an editor here with CNN. He is on the scene there in central Tel-Aviv, and certainly we will be back in touch. That street there, Allenby (ph) Street, well-known to be the major marketplace in Tel-Aviv, restaurants and shops and stores and cafes, and also this was the end of the sabbath when the sun went down earlier tonight, and here in Israel rather, a lot of Israelis start to wander back out into the streets and they go see movies and have dinner, and it has been a vulnerable time for many Israelis when suicide bombers have struck.

Two weeks ago, on a Saturday night here in Jerusalem, a very popular cafe, cafe Moment (ph) was hit as well by a suicide bomber. We will work more information out of Tel-Aviv as soon as we get it.

More word now out of Ramallah. Palestinians officials indicating to CNN that they have received an ultimatum, they say, from the Israeli government that says they will storm that compound where Yasser Arafat has been holed up now for about 36 hours' time. They say the Israelis have told them that they will come in and arrest anyone they find inside of that compound. Let's talk more about this with Daniel Shek. He is with us now, a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, joining us live here in Jerusalem. Good evening to you, sir.

DANIEL SHEK, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY: Good evening, Bill.

HEMMER: Can you tell us if indeed there is an ultimatum to Yasser Arafat that Israeli troops will storm that compound sometime soon?

SHEK: I am completely unaware of that. I heard the rumor, but I am unaware of such an ultimatum.

HEMMER: Is it possible within the Israeli government that that is one of the options being looked at right now?

SHEK: I really don't think that's a good time to speculate about anything we don't have solid information about.

HEMMER: We were just listening (AUDIO GAP) Crawford, Texas. He implored not only the Palestinians but also brought in the Iranians and the Syrians to try to do something collectively, or even individually, as individual countries, to try and stop the current wave we see right now. That wave right now appears to be quite ferocious. Where is this headed?

SHEK: Well, you know, if you combine the images from Tel-Aviv that are coming out of Tel-Aviv right now with President Bush's words, I think you get the full picture. Terror goes on, and the onus is on Arafat. And I think that the pressure now is on everyone who can have some kind of influence on the Palestinians to make it quite clear that this is an intolerable situation and that nobody will settle for such a situation.

HEMMER: Why was this time, in terms of the Israeli perspective, the right time to get so close, even a few feet from Yasser Arafat right now?

SHEK: I am not sure I can accept the term of the right time, because it was the worst time. It happened in the wake of a terrible series of bombings in the middle of a holiday, and it came in the wake of two weeks of unilateral Israeli cease-fire and of a mission by an American enjoy, General Zinni, who implored the Palestinians and implored Yasser Arafat to take a number of very simple and very feasible steps, and nothing happened.

So, clearly, the option even of a unilateral cease-fire on the Israeli side did not work, and the situation does nothing but deteriorate, so military action was unfortunately unavoidable.

HEMMER: You mentioned Anthony Zinni, and President Bush was just talking about him as well. He says he will stay in the region. Has his assistance been muted here, basically ineffective to this point?

SHEK: I hope not. I think Israel has really shown the biggest openness to try and make his mission easier, to make his success possible. We have made a number of important steps in this direction. But he met a stone wall on the Palestinian side. And I am afraid that that is where his problems have to be resolved, and not on the Israeli side.

HEMMER: I have only been in your country about five hours' time. I flew in from Tel-Aviv a short time ago earlier today, and probably a dozen Israelis have told me they try to stay away from the streets, stay away from crowds, stay inside, and that's evident on the streets of Jerusalem today. Why is it that in Tel-Aviv tonight this market street, Allenby (ph) Street, would be so crowded?

SHEK: Because I think Israelis despite everything refuse to give in to terrorism, and to refuse to say that they cannot lead a normal life and they cannot get back to a normal life. And that I think is why it is so urgent for everyone to act in order to stop this wave of suicide bombings, to stop this madness. Because Israelis will not allow their lives to be destabilized in such a manner.

HEMMER: Given that, would you rather have Yasser Arafat exiled?

SHEK: I would rather have the Palestinians understand that terror will lead them nowhere, and that the only way to reach a reasonable agreement with Israel is around the negotiating table. But as long as bombings go on, as long as the Palestinian Authority does nothing to stop them, there is no possibility to go back to the path of diplomacy, which eventually we will have to.

HEMMER: During the holy week, it's far from it. SHEK: Unfortunately, it seems quite far away, but we will not give up.

HEMMER: Thank you, sir. Daniel Shek, spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry joining us tonight here in Jerusalem.

New numbers right now -- quickly, Fredricka, back in the situation, Tel-Aviv, 25 injured, one critically, five severely. And again, Israel place saying one fatality right now, and they believe it could be the suicide bomber. We will continue to track it and monitor it here from Jerusalem. Back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Bill Hemmer, from Jerusalem there.

Of course, a lot going on today. Israeli officials acknowledge that helicopters are firing missiles at Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah. We will try to bring you more information on that as we get it.

Also, President Bush responding to the Middle East crisis, saying that the U.N. resolution must be respected and that Israel should be withdrawing. However, Israeli forces have not done that as of yet. And we would like to bring in General Wesley Clark. He is joining us now to give us a better perspective of what is going on over there right now. "All countries must condemn violence," those are the words from President Bush today. He says that the region must be supporting the U.N. efforts to try and quell some of this violence. But we are seeing that there is an awful lot of back and forth violence going on right now. It seems like those words mean nothing right now. Don't they?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That is the problem, Fredricka. And in fact, the Palestinians have been supported by a number of outside states, most notably Iran, and its effort to deliver weapons and supplies. The Hamas organization is connected with Syria. Iran is supporting Hezbollah. And Yasser Arafat is getting support under the table from a number of Middle Eastern leaders. And they are the ones who are going to have to join, as the president said, to put pressure on him to stop this.

The Israelis do have the right to attempt to defend themselves. It is a very difficult process to send military forces into these occupied areas with a lot of civilians there and try to find the stores of ammunition and explosives and weapons, to try to sort through hundreds of people and determine who is and who is not supporting terrorism. And every time they do, they make mistakes, and of course make more enemies.

And so, it is a struggle. But the outcome of the struggle is going to determine the eventual shape of the diplomatic settlement that's involved in, and so the Israelis are not going to want to pull out until they felt like they have accomplished something strategically with this latest move. This is very big Israeli operation, and I would suggest they're going to stay with it until they do have some strategic accomplishments to report. WHITFIELD: Israel inarguably has the advantage, they have the military might. Israel says this is an act of self-defense, they have to go in, as you say, to look for weapons, look for people, make the arrest of those they think are provoking violence. Most recently, Israeli government officials say that they came across weapons that were illegal under the Oslo Accord. This further strengthening their resolve that the Israelis need to be exactly what they are doing. Do you agree with that?

CLARK: Well, I think that's certainly their view of it. And it is a two-sided struggle. Of course, the Palestinians view on this would be that they don't have the capability to match the Israeli armed forces, and to get what they want they are going to have to use the weapons that they have available, the same weapons they have always had available, really, for over 30 years, which is the weapon of terror. And it has been directed mostly against unarmed civilians, starting back in the 1960s, the 1970s. We have seen it in the 1980s. And of course, we are seeing it today after the turn of the century. That is -- that has been their principal weapon, and that's what they are using.

WHITFIELD: And General Clark, if you could please just stick around a moment. We want to take our viewers to Ramallah, and that's where our Michael Holmes is now. He is on the phone with us to give us a better picture of exactly what kind of activity is taking place. Israeli tanks are seen to be continuing their action, moving into the headquarters of Arafat there. Michael, what more can you tell us about the activity there? Helicopter missiles firing at the compound?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, it is a very confusing situation. We heard about this so-called impending attack on Yasser Arafat's building and a move of some sort on his offices. We came here, it's nighttime here. It is quarter past 9:00. It's a very dangerous trip through Ramallah at this time of night. But we are in four armored vehicles, a media convoy of various journalists. We tried to make our way -- we had two or three times, we were turned away by tanks, which turned their cannon, their turrets around and the cannon toward us to warn us off. We came around a couple of back routes, and we are now standing at a perimeter wall of the Palestinian Authority headquarters.

And just over that wall I can see the top of Yasser Arafat's offices. What I can tell you is apart from the movement of armored personnel carriers, which is not unusual here, they move around all the time, there is no activity. It is quiet here, since we have been here. It is very quiet. Helicopter rockets -- I find hard to believe -- there is certainly no helicopter here now. I know that there have been reports of action here, but we see nothing of it. We are not being allowed to get as close as we would like.

Still, we are about 100 yards from the wall, the perimeter wall, or what's left of it, and we would know if there was any sort of serious military activity. Of course, if Israeli soldiers wanted to walk up those one flight of stairs and walk into Yasser Arafat's office, they could do so presumably without using much force, and if they were to do that that's the way I would imagine they would do it. Using things like rockets and tanks to walk up a flight of stairs would seem a bit extreme. Certainly no activity here to report, though, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, Michael, you said it's quiet there now, but earlier today, perhaps while you were there, were you witness to or could you at least hear about the reported return fires that Israeli military sources say they were receiving from Palestinians from inside the compound?

HOLMES: Well, what I can tell you from firsthand experience, yes, we were here this morning. And when we pulled up and got out of our armored vehicle, we heard several shots, single shots, small caliber weapons, and we heard probably 10 or 15 of these shots over a period of 10 minutes or so. It certainly was not any kind of sustained gunfire that we have heard here at the compound and elsewhere in Ramallah over the last 24 hours or so.

I -- we heard nothing of a gun battle. There was, however, shooting, and it was impossible for us to tell who was doing the shooting. I can tell you that a Palestinian security officer based here at the compound was taken out of the compound today dead. So there was a fatality here, so obviously some of that shooting found its mark. There was also a Palestinian security guard who was shot yesterday who died today. So there was at least one death from gunfire today inside, and it was Palestinian -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, Michael, it is night fall there now, and it is quiet -- hold on right there, will you, Michael. We want now to go to Major Garrett who has been traveling with the president and he is in Crawford, Texas. And what more can you tell us about the Bush response there, Major?

GARRETT: Well, Fredricka, what I can tell you is very, very soon, within minutes, within a minute from now at least, we will see what President Bush said on our air a few moments ago. He had a brief encounter with reporters at the edge of his Texas ranch here in Crawford, Texas. We have received back here at the work space near that ranch a videotape of the president's comments. We played them live -- at least the audio portion of it live on our air a few minutes ago. We will see the audio and the video now.

And in summary, the president said he believes that to achieve peace in the Middle East, terrorism must be routed out, and a specific reference made to Palestinian-backed terrorism against Israeli civilians. President made no mention of the United States government believes as it said it did in a Security Council resolution passed this morning at the United Nations that Israel should withdraw from Ramallah. All the president would say is that he understands Israel must defend itself, and should weigh carefully consequences not only of current military action but any military action it is contemplating.

So the world community who has been critical of the Israeli incursion into Ramallah was eager to hear President Bush either criticize or at least say the U.S. government believes Israel should withdraw from Ramallah; that message was not delivered. It was much more of a stern message about terrorism being the root of the violence and the problems in occupied territories, and being told that the president's video and audio will be on our air very shortly. We will go to that right now.

BUSH: This morning, I made a series of phone calls to world leaders to express my concern, listen to their concerns about the escalating violence in the Middle East.

We are at this point because there have not been enough done to fight off terror. All of the leaders in the world must stand up against terror, must do everything in our power to cut off funding to terrorist organizations, to prevent terrorist organizations from finding safe haven.

And that especially goes to Chairman Arafat. I believe he can do a lot more to prevent attacks such as the one that just occurred in Tel-Aviv.

I am deeply concerned about the loss of innocent lives. It breaks my heart when children, innocent women and innocent men lose their lives. I fully understand Israel's need to defend itself. I have said that. We have seen a wave of suicide bombers coming into the heart of their cities, and killing its people. They have the right to defend itself, and as she does so, I urge that their government, the Israeli government, make sure that there is a path to peace, as she secures their homeland, that they've got to keep in mind the need that there's got to be a peaceful solution at some point.

So I've been assured by the Israeli government that -- about the well-being of Chairman Arafat, that he won't be harmed. I have heard him say that while that he's confined, he can't do anything to secure the region. I know he's got a lot of forces. He's got a lot of people that listen to him still, and he has got to speak out clearly. He's got to make it absolutely clear that the Palestinian Authority does not support these terrorist activities and use his security forces to prevent them from happening.

I've asked that General Zinni stay in the region. I think it's very important for our country to provide an opportunity for discussion, an opportunity for people to come together, and so Zinni will stay there. He'll stay there to continue to push for a process that will ultimately get us into Mitchell, and Mitchell is the best hope for peace. It's been agreed to by the parties. It is an opportunity for those who love peace to have a framework for peace.

Last night, our administration supported a U.N. Security Council resolution that urges for there to be a cease-fire to start the process that will end this cycle of violence.

We're on one of the holiest of holidays and we're worried about people needlessly losing their lives, and our prayers and thoughts go to the families of the victims. And I pray for peace, and I urge all parties to recognize that there are terrorists in this world who can't stand the thought of peace and all of us, all of us must work together to condemn, find and stop terrorist activities.

I'll be glad to answer any questions.

QUESTION: Mr. President, with this latest terrorist attack on a Tel-Aviv cafe tonight with many apparent casualties, does Chairman Arafat in your opinion really have any control over these suicide bombers?

BUSH: I think Chairman Arafat can do a lot more. I truly believe that. I believes he needs to stand up and condemn in Arabic these attacks. He's got a security force, admittedly somewhat on the defensive right now, but nevertheless, there is a security force, there's a security apparatus. We've been dealing with the leaders of the security apparatus, and they have got to do a much better job of preventing people from coming into Israel to blow up innocent people. The leaders in the region must do the same thing.

You know, I was pleased that Crown Prince Abdullah spoke out so forcefully for what he called normalization. We support that. But there is no normalcy when day after day killers destroy innocent lives. All the leaders must join with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to strongly condemn and stop terrorist activities.

I spoke to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and he told me, he said, you know, the world must fight off this terror, and the region can do more, in my judgment. The Iranians must step up and stop sponsoring terrorism. The Syrians must participate. If people want peace in the region, there has got to be a united effort against terror, and I do believe Mr. Arafat can do more. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you have made a lot of phone calls today, but not to Sharon, not to Arafat. Why not, and what is the next U.S. step?

BUSH: Well, first of all, my administration has made a lot of phone calls into the region on a daily basis. Secretary of State Powell will be speaking to Prime Minister Sharon again.

QUESTION: Today? (

BUSH: Yes, today, soon, as I understand, unless this current -- this recent bombing put the prime minister into, you know, a cabinet meeting and therefore won't be able to take a phone call, but he was supposed to have made a call like right now.

We're in constant touch with these governments, and the next step is to continue our call and our efforts and our push to fight off terror. It appears to me these aren't just isolated incidents. I mean, there's a pattern, a routine and a constancy, and we will continue to lead to talk and urge world leaders, particularly those in the region, to do everything they can to shut off the capacity of the people to come and bomb.

QUESTION: Why isn't Arafat called by Powell today?

BUSH: He may be doing that, I just don't know. But let me -- Mr. Arafat, he doesn't need a phone call from me. All he's got to do is watch what I just said. I believe -- and that message will be delivered to him.

QUESTION: Mr. President, did we reach the point where there needs to be more aggressive and more visible and public U.S. effort to quell the violence in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) greater outreach to the other nations in the region?

BUSH: Well, you may recall the vice president has just returned from the region, which is a significant outreach. We're spending a great deal of time in our capacity as a leader of a coalition against the war on terror to continue not only our war in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but also continue to fight terror in this region.

And every phone call I make, I remind people that if you're interested in peace, and the leaders I talk to are interested in peace, we all must come together to stop terror. Our role is very visible and our role is very active, and I firmly believe that we can achieve a peace in the region, but not until -- not until there is a concerted united effort to route terror out, because what we're seeing is -- we're seeing for example, in South Carolina, I remember talking to you all and saying -- this was on Thursday, or Wednesday, saying that I was optimistic that we had a chance to get into Tenet. And by the time I got on the airplane and landed in Georgia, there had been this awful suicide bombing.

And so, it is clear to me that the more progress we make toward achieving a cease-fire or meaningful security discussions, the more a terror organization will try to disrupt the process. And therefore, the best way to make sure that we can get some meaningful dialogue going is to secure the -- to help secure the region, and in particular Israel's homeland, by a united front against terror. It's essential that we -- we, meaning those who long for a peace, and I repeat to you, every leader I've talked to said we need peace -- but there needs to be a focused coalition effort in the region against peace -- I mean, against terror for peace.

QUESTION: You mentioned a moment ago that Iran and Syria need to do more.

BUSH: Yes, I believe they do.

QUESTION: Can you identify other countries in the region who need to do more than they're doing?

BUSH: All the countries in the region must condemn terror, speak clearly about terror. I appreciate the fact that the Saudis have spoken about a vision for peace. I thought that was a very important statement. It recognized Israel's right to exist, and that's essential.

A corollary to that is, in order for Israel to exist, terror must stop. I -- I can understand why the Israeli government takes the action they take. Their country is under attack. Every day, there has been a suicide bombing, and every day the government sees the loss of innocent life.

On the other hand, I understand why some Palestinians feel so helpless. There is a loss of innocent life on the Palestinian side that's too much. The Palestinians, particularly those who long for a peaceful resolution, the independent statehood of the Palestinians is part of that peaceful solution. But they must do everything in their power to stop terrorist activity.

QUESTION: On Iran and Syria, do you have any evidence that those countries are directly involved in the latest terror bombings?

BUSH: No, I do not have evidence, but I have -- I saw, for example, that Syria once again walked out of the U.N. when there was a reasonable resolution put forward, that should say something. And secondly, I understand the connections between Hezbollah and Iran, and there has been no evidence -- again, I don't know who's claiming credit for this bombing; I haven't seen Hezbollah's name mentioned, but nevertheless that's terror. That's a terrorist organization.

And -- but no, I have no direct evidence. Nevertheless, I do know their influence in the region, and if they are interested in a peaceful resolution, they too need to be actively about cutting off funds, and you may recall there was a ship that was intercepted by the Israelis that came from Iran full of weapons.

And so there is -- my point is, is that there needs to be a focused international effort to condemn, strongly condemn, as well as route out terrorist activities. Otherwise, we will have a difficult problem in getting to a peaceful accord. There has been a framework laid out, and now the efforts will be focused -- like they have been, on getting into the framework.

In the meantime, Israel will defend herself, and again, I understand that. As I said in my statement, that I hope Israel keeps in mind that there needs to be a road to peace. It is in Israelis' interest, in my judgment, not only to defend herself, but to keep in mind that there has got to be a peaceful resolution in order for her people to be able to grow up in a secure and peaceful world.

QUESTION: Do you think that -- it seems as if, even though if they're not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Arafat, that they're trying to undermine him, undermine his leadership of the Palestinians. Do you think that serves any purpose?

BUSH: I think Mr. Arafat could have done more three weeks ago, and can do more today. I think that -- I know I have been disappointed in his unwillingness to go 100 percent toward fighting terror. That includes using the security forces to help prevent suicide bombers, crossing certain lands, and that also means speaking out clearly in his native tongue.

I fully understand the frustrations of the Israeli people. I sympathize -- and I sympathize with the frustrations of the Palestinian people, those who long for normalcy, those who want to send their kids to school and go to work. There's got to be a much more concerted effort by Chairman Arafat and others to stop terror. Terror is -- so long as there is this rein of terror, there will be no peace in that sense, so therefore stopping terror can make the conditions right for peace. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). QUESTION: Mr. President, do we know in advance about the invasion, and what's your position, should Israelis get out of the compound? Should they continue their military action or quit?

BUSH: This is a -- Israel is a democratically elected government, and the government is responding to the will of the people for there to be more security, and Israel will make decisions necessary to defend herself.

My point to the Israeli government is, as you do so, keep in mind there must be an avenue toward a peaceful settlement. As you defend yourself, and you have a right to do so, please keep in mind and work with the region to develop a strategy that will end up in a peaceful settlement.

Thank you all for coming.

GARRETT: Fredricka, let me summarize a few of the points the president made. His words really speak for themselves. But on the question of the U.N. Security Council resolution, the president only notified or made reference to one part of that Security Council resolution, calling for an immediate cease-fire. He made no reference to the call endorsed by the Security Council and backed by the states that Israel should withdraw from Ramallah. Not at a date certain, but at least should withdraw.

The president had a chance to say that was the policy of the United States government in support of the U.N. Security Council. He did not. He also made a reference to the E.U. president, Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, saying that in Spain and the rest of the European community there should be a strong condemnation of terror.

What has been coming out of the European community, however, is a condemnation of the Israeli incursion into Ramallah. So it appears the president is almost by himself trying to reorient European attention and also Arab attention away from the Israeli incursion into Ramallah into one that is a unified voice against terrorist acts committed against Israelis.

The president also addressed the question about whether it should be stepped-up U.S. involvement. He made reference to Vice President Cheney's trip to the region. I can tell you, privately, within the Bush White House, many considered that trip less successful than they had hoped for, and they're very upset about what at the time Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat had pledged to Vice President Cheney that he would implement an immediate cease-fire. He did that while Mr. Cheney was in the region; that didn't happen.

There were more suicide bombing attacks, and that is why the Bush administration has been so entirely dismissive of the call on Friday from Chairman Arafat to have that immediate cease-fire. The Bush administration has said nothing about that. Secretary of State Powell said nothing about it yesterday; President Bush said nothing about it today. So twice, senior administration officials have been in the position to at least give Mr. Arafat some credit for that. They've chosen not to, because they consider it to be an entirely shallow gesture on the part of the Palestinian Authority.

One other point, the president said the Iranians and Syrians need to do more to assist the peace process. The Iranians, by not shipping armaments to the Palestinian Authority. In January, it shipped 50 tons of arms. It was intercepted by the Israeli government -- that came from Iran. And the Syrians walked out on the Security Council consideration early this morning on this resolution about Israel pulling out from Ramallah. Some key points to the president's statements -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks very much, Major Garrett traveling with the president. And more specifically, too, President Bush said his administration has made several calls to the region. And he said the region itself must condemn any acts of violence. At the same time, he said Israel must keep in mind that there has to be a road toward peace.

The road that Israel has chosen is that it continues to besiege Ramallah, the headquarters of Yasser Arafat there. And at the same time during this very bloody melee there over the past 18 months in Israel, yet one more explosion taking place in Tel Aviv earlier today in a cafe. In all now, since September alone, 1,000 Palestinians have died and 383 Israelis have been killed. March being the bloodiest month so far. Two hundred Palestinians and 100 Israelis killed.

Bill Hemmer is in Jerusalem, where he is keeping tabs on the most recent explosion taking place at a Tel Aviv cafe -- Bill, what do you know there?

HEMMER: Yeah, Fredricka, a little more information right now, during this the holiest or one of the holiest weeks for the Middle East -- far from it at this point.

We continue to see more violence and more bloodshed yet again today. We're getting a confirmation right now through Israeli television, a claim of responsibility for that explosion in Tel Aviv. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has claimed responsibility for that suicide bombing. They identify the bomber as a 23-year-old man, Mohammed Salahad (ph) from the West Bank town - the northern West Bank town of Nablus.

The Al Aqsa Brigade is the military is the military branch of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. You might remember it was about 10 days ago when Secretary of State Colin Powell put the Al Aqsa Brigade on the terrorist list for the United States, essentially trying to isolate that group and cut off all funding either in or out to the brigade -- the martyr brigade here in the Middle East.

As that is happening, the hospital now in Tel Aviv reporting that 29 injured, six severely. And the bomber, they say, is dead. All this happened, again, about 90 minutes ago in central Tel Aviv right along Allenby (ph) Street. This is a very populated area of Tel Aviv. It's described to us as a market area, a lot of shops, a lot of stores, restaurants and cafes lining up and down the street. And the other thing that is quite critical about that street in Tel Aviv, many of those buildings are lined with glass in front. So if indeed an explosion hit a lot of that glass, you can imagine the damage could have been quite severe.

Again, the numbers -- and they will change, though -- 29 injured; six severely, and the bomber, we are told are dead-- is dead rather.

I want to leave Tel Aviv right now and go specifically to the West Bank town of Ramallah. It was about two hours ago when Saeb Erakat, chief Palestinian negotiator, contacted CNN. He says the Israeli government right now has given Yasser Arafat and those inside that compound an ultimatum. They say they will storm that compound and arrest anyone they come upon inside. Again, that's the word from the Palestinian side about two hours ago.

Some reports also about missiles being fired into that compound. We do have crews on the scene there, and as soon as we can contact them on the ground, certainly we will continue to chase that side of the story down.

Suffice it to say, this is Holy Saturday on the Christian calendar here in the Middle East. More violence hitting Israel proper, and Yasser Arafat still surrounded. Israeli troops just a few feet away from him inside that compound in the town of Ramallah -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Now, Bill, you made it clear you have just returned -- you have just gotten in that area. But in your travels when you talk to Israelis there, they said that it is their ambition to stay off the streets. But in the area where this cafe has taken place, unfortunately it appears as though it still was an area that appealed to a number of people on this evening.

HEMMER: Indeed, you're right. And it was crowded. And, again, this was the end of the day on Saturday. The sun had gone down, Sabbath essentially was broken. Passover does continue here in Israel, it will go until Thursday of next week.

But that is a time, Fredricka, where many Israelis have seen the violence pick up. In fact, it was two weeks ago tonight here in Jerusalem a very popular cafe, Cafe Moment (ph), another suicide bomber struck there. At least 10 were killed that night.

It appears oftentimes Israelis continue to be targets when the Sabbath is broken. During Saturday evenings, when a lot of Israelis wander back into the streets for a movie or for dinner or for a cafe, a stop in for some coffee, or anything like that in Tel Aviv or here in Jerusalem. You mentioned I just got here, and indeed I did. I landed at 4:00 local time in Tel Aviv, just about six and a half hours ago. But in speaking with about a dozen Israelis, they tell me that a number of people are simply staying home and staying off the streets. Trying to avoid large crowds is what they indicate to me.

But in Tel Aviv -- in talking with some Israelis here in Jerusalem -- apparently Tel Aviv has not been a chief target for terrorism. In many ways they've been somewhat inoculated. We had the incident in Netanya last week, which is north of Tel Aviv. But specifically in Tel Aviv it has not necessarily been a major target for suicide bombers. They indicate -- the Israelis I've talked to, anyway -- indicate that because of that feeling of a little more isolation, possibly a little more protection, they may have felt that indeed it was OK to venture out into the streets tonight. But once again, violence has struck -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks very much. Bill Hemmer, reporting from Jerusalem, of course we'll be keeping tabs with you throughout the afternoon.

We want to bring in now General Wesley Clark, who has been so great to stick around and help us understand the military strategy here. Thanks again for joining us, General.

CLARK: Thank you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well the Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, has said earlier, apparently, that they have received an ultimatum from Israel. If that is indeed the case, what is the logic behind this strategy that Israel -- the Israeli government seems to be putting forth?

CLARK: Well, if it's true that the Israelis did say -- and we don't know that it's true...

WHITFIELD: Correct.

CLARK: ... did say that they were going to come into the compound, the exact building where Arafat is, then it's a warning designed to prevent violence or reduce the possibility of violence and tell Arafat's people not to resists. Stay away from their windows and doors, stay back in the center of the room, put the weapons down and let the Israelis come in. So it's far from being the kind of move that you would take if you were determined to wipe out Arafat's command operation there. You would attack it with missiles and bombs and other things.

So -- but the larger picture is that the Israelis are trying to create a defense by having an offensive strike into the Palestinian- held areas. This is a long-term effort by Israel. It's been going on for years, as the Israelis have gone back into these areas. Over the last 18 months, they've had to do it several times. They're looking for weapons, they're looking for commander control, they're looking for specific individuals who they know may be involved. And they're trying to disorganize and make it more difficult for the Palestinians to organize their terrorist activities.

The problem is that even an effective military operation such as the Israelis are capable of running is an imperfect defense, as we're seeing the Palestinian suicide bombers are still getting through. And so this struggle continues. It's the Israelis' military directed against what they believe are legitimate military targets against the Palestinians' response. All they have to fight back with, at this point, is the suicide bombers, and that's what they're using. And it's a decade old -- more than a decade old Palestinian strategy. WHITFIELD: Is there a way in which you can estimate just what the new Israeli strategy would be given the fact that, as you said, as they seem to make their way into Ramallah and there are still other Palestinian militants who make their way out of that region into crowded streets of Israel and they're setting off explosions, what might be the next step that the Israeli military might take in order to do what President Bush says is Israel is defending itself and trying to quell violence by moving into Ramallah? What might be the next military Israeli step?

CLARK: I think there are some military steps and I think there are some non-military steps that Israel will have to contemplate. On the military side, of course, it's a matter of how long they stay in these occupied areas and how long they search and how intensively they search and how long they detain people. How many they detain, how thorough they are in checking the backgrounds and doing interrogations. It could last days, it could last weeks, it could last longer than that.

And then beyond that, the non-military measures. I mean it has to involve greater control over the Palestinian population. Whether that's the creation of buffer zones or the creation of some kind of shadow Israeli authority in the Palestinian areas to regulate access back into Israel, or even certain areas that no Palestinians might be allowed into.

I'm sure that the Israeli government is looking at all these measures. And the longer it goes on, of course, the greater the restrictions, the greater the economic dislocation and the hardship on the Palestinian people will be.

WHITFIELD: And President Bush made it very clear during his address earlier today that the region itself must take responsibility by condemning violence. If not by reaching Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat directly, then at least sending a strong message to the world that the region is in support of any plan to promote peace.

CLARK: That's right. And we have to look at the motives and the methods of the various governments in the region. Essentially, what several of these governments have done is they have exported their domestic discontent over their own economic circumstances, the lack of democracy at home. And they focused it on anger at the Israeli relationship with the Palestinians.

And so it's time for these governments and others to turn that policy around and make strong efforts to curtail the support to the Palestinians. Tell Yasser Arafat in no uncertain terms that the terrorist attacks have to stop. And when that starts to happen and we hear it on Al Jazeera and other Arab television networks, and when the government-controlled newspapers begin to condemn the Palestinian terror, then there's a possibility of moving beyond this phase into a resumption of a diplomatic dialogue.

WHITFIELD: General Zinni is still in the region. Just when the Bush administration had felt very hopeful and publicly announced that it was very optimistic about the progress of peace talks there, yet more developments of violence there. What, if anything more, would be your advice to the Bush administration as to what it can do to help promote some sort of diplomacy, if there is still an opportunity for that?

CLARK: Well I do think that we have to be very careful about optimistic statements in diplomacy. I learned my lessons in the Balkans, and Richard Holbrooke, who was the chief of our party, was very careful in saying anything optimistic during the course of the shuttle diplomacy there that went on for months to try to stop that war.

WHITFIELD: So this was a mistake?

CLARK: Well I think it -- I think it -- you always set yourself up for unpleasant surprises by trying to heard people into the acts that you want by generating a sense of optimism. This is a long-term 50-year struggle -- or more than 50-year struggle in the Middle East. And so progress is going to be very difficult there. But I do think that General Zinni's presence there is still constructive. It still represents a pipeline, a commitment by the United States to try to get something going.

The question is: Can anything be done politically while the bombings are ongoing? And I think that's a very difficult problem. Yasser Arafat had a generous agreement, a more generous agreement than most Israelis were prepared to have offered in the summer of 2000, which he rejected. It's going to take quite a work of art to be able to generate a political dialogue now in the midst of the ongoing struggle without making it look as though the Israelis have compromised and given in because they've said no talks until the terrorism stops. Or, on the other hand, that the Palestinians have fallen off their earlier demands for a better settlement and are now willing to take what they had in the summer of 2000.

And so it's a difficult problem. The administration solved it by relying on the Mitchell plan and George Tenet's plan for the cease- fire. And Tony Zinni is there trying to encourage people to get there step by step. It's still the best compromise solution that we've been able to craft.

WHITFIELD: The Al Aqsa Brigade, which is a splinter group of Arafat's Fatah movement, they have claimed responsibility for the recent explosion taking place in Tel Aviv this afternoon at a cafe there. Do you see this suicide bombing as a direct correlation or response to the Israeli government making its move on the compound of Arafat?

CLARK: Probably not. I mean these suicide bombings take place over a period of time. Individuals are identified, they're trained, their emotions are set. They had their last meetings with their families, the families receive remuneration in most cases -- much of it coming from Saddam Hussein -- and then they move. And there are probably a number of additional suicide bombers in the queue waiting to go.

So I think it was a question of where the target was and when the most appropriate time was to strike that target, more than a specific response at the move of the Israelis against the Arafat compound.

WHITFIELD: How concerned are you, as the world continues to watch the developments and the continued hurdles in the Middle East, that these militant groups continue to get the kind of attention that they are exactly seeking -- these martyrs particularly -- as these bombings, as the shootings take place? They continue to get the publicity that they're looking for as all eyes continue to watch the Middle East progress and lack thereof.

CLARK: It is a factor, Fredricka. And you know the news, both the press and the media, are part of this struggle. They bring attention and they bring pressure on one side or the other. And so from the Palestinian standpoint, it's to their advantage to point out the use of Israeli material and rockets firing against headquarters and so forth. And from the Israeli standpoint, of course, we're horrified to see the scenes from the massacre in Tel Aviv.

And we're part of this struggle. It's the nature of modern conflict as the media gets involved. I think what's important here is that we continue to point out to the viewers that first reports are incomplete, that there are two sides to this struggle. And that political leaders are engaged and that of course the information that's coming out is part of the struggle.

WHITFIELD: All right. General Wesley Clark, thanks very much for joining us. I'm going to -- I'm certain we're going to be asking you to stick around, because we may be revisiting this dialogue as developments continue through the afternoon.

So let me recap for you if you're just now joining us. Once again, in the Middle East, in Tel Aviv specifically, at a cafe, an explosion this afternoon there. Dozens have been injured the Al Aqsa Brigade, which is a wing of the Arafat Fatah movement, have claimed responsibility, as they have in recent weeks for a number of explosions that have taken place in that region.

But, today, that explosion taking place involving at least one suicide bomber. We'll providing you information on the casualties there. The numbers are still coming in. All this taking place as Israeli forces continue to take control and siege the Arafat compound in Ramallah there. There have been reports that Israeli helicopters have fired rockets there. We're still waiting for confirmation there.

A Palestinian negotiator has said specifically that he knows of reports of rockets being struck at the Arafat compound there in Ramallah. All of this taking place simultaneously as President Bush in his -- at his camp in Crawford, Texas also commented today, saying that the region must take responsibility and do what it can to condemn violence.

He says that he is deeply concerned about the loss of life. There has got to be a peaceful solution. He spoke with reporters earlier today. He says, "I think Chairman Arafat can do more. He needs to stand up and condemn in Arabic about these incidents." He says, "Arafat must do a better job of preventing Palestinian terrorists from going into Israel to blow up people." Of course we'll be bringing you more on this as the developments unfold.

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