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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Interview with Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz, IDF

Aired April 4, 2002 - 06:00   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.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news out of Israel, out of Bethlehem. We had word that Israeli military blew a small door off the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, you know, the place where Jesus was born, and where 200 Palestinians have been holed up for several days now.

We want to go live to the phone right now and talk with Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Rafowicz -- Lieutenant Colonel, good morning.

LT. COL. OLIVIER RAFOWICZ, ON THE PHONE: Good morning.

COSTELLO: Tell me exactly what happened. What did the Israeli military do to the Church of the Nativity?

RAFOWICZ: We are actually trying to arrest terrorists inside the church. You know, they took hostages. We have seen that they took at least 40 or 50 priests in the church, and we are actually trying by a negotiation process since last night to be in contact with them in order to ask them peacefully to leave the church.

In the last hour, we know that several terrorists with weapons, with rifles, and some maybe with explosive (ph) belts, have left the church. And we are now trying to arrest them outside the church, but nothing has been done in the church, and the Israeli army is aware of all of the sensitivities of this holy place for the Christian world. We also know that the terrorists inside the church have leadership, which is directly connected to Mr. Arafat. We can assume that Arafat is directly responsible for this terrorist activity by Tanzim, by Hamas, by Islamic Jihad, inside the church.

COSTELLO: Lieutenant, we are getting conflicting reports. We had word from someone inside the church that a door was blown off on the south side of the church, and there some gunfire fired inside.

RAFOWICZ: There is gunfire outside the church. It is correct, because we are trying now by different means to arrest these terrorists. We know that they are very senior terrorists, and we have to arrest them. But we are very aware of the place, so we don't carry out any activity inside the church or in the compound of the church.

COSTELLO: So no Israeli soldiers stormed inside the church through that door that was blown off. RAFOWICZ: We have no forces inside the church. We have no forces in the compound. We are around, we are observing, we are waiting, and we are still hoping for a happy end to this terrible tragedy, because we want to help the monks, the priests. And we hope very much that the leadership of the Palestinian Authority or Mr. Arafat himself will be responsible enough to ask his own people inside the church to be, I will say, wise enough to leave this holy place and to make a happy end to this terrible event, when terrorists, Islamic terrorists are taking by force a Christian place.

COSTELLO: We have conflicting reports about that too, about whether the people holed up inside the church were armed or not. Were they armed?

RAFOWICZ: I don't understanding your question -- I am sorry.

COSTELLO: Are the Palestinians who are holed up in the Church of the Nativity armed? Do they have guns?

RAFOWICZ: All of them are armed with at least Kalashnikovs, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) some of them with explosive belts inside the church.

COSTELLO: We also had conflicting reports that there were women and children inside the church. Is that true?

RAFOWICZ: Again, please?

COSTELLO: We had reports that there were women and children, and that the people inside the church are actually just hiding out in fear and are not terrorists.

RAFOWICZ: We have some information, which is not still confirmed, that some women may be -- and nuns are still in the church on the second floor with the priests. But we are asking them, all of them, they are able to leave freely and peacefully this place. We ask everybody there to leave the place. We have no intention for -- no intention to make any damage to this holy place of the Christian world.

COSTELLO: Has anyone left the church as of yet?

RAFOWICZ: As I said before, we know that several terrorists have left the place, the church itself. That's why right now we are trying to arrest them outside the church. They are very dangerous people. They are very senior terrorists, and we have to arrest them, because for us, it's a vital mission, and that actually is the main (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of this mission to arrest terrorists and to make an end to terrorism from the Palestinian side.

COSTELLO: And the reason you can't arrest them immediately is because they are armed, is that what you are saying?

RAFOWICZ: We don't (UNINTELLIGIBLE), first, because they are armed, and second, because they are very close to the church. So we are proceeding very carefully with all of our actions and all our operations in this very sensitive context. COSTELLO: Because the Church of the Nativity is important historically to so many people, can you tell me about the damage inflicted to the church?

RAFOWICZ: We don't want to inflict any damage to the church. As a matter of fact, I hope very much that the Palestinians inside have not inflicted any damage inside. We don't know what is going on inside. We just know that the priests are afraid. The priests are afraid to leave. They even don't want to talk with us, because they are afraid from pressure from the Tanzim people on the third floor.

I personally have some contact this morning with an Italian priest, and he told me that he is afraid, that he cannot talk to me, because the Tanzim people from the Fatah linked to Yasser Arafat have just (AUDIO GAP)

COSTELLO: All right. We seem to have lost Lieutenant Colonel Olivier Rafowicz, but we do thank him for joining us this morning. Again, it's the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. We understand that a south door was blown off, and some of the alleged terrorists inside are outside, and the Israeli Defense Forces are now trying to arrest them. Of course, we will keep updated as information comes to us.

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