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Sharon Says He Will Expedite Withdrawal From West Bank

Aired April 6, 2002 - 16:44   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: An official response now coming from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, hours after U.S. President Bush urges a Israeli withdrawal of Palestinian territories without delay. We go now to Jerrold Kessel. He's in Jerusalem with a response from Prime Minister Sharon -- Jerrold.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, very interesting. Prime Minister Sharon, within hours as you say, of the president making clear that he wants Israeli troops to begin and to get out of those Palestinian areas in the West Bank. Mr. Sharon telling President Bush that Israel will expedite the end to its offensive against the Palestinian towns in the West Bank. In a telephone conversation between Prime Minister Sharon and the president, Mr. Sharon saying that Israel was conscious of the U.S. desire to have Israel end its offensive as quickly as possible.

That's what the statement from the prime minister's office has said of this conversation. Just interestingly, an hour or two, just before that, we've spoken to top Israeli officials and they had been more or less taking the same line that they had been in -- in -- to the degree that there had been some ambiguity in the president's and the United States' position from Thursday night when Mr. Bush announced the U.S. initiative of when exactly he expected Israel to begin, as he had said then, this pullout and the stop the incursions into the Palestinian area.

Well, the ambiguity wept away. It was absolutely clear from what the president had to say this evening here that he wanted it to be done right away. And yet, Israeli officials were saying they saw a parallel in the double-barrelled demand of the president both for the Palestinians to crack down on terror and for Israel to get rid of its reoccupation or its offensive in the Palestinian areas. And the two -- the two criteria needed to be met.

But now Prime Minister Sharon has made it clear that he understands that the president has said he means business, he wants Israel out, and he, Mr. Sharon, has indicated he will do that, expedite the Israeli withdrawal from those Palestinian territories -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, Jerrold, it still seems like there's some room for interpretation on what he really means by expediting, because it doesn't sound as though from the statements that Sharon is saying that he's going to immediately withdraw. KESSEL: Yes, you could put that interpretation onto it. I think what we could perhaps be -- be seeing, and I think perhaps the United States will live with that, is that that let's not forget that now Israel has its troops in half a dozen of the Palestinian towns, all but two of the Palestinian towns on the West Bank, and has had control over nearly all the areas in those Palestinian towns. But it could be the Israelis will withdraw pretty quickly from a couple or three of those Palestinian towns.

Now one of the complications has been is that today and yesterday, but particularly today, there's been some very, very heavy fighting in two of the Palestinian towns and in the refugee camp adjacent to those Palestinian towns of Nablus and Jenin, with a heavy loss of life. Now, the question will be whether Mr. Sharon will order the Israeli army to end those operations, even though they really could be said to be in the middle of some heavy fighting, and in a sense to withdraw in the midst of those fighting in those towns.

Well, that could be a point in contention, but I dare say we'll some withdrawals in a very short time of the Israelis, perhaps not from all the towns. But you're quite right that Mr. Sharon did not spell out absolutely that he'll be out and the Israeli troops will be out from all those Palestinians towns within hours or immediately.

But I do believe that given what Mr. Sharon has said, we probably will see the beginning very shortly of that withdrawal.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks very much, Jerrold Kessel from Jerusalem. So once again, a response from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon saying its offensive will be expedited, but still room for interpretation on that. Of course, we'll have more information on that story at the top of the hour. I'm Fredricka Whitfield from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

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