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Yasser Arafat Remains Trapped in Compound

Aired April 11, 2002 - 14:11   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.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, Saturday is the day that Yasser Arafat will sit down face-to-face with Colin Powell. He's been inside of his compound now in Ramallah, what's left of it, anyway, for 13 days. Tomorrow morning when the sun comes up will mark an even two weeks.

Michael Holmes has been stationed there throughout this entire ordeal. Let's go to Michael now this evening, for that meeting that will take place in about a day and a half's time. Michael, good evening to you.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Bill. Yes, what Colin Powell will find at the Palestinian Authority headquarters, quite simply, is a mess. Last time I was there -- and I've been there several times over the last couple of weeks -- is walls knocked down, perimeter walls knocked down. Buildings around Yasser Arafat's own office building, severely damaged. Damage by tank fire, damage by gunfire.

Tanks can do a lot of damage and they've certainly done it at the compound. We've heard over the last couple of days -- and I've spoken to several people inside Yasser Arafat's own building -- there has been firing at various buildings, including security offices, there within the compound.

And for those who haven't heard us talk about it before, it's not a small place. It's several acres in size. It has a number of buildings on it, one of which is Yasser Arafat's, including his office, his sleeping area, all in the same building. Inside that building, Bill, it's a mess.

We went in there, gee, it was over a week ago now. I guess you can see there's a map of compound. It's not a small place. When we went in there, over a week ago now, it was already becoming very crowded. Peace activists are in there, more than 30 of them, we're told. And they, adding to the crowd that is cramming this area.

One of the main concerns -- and it's a concern of various people that have been in there, including international delegations, U.N. people and the like, is sanitary. The water is infrequent, usually not on at all. And without going into too many details, if the water is not on, the bathrooms aren't working. And I can leave the rest to your imagination. You know, I spoke with an electrician, a Palestinian electrician, who was called out there to the compound to turn the power back on. And he did most of that work from outside the building. And when I -- when he left, we spoke to him. I asked him what he noticed about the building when he was up so close. He said, "The smell."

So if Colin Powell does indeed go in the building, as he is planning to do, he's going to find some pretty primitive conditions going on there. Water is short, food is very short. And hygiene and sanitation, obviously a critical issue -- Bill.

HEMMER: Painting a pretty interesting picture inside there, Michael. Quickly here, we do know that Colin Powell is going to carry a stiff message to Yasser Arafat about denouncing terrorism publicly in Arabic once again. Have you been able to gauge, on the Palestinian perspective, how they might likely take that message from the secretary of state?

HOLMES: Well, in the past, Yasser Arafat has said -- and he said it at a news conference I was at just a day before the tanks came in -- he said, think about to December. Now, in December he says he made that message. He said that he said that he condemned terrorism in Arabic.

Israel says it's not enough. It's certainly not recent enough. The U.S. is also of that opinion, that it's very easy for him to perhaps make that statement again. He can do so at anytime. There will be certainly pressure on him to do that. Whether he actually does it or not, I'm not sure.

But I can tell you one thing, Bill, that tomorrow the Palestinian negotiating team that was set up after Anthony Zinni's visit to the compound, they're going to be meeting with Yasser Arafat at 10:00 local time. And then they will go back and meet with Anthony Zinni.

Now, hopefully they're going to be laying out, they hope, some groundwork for when Colin Powell actually walks in the building, that they have something concrete to work on. One of the members of that team is Saeb Erakat, familiar to viewers as senior spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, also their chief negotiator. He also tonight, in a phone call just a few minutes ago, in fact, said he wants Colin Powell to go to Jenin, of course, the scene of serious fighting and many allegations.

He said he wants him to go in there and see for himself what has happened inside Jenin, and to push the Israelis to allow journalists and international monitors to go in there and see the situation in Jenin themselves -- Bill.

HEMMER: OK, Michael, thanks. Michael Holmes, working late with us here Ramallah. Michael, we'll be in touch with you again over the next two hours' time.

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