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Palestinians Call for Powell to Visit Jenin

Aired April 12, 2002 - 05:58   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And we're going to go live to Jerusalem right now, where Ariel Sharon and Colin Powell are expected to hold a news conference. They have been meeting now for about two- and-a-half hours. We've got a warning that this news conference would get off soon, but who knows if it really will?

We don't know exactly what they are talking about in there, but Colin Powell is expected to ask Ariel Sharon for more of a pullback militarily and a commitment to think about a Palestinian state. We'll know more, of course, when they come out.

Colin Powell is also scheduled to meet with Yasser Arafat on Saturday, where he is expected to take a tough stance and tell Yasser Arafat to renounce terrorism.

We want to go live to Jerusalem too -- you're looking at live pictures right now. But our Jerrold Kessel is there right now too. Jerrold, what can you tell us?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Carol. And we are waiting now that news conference of the secretary of state and Ariel Sharon at the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem to see what might have materialized at these two meetings this morning. The first was a tit-for-tat between the two, Mr. Sharon and Mr. Powell, and then afterwards, an expanded meeting of officials of the two sides.

And we heard that as they came across from the meeting between the two principles, and Mr. Powell was asked by reporters shouting out what's happening? And he said, we're having a good meeting. But quite clearly, that may have been a good meeting. We'll wait to hear about that.

But it comes against a growing shadow over this mission of controversy over what went on in the refugee camp in Jenin, the site of the fiercest battle of this two-week and more Israeli military offensive in what is called the crackdown on the sources of Palestinian terror. With the two sides not just charging and counter- charging about how many people, how many Palestinians were killed in that Israeli offensive, but really whether this bearing on the nature of the Powell mission.

And because the Palestinians are making such really very, very strong accusations of what went on in the refugee camp, Palestinian officials are saying it seems difficult how we can discuss a question of cease-fire while we don't address this question of what they call a massacre in the Jenin camp. And that in a sense is a parallel to what the Israelis have been saying in advance of the meeting between Mr. Sharon and Mr. Powell that from the Israeli point of view, it's typical to see, they said, how we can address a cease-fire until we have completed our mission against terror.

COSTELLO: Jerrold?

KESSEL: And that was what the secretary of state was up against on both sides -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Jerrold, I want to jump in here, because something just came over the wire that I want to ask you about that specifically addresses Jenin. It says here, "U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Friday that the situation in the Middle East is so serious that the sending of an international force into the occupied territories cannot be put off." Kofi Annan is saying that an international force must be sent there now. Would they be welcome?

KESSEL: Well, the Palestinians would welcome it with open arms. They have been saying for a long, long time now that that's precisely what they need, they say protection, and they will clearly use the events of however controversial and whatever different versions there are of the events in the Jenin camp to underline that demand for international observers, but also for what they call an informational force.

Now, until now, clearly the Israelis have been very, very set against that, and it could be that the question, not so much of a force, but of observers might come up in the context of the secretary of state's vision, as he lays it out on how to get a stabilizing cease-fire in place.

But quite frankly, I don't think we're at that -- anywhere near that first base in the effort to get a cease-fire, but that could be -- and you're right to point that out - the fact that the U.N. secretary-general is stepping in with such a strong statement at this stage, it could be that we may get some kind of rolling demand in the international community, which steps up the demand for an international imposition (ph) of a new situation rather than this Powell mediation attempt to get some kind of stabilizing situation in the form of just one kind of cease-fire or another.

COSTELLO: And Jerrold -- Jerrold -- Jerrold, let me ask you again about Colin Powell and the possibility that he may go to the Jenin refuge camp to see for himself what's happened there.

KESSEL: Well, that is a big question. It's a difficult one to call at this stage, and it would be a dramatic departure if Mr. Powell does decide to do that. We should point out that the Palestinians were actually very firm in making the statement, the allegation as they call it, that there was a massacre, that Ariel Sharon was a war criminal, that the army commander should be -- charges should be pressed in international war tribunals against them.

They call for Mr. Powell to go to the refugee camp. And they said it should be urgent, because they say that would help in them being able to -- the people there being able to bury their dead, their families -- members of their families who were killed.

Now, the problem with that is the Israelis, until today, have not allowed the press in there, but are being very wary (ph) about allowing any international outsiders into the camps at all, and there is a big question of whether the burials will take place, at least some of them, under the auspices of the Israeli army.

We have been hearing that perhaps there will be burials of those who the Israelis designate quite clearly as gunmen or as terrorists, and that they will bury them as they have done in the past in clashes with Palestinian or Arab gunmen elsewhere. But there is still a big question of those civilian dead, if you like, in the refugee camp...


KESSEL: ... and what will happen to them. It is a big question, and it's a big question of whether Colin Powell chooses to get a first-hand look at that.

COSTELLO: Well, we'll see, as we wait for Ariel Sharon and Colin Powell to come out of that building in Jerusalem. I just want to talk about the tremendous pressure that is on Colin Powell to achieve something in Israel. King Abdullah of Jordan told Powell, "Your trip is of tremendous importance. We are worried if you fail," and then his voice just trailed off. Just the pressure that Colin Powell must be feeling is enormous.

KESSEL: It is enormous. It was interesting to hear him saying yesterday in Madrid just before he set out for the region immediately when he was speaking alongside the Russian foreign minister, Mr. Ivanov, yesterday, and he was asked about, "Aren't you pessimistic?" And he said, "Well, it's not my mindset to be pessimistic." But he did lay out beyond that a kind of what you could say a road map of how he meant to handle the situation in respect of the one big issue of the Israelis pulling back.

Now, for the last week, that had been, it seemed to be, the focus of things. The Israeli -- the need to get Prime Minister Sharon to agree to roll back immediately this Israeli military offensive. It seemed yesterday the way the secretary of state was speaking that they dropped that demand for immediate Israeli pullback, because Prime Minister Sharon had been so adamant he wasn't going to do that until he believed he had completed his mission or his troops had completed their mission to at least eradicate as they saw it best the sources of terror.

Now, Mr. Powell stepping into that situation has got an awesome task ahead of him. But it's not just with the Israelis, because the Israelis are saying the meeting today wasn't as important. The meeting tomorrow with Yasser Arafat, that's the important one, because there, Mr. Powell is under pressure to get Yasser Arafat to make some kind of dramatic statement against terror, against suicide bombings. It seems difficult to imagine how Mr. Arafat is going to do that, when they are talking about a massacre in Jenin. COSTELLO: That's true.

KESSEL: So, well, awesome is not the word to describe the challenge that Mr. Powell faces.

COSTELLO: Oh, yes. We want to hear more from King Abdullah of Jordan right now. Let's listen to what he had to say to our Christiane Amanpour.


KING ABDULLAH, JORDAN: It's a make it or break it trip, I see, to both these leaders to say this is what it's going to take, and this is what we expect from you. We, as the United States, are saying to both sides you're going to do one, two, three. Once we understand a bit more of what Colin Powell has achieved with both of those parties, then we can build on that. And so, unfortunately as frustrated as all of us are, we are going to have to see what Saturday and Sunday provides, and I hope to God that there is that window.


COSTELLO: King Abdullah of Jordan.




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