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Powell Mission Grows More Difficult Following Suicide Bombing

Aired April 12, 2002 - 14:28   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: The Palestinians are saying Colin Powell has to offer some element of hope toward Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian people to end the military incursions, and also eventually to get the Israeli military out of the West Bank. It's a tall order at this point. The U.S. government has pleaded now with Ariel Sharon's government to get out and end it.

Earlier in the week they were using the word "immediately." Yesterday though, they were not using that. And at midweek this week, Ariel Sharon essentially said publicly to the U.S. to back off the pressure right now in the military action. Israel says the operation has not yet met its goals and, therefore, it will not end until it does.

Meanwhile, tomorrow in Ramallah, there may or may not be a meeting now with Yasser Arafat. Here's Michael Holmes standing by on his post, where he has now for several weeks in the West Bank town, 10 miles from our location here. Michael, good evening.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Bill. That's right. I want to give you a little bit of news first. The three-man negotiating committee set up by -- under the auspices of U.S. special envoy Anthony Zinni has met this evening. That's fairly new news. They wrapped up that meeting about 20 minutes ago. They're trying to discuss what Colin Powell may be able to talk about with Yasser Arafat.

The three-man committee is now meeting amongst themselves. One source we've spoken to, very close to that committee, said to us that Colin Powell will have to work very hard to get a condemnation of terror from Yasser Arafat at the moment, with these incursions going on, with the events that are reported to have been occurring in Jenin, going on.

The source said: How can he condemn a suicide bombing in Jerusalem when no one is condemning or seeing or witnessing what has been going on in places like Jenin? That comes from a very senior Palestinian source.

Another source put it this way -- he said: How can he give a commitment about terrorism in Israel when he can't give a commitment to flush the toilet in his own headquarters? Reference there to the lack of water in the headquarters. Colin Powell, if he does come here to Ramallah tomorrow, has an interesting journey through a fairly shattered city. The curfew was lifted briefly yesterday. Back on in force today. And we encountered, in driving around today, how much it's in force. A military patrol, at one stage, threatening to take our keys from our armored car and leave us there, about a mile or two from our position here.

What do Palestinians expect from Colin Powell? Well, it's a question we put to people when the curfew was lifted briefly yesterday afternoon.


(voice-over): On a day when the curfew in Ramallah was briefly lifted, the people ventured out to shop, and talk of the visit of Colin Powell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God created for each human being, two ears to listen to both sides, two eyes to see both sides, and to be fair. Really. And it's about time. Enough is enough. Really.

HOLMES: Their city may be in tatters with soldiers still here, but there remains some hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We expect that the peace process will start and the violence will stop and the incursions will end. And peace will prevail again.

HOLMES: But plenty of doubt, too, that Colin Powell will achieve much.

(on camera): What do you want from Colin Powell? What do you hope for?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope a lot from Colin Powell. But I see nothing will change the situation here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want peace. Arabs want peace. But the Jewish want war. And Colin Powell support the terrorist of Sharon military action.

HOLMES (voice-over): In the heart of Ramallah, troops watching. An Israeli flag flying. A small demonstration, perhaps 20 people, mainly women. It ended with tear gas fired by nearby Israeli troops. Some saw the incident as a metaphor for Colin Powell's mission.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Actually I don't like his political movement because I feel that he and his administration give the Israeli government a cover to continue their military operation and war against us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Palestinian side and they just relax when it comes to Israel. So we don't expect too much. HOLMES: Some told us they had faith in the Americans, faith they could influence Israel. That faith eroded as the tanks, far from withdrawing without delay from Ramallah, remained firmly in place.

(on camera): If you could speak with Colin Powell, what would you tell him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I want to talk to someone. I want to talk with someone that have feeling. But I think Colin Powell don't have feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even though, as an American I'm opposed to terrorist activity, me, my children and my husband are subjected to living in our houses, not getting to work. Only going out when they are allowing us. I feel like I'm in prison. And we have done nothing wrong.

HOLMES (voice-over): During one interview, a stun grenade. Palestinian civilians getting too close to the watching troops.


HOLMES: The woman barely flinches.

(on camera): What would you say to Colin Powell if you could speak to him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, to push the issue forward and stay in the area as much as he can.

HOLMES (voice-over): And then the curfew returned and the streets went quiet once more.


Well, you see there, Bill, some hope and an awful lot of pessimism as well, and some doubts expressed by the Palestinians on the streets of Ramallah, during the brief lifting of the curfew. And let's bear in mind, that was before today's suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

Also, at Yasser Arafat's compound today, the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmad Maher, visited there. He later called on Israel to withdraw. He spoke of terrible conditions inside the building where Yasser Arafat remains with about a hundred other people. Back to you, Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Michael. We were told earlier in the week there was a possibility that Israeli tanks and troops would essentially back away from the compound if this meeting does take place. Do you have any word on how things will be facilitated when Colin Powell arrives there, if that meeting does take place tomorrow, on Saturday?

HOLMES: That's a good question, Bill. As you know last time we got there, we were not allowed near the place and, in fact, had stun grenades thrown into our midst. Whether the Israeli troops, the Israeli military will allow us to attend the compound tomorrow to record the arrival, we don't know until we get there, essentially.

As for the tanks themselves, we had heard the same thing you heard, Bill. That perhaps the tanks would be pulled back as a courtesy to Colin Powell, who probably doesn't want to be seen walking past Israeli tanks to visit Yasser Arafat. But certainly the tanks, if they withdrew from the compound, there's no sign that they would withdraw any further.

In Ramallah today, still plenty of military activity. Still plenty of tanks. And just before we came back on air, a loud explosion, perhaps a mile from here. It sounded like a tank round -- Bill.

HEMMER: Michael, we have been told that Yasser Arafat has essentially been emboldened, or strengthened, as a result of the action that took place there in Ramallah two weeks ago. Is that still the sense? Or, given the conditions, there is a lessening of that attitude?

HOLMES: Yes, we've spoken to a couple of people today, as recently as a couple of hours ago inside the compound. They still say that he is in extremely good spirits. And we saw, from a videotape a couple of days ago when Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, went in there, he was buoyed by that visit. And he seemed in very good spirits.

However, there is very much a sense from senior Palestinian sources we speak with that he is so -- in such good spirits that he's probably not in much of a mood to compromise, when it comes to making the statement that Colin Powell so wants to hear -- that is, a condemnation of all terror acts, like the one that took place in Jerusalem. They feel that it's impossible for him to make that statement while, in the words of one Palestinian, "what goes on in Jenin remains uncondemned" -- Bill.

HEMMER: Michael, thank you. Michael Holmes, doing great work there in Ramallah in the West Bank. Again, 10 miles from our location here in Jerusalem. Michael, we'll talk many times before tomorrow is out.





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