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Palestinian Authority Issues Statement Condemning Killings of Innocent Civilians

Aired April 13, 2002 - 09:28   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, our top story this morning, the story that is just filtering in to CNN, the Palestinian Authority leadership has issued a statement in Arabic condemning attacks against innocent civilian, both Israeli and Palestinian innocent civilians. The statement now is being floated around. The possibility exists that that might open the door for a meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. That remains to be seen, however.

For more on all this, we turn it now to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, who joins us from Jerusalem. Hello, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, they're studying the Arabic statement issued by the Palestinian leadership, a statement that seems to go perhaps as far as the secretary of state wanted.

Just to give us some perspective, remember, yesterday, Friday, late afternoon, here in Jerusalem, there was another suicide bombing at a -- right near an open air market in Jerusalem, near a bus station. Six Israelis were killed. The female suicide bomber was killed herself.

As a result of that incident, an incident which the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for, a group affiliated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, the secretary of state said he wants to hear a direct statement from Chairman Arafat condemning that sort of suicide terrorism, and until he heard it, he wasn't prepared to go to Ramallah on the West Bank to meet with the Palestinian leader.

The statement did not immediately come as a result. Today's meeting, which had been scheduled for now, that meeting was postponed at least 24 hours to give the Palestinians some time to come up with a statement. They've now come up with a statement which does, in fact, condemn strongly all the attacks which are targeting civilians, the statement says, from both sides, especially the attack that took place against Israeli citizens yesterday in Jerusalem.

That would seem to suggest the condition that the secretary of state had put forward has been met, although we won't have official word, as our own Andrea Koppel, our State Department correspondent, traveling with the secretary of state, reported just a little while ago. They're still studying the exact formulation. U.S. officials traveling with the secretary of state. We should be getting some word, though, fairly soon whether the meeting Sunday will go forward between Powell and Arafat.


O'BRIEN: I'm sure, Wolf, or I'm hopeful that you had a chance to hear the mayor of Jerusalem just a few moments ago, Ehud Olmert, talking about this very point. And he essentially said the fact that it took Palestinian Authority 24 hours to issue a statement, and it wasn't even in fact Yasser Arafat making a statement, televised or otherwise, that that's tepid at best and not enough. Do you think that's reflective of a lot of feeling within Israel right now?

BLITZER: Yes. There -- the Israelis, by and large, whether more dovish Israelis or hawkish Israelis, right wing, left wing, they've -- at least from what I can tell, they've lost an enormous amount of, of, of, of hope that Yasser Arafat is capable of being the peace partner that they had all hoped he would be after the 1993 signing of the Oslo agreement on the White House lawn, remember that picture of Arafat and the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin being brought together by then-President Clinton.

At the same time, there is a split here in Israel among some of the members of the national unity government. The foreign minister, Shimon Peres, of the Labor Party, for example, is still much more open to the possibility that Arafat might yet be able to negotiate some sort of cease-fire and eventual agreement with Israel, whereas most of the other Likud members, the majority of the government, led by the prime minister and including Mayor Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem, they're -- they seem to have lost all hope that Arafat is capable of reaching any sort of deal with Israel.

As a result, they're not interested, they're not anxious to see the secretary of state go to Ramallah and have that kind of meeting.

O'BRIEN: That's a bleak prospect. All right, Wolf Blitzer, who is in Jerusalem watching this story for us, we will be in touch with him as well as the rest of our team in the Middle East as the reaction to this statement dribbles out. Wolf, stand by, because we're going to be doing our "Reporter's Notebook" segment in just a few moments, and Wolf will be among the people fielding your e-mails and phone calls -- Kyra.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Senior political analyst Bill Schneider also weighing in with regard to the reaction to this statement. Bill, first thoughts?

BILL SCHNEIDER, SENIOR CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: First thoughts is that the statement is very, very carefully crafted. Words mean a great deal in the Middle East. And the word that seems to have the most importance here is the word "especially."

The statement says -- in English, it was issued in Arabic -- "We are condemning strongly all the attacks which are targeting civilians from both sides." Now, to just stop there, that's likely to make the Israelis very upset, because they claim that it implies an equivalence, which they won't accept, between what Israel is doing in the West Bank and the suicide attacks -- they call them homicide attacks -- on civilians in Jerusalem.

But then the statement goes on and says, "and especially the attack that took place against Israeli citizens yesterday in Jerusalem." So that seems to place special -- some kind of special emphasis on that particular incident as a matter of condemnation.

So it's a very carefully calibrated statement, unlikely to satisfy the Israelis, but the American administration, we'll see.

PHILLIPS: What do you think? Is this enough? Is this enough to bring Arafat and Powell together?

SCHNEIDER: Depends on how important the -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- it depends on the emphasis that the administration chooses to place. If they -- if this administration clearly wants a cease-fire, they may well consider it enough. That's a matter of judgment. I can't make that judgment. But it does seem to me that the United States has a primary interest in ending the violence, in getting a cease-fire, in pressuring the Israelis to withdraw and the Palestinians to stop these attacks.

And therefore, it may be enough.

PHILLIPS: Politics back here at home, something else to consider. How do you see a kind of a -- do you see a fallout from the statement? Do you see some politicians getting up and moving and discussing this today?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think that there's going to be -- there is a debate in the United States. It's not particularly a partisan debate, because the president, in a way, is isolated in this. It's a test of his credibility and his prestige. Can he accomplish anything? Is Secretary Powell going to come out of this visit with anything at all? Because in a way, Zinni, Cheney, other visitors to the Middle East haven't really accomplished very much at all.

The president really has his credibility on the line here. So I'm -- I don't know if I'd describe it as a matter of partisan bickering. There are, of course, many Israel sympathizers, they're going to march here in Washington on Monday. There are critics of Israel, of course. But I -- it has not yet become a partisan issue.

But it does put the president and his entire administration politically on the spot.

PHILLIPS: Our Bill Schneider, thanks so much. We'll be talking to you again.


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