Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS


Palestinian Prisoner Transfer Expected in Ramallah

Aired May 1, 2002 - 14:00   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: This is a camera, through way of Al Jazeera another one through our CNN crew on the scene, and Matthew Chance, who are watching, essentially, the exterior of the compound of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah.

This just about 10 miles north of Jerusalem, several miles to the west of Jericho. You see the two locations there on the map in the Middle East.

We are awaiting the transfer and then the eventual drive from Ramallah to a jail in Jericho that will put, essentially, six Palestinian behind bars, behind lock and key, to be guarded by Palestinian police, and also, according to Andrea Koppel and sources at the State Department, British guardians -- British monitors -- at least at the beginning -- that will make sure and insure that all six do stay behind bars.

Yasser Arafat essentially will have freedom of movement once the transfer takes place and the Israeli tanks and troops withdrawal.

We do anticipate all that to happen at some point very soon.

And for more, back to Ramallah.

Here is Matthew Chance, with us live, again. Matthew, good evening.


Let's just go over exactly what we're watching here.

From our vantage point overlooking Yasser Arafat's battered presidential compound, here in the West Bank town of Ramallah that's been under siege by Israeli forces for more than a month now, since they moved in at the end of March.

Inside, 12 cars belonging to United States and British security experts, negotiators, too, who have been hammering out the fine details of this United States initiative to bring to an end this siege by transferring the six Palestinians inside that compound, alongside Yasser Arafat, and several hundred other people, we have to add, inside that compound, transferring them into international jurisdiction, or rather the jurisdiction of those British and United States experts. From there, we've been learning from Andrea Koppel at the State Department that they'll be taking under guard, past this location where we're talking to you from now, to the West Bank town of Jericho, and placed, at least initially, under guard by British verifiers, British guards, who will be able to verify to Israel that these people haven't simply been allowed to walk free once Israel allows them out, once Israeli lifts it's military imposition here in Ramallah, once they're pulled out.

The Palestinians also have their concerns, which they've been negotiating with the security experts about. Namely that they want security for these prisoners once they are handed over to the responsibility of the British and the American guards. They want them secure from Israeli attacks and they certainly want guarantees. And they want it in writing as well, that these people will not ever be handed over to the jurisdiction of the Israeli authorities.

Above us, a helicopter is circling, presumably carrying out some kind of monitoring activity. While we wait here. We've been waiting for well over an hour now, since those cars went in, to come out and make their way along this road, towards the prison facility in the Palestinian town of Jericho, were they will be held under international guard -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Matthew. Matthew Chance in Ramallah. We will not go far from you. We will certainly continue to watch this picture.

In the meantime, to John King, quickly, at the White House, to pick up what's happen evening there on that front today on the front lawn.

Here's our senior White House correspondent again -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, hello to you. The White House obviously watching very closely, hoping the implementation of this agreement goes well.

The question then becomes, if it does go well, where do we go from here?

You can look at this either from the glass half full perspective, if you will, and say finally, some progress after weeks and months of frustration. Or you can look from the glass half empty perspective, and many in the administration say unfortunately they do, that what you are resolving here is a short-term standoff. There's still no cease-fire. Still no agreement for Israel to allow more economic cooperation back and forth into the Palestinian territories. Still no commitment at all to any broader political dialogue about peace.

So, on the one hand, the administration celebrating the implementation of this accord, that it took a great deal of work from this president and his team to bring about. On the other hand, still a great deal of uncertainty about what happens next.

Obviously the situation in Bethlehem, still to be negotiated. Some cautious optimism from the United States side on that front. And then the question is, can you get into what certainly the Arab world wants this administration to do, pressure Israel into a political dialogue.

That will be one of the topics when prime P.M. Sharon is here next week. King Abdullah of Jordan is coming as well. As we've been discussing, the administration working closely with Saudis.

The question is, can you take this small step forward and turn into something much bigger.

There's a great deal of pessimism here at the White House. But they say this president is committed to trying.

HEMMER: John, once this situation subsides in Ramallah -- we've been talking about the fact that a lot of attention will then shift to Bethlehem and how you end the siege in the Church of the Nativity.

We've been led to believe that some lessons have been learned in Ramallah that may aid negotiators in taking care of Bethlehem. Do you have any insight on the particulars for what we're watching in Ramallah, and how that might be applied to Bethlehem?

KING: Well, as Ambassador Indyk was saying in the conversation you had just a few minutes ago, the United States has set a precedent here, that it is willing to send in monitors, jail keepers, to oversee a situation.

We know there have been conversations involving the United States, involving the European Union, about a very similar arrangement in resolving the situation at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

Something like that is on the table, as they try to convince the Israelis and the Palestinians to resolve peacefully.

So we could see a similar negotiations. That is one of the goals, certainly, to get to a negotiations where if there are parties in question, Israel says they are suspects, the Palestinians say no. Perhaps they can go into international jurisdiction for some period of time until that is worked out, and end the military confrontation at the church.

That is one of the possibilities and, again, the United States side voicing optimism that once we get through what they hope is just another hour or two here in Ramallah, and that this implementation is complete, that they can then resolve the other one.

The question, again though, from there is, remember, we are resolving issue that have nothing to do be broader disputes about borders, about a Palestinian state, about even a formal cease-fire agreement. That is the much bigger question mark that will have to be addressed if we have a little bit of optimism here, assuming this Ramallah implementation goes well, and assuming that, as some sides believe, the Bethlehem standoff will be resolved in the next 24 to 48 hours.

HEMMER: Interesting perspective, certainly. John, thanks -- John King at the White House.

Back to Ramallah and Matthew Chance. Same question: have you been able to glean, based on the people you've talked to there in Ramallah, about how this situation may be applied to Bethlehem?

I mean, certainly there is a United States involvement, and there's a British component as well. More than that, though, have we learned much?

CHANCE: Bill, it's difficult to say. But, obviously, this is perhaps a template that could be used, as we've been saying, as various analysts I've been listening to in my earpiece here, on the air.

There is a template possibility here, that this resolution here, if it comes off, and we're assuming that it's going to. We've got the cars. But if it comes off in successful way, many people here have suggested that it's a possibility that this same method, this same kind of initiative, could also be used to resolve the dispute in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity.

These are -- the thing is, though, a lot of people have been saying here, a lot of people have been complaining, coming to me and complaining, about the fact that these issues have sort of hijacked, in some ways, the whole issue of the crisis in the Middle East.

The crisis, remember, isn't about these sieges in Bethlehem and here in Ramallah. There are much deeper seated issues which also have to be addressed. And what people want is not just United States focus and involvement in resolving these one of (ph) instances of siege taking and resolution of the crises. They also want American, United States focus, European focus and attention to come to bear, to try and resolve some of the underlying issues really at the root of the Middle East crisis -- Bill.

HEMMER: Also, Matthew, you heard about an hour ago the adviser to Yasser Arafat, Nabil Abu Ruddeineh who was speaking live with us here on CNN. He's inside the compound, has been there since that siege started back on the 29th of March.

Were you surprised to hear him say Yasser Arafat has no plans to leave for the time being, that he'll stay there, in his words, with the Palestinian people in Ramallah?

CHANCE: I don't think I was surprised to hear him say that. Yasser Arafat has a lot of people to visit in the West Bank, also in the Gaza. There's a lot of damaged property he's going to want to go and visit, in a sort of show of support for what the people of the Palestinian territories have been enduring as well.

And remember, he's become an extremely popular figure, throughout this whole latest intifada. Not just amongst the Arab world, but specifically amongst the Palestinian people itself.

There had been a lot of dissatisfaction with his pretty corrupt regime previous to this. Now he's sort of been reinvented as the man who personifies, of course, more than anything else, the dreams of an independent Palestinian state.

So, undoubtedly, he is going to want to stay in the Palestinian territories, here in Ramallah, for a while, just to at least bask in that glory, if you will, once he is allowed to emerge from this compound, as we've been reporting, where he been cooped-up -- and everybody's been sort of focused on this-- where he's been cooped-up for well over a month now.

HEMMER: Matthew, thanks. Matthew Chance in Ramallah.

Want to shift our focus now, still on the West Bank, though, in the town of Jenin.

If you've been following the news over the past several days, the Israeli government has essentially blocked a U.N. team, a fact-finding team, as it is termed at the U.N. headquarters in New York, to go in and find out what indeed took place inside that refugee camp.

The Palestinians allege a massacre took place there. The Israeli government says it was, among other things, a fountainhead of terrorism activity that had to be extinguished, in their words.

Richard Roth has been tracking this from the U.N. And Richard, just to bring our viewers up to speed on this, it was just yesterday when the secretary of general, Kofi Annan, said he might have to disband that team and the fact that they would never get out of the country of Switzerland.

Is there more movement on that today? Is that fact-finding team essentially dead in the water -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The secretary general of the United Nations is on the verge of disbanding that mission, Bill.

The team has been in Geneva for nearly a week, and it's very likely that Annan will make his final decision sometime today.

His spokesman told journalist an hour or so ago that he had a lot of phone calls, Mr. Annan did, and that helped firm up his decision, whatever that is.

Annan is also meeting individually with members of the Security Council and other countries. Apparently he may not wait until this afternoon's Security Council meeting, where he hinted he would get more comment from. The decision could come even before that, in the next several hours.

It will be a bitter disappointment for Sect. Gen. Annan, who thinks it is important to go to the Jenin refugee camp to determine exactly what happened. His spokesman said today the United Nations was not interested in doing body count, but to get the facts, whatever they may be.

HEMMER: And Richard, Israel has objected to the makeup of that team, as you have stated on many times on the air in various reports. Was there any consideration given to changing the team in a way that would be acceptable to both sides, therefore they could go into that refugee can camp, as opposed to scratching the entire mission?

ROTH: There was never going to be change of core members. Sect. Gen. Annan was not going to back down on that.

To the U.N., they were experienced diplomats. To Israeli critics, they were just social workers. They did add a more stronger military component, with former generals and police officials from Ireland.

But over time, the Israeli objection seem to center more on the threat to Israeli soldier. Could a soldier face interrogation, prosecution at a future war crimes trial, if some court jury, through the U.N. system, which Israel would never trust, if that was indeed the conclusion.

Israel just wanted the facts, they didn't want to see any United Nations conclusions about what might have happen in Jenin. They say they were hunting terrorist.

The body count has come down under 100, according to various groups. The U.N. still feels a team is necessary to go there. At this point, it doesn't look like it's going to happen, though some other team could be formed. Who knows what could happen in the future.

HEMMER: And we're going to speak with the former prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, in a moment, for his perspective on this.

But I'm curious to know, from the people you've talked to on the Israeli side at the U.N.: are they -- I don't want to use the word afraid or fearfully -- but if there is no fact-finding mission that is carried out in Jenin, what have the Israeli said about the rumors of a massacre that may trail for some time and essentially stain that military operation that took place without the facts coming out, essentially?

ROTH: Well, I wasn't be surprised, from the people we talked to, and there aren't many Israeli officials who really want to talk that much inside the corridors here, that they'll take the hit on this one, because they feel they are treated unfairly, in unbalanced way by the United Nations. Whether it's the General Assembly Zionism is Racism resolution, whether it's other reports, whether it's the United Nations admitting it withheld videotape that was covering part of a kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon last year.

In Israel, I know, they call the U.N. the United Nothing. And here in the building, many countries, just the way they line up, where their base -- their political philosophies are on the side of the Palestinians. So Israel never feels it gets a fair shake here.

I think they're perfectly willing to take whatever criticism comes their what.

HEMMER: All right, Richard, thanks. Richard Roth at the U.N. I want to go now to Middle East and the former Israeli minister P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu, now serves as a chief adviser to Ariel Sharon, the current prime minister in Israel. He is our guest now, I believe from the town of Tel Aviv.

We say hello to you and good evening, just a bit past 9:00 there in the Middle East.

Is Israel satisfied right now? The handover will take place momentarily. The six people wanted by the Israeli side will be in jail, in Jericho, albeit not in Israeli prison, but in Jericho, monitored by at least British guardians in the beginning, and possibly United States guardians as well. In a nutshell, at this point, are you happy the way this has been resolved?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FMR. ISRAELI PRIME MIN.: Well, Bill, first of all, I must tell you that I'm not the chief adviser to P.M. Sharon. I am expressing my own view. And I helped Israel will fight the battle against vilification around the world. But I am expressing strictly my own views.

No, I'm not happy with it. I don't think this is a good arrangement. You don't really expect the Brits and the Americans to be for 19 years, in the case of one. So it's just a question of time before these killers hit the revolving door, as the other killers have done in Arafat's farcical jurisprudence.

They'll be set free, and I think that's the beginning and end of it.

HEMMER: So you do not believe that these men will be held in Jericho and stay there then?

NETANYAHU: Oh, sure, they'll be held in Jericho for a while. But it's basically a ladder to get off the crisis, so to speak, and get them out. They're not going to sit there for 19 years -- the other guy got one year. He may sit it out.

How do you like for that justice? One year for killing or abetting the murder of a cabinet minister.

It's ridiculous. I don't put any stock in this. I like to call things as they are.

And I think it was a mistake to let Arafat go, too. I think that he should be let go, out of the territories, just as you're going to do with Saddam Hussein, just as you did with Mullah Omar of the Taliban or bin Laden. These people have no place in the civilized discourse of nations. They might have a place in the United Nations, but that turned out to be the theater of the absurd more than once, and I think that's the case today.

HEMMER: The Israeli government, again, as we look at these pictures here -- I don't mean to interrupt, but we continue to watch for movement here. It's a bit difficult to see exactly what is taking place there. But our crew on the ground, Matthew Chance, is there and they're watching it. We may have to interrupt this interview. I apologize for that.

But back to the point of Yasser Arafat. Your government has made no mistake that it believes the Palestinian leader is irrelevant. However, he will soon have freedom of movement. In order to forge lasting peace, at least in the near-term, he is still the Palestinian leader.

Given that, is the Israeli government ready at some point to back off its previous words and sit down and talk peace with Yasser Arafat?

NETANYAHU: Well, I think Israel is ready to talk peace anyone who is willing to make peace with us. But Arafat is not talking not peace to his people but in fact is inculcating through the state media that he controls the culture of polycide (ph). The destruction of Israel.

That's what he says in Arabic, day in and day out. He calls for a million suicide bomber. He has suicide kindergarten camps, suicide museums, suicide universities. With such a leader, that many had hoped would be a Palestinian King Hussein, in the Jordanian model, well, we've all been disappointed.

He's become a Palestinian Saddam Hussein. He's not a Sadat, an Egyptian Sadat. He's a Palestinian Saddam. And what to you do with Saddam Hussein? You get rid of him. Because a person like that is not a partner for negotiations.

HEMMER: Do you think Israel right now would be more satisfied if it got rid of Yasser Arafat? In your words?

NETANYAHU: The mainstream of Israeli public, Bill, is deeply divided between those who want to kill Arafat and those what want to expel him. I want to expel. I don't want to kill him.

But nobody in Israel, except the loony left here, really believes that you can make any deal with Arafat. That his signature counts for anything.

Would you trust the future of your children to this man, who talks about little children blowing themselves up with explosives. He names public squares after these killers. He has a Sbarro Restaurant recreation to show human slabs of meat, human body parts, to glorify suicide bombers. I mean this is ridiculous.

HEMMER: Let's talk about Jenin for a moment here. Let's talk about Jenin. If there is no fact-finding mission sent by the United Nations, and we're just talking with Richard Roth, our correspondent at CNN about this -- is Israel essentially ready and willing to take the hit if the facts are never uncovered and the rumors continue to swirl? Because you know what the Palestinian perspective is. They say it was a massacre. Your side says it was nowhere close to that.

NETANYAHU: It wasn't a massacre. It wasn't -- it's a pretty awkward massacre when several dozen of our soldier get wounded or killed. The bullets apparently bounced back from the bodies, right?

And the number of people, civilians, who were hit there was marginal. Very, very small. It's not in the hundreds, and it looks like it's not even in the dozens, from the information that the Israeli government is amassing.

But I'll tell you what it is. What this is, is a farce. Because the United Nations has absolutely no legitimacy. It didn't even lift a finger to create one fact-finding commission on the endless numbers of massacres, obvious massacres, reported massacres, that took place in our restaurants and our coffee shops -- in our bedrooms, for God's sake, where they just murdered a little girl. Just came in and murdered a little girl.

Did the United Nations suggest a fact-finding commission on any one of those massacres of people, that Arafat is sending?

You might say, well, we don't know that Arafat is sending it. All right, condemn it at least and put a fact-finding commission.

And if you know that Arafat is doing it, then at the very least take some action to stop it, including some U.N. resolution.

But no. The U.N. neither condemns this nor sets up commissions for this. It sets up a commission for Israel -- a beleaguered democracy taking action to defend itself.

And what kind of action are we talking? We could have leveled this entire town, which become a stronghold for these terrorist. We could have bombed them from the air. You had to do it in Afghanistan, and I don't fault you for it. And only then did you send your ground troops.

We didn't do that. We withheld our airpower. Went in, house by house, in fact took greater risk to our soldiers, and quite a few of them died in this operation.

What massacre? I'll tell you what we do. We should have Israel and the United States establish a joint commission. I call it the FFCC, the fact-finding commission on chutzpah, the United Nations chutzpah to dare to imply that they are somehow an honest broker here, or impartial investigator of the facts.

This is same U.N. that withheld a Hezbollah videotape.


HEMMER: I respect your answer, sir, but I do want to talk about something else. I want to talk about Bethlehem, because people are saying that we can learn some lessons from Ramallah. And clearly there has been some deal brokered between the United States, the Israelis and the Palestinians, to put these six Palestinians behind bars in Jericho.

To end the siege in Bethlehem, would Israel be willing to follow a similar line, perhaps in Gaza, perhaps somewhere else, to put the 20 to 40 estimated Palestinian gunmen under control?

NETANYAHU: I don't know, Bill. I don't think the issue is to end this particular crisis. The problem is to end the overall attack of unmitigated terror against Israel from a regime that seeks our destruction, and openly says so.

I don't believe that any incarceration in the Palestinian areas, whether done by Palestinians or even by outsiders, has any merit. It's just a way of setting these killers free.

Name me one killer, one killer of the Israeli and coincidentally of Americans, and of the British citizens as well -- because they've killed everybody -- who is sitting behind bars in Palestinian jails. Not one of them. They all walk eventually. So that is not going to happen.

But the larger issue here is a moral failure, a complete moral collapse on the part of the European government and the United Nations, that are sanctioning, are giving any kind of legitimacy to this mass killer, Arafat, with his killer terrorist regime, that is practicing -- preaching polycide (ph) the destruction of the Jewish state through the technique of suicide. Suicide and mass terror.

I think this is inexcusable. That's why...

HEMMER: Let's go to a different area, then.

We are going to talk to in a moment here the adviser to the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah here in Washington, D.C. And there is a lot of movement right now toward the Saudi peace proposal. Your P.M. Ariel Sharon will be in Washington, perhaps in a week-and-a-half time.

Ariel Sharon expects to hear what from President Bush following these meeting with the crown prince in Crawford, Texas?

NETANYAHU: Well, that you'll have to ask the Americans.

But there is no Saudi peace proposal. There's a Saudi proposal. The proposal essentially is meant to exculpate and extirpate.

It's mean to exculpate the Saudis from the guilt that they justly deserve for having bankrolled the Taliban and al Qaeda and bin Laden for so many years, and the Islamic militancy from the Philippines to Los Angeles.

It's meant to extirpate Israel from the Middle East by saying this, basically: we, the Arab countries, will recognize formally Israel's right to exist, but insist on condition that will make it impossible for Israel to exist.

Israel will have to contract to an area ten miles wide, give up territories that are part of ancestral homeland, from which we were attacked by the Arabs time and again, divide our ancient city, Jerusalem, and put Arafat on the hills overlooking Tel Aviv. And then be prepared to discuss the flooding of Israel by millions of Palestinian. Some peace plan. It is neither a peace plan. It is not meant for peace. It is meant merely to put undeserved pressure on the Middle East's only democracy and to somehow sideline the fact that the Saudis have been the chief bankrollers of suicidal Islamic terrorist.

HEMMER: Former prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. He is our guest from Tel Aviv. We appreciate your time, from the Israeli perspective.

And before we get to the foreign policy adviser to the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, I want to just update our viewers again on what we are seeing and what we are watching here in Ramallah.

This is a picture from Al Jazeera the Arab language network out of Qatar. This is Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah.

We are told that the transfer is now under way. We've seen some vehicle activity here, but we do anticipate, possibly within minutes maybe an hour -- we don't know. We've been watching this picture now for about two hours.

But once it does take place, the six Palestinians wanted by Israel accused of terrorist activity will be transferred to jail in the West Bank town of Jericho. They will be placed there under supervision of Palestinian police and also at least in the beginning anyway, British authorities as well.

Andrea Koppel, our State Department correspondent, reported about an hour ago that it's the hold up right now, she says, may be trying to verify 100 percent the identity of the six. She mentioned the possibility of dental records being taken right now inside that compound.

But as we watch and wait for this, let's continue our discussion now.

Adel al-Jubeir is the foreign policy adviser to the Saudi crown prince. He is our guest today in Washington, D.C.

Good afternoon to you. Good to see you again.


HEMMER: And I apologize that we may have to interrupt this interview here, just because we're watching the vehicle movement, and if we do, my apologies, but I'm hearing Matthew Chance has more information.

Let's get back to Ramallah quickly.

Matthew, what do you have?

CHANCE: Bill, it looks like there is some movement here inside that besieged compound of Yasser Arafat. We've been seeing an increased amount of military activity from the Israel side. You can just see an armored personnel carrier moving out there, too.

What we can see inside the compound, the taillights there of what look like are the vehicle of the British and United States security experts. We've already been told that the transfer of the six Palestinian prisoners has already taken place.

We heard from Andrea Koppel, it's not an easy process. It's a time-consuming one which involves the identification of each of those prisoners, of course, many of them are not very well-known in the international community. So verification of that.

We are now anticipating that these cars if, indeed, they are the cars of the United States and British security experts, and it certainly looks like they are, will come moving out of the compound, towards us, here at our vantage point, and make their ways toward the West Bank town of Jericho.

And I can see now that those cars are indeed moving out of the compound, headed at quite a slow pace toward our vantage point right now, being, it looks like led by Israeli army vehicles, with the flashing lights on top. It's difficult for us to make out -- difficult for me to make out in this atmosphere of darkness who is at the front of the cue and who is not.

Maybe you can see it better on the high resolution lens we are using to bring you these images live from Ramallah.

These cars, we anticipate, will come down this hill, now you can see we counted 12 cars that were unmarked, civilian-type cars that went in that compound a few hours ago, belonging to United States and British security team.

We anticipate when they get to the bottom of that hill, they're going to make a right turn towards us -- let's hope they do -- and move along this road in front of us, out of Ramallah, towards the Beit'al (ph) Jewish settlement and onwards to West Bank town of Jericho.

And indeed that does seem to be what is happening right now.

These are the first of the cars that are coming right past our position here. There's an Israeli military vehicle leading the convoy. The second vehicle is also an Israeli military vehicle. But with that orange flashing light on top.

Then the first of the unmarked cars, a white Land Rover, leading the way. Another Israeli military vehicle. And then the car where we believe those six Palestinian prisoner have been put in there, taken past us now.

We're not sure why there are so many cars. Perhaps because there's just one prisoner being put in each car. It's a big security operation. The movement of these prisoners are out of Ramallah along this road.

You see a lot of those big United States Suburban-type vehicles. Armored British Range Rover vehicles as well.

So obviously, there are vehicles here from both the United States and the British security team. They've moved right past us now. They're being followed by vehicles which, according to the markings, are Israeli police vehicles, with their blue lights flashing.

That road, as I say, runs out now towards the West Bank town of Jericho, where there is a prison facility in the Palestinian town there, which has been prepared. It's been inspected and which international monitors will verify that these six Palestinians that we've just witnessed being taken out of Yasser Arafat's compound will be interred under international guard.

Now, Bill, what this means for the presence of Israeli forces here in Ramallah is still unclear. They've indicated to us that as soon as those prisoners have been transferred out, they'll begin their withdrawal from Ramallah. It's not clear, though, what kind of time frame we're looking at there.

There's no military reason that we can think of, that after this transfer has been completed, now that these people have left, that the Israeli forces can't immediately begin their withdrawal from Ramallah. However, that's obviously not our decision. It's a decision taken by the commanders on the ground.

We are, though, seeing as we speak, a lot of military activity right up there in front of us. These are very heavy Israeli armored vehicles, possibly even tanks. It's difficult for us to make them out. They are indeed Israeli heavy battle tanks making their way down the road here.

I don't know, we can't say, whether this is the start of the Israeli withdrawal from Ramallah. They have agreed to withdraw once this deal has been done. Certainly, it's only been a matter of seconds since -- since those six Palestinians were moved out in those armored cars. Excuse me. And we witness that going past.

It looks like those tanks have made a turn in the opposite direction, to the right of the picture here. There's a big building in the background where, we understand -- there are reports trickling through to us -- that the Israeli military have been assembling tanks and armored personnel carriers for the last hour or so, perhaps in anticipation of a speedy withdrawal from Ramallah.

Obviously we're watching the situation very closely. If they do pull out, Bill, let me remind you, they will be coming past us. They'll probably be coming past us here. Obviously we're in a good vantage point, not to just bring you the news which we've just been witnessing. But those six Palestinians have moved out of the compound in Ramallah and been transferred by those security experts, with those security experts, to Jericho.

But also, we'll be in a good position to report on the Israeli withdrawal of military forces. They've been here around this compound since the end of March. We'll be in a good position to tell you when that's happening.

Again, there is a lot of military activity, which you can see now live on our camera, at our vantage point here. An armored personnel carrier, two armored personnel carriers, making their way on the road out of Ramallah. Is this the beginning of the withdrawal?

Bill, we can't say that it is at this stage. I have to put this in perspective. There have been Israeli armored personnel patrols -- armored personnel carrier patrols throughout this evening. Until we see the bulk of those forces -- the tanks, the infantry personnel, the other APCs -- come out, we can't report in all honestly that the Israeli withdrawal has begun.

Obviously, we're at a good vantage point to observe the situation on the ground, Bill.

HEMMER: You certainly are seeing a lot of activity there, Matthew. Let's talk about some geography quickly here. From your position in Ramallah, down the hill toward the Jordan river in the town of Jericho, what sort of distance are we talking about?

And second, knowing that frankly the entire Middle East can watch this live picture from here and also through another network, Al Jazeera, that we were watching a short time ago, has that road been secured? Did you get any information on the possibility that that has taken place, Matthew?

CHANCE: Bill, I didn't catch the second part of that question. Can you just repeat it?

HEMMER: Not a problem. I think what's even more critical, though, is the number of APCs that are rolling by you right now. As they go by, tell us and describe to us -- I'll get back to my question later -- what you're seeing in terms of military movement. It clearly has stepped up a lot more than we've seen in recent hours.

CHANCE: Yes, definitely. There's been a lot of movement here. Immediately following the departure of those six Palestinians on the road, out to Jericho, we saw a lot of movement. As I mentioned, we've also been receiving reports -- and we can't get to this location to independently verify it -- but we've been getting a lot of reports that Israeli armor, Israeli tanks, Israeli personnel have already begun assembling at a location just a short distance, but out of sight from where we're standing right now, perhaps in preparation for a speedy withdrawal.

Get back to the first part of that question, which I did hear you ask. The drive, I'm told, from here to Jericho is going to be about 45 minutes. That's how long it's going to take for that procession of vehicles, unmarked vehicles, carrying the six wanted Palestinians to eventually arrive at that destination in Jericho. The Palestinian prison, where those wanted men -- wanted in Israel at least -- will be, under close international guard, Bill.

HEMMER: OK, Matthew, thank you. Great work there. Stand by in Ramallah.

We're going to try our telephone connection again. We had some difficulties with this about an hour ago. But inside that compound, an adviser to Yasser Arafat. Nabil Abu Ruddeineh is back on the telephone line with us. And, sir, if you can hear me, first of all, can you?


HEMMER: Super. OK, we're going to try to work this out again. Has the transfer been completed there, noting the number of vehicles that left that compound about five minutes ago?


HEMMER: OK, to our viewers, we ask for your patience right now because this has not been an easy thing for us to do, trying to establish a firm cell line connection. Nabil Abu Ruddeineh is an Arafat adviser. He's inside the compound. I'm going to give it another shot. Sir, can you hear me now? Is the signal a bit better at this point?


HEMMER: OK, the difficulty for us is to hear you, actually. I'll go directly to the question, then, and hopefully we'll get your response. What is Yasser Arafat doing right now? And earlier, you told us he doesn't plan to leave any time soon. Has that position changed?

RUDDEINEH: No, he is responsible for (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HEMMER: This is going to be very frustrating for our viewers. And again, we offer our apologies and regrets about that. But we will certainly try once again. Nabil Abu Ruddeineh, Yasser Arafat adviser inside the compound. He's been there since the very beginning back at the end of March, about the 29th of March, early on a Friday morning when the tanks and troops rolled into that compound, destroying significant parts of it.

Now the question is, are they withdrawing and pulling back? Back to Matthew Chance for his observations -- Matthew.

CHANCE: Well, what we can say, Bill, is that we've seen a lot of military activity, a lot of movement from armored personnel carriers in the direction away from the compound and in the direction out of Ramallah. I couldn't say, though, with any -- with all honesty that all those Israeli forces have left.

In fact, just a few seconds ago you may have seen those lights coming down the hill. And in the distance there, I can see another pair of lights in the distance, which indicates to me there is still a heavy Israeli presence here in Ramallah.

What's this coming along the road, though? I can hear the sound of tracks rumbling towards us. And you can just see, coming into vision there, another armored personnel carrier. Again, we're just seeing a trickle of activity, a trickle of Israeli armor moving in the direction away from Ramallah.

We haven't counted, at least all of the ones, all of the pieces of equipment, all of the APCs that we're aware of, around the compound. There's obviously still a heavy Israeli armored presence in that space about a few hundred meters from where we're standing now. The distance there, Bill, you can see the headlights of another armored personnel carrier of Israel.

HEMMER: OK, Matt, stand by in Ramallah. As there is more movement -- certainly we will not leave this picture for long. But standing by in Washington, Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign policy adviser to the Saudi crown prince, is now our guest.

And we say good afternoon to you. And thank you for being patient with us. First of all, your reaction to what we're watching right now in Ramallah. Does this give you any sense of optimism toward the Middle East peace process?

AL-JUBEIR: It is certainly a step in the right direction, and it's a positive step. We hope that a solution can be found to take care of the stalemate in Bethlehem so that we can then focus on the political process to bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

HEMMER: What are you gathering, based on what we are hearing now, with the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, heading to Washington and the White House for face-to-face meetings with President Bush? All this coming on the heels of that five-day meeting in Crawford, Texas.

What insight can you offer to us about the shape right now for how the Middle East process on the diplomatic side is now moving?

AL-JUBEIR: I believe, Bill, that there is a consensus in the world that has emerged, that there has to be an end to this conflict. There is an agreement, in terms of how to move this process forward and what the dynamics should be. We are waiting for the Israeli side to accept that.

There are proposals on the table. There is a commitment that we see to, by the United States, to reengage and reengage effectively in this process. And the Arab countries have committed to working with the United States as it pursues peace.

HEMMER: Listen, I warned you that we might have to interrupt you, and I do again interrupt you now.

Back to Matthew Chance, where the movement does continue there. Matthew, you are seeing what now? Matthew, good evening again.

CHANCE: Good evening to you as well, Bill. I can show you what I'm seeing right here. We have a live camera trained on the area in front of Yasser Arafat's compound. It has been under siege since the end of March, as we have been reporting. Is that siege now coming to an end? Well, certainly there is a lot of Israeli military activity in both ways. We just saw an armored personal carrier going in the opposite direction. In the right here -- I don't know if we can pan across to see this, Bill, but there's a sort of glow of light on the horizon there.

That glow, we're told by reports trickling through to us -- we're not able to get over there ourselves -- is Israeli forces, armor, armored personnel carriers, tanks and infantry men assembling for a possible withdrawal from Ramallah. It's been indicated to us, of course, that as soon as those Palestinians are transferred, which they have now been, into international jurisdiction, the Israeli military would leave its positions in Ramallah.

It's not clear how quickly that would happen, though. Initially we've been seeing armored personnel carriers making their way in the direction out of Ramallah. Whether that represents the start of a full Israeli withdrawal from Ramallah, we just can't say with any degree of certainty.

We're trying to contact the spokespeople for the Israeli defense forces right now to try and get some confirmation from them. In the meantime, I can only report to you what I can see, which is a lot of Israeli armor movement in the direction away from Ramallah. Although having said that, in the picture right now, there is very little activity going on.

That's because the armor, as I mentioned, is gathered over to where you can see that glowing light, the headlights of the tanks and the armored personnel carriers, as they all assemble there for a possible withdrawal -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Matthew. We won't leave you long. Back to Adel al-Jubeir.


AL-JUBEIR: ... at the president and his advisers. We do know that the U.S. is committed to seeking a solution to this conflict. We do know that the president has a vision of a Palestinian state living side by side with an Israeli state. We do know that the administration believes settlements should stop and the occupation should end.

We also believe that the U.S. believes in an accelerated political process so that we can get to an end of conflict quickly. I would imagine -- and I cannot speak for the president -- that those issues would be on the table.

HEMMER: Why is it that the Saudi Arabian government right now is paying for television ads in the U.S., which appears to be some sort of PR push. Why is that taking place?

AL-JUBEIR: Because we wanted to get our message to the American public. We wanted to explain to the American public that our relationship goes back over six decades, and we have been friends and allies.

HEMMER: Would you admit that the relationship has been damaged and sore lately?

AL-JUBEIR: I believe on the official level, no. There is a perception among some people in the United States that Saudi Arabia and the U.S. may have conflicts in certain areas. But the reality does not bear that out, in terms of official relations. There is nothing wrong, Bill, with having advertisements. Your own government is trying to do so in the Arab and Muslim world. We just did it before you did.

HEMMER: There's a report in "The New York Times" today that says the peace process right now is working on two different tracks. The Americans will work on the Israeli side and Saudi Arabia will work essentially on the Palestinians. Is that how you see it? Is that report accurate?

AL-JUBEIR: I think, in terms of -- the general way I would describe it is I would say the United States is engaged with the Israelis and with the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia and the Arab world is engaged. All of us together can hopefully move this process forward.

HEMMER: But, is it possible, and the question came up at the White House earlier today, that essentially the two sides are dividing up the region, in terms of countries. Would you go along with that theory?

AL-JUBEIR: I wouldn't put it in those stark terms. I think I would look at it as a partnership. America and Saudi Arabia have been partners in peace for the last 30 years. We have tried to move the peace process forward since 1981, when we introduced the Fah'd plan. We worked together to bring about Madrid.

Now we're working together to realize the common vision of the crown prince and the president. We will do whatever we need to do to support this process. And we hope that the United States will do whatever it can to support this process. And between the two of us, we're very hopeful that we will succeed.

HEMMER: Adel al-Jubeir, good to talk to you again. Foreign policy adviser for the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Appreciate your comments.

Back to Andrea Koppel now on the telephone. Andrea, we talked about an hour ago about what may have been a delay at this point. But apparently, the movement has taken place they are en route to Jericho. Your perspective now offers what?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you a little bit more about why Jericho was chosen, Bill. You've asked me about that before. And the main reason, of course, is what you had already outlined. And that is that Jericho is the only remaining security building, or certainly one of the only remaining security-related buildings that's under the control of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

But the other reason, actually, I was talking to one U.S. official, who said that Jericho is a little place where not a lot happens. It's really a very quiet town. And if they were to put these six wanted individuals in, for instance, a security facility in Ramallah, the chance of, and the fear of mob action, is so much greater.

And so they can keep these men off in a very isolated place that is a very sleepy and perhaps, you know, not a place where a lot happens. So they can control things a little bit better there. And in addition to the fact that the Jericho jail was actually built by the British a number of years back. And so they felt it was the right place, for those reasons, to put those prisoners there.

And it should take, I guess about -- I was told anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes, for them to complete the drive. I was also told, Bill, that the way they broke this down in the cars, and the way the hand-over happened is they were bringing one prisoner out at a time, clearing them, making sure that the ID was to everyone's satisfaction, and then putting that individual in a car by himself. And then they did that for all six of the prisoners. And so that's why they have that many cars.

HEMMER: Andrea, you were also reporting last hour that at least initially, British monitors would be in charge of oversight in that jail. Why British, and why not U.S. or some sort of combination, as we were led to believe, essentially, two days ago?

KOPPEL: They're the ones there right now, Bill. The Brits have individuals on the ground who are able to take things under control for the time being. And right now there's -- I don't know if you want to call it a vetting process -- but this is -- U.S. officials are trying to figure out who they're going to send over.

They have one State Department official who they sent over earlier in the week who was helping to coordinate this deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and actually try to figure out the security hand-over that we just witnessed.

But now they need to figure out, OK, who are we going to send? Who are going to be the policing folks that will be over there sitting -- they don't even know. Outside the Jericho jail, inside the Jericho jail. How long will they be there? I guess they have to make sure that the people that they choose would have an open-ended commitment.

And this sort of thing takes a certain amount of time. And I guess they figured that, for the time being, since the British seem to have some folks on the ground right now, that rather than delay it and rather than hold off on the transfer, they wanted to go ahead with the transfer to get this Ramallah siege handled and resolved, before that figure out who they're going to be sending over on the U.S. side.

HEMMER: OK, Andrea, thanks. Andrea Koppel, our State Department correspondent by telephone there. Again in Washington, as we continue to watch these pictures, want to get back to Matthew Chance. We have noted a substantial activity there on the streets of Ramallah shortly after that convoy of vehicles pulled out, We saw several APCs, armored personnel carriers, rolling down the road from right to left from our vantage point with our CNN crew.

Back to Matthew Chance for his continued observation. What are you seeing now, Matthew?

CHANCE: Well, we just saw another APC moving out of this compound area in the direction away from Ramallah. It's not clear yet though whether this is the start, Bill, as we have been alluding to, that this is the start of an Israeli withdrawal from Ramallah.

Having said that though, of course, we can't think of any military reason why they would be here any longer, now that the agreement, the terms of the agreement, have been fulfilled. Obviously they want to withdraw in a controlled way, and not just immediately move out from Ramallah as soon as the first opportunity presents itself.

But what we've been seeing is some very limited movement, I suppose, compared to the amount of forces there are in here. There is still an Israeli military presence around the compound. You can see the headlights up there of Israeli vehicles.

So there's still a heavy military presence from the Israeli armed forces around the compound. In short, that siege around Yasser Arafat's compound may be over soon. But it isn't over yet, Bill.

HEMMER: Matthew Chance in Ramallah. We will watch these pictures, as we have been doing now for about two and a half hours time.

And to our viewers, if you are just joining us, this is what we know. We do know, according to sources inside that compound, all six have been transferred out of Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah. They will be transferred to a jail in nearby Jericho, guarded by Palestinian police. And, at least initially anyway, monitored by British troops also in the West Bank.

All six will be transferred in that convoy that should take upwards of about 45 minutes to get from Ramallah to the jail in Jericho. In the meantime though, what continues to be a flash point is the situation in Bethlehem, Manger Square, Church of the Nativity. Israel saying between 20 and 40 suspected terrorists still holed up, taking refuge inside that church.

They want them. To this point they have not gotten them and that standoff does continue. At last check in Bethlehem, about 1,000 Israeli troops still ringing on the area of Manger Square. Developments unfolding before our eyes in the Middle East.

Yasser Arafat, holed up inside of his compound since the end of March. You could even go back to December, when he was isolated by the Israeli government. But March 29 was the day the incursions began and the tanks and troops rolled up to his compound, destroying significant parts of that compound.

And we are told through a senior adviser to him inside that he will stay there for some time as a sign of unity with the Palestinian people. For more information on these events as we get them, 24 hours a day you can head to our Web site at Complete information there for you on-line.




Back to the top