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Interview with Aziz Abayed

Aired May 8, 2002 - 13:55   ET



WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... deported to Italy or a third country. His position was, no Palestinian likes to ever be deported, but the 13 hard core fighters inside that church finally and reluctantly agreed to that deportation as a gesture towards the other people inside the church who would have been held hostage until the 13 agreed to go.

Now, one of the interesting things that I spoke with him about was the desecration or the allegations of desecration inside the church. He denied of course that there had been any desecration.

I understand, Mr. Aziz Abayed is on the phone again. If he can hear me I would like to ask by asking, Mr. Abayad, is it your understanding everyone is coming out of the church in the near future except the 13 Palestinians to be deported, is that correct?

AZIZ ABAYED, PALESTINIAN FIGHTER: Yes, after some moments, the agreement will be applied and the persons who will be -- get out first, the persons who go to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the 13 will be deported to Italy will stay here until the morning.

RODGERS: So you believe the 13 of you, the fighters, the Palestinian fighters inside the church will stay overnight and perhaps the resolution of where you will go, you think will come in the morning; is that correct?

ABAYED: Yes, maybe. There still, we must stay here until some arrangement for us to go out. Maybe they -- they will prepare something for us to firstly to go to Ramallah, then to Egypt, then to Italia.

RODGERS: Tell me, please, how do you feel about being deported from Bethlehem, which I believe is your home town? How do you feel as a Palestinian, about being deported from Palestine?

ABAYED: We refuse this agreement, but you know that the suffering of our people here inside Bethlehem whom fall under the unjust siege from about one month -- over than one month, and many people here inside the church whom surrounded by the Israeli soldiers, without any treatment here, without food, without medicine, without water, without electricity, all these reasons make us victims to serve the souls of our people here in Bethlehem. RODGERS: I need to ask you, the Israelis say you are Hamas terrorists, that you made explosives. You told me before, you were a pharmacist. What's the truth?

ABAYED: The truth, I am a civilian and a pharmacist. But when they know I'm here inside the church, they create a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for me (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I am under their hand. And many of my friends here, this is not true, and when you show by yourself and the journalists (UNINTELLIGIBLE) be inside the church with us.

RODGERS: When I spoke to you by telephone the other day, you told me that the Church of the Nativity is a Palestinian church. What did you mean by that? I thought it was a church that belonged to all Christiandom.

ABAYED: You must know that we are here, one people, and all under one occupation, Israeli occupation, they invade our city, which is a city for Muslims and Christian here in Bethlehem. And every establishment here inside Bethlehem belongs to the people here in Bethlehem. This is our church as much as Muslim and Christian and we will be friends against the Israeli aggression towards it.

RODGERS: Why do you say it is a Muslim church? It belongs to the Roamage Catholics, the orthodox and the Armenian Orthodox? What claim do Muslims have to that church?

ABAYED: We didn't differentiate between (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people here. We are all brothers, Muslims and Christian Arab brother and cooperation between us here inside the church. This is a historical cooperation. First the Israeli invade to our city here. Israeli aggression is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by a cooperation between Muslims and Christian here inside the church.

RODGERS: I would like to ask you, when you go into exile in Italy, perhaps, if that's your final destination, are you going to continue the struggle and if so, how?

ABAYED: You must use some subjects not true. There's no struggle between us and Israeli. We are here as civilians and we want to stay in our city. They come here and occupy our city. If we (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to Italia, we respect the rules of Italia and we will (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Italia and we will (UNINTELLIGIBLE) our work as a pharmacist there.

RODGERS: Under international law, however, isn't I true that when you take guns into a church, you forfeit any right to or claim to refuge inside the church. I mean, didn't you really turn the Church into a Fortress, hijack a Christian church?

ABAYED: It is a Christian church -- you're not focused on this meaning. It is a Christian church really, but it is a Palestinian church. We are one people. You must focus on something become the subject.

RODGERS: I'd like to ask you this question about the vandalism inside. The Israelis say that you, who are inside the church, have conducted considerable acts of vandalism, that you've broken crucifixes, damaged frescoes. We even heard that you wanted to bury several of the martyrs inside that church. Several of the people the Israeli snipers killed. Have you desecrated the church?

ABAYED: If you can't believe us as some of the media in America do, if you can't believe us, you can't ask the journalists here who are from America. They see by their eyes the destruction from where it's come. It has come from the Israeli side.

Their shooting and destruction of the church. They throw bombs toward the church and fired some church by Israeli shooting. We are here as civilians and some from the Palestinian police. We are here -- come to church -- for protection and safe, not for war. It is a holy place. It is not for war as the Israeli government wants.

RODGERS: But you brought the guns inside the church. You brought the guns inside the church.

ABAYED: No. No. No.

RODGERS: How can you say it's not for war?

ABAYED: I was many apply work in the hospital and when I finished that work the Israeli tanks and they were shooting in -- inside when they invaded Bethlehem. So under these conditions I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to save ourselves inside the most holy Christian place in the world, because it is a safe place and safe protection. Not for war.

We come here not to open (UNINTELLIGIBLE) toward anybody. We come here only for safe and protection.

RODGERS: Tell me, Mr. Abayed, tell us about the other people inside the church, the clergy, the 85 people who are not Palestinian fighters. Are they -- what condition are they in?

ABAYED: They are from the Palestinian security instrument and from the civilians. The Israelis create crimes for them. They have said that many of them killed Israeli people, but this is not true. There is no rules for our deported outside our home.

RODGERS: One other question. Are you ready to give up your guns, forfeit your guns, come out of the church with no guns on you?

ABAYED: After we go, the mediator will come here inside the church and see by there eyes. The guns here belong to the Palestinian Authority, to the Palestinian policemen. Not for anybody else.

RODGERS: So you're going to leave your guns inside the church, is that correct?

ABAYED: The guns will take to the Palestinian Authority. It is a gun as -- toward the agreement, which are signed in Oslo. It is given to the Palestinian security men by the Israeli side.

RODGERS: Have you given up those guns now? ABAYED: We have no guns...

RODGERS: Does the Palestinian Authority have those guns?

ABAYED: The guns will stay with the Palestinian Authority until the Israeli occupation leaves our city.

RODGERS: Now, you know the Israelis have said the Palestinians have placed explosive devices inside the church and booby-trapped it. Have you placed explosive devices inside the church? Have you booby- trapped the doors of the Church of the Nativity?

ABAYED: This is not true. This is an Israeli lie.


RODGERS: Yes, one other question, Mr. Abayed.

Mr. Abayed? Are you going to get a chance to see your family?


ABAYED: There is many calls, I'm sorry.

RODGERS: All right. Just one last question. Will you see your family before you're deported?

ABAYED: Sorry?

RODGERS: Will you get to see your family before you are deported from Palestinian.

ABAYED: No, no, no.


RODGERS: All right, thank you Mr. Abayed. Thank you very much for talking to you.

We've been talking to Aziz Abayed, one of the 13 hardcore Palestinians inside that church. He insists he is only a pharmacist. The Israelis say he may be a pharmacist, but he also made bombs for the suicide bombers.

Again, he is one of the people most wanted by the Israelis inside that church and one of the ones which they had to agree would be deported. And, again, the resolution of where he's going to be deported is not firm at this point. Perhaps Italy.

Right now, the understanding we have of the resolution of this crisis is in the very near future 110 people will be emerging from the Church of the Nativity. 13 hardcore Palestinian fighters will stay behind, at least until morning, according to Mr. Abayed, when perhaps their fate will be clearer to them and to us -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Walter, for those just tuning in, can we just go back for a minute and give a little bit of background, if they just came in on this interview -- you were talking with Aziz Abayed.

He is telling you, though, that he is not a member of Hamas, that he is a pharmacist. You have asked him that question a number of times, yet he is on this list of 13 Palestinians to be deported.

How was this list devised and how is it -- what type of evidence exists saying that these 13 are definitely senior terrorists and have to be deported? Obviously, Mr. Abayed is disregarding that.

RODGERS: Well, the Israelis, of course, would have developed the profiles of the people inside the church whom they consider to be terrorists.

Of course, the Israeli intelligence in this area, the Mossad, their chief intelligence agency, would be very, very well developed, and they have profiles of virtually everyone they believe is responsible for the rash of suicide bombings over the last 18 months or so.

Now, Mr. Abayed, according to the Israeli profile of him, is both a pharmacist and alleged to be a bomb maker. He, of course, denies that. He also denies he's a member of Hamas. He says he's a civilian.

It depends on whom you choose to believe. But at this point, the Israelis are very sure they've got their man, not in their grasp. He is to be, under the terms of the agreement, deported into exile. The Israelis, of course, would hope he could never return. All of the deportees families hope that the exile is temporary -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And, Walter, of course it's being said, you've been talking about this, that the 13 Palestinians would be sent to Italy. Now, the deputy foreign minister in Italy has made it clear that he is not in support of this. He thinks it would open up a series of risks for that country. Would Italy indeed be the country that these 13 alleged terrorists be sent to?

RODGERS: Despite the initial Italian protestations, I think Italy is probably their ultimate destination.

The Italians were quite correctly miffed and peeved and piqued at the fact that they were not included in the negotiations and not consulted about the terms of the confinement of these 13 Palestinian deportees.

So when the British, the Americans, the Israelis and the Palestinians announced the agreement, the Italians said, we need a little more time to study this. What they initially said is no, the Palestinians are not welcome in Italy, at least until we see the details of the agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. How long these people are supposed to be confined, whether they're to go to an Italian prison or whether they're going to a convent.

The Italians were kept in the dark, and that's something which has left the Italians more than a little miffed.

Now, we understand the Americans are working with the Italians to smooth some sore feelings there. I understand United States Sect. of State Colin Powell yesterday called the Italian foreign minister and the Italian president, again, at least twice, to try to get the Italians onboard. The Italians say they should have been onboard much earlier.

The Italians were particularly miffed at the British, who were party to the negotiations, because the British represented the European Union in those talks and yet the British, according to the Italians, behaved arrogantly and never properly consulted the Italian government. They just presented them with a fate accompli, and thus that last minute glitch -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Walter Rodgers, live from Bethlehem. Thank you so much.




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