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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Three-Month Cease-Fire by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah Major Step in Mideast Peace Process

Aired June 25, 2003 - 11:45   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Bring in Ron Sobhani from Georgetown University, adjunct professor there of government and international studies. Very familiar with the Mideast crisis, Israeli-Palestinian situation.
If you would, Rob, put this into perspective for us now. We have three different groups who are possibly agreeing to a three-month tentative deal to halt all attacks on Israelis. What does this say to you?

ROB SOBHANI, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: I think it says, Heidi, that there's no doubt that the groups now recognize that if, indeed, there is going to be a Palestinian state, terrorism must end, the killing of civilians must end, the murder of Israelis must end. And I think Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah have hold been told by the Egyptians, You are close to a Palestinian state. Do not wreck it by continuing terrorism.

COLLINS: Rob, you know we hear of a lot of meetings taking place. The summit just a couple of weeks ago. And we hear a little bit hopeful information coming from those meetings. And people I think tend to want to be hopeful and be excited about a possible deal.

Is this another case like this? I mean tomorrow are we going to see more attacks? Or what do we see on the ground after information like this, that an agreement could possibly be met?

SOBHANI: Heidi, there's no doubt that there are probably still detractors on the ground, there are probably still people within Hamas, within Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and let's not forget Hezbollah who may still may want to derail this agreement.

But it gives Mahmoud Abbas three months. It gives him three months to deliver on security, but more importantly to deliver on the economic goods that the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank will require for him then to be able to really push it forward and get back on the road map, basically.

COLLINS: So now this document will be handed off to Yasser Arafat according to Jerrold Kessel. What will he then do?

SOBHANI: I think this will be a moment for Yasser Arafat to truly stand by his words. Or he can once again pull the carpet from under Mahmoud Abbas because to the extent that Mahmoud Abbas is successful as prime minister of the Palestinians, it detracts from Yasser Arafat. And Yasser Arafat sees himself and his role far beyond that of Mahmoud Abbas. He wants to have a legacy. Unfortunately he has not been able to deliver on that legacy.

And so it is very critical at this point to closely monitor what Arafat does because he could either be a spoiler or make this stick and happen and be successful.

COLLINS: You know, Rob, we were talking a bit earlier today about the statement from the Republic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, saying that it could be a possibility that in order to resolve this situation U.S. forces, NATO forces could go there and put pressure directly on these countries.

Do you think that statement or talk of that had anything to do with this agreement that we might be seeing here soon?

SOBHANI: It might very well be, Heidi, because to the extent that Senator Lugar and others have now been talking about the introduction of NATO troops, I think it raises the bar on both sides. It makes it very clear that our interests, the interests of the United States, is to protect the people of Israel and to protect the Palestinians. And that we are not going to play politics but we're going to try to resolve this.

And I think the fact that a very senior member of the United States Senate, like Senator Lugar, is introducing this thought it brings pressure on both sides to make sure the road map that President Bush has put together with the U.N. and Europeans moves forward.

COLLINS: So let's say this situation is resolved. There will be a three-month cease-fire. Let's say that's happened. We know that there are two major roadblocks as far as the road map to peace, the security control in Gaza and dealing with Hamas. If dealing with Hamas has been handled, what about, now, the security of Gaza? Will that be the next focus?

SOBHANI: Well there's no doubt that the focus should be on Gaza but also on the West Bank. But within Gaza, obviously, I think this is where once again the Palestinian Authority, particularly Mahmoud Abbas, the prime minister, needs to show that he can control rogue elements in Gaza because it will give confidence to Prime Minister Sharon and the Israelis they have now a partner who can clamp down on extremists, can clamp down terrorism because at the end of the day I think the Israelis will give up the land if indeed they know that they have the security and they will not be murdered by extremists either from Gaza or the West Bank.

COLLINS: Rob, I want to go ahead and bring in Wolf Blitzer at this point, too.

Wolf, just wondering if you could tell us from all that you have covered in this long, ongoing situation, Israeli-Palestinian situation, the impact on the road map to peace. I mean this could be seen as an absolutely huge victory.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It could be, but I wouldn't get overly carried away because there are enormous pit falls on that road map, enormous problems standing in the way. And everyone is going to be very tentative about seeing how this truce, this cease-fire is implemented over the course of these three months.

The key question from the U.S. government, from the Bush administration's perspective, what will this do in terms of strengthening the ability of the Palestinian Authority? The leadership of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, the security chief, Mohammed Dahlan, will they be able to take charge in areas that the Israelis withdraw their military forces from?

On the agenda, first and foremost at least at the beginning, an initial Israeli withdraw from the northern part of Gaza, as well as an initial Israeli withdraw from the Bethlehem-area on the West Bank. If Palestinian Authorities' security apparatus can go in there and effectively take charge, that will boost confidence around the boards, presumably elevate the stature Prime Minister of Mahmoud Abbas, give the Israelis a little bit more confidence that he and his security apparatus can get the job done.

And let's see if that sets the stage for a second Israeli withdrawal, some additional Israeli easing of restrictions, checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza. But it's all a very tentative process.

And certainly as Secretary of State Powell said when he was in the region last Friday, a week ago almost, he said that a cease-fire or truce is not enough. The Palestinian Authority has to take steps to get rid of the weapons, the terrorist capability of these militant groups. We will see if that happens -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, Wolf. Thank you so much.

I want to remind everybody Wolf will be taking over here in a just few minutes. Coming up at noon, we'll have much, much more on exactly what we are talking about today, the impact of this road map to peace, this breaking news coming to us.

We also want to thank Rob Sobhani of Georgetown University giving us some insight into the Middle East peace situation.

Once again want to remind before you we take a break here, a possible three-month cease-fire ordered by Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Fatah. We will be following this story and of course bring you all the updated information in just a moment.

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