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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Another Day of Violence in Mideast

Aired August 21, 2003 - 07:29   ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to bring you the very latest from the Middle East right now. Another day of violence there. If you saw it live here on CNN, 60 minutes ago, when the first videotape came in of a Hamas leader being killed by helicopter gunships near Gaza City. Now getting word that senior Hamas officials are saying the end to the cease-fire begins now. They say the truce is over. This is the videotape, yet again. apparently inside this car a leading Hamas figure, Ismail Abu Shanab, killed inside of this vehicle. Also killed, two of his bodyguards.
Michael Holmes by telephone is near the scene -- Michael, you were there almost immediately as it happened.

Your reaction to what you're hearing right now from the Palestinian side about the truce being off.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I can confirm that, Bill. Our office (AUDIO GAP)...

HEMMER: All right, Michael, we lost you there.

Give us just a bit of patience here to our viewers at home. We'll try and get Michael Holmes back up on the air and back with us.

Michael said at the outset of his report that he has confirmed the news that Hamas is saying the truce is over.

Saeb Erakat, a leading Palestinian negotiator who makes his home in Jericho, will be with us in a moment, too, to give us a bit more perspective on what's happening right now.

All of this happening in Gaza City today, about two days after that deadly suicide bombing in Jerusalem. At that time, 20 Israelis, including several small children, killed after leaving the Western Wall late at night, a deadly bomb that some Israeli leader say was the most ferocious suicide bombing they had seen in years. And, again, the retaliatory strikes coming today with a major Hamas leader being killed today in Gaza City and his two bodyguards.

Again, we'll try and reestablish Michael Holmes and as soon as we get that up and working here, we'll bring it to you.

The bottom line, Soledad, today another day of violence in the Middle East and a lot of people wondering where this Middle East road map goes from here, if it can be held together. They're saying there has to be strong involvement from the United States and, if so, we'll see what the president reacts to at this point. SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The seven week truce, already shaky in the wake of the suicide bombing of the other day, which when people died so obviously, you know, looks like holding on like a candle on its last legs.

HEMMER: I believe...

O'BRIEN: Have we got Michael Holmes back?

HEMMER: Yes, is Michael there with us? Michael Holmes by way of telephone in Gaza. We're trying to reestablish the line right now and confirm yet again the news out of Gaza City that the Middle East road map has been thrown into a serious state of flux -- Michael, are you back with us?

HOLMES: Yes, Bill. I don't know how much you got of my previous report, but a matter of minutes ago Hamas called CNN's Gaza office and said that the cease-fire was over. The hudna is at an end from the perspective of Hamas. And important to make the distinction, they did not say that revenge would be exacted for the killing of Abu Shanab. They said the cease-fire itself is off -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Michael, listen, we want to look at this videotape again. We have watched it for almost an hour right now, and the scene is rather gruesome. I know you've been there, as well. A lot of flames, a lot of smoke. What's happening there now?

HOLMES: The flames and smoke have gone now, Bill. The fire engines are, in fact, packing up. But I tell you, less than an hour or so ago, it was nothing like that. As you can see from the pictures, this is an extremely dramatic scene. Three missiles slamming into the car carrying Abu Shanab.

Bill, I was calling Abu Shanab this morning on his telephone to seek comment on a couple of things and his phone was switched off, which is very unusual and perhaps an indication of the caution he was taking given the precarious nature of things. His phone, the phone that I was calling him on, Israelis switched off and not an hour and a half later, his car was struck by these three missiles and his two bodyguards were killed.

And, as you know, we watched as the bodies were taken out. They very clearly were dead. A large crowd gathered around chanting anti- Israel slogans, a very angry crowd. And I think you put it very well when you said that it puts the situation of the road map into a bit of a tailspin, Bill.

HEMMER: Yes, Michael, one other point here. Hamas has claimed responsibility for the bombing two days ago in Jerusalem, along with Islamic Jihad. Now you see the retaliatory strike today. How is it that Hamas leaders can defend the decision and say the truce is off, the peace plan is off for now? When you look at these two events and how they go parallel each other, so many times in the Middle East, how is that they defend the decision right now to say it's over?

HOLMES: Yes, indeed, it really spells out the complexity of this issue. Hamas, rightly, wrongly, immorally, claims that the bombing in Jerusalem was in response to Israeli military actions in the West Bank that cost the lives of some of their members. Now, of course, the first thing that leaps to mind is the proportion of the attack in Jerusalem. And clearly a catastrophic tragedy involving children and religious people on their way back from prayer.

However, that is the attitude of Hamas. They say that they were responding and they will continue to respond to targeting of their members. They've now gone a step further and said after that incident, of course, those incidents, after the suicide bombing in West Jerusalem that I also attended, they said that their cease-fire would still hold and that this was a direct retaliation, if you like.

Now, what they're saying is the cease-fire is off altogether, all bets are off, although if you were anywhere near West Jerusalem the other night, you would wonder what sort of cease-fire was in place anyway.

HEMMER: All right, Michael, stand by for us there, if you could, in Gaza.

Quoting a Hamas official now, "We consider ourselves free from this cease-fire."

That's Michael Holmes by telephone there in Gaza City with the latest on the scene.

O'BRIEN: Let's turn now to Saeb Erakat.

He is a lead Palestinian negotiator and he joins us by phone this morning.

Good morning.

Thanks for joining us.

Appreciate your time.

I want to get your reaction first to what we've heard from Hamas, that the cease-fire is off.

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Well, I really think it's a very serious situation. I think Palestinians and Israelis stand now at a very critical juncture. I think things are slipping outside of our fingers like sand. Of course, we condemn this assassination attempt, as we condemned the suicide bombing in West Jerusalem.

Retaliation and counter-retaliation, that means more Israelis and Palestinians getting killed. What we need is sanity, wisdom and courage. We need the American president to step up his efforts, to interfere and to tell everybody that he will not allow the road map off the table. Because the only way for Palestinians and Israelis to break the vicious cycle is not more violence, is not more killing, is not more assassinations, not more suicide bombings. It's more peace and more negotiations and more talks. And that's what's needed. I know it's an hour of desperation to both sides, but the alternatives to a meaningful negotiating process is just retaliation and counter-retaliation. It's more body bags in Israel and more body bags in Gaza and the West Bank. And this should not stand.

O'BRIEN: Hamas took responsibility for the suicide bombing that killed 20 people. Did you expect a retaliation of this kind?

ERAKAT: Look, we have been in this vicious cycle of claims and counter-claims, retaliation and counter-retaliation, blame assignment, finger pointing, and this vicious cycle has claimed the lives of hundreds of Israelis and thousands of Palestinians, and this must end. And the only way to end it is through that intervention of the United States president to tell everyone the road map is on the table, I will not allow it to go down, because this is the only way to bring out sanity, wisdom and courage and to bring peace to both sides.

O'BRIEN: But if a truce cannot hold up, how can you expect that the road map further down the road, which will, at the very least, require the truce holding for more than seven weeks, how can that go forward, as well?

ERAKAT: Well, I think every effort should be exerted by us, as Palestinians, today in order to maintain the truce. I know it's difficult. I know it's not easy. I know we stand so much, so many challenges. But I think we should do everything in our power to maintain the truce.

We need the help of anybody who can help in the region, in the United States, in Europe, in order to maintain the peace process, in order to maintain hope in the peace process, because if this goes down, if tomorrow we find retaliation of another suicide bombing and then another person is assassinated and so on, what this means at the end of the day is everything stands today at the danger of collapse, a total collapse, which leads to anarchy and deepening the vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence, and that's the worst thing that could happen to Palestinians and Israelis, especially that the majority of both people want to give peace a chance.

O'BRIEN: You have said that Hamas saying that the truce is off is very serious. Well, how can you possibly maintain the truce after words like this from Hamas leaders?

ERAKAT: Well, I think we should continue exerting every possible effort within our internal front to maintain the hudna and to tell everyone that the maintaining of the truce, the hudna and the cease- fire, is a vital Palestinian interest and nations should not build their policies in terms of reacting here and reacting there, but rather on the basis of their national interests. And I believe it's a vital national interest for the Palestinian people and the Palestinian leadership to maintain and preserve the truce and the hudna.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that Mahmoud Abbas needs to take a firmer stance against the militants? ERAKAT: Well, I think Mahmoud Abbas and Arafat and the Palestinian leadership as a whole have an overloaded wagon today. But having said that, I think we should exert every possible effort to maintain the rule of law within our society, within our society as Palestinians. But we need the help, we need the help of all of those who believe in the peace process.

O'BRIEN: There are many who say, looking at the peace process and the many failed efforts at it, that, frankly, with the strikes and the retaliation and strikes and more retaliation and the retaliation to the retaliation, that frankly there will just never be peace in the Middle East. It's not going to happen.

ERAKAT: That's absolutely unacceptable and we cannot allow it to happen. And we cannot accept this kind of logic. I think what we're seeing out there of the vicious cycle of violence and counter-violence is precisely because of the absence of a meaningful peace process and not the opposite. This is a unique situation, Palestinians and Israelis. This game cannot be played in accordance with a zero sum game forever. It's either two winners through a meaningful peace process or losers as we are witnessing now in the Gaza Strip and what we witnessed in West Jerusalem's streets. And we have to make sure, to tell the Palestinians and Israelis that contrary to what they hear about desperation and that peace is not doable, peace is doable and it's the only way. Negotiations and a meaningful peace process is the only way to bring security, peace and safety to Palestinians and Israelis. And I believe the absence of peace means more of the pictures we're witnessing now in Gaza and more of the pictures that we witnessed in West Jerusalem two days ago.

O'BRIEN: Well, we will see if the truce and also if the peace process can withstand this latest strike, as you say, looking at these pictures here from, coming to us from Gaza this morning.

Saeb Erakat, the lead Palestinian negotiator, thank you for joining us.

Appreciate your time.

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