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CNN's Jerrold Kessel on continuing violence in the Mideast

September 29, 2000
12 p.m. EDT

(CNN) Ė At least five people are dead following violence in the Mideast September 29. An Israeli border guard was killed in the West Bank when a gunman opened fire on his vehicle in an unprovoked attack. At least four Palestinian youths died in Jerusalem when Israeli police, using rubber-coated steel bullets, fired on them as they hurled stones down upon Jews praying at the Old Cityís Western Wall. Later, the police switched to live ammunition and as many as 200 Palestinians and police were reportedly injured in the ensuing chaos.

Jerrold Kessel is a deputy bureau chief and correspondent for CNNís Jerusalem bureau. He has covered the Mideast peace process since its beginnings in 1991 and has lived in Jerusalem for the past 25 years.

Chat Moderator: Welcome to newsroom, Jerrold Kessel.

Jerrold Kessel: Thank you. Itís a pleasure to be back.

Chat Moderator: What is the latest in the Mideast situation? Why has this new violence erupted?

Jerrold Kessel: There are lots of accusations about who is responsible for the violence. But, first the facts. At least four Palestinians were shot and killed and scores hurt, and dozens of Israeli policemen were hurt, in the worst clashes in the sacred site at the heart of Jerusalem that's holy to both Muslims and Jews. It was the second straight day of clashes.

The Palestinians charge that it is a fallout from the controversial visit to the holy site compound by the opposition right-wing Israeli politician Ariel Sharon on Thursday. They call that provocation and say that the massive Israeli police presence there for the Friday noontime prayers was further provocation.

Israeli police commanders, for their part, say that in his Friday sermon, the preacher in the mosque incited the worshipers, telling them that their holy site was under threat of destruction by the Jews. So both sides are accusing the other of stoking the tensions, and that's ominous for the future.

Question from JrTyD: Does Arafat speak for all the Palestinians? Will Hamas agree with any major concession he makes?

Jerrold Kessel: No, it is unlikely that Hamas will agree to virtually anything Arafat concludes. But if he is deemed by ordinary Palestinians to have struck a deal with Israel that guarantees them some of their basic demands and what they say are their legitimate rights, he could carry a large majority, that is of those here in the Palestinian territories.

Mideast peace

The opposition of most of the Palestinians in their so-called Diaspora, and the millions of refugees, may make it impossible to get whatever deal he manages to conclude.

Question from Corey: Is it correct to hold Israel responsible for the violence, since they are the occupying power?

Jerrold Kessel: That's a judgmental call that depends on point of view concerning the definition of occupation. Presumably, by the nature of the question, the argument would be that Israel has no right to be anywhere beyond the 1967 borders, or perhaps nowhere. So it is a difficult basis on which to assess the right and wrong of actions, over and above that basic situation.

Question from Grace: What is the atmosphere like in Jerusalem right now as Rosh Hashanah begins?

Jerrold Kessel: Going into today, before the mayhem in the area known as Temple Mount or Al Aqsa compound, there was uncertainty among Israelis as they were completing their final preparations for the Jewish New Year holiday.

There have been two lethal shooting incidents involving Israeli patrols near Palestinian-controlled areas. And there are doubts about the validity of the peace process with the Palestinians, along with those residual hopes that a full peace would end the conflict once and for all.

Usually politics has no respect for the calendar. We keep on talking about a moment of truth but, in a sense, a very real sense, this year the Jewish New Year comes at a defining moment in the history of Israel on three fronts, all of which are interlinked: Will there be peace in the weeks ahead? Will Prime Minister Barak be able to survive politically? And, if he does, will he be able to carry through his declared new civil reform program, which he says is aimed at taking religion out of politics?

It really is a defining moment, because all those events could reshape Israel dramatically in the coming year.

Question from AnyTruth: I've been told by biblical prophecy experts to expect the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple as part of a final peace deal. Seeing that so much emphasis is being placed on the Temple Mount, has any news come out about the rebuilding of the Temple as part of a final peace deal?

Jerrold Kessel: My brief is to cover the world here and now, even its most esoteric forms. To get into the question of whether "God's Temple" may be rebuilt in the near future is way beyond the ability of any reporter to know. But, if anything were to happen on a political level in that direction, we would try to be there to cover it and understand what was happening.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Jerrold Kessel.

Jerrold Kessel: Letís hope we chat about cheerier matters next time.

Jerrold Kessel joined the World News Chat via telephone from Jerusalem. CNN provided a typist for Kessel. The above is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Friday, September 29, 2000.

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