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Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat Discusses Israeli Bombing of Ramallah Police Headquarters

Aired October 12, 2000 - 9:37 a.m. ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Just to bring folks up on what we're getting out of the Middle East thus far today, Ramallah, the West Bank town, appears to be, once again, today's flashpoint. Israeli tanks have amassed on the northern edge of the town.

This Israeli helicopters, said to be three or four in number, and have also been circling high above the town. It's also been reported from CNN crews on the ground that the police station in Ramallah has been targeted. The second floor has been wiped out. That is the same place where, earlier today, four Israeli soldiers were taken capture. It is said that at least two of them have been killed.

On our other network, CNN International, watching this very closely very well. Saeb Erakat, spokesperson for the Palestinians, now being interviewed. Let's join that question and answer in progress now.


SAEB ERAKAT, PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: ... efforts to stop this trend that became reckless and that the Israeli government -- we were in touch with the American administration. I knew that Barak did not take any calls from them this morning. The situation is extremely difficult. And it's time for the international community to act before we going to be turned into another Kosovo here.

RALITSA VASSILEVA, CNN ANCHOR: Did you get any forewarning? We have been receiving reports that Prime Minister Barak issued a warning?

ERAKAT: Actually, when the two Israeli soldiers were killed, we were in contact with the Americans and the Israelis and -- in order to bring that situation to a more reasonable situation. But, unfortunately, the Israelis refused to take any calls from the American side or from the Europeans. And through that, they gave warnings to target and to bomb the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority. I have confirmed reports now that Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah were hit, three other police stations were hit. And I don't know about Gaza, whether there are under the same attack.

VASSILEVA: Mr. Erakat, do you see any way forward from this situation? ERAKAT: Well, I think, at this moment, you know, it's very, very dim. And I don't know what will be of the next Israeli steps. I believe that -- and we've been warning against that -- if Mr. Barak is having any strategy from the peace process, he doesn't have to exercise his might, his tanks, his planes. This will not work. This will not work. It will only signal the beginning of the darkness in this region.

I think we must see immediately, you know, an international intervention to stop this craziness. And if Mr. Barak believes that, by his tanks and his might, he can destroy the will of the Palestinian people, he's really wrong, he's really wrong. And we urge the international community to stop the Israeli government immediately before it's too late.

VASSILEVA: Mr. Erakat, as you mentioned, this appears to be a reaction -- this attack on Ramallah appears to be a reaction to what the Israeli military calls a "lynching" of two Israeli soldiers. We were talking to an Israeli military spokesperson, who said that what they wanted to do -- this was not a retaliation -- what they wanted to do is deliver a very stern message. They want to restore deterrence and to prevent an escalation.

What is your reaction?

ERAKAT: Well I heard this colonel saying that he wants to bring us to our senses. Is that the pretext? That when 100 Palestinians were killed -- does this justify attacking civilians and attacking towns with bombs and missiles and explosions? This is absolutely berserk. And Israel is acting like a country above the laws of man and we call upon the international community for immediate intervention and protection.

A few days ago the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1332, which called upon the application of the Geneva Convention. I do not think that the international community must refrain now from stopping Israel. This government must be stopped. I am afraid that the worst did not happen yet. We hope that the language of guns and battleships and helicopters will subside and I hope that we will be immediately, Mr. Kofi Annan, who was in the region for the past three days, we have expected him to deliver the commission of inquirers to tell the whole world the story.

And we tell Mr. Barak now. if you want to exit from the peace process, if you want to join a national unity government, the price does not have to be this. It doesn't have to be battleships. It doesn't have to be Palestinian blood. It doesn't have to be an escalation, because he just today ignited a cycle -- a cycle of violence that will be countered with counter-violence. We will know how this will begin but we will never know how it will end. Israel must be stopped immediately, and immediately.

VASSILEVA: Mr. Erakat, thank you very much for speaking with us.

We now cross over to our correspondent on the outskirts of Ramallah, Ben Wedeman. Ben, what is the situation at this point?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At the point, Ralitsa, it seems to be fairly quiet. It's been a good 45 minutes since we heard the last explosion. We still hearing spotter planes and unmanned aircraft above us. But there hasn't really been much in the way of firing, for about 45 minutes. Still, no signs of life within the city itself. So, here, the situation is calm. It looks like the soldiers are relaxing a bit more. So, it's hard to say whether this is just a lull or if this -- Israel was sending its message to the Palestinian Authority and it's sent and gone and they're going to move on to the next stage -- Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: Ben, thank you. We will cross over to Rula Amin in Gaza City where there have been developments -- Rula.

Rula, you are on the air, Rula.

RULA AMIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I am standing here outside President Arafat's office and we have just heard, like, seven to 10 different big explosions. Earlier, of course, there were, like, 4 Israeli helicopters hovering by in the area and we have been hearing reports that the port in Gaza, the area where the Gaza Palestinian marine is, had been hit. In front of us here talking is the head of the Palestinian security Mohammed (INAUDIBLE) he says this, the Palestinian people had been bombed. This is an act to intimidate us. We will not be intimidated. He would not elaborate on the targets that were hit. But he seemed pretty angry. He said, we will not succumb to whatever acts of violence that are being exercised against us -- Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: Rula, are you seeing Israeli ships off the coast of Gaza?

AMIN: We are not seeing Israeli ships at this point from where I am standing. That does not mean that they are not there. We have spoken earlier to a representative of President Arafat and he told us that this is a declaration of war. The cabinet minister said that this was a crazy action, and that the Palestinians consider this a declaration of war. A dangerous declaration of war that Israel will bear the responsibility for -- Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: Rula, as were speaking, just about half an hour ago, you were telling me that CIA chief George Tenet was meeting with Palestinian Chairman Yasser Arafat. What is the status of their meeting at this point?

AMIN: It seems that Mr. George Tenet had left and George Tenet was here -- George Tenet was here earlier trying to put an end to violence to bring Israeli security officials and Palestinian security officials together so that they would coordinate more, that they would agree on certain security measures that would try to contain the violence and curb it. But, obviously, the -- this escalation of events is taking those, the area, the Palestinians and Israelis on a different path. We are talking here to Palestinian officials on the street outside Mr. Arafat's office and they seem pretty angry. They think we have gone into a new era. This was -- they consider this a declaration of war and they think that Israel will bear the responsibility -- Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: And what is the scene around you? Earlier, you were saying that the city had been evacuated.

AMIN: There's a lot of security people. Nothing of Mr. Arafat's office was hit. We are not seeing any damage. We didn't see it being hit, but there's a lot of security people on a high state of alert and they expect the worse. They think this is only the beginning and things might escalate through the worst -- Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: Rula, thank you. Now we go to...

HEMMER: All right, CNN International, bringing us up their reports through Ben Wedeman and Rula Amin in different parts of Gaza and the West Bank prior to that.

Just to bring you up to date, what we know right now: Israeli helicopters are circling the town of Ramallah. The police station there as well as the television station have been targeted. In Gaza City, Yasser Arafat, apparently Israeli helicopters have responded to that part of the Middle East as well. George Tenet, CIA Director, has met with Arafat. Apparently, that meeting has concluded there in Gaza City. Throughout the Palestinian territories, though, Israel has closed the borders, which means basically that Palestinians living in those areas are basically shut in or shut out, depending on where they are relative to the closing of those borders.

This, again, live pictures, Israeli tanks perched outside of Ramallah. It is described to us as the northern edge of Ramallah. We are watching for activity here. In addition to the tank you see hunkered down on a nearby hill, we have also seen two or three other Israeli tanks that have also moved into position. In addition to that, I mentioned the helicopters flying overhead, said to be three or four above Ramallah. We talked with a CNN producer a short time ago. A crowd of about a thousand Palestinians have gathered in the central part of Ramallah near that same police station. We heard they were quite, loud over our report fifteen minutes ago, chanting in the streets and demanding action and revenge, in their words.



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