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Michael Holmes: Death toll climbs in Ramallah

CNN's Michael Holmes reporting from Ramallah
CNN's Michael Holmes reporting from Ramallah  

(CNN) -- Sporadic gunfire continued Saturday outside Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah on the West Bank, a day after Israeli tanks laid siege to the compound. Arafat remained holed up in a two-room office with Israeli tanks sitting just outside.

CNN Correspondent Michael Holmes has been watching events unfold from Ramallah. He spoke with CNN's Kyra Phillips on Saturday.

HOLMES: Kyra, I have some new information for you, certainly, as it applies to the death toll here in Ramallah. I am actually, literally, standing in a room with five dead Palestinian gunmen who have been shot in what is an office block. The British Consul is in here. There's a restaurant. There's Western Union in this building. The five appeared to have been living there for some time. There's like a small living quarters, which is right next to some dental chair, dental surgeries there.

The five men, all clustered together, have been shot at very close range. Two of them in the head. One in the back of the head. Another was shot in the back. They are very close together. It would require a forensics team to work out what exactly happened. But there are dozens and dozens of shell casings there. So we can add another five to the death toll -- Kyra.

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PHILLIPS: The violence is continuing. Yet, on the other side of things, there is the U.N. Security Council vote that came through [Saturday]. Is this going to have any impact at all on what is happening right now?

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HOLMES: Not from where I stand. Others in other cities around the region might be able to answer that question better. We reported to you earlier on a fierce battle that took place overnight in the center of Ramallah. We've just come around the corner to where these bodies are, from that site. And Israeli troops are still there. We watched as an APC (armored personnel carrier) drove the front of the building into a foyer area and let out a sustained blast of fire. Troops obviously still think that there may be some holdouts in that building and they're pouring a lot of ammunition into there now.

An interesting thing from this scene that I'm at now is, as I said, there are dozens and dozens of shell casings. The vast majority, in fact, almost all of those shell casings are from M-16s, which is the usual weapon of the Israel army. We found maybe half a dozen shells from AK-47s, which is what you normally see Palestinian gunmen using. It's a very curious scene.

Obviously, these were, however, people who were fighting because they were wearing army uniforms or green uniforms anyway. One of them was not, four of them were. So the death toll now heading toward a dozen at last count, by my reckoning.

As far as the political scene goes, Yasser Arafat is still in his compound. We just left a hospital where a group of doctors are planning to march down there to offer medical treatment to those inside who may need it. They're not likely to get in. I can tell that -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Michael, any sense on what could happen to Yasser Arafat? Do you think that he's going to come out of this alive? You're there with the Israeli troops and you're seeing the violence continue.

HOLMES: It's really something I can't speculate on. All I can say is that Israel has said very plainly he won't be hurt, in a physical sense anyway. He has not been hurt in a physical sense. He is about as surrounded as you can get. Tanks at the bottom of the stairs leading to his office, but troops have not, we're told, entered that building. And according to Israel, there are no plans to at this stage. They certainly have entered the compound. They are all over the compound and in total control of it.

I am told there are still dozens of people in the buildings, Palestinian Authority officials and the like. And so, what happens next, it's hard to tell. There is a standoff. Israel says it wants Yasser Arafat to make certain promises to clean up militant activity. He says it's pretty hard to do that from an office with a tank at the bottom of the stairs -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Michael Holmes live from Ramallah, thank you so much.




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