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Breaking News

Israeli Helicopters Fire on Targets in Ramallah; Israeli Defense Spokesman Discusses Escalation

Aired October 12, 2000 - 9:16 a.m. ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Back in the Middle East, we've been watching our cameras trained by way of satellite on a hilltop just outside of Ramallah in the West Bank. Israeli tanks now perched on that hilltop and from the distance you can see smoke billowing up over the horizon. We'll try and bring that picture to you shortly here.

In the meantime, though, a short way from Ramallah in Jerusalem, CNN's Mike Hanna now live with us.

Mike, what do you have for us?

MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Bill, I'm in Jerusalem at present. We have reports from the town of Ramallah that a number of targets were destroyed in gunfire or missile fire from Israeli combat helicopters. We understand, by reports, these have not been confirmed at this stage, but, we understand that the police station in Ramallah has been severely damaged, and some damage near Mr. Yasser Arafat's headquarters in that particular town. At this particular point, we do not have any details of the casualties that have been sustained in this Israeli action. This action following the killing early on this day of two Israeli soldiers who, Israel says, were reservists who had taken the wrong turn.

With me is the spokesman for the Israeli defense force, Colonel Raanan Gissin.

Colonel, are we seeing here a retaliatory action for this morning's events?

COL. RAANAN GISSIN, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCE: Well, I want to repeat: we did not retaliate. We've tried to use the minimal amount of force, exercising utmost restraint, consideration throughout the 10 days, including today. Although, this kind of crime, this kind of heinous crime, you know, of taking people, killing them, lynching them, and then mutilating their bodies, you know, these were soldiers, non-combatant even, just indicates what that kind of continuous incitement can cause. Some measures have to be taken to stop it. And, still, we are not there to retaliate the killing. We are there to stop the violence. To stop the killing altogether.

HANNA: Colonel, from the Palestinian side, the constant argument over the past two weeks that the Israeli defense force is using excessive force. They point to the casualty figures: some 100 dead, all but six are either Palestinians, Arabs or Arab Israelis. They would point to the anger displayed in the killing of these men as a product of that Israeli excessive force, as they would describe it. Your response to those...

GISSIN: I can tell you as much as anyone else. We dread and we regret the loss of life because we didn't want it in the first place, useless loss of life. Sending children to the front line to get killed, starting -- and continuously, we've been exercising restraint and trying to send messages to the Palestinians stop, stop while you can still hold it. Stop before it gets out of hand. Stop before two more people get killed. And what we find is that every day, you know, we get conflicting message. On the one hand -- they're issuing statements that they will stop the violence. The same day there are roadside explosives in Gaza. The same day they are shooting all over the place in Judea and Samaria on settlements, on innocent people and bystanders. How do you expect us to respond? I mean, we are trying not to allow things to escalate. But there are certain points and certain things where a message has to be driven home.

HANNA: This is a very serious message indeed, helicopter gun ships firing into a city.

GISSIN: I believe so.

HANNA: Possibility of civilian casualties. We have not confirmed casualties, but with missile fire into densely populated areas, there could be a great deal of civilian casualties.

GISSIN: I know. And the responsibility, the Palestinians should know that the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulder of Yasser Arafat, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, the security forces who also collaborated in that heinous crime that took place this afternoon.

HANNA: Colonel Gissin, thank you very much indeed.

So, the situation is that attacks made by Israeli helicopters. Tanks present on the West Bank town of Ramallah following the killing of two Israeli soldiers earlier on in this day. A dangerous escalation of events here in the region -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Mike Hanna live in Jerusalem. Mike, thanks to you. We'll Back in touch shortly throughout the morning here.

In addition to that, while Mike was speaking. Our CNN folks on the ground in the Middle East now reporting that George Tenet, CIA director, is in the region. In fact, now getting word that he's in a meeting with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader at this time. When we get details out of that meeting, we'll pass them along to you.

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