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Breaking News

Israeli Attacks in Ramallah Wound Nearly 30 Palestinians

Aired October 12, 2000 - 4:40 p.m. ET

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

MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Well, we'll have more in a moment from our correspondents who have been covering the course of events on this day. But first let's go back to Jonathan Mann at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Mike. Among the other stories that we're following, a U.S. navy destroyer, the Cole, has been attacked in the Yemeni port of Aden. Five sailors are dead, dozens and 12 are missing in what the Pentagon believes was a terrorist attack.

The U.S. warship was on a refueling stop in Aden when a small boat loaded with explosives pulled alongside. Pentagon officials say two men aboard the boat assisted the Cole with mooring lining lines and then they stood by while the boat exploded. The blast ripped a large hole in the armored hull near the engine room.

At least three dozen soldiers were wounded, suffering severe burns and other injuries. There were 350 Navy personnel aboard the ship which was on its way on Bahrain. U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen says the government will do everything in its power to track down those who are responsible for the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM COHEN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: If, however, we determine that terrorists attacked our ship and killed our sailors, then we will not rest until we can crack down those who are responsible for this vicious and cowardly attack. The United States is a global power with global responsibilities and as a result we result we face global risks.

We will continue to protect our national interest around the world, in the Middle East and elsewhere. No one should doubt our resolve to remain a force for peace and for stability. And no one should assume that they can force us to retreat. No one should assume they can attack with us impunity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MANN: Cohen says U.S. forces in the region are on higher alert. Yemen's president is pledging to cooperate but told CNN earlier that he does not think the blast was the work of terrorists. The Dow Jones industrial average barely closed above 10000, down nearly 3 percent, as investors were jolted in part at least, by the escalating violence in the Middle East. The Nasdaq Composite closed down 94 points to 3073, a low for the year.

Oil prices climbed to a ten-year peak as a scramble for supply pushed Brent crude above $35 a barrel for the first time since 1990. The Mid-East news also sent transportation issues downward on concerns of higher fuel costs and hurt financial service stocks that are sensitive to inflation. That's a brief look at the other news of the hour. We return now to our Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna -- Mike.

HANNA: Thank you, Jonathan. Well, one of the focuses of Israeli attack in the course of this afternoon, the West Bank city of Ramallah. Our correspondent Ben Wedeman was following events through the day. He joins me.

Ben, tell us what you saw in the course of the afternoon?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, when we arrived in Ramallah, it was eerily quiet. It was more quiet than I've ever seen it. We've been going there for several days. There are clashes, people in the street. This time, there was nobody. There was nobody around, no cars and there was just this strange silence.

And as we waited, as we watched from a hill above the entrance to the northern entrance to Ramallah, we saw helicopters hovering around the outskirts of the city. And we also saw there were tanks that hadn't been there before on the hills overlooking the city.

And it wasn't long before we heard three, what sounded like fires, three rounds being fired from these Merkava, Israeli Merkava battle tanks and about five minutes later, the helicopters, which had been hovering around the perimeter of the city, started to move in. And then we saw a great big flash of light followed by brown and yellow smoke and the first missiles come shooting down into the city.

And that was the first assault, which went on for about five minutes from these two helicopters, and then for about 45 minutes it was quiet. And this pattern repeated itself about five times with the number of assaults that happened. And between these assaults there were drones, unmanned planes and spotter planes flying above the whole time.

So there was a constant activity, and it was very difficult to know what was going to happen next. But as we saw it, the attacks were focused in different areas around the city.

We found out later, of course, because from where we were standing it was very hard to know what was being, but the police station -- the main police station of Ramallah was hit. The radio station and another building which we saw burning for quite some time afterwards. But despite this, throughout this time, the city was very quiet. There was no sign of life.

HANNA: And you also spoke on the ground there to an Israeli brigadier, who was commanding the forces in that area. What was his attitude? What did he believe he was doing?

WEDEMAN: He made no apologies for anything. He said the reason they made this attack, the reason they launched the operation was in retaliation for the killing of the three Israeli soldiers and he said the operation was a limited one and he -- responding to the Palestinian remarks that this was a declaration of war, he said I never described it in that way. He said it's not war. It's a limited operation.

HANNA: Give us a sense -- you spent many days in Ramallah monitoring events at that particular junction where we've seen confrontation between Palestinian demonstrators, Israeli security forces but this is notching up the conflict a major level, is it not?

WEDEMAN: It's a whole different sort of conflict. The conflicts, the clashes on the street are a limited sort of operation in a very small area of town. While these clashes are going on, life is normal within Ramallah itself, which is a very big, bustling city.

And these clashes involved Molotov cocktails, rocks -- they were very dangerous in their own way, and of course at the beginning of these clashes they did involve Palestinian security forces with machine guns, with deadly weapons. But later, it worked itself out and almost like -- I don't want to call it a game because lives are at stake here -- but it was predictable. Very predictable.

But of course when missiles are being fired, when tanks are firing into the city, it becomes a whole different situation where the predictability is gone. Because despite everything, despite all the violence that has happened in the West Bank over many years, never has this sort of operation been launched since the 1967 war.

HANNA: We heard reports that as many as 30 people were wounded in that Israeli attack, 30 Palestinians. From where you were, was it possible to gauge the feelings, the emotions of the Palestinian demonstrators coming under Apache or helicopter fire?

WEDEMAN: Well, we were on the outskirts so that was hard to gauge, but certainly we had our producer, Sausan Ghosheh (ph), who was in Ramallah itself, and her description was of anger, that the people were very angry.

But they were also afraid. They were scared because those helicopters were hovering around all the time and there was no way to know so far as they were concerned when they would strike again. So high emotions and possibly much higher than we've seen during these clashes, which as I said were in some ways predictable. This is a whole new ball game.

HANNA: CNN's Ben Wedeman. Thank you very much, indeed. In a moment, we'll have the view from Gaza.

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