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In Wake of Suicide Bomb, Israeli Government Strikes Selected Targets in Ramallah

Aired March 28, 2001 - 1:40 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Another story we are closely following is the explosive situation in the Middle East. Another suicide bomb went off today, killing two Israeli teenagers, in addition to the suicide bomber. A claim of responsibility: a retaliation by the Israelis.

CNN's Jerusalem bureau chief Mike Hanna is with us to bring us up to speed on all what's been happening there -- Mike.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Israeli prime minister's office has released a statement saying that the Israeli defense force has struck at what it calls selected targets in the West Bank city of Ramallah as well as in Gaza City in the Gaza Strip.

The statement says that four targets were attacked in the Gaza City. It says that all these targets were associated with what the statement calls acts of terror that had been carried out in Israel in recent days. Specifically the targets, says the Israeli defense force, are linked to 417, the personal bodyguard of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, whom the Israeli authorities have accused members of 417 of complicity in the bomb blasts in particular that have taken place in the past two day.

Well, with me is a senior aide to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Raanan Gissin.

Thank you very much for joining us.

First of all, can you confirm what was the nature of this attack that's taken place?

RAANAN GISSIN, SENIOR AIDE TO ARIEL SHARON: Well, you know, regrettably in the past few weeks, we had ample evidence compiled that forces belonging to the Palestinian authority. And specifically 417 were directly involved in these terrorist activities, directed them, their own people involved in them, or sending squads to conduct those terrorist activities.

And we served ample warning to the Palestinian authority to cease from that activity, to stop the violence, to stop the terrorist activity. And nothing happened.

And unfortunately, and regrettably, the last three attacks in Israel, which took the life of so many people, a poor baby and two more youth today, and dozens of people wounded, forced us to take action against those who perpetrate the acts and those who assist them. And that, of course, is the members of 417.

The targets were carefully selected so that -- to avoid as much as possible collateral damage. And the attack was targets of 417, as I said, in Gaza -- in and around Gaza, and in Ramallah, which is one of their headquarters.

HANNA: Now, the Palestinian leadership, most of whom are in Jordan attending the Arab League summit, have repeatedly denied in recent days the Israeli government's contention that they had any complicity whatsoever in the bombing attacks.

What evidence is there of a direct relationship between the Palestinian authority and the bomb attacks?

GISSIN: Well, you know, for the past few weeks we have compiled evidence. And we had the members, the senior members of 417 involved with terrorist activity against Israel, particularly with Hezbollah for example, which is also operating today inside Israel. And of course, also directing and assisting other members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in a sense coordinating the terrorist activity rather than fulfilling their main mission, which is really to provide for security and to provide for protection.

So after we had all that evidence, we -- as I said, we selected those targets, which are associated with 417, infrastructure targets, headquarters and so forth, and strike those targets.

We regret very much that this is the case. And we do hope that as a result of this attack, the international community will exert the necessary pressure on the Palestinian authority to abide by the agreement that they signed since Oslo, which requires them to fight the terrorist infrastructure and to prevent terrorist activity.

Hopefully the Palestinians themselves, the Palestinian authority themselves, will come to their senses and stop it, because our basic policy, at least the policy of this new government is extending a hand for peace with the Palestinians, trying to open a new page.

And as a result of that, we have a policy which is intended to ease the restriction, to ease the hardship of Palestinians who want to live in peace with us.

At the same time, a persistent and consistent policy to hit the terrorists wherever they are, and those who sent them and perpetrate such actions.

So in line with this policy, that was the action that we took today.

HANNA: Well, the Palestinian authority in turn has accused the Israeli government of not implementing agreements that have been reached, the most recent being at the Sharm el-Sheikh, understanding that breach of the previous government. What is your response to Israel not carrying through on its commitments?

GISSIN: I believe during the reign of the recent government, the Barak government, there was this ample attempt to implement those parts of the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement that are concerning us.

And you have evidence for that. The Mitchell commission was part of that understanding. And that was instituted. And although we think it's a grave mistake to have agreed to that, we have received that Mitchell commission, gave them full cooperation.

And here now, they have ample evidence who really instigated those activities. Who starts? Who is the one who really wants to drag the Middle East into an era of instability and warfare?

And I think as a result of that we had to take those actions, because our main responsibility is the defense and the security of our citizens. We were exercising our right of self-defense.

We much prefer that we don't need to exercise that right if the Palestinian authority comes back, and renews the security coordination, and starts fighting the terrorist activity. We can still open that new page and start on the road for reconciliation, peaceful means to resolving the conflict and dialogue.

All the other means that the Palestinians have tried in the past six months are not going to work. It's about time they come to that realization.

HANNA: Is the attack that has taken place in the last hour or so, is this a one-off attack or it is a part of an on-going strategy that the Sharon government will adopt?

GISSIN: Look, we said it very clearly. We have a policy that's based on two pillars: one, on the one hand, easing the restriction on the Palestinian population, allowing the better life conditions. Those who want to live in peace with us.

Those who continuously kill our women and children and innocent babies, with these people, we have a long account. And that means a persistent and persisted policy which will continue following these people until we get them.

We much prefer that we -- not to use that policy. But that really depends on the Palestinian authority. If they do their responsibility and really assume what they have promised in all those agreements and fight terrorist activity, there may be no necessity to engage in these activities.

HANNA: Raanan Gissin, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

So the situation then is the Israeli government says it has struck what it calls selected targets in the West Bank city of Ramallah in the Gaza City in the Gaza Strip, saying that it had taken attempts to prevent any civilian casualties. The degree of damage not known at this particular point in time. No response as yet from the Palestinian leadership to this attack.

Back to you.

WATERS: All right, that's Mike Hanna in Jerusalem, keeping a pace with the story developing there.



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