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Firefight Continues in Streets of Ramallah

Aired March 29, 2002 - 11:39   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Ramallah, the scene of the action right now. And that's where our Michael Holmes is on the scene.

Let's go ahead and check in with him -- Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I can report that there is still gunfire echoing around the city. Darkness has fallen here in Ramallah. And there is firing coming from a variety of areas of Ramallah.

Of course, the focus has been at Yasser Arafat's compound, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. And there has been serious fighting there all day.

I was there not half an hour ago. We had to leave because of the darkness. And I don't know if you can hear the gunfire echoing around here at the moment. We're not near the compound at moment. This was a separate firefight.

We were there just a short time ago. However, we drove around the scene of devastation there in terms of -- and I'm just going to step back from the window. There are some tracers flying by.

There was a scene of devastation. Seven separate entrances to the Palestinian Authority had been bulldozed or run over by tanks. And Israeli troops are well inside the compound now.

There has been a report, which I -- Israeli defense forces sources in Jerusalem have concern, saying that some 70 Palestinian Authority officials have been arrested inside the compound, taken into custody. We got a call in to the compound, electricity has been cut off. The phones -- the switchboard doesn't work.

The person we got hold of said he could not confirm that. He doubted it was true. But he said, we're all stuck in offices and we can't talk to each other.

So obviously a very tense situation inside that compound. Whether this story of arrests inside there by Israeli troops is true or not, it's impossible to tell. We do have one person inside who doubts the veracity of that story, but it's difficult to confirm.

When I was there, I saw no sign of prisoners or anything like that. In fact, there was a lot of small arms fire continuing, and also the sound of grenade explosions.

KAGAN: Michael, first of all I want to make sure that you're in a safe place. You mentioned that you saw some bullets flying by. You're in a safe place where you can continue to talk to us?

HOLMES: Yes, we're operating out of an area where we are able to get a good view of Ramallah and keep tabs on what's going on all over the place. And that heavy firefighting that I mentioned was coming from a distance away -- and probably half a mile away. And so I stayed there, and then I saw two or three tracer bullets fly by from very close to our position.

So no, we're fine. I backed away.

KAGAN: All right, just want to check on that.

Now, you're at a different site than when we talked to you just a little bit earlier. You were very close to the compound. Now you're at a different area, yet you're still seeing some fighting taking place.

Are you suggesting that the compound -- Yasser Arafat's compound is not the only place where firing and shooting is taking place right now?

HOLMES: Absolutely Daryn. That's been the story all day.

There's been many separate areas where we have seen with our own eyes and heard with our ears fighting taking place. It was a very fierce firefight just up near a hospital we were at earlier, and Israeli troops came and stopped ambulances from bringing patients in there. And there was a heavy exchange of gunfire.

That was about half an hour ago. Also, on our way to the compound we passed by probably a dozen armed Palestinians, some in olive green uniforms, others in civilian clothing, all carrying AK- 47s. And they were just wandering a streets, apparently looking for Israeli troops.

So there are a number of armed Palestinians in and around Ramallah, in the city, in the outer part of the city, which is fairly densely populated. And we saw them exchanging fire with Israeli troops earlier on today, and that is quite clearly still going on, Daryn.

KAGAN: As you mentioned, it's now nighttime. But I'm just wondering, for the ordinary Palestinian living in Ramallah, it seems life has come to a standstill; it is not safe to be out on the streets.

HOLMES: Absolutely. The only people we've seen on the streets today are people with guns, or ambulances brave enough to try to go and get some of the casualties out. There have been -- it's been very difficult to pinpoint the number of casualties. We do know of six, perhaps seven confirmed deaths. Of those, I know of three that are civilians. And also probably 40 of Yasser Arafat's security forces who were wounded inside the compound. I spoke to two or three of those in this hospital. Ambulance officials told us it took them three hours before they were allowed to go in and get these people. One of them was severely injured. His head had been shot through the jaw. And I spoke with another man who had been shot through the back and was, in fact, paraplegic, his spinal cord severed.

So there have been casualties, civilian as well. A television cameraman, as well, today was also shot in the jaw.

So there's an awful lot of fighting still going on. And it has been going on since we heard our first shots. I guess it's getting on for about 16 hours ago. So it's still going strong -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Well Michael, on a personal note, on behalf of your wife, Jane, who also is a CNN veteran, I'm going to remind you to be safe out there. And don't be too brave; go on the side of being safe.

And we will check back with you.

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