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Yasser Arafat Speaks Out

Aired March 31, 2002 - 09:31   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.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Intense Yasser Arafat speaking just moments ago with our Michael Holmes there in Ramallah. Michael's back on the phone with us now. Michael, it looked like he was reading a statement, reading off something. Is that correct or did it just look like that?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, it was -- that is not correct. I can tell you that he was completely caught off guard by these extraordinary events, completely caught off guard when this group of 40 people essentially walked into the compound and straight up to his office. It was an amazing sight. We were outside the compound at the time at the wall and all of a sudden 40 people in white t-shirts and holding white flags walked down the road. They turned in front of an armored vehicle that was blocking the entrance to the compound itself and caught those two soldiers in that vehicle completely off guard.

They didn't miss a step. They kept walking across a no man's land, if you like, a car park area that leads to Yasser Arafat's offices. As we walked across, one Israeli soldier fired several shots into the ground near him, not close to the protesters. Tanks swung around on a track (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Everybody there on the Israeli side seemed completely caught off guard.

As our group moved up towards the office, another couple of journalists tried to catch up. Israeli soldiers fired across in front of them, about 10 feet in front of them into the ground and they quickly retreated. We essentially just walked through what was a barricaded front door. Yasser Arafat's security soldiers opening up the barricade to let everyone in. It was extraordinarily, depending on how you look at it, brave or fool hearty act by this group. And essentially walked straight up to his office where he was with maybe eight or nine of his aides.

Initially we were told no interviews, just pictures. But of course, we started asking questions and he began to speak. He -- among other things -- I didn't catch all of what you ran then, but essentially he said his life was not more important than those of the Palestinian people. He was very defiant. He actually seemed in very good spirits and more than a little surprised at this unannounced visit -- back to you.

PHILLIPS: That looking up and down was definitely the fact that he was caught by surprise there. Michael, what can you tell us about this group of individuals? Did you get a chance to talk with them in addition to Yasser Arafat? What did they tell you? Whose idea was this to approach the compound?

HOLMES: It's a group -- I had their name written down somewhere, but it's been a bit of a scramble. I don't have it in front of me. But it's essentially an international group of people concerned with Palestinians. We spoke to schoolteachers, a student, an Israeli student, in fact, who was in this group. I spoke with a schoolteacher from France. There's an American in the group. And part of the group was also Palestinian doctors from the local hospital.

So it's a fairly mixed group. I did speak with them and interviewed a couple of them. They said, as I said to them, this is a very dangerous thing. You could have been killed. They said it's worth it. The principle is sound. We want to show our support for the Palestinian people, who they say, you know, they're under occupation and we wanted to show the world that we care for these people. It was an amazing scene. I can tell you, by the way, Yasser Arafat does have many armed soldiers in there with him. They seem heavily armed. They seem in fairly good spirits. The only thing they said to us when we walked in was if we had any cigarettes -- back to you.

PHILLIPS: We had earlier, Michael, today we had talked to Adam Shapiro (ph), part of the International Solidarity Movement, a group that organizes nonviolent protests against the Israeli military presence in the West Bank. Does this organization ring a bell? Is this possibly this group of people?

HOLMES: Well, they caught us off guard as much as they caught the Palestinians and the Israelis off guard. We don't know a whole lot about them at the moment. They say they are a group of independent individuals from various countries who are concerned about the welfare of ordinary Palestinian people. They say that's their motive. What other affiliations they may have, I'm really not sure.

PHILLIPS: All right. Our Michael Holmes, incredible pictures here of this group coming through approaching the compound and actually taking you and other journalists right along with them up to Yasser Arafat to have a brief discussion and hear from the Palestinian president. Michael Holmes, thank you very much. We'll check in with you again later in the hour.

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