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Reactions to Powell-Arafat Meeting

Aired April 14, 2002 - 09:42   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.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Michael Holmes, our reporter in Ramallah, is standing by for the latest on what's going on there in the aftermath of that three hour meeting earlier today between the Secretary of State Colin Powell and the Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. What are you seeing right now, Michael?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I tell you what we've been hearing Wolf, right behind me just not too far away we've heard several bursts of small arms fire, it sounds M16 fire, probably only within half a mile of our position here.

Earlier on, while Colin Powell was meeting with Yasser Arafat, also two tank shells were fired and several what sound to us, we're getting good at telling what they are now, door charges, which are used to blow open doors so house-to-house searches can continue.

So operations are continuing here in Ramallah. House-to-house searches and also a fair bit of movement of tanks and APC's around the city, more than we've seen really in the last 24-hours or so. We had a tank parked down out of the front of our building for about 20 minutes earlier. But the small arms fire, we have not heard that for a day or so and it's pretty close by here. So still some continuing action in Ramallah.

We've heard a few more details, Wolf, about what went on in that meeting. I can tell you that one of the requests made by the Palestinians was for a U.S.-led damage assessment unit. One to come in and work out exactly how badly the security apparatus is here. The Palestinian security apparatus has been damaged and were there to be a cease-fire at some stage in the future, how well Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian authority could enforce such a cease-fire as in rounding up militants or anyone they think might breach the cease-fire.

Obviously, the feeling among Palestinian leaders here is that there isn't much of a security apparatus left and from what we've seen too in traveling around the city these past two-and-a-half weeks, there doesn't seem to be much left either.

Something else I can tell you from sources who were at that meeting, I can tell you that they described the meeting as reasonable. They say it was deep. It went into a variety of issues, security, political, economic, and as I said, rebuilding as well. They want to be able to rebuild not just security infrastructure but also the infrastructure of a city, roads and telegraph poles, electricity, water pipes. There has been so much damage done in the last 16, 17 days that just the Palestinians say they're going to need millions of dollars from somewhere to get things back on track.

Now Colin Powell's people will be meeting with Yasser Arafat's people tomorrow. And what will be discussed there is a broader vision to discuss the political road map, which has been a term so widely used here. They're going to get into the nitty-gritty, if you like, of where to go from here in terms of the broader future for the Palestinian authority and the region in general.

Now one other thing, we're told by Palestinian sources, they made it clear to Colin Powell there will be no negotiations directly with the Israeli government until there is a full and complete withdrawal from the recently reoccupied areas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael, getting back to some of the earlier information you just reported, a resumption of some military activity, some house-to-house searches by the Israelis. You've been hearing some shells explode. Am I right or wrong in assuming that there was a suspension of all those kinds of activities during the three hours that the secretary was in Ramallah for his meeting with Yasser Arafat and it's back to business as usual since he returned here to Jerusalem?

HOLMES: I don't know if you can hear, Wolf. There is gunfire going on behind us right now.

What I can tell you is when we were at the compound; we did hear what sounded to us like explosive door entry charges. They put C4 on the locks to blow the locks open and enter houses. We did hear a couple of those. We're pretty use to that and it didn't seem much of a big deal to us. However, when we got back -- that's fairly close fire going on there. What we did hear when we got back here was that two -- at least two tank rounds were fired from very close this position here, which in turn is about 10 minutes from the compound. So there was tank shelling while Colin Powell was in the city.

And what sounds to me like some sniper fire going on behind us right now, pretty close by. I can point out to you that in the last four days, Palestinian officials tell us that five civilians have been brought down and killed by sniper fire wandering outside during the curfew -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I just want to make sure, Michael, that you're not in any danger yourself or our people are not in any danger because those shots sounded pretty loud based on what we could here.

HOLMES: Yeah, we get a pretty good sense now, after a couple of weeks of this, of where the shots are. They are fairly close but they sound like they're going in the other direction or at least we hope so Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Just take care of yourself and we'll come back to you. Michael Holmes, our man in Ramallah who's been reporting there now for several weeks. Jerrold Kessel, our man here in Jerusalem has been reporting on this story for many years. Before we talk about where Colin Powell's initiative with the Palestinians and the Israelis might be going, Jerrold, I want to get your thought on this word that we just reported that the secretary will make a side trip tomorrow to Beirut, Monday, to meet with Lebanese officials amid grave concern -- mounting concern that the U.S. has over the tension along the Israeli border with Lebanon. For our viewers how may not be familiar about this second front of potential danger, the border between the Israeli -- the Israeli/Lebanese border, fill us in and give us a perspective on the purpose of the secretary's visit.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's very important, Wolf, for two reasons, both in and of itself and what it says about the secretary of state's mission here in trying to get a stabilizing situation in place between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

There's no doubt about it. The United States has been very, very concerned as Israeli has been saying all along that this could open up into this volatile situation along the Israeli/Lebanon border could open up in literally what they call a second front, which would have even more potential for exploding than this Israeli/Palestinian explosion as it is already and expand into the whole Middle East.

Because for the last 10 days and more, virtually everyday, in fact everyday but not all along the line, there have been exchanges between Hezbollah guerrillas in south Lebanon also some other Palestinian groups but those -- some Palestinians groups those have been stopped by the Lebanese authority but Hezbollah guerrillas firing either into northern Israel, into Israeli positions, or at Israeli settlements -- villages up there or into that disputed area or the area of the occupied Golan Heights, which is in the -- on the triangle of the three borders between Israeli, Lebanon and the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

And Israel, in response to those attacks, have been firing daily, artillery fire and aerial bombardment against the suspected Hezbollah positions. And clearly Mr. Powell wants to underline to the Lebanese authority and implicitly or maybe directly to Syria who held responsible and accountable also for what happens in south Lebanon, to make sure that this does not explode out of control. So I think that will be a message and that will be underlined -- the visit there will underline that message the United States, and indeed, the United Nations have been trying to deliver through various forms for the last 10 days.

But apart from that, I think what it does it suggests that if the secretary of state is going up to Beirut, he might also go to Damascus, though we haven't heard confirmation of that. That means that he's probably going to come back here and that this mediation mission is going to last beyond when it -- the timetable when it originally was envisioned that he would be here until Monday afternoon or Monday evening.

We have no confirmation of that, but I believe that if he said he was going up to Lebanon without spelling out that he wasn't coming back here, he probably will be coming back here for more mediation. But that may be a little bit of a projection up in front but it does suggest that the United States has some kind of handle or believes it has some kind of handle to work towards their ultimate goal of providing some kind of stabilizing situation even if it isn't a formal cease-fire on which to build to try to take the heat out of this Israeli/Palestinian confrontation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jerrold Kessel, our man here in Jerusalem reporting on multiple fronts, multiple developments, a dramatic day here in Jerusalem, in Ramallah as the secretary of state wound up three hours of talks with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

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