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Arafat Makes Public Declaration after Suicide Attack

Aired May 8, 2002 - 14:11   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: We're going to continue our discussion in the Middle East.

Yasser Arafat today made an unusually personal and public declaration in the wake of yet another suicide attack in Israel.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer joins us now from Jerusalem. He's going to take the news from there -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Kyra, a lot of anticipation here in Israel, because of what is expected to eventually develop once the prime minister of Israel returns, within the next hour or two, to Ben Gurion Airport, just outside of Tel Aviv. The prime minister expected to convene an emergency meeting of his cabinet and to make some major decisions on how to respond to the suicide bombing in Rishon Letzion, just south of Tel Aviv, yesterday.

Already, funerals of some of the 15 Israelis who were killed in that suicide bombing. According to the Jewish tradition, people are supposed to be buried as quickly as possible. Those funerals starting today.

The Rishon Letzion bombing resulted in 15 Israelis dead, almost 60 injured, perhaps 20 of those critically injured.

Now, within the past couple of hours, Yasser Arafat went on Palestinian television, spoke to the Palestinian people in Arabic, condemned the suicide bombing in Rishon Letzion -- went further and said that all Palestinians must stop these suicide terror strikes against Israeli civilians.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YASSER ARAFAT, PLO LEADER: And I have issued my orders for the Palestinian national security forces to confront and to prevent any terror attacks on Israeli civilians, no matter which Palestinian factions stand behind them.

In the same time, in parallel to this, also to confront any aggression on Palestinian civilians carried out by the Israeli army or the settlers whose attacks we all totally condemn.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: A short while ago, I spoke with the Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres. He said the statement was not enough, that the Palestinian Authority must back that statement up with deeds and go out, use the 30,000, he said, Palestinian police officers in Gaza and the West Bank, take concrete steps against potential terror strikes against Israelis.

At the same time, Shimon Peres says that the Israeli government should go forward with some sort of regional peace conference as proposed by the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI FOREIGN MIN.: None of us has a better alternative. Even when we have those tragic days and terrible experiences, our aim remains a peace achieved by political means and not by military might. And I think this is our aim, and this is also, I believe, the only alternative available to the Palestinians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Israeli prime minister cut short his visit to Washington shortly after meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office to return here, should be arriving, as I said, within the next hour or so.

In the meantime, CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace is traveling with President Bush today in Wisconsin. They're in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.

Kelly, tell us how the Bush administration is bracing, is reacting, to these latest developments.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this definitely a setback for the Bush administration's engagement in the Middle East.

Bracing a very good word. United States officials bracing for a response from the Israelis. So far, though, no public or private calls for the Israelis to exercise restraint. Instead, United States officials really focusing on two messages on this day.

Number one, putting the onus on Yasser Arafat. In the words of President Bush's spokesman Ari Fleischer, quote, "It is time for the Palestinian Authority to perform."

United States officials say Mr. Arafat must take steps to crackdown on terror and prevent any more violence.

The second message coming from Sect. of State Colin Powell just a little bit earlier on this day. He says that the Palestinians and the Israelis somehow, someway, must find a way back to political talks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, SECT. OF STATE: Yesterday's events were troubling, and every time one of these events happens, it takes us off the course that we were on for a while, but I think that it's a course that ultimately you have to get back to, because no matter how military operations one conducts, or how many suicide bombs are delivered, at the end of the day we have to find a political solution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And at this very moment, President Bush in the midst of his speech here in Lacrosse, the president touting his education agenda, new emphasis on teacher quality and accountability standards.

The president so far has been silent when it comes to the Middle East crisis, yesterday's suicide bombing. United States officials, though, saying one thing that is still going forward, that CIA Director George Tenet will be going to the region, probably as early as next week, to work with the Palestinians to create what United States officials are calling a unified Palestinian security force structure.

And then, Wolf, the president facing another big challenge. He heads back to Washington for a meeting with King Abdullah of Jordan, the king one of many Arab leaders who would like to see this administration push for a time table for the creation of a Palestinian state and for a quick return to discussions about a major peace deal.

But, Wolf, as you know, the Israelis were objecting to that, even before yesterday suicide bombing. And now the Israelis ae saying reform of the Palestinian Authority should be a necessary precondition before any talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians go forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelly Wallace, traveling with President Bush in Lacrosse, Wisconsin today. Thank you very much.

Back to you -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Wolf Blitzer, thanks so much.

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