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Cycle of Violence in Israel

June 6, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: The Israeli response to yesterday’s suicide bombing. We start with a report from John Irvine of Independent Television News.

JOHN IRVINE: Most of the sprawling compound that is Yasser Arafat’s headquarters now lies in ruins. The Israeli army caused more damage during last night’s six- hour raid than they did during the 34-day siege which ended last month.

SHIMON PERES, Foreign Minister, Israel: It’s supposed to send a signal to the Palestinian Authority that they have to become active in preventing terror.

JOHN IRVINE: First thing this morning, Arafat’s guards emerged from one of the few buildings left standing. Soon afterwards, their leader also came out. He appeared somewhat subdued, but made his customary defiant gesture.

YASSER ARAFAT: No one can defeat the Palestinian people who are defending the holy sacred Christian and Muslim holy places. And we are here to defend it and we are ready to die to defend it.

JOHN IRVINE: He was then shown the damage wrought by the Israelis. On this occasion, a tank shell had landed close to Arafat’s bedroom. He was sleeping elsewhere. Among his boxes of tablets and medicine he found a cherished photograph.

YASSER ARAFAT: This is my photo with my daughter.

JOHN IRVINE: Elsewhere in Ramallah there was a gun battle as the Israelis arrested suspected militants. This operation was also part of the response to yesterday’s suicide car bombing in which 17 Israelis died, most of them young soldiers.

RAY SUAREZ: For more, we go to Daniel Williams, a correspondent in Jerusalem for the Washington Post. Daniel Williams, have the Israelis said what their objective was in making this incursion?

DANIEL WILLIAMS: Well, what they were saying tonight was that it was a message, a message that held the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat responsible for terrorist attacks, and a message that there would be no sanctuary for people responsible. So they invaded his compound, I guess for the second time in two months.

RAY SUAREZ: So there were no arrests made or anything of the kind? It was basically a physical incursion and then a withdrawal?

DANIEL WILLIAMS: Well, no, there were no arrests. They knocked down a couple of wings of Arafat’s office compound. That pretty much leaves him with two mostly intact buildings to work in there. But a couple of police buildings and intelligence building, a military intelligence wing, were all flattened.

RAY SUAREZ: Do the Israelis maintain that they have no intention of attacking Arafat himself?

DANIEL WILLIAMS: Officials said today that it is policy not to hurt Yasser Arafat, so… and if they wanted to, they would have got him. That was pretty much the line today. So the whole thing seemed to be kind of an intimidation exercise.

RAY SUAREZ: And what are you…

DANIEL WILLIAMS: They did kill, as we said, they did kill some people, or two people, I understood, in the compound during the assault.

RAY SUAREZ: When they say things like there’s no intention of hurting him, meant only to send a message, where do they stand publicly on his continuing status as the leader of the Palestinian people?

DANIEL WILLIAMS: Well, I think Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has… uses various words to describe what he would like. He described Arafat as irrelevant, as the leader of a terrorist organization, he would like him to, if not step aside, at least to be isolated in such a way that he would no longer function as the effective leader of the Palestinians. That hasn’t seemed to have taken hold fully in Washington, much less in Europe and in the Arab world.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, with the latest bomb attack against civilians inside Israel, is there a growing clamor among Israeli politicians, people who are opinion-makers, to remove Yasser Arafat from the area?

DANIEL WILLIAMS: Well, there’s some of that among some politicians and some commentators, but I would say in these days, and especially after the bus attack, the real clamor has been for some form of separation, some sort of physical barrier to impede the arrival of suicide bombers into Israel. I think people on the street would be more satisfied if there was some magical fence that could keep Palestinians out of Israel proper, whether Arafat stays or not.

RAY SUAREZ: Then where would that leave the large number of settlers who remain, I guess, on the other side of where that fence would be?

DANIEL WILLIAMS: Well, that’s one of the complex issues, and that’s probably why a fence hasn’t been built before now. It’s easier said than done just to build a fence separating Israelis and Palestinians, since there are two hundred… there are settlements, some settlements deep in the West Bank, and those would also have to be protected.

The way things are going now, it looks like some cities will be totally ringed by barbed wire and fences, and they will be made in enclaves and then the complex method of protecting the settlers will continue, but with the Palestinians rather cooped up in their towns and clusters of villages.

RAY SUAREZ: This wouldn’t seem to be a very promising opening to the talks that are supposed to be starting next week or the international conference for later in the summer, would it?

DANIEL WILLIAMS: I must say things don’t seem very promising here. I think that’s right on any score. The conference that has been proposed I don’t think many of the sides don’t agree what the agenda is and not even who should attend. I think Prime Minister Sharon would not like Yasser Arafat to come.

I don’t think the Israelis are interested in a timetable being set for Palestinian statehood. Hosni Mubarak, who is visiting Washington tomorrow, I think, would like a timetable. The Americans have not fully weighed in on just what they want to come out of this conference and who should be there and where it should be and how it should be.

RAY SUAREZ: Have the Americans given any signal on their continued backing of Arafat’s status as the leader of the Palestinian people?

DANIEL WILLIAMS: Well, President Bush– I mean, because I’m over here, so I know not much more than you– but President Bush has said on occasion how disappointed he is, how the Palestinians deserve better leadership. But he, as far as anyone here seems to know, he has not said that Arafat should somehow be jettisoned from the scene, either by expelling him or bringing harm to him.

RAY SUAREZ: And has there been a change in public opinion inside Israel with latest bombing attack?

DANIEL WILLIAMS: Well, I don’t think a change or a rapid evolution, but something must be done. What that is, there’s a wide divergence of opinion. People are frightened; people are frightened I think on both sides of the frontiers here. Something must be done, but I don’t think there’s a consensus on exactly what could be done. If you read the papers today, it was build a fence, expel Arafat, take over the Palestinian cities, stay there forever, get out. You could have heard everything.

RAY SUAREZ: Dan Williams, thanks for joining us from Jerusalem.