Update on the Ground: The West Bank and Gaza
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JIM LEHRER: More on the Israeli incursion into the West Bank now from New York Times correspondent Serge Schmemann. Ray Suarez talked with him earlier this evening.
RAY SUAREZ: Serge, was today a day of heavy fighting in the West Bank and Gaza?
SERGE SCHMEMANN: Today there was… there were really no reports of heavy fighting in the West Bank, and none in Gaza. Gaza has not really been affected, largely, by this latest wave of occupations of West Bank cities. But there were mop-up operations in Jenin we heard about. Otherwise, it’s more of a holding pattern as Secretary of State Powell arrived.
RAY SUAREZ: There have been reports of Israeli pullouts from certain towns. Do they pull out of one place just to deploy in new places in that area?
SERGE SCHMEMANN: No, they’ve actually pulled back from two of the major towns in the West Bank, Tulkarm and Qalqilya, but they remain around those towns. I mean, the tanks and APCS and troops continue to seal them off. The towns are really closed off. Reporters, as far as I know, have not been able to get in and out of either town. But today the army said that they had withdrawn from 24 small villages that they… in which they had conducted some sort of operations. But they remain very much in place in the major towns– in Bethlehem and Ramallah, in Jenin and in Nablus.
RAY SUAREZ: Is the area sealed off from Israel proper? Is it hard for anybody to get in and out?
SERGE SCHMEMANN: It is, technically, yes. There are roadblocks on all the major roads, but in the absence of any kind of fence, in the absence of a formal border, there are many, many ways for people to walk across into Israel, to drive across through back roads, through villages. So it’s never really possible, under the current circumstances, to fully seal off the West Bank from Israel. In fact, quite a few Palestinians still manage to get to their jobs in Israel.
RAY SUAREZ: What about relief organizations– the Red Crescent, and Red Star of David, is help able to get into this area now that the fighting has subsided a bit?
SERGE SCHMEMANN: Well, this has been one of the problems. I know that today, the group of… a convoy of UNRA– that’s the U.N. agency that takes care of refugee camps– tried to get into Jenin to get to the refugee camp. They asked permission, but they were kept waiting and waiting and waiting, and finally told that it was too dangerous for them to go into the refugee camps.
Yesterday, I saw another convoy trying to get into Ramallah, and they were not allowed to go into the refugee camps. We hear of a great shortage of supplies in many hospitals, and probably people are seriously running short of food in Jenin in addition. In the refugee camps there has been no water for several days now, so the problem is serious. I suspect the humanitarian organizations will start moving in. They have to send in teams to assess the damage as well, to find out where the emergency aid should be focused in the coming weeks. But of course, a lot depends on when these occupations end, and under what conditions they will end.
RAY SUAREZ: What about people injured in the fighting? If you are shot, hurt by debris, can you reliably get the kind of help you need, the treatment?
SERGE SCHMEMANN: No, of course not. Many of the people we’ve heard in… during operations were wounded, ended up bleeding to death. In Jenin, there is talk of bodies still lying in the street of the refugee camp. There was a whole group of people holed up in a mosque in Nablus, wounded people, who had gone in there for help. They only had the most rudimentary first aid, and hopefully by now they’ve been transferred to a hospital. But in the course of the fighting, when simply venturing out into the street is very dangerous, when just running up to a wounded comrade can be dangerous, and when ambulances can… are not allowed to move through the streets, obviously people are not getting the sort of immediate aid they need.
RAY SUAREZ: Secretary Colin Powell has been on the ground for a short time now. What are his first official activities? I understand his schedule is pretty full.
SERGE SCHMEMANN: It is. It is. His visit here has raised a lot of expectations because the fighting has been so fierce in recent days, the pressures from the Bush Administration have been so heavy, the statements from various Arab leaders he’s talked to have been so strong. So there is really a lot of anticipation of his visit. But Prime Minister Sharon has so far given no sign that he plans to withdraw from the major towns. Whether that’s a negotiating position, we don’t know.
Secretary Powell will be seeing Prime Minister Sharon tomorrow morning. He will be meeting with the full cabinet at some point. He will be meeting Foreign Minister Peres, the President. And on Saturday, he said, he intends to visit Yasser Arafat in his offices where he has been besieged now for two weeks in Ramallah. He has made very clear that he will do that.
RAY SUAREZ: Joining us from Jerusalem, thanks a lot.
SERGE SCHMEMANN: Thank you.