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Background: Middle East Maelstrom

December 3, 2001 at 12:00 AM EST
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SPENCER MICHELS: Following a bloody weekend, Israel retaliated today, using American-made gunships to fire on Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in Gaza City. An underground fuel depot was hit. Palestinian officials said ten injured people were taken to area hospitals. The attack did destroy two of the Palestinian leader’s transport helicopters. Arafat himself was reportedly a few miles away at the time of the attack. Also today Israeli F-16′s struck a vacant police building in Jenin on the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon addressed the nation tonight.

PRIME MINISTER ARIEL SHARON (Translated): The objective of the war of terrorism… The objective is to cause us to arrive in a situation of desperation and absence of hope, to prevent us from being a free people in our country, the land of Zion and Jerusalem. Citizens of Israel, this shall not happen.

SPENCER MICHELS: Sharon was referring to a weekend of terror in which four Palestinian bombings killed at least 26 people. On Saturday night in a Jerusalem cafe district, two Palestinian suicide bombers killed others, within a minute of each themselves and at least ten others, within a minute of each other. (Explosion) 20 minutes later, camera crews captured another attack, a car bombing which injured a dozen people. The militant group Hamas claimed credit for all the incidents. A day after the Jerusalem deaths, another bomb went off in Haifa, along the Israeli coast. A Palestinian man boarded a bus and blew it up. He killed himself and 15 others in the explosion. The attacks came as a new U.S. delegation was on the ground in the Mideast, trying to re-ignite peace talks. It’s led by retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, who visited the site of Saturday’s attack.

GEN. ANTHONY ZINNI (Ret.), U.S. Mideast Envoy: This is the lowest form of inhumanity that can be imagined, and I think it’s important that we stay together to fight this. Haifa that we don’t let it deter us from our goal for peace.

SPENCER MICHELS: In Washington yesterday President Bush spoke just before meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister at the White House.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This is a moment where the advocates for peace in the Middle East must rise up and fight terror. Chairman Arafat must do everything in his power to find those who murdered innocent Israelis and bring them to justice.

SPENCER MICHELS: Palestinian leaders today condemned the Israeli attacks even as they declared a state of emergency and rounded up more than 100 militants in an effort to quell the violence.

JIBRIL RAJOUB, Palestinian Security Chief: We will take all the necessary measures in order to put an end to this cycle of violence, cycle of bloodshed and killing. (Chanting)

SPENCER MICHELS: But an estimated 1,000 Hamas members defied the crackdown, marching in the West Bank to celebrate the suicide bombings. Late today, Arafat called for an urgent meeting of the 56-nation organization of the Islamic Conference to look into the attacks. Israel’s Sharon in his address tonight made it clear that Arafat had to crack down on the terrorists.

ARIEL SHARON (Translated): Anyone who stands up to kill us is subject to death. We know who is responsible. Arafat is responsible for everything that is taking place here. Arafat made the strategic choice. He chose a strategy of terror.

SPENCER MICHELS: Following Sharon’s speech, the White House today called on Arafat to rein in the Palestinian terrorists, and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.