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No Negotiations in Middle East Until Violence Stops

Aired August 9, 2001 - 08:01   ET


COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR: We begin in Jerusalem this morning -- another big explosion, several casualties. The blast came during the lunch hour at a restaurant in the heart of Jerusalem, a pizza parlor there.

Israeli police are assuming it was the work of a suicide bomber.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel has the latest for us now from Jerusalem.

Jerrold, what more do we know at this point?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Colleen, speaking to rescue service people here on the site, they say there are possibly more bodies still inside that small pizza parlor on the corner of this busy intersection.

Now, the official figures that have been given by the Israeli police are that four people have been killed. And we understand from the medical relief services that 69 people have been hurt. The majority of them lightly, but at least 10 are in serious condition according to these -- these are unofficial figures -- but from medical teams here on the spot. They were carried away very quickly.

At the moment, the police are focused on trying to locate what they believe may be another bomb -- an unexploded device in and around that same small pizza parlor on the corner of this busy intersection.

And that's the focus of events now, and that's why, as I say, that we have heard that there may be more bodies there, unretrieved from inside that small pizza parlor.

It was a very busy time, just before 2:00 local time in the lunch hour at this possibly the busiest intersection in down Jerusalem. These are the Jaffa and King George streets, right in the heart of the city.

Israel had been bracing for a long time now for headstrong Palestinian militant groups to carry out actions, part of them, as they say, in revenge for Israel's targeted killing of Palestinian militants, but als o because they say they have the right to take the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of this Intifada to Israel wherever it may be. And that is what has happened, it appears, at this stage, although we should account that in that -- with that condition on that it appears to have been a bomb and possibly a suicide bomber. Too early to tell, say the police, as they still focus on this question of whether there is or is not another unexploded device -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: OK. And just as you were talking, Jerrold, hang on there, I've got a question for you. But I want to mention that our viewers are seeing live pictures of Israeli TV now, so the area has quieted down a little bit from that tape that we were showing you earlier.

Jerrold, as you know as this peace process has really ground down, a cease-fire in place that never really took hold. One of the issues has been whether or not Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, is prepared to crack down on some of the more militant leaders.

To what extent is this type of a scene going to fuel the demands and the pressure on him to do that?

KESSEL: It's very interesting that this particular bomb is that it is in fact, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the presumption that it is the work of Palestinian militants -- this bomb.

It comes at a time just as there were some second thoughts in some parts of the Israeli government, that perhaps the foreign minister, Mr. Shimon Peres, who were questioning the policy of Ariel Sharon, the prime minister, saying there will be no negotiations until there is absolute quiet in the context of the Tenet commission, the Tenet proposals of cease-fire, the Mitchell commission.

The Israeli prime minister has been absolutely emphatic that he will not sit down and talk anymore unless there is absolute quiet. Now, of course, an incident like this will just simply reaffirm Mr. Sharon in his position. He has said emphatically -- he said this in an interview a couple of days ago with our sister station CNN Turk -- in an interview, where he said Yasser Arafat will not be able to drag me back to the table while the firing is going on.

So for Mr. Sharon, it's actually a moot point of whether Yasser Arafat is curbing the militants, wants to curb the militants. He says he has the power. He says he can. So does the Israeli government -- the rest of the government. But there is a difference of whether they should try to work out -- the negotiations a way to stop and to curb the violence. Or, as Mr. Sharon would have it, there should be no talking as long as the Palestinians do not curb the hostilities from their point of view, as the way he sees it -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: And yet, you know, too, Jerrold, that Mr. Sharon has been criticized in the West, too, for taking that position, for insisting that there be a seven-day period or some kind of period of absolute calm before negotiations should resume.

KESSEL: Well, you know, the Israeli -- even Shimon Peres, whom I spoke to a couple of days ago, and we had an interview with him. And when I said to him, was this not being -- from Israel's point of view, could you not see it now as counterproductive that the seven days of -- demand for total quiet for seven days was, in fact, working against Israel's interest, and that Yasser Arafat would therefore have a harder time controlling the militants and bringing absolute quiet, and there was this wall of criticism. And Mr. Peres said simply, there is the Mitchell report, and the Mitchell report has this consequential time frame of seven days. So he was saying it is there. It is effective (UNINTELLIGIBLE) even someone like Shimon Peres.

But I do believe that in the last few days, there has been this feeling creeping into some quarters of the Israeli government to which Mr. Peres was saying, that perhaps it is counterproductive to wait for total quiet -- to say, as Mr. Peres said in a radio interview this morning on Israel Radio, he said perhaps we should talk about how to get the cease-fire in place in absolute terms.

Mr. Sharon is saying, no, that shouldn't happen at all. He is adamant and I dare say that if this event proves to be the work of a suicide bomber, Mr. Sharon will say, I have proved my point. I will not go to negotiate as long as there are these continuing attacks against the Israelis.

MCEDWARDS: And, Jerrold, in terms of the Palestinian people and the Israeli people, you and I have talked before about how there seems to be a real lack of hope, given the 10 months of violence since that incident on the Temple Mount that sort of sparked these latest rounds of violence. Five hundred Palestinians dead -- more than 500 Palestinians dead in that 10-month period, more than 130 Israelis have been killed as well.

People must be just desperate for some kind of hope here?

KESSEL: Yes, that's absolutely true on all sides. There is that hope. But I think there is a new attitude among Israelis. And it has been, as you rightly pointed out among Palestinians a creeping support, even for such effects of suicide bombings, where in the past a year ago, you would have had a fresh (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of perhaps 20 percent who would say absolutely among the Palestinian community who would have supported the attacks within Israeli cities.

And now in the latest polls, they show they're up to 2/3 or more, who say that the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Intifada because Israel is undertaking the kind of crushing actions that it undertakes. The Palestinians feel they support their only way to go on and yield some political dividends from their Intifada, if indeed, to carry out all kinds of attacks.

But on the Israeli side, this is simply not just hardened positions. It's solidified them, if you will. And there has been a distinct change as the -- in the last month or more. Before that, Israelis were relating to this clash/confrontation, even if it had gone on for eight months with the Palestinians, as something that needed to be handled, but it was an unnecessary battle, they though. Now they are much more defiant. They are much more emphatic that the Palestinian force has to be answered...

MCEDWARDS: All right.

KESSEL: ... in one form or another, whether by Mr. Sharon's policy of targeting militants -- what's called in the international community and by many Palestinians as an assassination policy -- or of some other more elaborate use of military means. That's a debate. But more and more Israelis are saying strike back at the Palestinians.

MCEDWARDS: Understood. CNN's Jerrold Kessel in Jerusalem for us.

Once again, four people confirmed dead, more than 20 injured. Israeli officials assuming this was the work of a Palestinian suicide bomber -- no confirmation of that at this point.



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