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Car Bomb Explosion Follows Two Suicide Bombers at a Pedestrian Mall in Jerusalem

Aired December 1, 2001 - 17:13   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're getting some more pictures in right now on that story we mentioned moments ago at the top of the show. There's reports of two explosions, at least two explosions, in Jerusalem. You're looking here at some video that we're just now taking in here. And I don't think we have any control of these pictures as they come in. So you're going to have to pretty much take what you get here. Be careful. There may be something in here we can't really control your seeing.

Now this area, we understand is near the central area in Jerusalem. It is an open pedestrian mall is how it's been described to us.

And our Jerrold Kessel has been reporting on this force. This explosion happened just a few minutes ago, just before midnight local time. Gerald joins us now, as a matter of fact. He's got more information for us, we hope -- Jerrold.

KESSEL: Leon, well, the casualties seem to be mounting steadily. And according to some of the central hospitals there say that there's almost a traffic jam of ambulances crowding in to let the wounded off at the emergency rooms.

And something unusual from the Israeli hospitals, they're calling on volunteers to come help meet with the necessity now. Israeli hospitals are normally pretty well attuned to handling crisis situations like this. And I dare say if they've been broadcasting these appeals for volunteers to come in, then it does mean that they have pretty much a desperate situation on their hands in terms of the number of casualties.

The Israeli police chief was on local radio just a few minutes ago. And their first estimates are, we're updating what we said before, that there were two suicide bombers. That's the presumption of the Israeli police now that there were two suicide bombers. And then, as some of the first rescue teams and medical relief services arrived on the scene at this crossroads, this junction between this open air pedestrian mall and the main thoroughfare, the Jaffa Road, in the heart of downtown Jerusalem, then another explosion occurred. And according to the police chief, they're working on the presumption that that was a car bomb aimed at the rescue services who had come in after those initial blasts set off by the suicide bombers. But the immediate confirmation now is that dozens and dozens of people have been hurt or are casualties either killed or wounded. And that at least two or three suicide bombers who have carried out this attack, a major attack in the heart of Jerusalem.

You will recall there have been, in the last few days, back on Tuesday and then on Thursday, two attacks claimed responsibility by the Islamic jihad group, where two gunmen on Tuesday went into an Israeli town and killed a number of people in a shooting spree there.

And then on Thursday, a suicide bomber also belonging to the Islamic jihad grew blew himself up on a bus and killed three Israelis late on Thursday evening. And as a result of that, Israeli tanks have this morning taken up positions on the fringes of a number of Palestinian towns on the West Bank. And a good deal of tension rising.

And this evening, the Palestinian authorities, Yasser Arafat, there police told CNN and concern that they had arrested at least a dozen Palestinian militants of the Islamic jihad group, including one of the top operatives of Islamic jihad down in Gaza. But that, nonetheless, this evening we've had this now at least a double barreled suicide bombing, according to the Israeli police in the heart of the downtown Jerusalem. And dozens and dozens of people have been hurt or killed in this double barreled attack.

HARRIS: Jerrold, while you're talking, we're looking again at these pictures that we're just now getting in of the scene there, the chaos we see there. And also, the well-practiced emergency services there in Jerusalem, as they scramble into that scene.

I'd like to ask you, in light of what you were just saying moments ago about the rising tensions there, what are we to expect here to come in forms of the next step now with the Israeli government here? And is there anything to expect, to be expected from the Palestinian Authority here?

KESSEL: Well, you know, it's a very critical moment. The United States has sent Marine, reserve Marine General Anthony Zinni to the area with the express mandate from Secretary of State Colin Powell and President Bush himself to remain in the area, until he's able to get a cease-fire.

And just about the moment that Mr. Zinni set foot in the area, it's become more and more volatile. It started just before, when Israel in fact, assassinated leading operative of the Hamas movement on the West Bank.

Since then, we've had the spate of attacks by the Islamic militant groups. We've had the Israeli tanks going back into the fringes of the Palestinian towns this morning.

Mr. Zinni was down in Gaza today and touring some of the hot spots there. He said afterwards he was determined, above all, that the most important thing was to get a sustained cease-fire in place. His priority was restoring calm, but it seems an awful long way from that this very, very tenuous and very volatile relationship and very, very brutal relationship that's now existing between the Israelis and Palestinians, culminating in this very dramatic and major strike. And clearly, a terrorist strike now, it seems in the heart of Jerusalem.

HARRIS: Yes, I think we're seeing a graphic demonstration of just how much of a ratcheting up of a challenge there of reaching a cease-fire. We've actually witnessed take place today.

KESSEL: Yes, and we're getting those hospital numbers there for the emergencies of all the Jerusalem hospitals, which have gone onto emergency footing of this Israeli -- special Israeli television broadcast from the scene downtown Jerusalem. There you have this pedestrian mall, strewn with the aftermath, and the bloody aftermath of this dual terrorist strike of a suicide bombing is what the Israeli police are now saying.

HARRIS: Well, you know, Jerrold, as we are sitting here waiting for the official or some sort of notification from either the police or the hospitals about the numbers of casualties involved here, you said moments ago that the hospitals were making an all call out for volunteers to come in and actually help. Can you give us an idea of exactly how -- in regards to how many times we've seen this happen in Jerusalem, what must the scale be if they have to make a call for volunteers at midnight there?

KESSEL: Very, very big, indeed. Now it is Saturday night. That's the end of the Jewish sabbath. That's a very busy time. And people come out. A lot of young people come out after the Sabbath when most things are closed and go downtown. And this is a spot where people gather for -- in cafes and restaurants now.

If as I say, the hospitals are calling, and they're very well practiced in such terror strikes, but this does seem to be on a much larger scale than normal. They're calling for volunteers now because it is the Saturday night after the Sabbath. And the hospitals have been on a skeleton footing on a weekend footing, and they've probably said, "We need all the medical staff and beyond to cope with this emergency."

All three of the major hospitals that are in Jerusalem, both in the center and on the outskirts of the city, have gone onto emergency footing. And as I say, have been taking these streams of ambulances that have been coming into the hospitals that they've rushed to the scene very quickly afterwards.

And one of the perhaps most horrifying things, if it proves to be the case, as the police chief was saying very early on before this was absolutely checked out, he was saying the fears were that after the first two explosions, there was indeed a third explosion after that. And the fear was that that was either a third suicide bombing or a bomb put in a car that exploded just as the ambulances and the medical relief services arrived on the spot to treat the wounded and the casualties in the first two blasts.

HARRIS: Yes, no question of the intent when you see a bomb going off, timed to meet the emergency workers.

Well, Jerrold, we're going to let you go. And continue to work that story there. And bring us any late-breaking information you have about the numbers of casualties. We know that is going to be quite a horrific number, considering the numbers of people that we can see.

Just -- you were telling, Jerrold, just moments ago from your own observation that the streets were crowded. And we can see there in these pictures that we're just now getting in, that there were many, many people there in that street outside of that pedestrian mall. We'll continue to follow that story and bring you the latest developments. We'll let Jerrold go to the work force right. And we'll take a break and be back with more in just a moment.




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