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Israel, Bush Administration Blame PLO for Mideast Terrorist Attacks

Aired December 2, 2001 - 09:00   ET


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with what some are calling the worst terrorist attacks in Israel in recent history. A powerful bomb ripped open a bus in the port city of Haifa this morning. Police say at least 14 people were killed, dozens injured, and that blast came hours after a grizzly suicide bombing in a crowded mall in downtown Jerusalem.

We are going to join our sister network, CNN International.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: ... feeling in the wake of this spurt of suicide bombings, shifting from Jerusalem here where there was a double-barreled suicide bombing last night to the northern port city of Haifa, a powerful blast, a powerful explosion ripped apart a passenger bus, a city bus, and the latest casualty fatality figures are 14 confirmed dead and some 40 injured, of whom many are in critical condition.

So powerful was the blast, say eyewitnesses, that the bus was completely as you see here, not just torn apart, but thrown about 100 years, 100 meters down the road and it became, it was engulfed in flames for a certain amount of time.

And the chilling description of one eyewitness, I think, gives the real picture of the scene just after the suicide bomber stepped aboard the bus, coolly paid his fare to the driver, moved inside and seconds later this horrendous explosion.

One eyewitness put it like this. He said "such was the force of the blast that the victims didn't utter a word, not even a cry for help. There was complete silence. All that was left to do was to cover some of them and evacuate the rest."

That, the eyewitness from that scene in Haifa, where as I say many people still fighting for their lives in the wake of that suicide bombing there.

It comes after just, it came just twelve hours after the double- barreled suicide bombing in the heart of downtown Jerusalem last night, just before midnight.

Many young people were out in the City Center, at open-air cafes and the result of the double-barreled suicide bombing, you have the aftermath this morning as people gather to light memorial candles at the scene of where the suicide bombers had blown themselves up.

Ten young Israelis, aged between 14 and 20 were killed and 80, more than 80 people were still being treated in hospital this morning of the 180 that were taken to hospital immediately after that attack.

And downtown this morning, as a lot of people came to see the scene, there were some who were there last night and returned to say that they are there to establish their presence there.

We spoke to two young 14-year-olds, Shanni (ph) and Tamal (ph) and this is how they gave their account of what happened there last night.


SHANNI (through translator): In the beginning we were shocked. We didn't know what to do and then we see all these people running and we see the fire. It was right here. It was like right here. We saw the fire so I like ran. I ran into the store. I saw this person full of blood all over.

I ran inside a general store. I was so scared. I see all these people crying and screaming. I called up my mother, told her I'm OK, and then we started running, running, running.

It was like all the police told us to run. We didn't know where to run. Then we hear the other, two more, there were two more bombs. We were continuing running. Like we didn't know where to go. All the people were crying and it was like really scary.

TAMAL: She was all hysterical. I took her in the Internet place here and then I -- we were just here a minute ago, and I knew everybody that was here. I ran here to see what happened and if everybody's OK, and what happened here.

I ran here. I see my friends on the floor with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with blood, glass, really bad. So I ran back to there. And then we moved towards there. Suddenly we hear two more bombs, one after the other, and it was real freaky. We started running. We see everybody running away from here. Then there was another bomb, a fourth bomb, right over here next to the thing. It was really freaky to see your friends.


KESSEL: Well, the eyewitness accounts there of the two young 14- year-olds who had been on the scene yesterday, back there this morning. Also back there this morning was, there this morning was General Anthony Zinni, the U.S. Special Envoy who's been charged by President Bush and Secretary of State Powell with getting a cease-fire in place. Mr. Zinni on the scene laying a wreath and expressing the condolences of the United States for this attack.

But even as he was there, there were many Israelis on the scene that were chanting chants against him, saying "go home. Go home." And Mr. Zinni stood there stony faced, but he made a very strong statement of his own about the nature of that attack. This is what he had to say.


ANTHONY ZINNI, U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY: Let me express my condolences to the families that lost children here in this terrible, horrible, evil action, and also to express my heartfelt concern for those that were injured.

As the president says, we must stay united with this. We must fight this. This is the deepest evil that one can imagine, to attack young people and children, to attack rescue and emergency vehicles that are trying to come in.

This is the lowest form of inhumanity that can be imagined, and I think it's important we stay together to fight this, that we don't let it deter us from our goal for peace, and that we stand together and make the world see that we will not tolerate this. Thank you.


KESSEL: "Deepest evil," General Zinni says, and the need to stand together to fight against this. Well, apart from that, he has been putting the pressure, just as the United States and others in the international community have been, on the Palestinian Authority, not just to declare that it's willing to fight the militants who go on carrying out such actions, but to take action itself.

And we understand that after an emergency meeting down in Gaza today, Yasser Arafat has declared a state of emergency in all the Palestinian-controlled areas. And we're joined on the telephone now from his home in the West Bank town of Jericho, by the top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat.

Thank you very much for joining us Mr. Erakat. Could you just bring us up to date with the decision taken by the Palestinian Authority and the statement put out by Mr. Arafat's Office?

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Yes, General Arafat just issued a statement after convening two emergency sessions, one for the cabinet and one for the security chiefs, in which a state of emergency was declared in all Palestinian areas.

And secondly, to consider any faction, group or party that do not oblige with the decisions of the Palestinian Authority, or especially those who claim the responsibility for the attacks and explosions against Israeli civilians (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

And the Palestinian security forces were instructed to pursue the perpetrators and the planners of these attacks and explosions and to bring them to justice.

As I said, Jerrold, every possible...

KESSEL: Saeb...

ERAKAT: Yes, go ahead Jerrold. KESSEL: Some will say that this is too late.

ERAKAT: Well, I think there are three things that we should look at now, Jerrold. One is what the PLO will do. An action began. We've been trying to sustain the cease-fire. We need help. And we're going to continue exercising our authority. We're one authority. We will not accept the multiplicity of authorities.

The second question is that amidst all the action we're taking now, and we will be taking very serious action in the next few hours, how will the Israeli side respond? Will Mr. Sharon come back in order to begin attacks with F-16s, F-15s, Apache choppers, and bombardment which will undermine the efforts we're trying to do now?

And thirdly, and most importantly, is what will the Americans do? Because I really believe now that, you know, we can say it's too late. We can say angrily the PLO is not a partner. We should tumble the Palestinian Authority. We should resort to force.

But what good will this do? Will this stop the suicide bombers? Will this stop the killing fields out there? Will this stop anything? No, it will not. It will only add to the escalation of the situation.

I think the only sane path now is...

KESSEL: Saeb...

ERAKAT: ... is just to just -- one second Jerrold -- is for the Americans to introduce the timeline and the mechanisms to implement the Mitchell recommendations, and deterrence plan immediately. That's what's needed now.

KESSEL: They say that perhaps more than immediately there needs to be not just talk, not just promises, but real action. And that means, as in the statement that General Zinni put out last night, was to not just go after and arrest those who had been responsible for sending the suicide bombers, but to strike at the infrastructure of those that support them. And that clearly seemed to mean the Islamic -- the radical Islamic group. Is that what the Palestinian Authority is now prepared to do?

ERAKAT: Well as I said, we will not tolerate the multiplicity of authorities. And any party, faction, grouping in the Palestinian people who will act against the Palestinian Authority, who will defy the orders of the Palestinian Authority, will be considered outside the ring of law. And this means a lot.

But the thing is now, Jerrold, imagine that you're taking all these steps and then the Israeli Government begin bombardment of Palestinian areas, Palestinian headquarters, and so on. How will this reaction reflect on the situation? It will just complicate matters.

So, what I'm saying, add it to the steps. They want action from us, fine. They're receiving action. But also we want actions from them, because at the end of the day, at the end of the day we must bring about a solution that will end this Israeli occupation. We must immediately begin to evolve the hopes in the minds of Israelis and Palestinians that are responsible. Because I think those people -- those very...

KESSEL: Thank you very much, Saeb.


KESSEL: I'm afraid we'll have to leave you there, but thanks very much for that. And I dare say that in response to that, the Americans will be saying "we need to see action."

But even as the Americans wait for action from the Palestinian Authority, the eyes will be on the Israeli government, the Israeli military, seeing whether Israel will take action of its own, irrespective of what the Palestinians do.

We've heard Israeli spokesmen saying, it's inconceivable that Israel won't act in light of these two suicide attacks, the first in Jerusalem yesterday, the second now an even more powerful and lethal attack in the city of Haifa.

Back to you, Ralitsa.


Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is cutting short his trip to the United States, is meeting a day early with the U.S. President George W. Bush so that he can quickly return to Israel.

For more, let's go to Major Garrett. He's at the White House -- Major.


President Bush due to arrive here at the White House from the Presidential Retreat at Camp David about 11:30 a.m. Eastern time. At noon Eastern time, he will sit down and meet with the Israeli prime minister.

And as senior administration officials have surveyed the carnage in Haifa this morning, they have only amplified and underlined the statement President Bush released yesterday from Camp David, reacting to the earlier suicide bombing attacks in Jerusalem. In that, the president said the following about Chairman Arafat: "Now more than ever, Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority must demonstrate through their actions, and not merely their words, their commitment to fight terror."

In that statement, the president also said that it was up to the Palestinian Authority to "find and arrest those responsible for these hideous murders." Those are President Bush's words, and "act swiftly and decisively against the organizations that support those who carried out the terrorist acts." All those words are very vital in this overall context, Ralitsa.

The administration this morning is putting all the onus, all the pressure, all the spotlight entirely on the Palestinian Authority to take concrete actions to not only arrest those they believe were directly or indirectly responsible for these most recent terrorist attacks, but also to go to the underlying organizations that support them.

That's a key definition the administration is putting out on the table, and it's one that they understand will be very difficult for the Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to meet in totality.

But they want to see direct actions from the Palestinian Authority to prove to the United States and to Israel that concrete steps are being taken to remove or at least lessen the chance of violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Absent that, the administration is going to have to find itself increasingly sympathetic to the Israeli Prime Minister in his overall struggle against Palestinian violence -- Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: And looking ahead at the president's meeting with the prime minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, what is the message that the Bush administration will convey to him?

GARRETT: Well it's decidedly different, Ralitsa, than it was going to be two days ago. Senior administration officials were telling CNN on Friday that they expected a very tough meeting with the Israeli prime minister. Why? Because they were expecting him to come to Washington and in their words in, quote, "no mood to compromise," feeling very much pressured by the upsurge in Palestinian violence against Israelis.

But the administration was going to try to tell Mr. Sharon, "look, you have to do your part as well." They were not going to give voice to Mr. Sharon's call -- a supportive voice to Mr. Sharon's call for seven days of absolutely no violence.

All the administration was going to say is, there needs to be a maximum, 100 percent effort from the Palestinian Authority to minimize violence. Well now the context has changed dramatically.

And clearly every emphasis of the administration right now is on the Palestinian Authority to take these concrete steps, and there will not be a significant agenda on the Israeli side to prove that they're willing to create a better security environment, all the emphasis now on the Palestinians and a very, very touchy, volatile time the next 24 to 48 hours, as the United States and the world community, and clearly Israel and the Palestinians watch and sees and awaits what happens -- Ralitsa.

VASSILEVA: Major Garrett of the White House, thank you very much. We now say goodbye to our audience in the United States, as you rejoin CNN USA.

SAVIDGE: Thank you, Ralitsa. The terrorist bombings turned this weekend into a grizzly nightmare in Israel. The blast echoed from the seats of government to the doorsteps of Israeli homes and shops.

As the smoke from those bombs clears, some people feared that the chance of peace is also vanishing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want peace. I don't want fighting. I don't want war. Who does? Nobody wants war. War is an ugly thing. War is a painful thing. And I don't know, for some reason, after seeing what's going on here today, and to think what the Arabs, the terrorists are doing over the entire world -- all over the world -- I don't think that we can have peace with them.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't do nothing and then want to show Palestinians that they can fight with us. Israelis don't do nothing. You can't do nothing. Nobody can do nothing. They're not -- they're not justified. If they're going to kill us, we're going to finish the job. That's what I think.


SAVIDGE: The weekend attacks in Israel have killed at least 26; nearly 200 people have been injured.




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