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Bomb Explodes in Central Jerusalem

Aired March 9, 2002 - 16:00   ET


SUZANNE KELLY, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Suzanne Kelly at the CNN Center. We want to welcome our U.S. viewers as well as our international viewers with this breaking news.

After a week of some of the heaviest violence between Israelis and Palestinians, we have news now that bomb has exploded in the very heart of Jerusalem. For the latest, we go directly now to Michael Holmes who's standing by in Jerusalem -- Michael.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Suzanne, it's been a day, a week, a month if you like of tragedy and death in this ongoing conflict, and tonight extraordinary scenes.

Just about half an hour ago. an explosion at a very popular cafe here in central Jerusalem, it's called the Cafe Moment. It's a place popular with people of all ages, the young and the old described as a very trendy place to be. Now on a Saturday evening, the end of the Sabbath, it would have been packed with people.

A short time ago, we were told that a suicide bomber apparently entered the cafe and detonated explosives. Ambulance officials told us a short while ago, there were a large number of wounded. Some figures that we have heard that there are about 15 people have so far been taken to hospitals, three of them in serious condition, four moderately hurt, and eight with light injuries.

But as I said, this happened just a short time ago. Those figures are very low. CNN's Ben Wedeman has been trying to make his way there through the traffic. It's only about five minutes from where we are at our bureau. Ben's been trying to get there by car and joins us now on the line. Ben, what have you been able to see, if you've been able to get there?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Michael, we are the scene. However, at the moment the police are keeping the press away. They were afraid that there might be secondary explosions at this Moment Cafe, so we're being kept at a certain amount of distance, but obviously the situation is very tense here. This is just within the last week there's been another bombing a week ago here in Jerusalem as well. So a very uneasy feeling here, but at the moment as I said, we can't get very close to the actual site of the explosion. Michael.

HOLMES: Obviously, Ben, concerns about the number of injured. This place is a very popular place, and large numbers of ambulances streaming past here at the bureau a short time ago. What's the scene?

WEDEMAN: Well, there are several ambulances here and on our way, we were overtaken by four or five, possibly even more, ambulances as well. Also there are various people, security people, police and others rushing to the scene. At the moment, you won't hear any sirens in the background. It appears that those that have come have come already, and as I said before, it looks like the police are just trying to cordon off the area, establish a certain amount of order so they can go about their business. Michael.

HOLMES: All right, Ben, thanks very much. Ben Wedeman there close to the scene. He'll be reporting for us later on, once he's able to get even closer.

I want to tell people where this is. It's in central Jerusalem. It is, in fact, very close to the Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's residence, not known if he is there tonight. He usually does spend the weekends at his farm outside of Jerusalem.

Now this, of course, all comes as we still get these figures in now of the wounded, 15 people taken to hospital, more on the scene we believe, yet to be taken from the scene. This comes less than an hour or so after an event in Netanya.

Now that is a coastal town just north of Tel Aviv, a place that has seen terrorism in the past. Three gunmen in a hotel lobby opened fire, suspected Palestinian gunmen -- well, Palestinian gunmen we know now from claims of responsibility, opened fire both inside and outside that hotel.

Reports from there now just indicating, we heard just a short time ago that one of those people shot at the scene has died, and you can see there some of the early pictures taken there from the scene. Ambulance officials have told us at least 35 people have been injured in that shooting by these three gunmen, five in serious condition we were told, eight in moderate condition, 21 with light injuries.

Among the seriously injured, a baby, and as I just indicated we've also heard that one of those injured, a woman, has died in hospital. So the three gunmen who carried out this attack were shot by Israeli police security forces and not long after that, telephone calls claiming responsibility by the Al Aksa Brigade. Now that is a militia group that is aligned with Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement.

It has been extremely active in incidents here in the last few weeks, and has carried out several attacks on Israeli citizens. I can tell you also that Al Aksa has also claimed responsibility for the Cafe Moment bombing, and so Al Aksa claiming responsibility for both of these incidents, the Cafe Moment bombing, a suicide bomber, and also the events that took place at Netanya, which is a seaside area. This is a very popular area again with people.

After the sabbath has ended, it would have been very crowded with people out to get something to eat, to socialize, a normal Saturday evening occurrence here in Israel. Now, what we can also tell you is that among the seriously hurt, as I said, was a baby. This comes at a time where the United States, in particular, and also the European Union has been pushing for cease- fire talks for the violence to be ratcheted down but now, obviously on both sides, anything but.

Also, I should tell you that it was only a hour or so ago that Israeli helicopters fired nine missiles at two checkpoints leading to a presidential compound in the Gaza Strip. Nine missiles fired at those two checkpoints, 24 Palestinians, including four members of Yasser Arafat's elite personal bodyguard were injured in that attack.

And in a day of, it seems, almost hourly incidents, an hour before that attack by Israeli helicopters, Israeli F-16 planes fired a missile at a presidential compound in the West Bank town of Nablus, and at least three people were injured there.

Yasser Arafat not at either of those compounds, of course. For three months now, he has been confined to Ramallah by Israel but incidents as we can see on both sides of that. There's also a refugee camp in Bethlehem or just to the south of Bethlehem, which is called Dahaisha (ph), which has apparently had Israeli tanks move in there in the late afternoon, early evening hours, and there have reported been incidents there too.

It has been an extraordinary day and an extraordinary week. In just the past week, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed by this violence and 30 Israelis have been killed, the bloodiest week in more than 17 months of this current intifada, and we will be keeping you informed obviously as we get more information from this latest suicide bombing, which has happened at the Cafe Moment, and also as details continue to come through from the shooting incident which took place in Netanya. Back to you, Suzanne.

KELLY: That's right, Michael. I think it's also very critical that we put this in context politically as well, because this week, the U.S., for example, has announced that it is sending its envoy Anthony Zinni back to the region, and even Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister has indicated that for the first time in a long time, he's willing to talk peace again with the Palestinians. What kind of response has there been so far from authorities?

HOLMES: To these latest incidents, it's too early to tell, Suzanne, but you're right. The U.S. has decided to send Anthony Zinni back to the region. He is expected Tuesday, and I think we now have pictures here of the bombing at the Cafe Moment. I believe that's what we have. These would be very early pictures coming in from Israel television.

Yes this is, as I said, in central Jerusalem, about five minutes from where we are at CNN's bureau here in east Jerusalem and also very close to the prime minister's residence. As I said, not knowing yet whether he is in town. He probably isn't. He normally spends his weekends at his private farm.

This will strike very hard for Israelis. This cafe a very popular place here in Jerusalem, visited by young and old, a very trendy meeting place, and I said, particularly on a Saturday evening at the end of the Sabbath.

Going back, as we look at these pictures, Suzanne, to what you were saying, Anthony Zinni due here next Thursday, his mission to try to bring about a cease-fire. And as you point out, Ariel Sharon on Friday backed away from a long held insistence on seven days of peace before he would even contemplate negotiating any kind of cease-fire.

Well on Friday what he did was, he said OK we will negotiate cease-fire under fire, something he has always said he wouldn't do. This raised hopes that there might be cease-fire talks possible at some time in the very near future. However, there was continued Israeli military action against Palestinian targets in Gaza and in the West Bank, and many more injuries and deaths occurred, even after he said that he would be willing to negotiate a cease-fire under fire.

The Palestinian reaction to that was 50 people died on Friday, and it's very difficult for us to talk about cease-fires, they said, when there has been, their words, a massacre taking place. I don't think there would be many people in either community tonight who would be surprised that there has been a response to those 50 deaths, and the sort of tragic nature that that has taken with the bombing just a short time ago at this cafe and also the shooting incident just an hour ago I suppose in Netanya.

We will bring you more information on both of those as they come to hand, but while there's been talk of a cease-fire, there has certainly been no sign of one here. Suzanne.

KELLY: Understood clearly. Michael Holmes joining us from Jerusalem with the very latest on a bomb blast in central Jerusalem. For our viewers in the U.S. now, we say goodbye. Thank you for joining us.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Headquarters in Atlanta. We want to update you now on the violence in the Middle East.

In Jerusalem, a cafe explosion has taken place there, just blocks away from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's home. No reported injuries at Sharon's home. However, several dozen injuries are being reported outside that cafe, and this comes just an hour after three suspected gunmen then opened fire in the town of Netanya there, injuring at least 27 people who went to the hospital there. Officials say one reported death has taken place in Jerusalem.

We, of course, would like to bring you up to date on all of these developments that are taking place in Israel right now. Michael Holmes joins us now from Jerusalem. He's keeping tabs on all of this taking place. Michael, what's the latest?

HOLMES: Fredricka, we just spoke with CNN's Ben Wedeman, who is trying to make his way to the scene of the Cafe Moment explosion, which occurred, as you know just a short time ago. He was able to tell us that police have sealed off the area immediately around there. The initially feared a second explosion. We have received some pictures in just a short time ago, early pictures from near where the explosion occurred.

To give viewers a sense of what happened, this Cafe Moment is in the heart of Jerusalem. It's about five minutes from our bureau here in fact and it's a very popular place, a trendy place if you like, popular with both young and old alike. And tonight is Saturday night. In Israel, it's the end of the Sabbath. It's a time when people traditionally go out to eat and socialize with each other, and the streets are normally very busy.

A suicide bomber, according to police, walked into the Cafe Moment and detonated the explosives and initial reports are from ambulance officials, their words were that there are a large number of wounded. What we can tell you is the number of people that we know so far have actually been taken to hospital. That stands at three people in a serious condition, four in a moderate condition, and eight with light wounds.

This has come on another night of tragedy and death and injury in and around the West Bank, Gaza, and here in Jerusalem, and also, as you mentioned briefly in the town of Netanya, which is a coastal town just north of Tel Aviv.

Again, another terrible tragedy occurring there where three gunmen were in a hotel lobby there, along a promenade, a pedestrian area and they opened fire inside the lobby of the hotel, firing both inside and outside the hotel, hitting people in both places.

Israeli -- we now know from Israeli police that all three gunmen were themselves killed by security forces. As you mentioned, one woman, we are told, an Israeli woman has now been confirmed dead as a result of this gunfire incident. Ambulance officials initially reported to us, 35 wounded, five of them in a serious condition, including a baby.

That figure is thought to perhaps be even higher now, but to say just what we know is 35. There have been reports of up to 40 or the low 40s. Again, Saturday evening, the Sabbath, the area was crowded. As I said, a promenade, a pedestrian walkway at the front of this hotel crowded with people when these three gunmen opened fire.

Some other news I can tell you about. The Al Aksa Brigade, which is a militia aligned with Yasser Arafat Fatah movement has now claimed responsibility for both of these incidents. That is, the shooting incident and the Cafe Moment suicide bombing, which happened here in Jerusalem just a short time ago.

The Al Aksa Brigade has been quiet for several months, but then in the last few weeks, has been extraordinarily active here, and has been responsible for several acts of terror against Israeli citizens and security forces as well.

This hasn't just been on one side this evening. I have to tell you that only a few moments before the incident that happened outside the hotel, Israeli helicopters fired nine missiles at two checkpoints leading to a presidential compound in the Gaza Strip. Twenty-four Palestinians, including four members of Yasser Arafat's personal elite bodyguard were wounded in that attack, and only an hour before that, an Israeli F-16 fired a missile at another presidential residence or compound in the West Bank town of Nablus, three injuries there so far. It's still early in that. The last figure we had was three.

Now, Yasser Arafat not at either of these residences as many people will know. He has been confined by Israel to Ramallah for some three months now. But this comes at a time, Fredricka, as people were trying to talk about the notion of cease-fire talks taking place. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister saying on Friday that he would drop his demands for seven violence-free days before he would talk about a cease-fire negotiation taking place.

He's now dropped that condition and said negotiations for a cease-fire can take place under fire. However, even as he said that and after that the Israeli, massive Israeli military operations against Palestinian targets continued. A 15-year-old girl was shot in her home today, apparently caught in crossfire in Bethlehem. So the violence then continued on.

Anthony Zinni the U.S. envoy due here on Thursday. He's here to try to bring about some sort of cease-fire. But in the past week, I can tell you, more than 100 Palestinians have died, more than 30 Israelis, and cease-fire seems like a very foreign word here at the moment -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Michael. Now we want to go to Ben Wedeman who is on the telephone. He's at the Moment Cafe where that explosion just rocked the area, sending several dozen people to the hospital there. Ben, can you hear me?

WEDEMAN: Yes, Fredricka, I can. I can tell you that bomb disposal units are in here. There's an intense fear that there might be secondary explosive devices in the area, so they're keeping the press well and far away.

There are no more ambulances coming to this area, but I spoke with one eyewitness, who was just down the street from the Moment Cafe. She told me that when she heard the bomb go off, she broke down in tears. There was lots of screaming. She described body parts on the pavement outside, and she says she thought she saw the body of at least one person outside and described a horrifying smell of burning flesh here.

At the moment, the press is being kept away from the site of the explosion. As I said, the police are still worried about the possibility of secondary explosive devices. They're searching in the bushes, under cars in this area, just in case there's something else here. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So, Ben, you said they're taking caution because they may have some inclination as to whether there could be yet a second or possibly another explosion that could possibly go off in that area? WEDEMAN: That's correct. In the past, it's not rare that one explosion went off, people flocked to the site of the explosion to see what had happened to help the victims, and another bomb went off. Therefore, they certainly in this instance are being very careful indeed. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And so it must be pretty chaotic too, not just the fact that the explosion went off, but I imagine that the security forces there kind of want to keep a close eye on all those people who might be lingering or, you know, passerby or people who are standing by just keeping an eye on the situation. How are they treating them? Are there searches kind of indiscriminately that start to take place in a situation like this?

WEDEMAN: No. No. At the moment, in fact, it's fairly quiet. It's a strange and eerie quiet in fact. There are no searches going on. It's gotten to the point in this place where everybody looks at one another very closely, but by and large it's the onlookers essentially, the media and people from this neighborhood. So it's not necessarily a situation of panic, but certainly one of shock.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Ben. Just hold on the phone there. We may be coming right back to you. Let's head back over to Michael though, who is in Jerusalem standing by there. Michael, any word now on the shooting incident that took place over an hour ago now? What is to be made of a report that there might be a fourth suspect that officials are looking for now?

HOLMES: Yes, that was reported earlier, Fredricka. We have no confirmation from our sources of that. We were told that the three gunmen who carried out the attack have been killed at the scene. There was an early report that a fourth gunman might still be out there, but we've had no confirmation on that.

What I can bring you though are some updated figures that while you were talking to Ben, our producers here were able to get. Forty- three people from the Cafe Moment explosion have now been taken to hospital. That's 43 wounded from that explosion. Six of them are in serious condition.

Something else I can tell you is that we are told that there are nine critically wounded people at the scene who have not yet been taken to hospital. Now without wanting to speculate too much, in the past that certainly indicated fatalities. That's yet to be confirmed, but nine critically wounded people at the scene who have not been taken to hospital as yet. That's not a good sign, Fredricka. Forty- three people have been taken to hospital. Back to you.

WHITFIELD: And, Michael, once again as you alluded to, the timing couldn't be worse. The timing could never be good in a situation like this, but particularly now as American envoy Zinni is now getting ready to embark on his trip to the Middle East there. I imagine any kind of talks that were scheduled for this week might be put on the back burner or might be that much more delicately tried to be planned out at this point. HOLMES: It would certainly be very difficult to imagine meetings being terribly productive under these circumstances. But, Anthony Zinni is coming. He's coming on Thursday, and he comes after Ariel Sharon, of course, on Friday said that he was dropping a long held precondition that there be seven violence-free days before there would be any negotiation on cease-fire.

He's dropped that condition now, but Palestinians point out that even after he made that comment, there were still Israeli military action taking place against Palestinians. Palestinians said it was very difficult to contemplate the notion of cease-fire when they had 50 of their people killed on Friday alone.

And I should also point out that also this evening, Israeli helicopters fired nine missiles at the checkpoints leading to Palestinian presidential compound in the Gaza Strip. Twenty-four Palestinians there, including four members of Yasser Arafat's elite bodyguard were wounded in that incident.

And just an hour before that, an Israeli F-16 fired at another presidential compound or residence. That was in the West Bank town of Nablus, and another three were injured there.

So even while there is talk of cease-fire, there seems to be very, very little reality of that right now -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, and not far from you, let's go now back to Ben Wedeman who's on the phone there. He's at the Moment Cafe, where that explosion had taken place. He's got an update now on the situation there. Ben, what do you know?

WEDEMAN: Yes, Fredricka, we're hearing from some of the medical personnel here that there may be some dead here as well as some critically wounded. But as I mentioned before, the situation is made all the more complicated by fears that there might be secondary explosions. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, Ben, what about the emergency personnel there. They have to be incredibly strapped, given the pattern of this violence that has taken place just in the past few weeks alone, let alone today, now at least two reported incidents that are leading to some pretty high numbers in injuries there. Is there any kind of indication of how in the world the emergency personnel, hospital workers, are able to handle this right now?

WEDEMAN: Well, unfortunately they're quite accustomed to this sort of thing, and you can see it almost on a daily basis here, that when something happens, many of the police and almost all of the ambulances in the city will flock to an area where an explosion or some incident has taken place.

As I said, they're accustomed to it by now. Obviously, I wouldn't say that their emotions have been dulled by it, but certainly unfortunately they're used to it. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Ben, do you have any indication as to where Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may be about now? It has been reported that earlier this weekend he was at a farm just outside of the city there. Do you have any indication of where he might be about now?

WEDEMAN: No. I can tell you that the Sabbath has just ended. That's normally a time when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon does go to his ranch in the countryside. However, I can not tell you at this point where he is.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Ben. Hold on the phone there. We still may be coming back to you. Let's if we're able to go back to Michael. I know he's had an opportunity, a very narrow opportunity in which to do any more additional reporting. Are you getting an update from where you are?

HOLMES: Yes, I just got a briefing to add to the confusion, if you like, that will invariably accompany something like these bombing and shooting incidents. Hamas has also laid claim to this suicide bombing at the Cafe Moment.

So we now have two claims of responsibility. The Al Aksa Brigade, which is aligned as I said with Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, and now also Hamas, a familiar name to people when it comes to actions in the Middle East or in and around Israel, Hamas also laying claim to this.

Now it's been an extraordinary day and week and month if you like in the region. Today alone, there's been a 15-year-old girl, a Palestinian girl shot in Bethlehem, caught apparently in crossfire, according to or during an exchange of fire, according to the Israeli defense force spokesman. The 15-year-old girl killed at a Palestinian refugee camp called Dehaisha (ph), which is in Bethlehem or just near there.

Israeli tanks, according to Palestinian security sources, have entered there and have imposed a blanket curfew on the area. And also as Ben Wedeman has himself reported, several hundred Palestinian youths in Tulkarem were rounded up and taken in for questioning, at least a couple hundred of those still in police custody.

These events continue to change and develop almost by the hour here, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Michael Holmes, as well as Ben Wedeman. We'll be returning back to them in a moment. We're going to take a quick break. But let me just update you, if you're just now beginning to join us, to give you an idea of just what's taking place in Israel, a very dark, bloody day, the end of Sabbath there.

And just within the past hour, an explosion rocked the Moment Cafe just in West Jerusalem there. Forty-three people have been reported injured, six are in serious condition, nine are critically wounded and have not been taken to the hospital as of yet. And at the time you have three gunmen apparently opened up fire killing, or injuring rather, at least 35, killing one, and of course we'll update you on this. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT



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