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Suicide Bomber Kills 15, Injures Dozens in Israel

Aired March 27, 2002 - 14:45   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Hamas claiming responsibility. It says a suicide bomber that originated in Gaza was the one that detonated that explosive that ripped through the Park Hotel, the bottom floor. And if you have seen the damage from this videotape, it is extensive -- not only physically, but personally, as well, in terms of Israelis dead and wounded.

Fifteen, the number of dead, that number may go higher. Upwards of 90 injured, that number has fluctuated for the past several hours. Of that 90, 15 in critical condition right now. And certainly with the Arab summit now in day one in Beirut, Lebanon, the focus of the world shifts back to the Middle East.

And such deadly consequences again today. Michael Holmes is with us now in Jerusalem and joins us live. Michael, I mentioned that Hamas has claimed responsibility. It says one of its bombers from Gaza, originating in the Gaza Strip, was the one who detonated this. What more are you hearing on your end?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I can tighten that up a little bit for you, Bill. First of all, Hamas, yes, has claimed responsibility. They have named the suicide bomber. However, I can tell that Hamas says he is from the West Bank Town of Tulkarem. This, of course, yet to be independently confirmed. However, when an organization names a bomber and where he is from, it's normally a reasonably well-sourced. Now we will be getting independent confirmation on that, however he is from the West Bank town of Tulkarem. That's according to Hamas now.

I want to update you now on the latest casualty figures from this bombing; 15 dead, more than 130 have been injured. And of those, 26 seriously injured. The majority, fortunately, light to moderate wounds, 26 however, severely wounded and 15 dead.

Now, as you said, this blast came at a time of -- an important time in the Jewish calendar. It's the beginning of Passover. Many people were out for the traditional sedir meal, which kicks off a week of celebrating the Passover and that was the case certainly celebrating in the town of Netanya, just north of Tel Aviv, this coastal town which was packed with people going out to have this traditional dinner. And at the park hotel, a suicide bomber walking into the lobby, detonating the explosives he was carrying and the carnage that you can see from the pictures that we have been running resulted from that. This explosion tore through the ground floor of the hotel. The damage was extreme. There was debris and bodies littering the area. It blew out walls, overturned tables and chairs, rubble and wires dangling from the ceilings. Some of the wounded were seen staggering out of the lobby in the immediate aftermath. The lobby of the hotel itself initially plunged into darkness. More than 100 ambulances running to the scene reportedly from all over the area.

This area has been the subject of other terror attacks in the past as recently as just a couple of weeks ago, when two gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons and threw hand grenades. A baby girl killed in that incident, several people wounded. This attack comes at a time of massive security in Israel, as Passover was about to commence. And that massive security, it appears, unable to prevent this suicide bomber getting into Netanya and detonating his explosives.

It's a very difficult area to police for Israeli security forces. It is a long border for them to patrol. It's not an easy one along which to stop infiltrators. And it would appear if the Hamas claim is correct, that this suicide bomber has indeed come from the West Bank and not, as early reports put it, from the Gaza Strip.

Now, it's not immediately clear what this will do to the peace efforts being brokered by the U.S. special envoy, Anthony Zinni. Obviously, it will put enormous pressure on that. The Israeli cabinet, or senior members of the Israeli cabinet, met just a day or so ago to discuss what they would do if there was a major terrorist incident. And military action was on the agenda, and was -- certainly was discussed at that meeting. However, no retaliation, no action from Israel as yet, and they have exercised what they called incredible restraint in the wake of several other suicide bombings and attacks in recent days, in the last couple of weeks.

In fact, Israel holding the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, responsible for this attack Tuesday. He has not done enough to crack down of militants and stop these sorts of infiltrations, nor has he gone on television, at least not in the last few months, to plead in Arabic for these attacks to stop and calling for a cease-fire in Arabic, as has been requested by Israel, Bill?

HEMMER: Michael, hang with me a second here. President Bush is at the microphone here in Atlanta, Georgia, making a speech. If indeed, he has relevant comments to this, we will certainly bring it to you. And we will continue to monitor this.

But as we do, Michael, one thing I want to make clear to our viewers, you did a story just in the past few days about Israeli security frisking going on between -- before anyone can even enter a number of businesses in the city of Jerusalem. You mentioned that security was on high alert. You knew that throughout the entire country that was taking place. One has to wonder why and how this person was able to get through knowing that hotel was so darn crowded for Passover?

HOLMES: Yes, that's right, Bill. I have spent a lot of time here in the last few weeks covering just that sort of issue. We were in the center of West Jerusalem, busiest shopping mall, the Ben Yehuda (ph) pedestrian mall, which has been the scene of several suicide bombings. And we were doing a story on the lack of tourists there.

But you could not walk into a McDonald's there without being searched. And the same also has to be said for Palestinians entering and leaving areas like Ramallah, in the West Bank. We came through their checkpoint just a couple of hours ago, security there extremely tight. In fact, Palestinians for a while there, there was an alert and Palestinians were being prevented from leaving Ramallah to go into Jerusalem.

And while we were standing there waiting to come across through that checkpoint, and waiting along with all the other people there, including all of the Palestinians, there were several shots fired, not far from where we were, warning shots. Israeli troops were put on alert when it was felt there was some incoming fire from a no man's land. It is a very, very tense situation at these checkpoints and all around Israel proper, the other side of the green light, if you will.

That area that we are talking about, Netanya is just north of Tel Aviv. It's a coastal town, a town that has seen many suicide attacks or terror attacks in the past. As I say, that part of the green line that runs along north and south along central Israel, it's a very hard area for the Israeli security forces to adequately police. It takes a lot of patrolling. There is a lot of security there, but they cannot be everywhere at once. And what Israeli security spokesmen have repeated time and again is they can't stop everyone. Infiltrators, as they call them, come across that border -- or not border, but across that green line into Israel proper, they can do so.

However, it needs to be pointed out too that Israeli security forces say that in just the last 10 days or so, they've stopped what they describe as nearly a dozen would-be suicide bombers through security checkpoints and patrols. So, they say that they are stopping some would-be suicide bombers. They can't stop them all, Bill.

HEMMER: Yes. To make the point, Michael, the town of Tulkarem that you described there in the West Bank, is only six miles to on the east from Netanya. It is not very far at all.

HOLMES: Yes. A lot of people who have not been to the region probably do not understand just how small the distances are. If you take the westernmost point of the West Bank and then go across Israeli land to the coast, it is about eight miles wide in that strip. You are talking about a pretty small area. And you are right, Tulkarem is not far from the green line that separates the West Bank, if you like, from Israel proper. So it is not a very long trip. These distances are not great, but the length of that border is several miles, many miles, and it is difficult to police it accurately, Bill?

HEMMER: We were talking with the White House, Major Garrett and Kelly Wallace throughout the day here. Indications from the White House, Michael, is that the security talks and negotiations, apparently they were making some level of progress. To what degree, we simply do not know. But was there any reaction in the Middle East, in Jerusalem specifically, as to whether or not there was progress in the latest round of talks to try and achieve some sort of cease-fire?

HOLMES: As I said, Bill, I was in Ramallah today in the West Bank, at Palestinian Authority headquarters. And I had a conversation there with the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and of course made the point here that this was before this latest incident in Netanya. I was asking him about Yasser Arafat's non-attendance at the Arab Summit in Beirut and also asking him about the fact that he was not able to go live via satellite into that conference and what that would do to the atmosphere of the talks being brokered by Anthony Zinni.

He said it would have no effect. He said that Palestinians were committed to the Zinni proposal. They were committed to the Tenet cease-fire plan, and onward and upward to the Mitchell plan. So he said that recent events had no impact on the Israelis' position that they want a cease-fire. They want to be able to come to an agreement with their Israeli counterparts on how that should be put in place.

What is going to be the result of this incident is yet to be seen. Of course, it happened, well, just on a couple of hours ago, three hours ago now, so it is still very new. Certainly, the Israeli response was a government spokesman said just a short time ago that this attack will require us to re-evaluate our overall policy. And as I said, the cabinet met, or senior members of the security cabinet met just yesterday and talked about its options should Anthony Zinni's peace mission fail. And one of the options that was put forward was a large-scale military option in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether that sort of action would be taken in the light of what we have seen here this evening in Israel, in Netanya. But certainly this is going to put a jolt on the Zinni mission, that's for sure. There is no way that people can sit down and talk tomorrow the way they talked yesterday, for one of a better description, Bill?

HEMMER: Michael, give us a sense for Israel proper. I know you mentioned you are in Ramallah. But with the Passover beginning tonight, certainly it is a holy time for Jews throughout that entire region.

HOLMES: Yes, that's right, it is an incredible time. You know, I don't know a better way to say than it is like -- in terms of how quiet the city is, tonight and tomorrow, it will be tomorrow, it is a bit like Christmas Eve in New York or wherever, where it's just -- everything shuts down. There is no stores open. It is a very holy time. And, as I said, this evening is a traditional time for families to gather in homes and in places like this hotel, the park hotel, a time for storytelling, a time to mark the Jewish exodus from Egypt.

It is a very, very holy time for Jews, and this would have been a night for sitting down and quietly reflecting. The timing of this attack could not have been worse in terms of Jewish sensibilities. That is obvious. And I -- you know tomorrow is a day here where the whole city is shut down and people are at home with religious thoughts on their minds and thoughts about the exodus from Egypt and the Passover. So, yes, it is a very, very holy time here and the timing could not have been worse, that is for sure, Bill?

HEMMER: Michael, thanks. Michael Holmes, thanks for hanging in there live in Jerusalem. We will be back in touch in a moment here.

The headline again, what we're hearing, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the Park Hotel in Netanya, northern Israel, a coastal town, north of Tel Aviv, just a few miles away from the border with the West Bank. Fifteen dead, anywhere between 70 to 90 injured and of the injured, 15 critically. Those numbers that I have mentioned many times will most likely change, unfortunately, throughout the afternoon here.

Mike Boettcher now joins me. He has spent a great amount of time in the region. And, Mike, good afternoon to you, first of all.


HEMMER: Getting word that Hamas has claimed responsibility, that apparently a suicide bomber sent from the West Bank town of Tulkarem was sent into the Park Hotel. Given Hamas' history and what we have heard also from a separate group, Al Aqsa Martyr Brigades, your reflections, I guess, as we start to get that word?

BOETTCHER: Well, if you want to go back to the roots of suicide terror and Hamas, you can go back to 1992 when Hamas was deported to -- 415 Hamas members were deported from Israel and sent to Lebanon. It is there that they hooked up with Hezbollah, and they learned the tactics of suicide bombing and learned the tactics of gaining support in the population. And that is where they picked up their momentum and they've carried it forward to this day, Bill. It's -- the roots though can be traced back to then, this current suicide bombing campaign that seems like it will not end.

HEMMER: Yes. And when you travel in the region, what do you hear about the amount of control or lack of control for Yasser Arafat, when it comes not only to Al Aqsa, which is a branch of the Fatah movement, which has an affiliation with Yasser Arafat, but Hamas, which apparently is divorced from that, separate from that?

BOETTCHER: Well, you talk to the intelligence sources in the Middle East, Israel and in Arab countries and the United States, and they will tell you that -- that the Palestinian -- the PLO leadership, Arafat, exert minimal control over Hamas.

Now, Hamas -- the links to Hamas go through Lebanon. Its pipeline of support we uncovered on our most recent trip there some evidence, Bill, that, for example, Hezbollah is giving expertise in weaponry and such to Hamas through the Internet. And the connections are very strong. The Israelis will make a connection between Hamas and Iran, but frankly, it works through the middle man, which is Hezbollah in Lebanon. And that is the accusation of several coalition intelligence officials I have spoken to and the Israelis.

HEMMER: If Hamas went to Lebanon originally to learn its trade, shall we say, how prevalent is Hamas today in places like the West Bank and Gaza? BOETTCHER: Well, it is kind of -- you know, the current campaign is kind of a win-win situation for them because if they launch a suicide attack, Israel then retaliates, social services are cut off, Hamas, like Hezbollah did in Lebanon, provide social services to the population in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. So, the more chaos they create, the more the population in those areas have to depend on them and their social services. So it basically a win-win situation for them.

HEMMER: Yes, I know you spent a lot of time in Beirut, Lebanon too. With the Arab Summit now underway there, we saw massive confusion, it appeared, in the early hours of that. Now you have this devastating suicide attack just south of Netanya. If the Arab delegation does not come together within one voice and say this is wrong and it must be stopped, what is -- is there a signal sent to the rest of the world about possibly the intentions within the Arab League?

BOETTCHER: Well, even if the Arab League -- and my opinion is purely my opinion -- even if at the Arab Summit, they come with a decision that says that the violence must stop, I do not think it will be. It is like a car traveling at 100 miles an hour and it takes a lot of momentum in order to stop it. There is a lot of momentum behind this.

And, as well, we are seeing new coalitions in the Middle East, specifically aimed at Israel. Coalitions that include Hezbollah, al Qaeda and Hamas working together in terms of attacks against Israel. And this is a very dangerous new coalition. The Israelis have been alleging this now for several months and there is evidence on the ground of a good number of al Qaeda people who have come into Lebanon specifically with Israel as the target.

HEMMER: Nationalities include?

BOETTCHER: Well, there are Jordanians. There are Saudi Arabians. There are North Africans that we have been told are there that were members. And, basically, these are Afghan-Arabs, people who fought with al Qaeda in Lebanon -- for al Qaeda, pardon me in Afghanistan for many, many years. And now that they have been routed from Afghanistan, are looking for new places to hide and new targets of opportunity.

HEMMER: Mike, thanks. Appreciate it. Mike Boettcher.

President Bush in Georgia.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This callous, this cold-blooded killing must stop. I condemn it in the most strongest of terms.

I call upon Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to do everything in their power to stop the terrorist killing. Because there are people in the Middle East who would rather kill than have peace.

If the United States is firm and strong in routing out terror, if the United States stays steady in our quest for peace, I believe we can achieve peace in places where people think we'll never have peace.

The road is going to be hard, there's no question about it. It'll test our will; it'll test our determination. But the enemy that struck us is going to find out what we're made out of. They've already found out a small taste about what we're made out of.

You know, when they hit us they must have thought we were so self-absorbed and so materialistic that we would sue them.



They were wrong.


They're also wrong about one other thing. Our nation -- our nation is not only a strong and determined nation, we are a compassionate nation. We're a nation who will show the world our true face by not only putting a military in place that's well paid, well trained, well equipped, but also by loving a neighbor like we'd like to be loved ourselves.

Today they had two fine Americans -- if you all would stand, please -- come out to the airport. These good folks take time out of their lives. These are citizens that heard a call to love a neighbor like they'd like to be loved themselves.

They spend extra time helping a neighbor in need. They've asked the question, "What can I do to make my society a better place?"

You can sit down if you like.

"How can I serve something...


"How can I serve something greater than myself?"

Thank you all for coming to the airport. Thank you for your service to your community. Thank you for teaching children to read. Thank you for mentoring. Thank you for having served in AmeriCorps.

You see, if you want to help in the war against terror, find somebody whose heart may be broken and help mend it by loving them. Walk across the street and say to a shut-in, "I care for you." Mentor a child on how to read. If you're a mom or a dad, love your children with all your heart and all your soul.

It's the accumulation of millions of acts of kindness and decency that define the true nature of our country. And by loving your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself, you help stand square in the face of evil.

The evil ones hit us. I believe the world can be more peaceful. I know our nation can be more compassionate. And as a result, those who died on September the 11th and those who've died subsequently defending freedom, will not have died in vain.

Thank you all for coming. God bless.


HEMMER: Just the tail-end of that speech here in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. President Bush on a Southeast swing today. He was in South Carolina earlier today. And when he was in South Carolina, he again talked about the Middle East situation.

And in light of the suicide bombing, the images we have seen now for the past three hours' time, saying that it is his belief still that among the security negotiations now underway, headed up by the mediator Anthony Zinni on the ground in the Middle East, that they apparently were making progress between the two sides.

I want to get back to Jerusalem, more with Mike Holmes, who is back with us once again. And, Michael, good evening to you. What more information do you have? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the suicide bombing there?

HOLMES: Well, Bill, the sort of operations, if you like, that are going on in Netanya continue. The scene of this explosion is one of utter carnage and devastation. It will take many hours, it is fair to say, for even the recovery crews to complete their job.

And again, from personal experience, Bill, I went to a suicide bombing that took place here in Jerusalem about a week or so back in a neighborhood called French's Hill (ph), and a suicide bomber blew himself up in front of a bus. And he was the only one killed in that attack. But I can tell you, it is a devastating scene to witness, and the results, without going into detail, is utter carnage. And to put it in perspective, that was one suicide bomber. Here, we have 15 dead. We have more than 130 wounded, 26 of them in serious condition.

So, it is an atrocious job for those rescue crews and ambulance crews and other officials on the scene. And they're, at the moment, picking their way through the wreckage of what was the lobby and dining hall of the Park Hotel. And it will not be a pleasant job, Bill.

HEMMER: Indeed you're right. Michael, thanks. Michael Holmes in Jerusalem. Stand by. We will talk many more times before the evening is out here.

Back in Atlanta, Major Garrett traveling with the president. Let's get to Major quickly and see if there is any more reaction from the White House relative to the Middle East situation. Major, hello.

GARRETT: Hello, Bill. And as we suggested a few moments ago before the president started speaking, the president did indeed refer to this latest suicide bombing attack in Israel in his remarks here on homeland security. And the general context of telling the country that, yes indeed, the war on terrorism will have its setbacks. But he believes if successfully prosecuted, the world over, the war on terrorism led by the United States, can achieve peace.

He said sometimes that is hard to see. He said that his heart breaks when there are acts of violence in the Middle East leaving Palestinians and Israelis dead. In this case, many Israelis dead on the eve of Passover. The president called today's suicide bombing callous and cold-blooded and condemned it in the strongest terms possible. Bill, I am not sure if we have a soundbite ready yet. In fact, if we do, let's go to that now.


BUSH: It is awfully hard to realize there can be peace in a place like the Middle East. My heart breaks for those innocent lives that are lost on a daily basis. And today, there was another suicide bomber who murdered innocent Israelis.

This callous, this cold-blooded killing must stop. I condemn it in the most strongest of terms.

I call upon Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority to do everything in their power to stop the terrorist killing. Because there are people in the Middle East who would rather kill than have peace.

If the United States is firm and strong in routing out terror, if the United States stays steady in our quest for peace, I believe we can achieve peace in places where people think we'll never have peace.

The road is going to be hard, there's no question about it. It'll test our will; it'll test our determination.


GARRETT: The kind of test the president is talking about can be basically seen, Bill, in his own day today. Earlier today in Greenville, South Carolina, the president's first stop after leaving Washington early this morning, he expressed guarded optimism, but nevertheless, very strongly worded optimism about the pace and direction and possible outcome of security talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, offering a hopeful sign just a few hours ago that those security talks might achieve a cease-fire in the not too distant future. Mere hours later, the president now, in very strong terms with great emotion and timber in his voice, condemning these cold-blooded murders, and a direct result, he said, of forces within the Palestinian movement attempting to undermine the very progress he spoke of not three or four hours ago -- Bill.

HEMMER: Major, I know it's not your beat, but the state department, Colin Powell, phoned Yasser Arafat last week, Thursday, in fact, when we saw the last violence rip through that region. One would anticipate there will be more communication. Is there any word just yet about what that communication might be? GARRETT: No, no definitive word, Bill. But we have seen this pattern repeat itself, sadly, over and over again. The Bush administration getting on the phone, speaking directly to the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, urging him not only to stay at the negotiating table with the Israelis, but also to do whatever he can personally, through either public utterances or private utterances to those within his Palestinian movement to stop these acts of wanton violence against Israeli civilians for obvious reasons. They undermine all the progress that is being made. They bring within the Israeli government very strong political pressure to respond militarily, and those military responses from the Israelis tend, inevitably, to create a response from Palestinian militants and the cycle continues.

So I am sure we will see phone calls like that from Secretary of State Powell and possibly other officials. But the key person, the key U.S. figure on the ground, remains the president's personal envoy, Anthony Zinni, who, as the president indicated, will continue to work on this, try to find a way to get that cease-fire negotiated, because if that happens, and it is a huge, huge if, possibly, possibly, there can be some substantive talks on underlined political issues -- Bill.

HEMMER: And, Major, relative to the Dick Cheney visit there, the vice president being in that region for, you know, a good long while, visiting anywhere a dozen Arab countries there. Was there anything seen in that visit, all the handshaking and all the talks, that gave the U.S. and the Bush administration any glimmer of hope that indeed they could forge something together?

GARRETT: Well, there was a lot of talk during the Cheney trip about the possibility that this Saudi proposal, this Saudi notion of full Arab recognition of Israel, if, in fact, peaceful recognition, if, in fact, Israel withdrew to what are known as the pre-1967 borders, and then also possibly allowed full right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Well, many in the region now are not nearly so optimistic as the Bush administration was sounding while Vice President Cheney was in the region. The Israeli government has made it pretty clear: It is not going to withdraw from the occupied territories, back to those pre-1967 borders. And the idea of full right of return for Palestinian refugees is a total non-starter with the Israeli government. So it seems to be some very fundamental cracks in that original Saudi proposal, which is worth pointing out, it is being debated as we speak in Beirut at an Arab League Summit on the whole issue of Israeli/Palestinian peace.

So it is harder and harder, Bill, to find areas where there is achievable progress and a path to that achievable progress. The Bush administration is now back to sort of square one. The Zinni mission to try to create that cease-fire, absent that, I think we are going to be revisiting this very familiar and all too familiar and tragic phrase: cycle of violence.

HEMMER: I can only hope you are wrong, but I don't think I can disagree with you on that. Major, thanks. Major Garrett here in Atlanta.

Back to the Middle East right now. From Beirut, Lebanon, a spokesperson from the group Hamas is with us now. Usama Hamdan is our guest live. And, again, it is nightfall there in Beirut. And, sir, your group has taken responsibility for this suicide bombing. What is it you want from this group collectively? Would you like Israel completely eliminated from the Middle East picture?

USAMA HAMDAN, HAMAS SPOKESMAN: Let me first make it clear, that Al Hassam (ph) group claimed the responsibility for this attack and Palestine. They announced that in Ramallah, not in Lebanon.

Here, I am telling you that we are not talking now about eliminating Israel. We are talking about what Israeli government is doing. They are killing our people. They are destroying their houses, attacking us by all they have -- the American weapons they have. And so, this is a trial to send a letter, a message, for all the world, that we are trying to fight for our own freedom against a terrorist government in Israel led by Sharon. This is the main point in this attack.

HEMMER: Again, you did not answer my question, though. I will go back to it.

What is it you want, ultimately? Is it the elimination of Israel from the Middle East?

HAMDAN: I told you exactly what I want to say. And I answered you exactly.

I am not talking about eliminating Israel now. I am talking about fighting for freedom against the occupation of Israel to our land. And this is the main point: always, always Israelis trying to talk about elimination of Israel. But, as the Palestinians, we are talking about the occupation. And all must understand that this is the main point. This is the main problem.

The occupation for the Palestinian land is the problem. And the Palestinians will continue their struggle against Israel until they reach their goals. And the main goal for the Palestinians now: to liberate their lands, to return back to their lands, to have their own state


HEMMER: Let me stop you on that one and back up just a moment for us.

You know that, in order for negotiations to continue, for any chance of Israel returning the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinian people completely and fully, there has to be some sort of cease-fire worked out and then a peace agreement worked out after that. These are monumental tasks in the Middle East. And they will go nowhere unless the violence stops.

If that logic is flawed, tell me. But, apparently, what I am hearing for the region that it is not flawed. So why not crank down on the violence, hold back on your fire, and see what can happen at the negotiating table for the future of the Palestinian people? What's wrong with that?

HAMDAN: You are talking about Israel.

Before two months, Yasser Arafat announced a cease-fire. And for three weeks, no attacks were launched against Israel. But after three weeks, Sharon attacked the Palestinians. He killed two of their leaders, one from Hamas, and the other from Fatah. And after that, we understood that there is no cease-fire. There is no real cease-fire with the Israeli government.

We understood that they want this cease-fire as a trick to continue their operations against our people. So, if they want a real cease-fire, they are supposed to withdraw their tanks from our cities. They are supposed to announce the cease-fire from their side first. And we are not asked to do that, because we are under occupation. You can't ask us, while there is a knife on our neck, to raise up our hands.

We must try not to make this knife cut our necks. This is the situation in Palestine. So you can't talk about cease-fire while he is killing our people. He is attacking our homes. He is destroying our schools, our hospitals. So you can't talk about cease-fire.

HEMMER: And I take it from your answer, then, that you would agree with some other corners of the Arab world who suggest that the violence is working, and it is painting Israel right now into a corner. And if that's the case, this violence will continue, will it not?

HAMDAN: You know, this is policies of this government, of Israel government, which brings Israel in the corner.

There was a peace process. Regardless to our position to the peace process, I believe there was a peace process between the Palestinian Authority and Israel government. But they did not respect this peace process. They continue attacking the Palestinians. They ask the Palestinian Authority to jail the Palestinians, to attack Hamas and El-Jihad.

But, in the meantime, they continue building their settlements. They continue attacking the Palestinians. So, what we are supposed to do? The main problem here is that Israel thinks that they must have everything without giving anything.

HEMMER: Yes, how about this one? The government of Israel already is calling this the Passover massacre. And the images are brutal and they are violent and the picture is clear. The violence has not stopped in the Middle East.

So, then, how can you justify, on the beginning of Passover -- how can you justify, at the beginning of Passover, killing on a holiday such as this?

HAMDAN: You know, I believe it is depending on the Israel government.

If they are looking for a real peace, they are supposed to have the first step. Let them withdraw their tanks. Let them to announce their position towards the peace and the peace process. Now the Arab leaders in Beirut, they were talking through all the day about the peace process. And they talk, really, about the peace process with their hearts, but there was no answer from Israel. We heard the answer before a few days.


HEMMER: If that is the case -- and Passover is going to continue now for several days -- will there be another suicide bomber tomorrow?

HAMDAN: You know, when you are talking about the occupation, you must understand that no one will stop the Palestinians from fighting this occupation to liberate their lands, to have their own rights. First of all, you have to talk with Israel. You have to ask Israelis about their own


HEMMER: I apologize for the interruption, sir, but I am asking you. You have a direct line to the leadership of Hamas. Will there be more suicide bombers and could there be more tomorrow?

HAMDAN: You know, no one can answer you on Hamas about this question, because, as you know, in Hamas, the military wing gets separated from the political wing. They have their own commands. And they launch their attacks according to the situation on the ground. So I can't answer you for this question.

The main answer I can give you that, when you are talking about an occupation, you have to expect the people to fight this occupation.

HEMMER: It has been suggested that the violence has gotten you nowhere, that the violence has not worked. Do you agree with those or do you believe that you're making progress with your attacks against Israel?

HAMDAN: Yes, we believe that we are making progress.

Israel will reach the point that there is no use of occupation, there is no use of using power against the Palestinians. Israel must understand that this people, the Palestinian people, will liberate their lands. After 54 years of occupation, 30 years of occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, there is no peace. And Israel, with its own biggest and strongest army in the region, could not bring peace for its people.

So, how to bring the peace? They have to think about another choice. And I believe they have to answer that question, not the Palestinians.

HEMMER: You know, sir, there is a peace proposal on the table, the Saudi peace initiative, that would essentially return the borders pre-1967. And it is said by the Saudi representative for King Abdullah there -- or the Crown Prince Abdullah there, rather, from Saudi Arabia in Beirut that this plan will be met with 100 percent approval.

If that's the case, would you go along with it? And if you are not going to go along with it, how then do you react towards your Arab brothers?

HAMDAN: You know, I believe this proposal was refused from Crown Prince Abdullah. And we are supposed to await the reaction of the Israel government. Before a few days, Ariel Sharon refused this proposal.

If they continue refusing this proposal, they will not have peace, they will not have security. The Palestinians will continue their struggle until they make Israelis understand and believe that there is no other solution. If they want peace, they must give the Palestinians their own rights.


HEMMER: Understood. But what I wanted to know that, if there is agreement reached on both sides, will that satisfy you? Will you hold back the suicide bombers from going into towns like Netanya and walking into hotel in the Passover beginning?

HAMDAN: You know, we said that before. If they will withdraw their tanks from Gaza and the West Bank, and there was a Palestinian state with the East Jerusalem as a capital, so we can have a cease- fire for 10 or 20 years with Israel.

And we talk about the cease-fire to examine how they will act. No one can talk about peace with Israel when you saw how they act within those eight years after Oslo agreement was signed.

HEMMER: How many suicide bombers are still in the pipeline on the Hamas side?

HAMDAN: I can't give you a number.

HEMMER: Tens, hundreds, thousands?

HAMDAN: You know, I believe, if the situation continues like that, you will discover that all the Palestinians consider themselves suicide bombers. So it is not related to Hamas.

Before a few days, there was attacks from Fatah, which is led by Yasser Arafat. Before that was by Jihad and other Palestinian groups. It is not related only to Hamas. All the Palestinians now are fighting Israel. So they have to expect such attacks from everywhere, from any Palestinian group.

HEMMER: How about if Yasser Arafat said, "Stop it immediately"? Would you listen?

HAMDAN: Yasser Arafat will not stop it, because they are killing his own people. He is supposed to answer a question for the Palestinians: What will happen after that?

I told you, before that, he said -- he called for a cease-fire. Everyone accept the idea, but it was a negative answer from Israel. So I believe he will not say, "Stop it now."

HEMMER: Usama Hamdan, a representative of the group Hamas, claiming responsibility for the suicide bombing, with us live in Beirut, Lebanon, where, again, it is nightfall there, the first day, day one of the Arab summit that got under way hours ago.

The numbers we have: 15 dead in the Park Hotel, upwards of 100 injured, several of those in critical condition at this time. We have shown you the images. They are graphic and violent, once again as violence rocks the Middle East.

Back to Jerusalem now: Ra'anan Gissin, a spokesperson for the Israeli government, is our guest to follow up the representative of the group Hamas.

And earlier, we were speaking with a spokesperson for the prime minister, who called this the Passover massacre. At the outset, your reaction to what we are seeing right now in Netanya north of Tel Aviv?

RA'ANAN GISSIN, SENIOR ADVISER TO ARIEL SHARON: Well, no doubt, this is the Passover massacre.

There was a ray of hope coming from Beirut. We hope that the Arab world is reaching a strategic crossroad, maybe for the first time, with the Saudi initiative, really willing to sit down and negotiate peace and reconcile this long and bloody conflict. But, then again, reality in the Middle East hits us very hard. And Arafat is the same Arafat that he was 18 months ago, when he launched this war of terror against us.

The king of lies is now facing a real moment of truth, because I believe that, following this attack, Israel will have to reassess its overall policies.

HEMMER: Do you go to security council now? What happens?

GISSIN: Well, there are consultations. We are committed to helping achieve a cease-fire. That has been the policy of the prime minister, the policy of this government.

We are committed to Mitchell and Tenet reports. We want to go back to the negotiating table. But the Palestinians must understand that this horrendous wave of violence of terrorism and incitement must stop. Not only is it hurting Israeli society -- and you can see the picture speaks more than 1,000 words. Now you see the victims lying there every day.

Every day, we have an attack like that. But it is also hurting Palestinian society. The suicide bombers are destroying Palestinian society as a civilized society. They're resending them back, I don't know, to the Stone Age or to another type of society, which definitely is not civilized. (CROSSTALK)

HEMMER: I apologize for the interruption.

But, quite clearly, from the Hamas perspective, they are not ready to stop at any time at this point. He suggests that every Palestinian could be a suicide bomber.

Put that to the side for a second. We are hearing from the White House that there might have been some level of progress in terms of the security negotiations. What are you hearing in terms of advancing the potential for a cease-fire in light of what we are watching now?

GISSIN: Well, if you are talking about progress, definitely there was progress on the Israeli side, but only on the Israeli side, because we accepted the rigid proposal of General Zinni and have done everything in our effort to make his mission a success.

But Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, for the third time, are trying to scuttle his effort. They do not understand that first there has to be a complete cessation of violence, terrorism and incitement before we can move to negotiations. There ain't going to be any negotiations under fire. And the continuing views of terrorism is going to destroy Palestinian society, not just hurt us.

And we are determined. Look, today we are celebrating a very sacred festival of the Satyr (ph), of the Jews, the Jewish people, 4,000 years ago coming from slavery to redemption back to their holy land and their promised land. And now we are seeing that the same pharaohs of 4,000 years ago are trying again to destroy the people of Israel. It won't help. It won't happen. It didn't happen for 4,000 years. And Yasser Arafat is not going to be the one that is going to dismantle Israeli society.


HEMMER: Go ahead. OK. Please finish.

GISSIN: There is another option. They can go back to the negotiating table, and stop with this futile effort to achieve, by violence and terror, what they weren't able to achieve around a negotiating table, because around the negotiating table is the only place where the Palestinians achieved anything.

Every time they choose violence against us, it ended up with a tragedy to the Palestinian people. Every time they choose to negotiate, they gain something.

HEMMER: Mr. Gissin, if, at this point, the Israeli government right now starts talking about a response, is it likely or even possible the military could go back into the sections of the West Bank that became so contentious just about 10 days ago: Ramallah, Bethlehem, the Gaza Strip?

GISSIN: Well, look, we would like to reach a cease-fire. That is first and foremost. But, of course, if all the efforts exhaust themself, and nothing comes out of it, and we are facing another wave of terrorist activity like this, then we are going to exercise our right of self-defense, the same as the United States did when it attacked the Taliban. And we will use the necessary measures, taking due concern, I'm telling you, and a major effort not to create any regional escalation in this conflict, but to strike at the terrorists, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, do what the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat failed to do for the past 18 months.

We are not going to live with a terrorist entity on our border. And we are not going to live with terrorists attacking us every day. And, therefore, we will know what are the proper measures to be taken. We have those. We haven't used all the measures at our disposal.

And I can have one advice for the Palestinians: Go back to the negotiating table. Stop the violence. Make the necessary effort to stop it. And don't mess with us.

HEMMER: Passover is under way. The country itself had been under high alert. We know that security measures have been stepped up in the past month. What explains how something like this can slip by and get by in such a crowded hotel?

GISSIN: Well, it is impossible to seal a country, particularly a democracy, an open society, where people can travel freely, to seal it hermetically and to prevent any one person from entering a hotel.

Of course there will be an investigation to find out how he was able to slip past the guard at the hotel and past other measures that were there. But the point is not to succumb to terrorists. We can't lock ourself up or lie back and play dead. We are a living society. And we intend to continue to live here in an open fashion. We intend to live together with Arabs. We understand that we have to live with Arabs we intend to live with Arabs, but without terrorism.

And we will find a way to deal with the terrorist activity.

HEMMER: And we are also watching the Arab summit now under way in Beirut. To this point, based on our correspondents on the ground, there has been no public statement about this.

What does it say to the world if indeed the Arab summit, 22 countries getting together, don't in fact denounce this? What does that suggest?

GISSIN: Well, it suggests that this was really a big production by the Saudis, maybe, intending to get, to score some good points, public relation points with the United States, and that is all.

And that is regrettable, because we really hoped that this would be a very important turning point in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, when the Arab League and the Arab countries around understand that the only way for the survival in this arid region is to reach peace for the two people, for the Israelis and for the Arabs. And, therefore, I think the ones who are about to lose from it are not just Israelis. We have learned to survive here while holding the sword in one hand for the past 120 years. But I think those who are going to lose are going to be the Palestinians and the Arabs, because war is to the benefit of no one. And the cost of war is becoming so exorbitantly high.

And, therefore, I think it will be a missed opportunity if this conference does not end up with a call to Israel and to the Arab countries to come together through another conference where we can really try to talk out our difference, rather than shoot them out.

HEMMER: Thanks for talking with us, Ra'anan Gissin, spokesperson there for the Israeli government, live in Tel Aviv. Thank you, sir.

And he mentioned there toward the end surviving, the country of Israel surviving. In this week's "Newsweek" magazine, an interview done with the prime minister, Ariel Sharon, asked about that Saudi proposal now being discussed in Beirut, Lebanon at the Arab summit, asked about the return to the borders of 1967.

Sharon's response was that: "Israeli withdraw to those borders will not be able to do that if it, Israel, wants to survive." Ra'anan Gissin, again our guest there live in Tel Aviv. We thank him for his time.

But the images once again, you can see them quite clearly: 15 dead. That number may change. Again, we mentioned upwards of 100 injured as well -- the Middle East again embroiled in another devastating and violent attack today.




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