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Interview with Gil Kleiman, Gideon Meir

Aired March 27, 2002 - 13:59   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon once again. I'm Bill Hemmer. Two o'clock in the east, it is 11:00 a.m. in the west. And there are a lot of moving parts to talk about today. First up, the Middle East, the town of Netanya, if you have been with us you know a suicide bomber walked into the Park Hotel somewhere about 90 minutes ago the results have been absolutely deadly. At least 15 dead right now. Getting reports on the injured ranging anywhere from 70 up wards to 100.

We also know about 15 of those injuries are said to be critical right now. So the death toll, unfortunately, may change and may go up.

Once again, the word we have, a suicide bomber walked into the Park Hotel. Worked his way into the dining room, past the main hallway of the hotel -- a crowded dining room, we are told. As the Jewish holiday of Passover was just beginning. That's where he detonated himself.

The damage inside is tremendous, and certainly the damage on human life is tremendous as well. But clearly, there are repercussions and reverberations from this attack that will be felt in Beirut, with the Arab League summit right now under way, and certainly in Washington, D.C. We will check at the White House in a moment with Kelly Wallace to get more.

In the meantime, back to Netanya. The mayor is with us by telephone. Mayor, can you hear me OK?


HEMMER: Yes, go ahead. Bill Hemmer, Atlanta, CNN. I'm sorry, can you tell us at this time, the reports you're getting?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (speaking in native tongue)

HEMMER: I'm sorry, we have a bit of confusion here with the mayor of Netanya. Let's wait on that a moment and try and reestablish that signal again. Again, the explosion went off about 90 minutes ago. That's when we first got reports of it.

Let's get to Kelly Wallace at the White House, and check in there -- Kelly.


Well, so far, no reaction from the Bush administration about this latest deadly suicide bombing. The State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, in fact, was just doing his briefing when this happened. He was asked about it. He had no comment just yet.

Other officials we've been on the phone with were really learning about it as they watched their television screens. So they said they need to get more information. We do know, Bill, that President Bush has just landed in Atlanta, Georgia. He's in the midst of a fund- raising blitz to help Republicans before the Congressional elections. We are checking to see if Mr. Bush will address this latest violent, deadly attacks during his remarks planned in Atlanta.

Earlier this was the scene, really. President Bush was in South Carolina talking about homeland security, meeting with first responders, but also doing some fund-raising, helping Congressman Lindsey Graham, who's hoping to win a seat in the United States' Senate.

And it was interesting, Bill. President Bush was sounding rather upbeat. He said that General Zinni, the United States' Middle East envoy, was having some good progress between Israelis and Palestinians. And he seemed to be downplaying the significance of Yasser Arafat not attending that Arab League summit in Beirut.

Here's what Mr. Bush said earlier this morning.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the important thing about the Middle East is that we're making very good progress on the Tenet accord. In other words, there's a chance we'll have an agreement on the security arrangements necessary, to hopefully then get into Mitchell.

General Zinni is still in the area. Let me put it this way. I'm optimistic that there is progress being made. And I've asked General Zinni to work with both parties, regardless of whether or not they're headed to Beirut or not. The most important thing is getting into Tenet, getting into a security arrangement. And we're optimistic that will happen.


WALLACE: And Mr. Bush keeps talking about that Tenet security arrangement. That's really a plan brokered, or an architect of CIA director George Tenet to get the two sides to agree to a cease-fire and start to move forward.

And, Bill, you know, the president was really sort of downplaying the significance, again, of whether Mr. Arafat was attending that Beirut summit. But as you know, U.S. officials very much wanted Israel to allow r. Arafat to go there, believing it would be helpful to the process, to allow him to attend. Now the big question, Bill, the president talking about progress being made between Israelis and Palestinians and General Zinni. The big and open question right now is, what impact this deadly suicide bombing will have on those talks -- Bill.

HEMMER: Indeed you're right there, Kelly. Stand by at the White House, please. In a moment we'll get back to you.


HEMMER: I want to get back to Netanya, now. A spokesperson for the Israeli police now, joining us by telephone. A gentleman by the name of Gil Kleiman with us.

Sir, can you hear me OK?


HEMMER: Yes, sir, hi. Bill Hemmer with CNN. What's the latest on the ground, as you are there on the scene now?

KLEIMAN: What we know is about 7:15, a suicide bomber entered the hotel, crossed the lobby and entered into the dining area, where the Passover activities were taking place. A large explosion occurred.

Right now there's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of damage, so the exact amount of wounded and dead is unclear. We have over 10 dead, and we have close to 90 wounded, we've already taken to the hospital. In addition, we'll search and sweep the area for additional bombs.

There are a lot of hotels in the area. The east coast is sort of a holiday area. So we're searching the other hotels. We know that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) work alone. They have a base of terror cells, so we're searching for any accomplices that may be in the area. That's what we have right now.

HEMMER: Sir, were there strip searches, or any type of search being conducted, for anyone who wanted to enter the Park Hotel?

KLEIMAN: That's unclear right now. We do know that we had asked the hotel about a month ago, after the bombing in the wedding hall in Hadera, to put armed guards at the entrance of the hotel. Right now we have to see whether that armed guard was there. We know in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) cafe there was an armed guard, and a suicide bomber slipped by and blew up the cafe.

So right now, whether there was an armed guard or not is being checked. But nothing can prevent, 100 percent, a suicide bomber who is intent on going in.

HEMMER: Yes, listening to the background noise through your telephone -- describe what you're seeing, sir, if you could.

KLEIMAN: Well, this is not our first terror act. This is not our first terrorist suicide bombing attack, either. So the routine is that first the wounded have to be taken to hospitals, which has been done. And then what they do is the bomb squad and the police cordon off the area to search for accomplices and additional bombs.

Right now, we're continuing the searches. The area is being cleared out, continued to search. Ambulances have already taken the wounded to a hospital. And the forensics team is starting to work to see what exactly happened.

HEMMER: We are looking at the damage. It's quite devastating for the hotel, just in terms of the physical damage we're looking at. How big was this bomb, strapped to the suicide bomber?

KLEIMAN: It's too early to exactly say what kind of bomb it was or what its makeup was. It's a suicide bomber, so we're dealing with a large, medium to large-type bomb. He carries it on him and enters the hotel. So it's something that a person must be able to carry on him.

But the extent of the damage is, as you said, extensive. And of course, 90 wounded and over 10 dead. That number, I'm very sorry, might go up later on. As of now, we have over 10 dead.

HEMMER: I know you have a job to do and I want to cut you loose, here. But before we let you go, we've talked about the proximity of the town of Netanya, relative to the West Bank.

KLEIMAN: I can't hear you clearly...

HEMMER: I'm sorry. The Netanya, in terms of a strategic target for terrorism, there's talk about its proximity to the West Bank. Can you describe to us why else this town is so susceptible?

KLEIMAN: Well, I want to clarify something. I've been in police 20 years. Netanya is not the only place to be hit by a suicide terror bombing. Just last week in Jerusalem, we saw one at the beginning of the week, one at the end of the week. And an unsuccessful attempt yesterday, to enter -- one suicide bomber, into Jerusalem.

So it's not only Netanya. It's been in Hadera, we've seen it up in Naria. Basically, the whole country is open now to terrorist attacks. It's been like that for over a year and a half. So it's not specifically Netanya.

HEMMER: Gil Kleiman with the Israeli police there. A spokesperson on the scene in Netanya.

And as we watch these images, we are going to move across to a different part of Israel, from Jerusalem. Gideon Meir, an Israeli spokesperson for the government there, joins us now live.

Can you see me OK, sir? Good evening to you.


HEMMER: I appreciate your time, No. 1. Second of all, the Israeli government reaction to this at this point is what? MEIR: What we are having tonight is a Passover massacre. On one of the most sacred nights to Jewish life, when we are all celebrating around the dinner, I just came to share my feeling with you, leaving my family behind.

Seeing the scene from Netanya, families coming to celebrate this night of Passover, and the suicide bomber -- a homicide bomber, coming into this celebrating people, gathering and exploding themselves. There's no limit to Palestinian cynicism. There's no limit to Palestinian barbarism.

HEMMER: Is your prime minister, Ariel Sharon, had asked Yasser Arafat to publicly condemn the violence, and he did that several days ago. Clearly that was not enough. And there has been a large debate over how much control Arafat has over what we're seeing right now, with these images being beamed around the world.

If you could, tell us what more Yasser Arafat can do, in terms of how much control you believe he has over his own people?

MEIR: First, I would like to say that the prime minister did not ask him to condemn. The prime minister asked him to take action and to call, in Arabic, for his people, for a cease-fire. Because until now he didn't call for a cease-fire. He doesn't want a cease-fire. I would like to say that, from our point of view, the Palestinians achieved tonight what they wanted so much a strategic terrorist attack.

Now, Arafat can call upon his people, in their language, in Arabic, to stop this terror. I agree that he might not have control on every suicide bomber. But he has control over his own organizations, Fatah and Tanzim, which are the biggest organizations who are doing all the suicide bombers to Israel.

And he can act by cracking down on the terrorist organizations. This is what General Zinni was expecting from him. This is what we expect him to do. And this is what the international community expects him to do. And he didn't get to this strategic decision, to stop this terror.

HEMMER: In the past, sir, we've seen the Israeli security council go into session and talk about the Israeli response. Has that been called for yet, or is there any movement toward that?

MEIR: What I would like to say is that in the past 10 days, we had the following events. We had over 11 suicide bombers who tried to penetrate Israel, and thanks to our security forces, were intercepted. At the same time, we had a major terrorist attack on the eve of General Zinni's visit to Israel. Israel decided not to respond. Israel decided to restrain. And actually, what we're seeing here is a Palestinian response to the restraint of the government of Israel.

Now, we, Israelis, we expect our government to protect us, and to provide us with security. We understand that they cannot protect us from every suicide bomber. But generally, what we have to do is to provide the security. If Yasser Arafat is not able to do it, if the international community is not able to put enough pressure on him to stop these terror attacks, it will have to be left for us to do the job.

HEMMER: There's a suggestion in some corners of the Arab world that the attacks are working, the violence is working. So at this point, some argue not to stop it. If that's the case, does the Israeli government then go back into parts of the West Bank and back into Gaza? Do you think that is the appropriate action right now?

MEIR: There's no wish of the Israeli government, the Israeli people, to go back to the A areas. Absolutely not. We have nothing to look back. If we will have to protect ourselves, and to go back there only in order to provide protection and out of self-defense, we will have to do it.

But we know one thing. There's no military solution to the conflict. The only solution is around the negotiating table. And terror and these kind of vicious terror attacks in the past 18 months will not make Israelis to make more concessions to the Palestinians. Absolutely not.

And we Israelis have already proven, when it comes to peace negotiations, when we come in good faith -- like late President Sadat, late King Hussein of Jordan -- they know. They witness the will and the wish of the Israeli people. When it comes to real negotiation, in good faith, we are ready for painful concession.

HEMMER: Gideon Meir, a spokesperson for the Israeli government, joining us from Jerusalem. Thank you, sir, for your time. Best of luck getting through this one.

MEIR: Thank you, Bill.

HEMMER: Sure thing.

Again, the numbers we have. At least 15 dead, possibly anywhere from 70 to 100 wounded. A good 15 of those critically wounded as well. Those numbers may change, on the fatality side. Gideon Meir says this is a Passover massacre.




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