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At Least 29 People Injured in Bombing in Tel-Aviv Cafe

Aired March 30, 2002 - 15:26   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: More violence rocks the Middle East. This time, at a cafe in Tel-Aviv; there at least 29 people have been injured. All of this taking place hours after the United Nations agrees on a resolution imploring Israeli troops to pull out of Palestinian territories. The Al Aqsa Brigade, which is a wing of Arafat's Fatah movement, has now claimed responsibility for the attack at that Tel-Aviv cafe.

We want to bring you more now on the -- on President Bush's response. He said earlier today that it is up to Arafat to do more to stop the violence. Let's go now to Major Garrett, who is traveling with the president from Crawford, Texas -- Major.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Fredricka, if I could for just a moment, let me try to set the scene as the White House responded to an incredible range of events going on in the Middle East. First of all, it's important to note, there was no plans this morning for the president to say anything about the situation in the Middle East. We were told here repeatedly he was going to spend the day of rest and relaxation at his Crawford, Texas ranch. As matter of fact, the first Bush first family, President George Herbert Walker Bush and wife Barbara due to arrive at the ranch at any moment, and President Bush was really intending to spend the better part of the day just with them relaxing.

But then the decision was made that the president simply had to weigh in on the incredible range of events going on in the Middle East; not only the U.N. Security Council resolution and the ongoing violence, the Israeli incursion of Ramallah, all of that. So reporters were taken to a double wide trailer just off of the president's ranch; that's where some Secret Service agents actually stay while they are protecting the president while he is here in Crawford, very tight little facility.

Reporters were brought in, and the president started talking about the Middle East. Among the things he said was that it is terror in the Middle East that is undermining efforts sponsored by the United States to achieve peace. And he called upon European nations, Arab nations, nations all around the world who called the members of the coalition against terror to speak out against terrorism.

He also said that he understood why Israel is defending itself, and made no direct criticism of the Israeli incursion into Ramallah. Here is what the president said about Israel's right to defend itself. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I fully understand Israel's need to defend herself. I respect that. It is a country that has seen a wave of suicide bombers come into the hearts of their cities and killing people.


GARRETT: What the president has said in regards to widespread international criticism of the Israeli incursion into Ramallah is that he wants the Israeli government to weigh carefully all future consequences of not only that military activity, but whatever military activity may yet be launched in the occupied territories. President made no direct reference to the U.S. support early this morning at the United Nations of a Security Council resolution calling for Israel to withdraw. The only direct reference he made to that U.N. Security Council resolution was for its call for an immediate cease-fire, that's something the Bush administration will continue to work on. The president said his personal envoy, Anthony Zinni, will remain in the region to achieve just that goal -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, thank you, Major Garrett, with the president in Crawford, Texas, where the Bushes are spending Easter weekend.

Let's now go over to Israel, and that's where our Ben Wedeman is now to give us an update on this explosion that has rocked a Tel-Aviv cafe. At least 29 people injured. What are the numbers that you are hearing from the ground there, Ben?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fredricka, we are hearing the same numbers, 29 wounded, five severely, one critical. Now, the critical case, according to medical sources, is a woman that was injured in this blast that took place shortly after 9:00 p.m. local time. This was a time when hundreds of people here in Tel Aviv have come out after the end of the Jewish sabbath to go -- to come to the many pubs, restaurants and other places in this area.

Now, according to Israeli radio, this blast is being claimed by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade; that is a group affiliated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. Now, the individual allegedly involved in this bombing was one Mohammad Salahat (ph), from the Nablus area, which is in the northern part of the West Bank.

Now, just to give you a feeling for how tense the situation is, about half an hour ago, all of the sudden, the emergency personnel, the police, the soldiers who were here started to rash away, their sirens blaring. Apparently, there was a rumor that there had been another blast also in Tel-Aviv. They went running out of here at incredible speed. Everybody going into the direction where they thought the bomb was. Fortunately, there was no bomb, but this gives you an idea of how very tense this city is -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Ben, from the witnesses and the other residents on the ground there, has there been any expressed concern to you or authorities there that there may have been some apprehension to even be out in the area and any area of Tel-Aviv or otherwise throughout Israel? This evening particularly, at the end of sabbath, when it seems like over the past few weeks this has been about the time when things would take place.

WEDEMAN: This goes back months and months and months, these suicide bombings. And people certainly have become much more cautious when they go out and about in the cities throughout this country.

However, there's a normal human desire to get out of the house, to meet with your friends, to have a drink, to have a meal, and it is a human desire that's very hard to resist. And despite the dangers, despite the bombing the other night in Netanya that left 22 people dead, despite a bombing and a suicide in Jerusalem just yesterday, which left two Israelis dead, despite that, people still are going out.

And in a sense, it's a mode, a way to defy the terrorists, to defy that fear. But as we can see, there's a real danger here to doing the simplest things that most of us take for granted.

WHITFIELD: And Ben, it would seem only natural that the human desire would override a sense of caution there. So as a result, on the streets there, particularly in Tel Aviv, since this is where it took place most recently, are there pretty significant signs of beefed up Israeli military police in the area?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly we've seen a huge massive security presence. I've been -- spent most of my time in the last few days in Jerusalem, and certainly there are many more police, many more soldiers. There are checkpoints, there are people being stopped and questioned, their identities being checked. But nonetheless -- and actually, if you read the Israeli newspapers, you'll see every day reports of possibly aborted bombings, but one always seems to get through.

So despite the intense security measures that have been taken in this country, it's almost unavoidable that someone is going to get through and commit this sort of bombing -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Ben, have you been in contact with any eyewitnesses who described the scene as this explosion was taking place or even prior to the explosion?

WEDEMAN: Well, in fact, we had one of our colleagues, Chris Hrobesh, who was in this area when the bomb went off. He was a couple of blocks away. We spoke to others, but of course it's always -- these explosions are always a scene of intense panic and hysteria in the moments after they happen. People obviously -- it's not something that they are expecting. It's not something they came out expecting to happen to them.

And there's incredible panic, and I've seen in other instances, bombings, where very quickly the Israeli emergency services, the police, will rush in with their sirens on and they try as hard as they can to establish order, to try to take away the wounded, to try to treat people on the scene. But it is a very, very difficult task -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Great job. Thanks very much. Ben Wedeman, reporting from Tel Aviv.

We want to bring in Bill Hemmer, who is in Jerusalem. And Bill, let me ask you: With that kind of activity taking place in Tel Aviv, what is the spillover effect there in Jerusalem?

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I can tell you, Fredricka, in your discussions with Ben, security has been stepped up in and around Jerusalem. In fact, we can't even enter our hotel carrying a bag without being stopped first by some guards out front to go through our bag and make sure that we indeed are legitimate and we are guests of the hotel.

This has been the pattern lately all over Jerusalem, frankly, for supermarkets -- we had the suicide bombing yesterday in a supermarket here in Jerusalem, stopped by a security guard before a woman, a teenage woman, could enter that supermarket. She did do damage yesterday, but not nearly as severely as we've seen in the past.

Now, security has been stepped up. Searches are carried out. But a lot of times the Israeli government will tell you, frankly, they cannot stop every suicide bomber, and this is another case tonight, Fredricka, tonight, where that is indeed the case, where the situation there on Allenby (ph) Street.

It's about 11:30 in the night local time here in Jerusalem. In about 30 minutes' time, Easter Sunday will begin, and what a far different picture this will be from what we have seen in the Holy Land in years past. In fact, just two or three years ago, tourists would flock this place. With 18 months of the intifada now, the violence has been widespread; 1,500 dead in total between the Palestinians and the Israelis, about 75 percent of that 1,500 total attributed to Palestinian casualties.

And a lot of Israelis and Palestinians on both sides frankly say they are just tired; they are tired of the violence, they are tired of living in fear. But clearly at the top, there are decisions being made that continues to keep this region essentially in an atmosphere of violence. And we're seeing it once again, not only in Israel, but also throughout the West Bank. In Ramallah right now, keeping a close eye on the Israeli troops and tanks that have surrounded Yasser Arafat's compound.

Now, we were given an indication about three hours ago that the Israeli government had told those inside that compound that the Israeli troops would storm it at some point very soon and arrest and apprehend those inside. That would include Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader. We did see him on some videotape a few hours ago. Some flashlights and candle light shown on him with that electricity cut inside the compound, making a statement once again about his direction and his message to the Palestinian people and his views on what he called "the Israeli aggression" surrounding his compound.

That's something we will continue to watch throughout the night. But more to the point, Easter Sunday will be here tomorrow, Fredricka, and boy, what a far cry this will be in the Holy Land this year -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, Bill, you talk about the fatigue. People are just tired of this kind of lifestyle, of these sort of surprise attacks, and you would -- one would surmise that there is fatigue in the diplomatic approach as well, to try to bring about peace. The Bush administration has made it very clear: They want to keep General Zinni there to try to forge ahead with some sort of diplomacy. What are you hearing from sources on the ground there as to whether there really is any hope that they can move forward with trying to have talks, with the climate that is ongoing now?

HEMMER: We talked with a spokesperson for the Israeli Foreign Ministry just a few hours ago, asking him directly how long would the tanks be parked outside Yasser Arafat's compound. He says, "as long as it takes." When asked about that meant days or weeks, he would not answer it -- simply "as long as it takes."

And it is quite possible, some people surmise, that the Israeli government, Ariel Sharon, is trying to make Yasser Arafat tired at this point. Electricity cut off, water cut off inside that compound, and it could be at this point a waiting game. But indeed, the next move that is made on either side is something that could be quite dangerous. And a lot of people in this region are expressing that very fear tonight, not only in the official capacity, but also civilians on both sides. Where will we go from here? That's anybody's guess right now.

WHITFIELD: All right, Bill, hold tight. We want to bring in Gil Kleiman, who is an Israeli police spokesperson, with a few more details on what is taking place there in Tel Aviv. Mr. Kleiman, can you hear me OK?

GIL KLEIMAN, ISRAELI POLICE SPOKESMAN: Yes, I can hear you. What happened about two hours ago is a suicide bomber entered into a cafe on Allenby (ph) Street in Tel Aviv. It's a pub district, with bars and cafes, a small corner pub -- entered into a cafe, actually, entered into the cafe and blew himself up in the cafe. As a result of that, we have (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people wounded, five of them seriously, one in critical condition. They were taken to the hospital almost immediately. The only fatality now is the one suicide bomber, whose identity we're checking, to see where they came from.

WHITFIELD: Now, Mr. Kleiman, of the witnesses that you all have had an opportunity to talk to, did anyone say whether there were an exchange of words, was there anything said by this suicide bomber before the explosion went off?

KLEIMAN: Immediately after an explosion, we have a lot of conflicting reports. In this case, we also had a report of a car that supposedly (UNINTELLIGIBLE). So two hours after the explosion, there's a lot of conflicting reports. This investigation will continue, of course, and we'll know -- have a much clearer picture later on. The beginning, the immediate effect of the explosion, right after the explosion, the picture is still quite unclear as far as what exactly happened. The fact that he did enter the cafe is a fact. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) damage, and the situation of the body of the suicide bomber. The other stuff is under investigation right now.

WHITFIELD: And correct me if I am wrong, the latest numbers we had, 29 people have been wounded in that attack -- it there a way in which you can describe the severity of some of the injuries? Does it look as though the number could be escalating when we're talking about the casualties there?

KLEIMAN: Well, the police deal with the amount of people taken from the scene of the crime -- a lot of times people come in, we call them walking wounded, arrive at the scene at the hospital by their own recognizance. So right now we know of 25 wounded, five of them are seriously wounded, one is in critical condition.

That situation usually changes. As the medical teams work on the wounded, some of them stabilize, and unfortunately some may die. But as of now, we have no deaths, except for the suicide bomber, who's dead. This is the second attempt. We had an earlier attempt this morning, in which two terrorists, suicide bombers, tried to enter into Israel, was killed in a firefight. Both of them, both terrorists died in a firefight. A policeman, unfortunately, was killed in that firefight, so today's is quite busy (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WHITFIELD: It's a working crime scene there, you have to be concerned about the number of people who decide to linger or people who you're not quite sure what their motivation is about being in that crime scene area. What do you do as a collective force to try to sift through the crowd and try to get a better understanding of who is there and why they are there?

KLEIMAN: Well, unfortunately, from our experience, that's true. We have seen situations where (UNINTELLIGIBLE) two suicide bombers blew themselves up, and then 20 minutes later a car bomb went off. We've had situations where two suicide bombers enter a scene with five minutes delay between one and the other, so that is the first priority.

We arrive at the scene, immediately we, of course, save the lives of people who are wounded and on the scene. The next stage immediately to clear the area out, with the threat of maybe another bomb, maybe another suicide bombing in the area. It has been their tactic, and it's sort of like a modus operandi, as far as they are concerned, to try to kill rescue workers. So we've seen that, and of course it's our first priority.

As the situation stabilizes and the area is cleaned off, then we check more for the forensic aspects of the bomb. The bomb squad comes in and checks for other bombs, other suspicious objects that might be on the scene, and it becomes more of a normal (UNINTELLIGIBLE) normal investigation which we are more familiar with. But the initial (UNINTELLIGIBLE) initial impact, initial effort that we put into it, of course, is the safety of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and that means checking for further bombs, checking for further suicide bombers, or any other.

Yesterday in Jerusalem, as a result of the explosion, a mortar shell didn't explode, which is a good example. We don't allow anybody onto the scene until all ordinance are dealt with. Yesterday it was a mortar. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) car bomb. It is something we definitely take in consideration.

WHITFIELD: All right. Gil Kleiman, Israeli police spokesperson, we're going to let you go and let you get back to this ongoing investigation. I appreciate you joining us to give us a better insight of what is taking place there in Tel Aviv.

Once again, a cafe there, a suicide bomber walks in, detonates himself. The Al Aqsa Brigade, a wing of the Fatah movement, has claimed responsibility. At least 29 people have been wounded, and, of course, we'll be keeping you up to date on the crisis in the Middle East as things continue to only escalate now. The numbers are astounding of those who have been killed. Just since September of 2000, 1,100 Palestinians and 380 Israelis have died, have been killed in various terrorist attacks. We'll be keeping tabs on the situation there in the Middle East, and we're going to take a break right now. We'll be right back.




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