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Explosion in Tel Aviv

Aired March 30, 2002 - 16:01   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Earlier today, President Bush said it is up to the leaders of that region to help do more to stop some of the violence. President Bush says he feels Chairman Arafat can do more to control Palestinian militants but, of course, that message coming too late in Tel Aviv, where an explosion took place there.

Our Ben Wedeman is in Tel Aviv, and he's got the latest on the investigation there. Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fredricka. Well, the latest statistics are 29 people wounded, five of them or rather six of them severely wounded, one of them critically, a woman, in this blast that took place just after 9:00 p.m. local time. That was a time when this area of restaurants and pubs was full of people coming out after the end of the Jewish Sabbath.

Now this area now, as you can see, traffic is beginning to move again, but nonetheless about an hour ago, it was a scene of panic when there was a rumor spread through the crowd that there was another bombing here in Tel Aviv.

We saw the police, the medical personnel, as well as the many people who have come here to see the scene, rush away, going to the area where they thought there was a blast. Fortunately, there was not.

Now just a little while ago, we got a gauge, a feeling for the extent of the anger here in Tel Aviv following this blast. There was a group of people chanting, just over to my left. The burned a Palestinian flag, obviously a lot of anger right now aimed at the Palestinians.

Now according to Palestinian sources, as well as the Israeli radio, the individual who committed this suicide bomber was one Mohammad Selihad (ph). He was from the Nablus (ph) area, which is in the northern West Bank. He was apparently a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is a group that is affiliated with Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, Ben, if you can help us understand, as President Bush says, he's putting the pressure on Arafat to do more to connect with the Palestinian militant groups. What, if anything, would he be able to convey to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade since they most recently are accepting responsibility for a series of bombings just within the past couple of weeks alone, including today?

WEDEMAN: Well the problem regarding the Palestinian leader is that at the moment he doesn't appear to be in the mood to issue any conciliatory statements. He is now confined to just a few rooms in his headquarters in Ramallah. He, himself, is obviously in a very difficult position, and certainly the mood on the Palestinian street at the moment is not one that would probably welcome a call for an end to the ceasefire - rather, for a ceasefire.

I spent most of the day in Arab East Jerusalem, where many of the people I spoke with said that they are not at all prepared to ceasefire. They would like to see more of this sort of suicide bombing against Israelis. As far as they're concerned, that is their only weapon against the Israeli army and as distasteful as that might appear, many of them would like to see more such bombings, not a ceasefire. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, thank you, Ben Wedeman, from Tel Aviv, this, of course, only adding pressure, adding more fuel to the fire in the efforts to try and get diplomatic talks going. From Jerusalem, our Bill Hemmer is there. Are you hearing anything about any kind of revisions of what the next plan of attack will be?

BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, pretty much anybody's guess right now, Fredricka. Good evening once again. It's midnight here in Jerusalem, Easter Sunday now about officially to get underway, and as I mention that, Fredricka, last time we were talking, you were asking me about the security in and around the city of Jerusalem.

Behind me is the old city, about 500 yards behind me. One of the main gates there, the Jaffa (ph) gate, empties into the Jerusalem quarter inside the old city, and you can clearly see some blue flashing lights behind me.

Just in the past couple of minutes, we've seen these lights and we also come to understand right now, a security checkpoint set up there, checking cars and personnel passing through that area. This is not uncommon in any way, but you asked me about it last time. Being around the city just for the past seven or eight hours here in Jerusalem, we have seen certain checkpoints. It does not dominate the area by any means, but indeed it is present here.

When you were talking with Ben, Fredricka, once again the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigade has claimed responsibility for this. They're giving an identity right now of a 23-year-old man from the West Bank town of Nablus. That's in the northern part of the West Bank. His name is Mohammed Salahad, and one has to wonder right now, if indeed there might be a videotape release at some time very soon, either tonight or possibly tomorrow on Sunday.

It has been the pattern, we have seen, as of late, for the suicide bombers to literally videotape themselves and their message and their mission and then feed it out to the public after that mission is carried out. As Ben mentioned, 29 injured right now, six seriously, and the suicide bomber is dead. Meanwhile, in Ramallah, we continue to keep a very close eye on the compound there where Yasser Arafat has been holed up. Israeli troops and tanks still surround that compound. Several hours ago, we were told through Palestinian officials that the Israeli government has given them an ultimatum. They may storm that compound at any time. The word we have on the ground, though, to this point that has not happened, certainly something we shall watch. Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Bill Hemmer from Jerusalem at this hour. Now, let's go to Washington where Mark Perry has joined us there. He's an author of the book "A Fire in Zion." Thanks for joining us this afternoon.

MARK PERRY, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: Fredricka, my pleasure.

WHITFIELD: Well, give me some sense as to the frustration that Palestinian Leader Arafat has to be feeling. He is isolated. At least that is the mission of the Israeli forces who want to put him in isolation, but of course, other analysts would say this only sort of exacerbates matters that Arafat will only want to run further away from coming to the table to have diplomatic talks with Israel.

PERRY: It's a rather remarkable situation. You're quite correct. We have the President of the United States just two hours ago saying that Mr. Arafat needs to do more, needs to denounce the violence. At the same time that the President of the Palestinian Authority is confined to three rooms in his own compound without telephones. The cell phones are out, the electricity is gone. They're conducting business by candlelight.

It's hard to imagine that the President could be serious, President Bush could be serious in saying that Mr. Arafat could now issue a statement to the Palestinian people. Even if he were inclined to do so, it's very difficult as Ben Wedeman suggested in your report. It would be very difficult to believe that the Palestinian people would follow his orders.

WHITFIELD: You see it as an unrealistic request that the Bush Administration would ask of Arafat's cooperation in that manner?

PERRY: I think the Bush Administration has been focused almost exclusively on finding a way to call for a ceasefire and stop the violence, but the Palestinian leadership has been hesitant to do that because there's no political program that parallels that call for a ceasefire. There's no hope for talks.

There's been no promise from the Sharon administration that they take seriously Palestinian desire for a Palestinian State. There's been no political program put on the table by the Israelis in the 13 months of the Sharon administration.

What the Palestinians want is a clear, negotiated settlement of this impasse, as well as a ceasefire, and until that happens, they're going to find it difficult to call for a ceasefire.

WHITFIELD: In the words of President Bush earlier today, he says there has got to be a peaceful solution, and he is asking that Arafat try to convey to these Palestinian militants that they need to stop the violence, as well as President Bush's calling on the region there to do more. What could you see the region there as doing? What does do more mean?

PERRY: Well, I watched very closely yesterday's comments from the former secretaries of state and national security advisers, and one of them on CNN, Zbigniev Brzezinski, said that he thought - he was baffled by the Bush Administration's program, and he was baffled by our foreign policy there. It's very clear that there are divisions now between us, the Saudis, the Jordanians and the Egyptians who believe that a political solution to this is in the offing through the Saudi plan, but that it has to be put front and center, that we can't just negotiate a ceasefire separate from a political program.

The Bush Administration clearly has not heard that message, or is not acting on it. I think we are facing now some real divisions in the Middle East that could undermine our justified War on Terrorism and it's a very disturbing series of events.

WHITFIELD: At this juncture, what would you advise needs to be the next move? Obviously, doing more of the same is not working. Violence only begets violence.

PERRY: That's quite right. Doing more of the same is not working. The Israelis need to change their strategy. They need to pull back from Ramallah. They need to outline what they think the political solution is.

This is what Yitzhak Rabin did. He made a partner with Yasser Arafat, and we had three years of real peace in the West Bank and in Israel because there was hope for a political solution, and Rabin and Arafat built a relationship of trust, and Arafat did clamp down on terrorism.

Mr. Sharon, unlikely as it is that he'll do this, that's what he needs to do. Otherwise, I'm very afraid the kind of tragedies that we've had over the last few days in Israel will continue.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Mark Perry, Middle East analyst for joining us. The book is also "Fire in Zion." Thanks very much for joining us this afternoon.

PERRY: My pleasure.




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