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Suicide Bombings Take At Least 15 Lives in Israel

Aired March 31, 2002 - 11:03   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Now more back to the latest on the suicide bombings. In the Middle East today's deadliest bombing took place in a crowded restaurant in Haifa. At least 15 people including the bomber are dead.

Ben Wedeman is live there in Haifa and he joins us now. Ben, what's the latest?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fredricka, that bombing took place four and a half hours ago. At the moment the death toll stands at 15 dead -- that includes the suicide bomber -- at least 33 wounded, three of them critically.

Now, as you can see behind me -- well, actually you can't see behind me now -- but this restaurant was absolutely completely destroyed. The bomber apparently went inside, had a large amount of explosives.

Now we had an opportunity to speak to a man here who actually saw the suicide bomber walk up to this restaurant. He said that he was wearing a black jacket, walking up the hill right behind me. Said he appeared to be confused, nervous, possibly lost. And at some point he ran inside the restaurant and blew himself up.

Now according to sources, this blast is being claimed by the Isadema Houssan Brigade (ph). Those -- that's the military wing of Hamas -- that's the Islamic resistance organization.

The bomber has been identified as Shadi El Cabezzi (ph). He came from the Jenin (ph) area in the northern part of the West Bank.

Now according to the owner of the restaurant, this is a mixed area of Arabs and Jews. In fact, the owner himself is an Arab Israeli.

He said it's a fairly harmonious neighborhood -- no real communal problems.

Now among the injured, in fact, is the owner of a pharmacy just around the corner. And he himself is an Arab Israeli. He is in the hospital still unconscious. And his wife and two year old son were also injured in the blast -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, Ben, because this is a mixed community -- both Arabs and Jews, as you described, does that explain why there were so many people out on this Easter Sunday, when in so many other communities this weekend people are choosing to stay inside because of the threatening violence?

WEDEMAN: Well, of course, many people obviously did stay inside but many others didn't. It is the Passover holiday here and people came out obviously just to have a simple lunch.

We're told by the police that about 40 people were inside the restaurant at the time. And, as we saw last night in Tel Aviv and the other day in Jerusalem, people do want to go about their daily lives. Just going out for lunch -- nothing out of the ordinary. Of course, everybody here is very well aware of the threat of possible bombings.

And, in fact, last night in Tel Aviv people were saying, "We expect another bomb tomorrow." But at the same time people just want to go out and enjoy themselves -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well, Ben, in the town of Haifa as well as other surrounding communities, already there had been a stepped up presence of patrols given the heightened security situation there. Does anyone describe vaguely at all what the security measures may have been in that particular vicinity prior to this explosion?

WEDEMAN: Well, Fredricka, we have been told by police there was no security at this restaurant, which, in fact, is unusual because in recent weeks and months, restaurants, bars, any public place normally does have security.

The police chief here in Haifa told us, however, in this case they did not have security. That is an exception and it's an exception that has come with a very high price. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: All right -- thank you very much. Ben Wedeman reporting live from Haifa there reporting on yet another suicide bombing explosion taking place there today.

Here at home President Bush said Arafat could be doing more to help end the violence. CNN's White House Correspondent is traveling with the president and he's in Crawford, Texas this morning. Already some reaction from the president given this most recent attack in the Middle East, right, Major?

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Fredricka. Not from the president himself but from senior administrative officials in Washington talking to CNN telling our network just a few moments ago. The first official Bush administration reaction to the latest wave of suicide bombing attacks.

An administration official telling CNN, "We, the Bush administration, condemn these brutal acts of terrorism. We have made it very clear what Chairman Arafat -- the Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat -- needs to do to stop these attacks. Our condolences and sympathies go out to the victims and families of these brutal terrorist attacks." You'll recall, Fredricka, when we talked yesterday when the president interrupted what was to have been a rest and relaxation Easter vacation for him at the Crawford, Texas ranch to tell the world what his reaction was to the Israeli defense forces incursion into Ramallah and the continuing acts of Palestinian terrorism.

The president said he was disappointed that Chairman Arafat had not done enough to stop those acts of terrorism. He said they were at the heart of the current Middle East crisis. And he really offered no direct criticism of the Israeli government's incursion into Ramallah or anything else he was contemplating militarily throughout the occupied territory saying, "Israel is a democracy. It has the right to defend itself."

But, as I said, he's in favor of a cease fire but made no mention of a U.S. backed U.N. Security Council resolution that calls for Israel to withdraw from Ramallah.

The president said that overall U.S. policy is that it is terrorism sponsored by Palestinian militants that has brought this crisis to a head. One thing he asked Chairman Arafat to do was speak out in Arabic against acts of terrorism.

The president did concede, however, that it is difficult for the Palestinian leader's security forces -- the very forces the U.S. wants to call upon to stop acts of terrorism to do much on the ground because many of them are penned up in the Ramallah compound next to their leader, Yasser Arafat -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, Major, what is the president's schedule for today? Is he making time at all to address himself directly? The latest situation there? And making any response to those critics who are saying he did not say anything that was a directive to Israel about it's withdrawal, which they are not respecting given the fact that the U.N. resolution was made and agreed upon.

GARRETT: The president has no other public events today here in Crawford. He attended sunrise Easter services this morning at Canon Baptist Church about a mile from his ranch here in Crawford. He was joined by his famous father, former President George Herbert Walker Bush, and Barbara Bush.

The family attended church, has gone back to the ranch. The original plan -- and I believe they're going to stick to it today -- is at least for the family -- the First Family -- to spend a little bit of time just relaxing with each other and trying to enjoy what they can of this Easter Sunday.

The president's scheduled to leave here in a few hours to return to Washington so we're not expecting to hear from the president at all today nor when he returns to Washington.

The first chance we'll have a chance to talk to him about this and his overall reaction will probably be tomorrow back in Washington. Fredricka? WHITFIELD: All right -- thanks very much. Major Garrett traveling with the president from Crawford, Texas this Easter Sunday. Thank you.

Well, let's get an update now on the situation in Ramallah where Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat remains confined in a second floor office.

Our Michael Holmes was inside Arafat's compound earlier today -- even met face to face with the Palestinian chief. And Michael joins us now from Ramallah to talk a little bit about that. Michael, what's the latest there?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah -- Fredricka, certainly an extraordinary event. A group of Palestinian doctors followed by about 35 to 40 peace demonstrators. they're from a Palestinian support group. They're from Europe, the United States even one Israeli -- walked down the street. We were stunned, so too were Israeli soldiers.

And this group just walked past an armored vehicle -- a machine gun on top -- strolled past. Walked across a no man's land -- a car park -- to Yasser Arafat's office. Tanks were moving around. Some warning shots were fired by Israelis.

But we filed in past Palestinian security heavily armed and essentially went up to Yasser Arafat's office and we spoke with him.

I interviewed him for several minutes in English before a couple Palestinian and Arab journalists wanted to speak to him in Arabic. But we were the only Western film crew that was there. This is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

YASSER ARAFAT, PALESTINIAN LEADER: I insist today -- and yesterday with Mr. Colin Powell on the phone -- that we are in need of urgent sending international forces to stop this aggression and this escalation -- military escalation aggress our people, against our cities, against our towns, against our refugee camps, against our -- even women who were going to the mosque tents to deliver their sons. And some of them were obliged to deliver their sons on the checkpoints.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Well, that was Yasser Arafat -- part of the interview I conducted with him in English before he spoke in Arabic.

Quite an amazing sign of bravery or foolhardiness I suppose of this group to enter. I spoke to an English school teacher -- she's French and teaches English. And this was her reason for making that dangerous walk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because the Palestinian people is under occupation and a vicious attack. And its symbol -- the president -- the elected president is surrounded here -- is sent missiles. And this is not tolerable.

And we are here -- a group of international people in solidarity with the Palestinian people against this aggression, against this oppression. And we have come here to show solidarity -- political solidarity, of course. But by our presence to try to stop this attack. This is absolutely intolerable.

So we are going to say -- right -- we came and we are going to say -- and we want the rest of the world to know that there are people here who care enough for human rights -- for the basic rights of the people and peoples of the world -- we're going to say to this fight for freedom and to fight with the Palestinian people until they get their rights.

HOLMES: It is a very simple fact that you could have been killed walking in here and you could be killed staying here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, yes. But, of course, it is just and it is a matter of principle. And I believe in freedom, I believe in democracy, I believe in justice. I want peace in this country but peace cannot exist without justice. Peace cannot exist with occupation.

The only reason for the situation is occupation so occupation must go. There's no other way out of the situation. And really this -- what is happening here now is the epitome of occupation. And it -- this attack against the symbol of the fight of the Palestinian people and I cannot accept in in terms of basic human rights again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Certainly an extraordinary action by this group. Israeli troops showing some restraint obviously not knowing quite what to do when everyone walked in as bold as you like into a building that has been besieged for days now.

The journey out just as extraordinary. We walked out behind a security adviser that we had and waving a white towel as we left. We were briefly searched and allowed to leave.

About 10 of the people who entered from this peace group left with us. I have to say there are still 30 in there. And as we speak there is occasional machine gun fire behind me. There are many, many Israeli troops on the ground in the center of Ramallah now -- something we haven't seen until this afternoon -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Michael, remarkable to gain that kind of access.

Now, as you heard, President Bush yesterday put the onus on Arafat saying, "He should -- Arafat should -- communicate in Arabic to potential terrorists that they need to stop this activity." Arafat sympathizers have said his power has been removed with this isolation. Reportedly eggs, food, electricity, water have been restored and delivered to the compound as of today.

Did Arafat in any way communicate to you whether he feels a greater will now in which to try to communicate to any of these potential terrorists?

HOLMES: He feels very strong, Fredricka, that he is in no position to communicate with anyone locked up in that building and surrounded by tanks. That's essentially what he said. However, he did say he is committed to a cease-fire under the full implementation of the Tenet peace plan -- he's planned -- cease-fire plan drawn up CIA Director George Tenet.

He says he is still committed to that. He says it's very hard for him to communicate with anyone under current conditions. And I know for a fact it's exceedingly difficult to get a cell phone call out of the building. For example, I wasn't able to while I was in there trying to call CNN. So it's very difficult for them to communicate anything to anyone at the moment.

He also makes it clear he says that he has condemned attacks on civilians on both sides -- Israeli and Palestinian. And he says that he has condemned suicide bombings directly in the past also in Arabic. So he's a bit perplexed.

He's calling on the international community to step in -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right -- thank you very much. Michael Holmes from Ramallah this evening there -- this afternoon here in the U.S.

The group Hamas has claimed responsibility for this morning's attack in Haifa.

Helping us to better understand the group, CNN military analyst, retired Brigadier General David Grange. During his service in the Middle East he closely studied Hamas and he joins us from Oakbrook, Illinois this afternoon. Thanks for joining us, General.

RET. BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Good morning. How are you?

WHITFIELD: I'm doing fine. Now what can you tell us about this Hamas group? What more can you tell us besides the fact that they certainly have a supply of people who are willing to blow themselves up for their cause?

GRANGE: Yeah -- the military arm of this organization -- very similar to the Hezbollah, who most of my experience was activities against the Hezbollah is tied to Islamic Jihad -- it's tied to Al Qaeda. There's a network out there of training camps and money and support and just the purpose of why the organizations exist and in this case against the Israelis, against the United States of America for that fact. We had those experiences with the Marine barracks in Beirut and elsewhere.

Regardless of any peace plan -- negotiations that take place between peaceful Israelis or the Palestinian Authority, this group will continue to conduct its activities because their goal is not to have a peaceful solution but to continue to kill and push out the Israelis or Western influence in this part of the world.

WHITFIELD: So is it safe to say then with all of these connections to other terrorist groups -- named terrorist groups, is it safe to say that their directives may not be coming directly from the Palestinian territories but possibly outside the borders of Israel altogether?

GRANGE: Yeah -- there's some internal, of course -- internal support within these territories. But I think there's great influence from the outside. Because, look, if you have -- Israel is the only democracy in the area. The closest thing to it is Turkey, which, by the way, has very good relations with Israel.

If you look at the rest of the countries in the area with the internal problems they have of oppressed people -- Israel -- the situation in Israel with the Palestinians is an excuse to divert attention from the problems they have themselves.

I always would ask the question, "Why does the other countries in the Middle East -- why are they not more vocal supporting both with some type of monetary needs, et cetera, to the Palestinians?" They're treated terribly by everybody in the area -- not just the situation that's continually harped upon with Israel.

WHITFIELD: Would it be your opinion that the most recent suicide bombings and shootings just the five within the past five days, that these were likely to take place regardless of the Israeli influence and siege of the Arafat compound -- that this was activity that may not necessarily be directly linked? Would that be your opinion?

GRANGE: Yes. There may be -- it may be used as an excuse but I think you have quite a terrorist offensive going on. Suicide bombers -- you may call it an asymmetrical threat. In other words, it negates the effect of, let's say, an Israeli tank, which is ineffective against protecting against a suicide attack.

It's a very effective non-deterrable means of terror and this will continue. It has nothing to do I don't think with anything going on with Arafat right now. In fact, he has little influence on them though he could do something to help he has little influence.

WHITFIELD: All right -- thanks very much, Retired Brigadier General David Grange, for joining us this morning.

GRANGE: Thank you.

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