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Conflict in the Middle East: Suicide Attack Kills Six in Jerusalem

Aired April 12, 2002 - 12:00   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: The sun sets on another day and another day of violence here in Jerusalem. At least six dead, 65 wounded after a suicide blast ripped through central Jerusalem about three hours ago. All this coming just about two hours before the Sabbath was to begin here on the streets of Israel. And once again, the violence is struck here along Jaffa Road, the scene and the site of so many suicide bombings in the past. We saw it yet again today.

Israeli police are reporting that a woman belonging to the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigade claiming responsibility for this blast, standing outside of a bus stop, a crowded bus stop on the streets of Jaffa Road right near the entrance to a marketplace, a market, by the way, that was crowded with shoppers throughout the day today.

On the scene, still with us now, here's Sheila MacVicar by way of videophone with more from Jaffa. Sheila, hello.

SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello. The clean-up operation is continuing here. We heard the shofar, the horn that marks the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, sound here just about half an hour ago. As dusk falls over Jerusalem, the crews are on the road below cleaning up the debris, cleaning up the damage that was done as a result of this suicide blast.

Now, as you said, on a Friday afternoon, in particular, this is a very crowded neighborhood. This is the place where Jaffa Road narrows down. It is a place where you have people, people shopping, people coming in and out of the markets, and a place where as the road narrows, there is a bus stop. It was at that bus stop that this young woman, a woman, according to the statement released by Hezbollah TV in Lebanon, claimed by Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, detonated the device that she was carrying, killing at least six people, wounding perhaps as many as 70 others. Some of those, we are told, are in critical condition now. The crews are continuing their work here as dusk falls, cleaning up the roads. Many people have left the scene. They have hurried to their homes to begin to mark the Jewish Sabbath.

HEMMER: Sheila, there was security -- in fact, there were security guards posted at both entrances to that market. Is there any feeling or any sense you are gathering from people on the scene that they could have presented this attack earlier?

MACVICAR: We are hearing conflicting reports that this young woman was in fact denied permission to board the bus, as something about her, her demeanor, the way she carried herself, struck at least the bus driver or people on the bus as suspicious, that made her stand out in some way.

So she was standing on the street. This is a very crowded -- it's so crowded you sometimes have to push your way through the crowds. And that kind of crowd is very difficult to get a sense of exactly who is around you and what their intentions might be. There is security here. This is a place where there have been previous bombings. Obviously, given the circumstances of the situation here, this is the country which has found itself on high alert.

Just a few moments ago, we had Jerusalem's mayor here talking with us, who talked about how in Jerusalem, at least, over the last 48 or 72 hours, there was a little bit of a sense of easing here, where people began to feel just a little bit more relaxed. Obviously, that has gone away again. People will again be very restrictive about what he do, where they go, and where they feel safe in public.

HEMMER: Sheila, thank you. Sheila MacVicar by way of videophone, still on the scene there in central Jerusalem. And as Sheila mentioned, Jaffa Road has been the target on numerous occasions in the past.

One of the most talked about is the Sbarro (ph) pizza restaurant that was ripped apart last year. That restaurant, like so many other storefronts, quickly repaired by the Israeli government, pitching in on that. And again, as Sheila described the scene right now, still cleaning up on the scene, but the Israelis have become quite good at cleaning up the environments and the scene quickly after the violence rips through there. The headline again, six dead, at least 65 others are wounded. Those numbers may change as the day and the evening progress here.

Also, Jason Bellini, another reporter on the scene at the time, now joins us live for his perspective on what he saw and found there on Jaffa Road, Jason, good evening.

JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Bill. I guess we are going to look at the tape right now. I was on the scene right when the bomb blast happened. I was about half a block away, heard the blast, did not know which direction it was coming from. We started -- you can see right now. This is just after the blast happened.


We're trying to get a little bit closer and see what's going on. There was a loud explosion, happened about four minutes ago. What's the name of this market?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mahane Yehuda (ph) Market.


BELLINI: We are hearing there -- me on the phone just minutes after the blast occurred. I was calling into CNN's international desk to let them know what had happened and I was myself at that point trying to gather some information and find where the blast was coming from. It was not clear. I had just come from the area of the market. It was a fairly crowded market, lots of people walking around with their groceries. And we also streamed out of the pedestrian walkway where the market is located onto the main street, not the road.

And then people were coming at us, the walking wounded. You probably see a few of them coming through here in a moment. There on the left is my translator, who I hand the camera over to in just a little bit. He took over as I was calling in the first reports of the blast. And at this point, we were still trying to figure out, again, where this blast came from. We saw the bus, and so our natural assumption was that that was where the bus had taken place. And we were, at this point, trying to get -- to find an angle which we can see the -- get closer to the blast itself and try to determine where it is coming from. We saw the blasted-out windows of the bus and thought that's likely where the blast occurred. We did not know if it happened on the bus or right near it. As we found out later, of course, the suicide bomber was standing right next to the bus at the bus stop.

At this point, I am still trying to make my way past the barrier that had been put up. There is my translator on the left telling me to follow him, to get a little bit closer. And in these moments after the bus, you can see the -- you hear the sirens in the background, but the security forces have not yet arrived. The ambulances are on their way there. It took about five to six minutes for them to arrive after the blast. Shortly thereafter, our journalists -- I think I was maybe one of the only with a camera at the time -- they started pushing all civilians away, taking us away from the vicinity of the bus. A chaotic, disorienting scene. This is where I handed over the camera to my translator who took it and tried to get closer to the bus.

There are some of the first firefighters who arrived on the scene. And it looked like people were taking a few moments before going right up to the bus itself. I did not see a rush of people going to the bus to throw people out or to help the victims at that particular moment. The first victims I saw were the walking wounded who were coming towards us.


HEMMER: If you can hear me, I'm curious to know what kind of feeling and reaction you were able to gauge. I saw anger and I saw shock and I saw fear and I also saw a great deal of disappointment as that market cleared out immediately after that blast, essentially shut down. What did you gauge from the people there that you talked to on the scene?

BELLINI: The people I was with, when the blast secured, of course, very frightened, trying to get out -- trying to figure out if they were still in immediate danger. It was really unclear at that point where the blast had happened. It was very loud, so we knew that we were very close. Turns out we were less than half a block away, and trying to figure out how to get out or get away from blasts -- perhaps, there were others to come. Fortunately, there were not.

Probably 10 minutes or so later, some of the anger began to simmer up. I saw some people who would -- when the cameras were arriving on the scene were trying to push the cameras back, trying to keep them from getting too close to the really horrific, gruesome scene there at the bus.

HEMMER: All right. Jason, thanks. Jason Bellini and his pictures, exclusive videotape from the scene there. In a moment, we're going to go to the White House and pick things up with John King.

Colin Powell is here. He arrived last night in Tel Aviv. Later, he came here to Jerusalem. Earlier today, Jerusalem time, Colin Powell sat down for a four-hour meeting with the prime minister, Ariel Sharon. After that meeting ended, there was just a brief meeting with reporters outside and not a whole lot of detail and description offered publicly anyway. No timetable, Colin Powell says, no timetable for the Israeli military to pull out of the West Bank. After that though, we do know by helicopter, he toured the northern part of Israel, right along the border with Lebanon, an area that has been of great concern to a number of international observers as the conflict has gone on now in the intense way for the past two weeks' time. Some observers remarking that they were most concerned about what was happening in the north.

In a moment here, we'll go to John King and just find out exactly how complicated matters have become here in the Middle East with this suicide bombing literally ripping through the heart of central Jerusalem.

Back to Jason Bellini, though, for more reaction and the pictures we are seeing here. Jason, I saw on the scene there before I left a few hours ago, the right side of that bus was severely charred, windows had been blown out and the only reminders of that explosion that was so evident in front of us, fruits and vegetables strewn apart in the street, boxes thrown all over the place, and, indeed, the scene that has become too common now, body parts still on the street waiting to be picked up and collected there -- Jason.

BELLINI: I remember seeing right at the entrance to the bus a watermelon that was split open. And you can just imagine that it was in someone's hands when that blast occurred, and the strength of that blast tearing right through it. Those fruits and vegetables from -- all strewn about around the bus stop, obviously many people who had just done their shopping in the market who then, making their way home when this blast occurred.

HEMMER: Somebody said to me that toward the end of the day, the prices tend to drop in the market and that is when they see more older people and more people of lower incomes coming to do their shopping right before the Sabbath begins. All this happening at about 4:15 local time, just a few hours before sundown and the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath.

And in a taxi on that road just about five minutes before the blast happened, I was noticing a certain calm that had fallen on the city of Jerusalem, frankly. It had appeared that a number of people had come out. The market was quite crowded, which was contrary to a number of days that we have seen over the past two weeks when, frankly, at times, there was no one inside that market. But today, there were shoppers. There were people coming out, picking up their supplies.

And there also was the omnipresent sense of security. There were guards, police officers at both ends of the market. There were metal barricades set up. Often times, they frisked the people who want to enter that area. And while the frisking does continue, the bomber, we know, detonated herself, a woman, said to be from the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigade. They have claimed responsibility, detonating herself outside of that bus and outside of that market. Some say she was waiting to get onboard, but perhaps the bus was too crowded for her to enter.





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