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Suicide Bomber Strikes Netanya

Aired May 19, 2002 - 10:02   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A suicide bomber has struck once again, this time in Netanya injuring up to 20 people, killing at least one person. That number might relate to the suicide bomber himself. The -- many of the injured are in serious condition. Our Jerrold Kessel is following this from his perch in Jerusalem. He joins us now with the latest -- Jerrold.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, yes, there is some confusion about the number of fatalities. It does seem certain that one person is dead. That may just be the bomber, but there are reports from the medical relief services and from the Israeli police speaking of two people dead. This has not been yet confirmed. One of whom would be the bomber.

Twenty-eight people have been taken to hospital for treatment. At least seven are reported in serious condition from this attack, which the police are definitely saying was the work of a suicide bomber. He walked into -- here you see some of the wounded being taken away, rushed into hospitals in Netanya, there are hospitals there in the city and also down to other hospitals outside -- this is a big coastal town between Tel Aviv and Haifa, on Israel's Mediterranean Coast, not far away from the West Bank, indeed, no more than 15 miles or so, perhaps even, in some places, less than that, from the West Bank border.

Indeed, there were reports we've been telling you about a little while ago that the Israeli police got an alert just before the bomber struck, the police are now clarifying there was an alert, indeed, there was something untoward coming out of the town of Tulkarem, the closest West Bank town right on the border between Israel and the West Bank, and very close to Netanya, that they were suspecting someone was coming out of there, and they got word of that. But they're saying they don't believe this the same man who struck in Netanya. There's a big major alert of the Israeli police in that area in the central part of the country, around the town of Tulkarem and around central Israel.

The man who did strike went into the open-air fruit and vegetable market, household appliances, mainly small stalls, vendors on duty -- quite a busy shopping time, Sunday afternoon. This, of course, a working day in Israel. And the bomber struck at just about 50 minutes ago, just after 4:15 local time. It's now 5 after 5:00 in the afternoon. The medical relief services were quickly on the spot, carrying the wounded away to hospital, trying to make sure there were indeed, no other bombers around the area, or no other bombs placed in the area. This has been the work of the police over the last 45 minutes.

It's, of course, important to point out, the town of Netanya, which has been struck several times over the last couple of years, and indeed before that by Palestinian attackers, suicide bombers, or attackers, was also the scene where a suicide bomber struck on the 29th of March, killing 29 Israelis, and triggering Israel's major strike offensive against Palestinian terror in the West Bank, which was just completed, you could say, that offensive against Palestinian towns last week -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Jerrold Kessel joining us live from Jerusalem. We thank you very much.

On the line with us from Chicago is Abdel Rahman, who is the Palestinian representative to the United States. Mr. Rahman what do you know? Do you have any further information to offer?

HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO U.S.: The reports I've seen no one claimed responsibility so far. But regardless, we are against any attacks directed against civilians by anyone, whether those civilians are Israelis or Palestinians. If it is a Palestinian, and we don't know who is responsible yet, again, we are totally opposed to it. We believe it is destructive. It is not helpful. It does not serve the Palestinian cause or the cause of peace.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you this, Mr. Rahman. Is Yasser Arafat doing enough to try to stop the suicide bombings?

RAHMAN: Yasser Arafat is trying his best. We have to remember that Israel has destroyed the Palestinian police and the police and the security infrastructure of the Palestinian security forces. And not only that but after two months almost of the Israeli invasion of the West Bank -- and settlement of Gaza, Israel still is imposing a very (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the Palestinians and continue to kill Palestinians on daily basis. Yesterday alone, a boy of 9 years old, his father, another woman, another man, were killed by Israel. And since...

O'BRIEN: Let's go back, sir, if we can get back to the issue of the statement that you made that the Palestinian police forces, been dismantled, if you will...


O'BRIEN: The criticism on the part of the Israelis has been that the Palestinian judicial system, such as it is, if you can call it that has simply been a revolving door, which has done nothing to try to restrain the motives, and to undermine this effort on the part of the suicide bombers, people get arrested, they go in one door, they're out the other door. What sort of police force was there in the first place?

RAHMAN: First of all, that is totally inaccurate. Israel bombarded all the prisons even, not only the police security force infrastructure. There's not one single building that's was left undamaged. The vehicles of the police were destroyed. Adding to that that over 18 years, Israel was engaged in the brutal killing of Palestinians. There were 3,000 Palestinians killed. There are 40,000 wounded. Israel is engaged in a war against the Palestinians.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Rahman...

RAHMAN: Let me finish please. Under this kind of environment, it is extremely difficult to hold Palestinian anger and frustration. And, as I said, this is continuing on daily basis by Israel...

O'BRIEN: Surely...

RAHMAN: And if Israel wants...

O'BRIEN: Surely this latest attack invites Israeli reprisals, does it not, and what do you expect will happen?

RAHMAN: The people who probably conducted this are saying the same thing, we are revenging the killing of a boy yesterday and his mother, and the day before, and the day before. There has to be an end to this. And end to this is through a political process. A political process of the United States have initiated, the world community has supported, the Arab world is engaged in, and the Palestinian people wants it.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but is Yasser Arafat really serious about political reform?

RAHMAN: Yes, of course. It is not because Israel wants it, because we need it. The Palestinian people need a good government. The Palestinian people need official institutions. Not because Israel wants it. Israel wants a totally different reform. We want a reform that responds to the need of the Palestinian people. And we have to do it.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Rahman, just allow you the opportunity to say this as clearly as you can, about how you personally feel about this terrorism...

RAHMAN: Oh, I am against it, I am appalled by it, I am appalled by Israeli killing Palestinians on a daily basis also. And we want both the Israeli government and Israeli army to stop terrorizing the Palestinians. And we want Palestinians to stop killing Israeli civilians.

O'BRIEN: Hasan Abdel Rahman, who is the Palestinian representative of the United States, thank you for joining us on the line in Chicago, Illinois. We'll be, obviously, monitoring this thing closely.

And among the people watching this, with interest is Mike Brooks, who is one of our terrorism analysts.

Mike, it's so familiar. It's kind of haunting, in a way, how we go through this whole ritual, if you will. First, the goal of these suicide bombers is to create a Palestinian state, to send back the Israelis, to remove the settlements. It seems as if they're not getting far in their goal.

MIKE BROOKS, TERRORISM EXPERT: No it doesn't. The Palestinians say Israelis are perpetrating terrorism against them with missiles, with jets and that their only weapon is the suicide bomber. That's how they look at it, from that point of view. Whether that's true or not, that remains to be seen. Whether we'll ever see peace in the Middle East -- but the suicide bomb is their main weapon.

O'BRIEN: Now, we talk often about Yasser Arafat's ability -- or how much control he might or might not have over this. He's made, recently at least, some strong condemnations against terrorism, and this brand of terrorism. Heretofore, though, there's been almost a wink and a nod. Is he changing his mind? Or is he -- is he truly had a change of heart, because of pressure? What's going on?

BROOKS: I think overall he does want peace. There are so many different factional groups within the Palestinian community. The PFL general command, were talking about possibly having responsibility for this particular blast. You have Hamas. There are so many different factions. On the Israeli side it is the same thing. You have a group of Israelis that want peace, and a group of them that want to undermine the peace process. So I think you've got different factions on both sides that are constantly at battle with each other within their own political parties.

O'BRIEN: The Israeli goal, the incursion, which we talked so much about for so many weeks, was to root out the source of terrorism, the bomb-making facilities, people who might be inclined to do that. Was it a failure?

BROOKS: I don't know if it was a failure. A lot of people thought they went too far. And some of the towns they said they came in and were there human rights violations, that was looked at by Human Rights Watch said there were no particular human rights violations but they were a little bit heavy handed. That will remain to be seen. It will also be up to negotiators going back to the peace table on both sides and the United States' involvement in that.

I don't know how much they gain from that. Right now it doesn't look like they have gained much at all from going in. But again they have a very in-depth intelligence network there and I think there was some intelligence gained. They came out with papers not too long ago that showed -- that they say showed Yasser Arafat's link and direct involvement with terrorism. That still remains to be seen.

O'BRIEN: Let's bring in another guest. Dore Gold is on the line with us, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Gold, can you hear me?

DORE GOLD, FMR. ISRAELI AMB., U.N.: Yes, good morning.

O'BRIEN: Do you have any additional information to bring us about what's unfolding in Netanya?

BROOKS: GOLD: We're still accumulating information about the terrorists, about what organization he might be affiliated with, what city he used as a launching point for moving into Netanya. As we get this picture, which is something you can't obtain instantaneously, we'll be able to know what has to be done.

O'BRIEN: What can you tell us, though?

GOLD: Well, I can tell you that, you know, Yasser Arafat just the other day gave a major speech to the Palestinian Legislative Council. Some people thought it was a positive speech because he spoke about the fact that the terrorist attacks don't serve the Palestinian interest.

But, in the same speech, he also referred to the treaty of Hudoobie (ph) , which is a 7th century Islamic truce, which wasn't maintained for 10 years as originally planned, and was actually violated after two years. So the mixture of both signaling an end to attack, at the same time winking to the Palestinian organizations by referring to that treaty of Hudoobie, probably sent the kind of mixed message that yields these kinds of results.

O'BRIEN: So you would suggest the winks and the nods continue?

GOLD: Yes, I don't think there is a clear-cut message to the Palestinian organization to stop the attacks against Israel. In fact, prior to the attack in Netanya, we were receiving warnings of constant attacks at all our cities and it has only been the ability of the Israeli army to intercept these attacks which prevented other bombings from occurring.

What is true is that since Israeli's operations in the Palestinian cities and the West Bank, the number of these attempted attacks has been reduced so that the threat is much more manageable. But, still, they can get through and they got through in Netanya.

O'BRIEN: I don't know if you're able to hear Hasan Abdel Rahman. Were you, sir?

GOLD: Was he the previous speaker?

O'BRIEN: No, the previous before that. You may not have heard him.

GOLD: No, I did not hear him.

O'BRIEN: He's the Palestinian representative to the U.S., I don't need to tell you that, but just to remind our viewers. And he said that he personally deplores these types of attacks. I gave him the opportunity to state that clearly. He did say that but then quickly shifted the focus to what he termed were Israeli atrocities. I am -- I'm curious if those sorts of statements in and of themselves are mixed messages, or if that's enough in the way of condemnation of terrorism on the part of the Palestinian authority?

GOLD: The problem is, what are the actions taken by the Palestinian security services? That ultimately is the litmus test of whether they're serious or not serious at all. Up until now, we found conclusive evidence of collusion between the Palestinian security services as currently constituted and the Palestinian terrorist organizations.

We even found Palestinian intelligence documents in Palestinian cities like Tulkarem that point to how Islamic Jihad is connected to the organization of Colonel Telsik Furowi (ph) , one of the many Palestinian security services. So until this is really cleaned up, until there's a unified security service that is serious about fighting terrorism, which is now the consensus of the entire world community, we're going to have these problems occurring. We're going to have to act at different times in defense of ourselves. Because no nation can possibly tolerate constant bombing attacks in the hearts of the cities.

O'BRIEN: Mr. Gold, we're looking at some live pictures of the scene in Netanya, just to reiterated for the viewers who might just be joining us, at least 20 injured, one dead, maybe two dead. Certainly, one of them being the suicide bomber, in the wake of this powerful explosion in Netanya. Mr. Gold if you can tell us what's in store right now for the Ariel Sharon government? Has a meeting been called? What are the options on the table right now?

GOLD: It's a little bit early to say. The military is now accumulating an intelligence picture of what precisely went on. Where the bomber come from? Where did he get his explosive materials? Who has been furnishing money for the bombing? Are they external countries involved in signaling this type of attack? When the entire picture is ready that is presented to the Israeli cabinet, our civilian echelon, which on the basis of military information will accept one of the recommendations that the military will make.

Again, it's too early to say what will be the nature of that response, what will be a response that will occur immediately, will it be a response that will occur in the future? I think it's too preliminary. What's clear to us though, is that the message that went out to the Palestinian organizations was not clear cut, it was not a clear-cut condemnation of terrorism, it was a mixed message, and the results you have today, but you've actually had them all this past week when other attempts were made, but didn't get through.

O'BRIEN: Dore Gold, speaking on behalf of the Sharon government thank you very much for being with us.

Let's turn our attention now to Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. On the line with us from Jericho, Mr. Erakat, were you able to hear Mr. Gold?

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Not all that he said, but I just want -- I just spoke to President Arafat now...


ERAKAT: On behalf of President Arafat and Palestinian authority, to condemn this attack and condemn any attempt at killing civilians, whether Israelis or Palestinians. I actively reject the Israeli accusations, in blaming us all the time for such attacks.

Miles, you know the situation on the ground in the West Bank, in Gaza. There is hardly anybody that can move from a town to town, or village to a village, or a village to a town. Our people are under total, constant, siege enclosure. We are having on the average three to four Palestinians killed every day, and maybe only and only maybe the answer to this mess, to this mess, to these killing fields out there is not more insurgents, not more tanks, not more settlements, not more siege and closures.

The answer is a high ground of resuming a meaningful peace process by both parties. The shortest way to peace and security, to us and to the Israelis is to end the Israeli occupation and to establish a Palestinian state, next to the state of Israel. I believe this is the only way out. Last week we've seen the Likud Party saying no to the Palestinian state.

Today, the housing minister in Israel announced 957 housing units added to the existing settlements, plus 34 new settlements being build this year by Sharon's government. This must stop, we must revive hope in the minds of Palestinians. We must tell Israelis and Palestinians that peace is doable. And now to stand and starting to assign blame on Arafat and the Palestinian authority, they know very much that in the last seven weeks (AUDIO GAP)

O'BRIEN: Mr. Erakat? Mr. Erekat? I believe we've lost our phone link with Mr. Erakat. I have a lot of questions for him. Hopefully we'll get him back, we'll bring him to you as soon as we re- establish connection.

Mike Brooks has been standing by. He looks at terrorism issues for us.

It's interesting -- earlier this morning we had the remarkable moment where Ailon Pinkas (ph), the Israeli representative, the consul general in Israel, actually said he agreed with much of what Hannan Ashwari said, a Palestinian and you had the sense that the tone was shifting somewhat. It doesn't take much to send it right back to where it was. And I guess that leaves the questions now of where -- what next, and we always come to this point of what the Israeli reprisal will be.

Mr. Gold was not specific about it, but what was interesting to me is, what would the response be, not if there would be a response.

BROOKS: Again, I think it's early to say. They'll take a look at what group was involved in this, what kind of bomb was used, where the explosives come from, did they come from another -- did they come from refugee camps? Where exactly did they come from? And then I think they'll take a calculated response and most likely there will be a retaliation for this.

O'BRIEN: All right. Mike Brooks, we are going to have to leave it at that for just a moment. We are going to take a break. We'll be back with more of our continuing coverage of this latest bombing. This one in Netanya, in Israel, after some brief messages.




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