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At Least 40 Wounded in Bombing

Aired September 19, 2002 - 06:21   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We do have the first pictures coming out of Tel Aviv of the suicide bombing aboard a bus there. A CNN sound engineer actually witnessed the explosion. He says that it was so large it literally blew the bus apart.
Understand that these pictures are just coming in to us right now. That's why the video you see is so shaky. And as you might imagine, it is quite a scene in downtown Tel Aviv. It's the height of the afternoon there and it's very busy. Our sound engineer tells us he saw at least two people dead. One of them he believes is the suicide bomber. At least 40 people are wounded.

Again, this is the second time a suicide bomber has attempted to board a bus in Israel. Yesterday in Galilee a suicide bomber tried to board a bus but Israeli police were able to thwart him. Today, sadly, Israeli police did not get there fast enough. A suicide bomber was able to board the bus and set off the explosives. We don't know if he had them around his body or how that worked, but it certainly did a lot of damage.

The bus blew apart, two dead, including the suicide bomber, and at least 40 wounded.

We'll go live back to Israel when we get more information and talk again to our Jerrold Kessel.

We're going to take a break right now. We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Welcome back to DAYBREAK. We have breaking news to tell you about, sad breaking news. We have more pictures out of Tel Aviv and Israel to show you right now. These are very raw pictures that are coming to us. As you can see, Israeli security forces and police are running towards a bus that was blown apart by a suicide bomber. Now, this attack happened about 20 minutes ago now. So we're just getting information in.

As you can see, this is a very busy part of Tel Aviv.

Our sound engineer, a CNN sound engineer, was actually on the scene filming another story, taping another story, and he witnessed the bus being blown apart. He said it was such a huge explosion the bus literally blew apart. He himself witnessed at least two people dead. One of them he believes to be the suicide bomber. The other person a passenger aboard the bus. He believes there are about 40 people wounded, although there could be more. Now, this is the second day in a row that something like this happened, or, I should say almost happened. Yesterday in Galilee, a suicide bomber tried to board a bus, but Israeli police were able to stop that suicide bomber. Today, they could not. The suicide bomber boarded the bus at the height of the afternoon in Israel in this busy shopping district when the bus was full of people and he managed to set off his explosives.

As you know, Israel has been raiding a lot of homes in the Gaza Strip, trying to ferret out terrorists like this. Apparently, though, their efforts, well, they haven't paid off in total because of what happened today.

As I said, we don't have much more information to share with you right now. We're just getting these pictures in. As you can see, ambulances are on the scene. There you see an injured person. And you can see the blood streaming down his face. He's rocking back and forth. You just can't even imagine what a frightening experience that must be. But lucky to be alive.

Again, at least two people dead, including the suicide bomber. Forty people wounded in busy downtown Tel Aviv. We'll have more information as it comes in to CNN. (INTERRUPTED BY NEWS ALERT)

We have Jerrold Kessel on the phone.

Are you in Tel Aviv, Jerrold?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, still in Jerusalem, Carol. But we're watching the pictures come in from that scene down in the heart of Tel Aviv and the latest reports from the Israeli police are saying at least three people killed. But Israeli television stations are putting it at least five people dead in this attack in the heart of Tel Aviv.

And of the 40 people wounded who've now just been ferried away to hospital, the last of the casualties have been taken away, we understand from medical relief services, of the 40 people wounded, five are reported in serious condition.

The sniffer dogs on the scene and other forensics experts and security forces searching the area for fear that there may be another bomber in the area. It's not yet been confirmed that it was a suicide bomber, although that is the working presumption of Israeli police at this stage. And, indeed, a CNN sound technician who happened to be in the area at the time driving his car in that busy Tel Aviv street reported in immediately afterwards, just about a half an hour ago, that's at 1:00, one in the afternoon local time, that he had seen a bus explode just right in front of him.

And as he went about trying to help some of the casualties, he reported seeing the driver dead and he believed the man who was the suicide bomber.

This would be the second day in a row of a suicide bombing by a Palestinian, if it is proved to be such an attack, that's been carried out inside Israel. Yesterday, a bomber who had apparently intended boarding an intercity bus in the Galilee in northern Israel was intercepted by police, blew himself up just as the police approached, killing a policeman, wounding three Israeli civilians.

But now from this latest incident in Tel Aviv, Carol, we understand that there are at least three people killed, confirmed by the Israeli police. Television stations putting the fatalities at the number of five and 40 people wounded -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Oh, it's a terrible scene, Jerrold.

A question for you, Israel has been making all of these interdictions in the West Bank, trying to root out these suicide bombers. There just seems to be an endless supply.

KESSEL: Yes, it does seem that way and there are a lot of questions, of course, being asked, because Israel is carrying out continuing forays into Palestinian areas and the arguments on the Palestinian side say that well, there have been more than five weeks, almost six, when there weren't any attacks inside Israel.

But the Israelis respond to that and say the reason why there weren't was not because there weren't attempts by the terror organizations to try to get through, but because they were stopped, intercepted or failed in their attempts to get and strike in Israeli cities.

And the Israeli police chief was pointing out this morning and saying of yesterday's incident, he said Israel really had to be almost grateful every day that went past without an incident because those attempts were continuing. There had been no let up in the Palestinian organizations' attempts to strike at Israel.

But Israel, as you rightly say, is continuing with its own actions inside the Palestinian towns. There's a tight lid on many Palestinian cities in the West Bank and, of course, has their enormous cordon around Gaza. But the bombings have now been resumed.


KESSEL: Israel says they haven't even stopped and now there have been again fatalities.

COSTELLO: Any claim of responsibility for this, Jerrold?

KESSEL: No, not yet. The claim of responsibility for yesterday's attack in the northern part of the country was made by the radical Islamic group Islamic Jihad. But of this latest incident, which only took place, as I say, a half an hour ago, no, no yet any claim of responsibility.

COSTELLO: So the changes within the Palestinian Authority and words from Yasser Arafat condemning all terrorist acts like this, they're not working either, are they? KESSEL: It's, it really is becoming more and more of a complex situation in that the Palestinian Authority has continued to condemn, condemn in the strongest possible terms the attacks, not only on moral grounds, but saying that it was counterproductive to Palestinian interests. But it has had very little effect and the Israeli security chief, who was assessing the situation yesterday in a parliamentary review, said that the Palestinian Authority was not doing anything to try to curb the bombers.

But really, from the Palestinian side, they say how can they possibly do anything when Israel is effectively in control of the Palestinian areas? And there you have the dilemma or the conundrum or the impossibility, really, of getting to a resolution other than going on banging at each other as is happening.

COSTELLO: Right. Well, you know, Jerrold on that, in, you know, right along those lines, you have to wonder what Israel is going to do now in light of this most recent attack.

KESSEL: Well, it is a wonder because a lot of people you -- I heard this morning one of the ultra nationalist Israeli politicians speaking out very strongly against Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies, saying he's not going and his government and the army aren't going for the sources and the root of terror. He said that lies in the Palestinian leadership, the Palestinian Authority. They have not gone after that.

Well, the Israeli government says it is working to try to get the organizations that are responsible for terror. But quite frankly, there is that dilemma, what will Israel do next? Is it the tough policy that it is engaged in in the West Bank, is it working? In a way, it doesn't seem to be, although the Israelis will argue it is working because they have controlled and curbed so many of the bombers trying to get through.


KESSEL: And it would have been, in the police chief's words, much, much worse had Israel not been acting as firmly as it does.

COSTELLO: Well, let me ask you this, too, Jerrold. As far as Yasser Arafat's power base is concerned, it's been greatly diminished. That these things keep happening, might we see him finally stepping down from his position with the Palestinian Authority?

KESSEL: I don't think willingly and I don't think in relationship necessarily to the ongoing attacks. But we have seen a dramatic erosion, even, of Mr. Arafat's authority within the Palestinian community. Only last week, you will recall, of course, that the Palestinian parliament voted against endorsing the new cabinet that Mr. Arafat had put forward as a, as he said, as a mainstay of the demand for, meeting the demand for reform of the Palestinian Authority.

Well, the parliament said that, the legislative council, as it's formally known, said that's not enough. It said to Mr. Arafat, really, we need something more. They're pushing, just as the United States and just as Israel is pushing, for different reasons, of course, for a prime minister to be elected in a new election and for Yasser Arafat to step down from anything other than titular control.

Mr. Arafat doesn't appear ready at all to do that. He seems to be continuing to try to maintain the reigns of power. But within the Palestinian Authority as much as from with outside, there has been a dramatic erosion of his authority, of his power.

COSTELLO: Another question for you. Is Israel somewhat concerned because the United States is so wrapped up in the Iraq issue?

KESSEL: It almost works the other way around. You know, over the last several weeks -- and this has, of course, intensified as the question of what will happen in Iraq takes center stage -- is that both the Israelis and one felt that the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, if not the terror groups which are bound to continue their, what they call resistance or their actions against Israel, the Palestinian Authority leadership and the Israeli government seem to be saying we want to contain the situation so neither of us will get in the way of what the United States decides, whatever way it decides to act on Iraq.

The Palestinians for their reasons, the Israelis for their reasons. And that seemed to be the driving attitude on both sides. But at the moment, each side will go back into the blaming of the other side and saying well, they're not helping it. They're the ones who are again escalating the situation. The Palestinians saying that by Israel continuing its military actions inside the Palestinian territories, that's what's keeping the pot boiling here, if you like. The Israelis saying by Yasser Arafat not coming down much more firmly in terms of not just saying it's bad and talking against the terror acts, but doing something and trying to spur all these forces to act against the terror act, that's what's keeping the pot boiling.

And both of them, therefore, in a sense complicating that, what the United States might want to do.

COSTELLO: OK. We're seeing, Jerrold, not to interrupt, but we're seeing this amazing video and the panic on the streets of Tel Aviv. For viewers just joining us, can you quickly recap what happened in downtown Tel Aviv about a half hour or so ago?

KESSEL: Yes, it was just 1:00 local time, one in the afternoon, rush hour, lunch hour. Many people go home for lunch. There's a split day in many Israeli offices and shops and businesses. And there is a kind of a siesta. And it's a busy time in the heart of Tel Aviv. And it was this bus hitting right in the main business and commercial center of the city when an explosion just at 1:00 aboard a bus in the heart of Tel Aviv.

One of our CNN technical crew was in the area and he phoned in immediately. He said, "Oh, I've just seen a bus." And his anxiety was absolutely dramatic in his voice. "A bus has blown up right in front of me." He knew exactly what was happening, even as the reports were coming in, confirmed by the Israeli police. He said, "I've no doubt it was a suicide bombing."

He truly reported that he'd seen what he thought were the remains of the bomber. He'd seen the bus driver dead, other fatalities as he went about trying to help to casualties among the other people.

Rescue teams were on the scene very, very quickly, as they generally are in these attacks that take place inside Israel.

COSTELLO: You know, I was just going to say that...

KESSEL: The wounded ferried away to hospital.

COSTELLO: ... they're so used to dealing with this kind of thing, sadly, that they probably have a system down and they're very orderly, as you can see. There doesn't seem to be panic, you know, on the part of the ambulance drivers and the Israeli police.

KESSEL: It really is a grim reality and there's almost a cycle of things that happen. You have the initial bombing and there's that terrible silence which everybody reports at the time of a bomb. Almost, they all, everybody says well, it's like seconds, it's like minutes. But really it's, of course, just a second between the actual explosion and then the cries, the cries of pain, the cries of anguish, the cries for help.

And then immediately people are on the scene helping. Of course, many people in Israel have military training in the sense of having medics. Many people go through special medic courses. So people are on the scene immediately trying to help the casualties.

There's an enormously well organized medical relief services that the Red Star of David organization, the ambulances are on from all the hospitals which have a ready alert all the time, police in large numbers, security forces. Then the forensics come in and then there's that grim reality of the special religious organization which picks up body parts and bits of skin and so forth, which must be very (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

COSTELLO: Oh, it's just awful. You know, Jerrold, I read an article in the "New York Times" not too long ago about the emergency workers in Israel and how you can look at a person who is involved in a suicide bombing like this and not notice any injury at all but hours later you'll discover they have terrible internal injuries. So sometimes people can get up, walk, talk, look normal and are not.

KESSEL: You're absolutely right to point that out. And, you know, that's one of the things that we try to be very accurate with the casualty figures here at CNN when we report the number of fatalities, the number of wounded. We rely on all kinds of sources. And people have remarked well, how is it that the numbers grow as the time goes on? Is it because they're not able to count the exact number of people who have been taken away to hospital?

Well, no, that's not true. They are. And they do report very quickly the number of people and from the various hospitals. And the media, of course, very active and very quick on the scene and able to count up the number of people injured. And then the numbers do seem to grow and that's exactly for that reason.

You have a whole lot of people, now whether you want to call them wounded or injured or what, or certainly affected people, come to hospital on their own or are brought in because they've suffered anxiety attacks, because they've been traumatized, because they found some kind of injury afterwards. And that's why, in a sense, the numbers grow.

But it is, indeed, the traumatic impact is longer term than those fortunately who have been immediately hurt.

COSTELLO: Yes, and you say the traumatic impact and I have to wonder about our sound engineer, who witnessed that.

KESSEL: Well, I happen to know him, Michael Harrison, very well. In fact, we were up yesterday at the bus, at the bombing at that bus stop in Galilee. We were on another story and we were diverted to that once the bombing. And he is a trained medic as well as anything. So he did two things which he knew immediately what to do. And he did seem to keep his cool there in the report. As I say, the anxiety in his voice as he phoned in and he just said, "I've seen a bus blow up in front of me." And then he left the line, went away and clearly what he went to do was to try to help people who were, who had been injured, who had been affected directly by the bombing. And then afterwards he got back on the line.

But I think he, he's someone who's able to cope with it and I think in the way many Israelis are able to cope with it best, by trying to do what they can to help those who have been directly hit.

COSTELLO: Oh, yes. And it probably doesn't hit them until hours later, as you said. I just can't even imagine.

Jerrold Kessel, thank you very much for updating us.

Again, if you're just joining us, a bus bombing, a suicide bombing in Israel, in downtown Tel Aviv at the height of the lunch hour. We understand that Israeli TV is reporting that five people are dead, at least 40 people injured.

We'll have an update for you as we get it in.


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