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Two Explosions Rock Tel-Aviv

Aired January 5, 2003 - 11:43   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. This breaking story we're following for you out of the Middle East. Two explosions have been heard in downtown Tel-Aviv and CNN has confirmed that the blasts were heard in an area of the old central bus station in the center of the city. Our Kelly Wallace is there, and we're asking for her to give us the rest of the story -- Kelly.
KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, I'm joining you from Jerusalem and here is the latest that we know. According to Israeli radio, two large explosions heard, as you said, in the old central bus station in Tel-Aviv. According to eyewitnesses, a number of police forces and ambulances are on the scene. Israeli television reporting several wounded.

Now, this bus station is not in operation anymore, but it does happen to be the site of a previous suicide bombing where a number of people were killed. This is a very low-income area in Tel-Aviv. A number of immigrant workers are there. Again, details very sketchy right now. All we know, two large explosions heard. Ambulance, police on the scene. Eyewitnesses saying, again, lots of forces headed there, and, again, Israeli television reporting several wounded -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Now, Kelly, you were saying that this bus station is no longer in operation, but it is still a place where there is some foot traffic? And that's why Associated Press and others are saying that at least 20 people have been wounded?

WALLACE: Well, we do know according to eyewitnesses telling CNN that looks to be that there are several wounded as well. We do know, again, it is this old central bus station, not in operation anymore, but in an area, low-income area, lots of immigrant workers in that area, and, also, it could be rather important that this was the scene of a suicide bombing just about four months ago. A number of people killed during that bombing. I don't have the number.

And, Fredricka, I can tell you, it has been relatively quiet within Israel over the past month. The last suicide bombing was at the end of November, November 21 in Jerusalem. You'll recall that was when 11 Israelis were killed, including four children. Again, we don't know what happened here, all we know two large explosions and reports of several wounded -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And, in fact, Kelly, you were underscoring how quiet it has been since November 21 now, given that that was the last significant incident taking place in Jerusalem. It seems like as of recent, the focus has been for Israel to figure out what and how it would prepare itself for any kind of retaliatory attack from Iraq, if indeed, there does end up being a war in Iraq, so it seems as though people have had some complacency while they've tried to focus instead on what may potentially happen if there is, indeed, war, is that right?

WALLACE: Well, certainly much of the discussion and the general talk on the part of Israelis has been about a possible war with Iraq and what the circumstances could be. Certainly there have been ongoing instances going on in the West Bank and Gaza. You have had Israeli military operations in the West Bank and in Gaza, clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians, often Palestinian gunmen, but, again, no suicide bombings in Israel over the past month. There have been, though, some incidents of Palestinian gunmen hitting on some various settlements. Some Israelis killed, but, again right now we're not clear what happened here. We're getting more details, Fredricka, and we'll come back to you as soon as we have more.

WHITFIELD: And Kelly, in the amount of time that you've been there, that you've been in Israel, what kind of measures have you seen as of late of individuals, and even businesses, what kind of precautions have they been taking as of late to still kind of protect themselves from any potential suicide bombing situations there?

WALLACE: Well, tremendous security, really, Fredricka. Everywhere you go, every restaurant you go inside Jerusalem, even Tel- Aviv, there is a security guard outside checking your bags. There are checkpoints throughout this city. Israeli forces checking to see if anyone is coming in with any weapons. We're going to get you more information, Fredricka, and come back to you when we have it.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks very much, Kelly Wallace from Jerusalem.

On the telephone with us now from the location where these explosions have taken place just outside Tel-Aviv is Eudi Friedman. Eudi, you are a witness to what took place. What are you seeing right now and what did you see just prior to the explosion?

EUDI FRIEDMAN, EYEWITNESS: Yes, I'm standing right here and I see some bodies and I see some very bad injuries of people. And what happened over here there were two very strong explosions about 10 minutes ago, and right now I see some bodies, a lot of police around and saving people, and all the international media, there are many, many people around here walking around, and can you hear the noise behind me, a big mess right now around here.

I can see a couple of bodies around. I saw a few people was burning, all of them, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) right now, as I said, right now, there was two big, huge explosions today. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from the other side of Tel-Aviv, rushed (ph) to this area about two minutes after, and now we are looking to see -- looks like there is a lot of injuries to people around here.

WHITFIELD: Now, Eudi, can you describe for me about where you were at the time of the explosions and what you experienced at the time of the explosions?

FRIEDMAN: Can you repeat it? Sorry, I couldn't hear you.

WHITFIELD: Can you describe for me where you were when these explosions took place?

FRIEDMAN: I couldn't see the explosions, but I could hear the explosions, was two huge explosions. You could hear it from other side of Tel-Aviv to the other, and right now, as I told you, I see some bodies, see a lot of injured people around here. Some of them was all burned, all black as we can say by the fire.

WHITFIELD: Now, Eudi, a moment ago we were just seeing the first pictures, live pictures that were coming in from Israeli television, and I can hear behind you a lot of activity going on, emergency workers just getting onto the scene there. There were reports of two explosions at what is being described as an inactive, inoperable bus station there. Can you tell me a little bit about what kind of foot traffic usually takes place in that area, even though this bus station is no longer in use?

FRIEDMAN: Can you repeat the question? I can't understand you or really hear you. There is a big mess around here.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, I know. It's very loud there. In the location that's being described as the bus station, I understand, that it is no longer in operation as a bus station. But can you describe what kind of activity does take place in that area? Is there a lot of foot traffic?

FRIEDMAN: It's not a bus, not an explosion inside a bus, as I can see from here. It was an explosion near a station, a bus station, probably people was waiting over there. I mean, if I looked around from this area, this is -- there is a few shops around here, some small restaurants or a bar, and as I've been told, one of the explosion was really near the bus station where people were probably waiting, but, I mean, I can tell you just -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) talk in a few minutes, though. If you want to come back to me, and I will find out.

WHITFIELD: Now, Eudi, do you live in the area or were you visiting?

FRIEDMAN: No, I was just, you know, coming out from a meeting inside Tel-Aviv in the middle of Tel-Aviv, and I heard a bomb, and we are talking about five to six miles from here, so you can hear it really clear and you could tell something really bad happened. If you heard these explosions, it was really two very, very strong explosions.

WHITFIELD: Eudi, can you describe for me that area of town?

FRIEDMAN: All right. We are talking about between the center of Tel-Aviv to the south Tel-Aviv. This is the old bus station of Tel- Aviv, actually, and there is a lot of foreign people around here, living over on this area. There is a few old business parts of the old Tel-Aviv, and I mean, there is a lot of shops around here.

There is a small market around here, as well. We're talking about thousands of people there, you know, being here all the time all day, so -- and in the past there was an explosion in this area in the past, in the last year it was maybe one, maybe two or maybe three explosions over here. So it's not the first time it's happened over here, but every time that you hear that or you see that, it's really bad, it's terrible.

WHITFIELD: Now, Eudi, hold on. We want to welcome our international viewers here, and this story that we continue to follow out of Tel-Aviv. Two explosions were heard in downtown Tel-Aviv, and it is a particularly busy area, and right now emergency vehicles are on the scene providing aid to at least 20 people, reportedly, who have been injured in that area. Eudi Friedman is on the telephone with us, he is a witness, was in that area at the time of the explosion and continues to be, and Eudi, you've been doing a great job explaining to us the activity that's been taking place there in those first live pictures that we are seeing and we are now seeing again courtesy of Israeli television.

You can see that there are a lot of emergency officials that have gone into action here assisting those in need. At the same time, it appears as though there are a lot of civilians that are pitching in to help. Can you describe what you're seeing right now? Eudi, are you still there?




WHITFIELD: Can you describe for us as we continue to look at the live pictures now from Israeli television of emergency crews aiding those who have been injured, can you describe whether you are also seeing civilians that are pitching in to help the injured?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I saw at least one body and there is, as I've been told, there is more on the other side of the road. And I saw about five to six people injured. Some of them injured in very bad condition. It was all black, of the fire and the explosion, probably. And some of the injured that I saw was in a, you know, really bad situation, and as I heard, on the other side of the road there is a lot of parts of the bodies, so I can't tell right now. The police is pushing us from this area all the time out because they're afraid there is another bomb around. So they are looking around this area, a lot of police, a lot of security people around here trying to do -- look around (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

WHITFIELD: Now, Eudi, before I let you go, let me ask you quickly, the last reported incident similar to this explosion, deadly explosion was to have taken place in Jerusalem on November 21. An awful lot of time has elapsed where people have been able to feel somewhat safe or at least have no incidents of this nature. As a resident there, is there ever a time when you feel safe? Can you feel a false sense of security from such an amount of time that has elapsed without violence there?

FRIEDMAN: If I could understand your question because I really (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are you asking is it the same -- same type of...

WHITFIELD: I'm asking you if you have felt safe in the past month and a half, almost two months now where there has been no violence of this level?

All right. Sounds like we're having a difficult time communicating right now. It is rather noisy on that end. We want to bring in our Kelly Wallace who is in Jerusalem, not the location of where the explosions have been reported and the emergency aid is taking place in Tel-Aviv, but, Kelly, right now what are your sources telling you about the goings on there?

WALLACE: Well, Fredricka, we are learning from the Tel-Aviv fire department that there are a number of dead, and there are some wounded, some sources saying some 20 or 30 wounded. According to the Tel-Aviv police officials, they are saying two explosions, again, in the old central bus station in Tel-Aviv, several wounded. They, though, at this point are saying no word yet on the cause.

I happen to be joined, though, by Ra'anan Gissin. He is the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He is here with us in Jerusalem. First, sir, tell me what can you tell us about what happened in Tel-Aviv?

RA'ANAN GISSIN, SPOKESMAN FOR ARIEL SHARON: There is no doubt that this is not the first time that this site has been hit. It just shows you that this indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians has become not only a policy but a strategy of all the terrorist organizations, including those which are being supported and instigated by Chairman Arafat. And we -- this relative calm that we had in the past few days was really deceptive, because it resulted from our ability to intercept over between 30 and 50 ongoing alerts of suicide homicide bombings that were directed against Israel either inside Israel or in the territories.

And it shows you all the talk about cease-fire and about peace, how the Arab world (UNINTELLIGIBLE). They hold nothing. The real strategy that is adopted by all the terrorist groups is to continue this ongoing terrorist campaign, perhaps in anticipation of the election in Israel or maybe even the pending U.S. move against Iraq.

We're determined to stop it and we'll use whatever measure is necessary in order to prevent escalation of this current situation. We'll also bring the perpetrator to justice or bring justice to them.

WALLACE: Let me ask you, can you tell us, there are some reports that there were two suicide bombers responsible for these two explosions. Can you tell us if that is the case?

GISSIN: Well, according to all indications right now, we don't have conclusive evidence right now, but all indications are that there were two suicide bombers who exploded in sequence one right after the other. It doesn't seem like it was an explosion in a car or in -- or in any one of the buses, so the more likely is that this explosion was caused by two suicide bombers, and the number of injuries is way above 25 and we're still counting.

WALLACE: Can you give us any update right now of the number of those you understand to be killed?

GISSIN: We count at this stage, I mean, this will come probably in the next few minutes or maybe in the next half hour.

WHITFIELD: OK, we're going to have to interrupt that conversation. Just quickly, two deadly explosions have taken place in Tel-Aviv, and Israeli authorities are reporting that there are several injuries and several deaths. Of course we'll continue to follow this story for you.


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