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At Least 30 Casualties in Jerusalem Blast

Aired June 11, 2003 - 10:38   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: An explosion in central Jerusalem. The word being that many people there -- many casualties have erupted, perhaps several dead.
Mike Hanna, our Jerusalem bureau chief, who had just been on the air with us moments before this happened, rejoins us right now with the very latest word.

What can you tell us?

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, at this stage, all we can confirm, there has been a large explosion in central Jerusalem. The site just off Jaffa Road, which is a main arterial road running through the center of the city. At this stage, the cause of the explosion not known. We have been hearing ambulances for the last few minutes roaring past us, heading towards the scene of the explosion.

Ambulance services are saying initially there are at least 30 casualties. The nature of the casualties, once again, unclear at the moment. As I said, this is an unfolding story with the explosion itself occurring some three or four minutes ago. Now the exact site of the explosion, the road, major road through the middle of Jerusalem, initial reports said it was in a mall that is right next to that road. However, then we received a report that the explosion could have been on or near a bus. This is all very sketchy details at the moment.

What we do know, though, from the ambulance services is that they believe there are at least 30 casualties, and we are now hearing report that the -- saying that -- the report is it was a suicide bomber, detonating an explosive device aboard a bus. Thirty casualties at this particular stage, Leon. We're waiting for further details. We'll give them to you as they come in.

HARRIS: Understood. This bus, do we know the location? Was it traveling through a neighborhood? A populated area? Was it going through a business district, Or what can you tell us about that?

HANNA: Well, Jaffa Road itself is a very, let's say, downtown shopping area effectively. It would have been crowded at this particular time of the day. Jaffa Road itself is the main arterial road that runs through the center of Jerusalem. It is a major busway, bus thoroughfare also along the side are large number of shops, shopping malls, restaurants, and certainly it is a very crowded place, particularly at this time of the day -- Leon.

HARRIS: Mike, for the viewers who are just joining us, let's go back if we can step back a bit and put this into perspective right now. When you joined us about 20 minutes or so ago, we talked about the Mideast process and where things happen to be right now, particularly since over weekend, on Friday was a attack by Palestinian militant groups, and then there was a retaliation by the Sharon government, and now this.

Give us some -- a bit of time line for those who are joining us now, what we're looking at happening here.

HANNA: We're seeing once again a cycle of violence, perhaps, emanating on the ground. We had exactly a week ago the prime ministers of Israel and the Palestinian territories shake hands, commit themselves to a U.S.-backed road map, intended to bring about some peaceful resolution to this ongoing conflict.

Within a matter of days of that, there was a major attack against Israeli forces in Gaza, in which four Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinian gunmen, and then we had this assassination attempt by Israel directed at a Hamas militant, a man who Israel says was behind the attack against its soldiers over the weekend, and now we had in the wake of that assassination attempt, threats of further action against Israeli civilians, threats from militant organizations that they were going to seek revenge.

Now, this is the kind of background in which this explosion has just occurred. Israel had been bracing itself in the course of the day, since that failed assassination attempt, for some form of action. There had been several warnings that there may be some kind of attack, and indeed now it does appear that is the case.

But this type of cycle of violence and counterviolence is particularly the type of action that the road map is designed to stop, was attempting to stop, but clearly, that is very, very difficult indeed.

We have just received word as well, Leon, that the bomb was aboard bus, and that there are a number dead. We do not have an exact number at this stage. Ambulance services told us that there were at least 30 casualties, but we do have now confirmed there are a number of people dead. The bomb exploding aboard a bus in the very heart, very center of Jerusalem -- Leon.

HARRIS: Understood, Mike.

We're also confirming those reports. We're seeing the same sort information coming in, being sourced by the Israeli radio, as well as the associated press, and we're hearing, again, 30 casualties, however no word yet on the extent of the casualties, no breakdowns of dead and wounded available as yet, but, Mike, as we're seeing and reading the same thing here on wire services here as well.


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