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Bomb Blast Kills at Least 13

Aired June 11, 2003 - 10:54   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Also quite familiar with this sort of activity and these spasms of violence is Professor Fawaz Gerges, who was with us a little while ago. Professor Gerges is with Sarah Lawrence College in New York.
He was a guest and joined us to talk about the Mideast peace process, and lo and behold, not minutes after we wrap up our conversation, Professor, we see this explosion happen. What are your thoughts right now?

FAWAZ GERGES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: We should not have been surprised at all, because Hamas made very clear yesterday that they would exact revenge, and it seems to me that the Israeli attack yesterday appears to have provided more ammunition for armed Palestinian groups to try to wage violence against Israelis, and I think what strikes me about this attack is that, obviously, Palestinian groups have major assets in order -- to launch such an attack on such a short notice, almost 24 hours, it tells me that they have human resources in many places, and they can really launch some major, painful terrorist attacks against Israelis.

HARRIS: Professor, please hold that thought. Hold that thought.

We have to go right now to our Jerrold Kessel who is there on the scene, and Jerrold's phone is a bit suspect right now, it is going in and out. We want to bring Jerrold in while we have him. Jerrold, are you there?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am, Leon. I can hear you. If I can't, then I'll let you know. But at the moment, we're right across the street from the stricken bus that had been blown apart by this explosion. There are definitely dead because just a few minutes ago, I see two bodies, I saw two bodies being carried away on stretchers covered with blankets, and they did not seem to be the bombers, because they did seem to have Israeli-style clothing on them, but that is no guarantee.

But at least two bodies is what we saw. All the wounded seem to have been ferried away as is customary. The Israeli ambulance service very quick at getting onto the scene. There are still ambulances pouring in. A few minutes ago, some people were taken away but I think they were suffering from lesser injuries, perhaps scratches, perhaps shock.

But all the wounded from inside the bus seem to have been taken away. Inside the bus, Israeli sappers -- Israeli sappers who are scouring the area to make sure that there are no other unexploded devices. All the windows have been blown out, but the back part of the bus, Leon, seems to have escaped relatively unscathed. The seats are intact, although the windows have all been blown out. It's in the center of the bus and towards the front that -- that bore the brunt of the explosion, and that suggests somewhere of a lesser bomb than has been the case in previous bus bombings to which we have been witness where the bus as a whole was destroyed and there were -- and there was a fire.

Now, what we're just getting from our producer on the scene, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from police sources who say that it was definitely a suicide bomber, that there are a number of dead killed by the suicide bomber and more than 50 people have been taken to hospital wounded, eight of whom are reported, according to police sources, in serious condition -- Leon.

HARRIS: Jerrold, have you been able to find out in any way how many people may have been on that bus when that bomb was detonated?

KESSEL: No, but just this number that comes through to me now with the 50 wounded suggests that it was a pretty packed bus. Although, as I say, the seats at the back are pretty well intact, and that makes for a difference. It could have been some bystanders and cars alongside.

The bus was headed into the center of Jerusalem. This is the main traffic artery in Jerusalem, Jaffa Road. CNN's bureau is just about a half a mile up the road towards the end of Jaffa Road. This is heading right towards the center of the city. It is exactly there where there have been several, several attacks that -- less by bus bombers and more of suicide bombers walking into the street or among pedestrians or walking into shops. This time again, that old modus operandi of somebody boarding a bus and then blowing himself or herself up.

As I say, the wounded -- what we are hearing -- is over 50 have been taken away. They all have been treated in hospital. Sometimes the number grows because a lot of people will come afterwards to hospital with delayed reaction, shock, or finding themselves slightly wounded, but as of now, we heard eight people seriously hurt and a number dead and as I say, I saw myself two bodies being carried away on stretchers -- Leon.

HARRIS: Jerrold Kessel there, and Jerrold, if I am not mistaken, I think you bring to mind an explosion that was detonated not far from that spot almost exactly a year ago. if I'm not mistaken. Remember talking about that quite a bit on the air then, an explosion there in a market where someone, I believe it was a woman, was strapped with a bomb in that case.

Jerrold Kessel there, reporting to us live from the scene there on Jaffa Road, as you see here in these pictures that we are getting from Israeli television. Unedited video, so we caution you that you may end up seeing something that may strike you as a bit grisly. We are not in control of the video.

Police are in control of the scene as you can see here. They have been -- managed -- been able to ferry away practically all of the injured, if not all of them, according to what Jerrold Kessel who just reported there moments ago. We are getting reports of at least -- of 30 wounded or killed. Our Jerrold Kessel said he saw for himself at least two who did die and were wrapped up and taken away. But there may be -- that number actually may climb in the hours to come, and still -- a lot of information right now is still rather fuzzy.

The authorities there have not yet been able to get a full grasp on exactly how many people have been taken away to hospitals. Thirty people is the toll that we have at this particular point, and we are going to continue to watch these pictures and try to get more people to join us from there on the phone to give us as much information as we can get while it is new.

But we still have Professor Gerges with us. I interrupted you a moment ago when you were finishing up your point about this being proof that these militant groups there still contain major assets and are still willing to use them.

Well, the question that I have for you is how is a person like Prime Minister Abbas, who right now is relying upon outside forces, namely the U.S. and Israel to lend him the authority that he needs to do his job, how can he actually address that?

GERGES: Well, this is a big question, Leon. Not only -- not only Mahmoud Abbas does not have the standing and legitimacy, but also the power base to really try to crack down against -- or on Hamas and Jihad. Let's remember, despite his dismal performance, that's Arafat. He remains a popular leader and retains control of most of the security forces. Even if Mahmoud Abbas, the new prime minister, wants to crack down on Hamas and Jihad, he does not have the resources nor the standing to do so.

Let's remember, cracking down against Hamas and Jihad means a civil war, unpredictable civil war with unpredictable results. And Mahmoud Abbas himself is not confident that he would emerge victorious after this particular civil war. This is why -- this is why Mahmoud Abbas, Leon, has been very reluctant to really -- I mean, decisively try to crack down on Hamas and Jihad, and he has promised to at least find peaceful mechanisms and means to really arrive at a cease fire.

And yes, the CIA is trying to organize the Palestinian security forces, but this would take a great deal of time. What we can do is to empower Mahmoud Abbas by empowering mainstream Palestinian society, by giving it hope, a stake in the future in order to isolate the militants. That Mahmoud Abbas needs time, he needs major resources invested in Palestinian society on the part of the United States, and Israel of course, and I mean the attack yesterday on the political leader by Hamas does not help matters.

In fact, as President Bush made it very clear, it hinders the peace process, and I...


HARRIS: Why do you think, then, if that attack yesterday on Mr. al-Rantissi, this leader of the militant -- of Hamas, if that attack is not a productive one, how do you read -- this is actual video of that attack that happened yesterday in Gaza, this attack ordered by the Sharon administration, why then did this attack have to occur?

GERGES: And this, Leon, raises, really, some serious questions. It raises some serious questions about the conduct of the Likud-led government, one of the most hard-liner governments in Israel's history, and its genuine commitment to the peace process.

This is why, I think, the president's intervention yesterday and today is very important, because not only we in the United States need to exert pressure on the Palestinians, but we also need to exert pressure on our own ally, that is Israel, in order to at least respect its commitment to the peace process.

And the good news is that despite everything that we are witnessing on the television screen yesterday and today, polarities (ph) and majorities in both societies support the peace process. A settlement based on international consensus, two states living side by side in peace.

What we need to do is to empower these two majorities in both societies so that we can isolate militants on both sides, and the attack yesterday by Israel on the Hamas political leader does not help matters, and, of course, we need to empower Mahmoud Abbas so he can at least find ways and mechanisms to crack down on Hamas and Jihad, and put an end to the armed intifada.

At the end of the day, Leon, suicide bombings do a great deal of damage to the Palestinian cause, and it seems to me a consensus, a relative consensus is reemerging in Palestinian society regarding the futility of suicide bombings. The question is, how do you isolate the militants? How to avoid providing more ammunition to Hamas and Jihad? How do you empower the mainstream Palestinian society, and give it hope so that militants can be isolated and suicide bombings can be stopped once and for all?

HARRIS: That brings up a very important question I want to get to in just a moment. But first, we want to go to our Jerrold Kessel, who is reporting there from not far, just a matter of a few meters away from that bus. Jerrold has been able to get some more information on the casualties involved in this explosion which happened moments ago.

Jerrold, are you there on the phone?


HARRIS: I'm sorry, Jerrold -- I'm sorry, Jerrold to cut you off. If you can hear me, Jerrold, your telephone is creating -- picking up a lot of interference noise. If you could move just a little bit to see if you can call back in. Let's try that in just a bit. Jerrold Kessel there on the scene. Jerrold was able to report to us his -- by his own viewing there, with his own eyes, he was able to see a number of the dead that were taken away from the scene of this explosion on Jaffa Street. The No. 14 bus there being exploded just a matter of about half hour or so ago there on its way through -- to downtown Jerusalem. Jerrold was just about to report to us new information concerning the number of dead that have now been confirmed. Do we have Jerrold available now?

Sorry, Jerrold, we are still getting that interference from your phone. Let's go to our Mike Hanna, who is standing by in our Jerusalem bureau, covering it from his perspective there. Mike, what have you heard?

MIKE HANNA, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF: Well, Leon, I'm about a mile up the road from where this attack occurred. According to police at this stage, they have taken ten bodies off that bus. Ten people killed. This does not include the suicide bomber, who they suspected detonated an explosive device aboard that bus. So, the latest death toll we have is ten people killed in this explosion, well over 50 are said to be wounded, of whom eight are believed to be in a serious condition. So these are the figures that we are receiving at this stage. Obviously, nothing can be absolutely confirmed for a period of time. The police on the scene, obviously, their inspection teams, their police squads, their explosive squads looking at the bus which we heard Jerrold Kessel confirming a few minutes ago bore all the hallmarks of a bomb attack. The bomb, according to police, detonated inside that bus. The damage absolutely immense. The bus passing along a major commercial thoroughfare through the middle of Jerusalem, Jaffa Road, which, at this stage, would have been very crowded, Leon. The explosion happening some -- half past five in the evening local time here.

So just to confirm for you that figure that we have, police say that they have taken ten bodies off the bus. This does not include the suicide bomber who they believe detonated this explosive device, and well over 50 people wounded, some of them in a serious condition -- Leon.

HARRIS: That would mean, at this point then, Mike, we are able to confirm from the police reports there, a total of 11 dead including the bomber here, and we want to remind folks that what we are trying to do is give you the latest as soon as we get it, and that means that -- to do so we have decided to show you this video that is unedited. This is coming in to us from Israeli television. And -- so we want to warn you that the scene appears now to have been cleaned up quite a bit. However, there is still the chance that some video that might be a bit disturbing may make its way to your TV screen, so please be advised.

Let's go now to our Jerrold Kessel. Jerrold is now -- Jerrold is still right there, or not far away from that bus, and we believe Jerrold's phone line has been fixed up, cleaned up to some degree that we can actually understand him now. Jerrold, are you there?

KESSEL: I am here, right across the road from the bus, and it seems to have been a considerably worse terror strike than we had imagined while looking at the bus, because what we can confirm now from police and medical relief services, at least 13 people have been killed by the suicide bomber. At least 13 dead. That is the latest word from the medical relief services here on the spot, and the Israeli police.


HARRIS: Jerrold, I'm sorry -- Jerrold, please, hang on for just one second. I wanted to let our viewers know about something else that we are just now learning. We are also learning, according to the Associated Press wires here, we have been able to confirm, I believe, as well -- have we confirmed this? We have confirmed?

We have been able to confirm that the Israeli government has launched a helicopter attack on Gaza. We understand that Israeli helicopters, Israeli army helicopters have been dispatched to Gaza, so we will continue to keep our eye on that story, and Jerrold, you will no doubt hear about that coming up in just a few moments. Now, please continue with your report.

KESSEL: Well, what we can see now is the -- the sappers, the police dogs, the army security men searching just to make sure there are no other bombs, but the devastation has been wrought here on the scene by the suicide bomber.

The police are saying, in fact, it definitely was a suicide bomber, and in that casualty toll of at least 13 dead, they do not include the body of the bomber. Pandemonium is calming to some degree. It was absolute mayhem here just about 10, 15 minutes ago. All the wounded have been taken away to hospital, but we have got reports of over 50 wounded, of whom a number were in serious condition.

Now the grisly cleanup work continues. First, the forensics men are on board -- on board the bus, around the bus. This is a busy, busy street in the heart of Jerusalem here, and it's heading just about -- I'd say about 150 yards away from the central intersection in the heart of downtown Jerusalem.

And you were saying, the last time we spoke, indeed there was a bomb just about -- at a bus stop, not more than 50 yards away from where this stricken bus is lying now. That was just about a year, year and a half ago. In this part of Jerusalem, this several blocks square has been the scene of all too many to count now, whether suicide bombing aboard buses or of suicide bombers in the streets or walking into stores.

Most of the damage does seem to -- although there are a lot of store windows alongside the road that have been blown out, most of the damage is in the bus itself. I don't know whether any conclusions can be drawn from that about the nature of the bomb, the explosives and so forth. Less collateral damage it seems around than one is going to see in such instances around the bus, and the bus took the brunt.

And yet, unusually, as I was telling you before, the back of the bus seems to have escaped relatively unscathed because all the seats are intact and there was no fire, it doesn't seem according to this, some of the scenes we have seen in previous such attacks -- Leon.

HARRIS: There you go. There you have it. Jerrold Kessel there on the scene for us in downtown Jerusalem, there on Jaffa Street, where this bus, the No. 14 bus there was exploded by a suicide bomber.


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