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At Least 16 Killed in Jerusalem Bus Blast

Aired June 11, 2003 - 12:02   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Jerrold Kessel, our man on the scene of this latest bus bombing, is joining us.
Jerrold, for our viewers who are just tuning in, tell us what happened your time this afternoon your time in Jerusalem.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just about an hour and a half ago, here in Jaffa -- and I'm going to let the camera zoom in on that stricken bus, bus 14. It was heading down to the center. This was the road. Jaffa Street, one of the main thoroughfares of downtown Jerusalem, heading down to the center of the city. Just outside the bus stop, you can probably pick up the bus stop to the right, there's a deafening explosion. Tore apart the right-hand side of the bus. The front of the bus careered upwards, as you can see. And at least 16 people are dead. More than 60 wounded.

We have seen several bodies being taken away about a half an hour, an hour ago. The wounded, as is always the case in these attacks, terror attacks in the heart of Israeli cities, the Medical Relief Services amazingly quickly on the scene. The wounded all got away to hospital very quickly. But an hour or hour or so later, there were still people getting taken away, suffered delayed shock, likely hurt. The ambulances are on the scene now. There's a lot, lot of people, hundreds, perhaps couple thousand around the scene. The police try to push them back. People were standing by. But there's been no pandemonium since the rescue work has been completed. In fact, quite incongruously to the devastation of the site, there's almost a deathly silence here. People are absorbing, taking in the enormity of the horror here.

You know, Wolf, this is not the first time. It's the umpteenth time that the terrorists striking in Jerusalem streets, on Israeli streets, against Israelis, in the occupied territories as well, and as many times as there are, it doesn't get easier for people to bear, and certainly you sense that here as people are trying to absorb just how devastating a blow this has been -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This occurred, Jerrold, around 5:30 p.m., your time. I assume people leaving work, taking the bus to go home, or students. Do we have any sense of who exactly were on that bus, who the people were, were they students? Were they workers? What was the nature of the bus ride at that particular time?

KESSEL: Well, this is 5:30 in the afternoon, on a summer afternoon. Israel has a split working day, in the sense that stores are open until 7:00, 7:30. This is in the middle of the afternoon shift, if you like. Stores, offices might be just finishing around 4:00, 4:30. A lot of people on their bus. This is a regular bus line heading down the center of the city, away from the main city marketplace, where we're standing right here. In fact, this is a place which has been attacked several times, right near where we're standing; just 50 meters, 50 yards up from the bus, about year and a half ago, there was another bus bombing, or right outside of a bus stop. And there have been so many in the center of Jerusalem, whether in terms of the bombers, suicide bombers boarding the bus, or walking into the crowded streets. This was a crowded place and a crowded time that the bomber chose to strike.

BLITZER: And, Jerrold, this is a part of Jerusalem that the Israelis have controlled, including before 1967. It's western Jerusalem. It's not the eastern part of the city that was -- that the Israelis took charge of after the 1967/68 war, is that right?

KESSEL: Yes, you're absolutely right. This is in the heart of Jerusalem. It is the heart of what has always been the Israeli controlled part of town, what's called west Jerusalem. This is the center of the city, the busy commercial district of west Jerusalem, as it's called, across town on the Palestinian side, most of the Palestinian side, east Jerusalem. It's just about a half a mile away as the crow flies, several blocks down the road. Palestinians, of course, can cross over fairly easily, Palestinians who live in Jerusalem. Police will be wanting to know did the man, or woman indeed, who struck on bus 14 come from Jerusalem or come from outside Jerusalem? It will be a critical question that the Israeli security forces will be looking to answer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think it was almost a year ago exactly, maybe a little bit more, as you point out, that that bus bombing, or that bombing occurred in the marketplace, the central marketplace, down the street from where you are right now in Jerusalem. A lot of people are wondering, all these bus bombings in Jerusalem, the Israeli bus drivers, they take special precautions to deal with this, given the history of bus bombings, suicide bombers trying to get on board. But I take it that the Palestinian suicide bombers recently have started dressing up as women, or as Hassidic, or orthodox Jews, or as Israeli soldiers to try to get on board. That's one of the new developments over the past several months, is that right?

KESSEL: Yes, you're absolutely right. And it's made the work of the Israeli security that much more difficult.

I should point out, Wolf, that the reason, perhaps one of the reasons it's easier, to use a word like that, it's easier for the bombers to succeed in their mission, and by getting on a bus, because most public places in Israel now, whether it's restaurants, its cafes, offices, banks, a lot of the big stores have security guards on the gate. As we recall, over the last several months, many of the bombers have been stopped at the entrance to shopping centers by those security guards.

Now, one of the big debates that's been going on for the last 2 and a 1/2 years, how do you protect the buses? Can you have a security guard on every single bus? That's a might logistical big problem. Maybe it's a impossible problem. Of course, the drivers are trained to make sure that a bomb hasn't been left. They looked for suspicious people. We've had several signs when the drivers have managed to push off bombers, having recognized somebody as suspicious.

But as you rightly say, sometimes the suicide bombers, the would- be bombers who leave a suit case behind dress up, disguise themselves, whether it's an Orthodox religious Jew, whether it's a beatnik, kind of typical dress of a young Israeli. And that's the way some of the bombers have been able to get through. And you rightly say, some of them have been women, too, and they have had possibly an easier time to get through. Those will be some of the things that the Israeli security will be looking for in this particular case.

But for the moment, it's the grim rescue work, the grim cleanup work, the grim task of trying to assess exactly what happened here 5:30 in the afternoon on bus number 14 -- Wolf..

BLITZER: All right, Jerrold, I want to ask you to stand by. We're going to get back to you, obviously, for additional developments.


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