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Suicide Bombing in Israel Followed by Israeli Attack on Hamas Leaders

Aired June 11, 2003 - 11:30   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... authority will also -- will also follow and take responsibility for action emanating from their territory. Otherwise they don't have a Palestinian authority and they don't have any government.
I'm not talking that they have to defend us. They have to defend their own concept, the concept they said that they believe in, that they will follow of a free democratic Palestine. There is not going to be any free Palestine or democratic Palestine before there is an eradication of terrorism.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Raman Gisan (ph), thank you very much, indeed, for joining us. We have just received word that there has been a claim of responsibility for the terror attack in Jerusalem in the course of the afternoon. The armed wing of the Hamas militant group has claimed responsible for this attack that has killed at least 13 people. Wounded well over 60 -- Leon.

LEON HARRIS, ANCHOR: Yes, Mike, as a matter of fact, I was just reading from the Associated Press wires and seeing these words coming from Hamas' militant group. The wires are not saying that they've actually claimed responsibility, but you've been able to confirm that. Thank you very much.

We've got a statement here, this one coming from Mahmoud Zahar (ph), who is the leader in that Islamic group, saying that this bombing is a message to all the Zionist criminals that they are not safe and that the Palestinian planners are capable of reaching them everywhere.

At least the last part of that statement is something that is echoed by our professor and guest this morning, Professor Fawaz Gerges, who is saying that this is proof that Hamas still possesses major assets, making them capable of executing strikes like the one we've been seeing this morning.

What you're looking at right now is not a strike by Hamas. This is a strike, perhaps, on Hamas. We're hearing word now, six dead here in the wake of this strike. This is the tail end of an Israeli army helicopter strike in Gaza. We have had reports that there had been, perhaps, three different targets struck. This was one of them. This is at least one of them, we understand. This was a car detail that was struck by rocket fire from an Israeli helicopter.

And I'm also being told that the target in this case was a Hamas leader. We understand that the target in this case may have been Tito Masoud, who is described as a commander of the Hamas military wing. And this after we've heard Hamas promising yesterday, a retaliation for the strike against Abdel Aziz Al-Rantissi yesterday.

Now, we've got that scene playing out in Gaza there on the right side of your screen. On the left side of your screen, that is the attack from earlier, about an hour ago. This happening in central Jerusalem. A suicide bomber detonating a device on a bus. And right now, the toll stands at 14 dead and dozens injured, perhaps 68 or more at the last count.

Information still trickling into the hospitals and the authorities there in Israel. We're still working our sources there to bring you more information once we do get that. So we'll play these two out, we'll try to continue to follow exactly what's happening here and what may happen next. We were covering the one scene there on the left when the one on the right began to unfold.

No doubt, this word is reaching President Bush, who earlier this morning said that he condemned these attacks in the strongest terms. President Bush is about to be taking the stage in Chicago. He's in Chicago, and he was all prepared to speak exclusively this morning about Medicare. But it appears that we may hearing something else from him, as well. Perhaps the president will address this situation in the Mideast as we're watching the road map to peace become pocked with rocket craters, if you will.

Let's go now to our Dana Bash. Dana is traveling with President Bush in Chicago, Illinois.

Dana, have you heard anything at all from the president's detail on this?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know, Leon, is that the president had already arrived here in Chicago. He was actually on his helicopter, Marine 1, making his way to downtown Chicago here for the speech he is going to give very shortly. And that is where he was informed about the latest bombings in Jerusalem, the terrorist attack there. And as you mentioned, according to his spokesman, Scott McClellan, he does condemn this in the strongest possible of terms.

We could hear -- We are likely to hear from the president on this very shortly as he starts his remarks. Of course, it was just yesterday that we heard a very strong rebuke from President Bush of Ariel Sharon and the Israelis about an attack that they launched against the leader of Hamas just yesterday -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right. Thanks, Dana. We'll be getting back to you and your site there in just a bit when President Bush begins his remarks. We'll no doubt check that out to make sure that we find out what he has to say about this.

Once again, folks, what we're watching here on your screen here, on the right there is the aftermath of an Israeli army helicopter attack in Gaza. I'm also getting a report here that a Hamas militant leader was killed in that strike. We'll try to get more information for you on that. We are also told that Palestinian Hamas leader who was targeted was a Tito Masoud. Learn more about that later.

The scene on the left, that is the one that started things off for us this morning. A bus exploded on Jaffa Street there in central Jerusalem. Fourteen dead at last count.

We have with us right now joining us on the telephone is Avi Zohar. Avi is with the Israeli ambulance service in Magen David. Avi, are you there? Can you tell us what you've been seeing happen today?

AVI ZOHAR, ISRAELI AMBULANCE, MAGEN DAVID: Yes, there was an explosion in the bus in the central main street in Jerusalem, Jaffa Street. And they say it was one of the biggest explosions that we have had in the last year. It was maybe every blast inside, the damage is really huge.

We have 65 injured that we send to hospital, and several dead. Several dead in the bus or close to the bus. About ten seriously wounded, several medium, and the other light wounded. All of them with about 45 ambulances, they rushed to the scene, took the victims, the patients to the hospital. And gave them the best treatment that we can. We have paramedics, we have physicians, and MPs (ph), all those, they do the best to give the best treatment to save the lives and to help them to the hospital in the best way that we can.

HARRIS: Avi, have you been able to talk or have you or any of your colleagues talked with any of the injured and have they told you what happened on that bus? Have they described it to you?

ZOHAR: I can tell you the explosion in the bus is typical, we know exactly what happened.

First of all, there are blast injured, and several are injured from pieces from screws, nails that were in the explosion, inside, with the suicider, or even if it wasn't a suicider, and it's early to say, maybe it was some suitcase with explosives.

But explosion in the bus, parts from the bus, parts from the shell of the bus, nails, and metal pieces are flying in the bus, and also giving a big damage, they gave trauma to the patients. They bleed from all parts of their body. And also sometimes the blood, even if you are not bleeding, are harming you inside your body in the stomach, the lungs, the liver, so the damage is extensive in the bus, it is huge.

HARRIS: Thank you, Avi Zohar with the Israeli ambulance service, Magen David. We know you've got a lot of work to do. And we thank you for taking time to talk to us this morning. This morning turning out to be a deadly one there.

Morning here, afternoon there in Jerusalem. This is a scene, rush hour explosion here on this bus, it happened around 5:30 local time there in Israel. It happened around 10:30 Eastern time here. And you see that scene there unfolding on your left side of your screen. That is the aftermath there of this bus explosion. A situation where a suicide bomber boarded the bus, detonated a device. Right now, the toll stands at 14 dead and dozens injured. We have heard reports as high as 68 people being treated now for various injuries, some of them serious. And so that number of the death toll there may actually climb.

Now the scene you're watching on the right side of your screen is a scene from Gaza. While the cleanup goes on at that scene on the left, the Israeli army launched a helicopter attack in Gaza.

And you are seeing here, once again, we must advise you this is unedited video. We are being provided this video by local television services there in the region. We have no control over these scenes. We apologize if any of this video is too harsh for our audience. We apologize, but we want to give you the information as soon as we can. So we're taking some liberties here to at least give you this video as soon as we get it so much of it is coming in without the benefit of any editing. So we advise you that you might want to use some discretion in watching some of these pictures.

However, what is happening here is a very violent development as the road map to peace in the Middle East now seems to have hit not just a speed bump, perhaps a brick wall. At least as of this morning.

That scene on the right is the wake of a helicopter rocket attack in Gaza. We understand that a Hamas militant leader was the target of this strike. And we understand that there are some dead. We have reports of six dead from that scene. We do not know if the target, and I'm told his name is Masoud al-Tito, and he is a leader of the militant wing of Hamas. We do not know if he is among that six who died there in that strike which happened just about, maybe, 20 minutes ago or so. We'll continue to monitor these.

We want to bring back with us Professor Fawaz Gerges from Sarah Lawrence College in New York. He's been with us all morning. We expected to have him for a matter of only about five minutes, and it's turned into an hour and a half plus now.

And as we've been watching this, I want to ask you about something you mentioned a moment ago. Now there are two things here that I want to hit on with you, Professor. One is, are we looking here at something very serious here as far as developments or impediments to the road map to peace or is this an expected spasm? And where does Yasser Arafat fit in here? Is he fermenting dissension here? Is he the one who is actually undermining Mahmoud Abbas, the prime minister in this situation?

FAWAZ GERGES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: Well, I think Arafat, yes, Arafat is still a major player. That despite everything that Israel and the United States have been trying to do to sideline Arafat, he remains, Leon, very popular. And he claims control of most of the Palestinian security forces.

What we are seeing today is basically what we call, what you've been seeing in the last 32 months, since the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada. Actions and counteractions, violence and retaliation. And I think if we have learned one lesson, Leon, is that this cycle of violence does not really help either side.

Despite everything that the Likud government has done in the last, you know, I mean, 30 months or so: it has reoccupied Palestinian towns and cities, it has escalated its actions against Palestinians, it has besieged and reoccupied Palestinian cities, and yet -- and yet, violence continues.

And again, the attack yesterday has done a great deal of damage, already, not only to the road map, but to the credibility and the legitimacy of the new prime minister, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

And, Leon, if I might add one word, I fear that you're not just witnessing one action on the part of Hamas. Hamas yesterday promised to exact revenge as never before.


GERGES: And I think what Hamas wants to do is send a very strong message that is -- its political leaders cannot be attacked, and that if they are attacked there will be retaliation on huge scales. And let's hope now -- I hope -- that the president, President Bush gets engaged personally in this process.

HARRIS: Well, we'll be listening to see what President Bush has to say about this. He should be speaking almost any moment now. He's in Chicago.

GERGES: Absolutely.

HARRIS: But you mentioned this promise by Hamas to retaliate in some sort of massive way. That was what they said after a failed attempt...

GERGES: Absolutely.

HARRIS: ... to take out Mr. Al-Rantissi.

I'm just getting word here that one of the persons killed in the strike in Gaza, the scene you're seeing playing out on the right side of the screen, was -- one of the victims there was the Hamas militant leader Tito Masoud, who I understand was traveling in a car. And he has also another Hamas leader with him. No name given here in the report. But it appears as though two of the militant wing's leaders actually have been killed in this case.

What does that mean?

GERGES: What it means now is that Hamas has many grudges against Israel and Hamas will try -- Hamas and Jihad, and Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Let's remember Hamas is not the only armed group. You have several armed groups. And I think now they're going to do their best in order to exact revenge, in order to retaliate, in order to show that Hamas has the capacity to inflict damage on Israel.

And the question is neither side is going anywhere. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are really achieving their main goal, strategic goal. That is two states, living side by side in peace.

And it seems to me this cycle of violence, Leon, is playing directly into the hands of the dissatisfied elements on the both sides, in the Palestinian camp and Israeli camps.

And this is why the action by the Israeli government does not make sense at all. Because if you take Israeli action into its ultimate conclusion it's basically, it's providing more ammunition into the hands of Jihad and Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. It's complicating the efforts of the new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, in order to find means to end the armed intifada. It keeps the sense of the anger, the deep sense of anger and revenge on the side of the Palestinians.

The question is, how do you end this cycle of violence? How do you, I mean, put this back on the process?

HARRIS: As you said, this complicates Mahmoud Abbas' job, a job that was already plenty complicated.

Professor, stay with us. I want to bring also in our Mike Hanna, our Jerusalem bureau chief, who has been joining us in our coverage throughout the morning.

As I understand, Mike has been able to clear up some information that we had about who was actually involved in the strikes there in Gaza.

Mike, we understood, I'm being told, and I'm seeing here in a number of different wire reports, as well as our own files here, that this Masoud Al-Tito was one of the targets and that he may have been killed in this strike in Gaza.

What do you know about that?

HANNA: Well, it's all getting a bit complicated. A number of names going around here, Leon. What we have heard from our sources in Gaza, is that one of those killed in the Israeli strike within the last half hour or so, in which at least six people were killed. One of the dead has been identified as Suhel Abu Hamad (ph). He is a member of the Hamas armed wing, recently moved up in the organization, we are told by our sources.

There has also been a claim of responsibility from that armed wing of Hamas for the terror attack in Jerusalem, in which the death toll, we are now told ,as many as 16 people. At least 16 people killed in that attack.

And we also understand that the name of the suicide bomber, which once again we have received from sources in Gaza, is Masoud Al-Titi, this the name of the man who Hamas says carried out the suicide bomb attack in Jerusalem.

Now we heard earlier a statement from Abdel Aziz Al-Rantissi, the Hamas leader who was the target of an attempted Israeli assassination attempt yesterday, saying that this is the response to Sharon because of that attempted assassination.

So, the situation is still rather confused and complex, obviously, as these moments of intense tragedy can be. But what we can confirm at the moment is that police tell us at least 16 people have been killed in the attack in Jerusalem.

We hear from sources in Gaza that the name of the man, the suicide bomber who carried out that attack is Masoud al-Titi, and we understand from sources in Gaza, too, that one of those killed in an immediate Israeli response, missile fire from an Apache helicopter, is Suhel Abu Hamad (ph), a member of the Hamas armed wing, the Hamas armed wing having claimed responsibility for the terror attack in Jerusalem in the last hour or so, Leon.

HARRIS: Mike, I want to ask you is something that we heard Professor Gerges mention awhile ago, about how unproductive, in his view, any strike by Ariel Sharon on the Palestinians actually would be right now.

Is there any indication at all from the people that you've talked to or heard from this morning, in just the short time you had to work on something like this, any indication exactly how far the Israeli government is going to be pushing this retaliation?

HANNA: Well, once again that's difficult to gauge. You had a scenario on Sunday where there were four Israeli soldiers killed in a Palestinian gun attack at a checkpoint in Gaza. There was no immediate retaliation.

And the immediate belief of observers was that Ariel Sharon was restraining himself, was restraining his forces in order to give some window of opportunity for the Palestinian prime minister to be able to put into place on the ground some form of structure to contain those militants planning attacks against Israelis.

But what time has showed is that Sharon was actually biding his time. The assassination attempt launched yesterday against Al- Rantissi has been connected directly by the Israelis to that attack on Sunday.

So in terms of what retaliation now that's been immediate, at least six people killed in an Israeli rocket attack in Gaza City. So the fear among many is that the gloves are off on the Israeli source, could be on the Palestinian militant side. And if that is so, Leon, well, this road map to peace has certainly hit an absolute brick wall across the road.

HARRIS: Yes, it appears that road map may be getting folded up and put back in the glove compartment, if that is the case.

Hold on for just a second there, Mike in Jerusalem and Professor Gerges in New York. Let's go back to our Jerrold Kessel. Jerrold Kessel has made his way down there to the scene of this bus explosion on Jaffa Street there in Jerusalem. We had Jerrold on the telephone up until now. Now we have him with a camera.

Let's get a report from Jerrold on exactly what is going on down there and what he has seen -- Jerrold.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, there's almost an abnormal calm here, an abnormal silence. People are absolutely stunned by this event.

And you can look, and we'll pan in now and focus in with our camera down the road, where you see the bus, where the security officials are still working on the bus. And we understand that there may be some more bodies still on the bus. That's the last I heard from an official on the scene.

We do know, we've seen several bodies being taken away, and we do know that figure that we heard before of at 16 dead. But there's a big crowd around. You can probably see people in the foreground ahead of the bus, there are people on buildings around us. This is the busiest road in Jerusalem, in the center of Jerusalem, that is downtown Jerusalem. Jaffa Street.

And a crowd has come around, they've been cleared a little bit back, but they've come forward and they're watching in almost bereft silence. It is a scene of horror.

Of course Jerusalem people, like Israelis around the country have witnessed so many of these attacks, so many of these bombs aboard their buses. And having seen so many doesn't make it easier for the people to bear, that's for sure.

But this seems to be particularly shocking attack. It has -- the numbers are very high. And if you look at that bus, that bus there, Leon, you can see the front of the bus is completely blown up. And on the side, on the right-hand side, as it heads down, as it headed down towards the center of the city, all the side of the bus blown away.

But as I was telling you before, when we were talking earlier, the back of the bus, remarkably, the seats remained intact. And still, there was no fire, but still the casualty rate, the fatalities very, very high indeed -- Leon.

HARRIS: Very interesting. Thank you, Jerrold. Jerrold Kessel there, reporting for us and updating these numbers.

And again, people, we want to advise you, those who are just tuning in, these pictures are coming in to us directly from Israeli television. Jerrold Kessel there reporting to us now that there's a possibility there may be still bodies there in that bus, which exploded about an hour and a half ago on Jaffa Street there in central Jerusalem.

We're waiting to see if President Bush is going to have more words about this. He is just now being introduced and taking the stage in Chicago at an event in which he was expected to speak only about Medicare.

However, in the wake of this news this morning we would like to see if he has anything more to say about these events in the Middle East. The last we heard from our Dana Bash, who is traveling with the president, Mr. Bush said that he condemned in the strongest of terms the explosion there on the bus.

We haven't gotten any word yet from the White House on this strike, this retaliatory strike by the Israeli government in Gaza, in which as we understand now six are dead. Two of the people who are dead there, we understand, are two militant -- two leaders of the militant wing of Hamas.

And again, that raises so many questions about what exactly is going to be the next step in this process. As we've been talking all morning, the explosion on the bus in Jerusalem this morning is part of the promised response by the Hamas group because of a strike on one of their leaders yesterday.

So, again, it appears as though the road map to peace is really reaching some very, very difficult territory, and complicated territory that may slow things down if not bring them to a halt. And that is the estimation of all the experts who are watching these events unfold this morning.

Let's bring in one of those right now, he's Professor Fawaz Gerges, who has been with us all morning, professor from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, joining us from our New York bureau.

Now, we've been talking about what you expect to see President Bush do. We understand that, you know, you've been rather critical of the moves that have been made by Ariel Sharon. My question to you now is what, if anything, can the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, do right now? Is there anything at all he can do to change things on the ground?

GERGES: Leon, this is an excellent question. Because I fear not only the first casualties will be the road map, but the first casualty of this new cycle of violence is Mahmoud Abbas himself.

What you need to understand is that Mahmoud Abbas is just a figurehead with a great deal of potential. He does not have neither, you might say, the legitimacy nor the power base to either challenge Arafat or the militants. Mahmoud Abbas needs time. He needs to show that he can make a marked improvement in Palestinian lives. He really can give them hope, a stake in the future, that the end of the Israeli military occupation is nearby.

And the question is, how do you empower Mahmoud Abbas? Do you empower Mahmoud Abbas by giving a green light to Ariel Sharon, or rather by trying to scold Ariel Sharon when he behaves in a way that really undermines the peace process, as President Bush did yesterday? And I don't know, Leon.

I am myself very skeptical regarding whether the Israeli prime minister has undergone any major transformation.

On the one hand he says he wants to at least end the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

On the other hand he basically launches a major attack against the Hamas political leader. Regardless of what we think of this Al- Rantissi, that particular attack not only undermines American presidential efforts to basically advance the peace process, but also complicates the work of Mahmoud Abbas and basically hammers a deadly nail in the coffin of the road map.

And I hope now that President Bush will step forward and make it very clear that America's vital interest demands an immediate ceasefire on the part of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. And it's in everyone's interests, the Palestinians, Israelis, and the Americans, that this deadly cycle of violence comes to an end.

HARRIS: You make a very interesting point there in your observation of Mr. Sharon. And that brings to mind what happened at the very beginning of all of this, 32 months of violence there in the region, that little visit that he took there to the Temple Mount, which pretty much inflamed sentiments there across the region, and he did so against the advice of a lot of people who said that this sort of thing was the kind of product that would be spawned from such an event.

GERGES: Leon, why not...

HARRIS: Yes, go ahead.

GERGES: Why not give the new Palestinian prime minister time to build up his power base? To make a difference in the Palestinians lives? Why not take some concrete steps to show that he is serious about the peace process.

HARRIS: Professor, hold that thought. Hold that thought. Hold that point. We want to go right now to our Dana Bash, who is traveling with President Bush.

As we said, we were waiting to see if Mr. Bush was going to be mentioning the events here in the Middle East that we've been covering life all this morning, at his event in Chicago. And we understand that he is not. And we want to bring in Dana to figure out exactly why that is -- Dana.


Well, the president really just got this information, it's obviously new information that just happened a little more than an hour ago. But the president was just informed about the bombing while he was on his helicopter, Marine 1, heading downtown to Chicago.

And of course when he got the information we are told by a spokesman that he said that he condemned the attack in the strongest possible of terms.

But this administration does like to get all of their facts, get as much information as they can about what is going on, on the ground before the officials -- particularly the president of the United States -- make an official comment. That is likely what is going on here, especially since it is an ongoing stream of events going on in the region with retaliation as we speak, we are hearing. So that is likely why we are not hearing from the president himself during this speech, which is intended to talk about Medicare. And that is what he is talking about as we speak.

Earlier, Leon, before this latest attack in Jerusalem, Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, speaking to reporters on the plane, was still talking about and in hopeful terms about the road map and made very clear that the president still is focused on getting the road map to peace started. And he said that the president thinks that there needs to be a new kind of thinking in the Middle East, and that thinking, the president believes, is based on the notion that the only acceptable path ahead, he said, is the path laid out in the road map. And that path is one that builds trust.

So no doubt that this latest violence, this latest cycle of violence, that so many presidents in the past have seen occur while they were trying to move peace forward is going to be something that the White House is not happy about. And we are likely to hear a stronger comment in the future.

But the White House is also saying that they still intend to send their ambassador, John Wolf, the assistant secretary of state, to the region in the next few days. His number one priority, White House officials say, is to help the prime minister -- the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, to get security up and running in the region, to try to crack down on terrorists so attacks like this one today don't occur.

Thank you, Leon.

HARRIS: Very interesting. Thanks, Dana. Dana Bash, covering President Bush's trip to Chicago. Appreciate that report and that explanation as to why President Bush is not commenting on these events in the Middle East.

And we're going to wrap things up this morning with final thoughts of Professor Fawaz Gerges, who's been with us throughout this morning on this.

And I want to get you to comment, if you can, finally, this morning on something we just heard Dana here talk about, about the commitment of the Bush administration to bring these parties back to the table and making something happen here and putting a lid on this violence.

Is there anything, short of sending over and planting Secretary of State Colin Powell there in the region for the duration, is there anything short of that that could be done to actually accomplish anything?

GERGES: You asked me, Leon?

HARRIS: I'm sorry. We had a disconnection with our communication.

GERGES: I didn't hear you. HARRIS: Let me ask you this final thought here. President Bush is committed to actually staying involved here, staying engaged. It's quite apparent here that a major person or major influence is going to be needed here to make any step forward last.

Is there anything short of, say, planting Secretary of State Colin Powell or national security advisor Condoleezza Rice there in the region until this thing finally gets settled?

GERGES: Leon, if we have learned one critical lesson at this particular peace process in the last 30 years, without presidential, without active presidential involvement, little takes place on the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

And this is why it's essential that the president himself and his senior aides, in particular Condoleezza Rice and Secretary Powell, become actively engaged in the peace process. And not only, Leon, exert pressure on the new Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, to at least put an end to the armed intifada but also to exert pressure on the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to give the Palestinians a break, to try to really disengage, to withdrawn Israeli troops from Palestinian towns and cities and to begin the process of dismantling the main inhabited settlement, not just the uninhabited outposts that he has been dismantling for the last two or three days.

But presidential engagement is critical and of course, the president and his senior aides must actively adapt on the telephone and travel to the region in order to put a stop to this new cycle of violence. Otherwise, both the road map and Mahmoud Abbas will be the main casualties after this cycle of violence.

HARRIS: And we'll have to leave our coverage, at least for now, at that particular point. Professor Fawaz Gerges of the Sarah Lawrence College in New York, thank you. And it was our good fortune to have you as a guest on this morning. Considering the events of the day, we couldn't have had a better voice along with us today.

GERGES: Thank you, Leon. Thank you very much.

HARRIS: Appreciate that, and thank you very much for your time and for your patience.


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