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Jerusalem Bus Explosion Kills At Least 10

Aired August 19, 2003 - 15:13   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: We want to go now, return to the Jerusalem bus bombing just moments ago.
Joining us now in Jerusalem is Gideon Meir, a spokesman for the Israeli government.

Sir, let me start with the most basics of this tragedy. Do we have any sense yet, sir, on the numbers, unfortunately, those killed and injured here?

GIDEON MEIR, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: The last number which I heard is between seven and 10 casualties and many wounded, many of them, unfortunately, children.

KING: The focus, of course, is on the rescue efforts on the street, but any sense as yet of who might be responsible here? Any claims of responsibility or any suspicions by the Israeli police?

MEIR: Well, it doesn't matter who is taking responsibility. It can be only one of the three or four major terrorist organizations. These are the organizations which actually came into an agreement with the Palestinian Authority.

I remember sitting here at CNN a few weeks ago when this agreement was signed. And I said that the Palestinian Authority must make up its mind. Do they want peace with Hamas and Islamic Jihad or do they want peace with Israel? Both don't go hand in hand. And here, unfortunately, we're witnessing again why Israel is insisting so much on the implementation of the road map, a road map which the Palestinians said they committed to, a road map which the Palestinian said to the press, to President Bush, they're committed to implement.

And, unfortunately, what we're seeing from the Palestinian side is only words, words and more words. And, actually, Israel again this week made some gestures to the Palestinians. And we are witnessing again that every time Israel is making gestures to the Palestinians, it's a pattern. The response is terror.

KING: Now, you mention those gestures. Those gestures include turning over security in some West Bank towns to the Palestinians. There were negotiations to try to bring about the transfer of security in additional towns over to the Palestinians. Is it your government's position, sir, that, because of this violence today in Jerusalem, those negotiations should be put on hold, no more transfers of security just yet?

MEIR: I think it would be premature at this moment to discuss what the Israeli government will decide.

But I do think that it is about time that the Palestinian Authority will get its act together, especially in the Gaza Strip and Bethlehem, where they already took responsibility and until now did zero about their commitment, A, to arrest the terrorists and bring them to justice, B, to collect the illegal weapons and hand them over to a third party. No. 3 is to stop the incitement, something they started, but not enough.

No. 4 is to resume the cooperation, security cooperation, with Israel in prevention of suicide bombers entering and penetrating into Israel. And No. 5 is dismantle the infrastructure of terror. As long as the Palestinians are not doing it in Gaza, we will see the same kind of terrorism coming out from other places in the West Bank. And, unfortunately, a situation like this cannot continue.

I think it's about time that the new Palestinian leadership, which we have so much hope will engage itself in a real and sincere peace process with Israel and will bring an end to the tragedy of the Palestinian people, is, again, proving what it did between '93 and 2000, words, words and words and no action. We need action.

KING: You say you need action. The Israeli government earlier in the week had appeared to make a key concession. It had said for a long time that it wanted the Palestinian Authority to arrest and put in jail suspected militants. The Palestinian Authority had said it would keep an eye on those militants. It would keep them under watchful eye. It would try to negotiate with them, no further attacks.

It appeared at the beginning of this week, late last week, the Israeli government was beginning to say, OK, we'll give you a chance with that approach. Are you saying today, no more, that they must be arrested?

MEIR: Look, what you just said is the ultimate proof that Israel is really coming and our government is really coming with clean hands to the process. We have an interest to engage ourselves in a sincere and real peace process with our Palestinian neighbors. We want to bring an end to the conflict, to this long conflict.

But, unfortunately, these gestures are being responded with terror. And I do think that the Israeli government will have to evaluate its position. So, right now, I don't want to say what the evaluation will be and what the decision will be. But I think something must be done immediately by the international community. Instead of putting pressure on Israel to make more gestures which are not written in the road map right now, they must put pressure on the Palestinians immediately to engage themselves in the implementation of the road map.

KING: Mr. Meir, as you know all too well, unfortunately, when this issue has come up in the past, one of points of disputes has been, the Palestinian Authority has said, yes, there is violence in Israel. It is their responsibility, the Palestinian Authority's responsibility, to investigate and find those responsible. Israel has, on a number of occasions, said, no, it is our responsibility to root out terrorism. And that has only inflamed the dispute, if you will. With the Israeli government launch its own operations to find those believed responsible for this or will it leave it to the Palestinian Authority?

MEIR: Look, we committed ourselves that, on those places where the Palestinians took responsibility, which means also security responsibility, i.e, in Bethlehem and the Gaza Strip, Israel will not have to act. And we're not acting.

But if this kind of terror will continue, there will be no choice, because the primary task of any government is to provide security and defense to its people. And this is our primary obligation of the Israeli government. So if the Palestinians will not do what they're obliged to, it will be our responsibility. It's a basic responsibility of a democratically elected government. This is what the Israeli people expect from their government.

KING: Gideon Meir, we thank you, sir, for taking time. The sirens behind a reminder you're giving us time on a very difficult day for your government. Thank you, sir, for joining us today from Jerusalem.

We want to continue our coverage here and go on the phone to Zelig Seiner, who I'm told is an emergency worker who is on the scene in Jerusalem at the bombing.

Sir, can you hear me?


KING: Do we know anything now, sir, about how many killed and how many wounded in this tragic bombing?

SEINER: We can confirm that at least 14 people have lost their lives today in this very serious attack here in Jerusalem, and amongst them, some very young, small babies. It's one of the worst scenes.

Although we have been to many scenes in the last three years, it is so hard to get used to, but today, to see those young babies and children is absolutely terrible.

KING: Sir, were these babies and children, as you call them, were they actually on the bus or were they nearby?

SEINER: They were on the bus. They were on the bus.

KING: And can you tell us, do we know anything about how this happened? Was this a suicide bomber boarding the bus and then blowing the bus up?

SEINER: We still haven't managed to confirm exactly the method of the attack, but it looks as if it is a suicide bomber.

KING: And the recovery effort, is it relatively completed? Do you think the toll will mount, unfortunately, or do you have a good handle now on the casualties?

SEINER: It's very possible that the numbers will rise.

KING: And, sir, when you say quite a number of young children on this bus, can you explain to us, were families traveling on the bus? Was there a group coming from a school?

SEINER: There were many families coming back from the western wall. This is a bus which was taking everyone from the western wall back to the neighborhoods inside Jerusalem.

KING: And the scene on the streets now, sir?

SEINER: At the moment, our volunteers are at the scene starting the identification and recovery procedure and evacuating all the bodies from the scene. And we'll now start the very hard task of identifying all those victims today.

KING: And your job, sir, is the rescue efforts, the recovery efforts, at the scene. But any claims of responsibility as yet, any sense of who is responsible here?

SEINER: Unfortunately, we are a humanitarian organization and this is something which is not of an interest to our organization. And we have absolutely no idea of these kinds of things. And it doesn't make a difference.

The fact is that, today, we have to deal with 14 people who have lost their lives. And that's the hard task which we have ahead of us in the next 24 hour.

KING: Zelig Seiner, sir, we thank you, sir, from taking time on your busy, hectic and tragic day to join us here on CNN. Thank you very much, sir.

SEINER: Thank you.

We'll continue our coverage of this tragic bus bombing in Jerusalem, as well as the earlier car bombing in Baghdad when LIVE FROM continues in just a minute.


KING: Already today, President Bush, from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, condemning the car bombing, the truck bombing, at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, now White House condemnation of this suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem.

My colleague Dana Bash speaking to a spokesman at the White House a short time ago, Sean McCormack, a spokesman for the National Security Council and the White House, telling her -- quote -- "We condemn this vicious act of terrorism in the strongest of terms." He went on to say -- quote -- "We call on the Palestinian Authority to act to dismantle terrorism."

Earlier today, much as he had been about the situation in Iraq, President Bush was much more upbeat, celebrating in a conversation with reporters this period of relative calm that we have seen in the Middle East during these summer months because of the cease-fire in place among the Palestinian militant groups. But this afternoon, responding to the second bombing in the Middle East today, this one in Jerusalem, the White House says it condemns the bus bombing in the strongest of terms, again, calling on the Palestinian Authority -- and we want to go now -- I'm sorry.

We have a gentleman on the phone from a hospital in Jerusalem. His name again? I'm sorry.

Mor Yosef.

My apologies, sir.

Could you tell us what you know about the victims being brought to your hospital, sir, and the death toll as it now stands?

MOR YOSEF, HADASSAH EIN KAREM HOSPITAL: Yes. I'm Mor Yosef of the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.

And we are just now treating over 50 casualties. And, unfortunately, we have more than 15 children within all these casualties, children and parents who went on this summertime to the Holy Wall and the holy places in Jerusalem and was bombed in this bus. We now have over 12 severe casualties. And the rest is in different stages of treatment.

It's a horrible scene, especially to see children dead age between 2 weeks and 15. It's unbelievable to see a child at the age of 2 weeks or 2 months rushed into the trauma unit. And even for us, all very experienced in these events, unfortunately, it is really a very, very difficult scene.

KING: And I want to make clear, sir, your hospital is dealing with those injured. So you have 15 to 16 patients total in the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, about a dozen of them young children?

YOSEF: Yes. We have over 50, 5-0 in the 1-5 are children. And out of them, about 15, 1-5, are children.

KING: And can you tell us, sir, from what you know, the extent of their injuries?

YOSEF: You know, it's in different stages. But we have about one-third of them very severely wounded, will need either intensive care treatment or different type of operations, which we have just now started in more than (AUDIO GAP) operating theaters in the same time.

KING: This may seem, sir, like an odd question, but it has been a period of relative calm. Have staffing levels at the hospital, emergency services, are they affected at all by that? Were you up to full staff when this happened?

YOSEF: No. You're correct. We have a relatively month which was quiet. And now it is also summer holiday. So the activity reduced in the hospital. But we're still very alert. And just in less than five minutes, we had all the stuff here in the hospital.

KING: I believe we lost our connection with Mr. Yosef, who was brining us up to speed on the treatment at some of the injured at a hospital in Jerusalem.

We thank him for his calling in during this difficult time.


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