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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

At Least 17 Dead in Jerusalem Bus Bombing

Aired August 19, 2003 - 19:06   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: And move on now to our other lead story of the evening, and that comes from Jerusalem. That is where children are dead and wounded at the hands of terrorists.
A powerful suicide bomb went off this evening aboard a bus that was carrying youngsters through a crowded Jerusalem neighborhood.

Michael Holmes is in Jerusalem and he brings us the latest on the bombing. Michael, hello.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Daryn.

Well, yes, the scene behind me was one of horror and devastation just a few hours ago. Sadly, Israeli officials and ambulance officers and the like are so good at cleaning up suicide bombings. The traffic is already running here. A few hours ago it was no such scene, though.

This was a very crowded bus. It was like an extended bus, a double bus, if you like, a tandem bus. And it was full of people, many of them orthodox Jews who had been to the western or Wailing Wall. There had been people there who had been to a bar mitzvah, and they were on their way home through this orthodox neighborhood here.

Now, what happened was a Palestinian suicide bomber. He's a 29- year-old man from Hebron, stood up in the middle of that bus and detonated what police say was a huge bomb. It ripped through the bus, both buses, if you like.

The last official tallies that we've had, the police say that 18 people were killed. Ambulance officials say 20 people were killed. Upwards of 100 wounded. Among the dead, a 2-year-old boy and among the wounded, a young baby.

Now this comes at a time -- it came literally as the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, was meeting with Islamic Jihad in Gaza to discuss extending the cease-fire that had been declared by militant groups. And the bomb happened right as that meeting was going on.

CNN's office in Gaza had a call from Islamic Jihad, claiming responsibility. And then an hour later a call came from Hamas, another militant organization familiar to many viewers. They also claimed responsibility for this horrific thing that took place here.

Certainly a big tragedy, and while this is a human tragedy, first and foremost, it's also going to create some big political problems for both sides, the Palestinians and the Israelis. Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas saying that this was a terrible act, and saying that it did great harm to the Palestinian cause.

The Israelis, well, their security cabinet will meet in a few hours from now to discuss their response. Already I can tell you that all contact with the Palestinian authority has been frozen. That includes the discussions that have been taking place this week to hand back security control of four West Bank towns and villages to the Palestinians. That has been suspended, fully suspended for the moment at least.

When the cabinet meets, we don't know yet what will be decided, but I've been speaking to some senior government officials. One told me in his words that Israel will take the necessary security steps that the Palestinians have failed to take, which is fairly strong language.

Also strong language coming from another very senior Israeli spokesman who told me that tomorrow there could be a complete closure of the West Bank. That is something he said is a definite possibility. It's on the table. It will be discussed at the security cabinet meeting in just a few hours -- Daryn.

KAGAN: And also possibly discuss any possible military reaction as the cycle of violence goes on, Michael?

HOLMES: Yes, well, it is a cycle of violence, Daryn. And one thing that Islamic Jihad and Hamas says is that their cease-fire, such as it is, will continue. They say that they say this attack, as with two other suicide bombings in recent weeks, were in their words a direct response to Israeli military action in the West Bank, most recently the killing of a senior Islamic Jihad member in Hebron who was shot by Israeli troops.

So they say that this sort of action is a reaction. So whether Israel has its own reaction, we'll have to wait and see, Daryn.

KAGAN: Michael Holmes in Jerusalem, thank you for the latest on that.

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