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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Explosion Hits U.S. Convoy in Gaza

Aired October 15, 2003 - 06:01   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get back to that breaking news out of Gaza right now, that explosion that hit a U.S. diplomatic convoy.
Live to Jerusalem and Chris Burns.

Sort this out for us. We know the U.S. convoy -- we know it ran over some sort of explosive device. Were there American casualties?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, I've got a few more details I can give you. The U.S. Embassy has now confirmed just a few minutes ago that the dead are Americans.

Now, how many were killed is now the question. According to official sources on the ground, they are saying that there were at least three bodies. One seriously injured, airlifted by helicopter to an Israeli hospital, is now in serious condition. Israel Radio had said that there were four killed. So, the death count is not entirely clear yet.

But we can give you more detail about the circumstances. According to official sources, this was a convoy of three vehicles, a U.S. convoy -- a U.S. diplomatic convoy with 12 Americans inside. It was being escorted by Palestinian Authority police. And after the police passed over what was to be the bomb site, there was an explosion that hit the first American vehicle.

In that vehicle, according to official sources, there were bodyguards of some kind, perhaps some private security. That's not entirely clear yet. But in any case, it is confirmed that the dead are Americans. There could be three or four and some other injured.

Now, reaction from the Israeli government, they are saying that this is a very grave incident. And on the Palestinian side, condemnation from Saeb Erakat, the official peace negotiator for the Palestinian Authority, sending his deepest condolences, he says, to the American government, the American people and the families of those victims. He says that these were monitors who were on Palestinian request, and that he has offered a joint Palestinian-American team to investigate.

Further, a comment from Raanan Gissen, the Israeli government spokesman, saying that this was obviously a planned attack, he says, under the nose of Palestinian security in an area called Area A that's under complete Palestinian control.

So, a bit of sniping from both sides there. The Palestinian negotiator, Erakat, saying that the Palestinians were not involved in this, but that does then raise questions about who was. No claim of responsibility here, but there are a lot of Palestinian militants in Gaza. In fact, the Israelis are cracking down on what they say are tunnels that the militants are using to funnel weapons -- smuggle weapons from Egypt into Gaza. And perhaps some of these weapons were used today.

But, again, it's very difficult to confirm exactly who was involved in doing this. There is a wire report saying that there was an indication of a remote-controlled trip wire or some kind of a trigger wire that was leading from the bomb site to a concrete building.

So, the details are rolling in, indicating and suggesting that the Americans were targeted. And this does appear to be the first time, the first time, Americans were officially hit during this three- year second Palestinian intifada.

Back to you -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, we understand that Israeli tanks have moved into the area right now. Do you know anything more about that?

BURNS: We also had heard the Israeli helicopters overhead, but we haven't had any further information on that. Again, the main Israeli operation in Gaza is in southern Gaza in the town of Rafah at the Egyptian border. As far as any operations there around the blast site, that is still pretty sketchy -- Carol.

COSTELLO: You know, I'm just trying to, you know, understand the ramifications of this, if indeed that U.S. convoy was targeted by a Palestinian group. What could be the ramifications?

BURNS: Well, the ramifications could suggest that the militants could be, at least some of the militants, are taking direct action against the Americans, who have been working with the Palestinian Authority security forces in trying to consolidate those forces, so that they can bring the Palestinian militant groups under control, at least trying to control the weapons that they have.

So, that is the question: Are the militants perhaps attacking that whole principle, that whole idea? And that is a very touchy question, even within the Palestinians themselves. Some suggest that if they do crack down on the militants militarily that they could cause a civil war. A very dicey situation, very risky and also causes questions for the road map for peace, which does call on the Palestinians to bring those militants under control. A very, very difficult question -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Chris Burns reporting live Jerusalem.

The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erakat, was quick to condemn the attack and offer his deepest condolences. I spoke with him just a few minutes ago.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: All I can say is that we in the Palestinian Authority condemn with the strongest possible term this situation that led to the killing of four Americans. And we offer our deepest condolences and sincere condolences to President Bush, the American people and the families of the victims.

These are American monitors that have come here at our request, at Palestinian request, in accordance with the road map. And we offer to have an immediate joint Palestinian-American investigation committee to investigate the matter.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COSTELLO: As you heard, Erakat says he doesn't think any Palestinian group is targeting Americans, and he's offering a joint investigation.

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