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Explosion Hits U.S. Convoy in Gaza

Aired October 15, 2003 - 06:31   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Our International Desk has been quite busy this morning with breaking news out of the Middle East. Three, possibly four, Americans killed in a roadside bombing in Gaza.
Our senior international editor, David Clinch, is here with the new details about this.

DAVID CLINCH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL EDITOR: Yes, Carol, there is some information coming in fast and furious about this explosion that hit a diplomatic convoy, clearly marked as a U.S. diplomatic convoy, going down a road in Gaza. There are some things I want to update and some things I want to clarify from what we said earlier.

First of all, we indicated earlier that the car that was hit and destroyed was the first vehicle in the convoy. To clarify, it was the first diplomatic vehicle in the convoy, the first vehicle carrying Americans. There were apparently two vehicles ahead with Palestinian security...


CLINCH: ... that were ahead of that. I don't know what that says about targeting...

COSTELLO: Well, it's certainly a much more ominous detail.

CLINCH: We'll wait and see in terms of what that means about targeting. But it certainly was the first vehicle that was a diplomatic vehicle. So, that's one item.

The other item, I indicated earlier that we're hearing from U.S. embassy officials that the dead Americans worked for a private security company supplying security for this convoy. Now, I indicated earlier that that -- I thought that might have been unusual there. The last time I was in Israel a few years ago, the private security people were supplying security for Americans in Israel. But apparently it has become a fairly common practice now for private security to supply security for these and other diplomatic convoys. They go in and out of the West Bank and Gaza.

So, again, we're still checking on that point as to whether they were all security guards working for a U.S. security company, a private security company employed by the embassy...

COSTELLO: But they were Americans.

CLINCH: They were Americans. COSTELLO: Do we know how many were killed?

CLINCH: There are very clear indications that at least three were killed -- three Americans were killed. The number of four killed, we're not sure where that came from. There is one report I've seen, absolutely unconfirmed at this point, that a driver, who may not have been American, may also have been killed. So, that may be where the three versus four came up. Not sure on that, we're still checking.

But all I can say is we have very clear indications that at least three Americans were killed, and that they were employed by a private security company.

Again, the point that we -- and this is, again, where I want to clarify on two points. We do not know that it was targeting yet. We will wait to see what evidence comes out on that. And the other point, Saeb Erakat was on our air earlier -- we've now heard also from the Palestinian prime minister -- condemning this attack outright, but making the point that they do not know that it was targeting, and that they do not believe that Palestinian militant groups carried out this attack.

Now, I -- you know, I don't want to be putting words in Saeb Erakat's mouth. I said earlier that he might be hoping that it wasn't a militant group. But what he said, to be accurate, was that he did not believe that it was a militant group.

COSTELLO: But he offered a joint investigation.

CLINCH: He did offer. And, again, I think in some ways they are insisting on a joint investigation, so that they have a stake in looking at the evidence that...

COSTELLO: I don't think they'd have any choice, would they?

CLINCH: Well, it remains to be seen. We do know that the Israeli army has gone into the scene -- with tanks and helicopters into the scene to retrieve at least the injured and perhaps some of the evidence as well. So, it remains to be seen whether the Palestinians do have a part in the investigation. And if so, what access they'll have to the evidence.

Certainly, the U.S. will want to have access to that evidence as quickly as possible...

COSTELLO: But Israeli tanks have already moved into the area.

CLINCH: They have, and they are there. But obviously, the U.S. was there when this initially happened, so they will have the evidence from the initial attack.

There has been no claim of responsibility. We will wait to see if that happens, and we will analyze very carefully any claims of responsibility that do come up. In this case, in particular, we're not going to put on air claims of responsibility that don't seem real. But if we get real claims, we will tell you about them as soon as possible.

COSTELLO: All right, we want to head live to Jerusalem now to check in with Chris Burns to see what he has managed to find out.

Chris Burns -- welcome. What can you tell us?


I was listening to your conversation about the Israeli tanks. The Israeli army says that they did have tanks in the area about two kilometers, about a mile and a half away, but it had nothing to do with that bombing. It had to do with previous Qassam missile firings by militants into Israel in recent days that caused no damage or injuries. But anyway, they were in the area for that reason.

However, we do have reports that Israeli helicopters are in the air checking out the situation, and there was the helicopter transference of one of the seriously injured into an Israeli hospital.

So, again, the question of any Israeli involvement on the ground there and any investigation is not proven yet. But the Palestinians are inviting the Americans to join them in an investigation of this. The U.S. embassy is planning to have a news conference later today. But up until now, all they're saying is that the dead are Americans.

According to official sources on the ground, this is what happened: There were three American diplomatic vehicles with 12 Americans in it. They were being escorted by Palestinian police. After the Palestinian police vehicles passed over this one point in the road, an explosion went off, which completely destroyed the first American vehicle. And, according to official sources, those who were killed were in that vehicle, and they were believed to be part of some private security.

So, American officials, it is not believed -- according to official sources, it is not believed they were killed. But, again, we need to get this straight from the American embassy, which we have yet to do.

Condemnation from the Palestinian Authority -- if we can run that by -- from the Palestinian prime minister.


AHMED QOREI, PALESTINIAN PRIME MINISTER: We are sorry about so much, sorry about what happened today in the area against the American diplomats. We condemn it strongly. We send our condolences to the families of those who have been killed there. And we hope for those who were injured that they will recover very soon. And we will investigate from our side this from wherever -- we condemn it from wherever it comes, and we will investigate the case, and we will see.


BURNS: And the Palestinian Authority was saying these were Americans who were invited by the Palestinian Authority. They have been helping out the Palestinian Authority with their security forces to help try to bring the militants under control, which they have yet to do.

COSTELLO: Yes, and, Chris, we have not heard from Yasser Arafat as of yet.

BURNS: No immediate word from him, but obviously there would be condemnation, just like from his prime minister. This comes amid a power struggle, however, between Mr. Arafat and Mr. Qorei, the prime minister, over who should control the security forces. So, there is a bit of a power vacuum in there, and this explosion may indicate this lack of control over the situation -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Many twists and turns to this story. Chris Burns live from Jerusalem.

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, is also coming out strong against this attack. He expressed shock and sympathy when I spoke with him just a short time ago.


SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: I think that it is against the Palestinian national interest. I don't envision any Palestinian group to target Americans here, especially if they are American monitors coming here at our request for the peace process, for the road map. So, this is an act against the Palestinian interests, against the Palestinian people, against the peace process.

COSTELLO: But we know, sir...

ERAKAT: And...

COSTELLO: We know, sir, that many Palestinians are quite angry at the Americans.

ERAKAT: Never. We have so many volunteers -- Americans, Europeans -- in the West Bank and Gaza helping us. Never has there been any person, American or other, targeted. It's against the Palestinian people to target any foreigners. But for this, we offer a joint investigation committee.

And meanwhile, we condemn with the strongest possible terms this attack. And I offer President Bush, Secretary Powell, Mr. Wolf himself, John Wolf, my deepest and the deepest sincere condolences of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority for this tragic, horrific incident.


COSTELLO: John Wolf he mentioned was the chief negotiator there. He was out of the country when this happened, so he is uninjured.


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