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U.S. Source: Roadside Bomb Kills Three Americans in Gaza

Aired October 15, 2003 - 07:01   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to the Middle East straightaway now. Three Americans are said to be dead now by a bomb that ripped into a U.S. diplomatic convoy in northern Gaza. One American is said to be wounded, in critical condition in a hospital in Israel. Investigators are trying to find out who did it and if the U.S. was deliberately targeted.
All good questions right now for Chris Burns live in Jerusalem for more now.

Chris -- what do we know?

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, the indications are, from sources on the ground, that this does look like the first attack against American officials in this 3-year-old Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

This is what we've got up to now and as of late, in the last few minutes: A senior Bush administration official in Washington confirming that there are three Americans dead and one seriously injured. Those Americans are among the private security force that the U.S. diplomats and U.S. officials had with them at the time.

Now, according to sources -- official sources on the ground there, this is what happened: There were Palestinian Authority police who were escorting this convoy of three American vehicles with 12 Americans on board. After the Palestinian police passed over that spot, the explosion completely destroyed the first American vehicle, killing at least three Americans and wounding one other.

Sharp condemnation from the Palestinian Authority.


AHMED QOREI, PALESTINIAN PRIME MINISTER: We condemn it strongly. We send our condolences to the families of those who have been killed there, and we hope for those who are 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: The Palestinian Authority inviting the Americans to join in on that investigation and saying that those Americans who were in that convoy were on the invitation of the Palestinian Authority, what they call monitors. Now, American officials are known to have helped and assisted the Palestinian security forces in trying to make themselves more efficient and trying to bring the militants under control. And the Americans being a target of this could indicate that the militants are now turning on the Americans.

But, again, no claim of responsibility. We have to see what happens in the coming hours -- Bill.

HEMMER: Chris, just to be certain yet again here, is it true, based on the reporting that we're getting already, that this was a clearly marked convoy as it was traveling through Gaza with Palestinian security?

BURNS: Well, Bill, Americans try to keep a low profile in those territories. Obviously, they're not well liked at all by the militants. But yes, they were marked, and the Palestinians were escorting them.

I might also add that we have a report that there was a similar attack very close by, about a half an hour from that time of the blast, that hit an Israeli military vehicle, lightly injuring three Israeli troops along the fence between Israel and Gaza. So, this was not an isolated incident. It does appear that there might have been sort of a concerted effort by whoever militants they may be. Again, still no indication of who did it -- Bill.

HEMMER: And one more point here, Chris, before we let you go and move on to our next guest here. But is it widely known that negotiations with the Americans as mediators is taking place on a daily basis or a weekly basis in that part of the Middle East, Gaza City in particular?

BURNS: Yes, Bill, daily, weekly, the U.S. officials do say that they are in constant contact with the Palestinians and with the Israelis, trying to jump start and get this road map for peace going.

But this comes amid a lot of disarray within the Palestinian Authority itself, a power struggle between Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and his new prime minister, Ahmed Qorei. Mr. Qorei would like to consolidate those security forces to try to get the militants under control, to try to stop what he's calling a chaos of weapons. But he's getting resistance from Mr. Arafat, who would like to maintain control over at least some of those security forces. This chaos of weapons appears to have hit the Americans directly -- Bill.

HEMMER: Chris Burns live in Jerusalem. We'll be in touch throughout the morning. Thanks.

Here's Soledad now.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, let's turn to the White House now closely monitoring the bombing in Gaza.

For more, let's go to CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, who is live for us at the White House this morning.

Suzanne -- good morning.


Well, President Bush is aware of this attack. The White House is monitoring the situation. They are trying to gather as many facts as possible before they make an official comment.

But a senior administration official tells us this morning that they can confirm that three Americans are dead, one is injured -- none of those U.S. officials, but rather those who are employed by the U.S. embassy to provide security.

Also, talking with various sources from the administration, they confirm that the U.S. envoy, John Wolfe, who is usually in the area involved in negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, was not in that convoy but rather in Washington.

As you know, Soledad, this really comes at a very difficult time for the Bush administration. It's a critical juncture in the Middle East peace process, of the road map. The administration has been trying to convince Israelis from not building that security wall in the Palestinian area of the Gaza Strip; at the same time trying to get the Palestinian Authority to crack down on terrorist organizations and also to persuade the international community to isolate Hamas politically as well as economically.

It's a very difficult situation. We do expect the White House is going to respond formally later this morning in all likelihood, of course, to talk about the president's commitment in making that road map work -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux at the White House for us this morning. And, Suzanne, we will, of course, wait to hear what the president does have to say in response. Thank you.


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