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Israel, White House Condemn Bombings in Mideast

Aired December 1, 2001 - 22:00   ET


DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Now back to Jerusalem. Israel is in a state of grief and outrage, after three coordinated bombings tonight. Authorities say that the attack at a pedestrian mall near Zion Square killed at least 10 people and then (sic) the two suicide bombers as well.

CNN's Jerrold Kessel is on the scene with the latest for us.


JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The suicide bombers struck just before midnight. It was a crowded pedestrian mall in the heart of the city, packed in the restaurants and small cafes packed mainly with young people who celebrating a night out, a Saturday night out. The two suicide bombers struck. And just 10 minutes later, a third explosion. That's apparently of a car bomb around the corner from where the suicide bombers had struck, causing more casualties, just when the emergency services, the rescue teams had come in to ferry away the casualties, to treat the wounded on the spot, more casualties from that third explosion.

An instant condemnation from Israel, some other sources, too. No claim -- immediate claim of responsibility, though Islamic militant groups have warned that they would carry out such attacks inside Israeli cities. Indeed, one of the Islamic groups, Islamic jihad, had carried out two such attacks in Israeli cities over the last few days. But the Israeli government saying, irrespective of who actually carried it out, who actually sent them, the blame rested with Yasser Arafat. The onus was on the Palestinian Authority, because it had not done enough, had done little, said the Israeli government, to stop the militants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Arafat had all the time in the world and still can have this night and arrest those people tonight. He has too many forces with too many rifles. He can use them to bring his own people to order, if he doesn't want a terror attack to continue. I'm afraid he likes it. I'm afraid this is the way he conducts his own campaign, with terror, accompanying negotiations.

KESSEL: The Palestinian Authority countering saying, and indeed issuing a very strong condemnation of the terror action in Jerusalem, and indicating that it also believed this was counter to Palestinian interest. And saying that Israel in the past had been trying to undercut the mission, the mediation mission of the United States, and saying that it condemned all such actions against civilians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just spoke to President Arafat just a minute ago. And he had been on the phone with Secretary Powell and General Zinni. President Arafat actually in the strongest possible terms condemns these attacks. And we have been trying our best to sustain the cease-fire. And we don't condone the killings of Israelis or Palestinian civilians. But we all know that violence breed violence, assassinations breed assassinations, and bullets breed bullets.

KESSEL: And while the two sides continue to accuse each other of trying to undermine the U.S. mediation mission, the man responsible for that mission, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni on the spot. He's been here for five days. And he issued not only a very strong condemnation, but a demand for action from the Palestinian side.

General Zinni wrote in a statement saying that only a comprehensive and sustained effort by the Palestinian Authority against the individuals responsible for these acts and also against the infrastructure of the groups that support them will bring such actions to an end. A very strong demand of Yasser Arafat. The onus then on the Palestinian Authority leader.

Israelis relating to this incident with consternation, anger, dismay and disbelief that anything will really come of the U.S. mediation mission to bring about an end to the 14 months of violence.

So the two big questions that remain now, the onus on Yasser Arafat. What will the Palestinian need to do, even though he is under such pressure from the Israelis, from the United States, to curb militants to show that he is doing what he says he is doing, and that he's curbing the militants, who continue to strike at Israel.

And the other big question, what will Israel do, irrespective of what Yasser Arafat does?

Jerrold Kessel, Jerusalem.


KELLEY: President Bush issued a statement from Camp David tonight, saying that he's saddened and horrified by the attacks in Jerusalem. And now, he's bumped up his meeting with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

CNN's Kelly Wallace is near the presidential retreat. And she joins us now with a live report -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Donna, it has been a night of a number of developments coming from the Bush White House. Just a little more than two hours ago, President Bush calling Israel prime minister Ariel Sharon, who is still up in New York City, to express his condolences to the prime minister, to the people of Israel, and to the families of the victims. And then, as you noted, the two men agreeing to move up their meeting by a day. They will now meet at the White House Sunday at 12:00 noon local time. Mr. Bush is still at the presidential retreat, but he will head back to Washington Sunday morning for that meeting.

The meeting, Donna, taking on renewed urgency because of the situation on the ground. And as you noted, Mr. Bush issuing a strongly worded statement from the presidential retreat. In that statement he said, quote: "I was horrified and saddened to learn of the bombings that took place tonight in Jerusalem. I strongly condemn them as acts of murder, that no person of conscience can tolerate and no cause can ever justify."

And then he had very, very strong words, a strong message, for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Mr. Bush saying, "Now more than ever, Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority must demonstrate through their actions, and not nearly their words, their commitment to fight terror." The President calling on the Palestinian leader to immediately find and arrest those responsible for what he called "hideous murders." Mr. Bush also saying that the Palestinians must act decisively and swiftly against those organizations that sponsor these terrorists.

Now that message delivered quite strongly. We understand as well, over the telephone by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni, currently the U.S. envoy to the Middle East. In a phone call with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Secretary Powell in a statement also released tonight, saying, quote: "I have spoken to Chairman Arafat and have made absolutely clear that these despicable and cowardly actions must be brought to an end through immediate, comprehensive, and sustained action by the Palestinian Authority."

He goes on to say, "There can be no excuse or failure to take immediate and thorough action against the perpetrators of these vile acts."

So Donna, what we are seeing, stepped up pressure from the President on down, calling on the Palestinian leader to do more. U.S. officials have repeatedly said that they do not believe Mr. Arafat is doing enough, that they believe he must make, quote, "100 percent effort in finding and arresting suspected terrorists and cracking down on those organizations which sponsor and fund these terrorists."

Now again, Donna, this meeting, which was to happen Monday between President Bush and the Israeli leader, now taking place on Sunday. Again, takes on added urgency. This meeting was really to be another step by the Bush White House in connection with General Zinni's mission to the Middle East to try and bring about a cease-fire between the Israelis and the Palestinians, trying to get them down the road to some confidence-building measures, and then down the road even further still to the peace table.

This, of course, though a very big challenge, a challenge and a much difficult mission after the events on the ground in Jerusalem tonight.

Donna, back to you.

KELLEY: Kelly, still the feeling that as he meets with Mr. Sharon tomorrow, that the violence must stop before they would talk to Mr. Arafat?

WALLACE: That is the sense. Certainly, you've heard it from so many Israeli officials speaking out. Israeli officials saying that they must see an end to the violence. They must see more coming from the Palestinian leader, before they will agree to security talks and agree to any cease-fire.

So what you're going to see likely from the Bush White House, again, stepped up pressure on the Palestinian leader to try and crack down on these suspected terrorists, to do more. And also, a renewed message to the Israelis that the cycle violence has not come to an end. And the best way to do it is try to embrace the situation now, to take the steps to get the two sides, their security officials talking again. But that's going to be a very big challenge. Obviously, lots of grief in Israel on this evening. And again, the Israelis talking about responding in some way. So a big challenge ahead for the Bush administration to try and prevent a serious situation from getting even worse -- Donna.

KELLEY: Our Kelly Wallace near the presidential retreat, thanks very much.

And joining us from New York with Palestinian reaction to the suicide bombings is Hasan Abdul Rahman. He is the chief Palestinian representative to the United States. Mr. Rahman, good to have you join us. Thank you.


KELLEY: You hear this through the evening, I'm sure, that there is pressure on Mr. Arafat, saying he must do more. What more can he do?

RAHMAN: Well, I hope -- first of all, we will do our utmost as we have been doing. But I hope President Bush will equally ask Mr. Sharon to contribute to ending this cycle of violence by stopping building Jewish settlement in the Palestinian territories, by stopping using Apache helicopter and F-16 against the Palestinians, by withdrawing the Israeli army from the Palestinian towns and villages, by lifting the Israeli siege on the Palestinian villages and towns, by ending the collective punishment against the Palestinians, and eventually by ending the 35 years military occupation of Israel over Palestine and the Palestinians.

KELLEY: Your key Palestinian negotiator said tonight...

RAHMAN: We hope...

KELLEY: ... Saeb Erakat, that he wanted to get things back on the political track. He wanted the Mitchell Plan implemented, to try and get that, a time line with that with General Zinni in the region now, to try and get things back on track.

But then you have a suicide bombing tonight. If the violence is not under control, how do you get back to the negotiating table?

RAHMAN: You know, we condemn this violence.

KELLEY: I know you did earlier in the statement, but people are saying they want actions, not words.

RAHMAN: They strongly -- also the climate that is created by the Israeli army in the Palestinian territories and by the atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinians, makes the Palestinian people very angry, very frustrated. And also the siege imposed by Israel makes it logistically difficult for the Palestinian police.

Remember that for the last 14 months, Israel has been targeting Palestinian police stations and Palestinian police. And it is making the movement of the Palestinian police from village to the other impossible and more difficult.

So we need the Israeli cooperation in order to be able to do our job and to change and transform this situation on the ground. Without this, no amount of blame, no amount of condemnation will helpful. We have to be very candid and very frank. We need Israel to do its share. We call on Israel simultaneously to implement steps.

First of all, Israel must stop to working the Palestinians...

KELLEY: But talking about the police and what you can do together, Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister, was on CNN there earlier. And he said, and these are his words: "Arafat can damn well stop this. He hasn't done it. His police don't do a damn thing." That's his quote.

RAHMAN: Well, you know Mr. Netanyahu's position. He -- Mr. Netanyahu is responsible for this situation because after Wye River he refused to implement the agreements that we signed with him in Wye River. Mr. Netanyahu is responsible, because after we came back from Wye River, he called and Mr. Sharon personally, on Jewish settlers to move to every mountaintop and build a new Jewish settlement.

Mr. Netanyahu cannot preach to us peace, because he has been, and people like him in this Israeli government, the source of conflict. Mr. Sharon is...

KELLEY: Can Mr. Arafat do it? Can Mr. Arafat do it, Mr. Rahman? Can he do it? The Israeli Cabinet member said earlier that if is not a suitable peace partner, if he cannot control the violence -- can he keep the violence under control?

RAHMAN: He alone cannot, without...

KELLEY: What help does he need, then, from the United States or from other countries in the world? What can be done, as your chief Palestinian negotiator said: "unconditionally we must come back to negotiations to live next to each other and have to make peace with each other."

RAHMAN: Listen, eventually, we and the Israelis have no choice but to leave in peace with each other. But no one can do it alone. We call on Israel to stop its atrocities against the Palestinian people and treat the Palestinians as a security issue. This is an issue where the lives of three million Palestinians are involved. When those million Palestinian people are hungry, jobless, live under foreign military occupation, their land is taken away from them, it is very difficult to control them.

We need Israel to do its share also. And then, we will do ours. And together, we may be able to succeed. But without the cooperation of the Israelis, it is going to be extremely difficult.

KELLEY: Hasan Abdel Rahman, we thank you very much, the chief Palestinian representative to the United States. We so appreciate you being with us.

RAHMAN: Thank you.

KELLEY: And I know we'll talk to you again. We'll be talking to the former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in just a minute, I believe. We'll talk to you about our Web site and then take a break. Is that right?

OK, be sure and visit our web site, You can learn more about the struggle for peace, certainly, in the Middle East. And you can post your thoughts on this latest terror attack on our message board. You'll find more at Our AOL keyword is "CNN."

We'll take a break and we'll talk to Benjamin Netanyahu when we come back.




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