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Deadly Attack on Busload of Israelis Near West Bank Settlement

Aired July 16, 2002 - 08:58   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: A deadly attack on a busload of Israelis near a West Bank settlement. Reports say at least seven people have been killed, more than 20 wounded. Attackers reportedly set off a bomb and then ambushed the bus with gunfire. We are told that some of the folks that had been in the bus were fleeing the bus at the time they were shot.

Up front this morning, as we said, shots fired and an explosion in the West Bank. Details are still coming in from a confused area between Nablus and Ramallah, the settlement of Emmanuel, which has been hit before. Let's go to Jerusalem and check in with our bureau chief there Mike Hanna for the very latest about what he has learned -- Mike.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, a picture emerging now of a very carefully planned attack on a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, that ultraorthodox settlement of Emmanuel. According to reports that we have received, an explosive device was set up as an armored bus approached the gates of the settlement. The bus stopped because of the explosion. As those on the bus began to get off it, according to several of the survivors, a group of Palestinian gunmen dressed in Israeli uniforms opened fire.

Now, some 20 people are reported to have been wounded in this attack. At least seven people have been killed according to the Israeli Defense Force.

But this clearly a very well-planned attack, an attack reminiscent of several attacks that happened in the past carried out by Hezbollah in South Lebanon during the Israeli occupation of that particular area.

What we do know at this stage is at least some 20 people are injured, at least seven killed according to the Israeli Defense Force, no claims of responsibility for this attack. But apparently no coincidence that the attack occurred, as a group of intermediaries were due to sit down in New York, the so-called quartet, to discuss ways to advance the peace process within the region.

Well, no signs of any advancement in that, just the very opposite, another attack on Palestinian gunmen opening fire on Jewish settlers as they alighted from an armored bus in wake of explosion. At least seven confirmed dead at this stage -- Paula. ZAHN: This, of course, Mike, happening as an Arab diplomatic source was saying that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan were getting ready to propose a plan that a Palestinian state would up and running a year from now.

HANNA: Well, very, very difficult indeed, Paula. Since the rash of suicide bombings that struck the civilian targets last month, the Israeli Defense Force launched another massive operation in the West Bank. They occupied seven out of eight major West Bank cities, including that of Nablus, which is close to the settlement of Emanuel. They have instituted a series of roadblocks throughout the West Bank. The movement by Palestinians is exceeding restricted, so for this attack to be carried out is -- would have been very, very difficult to put into place, would have been difficult for the gunmen to move, would have been difficult to lay this explosive device.

So certainly it is -- I'm sure we will be hearing more details from the Israeli Defense Force as to how the attack was actually carried out, as to how it was planned, no doubt. We will see as well massive Israeli Defense Force actions in that area.

But one must remember, and I keep on stressing this, Paula, that there was already very stringent controls in force in that area, Nablus under permanent curfew for some three weeks now. The roadblocks enforced throughout all those roads in the West Bank, linking Nablus to other West Bank cities, like Ramallah, so this a very carefully planned attack, and once again, hopefully we'll get more details as to how this was carried out.

There was an attack on Emanuel last year in a similar place, it would appear, where Palestinian gunmen opened fire on bus carrying Jewish settlers. Now, on that occasion, the bus was not armored and as a result of that of that, all people traveling in those areas had been traveling on armored buss in recent months.

Now the sequence of events here we get from the report that we are receiving is the explosive device stopping the bus, making people get off the bus. And as they get off the bus, the gunfire erupts. At least seven people dead, according to the Israeli Defense Force, at this stage -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, Mike, we're looking at tape that was shot a little bit earlier, and it shows us just how confused this situation was. Israeli Television reporting that they believe that the wounded were not only those that came off the bus, but were possibly in a vehicle behind the bus. What do you know about that?

HANNA: That we still haven't got in many details emerging from that, Paula. In the scenario that has emerged over a period of time throughout the two years -- some two years of the Palestinian intifada, where traveled by Jewish Settlers in the West Bank and in Gaza has been difficult, has been dangerous.

In those scenarios, you do have convoys on many occasions, and this quite possibly is, although we haven't confirmed, one such convoy where you have the armored bus in the convoy. Perhaps military escort, with civilian vehicles following behind. These details we're pulling together.

ZAHN: Mike, I'm still trying to understand how this was so carefully orchestrated. Do you have any ideas. with security as tight as it is to the entrance of this settlement, how anybody would have pulled this off? How would they have gotten there? Would they have gotten there on foot?

HANNA: Well, once, again, because the travel is so restricted, it's highly unlikely that people, Palestinians, would have been able to move around by car in that area. There's virtually no movement whatsoever of Palestinian vehicles or vehicles driven by Palestinians along those roads, because of the roadblocks that every twist and turn in the road in all the roads linking the major cities.

So we are speculating here, that, yes it would appear that these gunmen would have had to walk in some way. How all of this evolved, this is speculation at this stage. What we do know is that as we keep on stressing security was already intense in that particular area. Israeli Defense Force troops were widely disbursed and deployed in that area. Roadblocks were enforced in that area.

Nablus has been under stringent curfew for many weeks, as have seven out of the eight major Palestinian cities in the West Bank. So these are very real questions that you are putting, Paula. And quite frankly, at this stage, I do not have an answer as to how this attack was carried out, despite the security precautions in place.

ZAHN: Mike Hanna, thanks so much for that update.





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