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Suicide Bombing Threatens Mideast Peace Process

Aired June 11, 2003 - 19:01   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: How many times have you heard this sentence before: Today the Middle East was the scene of more violence, more death.
First, a bug explosion in central Jerusalem, killing 16 people as well as a suicide bomber. Later, Israeli helicopter attacks in Gaza. Two Hamas militants and at least five others killed in a first strike.

A nighttime attack by guns killed three more in Gaza City, two of them belonging to Hamas, according to sources.

Now this new round of violence making it tougher for the road map for peace. We begin -- excuse me -- with Kelly Wallace in Gaza with more.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, it was just a week ago when there was some cautious optimism at the Aqaba, Jordan summit. But now this U.S.-backed road map is facing, perhaps, its bloodiest test yet with a day of violence that has left 25 people dead and 100 wounded.

The latest incident came just about two hours ago, as you were mentioning. An Israeli air strike over Gaza City, or a neighborhood east of Gaza. Three Israeli Apache helicopters firing on a car, killing two members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Israeli security sources saying the military acted because the two men were about to carry out an attack, firing homemade rockets at Israel. These sources are stressing that this operation was in no way connected to that Jerusalem bus bombing earlier.

And in that attack, it was the deadliest suicide bombing in Israel in months. A man disguising himself as an Orthodox Jew, boarding a bus in the heart of Jerusalem's downtown on Jaffa Road and then blowing himself up, killing 16 people, injuring more than 60.

Now Israelis had been bracing themselves for the possibility of suicide attacks, this after Hamas leaders on Tuesday vowed to retaliate in a big way after Israel's failed attempt to kill a senior Hamas leader, Abdel Aziz Rantissi. And later on this day, Hamas did in fact say it was taking responsibility for that bus bombing, saying it was retaliation for Tuesday's attacks by the Israelis.

It was just about an hour after that Jerusalem bus bombing when Israeli Apache helicopters were over the skies of Gaza City, firing on a car in another neighborhood east of Gaza City. In that attack, seven people killed. We are told three were members of Hamas, four others believed to be bystanders, including two sisters.

We are now in the very familiar cycle of attacks and counterattacks raising lots of questions about where the two sides go from here. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, for his part, says he's still committed to the political process, but he says he will pursue Palestinian militants, in his words, to the end.

As for the Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, he came out and condemned the Jerusalem bus bombing, but also criticized the Israeli military actions. Palestinians are saying the Israeli aerial attacks are undermining Mahmoud Abbas and his ability to try in some way achieve a cease-fire with groups such as Hamas -- Anderson.

COOPER: Kelly, where does the road map or where is it supposed to go from here? Any talk of meetings or U.S. officials entering the scene?

WALLACE: Well, lots of diplomacy is going on behind the scenes and also you've had tough words coming from U.S. President George W. Bush. In fact on Tuesday some rare and blunt criticism of the Israeli aerial attacks in Gaza.

He spoke out, the president, again today, condemning the suicide bombing and calling on all countries to go after groups that pursue acts of terror, including the group Hamas.

But Anderson, it is hard to know where they go from here. Lots of diplomacy going on behind the scenes. Lots of questions about how much pressure the Americans can really put right now on the Israelis and on the Palestinians. There are still efforts under way. You have an Egyptian envoy on the region, trying still to talk to groups such as Hamas, but right now there is such bad feeling between Palestinians and Israelis. And Anderson, many fear the cycle of attack and counterattack will only continue -- Anderson.

COOPER: Kelly, you talk about a lot of this diplomacy going on behind closed doors and you might not know the answer to the next question, but is it known if Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas is talking with Hamas still, or do you know what the status of those talks are?

WALLACE: Don't believe, Anderson, he is talking with Hamas at the moment. He did say at his news conference on Monday that he still believed dialogue would be possible to get an agreement.

And after that news conference Monday, the sense from Hamas leaders was that they might be willing at some point soon to talk again with Mahmoud Abbas, but now Hamas leaders are saying such talks are impossible.

As I say that, though, you do have this Egyptian envoy in the region, the intelligence chief, Omar Suman (ph), who met with Yasser Arafat on this day. I believe he also met with Mahmoud Abbas and he is expected to meet with groups such as Hamas over the coming days. A big question is how much pressure these moderate Arab countries or Arab leaders such as Egypt can put on groups like Hamas to convince them to come back to the negotiating table -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Kelly Wallace, thanks for that. We'll be following very closely next couple days. Thanks, Kelly.

As Kelly mentioned, condemnation from President Bush of what he called the, quote, "terrible bombing" of the bus in Jerusalem.

Now the president, who recently returned, of course, from the Middle East, continued his call for a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Speaking on the White House grounds Mr. Bush said he knows that some do not want a peaceful solution to take place. Take a look.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is clear there are people in the Middle East who hate peace. That people who want to kill in order to make sure that the desires of Israel to live secure in peace don't happen. Who kill to make sure the desires of the prime minister from the Palestinian authority and others of a peaceful state living side by side with Israel do not happen.



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