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CNN Sunday Morning

Political Fallout Continues From Mideast Bombing

Aired June 03, 2001 - 09:05   ET


LINDA STOUFFER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the toll from that grizzly suicide bombing in Tel Aviv has risen now -- it's now at 20. And throughout Israel today they're burying the young victims of one of the worst terrorist attacks in the Mideast. The day after the bombing PLO leader Yasser Arafat called for an immediate cease-fire and an end to the violence. Israel's Cabinet clamped tight security on Palestinian areas of Gaza and the West Bank. And then today they decide their next move.

BRIAN NELSON, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush is spending this weekend with his family at Camp David but his National Security Council has been meeting on the Middle East crisis and the president is being kept up to date.

And for the latest, let's go to CNN White House correspondent, Major Garrett.

Good morning, Major. What's the latest on this?


The president is monitoring the situation. His top diplomat, Secretary of State Colin Powell's been on the telephone all this weekend talking to leaders in the Middle East trying to see if, in fact, after all this grief -- after all the terrible carnage in Tel Aviv -- some positive sign of calm and a lack of violence on the ground can take hold.

For the first time, the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said in the aftermath of that horrific terrorists bombing that he would call for and try to implement an unconditional cease-fire on the ground. That's the first time the Palestinian leader has done that. Why is that important? Well, because the Israeli government so far has not responded militarily to that terrorist attack -- many Palestinians feared that it would.

The Israelis are trying to show what they describe as restraint on the ground to test Arafat to see if, in fact, he can use his powers of persuasion, not only within the Palestinian movement that he is at the top of but through all of the other factions that he doesn't have necessary control over but can use his voice to speak to to bring what has not happened in so many months there -- a cease-fire, an end of violence between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Top U.S. diplomats and U.S. officials here at the White House are trying to see if, in fact, that cease-fire holds. If it does they do believe there is a chance that the Israelis and the Palestinians can start having a dialog, rebuild the confidence which they believe is so crucial to at some point in the future holding some talks that might lead even farther down the road to an eventual peace settlement -- Brian.

NELSON: Major, the critical issue here is whether Arafat can in some way control or influence the Islamic factions that seem to be behind some of these violent acts.

GARRETT: That's exactly right and at this moment the indications are not altogether positive. Several movements -- the Islamic Jihad and Hamas -- they met recently, this weekend, to discuss Mr. Arafat's call for a cease-fire. And after that meeting said they're not going to participate. They do believe the intifada -- the uprising against the Israelis -- is a legitimate means of pressing their grievances against Israeli settlements and occupation on the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

So what the U.S. is hoping is that Mr. Arafat can through his own powers of persuasion tell them, "Even though you believe this is legitimate, even though you believe this is a worthwhile pursuit, you must not pursue violence because if you do there's already intense international pressure on me and our movement to bring down the violence. And if we don't the Israelis in the eyes not only of themselves but many European capitols and clearly the United States will fell legitimized in responding very aggressively and very harshly in a military means to this latest terrorist attack. Brian?

NELSON: All right. Thanks for the update. Major Garrett at the White House -- Linda.

STOUFFER: And as we mentioned a moment ago, Israeli is burying many of the young victims of the Tel Aviv suicide bombing today. For the latest right from the Middle East is CNN's Jerrold Kessel joins us live now from Jerusalem.

Hello, Jerrold.

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Linda. And the Israelis are still trying very much to come to terms with the -- to come to grips, really, with their grief and with the implications of this terrorist incident on Friday night, which now the fatality toll has risen to 19 people killed in addition to the suicide bomber himself. This after a 15-year-old girl died over night. And almost all of those who were killed were teenagers -- most girls, some boys -- almost all immigrants from the countries of the former Soviet Union.

And there have been funeral held in and around the Tel Aviv area all morning with anguished scenes there. Also tearful scenes at a school in Tel Aviv where five of the students had studied and now a couple of others that had been graduates from that particular school -- there were anguished scenes there, too. And along with the tears there is also a good deal of anger and it is an attempt to balance those true emotions, the raw gut emotions that many Israelis are feeling and also the anger with other broader considerations which brought the government of Ariel Sharon is having to wrestle with and that is what Mr. Sharon's top aides have together with him adopted a policy where they've said, not openly, that Yasser Arafat has 24 hours, perhaps 48, no definitive time for implementing what he declared yesterday that he would do and that is work toward a cease-fire.

But the Israelis are demanding more than that. They say not just the stopping of shooting but that the Palestinians must end incitement in what they call -- the Israelis call incitement -- on their public radio and television and that they must re-arrest leading members of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the radical Islamic group Israelis say have been responsible for some of the worst terrorist incidents during the eight months of the intifada.

The Palestinians, Yasser Arafat said he would work for a cease- fire and Palestinian leaders say it's as much the onerous on Israeli to make it work because without a political ingredient they say it will simply not stick.

Now some ominous perhaps developments were at least two meetings held -- one in Ramallah on the West Bank last night, one here down in Gaza this morning -- ending this afternoon -- were bringing together representatives of some 13 factions including Mr. Arafat's Fatah movement, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas where they came out with a statement in both cases saying that the Palestinian people have the right to continue what they say -- what they described as resisting Israeli aggression and that they will continue with the intifada uprising calling for more popular demonstration against the Israeli occupation as it's seen from the Palestinian side.

And so that remains the standoff between the two sides with Israeli continuing to impose a closure -- a tight closure -- of the West Bank in Gaza around Palestinian towns in the West Bank and even preventing gas and gasoline supplies from going into the Gaza Strip.

And now we have this standoff period, if you will, between while we wait to see what Yasser Arafat, what the Palestinian authority, what the Palestinian groups will do and, on the other hand, what the Israeli government might do -- Linda.

STOUFFER: Jerrold, a question for you. I know that we don't have definitive word of exactly who this suicide bomber was, what group he might represent. Is that unusual that it would take so long? And is that effecting the process and talk of a response now?

KESSEL: No, I don't think it's effecting the response. I think we haven't had a definitive statement from anybody. Israeli television was saying right off early on Friday night that it was Islamic Jihad that was responsible. The Islamic movements -- both Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the two prominent radical groups -- have endorsed that bombing but they've not said that they were responsible for it. They say the Palestinians have the right to terrorize, in their words, the enemy. But there's only been scattered reports from different sources but none confirmed the identity of the bomber that he comes from the West Bank, that he may have been in Jordan. But these are all unconfirmed from other sources and none of the organizations have actually claimed responsibility.

But the Israelis are putting the blame squarely on Yasser Arafat or at least the oneness on Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority because they say they can stop the bombers if Mr. Arafat and the Palestinian Authority chose to do so, want to do so. That's the Israeli view.

STOUFFER: We'll all be watching. Jerrold Kessel with the latest from Jerusalem, thank you.