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Horror of suicide bombing

CNN's Michael Holmes  

Editor's note: In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news around the world. Michael Holmes' account of a Palestinian suicide bombing Sunday contains graphic descriptions.

By Michael Holmes

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The first reality check feels like a kick in the stomach.

I nearly step on a man's rib.

For a few minutes I could kid myself that I am detached from the scene -- initially, police keep us away. Then they invite us closer -- too close, in retrospect. Now I can see the man's left leg, without trousers, but still with a sock on the foot.

Welcome to a suicide bombing.

After nearly two months in India, Nepal and (mainly) Afghanistan, I find myself in Jerusalem, helping our bureau cover the bloody Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Our crew had been shooting a story on how the violence here has destroyed a once vibrant tourism industry for both sides of this conflict -- Arab and Jew.

Our taping is interrupted, first by a pager, then by a mobile phone. My producer says: "It's a suicide bombing, not far from here. We'd better check it out." No word yet on casualties.

Such is life here for those who live this conflict that the crew doesn't flinch at the prospect of going to a place where a man has just blown himself to pieces. That's not to say they're happy, either. It's just part of everyday life lately, where going out into the streets can mean going to the front lines.

Later, as we spoke of the experience, my cameraman (who doesn't want his name used) told me: "I don't want to get used to that sort of thing -- it would be the end for me if it became routine."

Already, in two weeks here I'd heard more tank shells and gunfire than I had in six weeks in Afghanistan. And reported more death.

In Afghanistan, I'd not felt the need to don a flak jacket, although we did carry them when we left Kabul. Here, in Jerusalem, I'd twice put one on, and felt better for having done so.

U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni is in town as we drive to the scene. One previous effort at bringing about a cease-fire had failed because of incidents like this -- violence wrecking the chances for peace.

Before he'd even arrived, I'd spent most of one night reporting bloodshed in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and Ramallah in the West Bank as the Israeli military re-entered areas meant to be under Palestinian control.

More shooting, more deaths -- overwhelmingly Palestinian.

Now, I was driving to see violence perpetrated on Israelis.

In Israel, a government-issued press card can get you closer to events than it would in any other western country in which I've worked.

We were initially kept about 100 yards away, but could clearly see the scene where a Palestinian man had walked between a bus and a taxi as they waited at a red light and detonated the explosives strapped to his body.

Police soon invited us to the site. The closer we got, the more I realized the young man was in pieces. I knew it wouldn't be a pretty sight, I just hadn't expected so many pieces.

I covered the Rwandan genocide in 1994, saw people killed in the streets of Bucharest in 1989, saw a British soldier lose a leg in Belfast. I'd never seen anyone blown to bits.

As I stepped over a 9-inch-long rib, I could see there was flesh virtually everywhere we walked. Other journalists kept warning each other: "Watch your step there ..." You didn't want to look down, but had to if you were to avoid stepping on pieces of what was a young man.

Pieces -- or rather fragments -- of his jeans were scattered around, along with small screws that had been part of the bomb he hoped would kill Israelis.

As it was, nearly two dozen people were taken to hospital suffering understandable shock, but no one else had been physically injured.

Having seen the destruction, I found that incredible. The front of the bus was covered in blood, the taxi had its windows blown out, its trunk crumpled.

After videotaping what we could of the scene, we went back to our story on the damage being done to tourism by this very sort of violence.

We'd spoken earlier to Israeli storekeepers in Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall and now we spoke to Arab businessmen in the Old City in East Jerusalem.

I made a point of asking all of them what would bring the tourists back.

In this land of staggering complexities and nuances they all -- Arab and Israeli -- answered the same way.


None, however, knew how it could be achieved. They just hoped it could be.




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