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Jerrold Kessel: Deathly silence after suicide attack

CNN's Jerrold Kessel
CNN's Jerrold Kessel

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A deadly suicide bomb attack Wednesday struck a Jerusalem bus, sending Israeli emergency workers into grim rescue and recovery actions.

CNN Correspondent Jerrold Kessel was on the scene in central Jerusalem, and he spoke to CNN's Wolf Blitzer about the developing situation.

KESSEL: ... [Jaffa Road] is one of the main thoroughfares of downtown Jerusalem, heading down to the center of the city. And just outside this bus stop, the deafening explosion tore apart the right-hand side of the bus. The front of the bus careened upward.

At least sixteen people are dead and more than 60 wounded. We have seen several bodies being taken away. ...

As is always the case in these terror attacks in the heart of Israeli cities, the medical relief services were amazingly quick on the scene. The wounded all got away to hospitals very quickly. But an hour or so later, there [were] still people being taken away who had suffered delayed shock or found themselves slightly hurt.

The ambulances are on the scene now, and there are a lot of people, hundreds, perhaps a couple [of] thousand around the scene. The police try to push them back -- people were standing by -- but there's been no pandemonium since the rescue work is being completed.

Incongruously to the devastation of the site, there's almost a deathly silence. People are absorbing, taking in the enormity of the horror here.

This is not the first time -- actually the umpteenth time -- that there's been terror striking in Jerusalem streets, on Israeli streets, against Israelis in the occupied territories as well. And as many times as they occur, it doesn't seem to get any easier for people to bear.

Certainly, you sense that here as people [try] to absorb how devastating a blow this has been.

BLITZER: This occurred around 5:30 p.m. your time. Do we have any sense of who the people were exactly on that bus? Were they students? Were they workers? What was the nature of the bus ride at that particular time?

KESSEL: This is 5:30 on a summer afternoon. Israel has a split working day in that stores are open to 7 to 7:30. This is in the middle of the afternoon shift, if you like. The offices might be just finishing around 4 to 4:30 -- a lot of people are on the buses.

This is a regular bus line, heading down to the center of the city, away from the main city marketplace, where we're standing. This is a place that has been attacked several times. Just 50 yards up the road from the bus, a year and a half ago there was another bus bombing, right outside a bus stop.

There have been so many in this center of Jerusalem, whether in terms of the suicide bombers boarding the buses or walking into the crowded streets. This was a crowded place and a crowded time that the bomber chose to strike.

BLITZER: A lot of people are wondering about all these bus bombings in Jerusalem. The Israeli bus drivers, they take special precautions to deal with this, given the history of the bus bombings -- suicide bombers trying to get on board.

I take [it] the Palestinian suicide bombers recently have started dressing up as women, Orthodox Jews or Israeli soldiers to try to get on board. That's one of the new developments during the past several months. Is that right?

KESSEL: Yes, absolutely right. It's made the work of the Israeli security that much more difficult. I should point out that perhaps one of the reasons it's easier -- to use a word like that -- for the bombers to succeed in their mission [is] by getting on a bus. Most public places in Israel, whether it's restaurants, cafes, offices or banks, a lot of the big stores have security guards at the gate.

If we will recall over the last several months, many of the bombers have been stopped at the entrance to shopping centers by security guards. Now, one of the big debates that's been going on for the last 2 1/2 years: How do you protect the buses? Can you have a security guard on every single bus? That's a big, possible problem.

The drivers are trained to make sure that a bomb hasn't been left. They look for suspicious people. We've had several times when the drivers have managed to push off bombers, having recognized somebody as suspicious.

Sometimes the suicide bombers, the would-be bombers who leave a suitcase behind, dress up and disguise themselves, whethers it's as an Orthodox Jew, a beatnik kind of dress or a typical dress of a young Israeli. That's the way some of the bombers have been able to get through.

Some have been women, too. They have had possibly an easier time to get through. Those will be some of the things the Israeli security will be looking for in this particular case. But for the moment, it's the grim rescue work, the grim cleanup work, the grim task of trying to assess exactly what happened here at 5:30 in the afternoon.

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