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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Interview With Avi Zohar of Israeli Medican Relief Services

Aired August 19, 2003 - 15:50   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And yet another breaking news story to tell you about. A powerful suicide bomb exploded on a double length bus right in the center of Jerusalem about 90 minutes ago. We're told at least 20 people, many children among them, are among the dead. At least 80 others are injured. The group Islamic Jihad, Palestinian militant group, has claimed responsibility for this suicide bombing that occurred as we said 90 minutes ago. The Palestinian cabinet minister, Saheb Erakat, condemned the bombing and urged the United States to continue every possible effort to maintain the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks despite it.
The White House, meanwhile, condemning this bombing in the strongest of terms, calling on the Palestinian authority to act to dismantle terrorism. This comes in the wake of seven weeks of relative calm in that part of the world. The end of June these organizations unilaterally announcing a ceasefire to allow this so- called road map to peace to take hold. The question now is if this is just a resumption of the tit-for-tat we have witnessed over the years in the Middle East as the struggle between the Israelis and Palestinians continue.

Once again, a totaling of 20 people confirmed now dead, children among them. 80 others are wounded. We were told by one hospital worker -- there you see a little girl who was obviously on that bus looking rather confused and scared. We are told that perhaps one of the injured was as young as two weeks old.

Jerrold Kessel, our CNN Jerusalem bureau chief, is on the scene right now and will bring us up to date.

Jerrold, what can you tell us?

JERROLD KESSEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Miles.

Pretty grim scenes we're watching -- yes, if our camera can go in and we can confirm that there are at least 20 dead in this attack and 100 wounded,of whom 8 are reported -- at least 8 in serious condition. We do know, as we'll try to get some pictures, if you see behind the police in the foreground, the bodies on the sidewalk on this traffic circle near the stricken bus behind. Bus No. 2 heading back from the old city from the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall and into this ultra orthodox neighborhood of Me'er Sharim (ph) here in Jerusalem, ultra- religious neighborhood. Very, very crowded bus, Many children on the bus, we understand. And this clearly one of the worst attacks on a bus of the many, many terror attacks that have taken place and have hit at Israeli citizens in Israeli cities. The worst I can remember certainly on a bus with so many fatalities, so many wounded.

We're joined here now on the spot by the director general of the medical relief services, the Red Magena Don (ph), the Shield of David, which is the equivalent of the Red Cross in Israeli.

Avi Zohar, thanks very much for joining us. Can you confirm the numbers for us, sir?

AVI ZOHAR, MEDICAL RELIEF SERVICES: There were 105 casualties, 105, 20 dead, 16 seriously wounded and 70 light to medium It is the biggest bus (UNINTELLIGIBLE) incident that we had in the last three years.

KESSEL: We're hearing a lot of reports of many children among, among the wounded. What can you tell us?

ZOHAR: It was a double bus and it was a rush hour and the explosives was -- the amount of explosive was a very big explosive. Maybe dynamite or a sophisticated blast because the explosion was huge -- a huge one. I can't remember such big explosive in the last few months.

KESSEL: Mr. Zohar, we know that there's been a period of relative calm. Were the medical relief services able to cope, were they ready to cope with this after this period of calm? I mean, they weren't on the normal kind of alert that we've seen you be on for the last three years.

ZOHAR: We didn't change our alert. All the ambulances and responses were at the same capability to be ready for each case like that one or even a big bus incident. That's a crash or other bus incident that could happen. And because (UNINTELLIGIBLE) didn't change anything from the readiness -- for preparedness and readiness to very big casualty incidents. We were also ready for this incident, as the same as before.

KESSEL: OK, thanks very much.

Well, Miles, ready they might have been, but in a way you could see the people of Israel weren't really ready for this. There has been this relative calm of the last seven weeks of the self- proclaimed, self-declared ceasefire by the Palestinian militant groups shattered now and again. But relatively small incidents compared to this. A very, very, very powerful bomb that has cost at least 20 lives and many fighting for their lives in Jerusalem hospitals -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Jerrold, just a word on the No. 2 bus and why it might have been chosen. Is there a suspicion that it was chosen to inflict this tremendous number of casualties that we just heard about?

KESSEL: Well, it was a very crowded bus. The bomber -- whoever he was or she was -- the bomber clearly aiming to inflict as great a pain as possible with the greatest possible effect of the bombing has chosen a target that was suitable. The fact that the bus originated -- and we'll swing our camera now as some of the ambulances have brought up and to carry the dead away in those white bags -- the bus originated, as I say, this particular trip from the bus originated in the -- in Jerusalem's old city, in the walled old city as the people were coming back, clearly, families, clearly, from the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall -- and this is a kind of a community where most of the people don't have their own car, so they will be using the bus. And even though this was 9:15 in the evening, and a summer evening, albeit vacation time, a time when families would go out and the bomber chose his target, well, if you like, although one hesitates to use the word well in circumstances like this. But certainly targeted for maximum effect. The bomber has achieved that in managing to kill at least 20 people and wounding over 100 -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: CNN's Jerrold Kessel. It is hard to use the word well, but this bomber was really tragically effective. Thank you very much for your reports from there.

Just to recap, 105 casualties, 20 of them dead, 16 are considered serious, 70 or so considered not as seriously wounded in the wake of that bombing in Jerusalem.

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