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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Five Explosions Minutes Apart in Gaza City

Aired August 21, 2003 - 06:47   ET

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

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: More pictures coming to us out of Gaza City where Israeli helicopter gunships have targeted a car. You can see it on fire there. We understand three people are dead.
We have Michael Holmes on the phone right now.

Michael, bring us up to date.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I can confirm that. I was about 10 feet from the car when three badly burned bodies were removed from it by bystanders and loaded into ambulances and taken away. They were very much dead.

We have been told by eyewitnesses here that at least three missiles were fired by Israeli Apache helicopters. They were being escorted by F-16 jets at the time. The missiles slamming into a car we believe was carrying a Hamas official. Clearly a very serious and significant turn in the events of recent days.

We were only half a mile away when the missiles slammed in. We were doing an interview with a senior security official with the Palestinian Authority who said that the Palestinian Authority was at this moment drawing up plans to fully disarm and dismantle the military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He told us that that had been approved at the highest of levels and would go ahead in the days and weeks ahead.

Minutes after that interview concluded the missiles struck. We came to the scene and the car was well ablaze. Fire trucks arrived after we did. And as I say, three bodies were pulled from that car.

COSTELLO: In saying that, Michael, that they had planned to disarm these militant groups, will this latest event matter?

HOLMES: That's very hard to say. Certainly those within the Palestinian Authority security apparatus who say that it will take time to do this, however, they have the plans in hand. They told me that they had drawn up lists of wanted men from Hamas, senior officials included from the military wing of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. And they said they had drawn up the lists and were prepared to start action. Whether this incident will change that remains to be seen, but it certainly won't be helping the mood on the Palestinian streets.

COSTELLO: I don't know if you can see the pictures that we are seeing, but we just saw bystanders carrying one of the bodies into an ambulance from that burned out car. There are literally thousands of people in the street, emotions certainly high. HOLMES: Very much so. There were people standing on the car chanting anti-Israeli slogans. There's probably about 400 or 500 people here at the moment and the bodies have already been taken away. People pulling articles of clothing out of the car and holding them up for the crowd and the crowd chanting in response. There is a great deal of anger at this scene, as there always is at similar scenes. It would appear that the facts, as we know them at the moment, would certainly point to an Israeli targeted assassination as the Palestinian call for -- the Israelis call them defensive measures.

COSTELLO: Did the Palestinian Authority expect this?

HOLMES: I think that everyone, the Palestinian Authority and people on the Palestinian street, had feared it, yes. In the wake of the tragic suicide bombing that took place in Jerusalem, people had been waiting in the Palestinian territory and hoping that Israel would hold off. We had had word that the Americans had asked the Israeli government, the Israeli Prime Minister to hold off on any military action. This is certainly not a large-scale action, but it is a significant one if, as we have been told, and a senior official of Hamas was in that car. That is a direct attack.

The Palestinian Authority, as I said, saying to me not an hour ago that they were in the process of beginning to dismantle the military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, breaking them down and turning those groups into political parties and nothing more was what we were told in no uncertain terms. And as I say, within half an hour this happened. What impact that may have on the attitude of the Palestinian Authority remains to be seen.

COSTELLO: Well you know what it seems like to some Americans that this endless cycle of violence is just continuing and the road map doesn't matter anymore.

HOLMES: Well indeed, I put that to this senior security official and said that in the eyes of the outside world, or much of the outside world, the bombing in Jerusalem was seemly out of proportion to what Islamic Jihad and Hamas had claimed, which was that it was a response to Israeli military attacks on their people.

However, this man said that the cycle of violence must stop, that these groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are out of control. And this coming from a senior Palestinian official, I might add, that the groups are out of control, that they are working against the Palestinian Authority. And that's why the Palestinian Authority is pledging, and this is the first time I have heard it said so directly, pledging to disarm and dismantle the military wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Now that's the first time I have heard it said so directly. It's been alluded to in the past. However, this official telling me that, as I said, lists have been drawn up of suspects and he said to expect some action in Gaza and elsewhere in the days ahead.

COSTELLO: All right, we eagerly await what happens next. Michael Holmes, we're going to let you get back to work and you be careful out there. Michael Holmes reporting live by phone from Gaza City where three Palestinians are dead after Israeli gunships, Israeli helicopters, rather, fired down on a car and we understand one of those killed a prominent Hamas member.

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