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JOHN IRVINE: The latest Jerusalem death trap. It had been packed with ordinary people starting what they thought would be a normal day. Now all of them are either dead or injured. The bus was heading for the city center from the southern suburbs when suddenly a lone Palestinian who had positioned himself at the front of the vehicle detonated a bag full of explosives.
The emergency services came across a scene of slaughter. Nineteen Israelis were beyond help. Dozens more were rushed away, but the rescue effort was hampered by an alert over stolen ambulances. There was the fear that one could be used to carry a second bomb. This was a backpack belonging to one of the many teenagers onboard on their way to school.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived here and was shown a row of dead bodies before commenting on the atrocity.
ARIEL SHARON, Prime Minister, Israel (Translated): What we are seeing is the continuation of the Palestinian terror. And we must fight and struggle against this terror. This is what we will do. The terrible pictures we see here are stronger than any words. It’s interesting to speculate what kind of Palestinian state they want. What sort of Palestinian state? What are they talking about?
JOHN IRVINE: These were the scenes at one hospital. They had just been told that a friend had died. The Israeli security forces have a good success rate when it comes to thwarting suicide bombings, but even though they knew an attack was imminent, they couldn’t intercept today’s perpetrator. They did try desperately hard to prevent this. There were security checkpoints all over Jerusalem last night because the Israeli police knew a Palestinian suicide bomber was loose in the city. But against such an unpredictable enemy, good intelligence only means so much.
JIM LEHRER: More from Ray Suarez, who talked this evening with Matt Rees, Time magazine’s bureau chief in Jerusalem.
RAY SUAREZ: And Matt, has there so far been a credible claim of responsibility for this attack?
MATT REES: Hamas has claimed it, and they’ve actually released the name of a student of 22 years of age from An Najah, which is the university in Nablus, as being responsible.
RAY SUAREZ: And what kind of reaction has there been, either military or political, from Israel?
MATT REES: Well, on the one hand, the Israeli tanks have moved into Jenin this evening, which is a town in the north of the West Bank where there’s been a lot of devastation and a number of incursions already, so there is a military response. But politically there’s a certain degree of frustration on the Israeli side, and the important thing is the fact that today, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met with some of his senior ministers, his security cabinet, and they decided that they’re not going to take action specifically against Yasser Arafat. They’ve had advice over the last several months that he’d be more dangerous outside the borders of the West Bank and Gaza, if he was expelled, than he is here, where he’s kind of under the thumb of the Israeli military at any given moment. So they didn’t change that, and that’s very frustrating to them, but there’s really nothing much they can do about it at the moment.
RAY SUAREZ: Has Arafat had anything to say?
MATT REES: His authority has condemned this, but that doesn’t help when it comes to the Israelis. They don’t… they don’t think he’s actually doing anything at all. And essentially in terms of arresting Hamas people or Israeli Jihad, he’s not. He would claim that he can’t. And in any case, even if he did, the Israelis would always want more. They, for example, claimed to have arrested 250 people from their list of wanted men just in may alone in the course of their sweeps through the West Bank. Arafat’s not going to have arrested that many even if he was doing his utmost.
RAY SUAREZ: The Israelis have also killed individual Palestinians in the past few days, haven’t they, that they’ve targeted?
MATT REES: Well, there was another one today from Islamic Jihad that was killed. There are an awful lot of what the Israelis call hot alerts at the moment. There’s one right now in Jerusalem, even though there was this big attack earlier in the day. So the Israelis are doing everything they can to stop those who they still believe are on their way to do these attacks.
RAY SUAREZ: And with the incursion into Jenin, it’s been said that Jenin is a hotbed of this kind of terrorist organizing and activity. Why is it said to be that?
MATT REES: Well, there’s a refugee camp there that’s been a big base for Israeli Jihad, for one thing. Another thing is the fact that its proximity to Israel makes it horribly convenient for these bombers. First of all, it’s not the mountains. Much of the West Bank is quite mountainous. It’s on the plain just in the north of the West Bank, so it’s relatively easy to get across the West Bank, which of course, is one of the reasons the Israelis are starting to build the security fence of theirs.
RAY SUAREZ: And does that fence cut Jenin off from major Israeli cities like Jerusalem that are close by to the West Bank?
MATT REES: Well, it starts in the north of the West Bank near Jenin, and it goes all the way down about halfway down the northern portion of the West Bank. It’s about 120 kilometers. And that portion of it is intended to stop the bombers who come from Jenin and Tulkarm and Kalkilya, the three main towns up there, and also, of course, Nablus, and go to Tel Aviv and Haifa and the coastal area. Jerusalem is going to be a separate question. There are going to be fences built starting within the next month or so inside Jerusalem’s eastern Arab neighborhoods, so they’re going to take a separate approach to that. Of course in a year-and-a-half or so, the Israelis reckon they’re going to build a fence around the entire West Bank.
RAY SUAREZ: Will that fence really stop cross-border incursions, or will it more likely tend to at least channel the traffic toward places that can be more easily monitored?
MATT REES: It’s going to be quite an obstacle. It’s not just going to be a single fence. It’s going to be something akin to what they have now on the border with Jordan, right down the Jordan Valley. So it’s not simply a fence with a motion detector, but it’s a complex of fence, several mountains of razor wire with motion detectors in them, ditches, and tracts that are brushed smooth with sand so you can see when someone comes across. So it’s going to be quite an obstacle.
The unfortunate fact is that terrorists are going to find a way around it or perhaps over it. One of the things that a lot of Israelis are fearing is that it will mean similar missile attacks to the ones that come from Lebanon into northern Israel.
RAY SUAREZ: Matt Rees in Jerusalem, thanks for being with us.
MATT REES: Thank you.