TOPICS > Politics

Mideast Violence: Background

August 20, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: In Jerusalem today, Israeli work crews continued the task of cleaning up debris and searching for body parts after last night’s bus bombing. Mourners lit candles, laid wreaths, and prayed at the site. And Israeli and Palestinian leaders held urgent meetings to determine what to do next. The bombing was one of the deadliest since the Palestinian intifada, or uprising, began three years ago. A Palestinian militant blew himself up on a double-length bus packed with orthodox Jewish families who were returning from the western wall, one of Judaism’s holiest shrines. Five of the twenty killed were children. A funeral was held today for an 11-month-old baby. Some 40 children were among the 100 injured.

Today, Israel’s president, Moshe Katsav, visited some of the youngest victims in a hospital. Within hours of the attack, the militant group Islamic Jihad took responsibility, and so did Hamas. Hamas released this videotape, in which a man from Hebron, identified as Raed Abdel-Hamed Mesk, said he would carry out the bus bombing. Mesk reportedly was a friend of an Islamic Jihad leader, also from Hebron, who was killed by Israeli forces last Thursday. Meanwhile, a Hamas leader said his group retains the right to avenge killings of its operatives.

ABDEL AZIZ RANTISI: I can’t say that’s cease-fire finished, but we are still committed to cease-fire as Palestinian organizations, national and Islamic, but all Palestinian organizations are saying that we react from each aggression from the side of Israelis, we react from each terror action.

KWAME HOLMAN: Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas condemned the bus attack yesterday.

MAHMOUD ABBAS ( Translated ): I declare my extreme condemnation for this horrible attack, which is not helping Palestinian interests at all. And I give my instructions for the minister of security, Mohamed Dahlan, to hold an immediate investigation and take all necessary measures against those who did it.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today, Abbas met with his cabinet in an emergency session to consider taking broader steps against Islamic Jihad and Hamas. The Palestinian Authority announced it would cut off all dialogue with both militant groups.

YASSER ABED RABBO: We have decided to boycott Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and at the same time, the Palestinian leadership has instructed the Palestinian cabinet and the Palestinian security services to take all necessary measures in order to preserve the Palestinian national interests.

KWAME HOLMAN: For their part, the Israelis clamped down on security throughout Israel, closing down border crossings to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and canceling the planned the hand-over to the Palestinians of the West Bank towns of Jericho and Qalqiliya. The Israeli foreign minister said the truce, in place since the shortly after the June signing of the peace plan known as the road map, no longer was holding.

SILVAN SHALOM: Israel can’t continue to move through the track of the road map while the Palestinians are not implementing their commitments. And the main commitments in the road map in phase one of the Palestinians, is to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorist organizations; to confiscate illegal weapons; to stop the incitement; to put an end to violence. They have told us in the last few months that they know better than us how to deal with terrorism. I have said that when they have reached the agreement of cease- fire, so-called “hudna,” that this cease-fire is a ticking bomb, and it will blow up. Unfortunately, it blew up yesterday.

KWAME HOLMAN: In Crawford, Texas, the president’s spokesman said Israel has a right to defend itself, but urged both sides to keep talking. At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said the Palestinians must do more to disarm the terrorist groups.

RICHARD BOUCHER: There is more that they can do, and that’s why we’re calling on them to move now on security to… especially to dismantle the capabilities of these organizations that carry out terrorist attacks. There are a great many factors, in addition to people and their motives, that go into carrying out attacks like this– there’s funding, there’s support, there’s munitions, there’s organization– and all that needs to be taken apart.

KWAME HOLMAN: Boucher said the administration remains committed to the peace process. Israeli tanks were seen lining up outside the West Bank town of Ramallah, even as top Israeli officials met late into the night to discuss whether they would mount a possible military response to yesterday’s attack.