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Death Toll Rises in Gaza, Israel; Hillary Clinton Seeking Gaza Truce; Israeli President Slams Hamas on "Political Conditions"; Running for Cover in Israel; Battle to Stay Alive in Gaza; Why Gaza, Israeli Conflict May Send Cautionary Signs to Iran; 24 Hurt in Tel Aviv Bus Blast.

Aired November 21, 2012 - 11:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Since the conflict began eight days ago, authorities say 142 people have died in Gaza, more than 1,000 injured. In Israel, five people are dead, 70 are wounded.

Let's go to Gaza right now. Ben Wedeman is watching what's going on.

Ben, what's the latest? Air strikes pounding, continuing, I take it?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they've picked up in the last few minutes. It's hard to tell if they're air strikes or artillery coming from Israeli war ships right off the coast of Gaza. There hasn't been much in the way of outgoing missiles, at least from our vantage point here. We saw two -- three fired actually during the day, but much less than yesterday. Really, the city became very quiet. Very little traffic in the streets.

As soon as news spread of that bus bombing in Tel Aviv, and within about 40 minutes of the news coming out, there was an air strike on a building not far from here, probably about 500 meters, a huge explosion that shook this building. You could feel the shockwaves from here -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What are they saying, Ben, the Hamas people you are talking about in Gaza, about this terrorist attack on the bus in Tel Aviv a few hours ago?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly, we've heard a variety of different reactions. There's a Hamas-affiliated mosque just near here. Very soon after news spread in the attack in Tel Aviv, they came out announcing, quote, unquote, "Lions from the West Bank were behind the attack," and suggesting it was the work of the Isaden (ph) and Qassam (ph) brigades, the military wing of Hamas. However, later al Aqsa television, a television station affiliated to Hamas quoted a Hamas official saying they, quote, unquote, "blessed the attack," but said it was a natural reaction, in their words, to events in Gaza. So Hamas, even though it applauded the attack in Tel Aviv, it's clearly trying to keep a distance from it -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What are you hearing about a possible cease-fire? We see that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is continuing her talks in Cairo with the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi. They seem to be going on longer than earlier anticipated. Are you getting any indication from your vantage point what's going on? Are we any closer to a truce?

WEDEMAN: No, there's no indications we have moved much forward. Hamas did put fourth this proposed calm, agreement for a period of calm, which they passed through the Egyptians to Israel. Right now, I think they are waiting and watching to hear what Secretary Clinton has to say to President Morsi of Egypt. Obviously, you know, they've been in close contact with the Egyptians, with the Turks, with the Qataris. But until Secretary Clinton actually came onto the scene, they've been waiting for a much more proactive or active American role to sort of clinch a deal if a deal is, in fact, in the works -- Wolf?

BLITZER: And let's hope a deal is in the works, though it's obviously very, very difficult, especially, further complicated by what happened in Tel Avis.

Ben Wedeman, on the scene for us, as he always is. He's in Gaza right now.

Much more on this developing story coming up, but let's take a quick break.

Let's take a look at the New York Stock Exchange right before the American Thanksgiving holiday. Stocks are up 30 points.


BLITZER: The Secretary of State is continuing her talks right now with the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi. Hillary Clinton having earlier met with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. Two separate meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Earlier today, I spoke about the efforts to try to achieve a cease- fire in Gaza with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres.


BLITZER: Mr. President, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: Will there be a cease-fire?

PERES: I hope so, but it's not yet done, and difficulties. Generally, everything with negotiations are difficulties. But this time, their expectations are really a little bit over the horizon, but we are waiting and trying. The situation is very strange. Both sides wouldn't like to see a ground operation (INAUDIBLE). So a cease-fire is really preferred by both sides, but the conditions just south of the boots (ph, they're a little bit exaggerated.

BLITZER: The conditions that Hamas is asking Israel to accept?

PERES: Yes. BLITZER: Like what? What do they want?

PERES: They want that Israel will do nothing. We should not fly over. We should not guard the border, many other conditions. The conditions of Israel is basically security conditions. And their conditions are basically political ones, and this is a contradiction.


BLITZER: My full interview with Shimon Peres will air at 4:00 p.m. eastern later today in "The Situation Room."

I also spent time in Beersheba with a family who went through hell when a rocket came in from Gaza.


BLITZER: The Hamas rockets came toward Beersheba and hit the ground, sending people scrambling for cover, even in residential neighborhoods.

This house was hit by a rocket a few hours before we arrived. And from the outside it didn't look too bad, but inside, it's another story. A mother, father and four of their children were inside the home when it was hit. When the sirens went off, they had less than a minute to run into their safe room, and they made it. They survived.

"We did the procedure," the husband says. "We went to the safe room, closed the door. We heard a big boom. And straight after that, an electric outage."

He says the young girls were in a little hysteria.

"We were lucky we entered the safe room."

His wife said their fear was at first for the family and to protect the children. Then later, when they saw the incredible damage, they were stunned.

"We will go to a hotel for a few days until they find us an alternative home," she said.

Their 9-year-old daughter said she was frightened when she heard the initial siren and then the large explosion.

An Israeli member of parliament who came to the house minced no words in what he thought Israel had to do.

OTNIEL SCHNELLER, ISRAELI KNESSET MEMBER: All my sons, four of them, in the reserve. They are ready to go further.

BLITZER: But there's a major debate inside Israel on whether that's wise.

Even a former air force commander and mayor of Beersheba says he hopes the naval and airpower alone can get it done. While we were in this expanding and modern city, 11 Hamas rockets entered the vicinity. Some were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system. Others got through and caused casualties.

We're allowed to go inside the emergency command center. Sirens alert them when rockets are incoming and they brace for the onslaught of calls.

(on camera): We're inside this Israeli ambulance. We've just left the command center, heading towards an area where rockets just landed, and apparently there are injured, and maybe even worse. We'll see what's going on.

(voice-over): Lieutenant Sharon Howard is the Israeli army liaison officer helping to coordinate medical care.

LT. SHARON HOWARD, ISRAELI ARMY LIAISON, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCE: If they are any in need, if there are many casualties, so also medical units of the army join us to take care of all the injured.

BLITZER: It turns out it was a woman, overwhelmed by fear during a rocket attack, very common these days.

Back at the command center, the sirens kept going off.


BLITZER: To try to avoid civilian casualties, the Israeli military says they're dropping leaflets, warning people in Gaza to evacuate their homes before the bombs fall.

CNN's Arwa Damon visited one family in Gaza with small, frightened children as they desperately searched for a safe place to take cover.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the first family we came across, barreling down the road. All they knew was that is they did not dare to stay at home.

"We left without knowing where to go," Miafliaby (ph) tells us, cradling her 4-month-old. They say they could hear explosions as they fled.

(on camera): What has caused this mass exodus was the Israeli Army dropping these leaflets, warning residents in certain areas they needed to depart immediately for Gaza City. And the leaflet even indicates specifically which route they should take to stay safe.

(voice-over): And though few believed the Israelis, leaving was a better option than staying behind.

Rekoff (ph) says their house was hit a few days ago.

(on camera): This is the second school that they have gone to, looking for a safe place to stay, but it obviously was full as well. And now we're going with them to try out a third one.

(voice-over): It's already packed. People angrily move benches, staking their claim.


DAMON: "There is another school," a young man gestures. "Come with me." Amidst a frantic search, fear.

Four years ago, the last time Israel launched an operation in Gaza, a school was bombed. The Israeli said Hamas was using the cover of schools to fire rockets.

But whatever the risk, for these families, there is no alternative.

(on camera): This just gives you an idea of how chaotic this is. This is the fourth school that the family has been to now, looking for a place to stay.

(voice-over): Finally, they find a room.

"Come, come quickly." Rekoff (ph) calls the rest of the family as others help to clear space.


DAMON: She's exhausted and stuns.

The children arrive, talking breathlessly about seeing a ball of fire outside.

(on camera): We're less than a minute away from the school. While we were standing in there, we actually felt the windows of the building there shaking from an explosion. It seems this was the target.

Little reassures for those that fled to stay safe.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Gaza City.


BLITZER: We're covering all the news throughout the Middle East region, from the peace talks continuing in Cairo, to the ongoing rocket fire, the air strikes.

We'll be back from Jerusalem in just a moment.


BLITZER: Day eight of air strikes, rocket attacks and bombings in Israel and Gaza.


BLITZER: And a terror attack on the streets of Tel Aviv. That's further complicated efforts to try to find a truce. Nearly two dozen people were injured after an explosion on the bus, all the violence coming 24 hours after reports that cease-fire is imminent. But diplomatic negotiations are still under way right now with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the midst of what now some officials are calling shuttle diplomacy between Israelis, Palestinians and Egyptians.

Both Israeli and Hamas have been showing their military firepower over these past eight days.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us with more on this part of the story.

They're sending some critical messages in the process to Iran, Barbara, aren't they?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf, because as this firepower is tragically on display, everyone is watching to see what the other guy is up to.



STARR (voice-over): Israel's Iron Dome missiles have intercepted about 85 percent of Hamas rockets fired at Israeli civilians. It's a military success, but still short of all-out victory.

DANIEL GOURE, LEXINGTON INSTITUTE: The terrorists may be the big winner in so far as it doesn't take more than one or two of these things to land in a major urban center to cause political response, to cause panic, and to maybe, at that point, have forced Israel's hands into a ground operation.

STARR: Hamas is already banking on Iron Dome's potential weak spots.

STEVEN ZALOGA, TEAL GROUP: Iron Dome does have a certainly limits to the number of missiles it can engage, so Hamas will undoubtedly be trying to figure out what those weak spots are.

STARR: Hamas can now fire a dozen rockets at a time.

CNN's Ben Wedeman has been seeing growing Hamas sophistication.

WEDEMAN: Some of them, the Fledger 5 (ph) is more than one stage. It's a long rocket. It has to be disassembled and brought in. This has increased the range of the rockets fired by Hamas and the other resistance organizations as far as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

STARR: Hamas is also burying rockets in underground pits, covered by rocks and sand. Then using automated remote controls to fire.


STARR: Israeli pilots have to hunt them down one by one. One country, likely watching how Israel handles this conflict very carefully, is Iran, which is wary of Israel striking at its nuclear program. Iran has missiles that might be able to hit Israel, but Iran may be seeing cautionary signs as it looks for ways to retaliate if Israel were to launch a strike.

GOURE: Israel may be able to whatever retaliation Hamas or Hezbollah might do in the event to an attack on Iran, so Iran may feel a little more vulnerable today than it did a week or two ago.

STARR: Israel has multiple defenses now. Iron Dome batteries can strike rockets launched 45 miles away. Its longer-range arrow missiles can detect targets 300 miles away. It's designed to go squarely after a ballistic missile attack from Iran.

A new weapon called David's Sling falls right between, able to hit missiles and rockets fired from 40 to 150 miles away, like a threat coming out of Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.


STARR: But as long as the supply question is out there, as long as rockets and missiles keep getting smuggled into Gaza from Sinai, the question of when there might be some real permanent end to hostilities still remains very much, of course, Wolf, an open question -- Wolf?

BLITZER: It certainly does, Barbara. Thanks very much for that report.

Once again, we're following what's going on in Cairo right now. We'll update you on the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She's meeting with the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi. Will there be a cease- fire or not?


BLITZER: She was walking her dogs and heard the red alert warning that a rocket was headed for her neighborhood. iReporter, Adele Raemer, shot this video as she took cover.





BLITZER: You can hear those explosions in the distance.

Raemer, by the way, is a teacher that lives about a mile from the Gaza border. She spoke to other Carol Costello earlier.


ADELE RAEMER, CNN IREPORTER: I was walking the dogs and I had this feeling -- I don't know -- this instinct that caused me to walk right next to a building so that I knew that if something was going to fall, I would be able to take cover.

What you don't see in the footage is how I ran up to the building, and I tried to open the door, but that's a children's house, and there are no children here now, so it was locked, and I couldn't get in. So it's pretty scary.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tell us about how you stay safe.

RAEMER: How I stay safe? I have a safe room. And any time there's an alarm, I run for the safe room. It is within my house. We have only about 10 seconds to get there, so at this period of time, I'm actually sleeping there. It's not my bedroom. It's my guest room. But I'm sleeping there for now.


BLITZER: Adele Raemer, one of the many civilians trapped in this conflict and just wanted to return to their daily lives.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: An eighth day of air strikes and rocket fire into and out of Gaza, drawing to a close. Terror, entering the picture. Here's what we know right now. 24 people were rushed to a Tel Aviv hospital after a bomb blast on a public bus. Hamas militants in Gaza aren't claiming responsibility, but they are praising the attackers.

The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Cairo right now where she's been talking with the President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi. This, after meeting with the Palestinian Authority president in the West Bank and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, here in Jerusalem.

The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, by the way, is making these rounds as well.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back 4:00 p.m. eastern.

Much more coverage from the Middle East. We're live here in Jerusalem.

NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL starts with Suzanne Malveaux right now.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. We're taking you around the world in 60 minutes.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Michael Holmes, sitting in as well.