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Conflict Creates Mideast Powder Keg; Number of Dead and Wounded Rises in Gaza; Jerusalem Mayor Says City Will Be Protected; Israel- Gaza Border; LeBron Going Home; Immigration Battleground

Aired July 11, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, calls for peace in the Middle East are being ignored. Officials say at least 100 people have been killed in Gaza since Monday.

Meanwhile, the rockets continue to fly into Israel. Look at this. Closed circuit video shows just one of many attacks that sent people running for cover.

Right now, Germany is running out of patience and American intelligence officers kicked out of the country as relations between Washington and Berlin deteriorate.

And right now, a courtroom battle is brewing between Republicans and President Obama. The House speaker, John Boehner, says he will sue the president over his signature health care law.

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from Jerusalem. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We begin with the Middle East powder keg. A rocket fired from Lebanon lands inside Israel. The death toll in Gaza passes a grim milestone. At least 100 Palestinians have been killed and the Israeli military calls up 30,000 reservists, raising fears of a possible Israeli ground assault on Gaza.

All the while, there's no letup in the exchange of rocket fire and air strikes between Israel and Hamas. One rocket from Gaza struck a gas station in southern Israel not far from the border. Israeli officials say Hamas militants have fired 100 rockets at Israel today alone, including one that was intercepted over the Tel Aviv area. At the scene of the gas station attack, and I was there, I spoke with an Israeli first responder.


BLITZER: And what happened here exactly?

YORAM LEVI: There was a rocket directly hit behind me.

BLITZER: Did it hit the truck?

LEVI: No, it hit there, where you see, now, the tractor. And, of course, because of the fire, started from the truck and eleven cars were burned totally. BLITZER: Eleven.

LEVI: And one people -- one guy, he was -- probably he was paralyzed and couldn't get out from the car, that's why he was injured. All the others ran away.

BLITZER: Who got that person to safety, the person who was in the care?

LEVI: The firefighters.

BLITZER: The firefighters.

LEVI: Yes.

BLITZER: Some people --

LEVI: They reached -- the station is not so far away so they reached from really three minutes from here.

BLITZER: What kind of rocket was this?

LEVI: I don't know. I guess it's a grad. It's a long distance one. It's a very heavy one.


BLITZER: Air raid sirens warn Israelis to take cover when rockets are fired from Gaza. My crew and I, we experienced that firsthand as we drove along a highway shortly after leaving that gas station.


BLITZER: Now, you can hear the sirens have just gone off so we're being told to get to a shelter. So, we're running in.

So, now, we just wait for the call clear. Hopefully, that'll happen shortly.



BLITZER: As Israel considers whether to launch a ground assault in Gaza, its Israel's navy forces are keeping a very close watch along the Mediterranean coast. Control boats, like this one, are on the lookout for excursions along the shore and there was at least one.

In northern Israel, meanwhile, a rocket fired from Lebanon. It landed near the Israeli border -- an Israeli border town. Israel responded with artillery. No injuries were reported on either side of the border. Observers say the conflict is unlikely, at least for now, to spread into Lebanon.

We wanted to get the view from Gaza right now, where the mood is clearly very grim. Palestinian officials say Israeli air strikes have killed at least 100 Palestinians this week, including many children and elderly.

The health ministry says an 18-month-old baby and an 80-year-old woman were among the dead today. More than 700 people have been wounded. Palestinians are deeply worried about a possible Israeli ground assault as well.

Our Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman is joining us now from Gaza City. I understand, Ben, there have been plenty more Israeli air strikes today. What can you tell us?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we were in northern Gaza in the Beit Hanoun, Beit Lehi (ph) area, and we went, basically, from one spot to another that had been hit. And certainly it's coming at quite a high price.

You mentioned the death toll. We were at one house where a rocket had been fired into that house. Apparently, they did not receive a warning. That rocket exploded on the -- in the wall -- on the wall next to an alley where there were a bunch of children playing. One four-year-old boy, Sahar Abu Namous, had his head blown off. We still saw pieces of his skull had been collected by the people in the neighborhood.

This is an area that is oftentimes in the firing line from Israeli air strikes and retaliatory raids. And, certainly, people there are extremely worried about what's going to happen if Israel has a ground incursion. But the problem is, as they will quickly tell you, they have nowhere to go.

We did mean one man, right after that strike took place where the four-year-old was killed, he was taking away his four children. He said, I'm getting out of here because I don't want them to kill -- be killed by a rocket as well. Now, this is an area that, apparently, local residents have received calls from people speaking Arabic with Hebrew accents telling them to leave the area in anticipation of a possible ground incursion -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And they're clearly bracing. There's no signs yet, I take it, Ben, that any Israeli tanks or armored vehicles have actually crossed into Gaza. Are there?

WEDEMAN: No, we've heard some reports about limited incursion in southern Gaza, but we haven't been able to confirm that. At the moment, this is exactly when the Ramadan prayer, the fast ends. So, it's gone very quiet and there's very little information getting out. But we did hear that one report. We haven't been able to confirm it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman in Gaza. Be careful over there. We'll touch base with you shortly.

Some of the missiles and rockets fired from Gaza have already been aimed here in Jerusalem. Just a little while ago, I spoke with the mayor of Jerusalem about the conflict and about protecting a city that is so sacred to three great religions.


(on camera): And joining us now, the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. Mr. Mayor, thank you very much for coming in. You've already had, what, six rockets, missiles, from Gaza come towards Jerusalem. If a missile or rocket is launched from Gaza, how much time do the people in Jerusalem have to prepare?

NIR BARKAT, MAYOR, JERUSALEM: Well, they are prepared at any given moment. We have a minute and a half to take cover. People know and trained and educated about what they have to do. From all the six rockets that around the city of Jerusalem, none of them really hit the city. We have excellent protection through iron dome. And very, very well-trained people to know how to take cover. So, we're extremely safe.

BLITZER: Iron dome is the anti-missile defense system that has really worked when it's -- when those rockets are launched at populated areas or other sensitive areas in Israel.

Well, why would they, based upon your intelligence, launch rockets towards Jerusalem? Because there are holy sites not only for Jews and Christians, but for Muslims as well. There are Arab holy sites in Jerusalem.

BARKAT: Why would they hit cities? Ask yourself, why would they hit indiscriminate rockets not targeted at a specific person? And, God forbid, when they did hit and murder children and innocent people, they celebrate in the streets that they killed the Jew or killed somebody in Israel which is insane. You and I, the western world and Israel, similar to that, if we, God forbid, try and hit militant and somebody innocent gets hilled -- gets killed, we're sorry about it. We feel that somebody innocent has lost his life.

BLITZER: How worried are you, mayor, about Jewish extremists? Because we saw that 15-year-old American boy. We saw his cousin who was brutally murdered by Jewish extremists, maybe even people who lived in your city of Jerusalem. How worried are you about what's going on among the extreme element, brutal element, within Israel's Jewish community?

BARKAT: I'm first to condemn the murder, the brutal murder, of the Arab boy, of the innocent boy. And with me were 31 council members. All of us, 99 percent of the population of Israel, condemned the killing of the Arab boy. And I spoke to the father, and I connected grieving families, the Jewish families with the family of the Arab boy. We believe in life. We -- when we target Hamas militants, terrorists, in Gaza, we do our best not to hurt innocent people.

BLITZER: But why is this element, this extreme element, emerging within Israel's -- among Israelis that -- to go out and just brutally kill Arabs?

BARKAT: It's terrible and it's rare. It doesn't happen every day. It happens once every, you know, decade or so. And we will pound the people -- and, by the way, they were caught and they were brought to justice. And everyone in the city was appalled by such behavior. So, I think that we have -- we feel comfortable enough, if one could say, in such a situation, that we need to target the militants, the terrorists that don't recognize Israel. Their charter, Hamas' charter is to wipe us off the map. You cannot deal with somebody who wants to --

BLITZER: But you would hear Israeli's shout, death to Arabs. That's pretty awful, too.

BARKAT: I agree and we condemn that as well. And there's a -- you know, a small percentage of the population, less than one digit -- you know, one digit percentagewise. And we have to educate them and explain to them why that's not the right direction. And we do that all the time. So, very similar to what you know in America and what you know in your home base of Atlanta, it's the same values and the same DNA of the western world, on the one hand. On the other hand, we will protect ourselves.

And, interestingly enough, the Hamas people have to understand that if they want to fight, fine, let's fight. If you don't want peace, you want to fight, you want to kill us, you want to take us off the map, we will know how to defend ourselves and strike you as hard as one should to make sure that you understand that wiping Israel off the map is not an issue. It will not happen. You want peace, come and chat with us and we'll be happy to create peace.

BLITZER: You've been canceling major events that you scheduled in Jerusalem this week, an international film festival, some rock concerts. You need tourism here but you're scared.

BARKAT: Well, what we did is responsibly delayed it for a week because it was an open field. All elements of culture, kindergartens and schools, are active in small numbers that we can manage if you have one and a half minute to take cover. So, responsibly, when it was a big event in an open field, we decided to wait a week. So, that's just for making sure that the people coming here from all over the world feel safe and understand that we're reasonable and sensible people.

Beyond -- besides the big, big events, life is totally usual here. And when the sirens went off, you take a minute and a half. You saw that. I saw you in -- you know, in the south. You take cover. You wait 10 minutes and move on with life. And that's exactly what's happening.

BLITZER: Finally, how worried are you about this Hamas threat to go after international aircraft, commercial passenger planes coming into Ben Gurion Airport?

BARKAT: Well, look, no loss of life has happened on the Israeli side because we know how to protect ourselves extremely well. And they talk a lot. They threaten. They commit suicide. They lie. Because it's the way of life. And we are committed to maintain peace inside Israel to protect everyone, naturally, Israelis and visitors. And, indeed, you know, our tourism is up. Crime rates in Jerusalem are less than 10 percent of what you have in Atlanta, back home. So, when I fly to the states, I pray to come back home to Jerusalem. And nothing has changed, even through this -- you know, this whole crisis we have.

So, I bet you anything. Check it out. We're one of the safest cities in the world. And we have 830,000 population. We have five murders a year in Jerusalem, in the last four or five years. So, last, I'd like to -- Wolf, it's wonderful to host you in Jerusalem. Come and visit and you'll see that the people in the street and life is as good as it gets. Better than any other city in the world.

BLITZER: It's a tense time now. But you're right, people are still trying to go about their day-to-day activities. Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.

BARKAT: My pleasure. Enjoy Jerusalem.

BLITZER: Thank you.


(live): Up next, I'll speak with Professor Shibley Telhami. He's a major political expert on the Middle East and we'll get some in-depth analysis of what is going on.

Plus, we have reporters covering the U.S.-Mexico border crisis as only CNN can. We'll have the latest on the political battle to try to fix the nation's broken immigration system.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting today from Jerusalem, where sirens, fear, seem to be pretty much the norm for so much of this country. Israeli officials say Hamas militants have fired 100 rockets at Israel today alone and the death toll continues to rise in Gaza. According to Palestinian officials, more than 100 Palestinians, including children, the elderly, have been killed by Israeli air strikes this week.

Shibley Telhami is a professor who is an expert on the Middle East. He's a nonresident senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Studies in Washington, a professor at the University of Maryland, and the author of an important book, "The World through Arab Eyes."

Shibley, tell us what's going on? Is there an end game here? What can we anticipate in the days to come?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, SABAN CENTER FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY: Well, I still think, Wolf, that neither side really wanted to see this situation escalate but that's how they find themselves, in a situation where it's escalating out of their own control. In part, once it gets to this, and you have all kinds of pain - look at on the Palestinian side, the devastation, on the Israeli side, people have not lost lives but people are, you know, in bunkers. And when you look at that, right now everybody is trying to make a statement about they can sustain this a little bit longer or they can hurt the other more or less. Everyone -- you hear Hamas saying, we can do this for a long time.

Don't think you're going to defeat us by going in today, tomorrow, the next day, the next day. We have the capacity to fight for the long haul. The Israelis, obviously, can hurt Hamas and the Palestinians a lot more. We see the devastation. They're getting close to 1,000 casualties dead and wounded on the Palestinian side.

But here's what the Palestinians can do and have been able to do. Hamas has been able, essentially, without, you know, necessarily hitting any Israeli casualty, they're paralyzing the economy up to a point. Not completely, but partially. You can see the stock market going down. There are alerts in Grigorian (ph) Airport. Even the prime minister and the security cabinet found that they had to go to a bunker in the middle of a meeting. Those are the sort of things that they're trying to do. They're trying to defeat kind of the anti- missile system that Israeli has, iron dome, by going with a lot of missile all at once. They're trying to disperse the missile attacks across the country to show the range and paralyze more and more. And they know that Israel's capacity with the iron dome is still limited in terms of the battery. So that's what's going on for now.

But everybody, I think, at some point, knows that there is no military solution to this. They can posture. They can talk about military solution. But in the end, they've been there too many times to know that's not going to happen. And so at some point somebody's going to have to come in and put forth a fig leaf for them to pull out of it.

BLITZER: Who does that? Because clearly the United States doesn't even have a relationship, doesn't even talk to Hamas. So who could be that broker, especially now that the Egyptians apparently suffered in terms of their own relationship with Hamas?

TELHAMI: Well, it's interesting that you mention that. I think that at some point both the Egyptians, the U.S. and everybody else, will become more interested. Obviously, one reason why the Israelis may not be interested in the short term is they don't want to sound like they're asking or begging the U.S. to intervene. So it has to come at a moment where they think that Hamas is the one that needs the cease- fire. This is always the game that each side plays.

At some point, even though the U.S. doesn't have a direct relationship with Hamas, this could be an opportunity for Hamas actually to kind of link up in some ways indirectly through some mechanism. And if -- as long as the Israelis are supportive of that idea, this might actually be an interesting moment for the Obama administration.

On the Egyptian side, it's the same. Surely, the Egyptian government, particularly President Sisi, is an ally of Hamas. You see them connected with the Muslim Brotherhood. But on the other hand, it's Hamas' opportunity to create -- to give them -- to do some favor to them as well and to make them look good as a way of bridging that gap that they will need. They will need Egypt no matter what. So I don't rule these parties out. It's a question of, when is the right moment? That right moment hasn't come yet.

BLITZER: Hopefully, it will come soon because there's a lot of obviously death on the Palestinian side. No serious casualties on the Israeli side. Some casualties, but no deaths yet. But that could clearly change. Let's hope that they come up with some sort of solution in the coming hours or days. I'm not holding my breath, though, because it looks to me, at least from this vantage point, is it could get a whole lot worse.

TELHAMI: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Shibley Telhami, as usual, thanks very much. We always appreciate your analysis.

TELHAMI: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have much more on this story.

Also, another important story we're following. Germany is outraged over new allegations the United States has been spying on its government. What the U.S. is doing to try to heal the significant diplomatic wound.

Also, on a very, very different note, LeBron James chooses a new home, which is the same as his first home. Elation in Cleveland. We'll have all the details. That's coming up as well.


BLITZER: Earlier in the week, Cleveland got a big nod from the Republican National Committee. It will host the Republican Presidential Convention in 2016. But today they got a perhaps even bigger reason to celebrate in Cleveland. That's because the local hero, LeBron James, he's coming back home. The free agent MVP has agreed to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers. Joining us now on the phone, our CNN Rachel Nichols.

Rachel, it came (ph) down to Cleveland, maybe returning to Miami. So tell us why he picked Cleveland.

RACHEL NICHOLS, HOST, CNN'S "UNGUARDED" (via telephone): Well, first, I'm going to say with absolute certainty that people there are happier about LeBron coming back than they were about the Republican Convention announcement. I don't even have to go out on a limb for that one.

BLITZER: Yes, I agree.

NICHOLS: There's people honking in the streets. This is real joy we're seeing in Cleveland right now, which is always fun for those of us in sports to see that sports can bring this (INAUDIBLE). That is (INAUDIBLE) go there. He wrote an essay in making this decision and he talked about the fact that it was important to him to go back and play where (ph) he's from, that he grew up, that the streets that he walked on, those places he skinned his knees. The joy that he said (ph) he could bring back to the people of his hometown. He said that he realized just what spots meant to those people, meant to the community, how much more it could be. And in thinking of all of those things, that was a big factor in why he decided to come back. BLITZER: He's going to be back home because he obviously grew up not

far away from Cleveland. It, obviously, makes Cleveland a powerhouse right now. They didn't necessarily have all that great a year this past season.

NICHOLS: No, but they do have some talented young players. Kyrie Irving is considered one of the great young talents of the game. They just drafted the number one overall, Andrew Wiggins. They're trying to clear some space even more. Perhaps try to lure Kevin Love in a trade, who's a big name player. There is some talk about trying to reunite LeBron with some of the veteran players that he loved playing with in Miami. Maybe Ray Allen, maybe Mike Miller. So you'll see some of the band getting back together.

But another really interesting thing in this essay that LeBron penned, and this is a huge point. You remember when he came to Miami. Not only was there the decision television special that got so much criticism. But when he arrived in Miami, they had this huge event with bright shiny lights and the three of them being introduced in sort of circus- like fashion. And LeBron came on, he got to the mic and he said not one, not two, not three, not four, he's talking about all the championships he expected to win. This time he says he's learned from his lesson. He wrote a very eloquent essay. That is the only way he is making this announcement. No press conferences, he says. No parties. And he says in the essay, I am not promising a championship. What a huge 180, right? He says, I know it's going to take time. I know it's going to take effort. I hope that one day we can get there.

And certainly, let's be honest, LeBron James would not go to Cleveland if he didn't think that they had a shot to win a championship. So he is making it clear that, first of all, this is about more than just winning. And, second of all, he's being more realistic this time and being more mature.

BLITZER: It's even a huge story here in Israel, Rachel, since this past hour or so when we learned about this. The Israelis, a lot of Israelis, are celebrating because the new head coach of the Cleveland Cavalier, as you well know, is Dave Blatt. He was the head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv, the top professional basketball team here in Israel. He's now going to Cleveland. So they're pretty excited in Israel as well.

All right, Rachel, thanks very much for that report. LeBron James going back to Cleveland.

Other news we're following today. The Homeland Security secretary, Jeh Johnson, is visiting immigration detention facilities in Texas and New Mexico. This, of course, comes in the wake of that $3.7 billion in emergency funding the White House has requested to try to fix what clearly is a broken system. Johnson spoke to the media and repeated a simple message, there's no such thing as a free pass. And if you cross the border illegally, he says, you will be sent back.

CNN's Alina Machado is at ground zero of this immigration surge, the border town of Mission, Texas. She gives us an inside look at what happens on the Rio Grande River almost every single day. ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we've been talking all week

about just how much law enforcement presence there is in this area, especially the closer you get to the river. But as you're about to see, keeping up with what's going on here isn't easy.


MACHADO (voice-over): This is the Rio Grande, nearly 1,900 miles long and now the battleground of an immigration crisis hitting the U.S. It's where a flood of undocumented immigrants are crossing into Texas every single day. We wanted to get a firsthand look, so we headed out on a boat with Johnny Hart, who has lived on the river for more than three decades.

JOHNNY HART, MISSION, TEXAS RESIDENT: It's just a routine deal when we're out here touring the river that we see the crossings.

MACHADO: It didn't take long for us to find a path used by undocumented immigrants to cross the river. A man in the heavy brush even appears to hide from us.

HART: It's mainly adults that we see. Lately, in the last several months, it's been women and children.

MACHADO (on camera): You've seen them on this river?

HART: Yes.

MACHADO: On rafts?

HART: Yes.

MACHADO (voice-over): U.S. law enforcement boats, whether state or federal, are never too far away. But when they are, we see this, people on rafts hurrying to cross the river. In this case, they seem to be headed back to Mexico after a drop-off on the U.S. side. While we can't say for certain what they're up to, it's clear the men on the rafts are not happy to see us.