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Netanyah to Address the Israeli People; Gaza Hospital and Refugee Camp Hit; U.S. T.V. Exclusive Inside Hamas Tunnel; No Cease- Fire in Middle East

Aired July 28, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Jerusalem. I'd like to welcome viewers from the United States and around the world.

New this hour, the underground war between Israel and Hamas. I'll take you inside one of the elaborate tunnels that Israel says are the main target of its Gaza offensive. This is a U.S. T.V. exclusive you won't want to miss what I saw earlier today.

But up first, the latest headlines. We're standing by for a statement any minute now from the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyah, who's getting ready to address the Israeli people.

We're also getting conflicting accounts right now about the strikes that hit a hospital at a refugee camp in Gaza earlier today. Al-Aqsa T.V., run by Hamas, says the hospital was hit by an Israeli drone. But the Israel military says failed Hamas rocket launches hit the hospital and the camp. The Gaza Health Ministry says 10 children were killed at that refugee camp.

Israel says its forces were not responsible for any deaths at that U.N. school in Gaza last week. According to the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, this video shows that an errant Israeli mortar hit the courtyard of this school, but Israel says there was no one there. Palestinian officials, on the other hand, say 16 people were killed by Israel. U.N. Security Council members held an emergency meeting overnight. The council called for an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. It doesn't look like that's about to happen.

We want to get more, first of all, on the strike that hit the hospital and the refugee camp in Gaza earlier today. Let's go there. CNN's Ian Lee is on the scene for us in Gaza City. It sounds, obviously, like Israel and Hamas, they're pointing fingers at each other. Tell us what you know.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's a lot of finger- pointing, like you said, going back and forth. First, the Hamas came out and said that this was an Israeli drone strike, both at the hospital and the refugee camp. Israel denied that, saying that these were two errant rockets that hit both places. Hamas then responded by saying that this is just a cover-up by the Israelis and that they have evidence. They say they have the rockets of that -- proof that these were Israeli strikes. What we're hearing from the Ministry of Health is that eight children were killed, two adults, and over 40 people were injured in these attacks.

I'm going to bring Karl Penhaul in right now. He was just at the scene. And he just arrived to kind of describe what he saw at the camp.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we went, Ian, down to the beach area, I believe that neighborhood is called, and talked to eyewitnesses there. There were still pools of blood on the street. It's a narrow residential street. The buildings go up three and four stories. The whole area is pot marked with shrapnel. I managed to put my fist in a shrapnel hole that went through a car door. Just imagine the damage that has done to children. And there were children there playing there in that street. There was a little super market there, a little store, apparently according to eyewitnesses, that the children had gone to the store there.

Others were in the street playing with plastic guns. It's a game here that they call dun dun (ph). And I talked to a young girl, with the permission of her father. She was 12 years old. And she said, along with other eyewitnesses, both adults and children, that they heard a drone. A drone that they call in Arabic, Zanana (ph). Even if you don't speak any Arabic, you hear these kids say Zanana. It's quite clear. And they all described hearing a drone and then this strike going in.

An eight-year-old boy called Annas (ph) just pointed out, he said, I came outside. I saw a body part there. I saw a body part here. And as we were standing there, one of the bodies had now been brought back to his neighborhood so that his mother could say a final good-bye before the men of the household took him off for burial. And I think we must take time now not to find out so much about the dead but to find out a little more about the living.

And so, I said to the 12-year-old Nab (ph), I said, tell me the good things about Mohammed. And she said, Mohammed, he was great at math and he loved playing and he loved sport. And I said, what kind of sport? She says, football, of course. I said, did he have a favorite team? Barcelona football team, she says. Messi (ph) was his hero. Messi was an amazing player. He just loved Messi. These are the kind of kids that are dying on Gaza's streets right now. Kids who have names. Kids who are football fans like everybody else. Like other young kids of their age, Leonel Messi is their hero.

LEE: Wolf, one thing that we've noticed at these areas, a lot of the time, is that -- especially at Shifa Hospital and this camp, there's a lot of children around. I was at Shifa Hospital just yesterday, and I noticed a lot of people were taking shelter there. They had their tents up. They had their mattresses in corridors. A lot of people thought this was a safe area.

So, there will be an investigation, most likely by an independent body, to very much verify what happened, what took place. As you know, hospitals are not legitimate targets. Civilians are not legitimate targets in war. So, there will likely be an investigation to figure out what exactly happened -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure there will be a thorough investigation. Hamas blames Israel. The IDF formally put out a statement saying this was an errant Hamas rocket that hit that -- those facilities earlier today. But there will be forensic evidence and the full investigation, I'm sure, will go forward, and, eventually, we'll learn who was responsible for that attack.

All right, guys, thanks very much. Ian Lee, Karl Penhaul reporting.

Now, to a CNN exclusive that we have for you. I want to take you 45 feet underground inside an elaborate Hamas tunnel that was running from Khan Younis in Gaza to southern Israel. Israel says the main goal of its Gaza offensive right now is to destroy these Hamas tunnels used to smuggle weapons, launch attacks. Here's our entry into the tunnel, watch this.


(on camera): Let's go. No, I'm not scared. All right. All right. All right. OK. All right. Ah, I guess the tunnel was built for relatively short people because if you stand up, you're going to hit your head. I'm not that tall. But you see, it's pretty secure, this concrete. They spent a lot of effort building this tunnel. And they say it's 14 meters or so under the ground. Underground. Maybe close to three kilometers.


(live): Once inside the tunnel, I spoke with an Israeli military officer who said Hamas has used concrete that they got, actually, from Israel to build this tunnel. Here's part of my interview about where the tunnel goes, what it involves, how it was built. Take a listen.


(on camera): All right, we're here in this tunnel with Lieutenant Colonel Oshik Azouli. You know this tunnel well.


BLITZER: Tell me about the tunnel.

AZOULI: OK, this tunnel can come from Gaza, as you say, from Khan Younis. It's come very close to the Kibbutz, (INAUDIBLE.) It's like 600 meters from Kibbutz, (INAUDIBLE.) This tunnel not ready for execute because we found it before the terrorists, Hamas and the operation and the tunnel. And we dig and we found that after a few weeks of checking this place, this area, you can see the tunnel with the concourse -- the concourse --

BLITZER: The concrete?

AZOULI: The concrete. It came from Israel by Karun Shalom (ph). The station, Karun Shalom. And we have electricity because we have a truck. They dig and they put the sand in the truck and they send it away to a --

BLITZER: And they wheel it out.

AZOULI: Yes, wheel it out to Khan Younis.

BLITZER: How long do you think it took them to build a nearly three- kilometer tunnel like this?

AZOULI: It's like two years to dig. It's one meter for a day, a few meters for a day. They need a lot of time to do it.

BLITZER: So, it's a slow process but they obviously spent a lot of time.


BLITZER: And you say this concrete came from Israel. How do you know it came from Israel?

AZOULI: Because we found -- we found the bags.

BLITZER: The bags?

AZOULI: The bags. The bags were -- the sandbags in the Karun Shalom station.

BLITZER: So, basically, the concrete was provided by Israel to Palestinians in Gaza to build schools, hospitals, stores, apartments, but they used it, what you say, to build this tunnel?

AZOULI: Yes. The -- for example, the electricity, it came from Israel. Israel give electricity --

BLITZER: The electrical power for Gaza?

AZOULI: Yes, the power to Gaza. And the people in Gaza can't use the electricity. A few -- like a few hours a day.


AZOULI: And all this stuff to build the tunnels.

BLITZER: How many tunnels like this are there that you've found so far?

AZOULI: I can't say the -- exactly the number. But we have many of the tunnels.

BLITZER: Because I've heard 30 already. Thirty something.

AZOULI: Something like this, yes.

BLITZER: Something like that. Similar, the same length, the same height. And from what you know, what was the purpose of this tunnel?

AZOULI: Attack soldiers and attack people. Regular people in Israel. Like people in the Kibbutz. We are very close to (INAUDIBLE.) We don't -- we not have a base.

BLITZER: That's a Kibbutz right over here.

AZOULI: Yes. We don't have a base or soldiers near to this way.


AZOULI: The fence, it's like nine meters from here, 900 meters from here.

BLITZER: The border. The border.

AZOULI: The border. The border.


AZOULI: And in the border is soldiers.


AZOULI: If they want to attack us, it's OK for us to be in the battle. But they want to attack regular people, children, women, men. It's very close to --

BLITZER: So, they wanted to go in and attack and kill Israelis. But also kidnap Israelis.


BLITZER: That was -- that was one of the rationales that Israelis have suggested was one of the purposes of these tunnels.



(live): We're going to have a lot more, this conversation, other details, when I spent a few hours down there in the south along the border with Gaza earlier today. This tunnel, the Lieutenant Colonel Azouli says about -- almost three kilometers. He says about 1.5 kilometers in -- under Gaza, another 1.3 kilometers under Israel. They actually found this tunnel before this current operation a couple weeks before. They sealed off the part going from Gaza and they sealed off the other part as well. But it's very, very close quarters but very sophisticated. And when you walk through the tunnel, you actually -- you feel pretty secure down there because it's cool. It's not hot, very hot, outside but it's much cooler down there when you're about 45 feet or 15 meters below the surface of the earth.

We're going to have a lot more on this tour that the IDF, the Israel Defense Force, has provided me later, coming up later in "THE SITUATION ROOM" as well.

But let's bring in and get some Palestinian perspective now on what's going on. Joining us now from Washington is Maen Ereikat. He's the head of the Palestinian delegation to the United States. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us. The quick question about the tunnels going from Gaza into Israel that Hamas built. What was the purpose of building, spending all that effort, all that money, all that concrete, all that time? What was the purpose of building those tunnels from Gaza into Israel?

MAEN EREIKAT, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, it's clearly an effort by a besieged population to use these tunnels instead of using the normal crossing points. Now, I don't what to underestimate the miraculous significance of these tunnels and that factions in Gaza are utilizing them to target the Israeli military and especially at times of conflict. So, this is, I think, something that has been utilized in past conflicts throughout history. And, therefore, it's a response to a besiege, a blockade. They want to be creative about how to respond to any attacks and probably also take initiative. I'm not saying that they are building them not to take initiative, but this is besides the point, Wolf, here.

My question is what is the Israeli objective there? They started with stopping the launching of rockets. Now, they want to destroy the tunnels. We heard the prime minister two days ago or yesterday saying the disarmament of factions in Gaza, can anyone please tell us, in the Israeli government, what is the objectives of this operation which is only increasing the death toll on the Palestinian side? This recent attack that took the lives of eight children playing on their holy feast and the two the hospital. How many Palestinians need to lose their lives in order for this Israeli government to understand that killing more Palestinian civilians is not going to contribute to a political resolution to this conflict?

BLITZER: And, Ambassador, we have a lot more to discuss. We have to take a quick break. What the Israelis say their primary purpose right now is to destroy those tunnels. Their second purpose, get rid of the Hamas missiles and rockets that have been launched into Israel. And their third objective would be, I guess a long-term objective, to demilitarize Gaza. But let's continue this conversation. Maen Ereikat is going to stand by. We've got more questions for him.

Coming up later, we'll get an Israeli perspective. A former Israeli deputy defense minister who was fired by the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. He'll join us as well. Much more of our special coverage coming up right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with Maen Areikat. He's the head of the Palestinian delegation to the United States. He's joining us from Washington.

Ambassador, as far as you know right now, is Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, on the same page when it comes to the requirements to achieve a cease fire, even a humanitarian pause, if you will, or is there still some differences between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority?

MAEN AREIKAT, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO THE U.S.: Well, the PLO's (ph) position, the Palestinian position in general, is definitely in favor of an immediate cessation to the -- to, you know, the hostilities and to stop more Palestinian -- innocent Palestinians from getting killed. But at the same time, we said repeatedly, and this is, I think, an opinion shared by the United States, by the international community, that unless we also do something in parallel to resolve the underlying causes of this conflict in Gaza, the lifting of the blockade, allowing Palestinians to live in dignity, freedom, in that part of the world, there is not going to be any solution.

So Israel recently refused the proposal submitted by Secretary Kerry to put an end to -- to put a - to start a cease-fire there. They are scuttling the efforts of the United States, which is the strongest supporter of the Israeli militarily, economically and politically, and they are undermining efforts by other international players to have a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

BLITZER: Do you believe Hamas would stop launching rockets and missiles if there were a cease-fire? Because Israel says its priority, as you know, is to destroy those tunnels first and foremost?

AREIKAT: Yes, but that was their priority in 2012, Wolf. That was their priority in 2008, 2009. I think it's time for this Israeli government to understand that if they continue -- repeat doing what they have done in the past and prove to have failed, you know, without achieving any results, there will not - there will not be a way out of this conflict.

I think if there is a cease-fire, if Israel stops its campaign against the Gaza Strip, if there is hope for the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip to somehow live in dignity, be able to move around, end the blockade and the siege, and then immediately move to the larger picture, which is ending this Palestinian/Israeli conflict. I think the statement that was made by the White House yesterday in which President Obama expressed the need to resolve the conflict, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, before we talk about disarmament and disarming and demilitarizing is a very, very correct policy. Israel cannot be the occupier and expect the Palestinian people to sit by idly watching them carry out this kind of campaign against the people.

BLITZER: On this issue of a U.S./Israeli disagreement on the requirements for a cease-fire, you're right, there's a serious disagreement now between the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Obama administration. We're going to have more on that coming up later this hour. Maen Areikat is the Palestinian representative in Washington. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, he was second in command for the Israel defense ministry. We're going to hear from Danny Danon about why his views of the military operation in Gaza actually got him fired from that job by the prime minister. He's standing by live.


BLITZER: We just heard from the Palestinian delegate to the United States about the latest crisis here in the Middle East. Now we want to get an Israeli perspective. Joining us now is Danny Danon. He's a Likud member of the Knesset until recently. He was the deputy defense minister. But he was fired because of his strong views on what's going on.

Danny Danon, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, a man you know well, he fired you because of comments you made, specifically when you suggested that the prime minister was proving he was irresponsible -- the prime minister was irresponsible in going along with a cease-fire. You opposed the cease-fire. Why?

DANON: Wolf, I have a reputation of being a straight shooter. And when the prime minister accepted the premature cease-fire, I told him, I cannot accept it. It is not responsible. We cannot have a cease-fire where there are dozens of tunnels beneath the border, with thousands of rockets aiming at that. I said it publicly. He fired me. But it changed the decision. And now I suppose the prime minister, the people of Israel telling Netanyahu, keep going, do whatever you need to do, but bring stability, bring tranquility to the region. And we know that we have to continue to fight with Hamas.

BLITZER: Since you were fired as deputy defense minister, the government accepted a few cease-fires, Hamas did not. Let's say they accepted another cease-fire right now. Would that be appropriate?

DANON: I think it would be a mistake. You do not negotiate with the Hamas. You do not beg with Hamas. You make them beg. And I think what Secretary Kerry did in the last week was a mistake. It put Israel and the Hamas in the same level. It's like I will tell you that the U.S. and al Qaeda are in the same level. We should fight with Hamas.

BLITZER: Well, how -- why do you say that the secretary of state of the United States put Israel and Hamas -- Hamas isn't even recognized by the United States. It's considered a terrorist organization. The U.S. doesn't even talk to Hamas. Why would you say that Kerry, the secretary of state of the United States, Israel's major supporter, would put Hamas in the same category as the - as Israel?

DANON: Secretary Kerry's proposal was an insult for us.

BLITZER: Why was it an insult?

DANON: Because when you say a cease-fire between the Hamas and Israel and you don't address the main issues of the missiles, of the tunnels. Today he spoke differently. And I think he spoke better. But last week we said, see the fire (ph), let's stop. We cannot talk with a terrorist organization.

BLITZER: My understanding was that that proposal he put forward, which Israel didn't like and the cabinet unanimously rejected it, and we reported that first right here on CNN, they didn't like it not -- because it didn't necessarily allow Israel to finish destroying those tunnels and getting rid of those rockets. The Israelis weren't happy about that.

DANON: Look what happened - BLITZER: But Kerry says that Israel can do that now.

DANON: Look what happened only four hours ago. Five terrorists tried to get into a Kibutz (ph) in Israel to kidnap kids, to make -- commit a massacre in Israel. We cannot finish the operation as long as there are offensive (ph) tunnels against us. Imagine that you had tunnels coming from Mexico into Arizona with al Qaeda forces. What Secretary Kerry would have done if that would have happened? We need to fight with Hamas as long as it takes, a week, a month, a year. We're backing Netanyahu to do the right thing.

BLITZER: And if he accepts this cease-fire, you will --

DANON: It's not only me. The people of Israel. The majority within the Likud Party, which I'm a senior member, will tell him, you cannot finish the job in the middle. We started. We have to finish with war (ph) with Hamas.

BLITZER: The outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency of the United States -- the Pentagon, the DIA, as it's called, Michael -- Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, he was at a conference in Aspen, Colorado, over the weekend and he said this. I want to play this clip for you. Listen to this.

DANON: Sure.


LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, DIRECTOR, U.S. DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: If Hamas were completely destroyed and, you know, and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse. So the region would end up with something much worse. There would be a worse threat that could come in to the - into the -- sort of the ecosystem there and be - and be more dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something - something (INAUDIBLE).

FLYNN: Something like an ISIS or an ISIL, you know, or other of these groups that are in that region right now. So we really have to be careful --


BLITZER: He says, you heard him, he's the head of intelligence at the Department of Defense at the Pentagon, he's outgoing now, but he says be careful what you wish for. You get rid of Hamas, what could emerge afterwards might even be worse.

DANON: I beg to differ with this opinion. What can be worse than the Hamas? What they will do? They will dig tunnels? They will send rockets? Every night I have to take my two daughters to sleep in the shelter. So what can be worse than that? We are not afraid from what will be after the Hamas.

Yes, we think about ISIS and Hezbollah. And they're watching this conflict. And if the outcome would be that we are weak, then Hezbollah and ISIS will come after us. That's why we need to smash Hamas. We need to go against the Hamas and to do it militarily, not negotiation. You don't talk with al Qaeda, you fight al Qaeda. President Obama, he did the right thing when he hunted Osama bin Laden. We need to treat Hamas like you, the people in the U.S., treated Osama bin Laden.

BLITZER: Danny Danon, the former deputy defense minister of Israel, thanks very much for joining us.

DANON: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Danny Danon here in Jerusalem. A strong perspective who (ph) plenty of Israelis continue to support.

There's a big debate going on in Israel right now what to do about a cease-fire, what to do about Hamas. More on that coming up.