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3 Israeli Deaths Begin Longest Israel/Gaza Conflict; How Gaza is Coping in Conflict; Israel Asks U.S. for Resupply Ammunition; Allegations Pro-Russian Rebels Placed Land Mines at MH17 Crash Site.

Aired July 30, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Jerusalem.

It was supposed to be a four-hour humanitarian cease-fire but explosions rocked Gaza, rockets were fired at Israel even before the cease-fire ended. Israel says the humanitarian window was put in place so civilians could get supplies moved to safer locations. They blame Hamas for breaking that cease-fire.

The Palestinian Health Ministry says 20 people were killed when the United Nations school was hit today before that cease-fire was supposed to go into effect. The Israeli military says its soldiers fired after militants in that area opened fire on them.

And the fighting rages on. The death toll rising. Three more Israeli soldiers were killed today. In all, 56 soldiers, Israeli soldiers. Three civilians on the Israeli side were also -- were also killed. More than 1,300 Palestinian, mostly civilians, but some Hamas militants, to be sure, have also been killed according to Palestinian Health Ministry sources.

So what started with the deaths of three Israeli teens has now escalated into full-blown war between Israel and Hamas. This is not the first time Israel and Hamas have fought but the current conflict between these two clearly is the longest. The 2012 offensive lasted eight days. The 2008 conflict went on for 28 days.

Joining us now from Washington is Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow on foreign policy at the Brookings Institution.

Michael, thank you so much for joining us.

What do you think is going to happen in the immediate period ahead? It looks like Israel is making progress in destroying Hamas tunnels. But the whole situation looks awfully murky.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW ON FOREIGN POLICY, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think, first of all, Wolf, you're correct to use that term of "war." This is no longer a limited operation. Many of the previous skirmishes or battles or even lethal struggles in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas or Hezbollah had a limited character to them. As you well know -- and that's why you're in Israel still -- it is different. It really is more like combat.

Something, I'm really struck -- and I know you're studying this and are reporting on it daily -- by the incredible support for this operation among the Israeli public. And Israelis are not known for their, you know, congeniality on all issues political. They sometimes make our debates here in the United States look gentle. For them to be 80 percent to 90 percent supportive of this kind of an operation really shows how much Hamas has put the fear of God in them and left no doubt in Israeli minds that Hamas really does reject their right to exist and that any kind of softening of that position really means nothing at this point.

BLITZER: Yes, that "Jerusalem Post" poll you're referring to showed 80 percent, 85 percent of Jewish Israelis support what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's operation is about. I spoke with one of the opposition leaders last night, Ahmed Shiad, and he says, even though he's in the opposition, he supports what's going on as well, even though they have different perspectives on a two-state solution down the road.

Egypt played a very significant role back in November 2012, the Muslim Brotherhood-led government there in Egypt, in getting a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel. A very different government. President el Sisi, in Egypt, right now, no great love, as you know, for the Muslim Brotherhood. They basically arrested their leadership, including President Mohamed Morsey. Can Egypt do the job now, given the strained relationship it has with Hamas, which it seems, as some have pointed out, it sees as maybe a cousin of the Muslim Brotherhood?

O'HANLON: Maybe not. And I think Israel has to be careful not to overplay its hand. Everything's been in so much flux in the Middle East since the Arab Spring, so-called, began three and a half years ago, that you can persuade yourself of almost anything. It's important for Israel not to believe that Egypt is just going to be its friend forever and that it will be able to get away with whatever level of tolerance or support from the Arab world that it needs.

At some point, the need for a two-state solution and the diplomatic track to get back to it is going to be crucial. In the short term, I don't know how to predict anything anymore in the Middle East. Everything seems up for grabs. The minute you can foresee what's going to happen in the next month of two, some other big shock arrives. So I'm not going to say whether Egypt can seal the short- term deal, but Egypt will not be able to seal any long-term deal unless there is a path towards a two-state solution.

BLITZER: Yeah, as our friend, Aaron David Miller, often says, referring to the situation here in the Middle East, it's going to get worst, he says, before it gets worst.

Michael O'Hanlon, Brookings, thank you.

Just ahead, a closer look at the humanitarian side of this conflict. How are the people in Gaza actually coping with the air strikes, the fighting? We'll be right back.




JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just over here, this building just over here, which has just been hit.


BLITZER: All right, so that was our John Vause a little while ago. He's in Gaza. All of a sudden behind him -- he's doing a live shot for CNN International -- you saw what happened.

Ian Lee is here. Just got out of Gaza about 24 hours or so ago.

You've been there three weeks. What was it really like there? Take us inside Gaza, Israeli air strikes, naval strikes, ground activity. You're in the middle of this big city, Gaza City, packed with people. Give us a little flavor of what it was like to do some reporting there.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the one thing that comes to mind is the uncertainty of the situation. You are in a fluid environment. It is a war zone. And so, at any moment, you could come under fire. And we saw John Vause, what happened with him, a close air strike. You always had those moments where you didn't know if there was going to be anything close, nearby, whether it was an air strike or whether it was a rocket going off.

And I have been to other conflict zones. At night, you go away from front line. Well, really, in Gaza, everywhere's the front line. There really isn't any safe place. That's the one thing that I felt. I think a lot of people, definitely the civilians feel there too, is there really isn't that sense of security that is enjoyable to have.

BLITZER: Even if you're wearing a flak jacket, a helmet? We see these pictures coming out of Gaza. It's horrible, what's going on with the kids, the women, the elderly. What is it like to see this up close?

LEE: That's the one thing you have to prepare for, especially after -- that U.N. school was struck in Beithanoun (ph), we were at the hospital, and when you see children being hit, especially in the morgue, it does very much affect you. And it's something that no one likes to see. That's the one tragedy of this war, is about 20 percent of the casualties are children. And you see their families there crying. And it is very difficult to see and witness.

BLITZER: How do you cope? You're a professional journalist. It's not easy. You're also a human being.

LEE: You know, it's the one thing that a lot of journalists ask themselves, is how do you cope after seeing this? A lot of journalists have different things to do. A lot of people like to take breaks after such assignments. That is one thing I will be doing, is taking a break after this. These are images you can't get out of your head. Images you really don't want to leave your head because it gives you that that human aspect to every story you report on.

BLITZER: Ian Lee, I'm glad you're out safe and sound. Take some time off, relax. I know you're heading back to Cairo. We'll stay in very close touch with you. Good work.

LEE: Thank you.

BLITZER: Ian Lee, our man in Cairo. The last few weeks in Gaza, not an easy assignment for a journalist. What's going on there, clearly, clearly, painful, awful.

We'll get back to the news here, including some breaking news. We're just learning Israel now asking the U.S. for some resupply ammunition. We'll go to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr has new information, information you need to know, right after the break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Want to get right to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She has some breaking news on the U.S. resupply effort of some ammunition to Israel in the midst of this war that's been going on.

What are you learning, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf. We have learned here at the Pentagon that the Israelis have made a major request for a resupply of their ammunition stock piles and the Obama administration has agreed to it.

Details are scarce, but officials are telling me right now there are two categories of ammunition they are resupplying the Israelis with very quickly. That is 120 millimeter ammunition for mortars and 40 millimeter ammunition for grenade launchers. There are additional requests from the Israelis for a number of other categories of ammunition being used in these current operations. That -- those requests will be made and will be carried out and fulfilled by U.S. defense manufacturers.

But the two that I mentioned, the 120 millimeter and the 40 millimeter, those are actually going to come very quickly out of U.S. militant stockpiles already in Israel. The U.S. maintains about $1.2 billion worth of ammunition and weapons in Israel and, in a crisis, the Israelis are allowed to ask to use it. This ammunition, they say, they contend is not a crisis. They say it was running out of shelf life. The Israelis wanted a resupply, and so they're resupplying it from that stockpile very quickly.

But what is clear, one official said, in the last three weeks, the Israelis certainly have used up a good deal of their ammunition stock piles, so now coming to the U.S. for a resupply. The U.S. insists it's not an emergency. They are calling it a resupply. But the administration moving very quickly, indeed, to get these requests fulfilled and get that ammunition on its way to Israel. The U.S. contention, of course, this is part of the U.S. commitment to the defense of Israel, still likely to be somewhat controversial -- Wolf?

BLITZER: A lot of people don't know about that stockpile of U.S. weapons, military equipment in Israel for an emergency situation. It's been going on I think since the 1973 war when there was an emergency airlift of military resupplies to Israel. Shortly thereafter, the U.S. decided, just keep the equipment, the munitions stockpile in Israel under U.S. control. And, in an emergency, you don't need an airlift. You just have the weapons and the munitions, the ammunition and everything in place.

Barbara, thanks very much for that report.

Barbara Starr with the breaking news from the Pentagon. The U.S., saying yes to Israel as it seeks to resupply some munitions.

Just ahead, disturbing word of a new threat to the international crash investigators in Ukraine. There are land mines on the road to the crash site. We're going to tell you what our CNN crew found.


BLITZER: Now to reports of a disturbing new twist in heavy fighting in eastern Ukraine. The country's National Security and Defense Council claims pro-Russian rebels have laid mines on the access road to the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight 17.

CNN could not independently confirm that statement, but our Nick Paton Walsh did make it to and from the crash site safely. Nick is joining us from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

So, Nick, what happened? The monitors from the OSCE, they have basically been not able to go to the crash site and see what's going on. Tell us the latest.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's the case for the last four days. They have tried. The first two days, the inspectors joined with the OSCE monitors, trying to negotiate their access. First they tried to go together, turned back, hearing shelling. And the OSCE monitors themselves have tried to reach it on that route.

We went on a different course today, around to the north, saw en route heavy shelling, clear, back smoke in many different positions in the horizon around that crash site. It's a complex route. So for a convoy of 10 to 30, some armored vehicles, so much international attention moving between such a volatile area, like the international inspectors, it's much tougher than us, one small car, moving through the countryside there.

When we got there, though, no signs of separatists or inspectors or the Ukrainian military at all. Limited separatist presence on the roads leading to that particular area. But the scene itself, Wolf, terrifyingly quiet, ghostly. Sadly to say, the stench of decay in the air, there clearly still re human remains in the area of the site. The cockpit, I saw opposite the cockpit the flight plan there, the pilot's own bag. That had what must have been shrapnel holes in it. And a real strange sense of an abandoned crime scene -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Did you see any evidence, Nick, of actually land mines, or anything indicating there could potentially be land mines in that area?

PATON WALSH: A lot of people in that area warn you of mines here or there. It's hard to see, really, quite whether the separatists themselves have had the time to lay that many mines. There are very few of them. They're under a lot of pressure at this moment.

The statement from the Ukrainian Security Council talks about firing positions, mines in the area around it. It's a huge area, 14 square kilometers. As you drive along, occasionally, you see a piece of wreckage along lengthy roads. So naturally, given there is a civil war raging there and the militants are trying to defend part of the areas around the crash site and the towns around it, too, of course, they're digging in firing positions and perhaps laying mines, as well.

The suggestion from the Ukrainian government is somehow the site is inaccessible because they have purposely rendered it. We didn't see that ourselves. The militants didn't let us through, concerned about us filming. But more or less open to us accessing the site. But at the site, no sign of it being secured. A tape blowing in the wind. Really, bizarrely, Wolf, the strong smell of jet fuel in the area where one of the jets and landing gear have come down. People have left teddy bears, flowers to try and mourn people they never knew by locals. And just that terrifying feeling of the war constantly moving around this area and the silence there just hard to really describe -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Another one of our courageous CNN war correspondents, Nick Paton Walsh, doing some dangerous work for us.

Nick, be careful over there. Thanks very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back 5:00 p.m. eastern in a special two-hour edition of "The Situation Room."

For our international viewers, "Amanpour" is next.

For our viewers in the United States and North America, NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right now.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Wolf Blitzer, thank you so much.