Return to Transcripts main page


Son Talks about Mom's Fight With Ebola; Israel Bringing in Reinforcement; Peres Says to Fight Back; Shells Slam into Gaza Market; Arab Countries Silent; Hamas' Leader

Aired July 31, 2014 - 13:00   ET


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

Israel is bringing in reinforcements in its battle against Hamas, and the prime minister says the operation is just the first phase of demilitarizing Gaza. Here are the latest developments. Sirens sounded over Tel Aviv just a short time ago as Hamas fired more rockets towards Israel. Israeli police say one man was seriously injured when a rocket hit 20 miles from the Gaza border.

And one day after a deadly strike on the United Nations school in Gaza, there was another close call. Shells landed near a U.N. school. Eight people were slightly injured. The U.N. is using the schools as shelters.

Also, the Israeli military says it's calling up another 16,000 reservists. And Prime Minister Netanyahu says Israel will finish its goal of taking out Hamas tunnels with or without a cease-fire. Earlier, I spoke with the former Israeli president, Shimon Peres, about the tunnels and the rocket attacks.


SHIMON PERES, FORMER ISRAELI PRESIDENT: The rockets and the missiles if they will continue, I suppose we'll have a defense. And if it will continue, we should fight back. If they will continue to fire rockets, they'll get back rockets. I cannot see a cease-fire with rockets and with tunnels. Only cease-fire without rockets and without tunnels.


BLITZER: Much more of my exclusive interview with the former Israeli president later this hour.

Palestinian officials say the death toll in Gaza has now risen to 1,373, and we are getting up-close images from one deadly attack. Some viewers may find the video very tough to watch. The al-Manara media agency says a photographer was filming the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike on a Gaza market. He was injured in a second strike but his assistant picked up the camera and kept it rolling. Watch this.




BLITZER: Very difficult, obviously, to watch those images.

Karl Penhaul is in Gaza City. He's joining us now live. Karl, bring us up to speed on what's happening right now.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, just when you thought things couldn't get much worse, they do seem to be getting worse by the hour almost. Of course, a continuation of the fighting on the battlefield. We've heard Israeli artillery in action throughout much of the day, pounding targets in northern and eastern and in southern Gaza from what we can hear from our vantage point.

And also, south of where we are, probably about two and a half hours ago, a barrage of four militant rockets being fired skyward off towards Israel. The fight is very much on. There is no off-ramp. It seems quite clear that the Israeli military hasn't yet achieved its targets of shutting down Hamas military infrastructure. And for its part, no sign that Hamas is ready to put its head down and give up this fight either.

But, of course, it's the civilians who are bearing a lot of the brunt of this. My colleague was out there this afternoon looking once again at the issue of power. And he's found out, from the Gaza power company, that that power plant was struck multiple times over multiple days. And that has left most of the strip without any power at all. And it's having an impact on the water situation as well and the sewage situation because they need electricity to pump that as well. And that isn't happening.

So, people in their homes, you know, regardless of whether you're in a U.N. shelter or not. A lot of people are sheltering their extended families in their apartments. Many people in tiny apartments, no air con, no T.V., just listening huddled around a small radio to see if they can pick up some tidbits of the latest fighting.

And the longer this goes on, we've seen the Israeli artillery. That's an area weapon being used in built-up areas. It's a very blunt instrument. And as the Israelis move deeper on to the edges of Gaza, that is pushing militant fighters deeper into the built-up areas, and that could be one of the reasons why this war seems to be getting dirtier by the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Karl, I want you to -- I know we're getting new information. More Israelis have been injured. Mortar shells apparently coming in from Gaza into southern Israel. We're also hearing that apparently Hamas still has plenty of rockets. One rocket came into a town in southern Israel, (INAUDIBLE), seriously injuring one Israeli. It looks like that iron dome didn't necessarily work in that particular instant. They still have plenty of rockets left, missiles. The Israelis estimate (INAUDIBLE.) Is that what you're hearing? PENHAUL: Difficult, certainly. The militant factions aren't

advertising how much weaponry they still have left. But we certainly saw rockets going out this afternoon and believe that was the launch of the rockets that did the damage across on the Israeli side. And that's the tragedy about it. You know, perhaps you on your side see artillery going out and that's doing damage here. We see rockets here heading that way doing damage. And there is no sign that either side is running out of steam.

What we have heard from militant factions and the political factions here in Gaza is that the rockets aren't all necessarily imported. They might have the technology from places like Iran or Syria or modelled on Russian systems. But then, with that technology, they're putting them together here on the ground in secret weapons factories. And so, if that is the case and if those weapons factories are well protected, this could still go on for a while.

And of course, as we know, with Israeli boots on the ground inside Gaza, the militants are taking the fight to them in close-quarters combat -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, indeed. This fight is obviously continuing. I think we can call it a war. Karl Penhaul in Gaza, thanks very much.

Let's get some insight now into Israel's military strategy and today's developments. We're joined by retired Israeli Air Force Major General Amos Yadlin. He's now -- heads the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, former head of the Israeli Military's intelligence branch. So, what is the Israeli military strategy right now in the short term and in the long term?

AMOS YADLIN, MAJOR GENERAL, RETIRED, ISRAELI AIR FORCE, AND INSTITUTE FOR NATIONAL SECURITY STUDIES, TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY: This fight, this war can be finished in a minute that Hamas will stop launching rockets to Israel. They refused to accept the quiet for quiet from the prime minister, the refuse to the Egyptian cease-fire proposal. They refuse to their own -- they violate their own cease-fire humanitarian cease- fire. So, this is about what we are seeing. The Israeli strategy is protecting our land from the rockets. And then, destroying the tunnels, the (INAUDIBLE) tunnels, what you called militant and I call terrorists, prepare under the border to attack the Israeli settlements (INAUDIBLE.)

BLITZER: The general in charge of the southern command, General Sami Turgeman, he says that operation seems to be drawing to an end, destroying those tunnels. Is that what you're hearing as well?

YADLIN: Yes, we have another two or three days. And then, the government will have to decide because the Israeli military don't have a strategy, remote from our political goal. And our political goal is not to reoccupy Gaza. We disengaged from Gaza, I remind you. There is no settlements in Gaza. We re -- we disengaged from Gaza. The Palestinians choose to be terrorist terrorists and not to be (INAUDIBLE.) So, whenever they will decide to stop firing -- and this is the goal of the government of Israel, the idea to stop doing what it is doing. But if they will continue to fight, we will have to consider three kinds of military strategies. One is to say we have nothing to look in Gaza. We will continue with the air force as long as they want to exchange fire. They don't have any more capability to escalate. They don't have any more -- any surprises. So, the firepower of Israel is much stronger. If this is not enough, we can deepen the operation because the operation now is only destroying the tunnels. It's one or two or three kilometers. We can go into much deeper into Gaza. And if worse comes to worse, it can be a full regaining of Gaza.

BLITZER: Because it looks like the military is getting ready for a much bigger operation. They mobilized another 16,000 reservists today. Already 86,000 Israeli reservists have been activated, called into active duty. That's a big -- for a small country, that's a lot of -- a lot of troops.

YADLIN: That's one of the lessons from the second Lebanese war. You have to be ready to do an alternative, to execute and move, even if you don't think that this is the best alternative. But if worse comes to worse, you have to be ready.

BLITZER: When the State Department and the White House and now the Pentagon itself, a briefer at the Pentagon told reporters today, according to our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr, civilian casualties in Gaza have been too high. It is clear the Israelis need to do more. We want them to do more. That's from a spokesman, U.S. Department of Defense. What else should Israel be doing to prevent those images, those horrible pictures that we've been seeing, the unusually high number of civilian deaths and injuries?

YADLIN: First of all, you have to understand that Hamas military terrorists are killed in hundreds, and they are not reporting it. They, of course, are putting all the cameras on the civilians.

BLITZER: So, you say Israel has killed hundreds of Hamas --

YADLIN: Hundreds of Hamas militants in the tunnel, in the fighting on the ground, on the air. But they will show you only the civilians. And the civilians is heated because of the tactics of the terrorists. They shield behind the civilians. Where is Hamas leaders? They are in the bunkers. But they put outside near the rockets that are launching to Israel.

BLITZER: Should Israel, the IDF, be doing more to prevent civilian deaths?

YADLIN: The IDF is doing more than the Americans have done in Fallujah and more than the Americans have done in Germany in the Second World War. We are a moralist army in the world. We have (INAUDIBLE) code of conduct that we are allowed to attack only terrorists. But we are not give -- the terrorists will not be immune if there are any (ph) civilians. And we called off a lot of attacks because there are too many civilians. So, we are doing it to prevent the terrorists from firing into our country. And we will continue to do it. And I want -- I am -- I am really willing to have any kind of debate with American journalist spokesmen about how Israel is doing it compared to how America has done it. BLITZER: Amos Yadlin, retired Israeli Air Force Major General.

Thanks very much for joining us.

YADLIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll continue this conversation and maybe we'll organize one of those debates here on CNN. Thank you very much.

We're going to be right back. We're going to get a different perspective. I'll be speaking with former Palestinian adviser Khaled Elgindy. He's now with the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Curiously absent in the current conflict between Israel and Hama is the usual course of condemnation from so many of Israel's Arab neighbors. Khaled Elgindy is a former adviser to the Palestinian negotiators and he's now a fellow at the Brookings Institution Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, D.C. Khalid is joining us now.

Khaled, thanks very much for joining us.

A lot of us read that story in "The New York Times" today and you were quoted in that story saying that the usual condemnation of Israel from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, a lot of other countries in the Arab world, not necessarily happening. They're no great fans of Hamas. What's your take on this big picture here?

KHALED ELGINDY, FORMER ADVISER TO PALESTINIAN LEADERSHIP: Well, before I get into that, I'd like to just, for a minute, address the question of Israel's military strategy, which you just discussed with Mr. Yadlin (ph). I think one thing he didn't --

BLITZER: Go ahead.

ELGINDY: Yes, one thing he didn't point out is -- and I think this is fairly well known -- Israel's war doctrine is based on the principle of overwhelming disproportionate force. It used that in the 2006 war in Lebanon. It's used that in the last several Gaza conflicts. So it is, in fact, actually intended to maximize harm to Palestinians even -- or to civilians. Even if individual Palestinian civilians are not being targeted, clearly things like destroying the power plant and currently most of Gaza is blacked out, which has serious health consequences, as you mentioned in your report. So this is a strategy in which civilians are -- the civilian population is part of that -- is part of the target. So I think the notion that Israel was trying to minimize civilian casualties is something that needs to be put in that context.

As far as the regional --

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second.


BLITZER: Yes, let me interrupt for a second because the Israelis are denying that they blew up that power plant.


BLITZER: They're saying they're investigating it, but they say it was not targeted by Israel. And they're suggesting it was actually blown up by errant Hamas rockets launched from Gaza supposedly to go into Israel but fell short. That's the Israeli position, at least as far as I know it right now.

ELGINDY: Right. Right. And I've seen those - I've seen those same reports. But as you mentioned, or as was mentioned in the report, just a few minutes ago, the power plant had been hit several times. So it's highly unlikely that errant missiles hit the power plant several times before it was destroyed. But also, in the past, Israel has destroyed the very same power plant in 2006, which is -- was a response to the abduction or the capture of Gilead Shalit, and there was another military operation at that time in which they openly admitted that they destroyed the power plant. So this isn't something new. And it isn't something that, you know, that they've denied in the past.

BLITZER: All right, well go ahead and talk a little bit about the big picture of -- about the relative silence we're getting from several of these major Arab players out there. Usually they're condemning Israel. Not so much this time.

ELGINDY: Yes. And I think, you know, they're -- we're starting to see some of that now from Egypt and others where they are beginning to condemn. Obviously, it's very late in this process 23 or 24 days into this conflict, whereas in the past it's usually come much more immediate.

There are - there is a convergence of interests between the regime in Egypt, which is very hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, which is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood on ideological grounds and that they are - they see themselves as at war with this - with political Islam. And that has coincided and aligned with the Netanyahu government's very specific war against Hamas, per se.

And so there is a convergence of interests, but I think it's very hard to sustain that kind of convergence over a long period of time. The Egyptian public opinion is very sympathetic to Palestinians in general. And even if they are -- have soured on Hamas and the brotherhood, they don't like to see dead Palestinian children on their TV screens. And I think the statements coming out of Cairo might suggest that they're starting to feel the pinch of public opinion and that they -- the regime probably wants to bring this to a close.

BLITZER: Here's the question, I guess the bottom-line question. I know that Saeb Erekat, he's in Doha, Qatar, right now, meeting with Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, the political leader. Some people say, yes, the Palestinian Authority, the political leadership of Hamas could work out some sort of cease-fire, but there's no guarantee that the military wing of Hamas will actually follow that. What do you think?

ELGINDY: Yes, that's -- you know, that's certainly a consideration. You know, we've seen diverging statements coming from the political wing of Hamas versus the military wing inside Gaza, and they're the ones obviously on the front lines. They're bearing the brunt of the Israeli offensive, along with the civilian population. But, obviously, they're feeling the pressure. And in a way, you know, almost counterintuitively, because they're on the front lines and because they're most at risk, they are the least likely to seek a compromise without some sign that their political objectives are being met. And I think for Hamas and for the population in Gaza and for Palestinians in general, the political objective is to open Gaza, is to end the blockade, reconnect Gaza with the West Bank and the rest of the world because, you know, that is really what is at the heart of this conflict.

This - you know, conflicts don't happen for no reason. They don't happen because there are words in Hamas's charter. There is a reason that Hamas is launching these rockets. And it has to do with the blockade and with the Israeli occupation. And so I think we can't really talk about demilitarization unless we're also talking about ending the blockade and de-occupation of Palestinian land.

BLITZER: I think a lot of people would like to see that linkage. Demilitarization and then opening up Gaza and letting it emerge from what they call that siege. If that could happen, that would be a positive development, I think, all around.

Khaled Elgindy, thanks very much for joining us.

And by the way, Saeb Erekat will be joining us later in "The Situation Room." We'll get his take on how his meetings with Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader, went today in Doha, Qatar.

A sworn enemy of Israel, considered a terrorist by the U.S., we're going to tell you how that leader of Hamas rose to power after being poisoned by Israeli agents. Stand by for that report.


BLITZER: So how much do we really know about the leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, who's meeting today in Doha, Qatar, with the Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat. On the agenda, an effort presumably to come up with a cease-fire. Khaled Meshaal's rise to power, certainly a fascinating story. He was once nearly killed by Israeli agents. CNN's Brian Todd has our report.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): September 1997. Khaled Meshaal was hours, perhaps minutes, away from dying. He had been walking on the streets of Amman, Jordan, when two men, later reported to be agents of Israel's intelligence agency, the Mossad, injected or sprayed him with poison.

KHALED MESHAAL, HAMAS LEADER (through translator: I heard a loud noise in me ear. It felt like an electric shock.

TODD: The Israeli agents were captured. Jordan's king reportedly threatened to put them on trial if the Israeli government didn't provide an antidote.

TODD (on camera): The White House even intervened. President Bill Clinton trying to keep peace between Jordan and Israel pressured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to provide the antidote.

TODD (voice-over): Netanyahu, widely reported to have ordered the hit on Meshaal in retaliation for suicide attacks in Israel, relented. Meshaal was revived.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once he survived this attack, this leader who was previously relatively unknown became very popular. His stature goes straight to the top. He's the living martyr.

TODD: Meshaal is now the leader of the Hamas movement. He recently spoke to CBS News.

MESHAAL: We are not fanatics. We are not fundamentalists.

TODD: But one Israeli official calls the 58-year-old former teacher the Osama bin Laden of Hamas. Analysts say he's an inspirational commander for attacks and a dealmaker, securing status and money for Hamas from his home in Qatar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is the ATM of Hamas right now. The Qataris provide significant funding to Hamas and Khaled Meshaal is the point man for that.

TODD: In a recent interview with CNN's Becky Anderson, the Qatari foreign minister denied that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Qatar does not support Hamas.

TODD: It's not clear how much control Meshaal has over the military wing of Hamas, which launches the attacks on Israel. And street cred is an issue for Khaled Meshaal. He's reportedly been to Gaza only once. And the Israelis themselves may be trying to undermine Meshaal's standing within Hamas, painting him as an insulated, pampered jihadist.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: This guy, Khaled Meshaal, he's roaming around five-star hotel suites in the gulf states having the time of his life while his people, while he's deliberately putting his people as fodder for this horrible terrorist war that they're conducting against us.

TODD: Analysts say Meshaal wants to eventually become leader of all the Palestinians. But will he? The U.S. has designated Meshaal


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: He's running around in five-star hotel suites in the Gulf States, having the time of his life while his people, while he's deliberately putting his people as fodder for this horrible terrorist war that they're conducting against us.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Analysts say Meshaal wants to eventually become leader of all the Palestinians. But will he? The U.S. has designated Meshaal a terrorist. The Americans and Europeans would have a tough time recognizing his legitimacy. And his survivability is in question. There are a lot of rivalries within Hamas. And when I asked if the Israelis might target Khaled Meshaal again, an Israeli official said, "No comment."

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And once again, I'll speak with Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator. He'll be joining me from Doha, Qatar. He had meetings with Khaled Meshaal today, presumably on the fate of a cease-fire. Much more coming up.

Also coming up, the Ebola outbreak. There's a new warning coming from the CDC in the United States. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the details right after the break.