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Yazidi Refugee: "It's a Catastrophe"; Hamas Offers Ultimatum: Agree to Demands or Fighting Will Escalate

Aired August 10, 2014 - 06:00   ET



CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Sunday morning to you. I hope it's been good to you so far though it's early. You might be waking up. I'm Christi Paul. We're glad to have you.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Early here in the U.S., 6:00 on the east coast. We want to welcome our viewers from around the world who are joining us this morning.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: We are glad to have you as well. We begin this morning with the U.S. mission in Iraq, warplanes and drones carrying out another series of airstrikes against ISIS fighters in the northern part of the country.

BLACKWELL: The four strikes now have killed 16 members of the terror group who were firing on the Yazidi religious group near the town of Sinja there in the mountains. Tens of thousands of refugees fled into the mountain range in fear for their lives.

Now on Saturday, President Obama made it clear that the military action could go on for months that the U.S. needs to work with allies to help Iraq create a unified government.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: We can connect airstrikes, but ultimately there is not an American military solution to this problem. There's going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries and allies support.


BLACKWELL: So those are the military and the political responses and action. Let's talk about the humanitarian aid. Three cargo planes escorted by U.S. fighter jets dropped about 3,800 gallons of water, more than 16,000 meals and a short time ago the British Royal Air Force made its first drop.

A U.N. official says that's not enough for the estimated 40,000 minority Yazidis hiding there in Sinjar. One of those refugees says -- it's a dire situation, most people considered a crisis. He says it's a catastrophe. He tells CNN he counted as many as 1,000 bodies a are as he fled trying to escape ISIS. PAUL: Anna Coren joins us live from Erbil, Iraq. Ana, what are you seeing in terms of the refugees and where they are able to go?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Erbil, which is the capital of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq we have hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled here, religious minorities, Christians who have come for safety. Fleeing this advance very fast advance from ISIS.

Obviously, they have got word that they were coming to their town and that the extremists either said you convert to our form of Islam or face slaughter. So there are hundreds of thousands of people in the capital living in abandoned construction sites, in churches, anywhere they can find some shelter.

But for the people stuck on Mt. Sinjar, the Yazidis, religious minority sect, they are, as you say, in a situation which was described as a catastrophe. They have been up there for days without food, without water, without shelter. You have to remember it's hot, over 100 Fahrenheit.

So these people are stuck, you know, out in the top of this mountain in this extremely brutal heat and people are dying. Dozens are dying. And as Victor said, there is that firsthand account from someone saying that there were more than 1,000 bodies that he passed.

Now what we understand from the airstrikes that have been taking place, is that has allowed these Kurdish forces to access a road up to Mt. Sinjar so thousands managed to escape and flee toward Syria.

We understand that there are people getting off Mt. Sinjar. This is a big place. We believe there are 40,000 people trapped there who fled their homes with these militants coming. So, it's still dire, it's still a huge humanitarian problem.

Obviously, the U.S. has conducted three aid drops action now the British Air Force has just conducted another one. So, you know, this is continuing, this is an ongoing problem. But for now the crisis is still unfolding.

BLACKWELL: The word desperate is used so often it becomes commonplace. You look at that video that is true desperation. People falling to their death out of hunger and thirst. Anna Coren reporting for us from Erbil, thank you.

PAUL: Let's talk about this with Professor Peter Neuman. He is the director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at Kings College in London. More about ISIS and who they really are.

BLACKWELL: And we're joined by Lieutenant General Mark Hertling and he can tell us about the military response thus far. General, to you first. We heard over the recent weeks we heard it from President Obama yesterday, no boots on the ground, no troops on the ground in Iraq.

But we heard from former British Defense Secretary Liam Fox in recent that the U.S. and U.K. should not rule out anything in responding to ISIS. Is there a red line at which even you would say that most people who can make this decision would say we now have to go in? There have to be troops in Iraq?

LT. GENERAL MARK HERTLING, U.S. ARMY (RETIRED): Well, I'm not going to be the political decision maker on this, Victor, but it is a great question, it is certainly a humanitarian crisis. I think the options that the president has laid out right now are the best right now.

We're continuing to observe, assess and he's decided a few things and that cycle will repeat itself and we'll act. But I think the actions of the last few days provided some relief to the Yazidis on top of Mt. Sinjar. It has provided some ability for the Peshmerga, the Kurdish Army in the north to regain their balance and perhaps plan for ways forward in the near future.

But we can't do this for the Iraqi government. We cannot insert ourselves again. This is their sovereign territory and they have asked us to leave, providing some help right now. That's exactly what we're doing.

So, I think as the government understands that they have to care for all of their people and they get the right political leaders in, there may be options in the future but only time will tell.

PAUL: Professor Neuman as the general said, the Iraqis, and the president said, the Iraqis have to take care of this politically themselves and try to quell some of that unrest. They obviously aren't able to do it without the U.S. or any other intervention.

But how do you -- how do you form a government amid this kind of violence? How do you form a government in Iraq as the president called for yesterday, that can be seen as legitimate if you don't have elections?

BLACKWELL: Well, there were elections in Iraq in April and Prime Minister Al Maliki is technically only the caretaker prime minister. It's important to understand that part of the reason why ISIS so popular and why ISIS able to hold onto territory in the Sunni areas, is not because is ISIS.

It's because ISIS stands against the Shiites represented by prime minister al-Maliki who has systemically disenfranchised the Sunnis so ISIS is riding on the tailcoats of this anti-Shiite feeling in Iraq.

So the coup and the key to achieving victory over ISIS to really create an inclusive government in Iraq that is able to attract the Sunnis again and that will loosen the alliance between the Sunnis and ISIS.

It's so important right now that the focus is on that political aspect, because ultimately, any military effort will not be able to fix that political discrepancy that has given rise to ISIS.

PAUL: But how do you solidify that political regime amid the violence that's there? PETER NEUMAN, INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF RADICALIZATION: Yes, it's very, very difficult. And the American government has to bring all its influence and power to bear, it's very clear that even within al Maliki's coalition they are now cracks, not everyone believes that he is a man of the future.

And it would really be important as a symbol, but also in terms of substance, for a new person to take over, who can reset relationships with the Kurds and with the Sunnis and make a new start in Iraq, which is really what is necessary.

BLACKWELL: General, Israel has faced international pushback because of the high number of civilian deaths and they say it's because their enemy is fighting amid densely populated areas, we know 1.8 million people there in Gaza. Is the U.S. facing the same proposition with its fight it's taking against ISIS? Are they as well fighting from these densely populated areas or do we know that yet?

HERTLING: There are certainly some densely populated areas in the north, victor. There are five of the largest Iraqi cities are in the northern part where ISIS gained control. Five of the nine largest cities. One of the things I think is interesting we keep coming back to the requirements for the United States.

And as I heard one of your early reports talking about what is going to happen from Europe. I'd like to bring a third source in. Where are the Islamic leaders, the moderate Islamic leaders in this fight? This should not fall on the west to solve.

And as the professor pointed out so ably there, this is an Islamic challenge, and we need the leadership in that part of the world, too, because ISIS is a relatively small minority of people. It's less than 10 percent of this extremist population, which is even further lesser percentage of the entire Islamic world.

Islam is a very peaceful religion and yet we don't see the Islamic leaders and stepping up saying we have to take care of our people. There are catastrophes, what can we do. This is going on all over the Middle East as you pointed out, it's the same issue going on in Gaza between Gaza -- Hamas and Israel.

BLACKWELL: Peter, I want to put that question to you, but something that we teased in the last hour, you've got about 45 seconds here. Hopefully you can get them both in.

My question is following up on something the president said on Thursday night is that the U.S. can also lead through diplomacy and through economic strength. Help us understand that.

Are there governments that have direct influence over is or is there another read of that suggestion from the president?

NEUMAN: Well, I think diplomatically it's very important for the U.S. to mobilize countries that are in the region, and to some extent are threatened by ISIS, countries like Jordan for example, which is very strong ally of America, but also countries with money. Countries in the Gulf, countries like Saudi who clearly feel threatened by ISIS now, who may have supported not the governments, but individuals within these countries, may have supported is in the past, not realizing the monster that they now have created.

So it's important for these countries to really be very tough on some of the individuals within their countries, giving money to ISIS and groups like that.

BLACKWELL: I actually think you answered both of those there. Peter, thank you so much.

PAUL: Yes. And General Mark Hertling, thank you to you as well. We appreciate you both, Gentlemen.

BLACKWELL: Breaking news overnight, a top NASCAR driver under investigation after running over a fellow driver on a dirt car track. We've got all of the details on the crash involving NASCAR's Tony Stewart.

PAUL: Also there have been more recent peace talks and hoping that they could end the bloodshed in Gaza. However, Hamas has now threatened escalation in violence if their demands are not met.


BLACKWELL: Breaking news in the world of NASCAR, authorities tell us driver, Tony Stewart hit and killed another driver during a dirt track race in upstate New York.

PAUL: The driver killed was walking on the track. When we say he hit and killed the driver we think the driver was in the car. He was not. He was walking. A short time ago we received a statement from a spokesman for Tony Stewart saying, quote, "A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating.

Tony was unhurt, but a fellow com competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. We're still attempting to sort through the details and we appreciate your understanding during this difficult time.

BLACKWELL: "Bleacher Report" Rashan Ali is here. There are two facts in it. Tony was driving, he is unhurt. A driver was killed.

PAUL: No responsibility though.

BLACKWELL: No connection there but witnesses say Tony Stewart spun out Kevin ward Jr., then ward got out of his car and was walking toward Tony Stewart's car then he was hit. Now the car may have slide down the track and of course, he was taken to the hospital via ambulance where he was pronounced dead.

The Ontario County New York Sheriff says the driver was taken to the hospital as stated. He was cooperative, Tony Stewart, but visibly upset. He was questioned and then released. So that is the update right now.

BLACKWELL: And this driver, you look at that face. How old is he?

RASHAN ALI, "BLEACHER REPORT": He is 20 years old. From his website said he started racing cars or go cars at 4 years old and had a passion for the sport. So more details of course will come out about Kevin Ward Jr. so a very, very tragic situation, ongoing investigation.

PAUL: But he got -- do I understand right, he got out of the car and tried to flag Tony down?

ALI: Right. To sort of confront him. That's what we're getting because he spun him out so he was upset like what are you doing, why did you do that? Then Tony's car clipped him.

BLACKWELL: There is some video, but you can't tell from the framing whether Tony was on the inside and then went closer to him, or if he even tried to you know, avoid him because it's an ongoing race.

PAUL: And it's a dirt track and that's not easy to maneuver.

BLACKWELL: Having driven on a dirt track they can be slippery. We don't know the weather conditions the evening before that track, but it could have been slippery. So of course, we're going to learn more once the sun comes up on the east coast and people start to investigate.

ALI: Absolutely.

PAUL: Rashan Ali, thank you so much.

ALI: You're welcome.

BLACKWELL: The operation will continue. Strong words and there are more today from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who warns the deadly and bloody conflict is far from over.

PAUL: We're taking you live to Jerusalem for the latest.


PAUL: Just two days after a short-lived cease-fire crumbled in the Mideast. Israel's prime minister is warning the crisis is far from over. He says and I'm quoting here, "The operation will continue. This will go on for a continuous period of time. We need to relate to this with steadfastness and unity until we completed the mission," unquote.

BLACKWELL: Benjamin Netanyahu's words come as the clock ticks on Hamas' ultimatum. They want Israel to meet their demands or prepare for an escalation of violence and rocket attacks.

CNN Sara Sidner is monitoring the developments on the ground in Jerusalem. Sarah, we also heard from the defense minister that Israel is not prepared to negotiate if these rockets don't stop coming from Gaza. Does that also mean an end to even the humanitarian cease-fires of 24, 48 hours that we've seen?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At this point, yes. I mean the 72- hour cease-fire has been over for some time now. And we have seen firing on both sides, initially the cease-fire broken by rockets coming out of Gaza. A couple came out and then over the weekend about 100 rockets have been fired according to the Israeli military.

So at this point and we're hearing also from the Palestinians, the head of the Palestinian delegation, who says that basically Israel doesn't have a right to stop these negotiations with preconditions, and that if they do not come to Cairo today to resume talks, that the Palestinians will be leaving there.

The negotiating team will leave and coming back to speak with leaders back here and so what you're really seeing is a breakdown of the cease-fire at this point, very bad news for the humanitarian situation there in Gaza.

Though I have to say that if you look at what we've been seeing from both sides as far as the number of rockets and the number of airstrikes happening there, in Gaza, it feels like this war is going into a slow burn where you have a low intensity war, at least that's what we've been seeing over the weekend.

But not a complete stoppage. About seven rockets according to the IDF have been shot towards Israel from Gaza since midnight and they have hit the Israeli military about 20 targets inside Gaza today.

PAUL: All right, so Sara, how further equipped is Hamas to continue this? Is there any gauge?

SIDNER: There is a gauge. The Israeli military has initially said they believe there are probably had about the capability of about 10,000 rockets or so there. They believe that about 3,000 have been taken out while they were taking out the tunnels and such from the strikes.

And then if you look at those numbers also from Hamas itself, there have been more than 3,000, 3,300 or so fired, so if you look at those numbers and believe those numbers, it appears they only have a few thousand left. Three or four thousand left coming from Israel's look at what they think.

You have to remember that there are other factions in Gaza like Islamic Jihad, which also fires rockets though they seem to have some of the shorter range rockets, not the ability to attack Tel Aviv. But they have significantly been hit when it comes to the amount of munitions that they still have there in Gaza. That is for sure -- Christi.

PAUL: All righty, Sara Sidner, so appreciate it this morning. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Sara. This has been a really tragic year for the aviation community. Start with MH-370 through 17 now and now a plane crash in Iran has left dozens dead and sending rescue workers to the hospital. We'll tell you what's happening there.

PAUL: Plus, an unarmed teen in Missouri shot and killed by police. His family and friends are outraged.


PAUL: Bottom of the hour now. Grateful for your company. I'm Christi Paul.

BLACKWELL: I'm Victor Blackwell. Let's start this half with five things you need to know for your new day.

PAUL: Number one, new airstrikes, air drops in Iraq. The U.S. hitting ISIS militants four times yesterday. This group is also responsible for forcing tens of thousands of Yazidis to hide in the mountains near Sinjar. On the humanitarian side of this, the U.S. and British Air Force dropped food and water to the stranded refugees.

BLACKWELL: Number two, 48 people are dead in Iran after a plane crashed at the Tehran airport earlier today. Local reports say the passenger plane crashed shortly after takeoff. Everyone onboard was killed and severely burned several people who were on the ground. Five rescue workers even had to be taken to a hospital.