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Israel Assassinates Hamas' Top Military Man

Aired November 14, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET



HALA GORANI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

Just hours ago with surgical precision, Israel assassinated the top military man in Hamas.


GORANI (voice-over): Take a look at this remarkable video. It shows the airstrike. It was released by the military. Ahmed al-Jabari is driving down a Gaza city street when suddenly a missile annihilates his car.

Jabari's son, reportedly a passenger, also killed today.


GORANI: Tonight what has followed is chaos, more strikes, more dead, all across Gaza. And then a deadly warning from the Israeli military posted on, of all places, Twitter. Where else do people make announcements these days?

"We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead."


GORANI (voice-over): If that sounds like war, the conditions on the ground look very much like war. At least nine people have been killed so far in a continuing wave of airstrikes and artillery fire, the most dramatic offensive Israel has launched on Gaza, on the Gaza Strip in four years.

Now as we mentioned, on this day, began with the killing of this man, al-Jabari, who Israel has long had at the top of its most wanted list. The Israelis say he has carried out numerous attacks against it, including the abduction of their soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2006. You might remember this image, al-Jabari accompanying Shalit when he was released from captivity last year.

As for Hamas, this is what it's saying. It's is avowing revenge, saying Israel has, quote, "opened the gates of hell on itself."


GORANI: In a moment, I will speak with an Israeli leader who has just emerged from a cabinet meeting with the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. And also hoping to connect with a spokesman for Hamas.

First, though, on the program, a look at the other stories we'll be covering tonight.



GORANI (voice-over): After more than a year of bloody civil war --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking foreign language).

GORANI (voice-over): -- Syria's opposition has a face and his voice is clear.

SHEIKH MOAZ AL-KHATIB, SUNNI CLERIC: One nation has one heart.

GORANI (voice-over): And a continent goes on strike. Anger at austerity from the streets of Rome to the cradle of democracy. Then France and Syria, a marriage made by mandate after World War I, what was long ago an Assad family friend is now seeking a divorce.



GORANI: We'll get to all that in a bit, but first, a report from the ground in Gaza from Hungarian public television correspondent Andras Takacs.

Andras Takacs, can you hear me? I understand you're on the scene of this Israeli strike on Jabari's car within 20 minutes. What did you see?

ANDRAS TAKACS, HUNGARIAN PUBLIC TV CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it happened. I -- we just -- we just arrived a few minutes after it happened and we saw a completely destroyed vehicle and the crowd was around, looking at the scene, completely shot.

And the guy who (inaudible) was from (inaudible) the car and started to collect the remains of (inaudible) leader, Ahmed Jabari. He collected (inaudible) which were not connected to the body which was taken away a bit earlier and put everything into these cans (ph) and then into a plastic bag and carried it to the hospital afterwards.

GORANI: How many people were in the car, Andras?

TAKACS: In the car, we (inaudible). I don't know exactly how many -- how many people were inside because the bodies were taken away right after when it happened. And what we saw with my colleague, that this guys (inaudible) started to collect remains. He said the remains of Ahmed Jabari and put the (inaudible) together and (inaudible) to the hospital. So tomorrow they can bury the whole body --


GORANI: Lastly I want to ask you -- Andras, I want to ask you lastly, the Israeli military saying this was a surgical strike. Did it appear as though anybody else was injured or killed outside of that car from what you could see?

TAKACS: We didn't see -- we didn't see anybody outside of the car. What we saw, it was blood on the -- at the (inaudible) --


GORANI: All right. Andras Takacs there, a Hungarian public television correspondent, joining us from Gaza, giving us the details on what he saw as he arrived on the scene of that strike, that Israeli military strike on a car carrying Ahmed Jabari, a top military commander of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. This happened hours ago.

There are fears there in Gaza that this is going to lead to all-out war.

Dan Meridor is deputy prime minister of Israel. He's just come out of a cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and he joins us now live.

Dan Meridor, thanks for being with us. I want to first ask you about this operation. We're seeing the IDF Twitter account practically live, tweeting it minute by minute. Is it still unfolding?

DAN MERIDOR, ISRAELI DEPUTY P.M.: Yes, this is still unfolding. We took it for several months now, that our civilians have been attacked, missiles, rockets have been launched. I think no civilized country could tolerate this.

And last week, they rocketed a Jeep in (inaudible), wounding four people. It's mainly at civilians, so we had to take action. We took action today. And we want to restore calm. We need to have a calm border. And I hope that it will be restored in a short time.

GORANI: But it -- wasn't it just inflaming the situation, these strikes and angering the people in Gaza right now? I mean, you say you want a calm border. Some people would argue you're doing the exact opposite in terms of achieving that goal.

MERIDOR: I don't know anybody who would calm (sic) this -- who would claim this and agree that his own home or children would be daily, daily under attacks from this territory. For months, we haven't responded; we tried to use all channels to stop it. We haven't succeeded. (Inaudible) they can get away with murder and they cannot do this.

So we want to restore the calm that existed. There is no territory claim from us to Gaza. Gaza and Hamas need to take care of their own affairs. Now there are about 10,000 rockets in Gaza aimed at us and they have been launching rockets, one after the other.

Hamas and some jihad (ph) supplied by Iran. And this could not go on. And I think that this is an operation that was taken after long deliberations. And I think it is a necessary one. Hopefully, it will end up quickly, restoring the order, restoring calm on both sides (inaudible).


GORANI: Let me ask you about possibly what could come next. An IDF spokesperson says the Israeli military is readying itself for a ground operation if needed. You were just in a cabinet meeting with the prime minister. Is the Israeli military getting ready for a ground incursion into Gaza, yes or no?

MERIDOR: You remember the President Obama statement, "All options are on the table," yes, we prefer all options. If it (inaudible), it's much better. But we need our goals to be achieved. That is to say that people stop shooting at us.

Hamas needs to accept the rules of behavior in the world and not launch any rockets or shoot any of our people in our territory. And we will do whatever it takes to reach that goal. We don't want to do this any further, but if we have to, we'll do it.

GORANI: So the answer is yes or no?

MERIDOR: The answer is that we are readying ourselves, making ourselves ready, preparing every possible option. We have an obligation to defend our civilians, about a million people have been scared night and day because the rockets have been launched at them. They have been kept at home. Children couldn't go to school. This could not go on.

So we decided to put an end to it. And we started by an air attack on this -- the head of this terror group, Jabari and other (inaudible) of rockets aimed at us. And the quicker they will understand they need to stop and (inaudible) the whole thing will stop.

GORANI: Shimon Peres called Barack Obama, the U.S. president. Why in the middle of a military operation that is still developing does the president of Israel call the U.S. president? Is it to get support, permission?

MERIDOR: Well, I hear from you; this call, I didn't know of it. But we had contact with the Americans, the Israeli prime minister spoke with the -- with the vice president of the United States just recently. Talks are going on between us and others. We explained what we have been doing. I think people understand it.

And we need to see calm restored and people need to obey the rules of the game and not attack us. We have left Gaza altogether. No Israelis in Gaza. Gaza has no Israeli in it. They need not shoot at us. They need to stop it. And unfortunately, they needed this lesson. And I hope it will bring us soon enough to tranquility. And it should.

GORANI: You're saying the Israeli (inaudible) the American vice president? What did they say to each other?

MERIDOR: There were -- I don't know. The talks going on all the time and we talk with all our friends. And I hope that the -- all the countries in the region will do their job to calm Hamas down, tell them they cannot go on with this. And if that is the lesson that they learn, everything will stop immediately.

GORANI: Do you feel like you have American support for this Gaza, military Gaza operation?

MERIDOR: No, I can't say this (inaudible) United States. They need to call the American administration, ask them. I don't give any --


GORANI: But from your end, from your -- from your end, as the deputy prime minister, you feel you have support from the Americans on this?

MERIDOR: I think that we have understandings from people in the world, not only Americans, many others, that this (inaudible) in the world. Of course, (inaudible) United States will have accepted that their own civilians would be attacked in and out every week, every day, by mortars, by rockets, by missiles from a territory that is led by and controlled by a terror group called Hamas, and other terror groups --

GORANI: Right (inaudible) --

MERIDOR: -- with many sorts of weapons supplied by Iran and by other groups.

GORANI: I just want to get away from those talking points for a moment, and ask you a question, a direct question.

Here we have Egypt saying the Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt, saying essentially the Israelis don't care about these agreements. We broker a tense cease-fire; they go and bomb Gaza. They're removing their ambassador from your country. I mean, essentially, they're saying you don't respect one of your only Arab peace partners.

What do you say to the Egyptians today?

MERIDOR: I think that Egypt would take a very wise action if they keep the peace agreement they signed with us. After all, we have given all of Sinai to Egypt in return for peace, and I think the peace that we have with them for over 30 years is a common interest of Israel and Egypt.

The fact that Egypt could not and did not stop smuggling weapons by others through Egyptian soil to Gaza is bad enough, except for many months that Iran and others smuggling weapons and also ammunition into Gaza, aimed at us.

And now I think that I believe that Egypt will take responsible action by keeping to its own interests, which is our interests. We have the peace treaty with them. I think it should be kept in the interest of all countries involved.

GORANI: Dan Meridor, the deputy prime minister -- the deputy prime minister of Israel, joining us live there on this day of the Gaza operation unfolding, thanks very much for being with us on CNN this day.

And we have more on the Israeli military attacks on Gaza. Osama Hamdan is a senior member of Hamas, the ruling party in the Gaza Strip. He joins me now on the phone from Doha in Qatar. I don't know, Osama Hamdan, if you were able to hear by interview with Dan Meridor or not.

OSAMA HAMDAN, HAMAS LEADER: Yes, I heard part of that.

GORANI: Right. Well, can you respond to some of the things he said? He said what country can live in an environment where daily their civilians get hit by rocket attacks, namely Hamas rockets into southern Israel, that this was a warranted response, Osama Hamdan. How do you respond to that statement?

HAMDAN: Well, my big question, what country (inaudible) why the other land, the other lands for 40 years and negotiating for 20 years without giving the peace (ph) any chance. As you all know, that is why (inaudible) at 1948 and then 1957.

They are negotiating from 1992, nothing happened, killing the Palestinians every day. So he is worried about how he can deal with the (inaudible). He has to stop the occupation. He has to leave the Palestinian land. He has to withdraw his soldiers, troops --


GORANI: But Osama Hamdan, I just want to jump in very quickly because I'm talking about today.

HAMDAN: -- situation.

GORANI: I'm talking about today and what the Israelis are saying are relentless rocket attacks coming from the Gaza Strip, hitting Israeli civilians and that they must respond to protect themselves. So if you could just address the events of today and the last few days. What is your answer to what Dan Meridor is saying. Is it justified military attack on Gaza?

HAMDAN: Well, Ben Meridor is covering the fact that there is an occupation and he is putting -- his government is putting this under a siege. And also he's ignoring the fact that the one who started bombing -- yes, that was the Israeli side. And all what had happened in the last few days was a reaction from the Palestinian militants. They (inaudible) from the Israeli troops five days ago.

And then they went back to the Egyptians, asking them to mediate for a cease-fire. So they have started that. And there was a reaction from the Palestinians. So the image is like this. They occupied the Palestinian lands and they are --- they are blaming the Palestinians for resisting. They started shooting the Palestinians and they are accusing the Palestinians for reaction.

So how this will be -- will be considered? I think that Israel is (inaudible) as a daily process and they have to withdraw their troops and to respect the agreements or the cease-fire between both sides. I think the Palestinians will not attack anyone (inaudible).

GORANI: Osama Hamdan, one last question. Or I don't know how recently you were in touch with the -- your colleagues in Gaza. But the Israelis are saying that they are hitting rocket launch sites, storage sites, that these weapons are from the -- directly come funded from Iran. Is that the case? I mean, A, have they hit rocket launch sites? And, B, are these weapons supplied by Iran as the Israeli officials are saying?

HAMDAN: Oh, my God, they are talking about the rockets coming from Iran to the Palestinians. What about the rockets, the plane, the tanks, (inaudible) from United States, which Israel is (inaudible) yearly.

What about military (inaudible) from the West, from Europe, all the countries? Just they are watching what the Palestinians have, some rockets, why they have all the military new weapons. They are the most awful army in the region and they are talking about this kind of weapons in the hands of the Palestinians, who are under occupation.

I think there must be a kind of (inaudible) in this. The people must say you are occupy us. So you have to leave. The Palestinians have the right to resist the occupation and this is not only right by the Palestinians; it's guaranteed by the international laws and (inaudible).

GORANI: Osama Hamdan, a senior member of Hamas, speaking to me from Doha, Qatar, thank you very much.

We'll be right back. Stay with us.



GORANI: Welcome back to the program. I'm Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has slaughtered thousands of his own people. He's clung to power by using devastating air attacks against rebel positions, but also, at least in part, because the opposition has never been strong enough to topple him or unified enough.

But now could that change?

The Syrian rebels have a new leader, the opposition, that is.

My guest tonight, Sheikh Moaz al-Khatib, the popular Sunni cleric, elected head of Syria's new opposition group, just days ago in Doha. He's known for his moderate views. Khatib was jailed, in fact, four times during the uprising for criticizing the Syrian regime. He joins me now from Cairo.

Welcome, Mr. Khatib. Stand by for a moment. I just want to play a clip of what the American president said about your new organization just moments ago.


OBAMA: I'm encouraged to see that the Syrian opposition created an umbrella group that may have more cohesion than they've had in the past. We consider them a legitimate representative of the aspirations of the Syrian people. We're not yet prepared to recognize them as some sort of government in exile.


GORANI: Moaz Khatib, you heard the American president there, saying we're not quite prepared to recognize you as a government in exile. What is your reaction to that?

KHATIB: In fact, I feel hope towards my nation. It's a good step initially and really I appreciated this decision and all the people. In fact, they wait for more, because the international society for about two years didn't do anything towards Syrians while the regime kills them, slaughtered them, destroyed their houses. It's a good step.

And I would say I saw Mr. Obama have some tears when he was thanking his group of election. And I think a good man for his nation, he will understand the pain of other nations. And we are full of pain now. We expect from U.S. more of support, more (inaudible) nations.

And, really, because Syrians must have this right, they were one of the -- all the states in the world and they give their civilizations many, many great things. And they now -- they must be in better position not leave them alone in their battle with this --


GORANI: So can --

KHATIB: -- (inaudible) regime. It's crazy.

GORANI: Let me -- it's not a dictatorship; it's crazy, you say. But Barack Obama isn't saying recognition as a government in exile. Another thing he's not saying is arms. He's not saying that now is the right time, that -- he's saying it's too early to arm the rebels because maybe these arms will end up with extremist groups. That must be disappointing to you, yes?

KHATIB: No, because people in Syria, they have nothing to lose more. They will continue. But really, we ask all the world to support us. Extreme problems needs long explanation. First, all the Syrians. they are not with any fundamentalist thoughts. The nature of Syrians, it's so open. The tolerance, we are a court (ph) for tolerance in the world.

But most people understand how, when you have problems, you need an identity. Some people, they look to the identity in a wrong way, that not mean all the people look to their identity in this way. People have suffer from the international society. But that main guarantee to continue in good way, the people themselves, the nature of people, and I am a man, work inside the religious people.

And I know thousands of scholars, they try the best to put people inside the red line, to protect each other, love each other, not do anything bad against their citizens, their neighbors, their brothers and home. But I think media and some mistakes has happened. I will tell you, frankly, the president of Syria -- and one day he said by himself that they have reduced 60,000 of criminals. Those people every --


GORANI: And --

KHATIB: -- easy way --

GORANI: -- I'm sorry to -- I'm sorry to interrupt. I just want to ask you one other question that's been out there, that you are a very well- spoken cleric. I mean, you're a -- you're a man of faith. You're not a politician. What makes you qualified to lead the new political coalition that is meant to represent the Syrians?

KHATIB: Maybe it's not normal reply. I will tell you something affected me very much. When we were talking with each other to create our coalition, there was some problems, some obstacles. We tried the best to solve it, but there was no solution. One of our brothers came to his brother, and he hugged him, hugged him. Do you believe? The problem has finished. It's not emotional talk.

Really, people, they (inaudible) for a long time. And now people look for anything will unite them. People at the beginning of our meeting, they were talking in high voice, let me say. But with time, everyone discover that the man beside him is a brother, real brother.

And some of them, I will tell you, through the last -- the last time of meeting, when the ministers and ambassadors came, many of people, they were crying because they felt themselves going the right way. They discovered their brothers. And this is our matter, because the regime, through 50 years, he fractured, he split the society, everyone doubt about his brother.

We need, of course, many things. But the -- this side is very important in -- for Syria. And, really, never I thought or loved to be in this position and I was in opposite with many people there. I don't like to be. But as dutiful children -- and I will tell you, there is some videos not able to see, soldiers broke -- breaking the heads of children by their military --


GORANI: I hate to have to do this (inaudible) we've reached the end of our program. I would love to be able to talk with you again and for longer, but thank you so much for joining us here on AMANPOUR. Moaz al- Khatib, the man now in charge of the new opposition coalition.

We'll be right back. Stay with us.


GORANI: Because of breaking news, we weren't able to bring you the story on France's historic relationship with Syria. It'll be online at But for now, I'm Hala Gorani. Thanks for watching. Good night from New York.