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Firefight on Israel-Gaza Border; Israel-Gaza Conflict "Must Stop"; New Blasts in Gaza

Aired November 19, 2012 - 09:30   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: In an op-ed for "The Jerusalem Post", Gilad Sharon, the former prime minister's son, writes, quote, "What does a decisive victory sound like? A Tarzan-like cry that lets the entire jungle know in no uncertain terms just who won and just who was defeated."

He goes on to write, "We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn't stop with Hiroshima -- the Japanese weren't surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too."

Is that the general consensus in Israel? If that's so, is a ground war inevitable?

REZA ASLAN, AUTHOR, "NO GOD BUT GOD": It's certainly not the general consensus, but it is becoming far more commonplace for these kinds of extremist voices in the Israeli government, particularly the right wing coalition that Benjamin Netanyahu has formed, to make these kinds of statements, which do really nothing but continue to isolate and delegitimize Israel on the international stage.

Look, whether we like it or not, Hamas is here to stay. It is the government of Gaza. There's very little anyone can do to actually dislodge them from power.

What has to happen is that there has to be some sort of long-term peace settlement between Israel and the Hamas government which actually was in the process of being put together as this conflict began. Otherwise, we're going to see this happen every couple of years.

There's a statement in Israel about mowing the lawn in Gaza. Every couple of years, we just bomb them and hope that that either dislodges Hamas or weakens it. But every year, Hamas has come back stronger and stronger and stronger. Without a permanent settlement, we're going to keep seeing these conflicts over and over again.

COSTELLO: So the Egyptian president, he's trying to calm things down -- former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, is clearly on the Palestinian side. Yet he's trying to broker the cease-fire between the two.

So as Israel starts talking tougher and maybe unleashes a ground war, what might that do to Israel's relationship with Egypt and maybe the United States? ASLAN: A ground war would be disastrous for everyone involved. As Anderson just said, you're talking about a place, Gaza, that is the most densely packed region on Earth. It's going to result in hundreds if not thousands of civilian casualties.

It will continue to delegitimize Israel in the international stage, even amongst its friends in Europe and the United States. And, certainly, it could lead to the end of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt which would be a disaster for both sides.

But to be perfectly honest, that seems like a far cry. I don't think that we're going to be seriously thinking about a ground war.

Netanyahu doesn't want anything of the sort. Remember, he's got an election coming up. So, he's got an eye on mid-January. He feels as though that he's in a very good place. That he's going to win the most seats in parliament.

And a sustained ground war could -- could really damage his chances in the political realm. That's something he's not going to risk.

COSTELLO: Reza Aslan, thank you so much for enlightening us. We appreciate it.

We were just looking at the picture near the Israel-Gaza border. There's some sort of firefight going on there right now.

Fred Pleitgen isn't far from this part of the world. After the break, hopefully, we'll get him up live for you. Stick around.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

COSTELLO: The violence continues between Israel and Gaza City. These are pictures right along the Israel/Gaza border.

I want to put up a map. You can cover me. Put up that map. I want to show exactly where this is, in this small area that we're talking about.

There's some sort of firefight along the border on the Israel side of the Israeli/Gaza border.

Fred Pleitgen is on the phone right now. He is near that area.

What's going on, Fred?


I can't really see that area from my vantage point. It's really unclear what's going on there. However, we do see there is a lot of activity going on over Gaza at this point in time. There's, of course, the drones that are in the air.

There was an airstrike quite recently on some position in Gaza. But there's also some outgoing fire from Gaza into Israel.

In fact, the position I was at just a couple of minutes ago, we had some mortars land near there. We had to take cover.

So, it does seem as though there is quite an intense back and forth going on at this point in time where before today, a little earlier, it seemed to be a little more quiet. But now it seems as though things are picking up. There's a lot of air raid sirens that have been going on in the Israeli area around Gaza. And then, of course, there were rocket impacts in towns like Ashkelon and in other towns as well.

It seems to be getting more intense, can't see that firefight from my vantage point.

COSTELLO: From your vantage point can you see the Israeli hardware lined up along the border as far as tanks and other military equipment?

PLEITGEN: Yes, certainly some of that. The way the Israelis are doing it is that they're collecting their armor and other gear in sort of smaller collection areas rather than one big one, because that obviously would also be a target for any sort of fire coming out of Gaza.

But, certainly, we see a lot of Israeli tanks at collection points. Also, armored personnel carriers as well as armored bulldozers that are sort of going into the area. Also, there's a lot of trucks on the road around the area that are carrying tanks and also other military hardware. We saw a large column of tanks as we were going into this area. That was moving towards Gaza as well.

The other thing that you have in that area constantly is you have Israeli forward patrols that are monitoring the area around Gaza, that are checking things out. We met up with one of these forward patrols. They at some point told us we had to get out of there because they felt something was about to happen. And literally, a few minutes later mortars started dropping on that exact location.


PLEITGEN: There's a lot movement going and a lot of buildup going on as well, Carol.

COSTELLO: Fred, thank you. We've got to interrupt.

We're going to back to Gaza City and Anderson Cooper. We understand something else has been hit.

Anderson, what's happening?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, there have actually been two explosions probably in the last five or six minutes or so. One you can probably still see the smoke far off in the distance. That's pretty far away. But the other one which was a large explosion occurred probably about four or five blocks away from where the media center was hit probably half an hour or 40 minutes ago. And a lot of ambulances, first responders who were on scene at the fire at the media center have now headed over to another location where we saw a strike. We don't have any information on any casualties that may have resulted from that strike, though.

COSTELLO: Yes, ask you kind of a silly question. When you say explosions, can you describe them for us?

COOPER: Well, it's unclear what -- what device actually would set it off.

Wait. We have now two rockets -- you can't actually see them. Two -- it looked like tracer. I can see the trail of two rockets actually that have just been launched.

I can actually -- sorry. Two rockets have just been launched from Gaza City toward Israel in that direction.

You asked about what kind of explosions. You know, there are various options. There are possible drone strikes. What is that?

There are possible drone strikes. And we believe the hit on the media center may have been from drone strikes because the rockets that went into the building came from kind of a low angle. There's also Israeli ships offshore that can fire projectiles into the city. Of course, there's shells that can be fired from Israeli territory and also Israeli aircraft.

So there's a number of different options for how the ordnance is delivered. So there's the variety of devices that are being used.

COSTELLO: What was the area? We could see the tracers you were talking about. We have a shot from the Israeli/Gaza border. You can see the tracers in the sky.

I would assume if Israel's firing rockets from that vantage point, perhaps those rockets would make their way to Gaza City.

I was also curious, Anderson, where are you? Are you safe?

COOPER: Yes. We're in a building that we feel is a good location in Gaza City. You know, we -- Israel -- the Israeli military has put out a thing saying stay away from any buildings that have Hamas members inside them. We believe there's no reason this building that we're in right now would be a target.

The media center over there that was hit, which did house a number of local media groups as well as some foreign news services, which has now been hit twice, Israel said yesterday there was a Hamas antenna on the building. And we believe an Islamic jihad official was killed inside there about half an hour ago who had an office inside that building.

COSTELLO: Yes. Israel said --

COOPER: You have to be very careful about where you are and who else is in your building.

COSTELLO: Quite understand that. Thank you, Anderson.

We're going to take a short break. When we come back, General James "Spider" Marks will join us.


COSTELLO: The violence in Israel and Gaza shows no sign of letting up. According to Israel's military, Gaza has fired more than 1,000 rockets at Israel. And Israelis say they have struck more than 1,300 Palestinian targets.

So far, we've been told at least 92 are dead in Gaza including women and children. Three are dead in Israel.

Peace talks under way in Egypt, at least trying to head to some sort of cease-fire agreement between the sides. But optimism is certainly hard to find in the war zone.

CNN contributor and retired Army General James "Spider" Marks joins us now.

Good morning, General.


COSTELLO: I'd like to talk first about the strike on the media center in Gaza City. According to Reuters an Islamic jihad local commander was killed in the Media Center thanks to an Israeli air strike. How does Israel know he's inside there?

MARKS: Israel is in the neighborhood. They have been there for quite some time. They would consider -- they have to own the neighborhood in order to live there. So Israel has sources and has folks on the ground in Gaza and they have forever.

So they have a pretty good sense of what's going on and they're tracking very key targets as a result of that kind of what I would call intimate human intelligence that they can get. And clearly Israel sees the media outlets in Gaza as a means to distribute what they would call operational information. So in their mind, it meets the criteria for engagement.

COSTELLO: Israel said it's being very, very careful not to hit civilians. In your mind is it being careful enough?

MARKS: Oh, sure. Israel really needs to do that. And they -- and they will do their utmost. They have precision guided weapons. They also have, as I have indicated, they probably have folks on the ground that are lacing or illuminating targets as well. This is all very, very covert. But they -- they have to be able to do that to try to minimize the collateral damage at this early stage. They don't want to provoke some type of an operation across the border.

I would hope Israel would want to show restraint and not put forces on the ground, but that's the inevitable next step unless they can get this rocket fire to cease.

COSTELLO: Well, let me ask you about if Israel decides to unleash a ground war. What might that look like? What would that mean for Gaza city?

MARKS: Well, it's not going to be nice, Carol, at all, as you can well imagine. Israel will be up armored. They'll use their tanks. They'll use their fighting vehicles. They'll have to dismount their soldiers once they get into very tight compartments. But it will be very nasty, compartmentalized fighting. Fighting in urban or compartmentalized terrain is always, always difficult and inevitably leads to collateral damage. That means families will suffer.

COSTELLO: Well, Hamas says it's not going to retreat even if Israel you know unleashes that ground war. Does Gaza have a military or any way to fight back?

MARKS: Well, Hamas is very well-armed. They understand the terrain better than anybody else. If the Israelis come in, certainly the Israelis have a very good sense of that terrain. But Hamas owns that terrain. They have what's called internal lines. They'll be able to react very, very quickly. Their response times will be very fast. They'll be able to establish tactical ambushes to bring the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces, in and then execute these very vicious attacks, not unlike what we've seen in places in Baghdad in the early stages of our combat there and certainly in Afghanistan as well.

So Hamas does have a capability. And it can be a very brutal fight on the ground.

COSTELLO: Retired Army General James "Spider" Marks, thanks. Thanks for sharing your insight. We appreciate it.

We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back with much more.


COSTELLO: Fifty-one minutes past the hour. Time to check some other "Top Stories" this morning.

The oil platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico caught on camera.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Look at that. Something just blew up.



COSTELLO: Sadly, it did. The video was made by a sport fishing TV show, 11 people were injured and one man died after that explosion on Friday. Coast Guard officials said about 28 gallons of fuel spilled after the blast.

Vice President Joe Biden gets a close look at the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy. He met with first responders who lost their homes and sat in on a briefing on the recovery efforts in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Biden said, quote, "We're not going anywhere" and he added that recovery is a national responsibility.

The Florida congressional race between controversial Republican incumbent Allen West and Democrat Patrick Murphy may finally be over. A recount showed Murphy holding his slim lead of less than 2,000 votes. Now it's just up to the state election board to certify the results. Allen has refused to concede.

This hunk of metal may not look like much but it's the Soyuz capsule that just landed in Kazakhstan it carries three crew members home from the International Space Station including American astronaut Suni Williams. They were up there for four months.

Executives from Hostess go to court today as they try to get a judge's blessing to liquidate the company. They announced plans to shut it down late last week citing a continuing strike by the bakers union. Already there are reports the makers of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer and Tasty Cakes could step in and buy the iconic Hostess brands that include Twinkies and Wonder Bread.


COSTELLO: So at last check just about ten minutes ago, there were two giant explosions in Gaza City. We know from earlier in the morning the media center in Gaza City was attacked for a second time in two days, and Reuters is reporting a jihadist, a terrorist, was killed inside the building. But as for the other two explosions, Anderson Cooper witnessed them, he heard them. Any more word on them, Anderson?

COOPER: None on the two other explosions where I was actually at the scene of the strike at the center. We actually saw it from our location and ran over there and watched as one body was being pulled out. I'm not sure if it was the member of Islamic jihad who is now believed to have been killed in that strike. But that would apparently be what the target was, a member of the Islamic jihad, who reportedly had an office inside that building.

The strike occurred on the lower floors where we believed his office was. That's one of the most significant developments in the last 30 or 40 minutes or so. The call to prayers is just now sounding. We just saw another explosion off in the distance far to my right. I can see a cloud over on the horizon, kind of a black cloud of smoke from that and no doubt we'll be trying to get more information on that.

But as night descends, this is traditionally where we start to see more strikes by Israeli forces on various targets throughout Gaza City -- Carol

COSTELLO: Is there a sense of inevitability there, Anderson, that Israel will, indeed, unleash a ground war?

COOPER: I think people aren't sure. I think it's very difficult, people don't really have a sense of what they're going to do. And I'm not sure on either side of the border people are really sure what is going to happen.

There's a lot of support in Israel for this operation as it's been conducted so far. There's probably less support if you look at a recent poll number for a ground offensive. Most people know how difficult and what a ground offensive would mean here for the city. We've seen it before back in 2008, 2009. But there's certainly a lot of trepidation here in Gaza about any possible ground incursion, ground invasion, and we'll just have to wait and see.

COSTELLO: So as night falls and the attacks intensify coming from Israel, what's it like in Gaza City? Where do people go?

COOPER: Well, people stay indoors as they do really, frankly, throughout the day. I mean this is a city where usually when you're out on the streets, there's large numbers of people, there're shops open, there are stores open. People are sitting in cafes, people are going about their day-to-day business. That has ground to a halt.

Most businesses are shuttered, steel shutters are down, have closed them off to the street. You see a few people walking around generally with some sense of purpose. Usually they have to go buy supplies, have to buy cooking oil, have to buy food for their families, but then they get home as quickly as possible because people want to be off the streets.

You don't see a lot of vehicles out on the streets. Vehicles that you do see often have the words TV written on them if they're being used by any reporters just in the hopes that might identify them as a media vehicle and give them some measure of protection.

COSTELLO: Anderson Cooper reporting live from Gaza City. We'll get back to you -- Anderson. Thank you.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM begins after a short break.


COSTELLO: And good morning. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm Carol Costello.

This morning a reminder of how dangerous it is to report from a combat zone. Watch this.

Unbelievable. That's Gaza City about 90 minutes ago.

CNN's Arwa Damon says an Israeli air strike has hit a building that houses a news agency connected to militants. International concerns grow; troubling numbers continue to pile up. Israel says it has struck more than 1,300 Palestinian targets and Israel's military says Gaza has fired more than 1,000 rockets in response.