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Violence in Israel

Aired November 19, 2012 - 15:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon. I'm Anderson Cooper live in Gaza City. We're going to be bringing you extensive coverage throughout this next hour from here in Gaza City.

Also from Jerusalem and our correspondents who are all throughout the entire region. It is 3:00 in the east coast of the United States, 10:00 p.m. here in Gaza City.

It has been a very active day. We have seen continued rocket fire from forces inside Gaza City. Rockets throughout the day being fired toward Israel, a number of those rockets have been intercepted.

We also have seen a number of Israeli strikes on targets here in Gaza City, most notably several hours ago. The media center, a building which is four blocks behind me, though you can't see it now in the darkness, was hit by three Israeli missiles that slammed into the lower floor, one of the lower floors of the building from different directions.

We actually witnessed the initial impacts. I should point out, right now, we just heard another explosion of in the distance, not a very loud one. You probably didn't pick it up on the camera, but now that darkness has fallen, we anticipate this is generally when the number of explosions, the number of attacks seems to go up.

That's the way it has been for the last six days since this conflict has escalated. The attack on what turned out to be the media center was actually the second attack we saw on that building on Sunday. There had been -- the Israeli Defense Forces say they targeted a Hamas antenna on that building, taking that out.

Today, they say the target was much different, an office of a member of Islamic Jihad, which the United States and Israel considers a terrorist organization. According to Israeli Defense Forces and sources here in Gaza City, one member of the Islamic Jihad was killed in this strike, another person who was in the building was also killed. So two people killed in that strike. One of them confirmed a member of Islamic Jihad.

The response by first-responders was very quick. We were on the scene very quickly as well. Our Ben Wedeman was there and we will talk to him in just a moment.

But, first, I want to go to our Christiane Amanpour, who is standing by in Jerusalem, who has been covering this conflict for days now, who has been in Jerusalem for days now. Christiane, what have you been seeing there? What have you been hearing?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, obviously, Anderson, everybody is hoping a ground invasion can be avoided so the real impetus right now and the effort is on the cease- fire talks.

We understand from Israeli government official that the meeting of nine, if you like, is happening right now. In other words, the sort of kitchen Cabinet, the closest advisers and officials around Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu are meeting here in Jerusalem tonight to decide on the next moves.

Al-Jazeera Television is reporting the prime minister has agreed to a 24-hour delay of any further escalation, agreed to the Egyptians. Now, we are not getting that confirmed or denied by Israeli officials. However, important to note that the U.N. secretary-general is coming here tomorrow and a delegation of Arab League foreign ministers is going to where you are in Gaza.

So, potentially this diplomacy might continue to play out over next 24 hours. I'm told by an Israeli government official that they hope that the diplomatic tribe will prove successful. They're obviously continuing with the military preparations as well. They call it -- the trigger is cocked, they're ready to pull it if the diplomacy doesn't work.

And this evening, in fact, one official said that perhaps they might even have to show the "sword" more clearly in order to energize the diplomacy. So you can see there is a lot of impetus happening. People want the diplomacy to work, we are just not sure whether it is even though we hear from the Palestinian side that they are working very seriously and they are really wanting to have a cease-fire and Egyptians are doing that work -- Anderson.

COOPER: Christiane, is it clear at all at this point -- and it may not be -- what the parameters of any kind of cease-fire would be?

AMANPOUR: Well from the Israeli point of view, what we're being told by officials is two very clear points. What they want is to make sure that, A., there are no rocket fire that goes into Israel and particularly, you know, threatens that population in the Southern Israeli region, closest to Gaza.

They want to make sure there is no resupply of Hamas weaponry via the tunnel system or whatever that border is closer to the side with Egypt. So, those are big deals. They want not just "a quickie cease fire," but they want a longer commitment to a cease-fire, to, you know, stop any kind of rocket fire.

From the Palestinian, Hamas side, what they want is a lifting of the siege, they want a commitment that Israel stops targeting their high officials. So those are the things that are being discussed right now. And we wait to see whether there is a possibility of common ground that both sides can declare some kind of victory, if you like, and get off that exit ramp.

COOPER: I'm told we have some sound from someone described as an unofficial Israeli negotiator. Let's listen.


GERSHON BASKIN, UNOFFICIAL ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: There are the real hard issues that have to be dealt with that I'm not sure the two sides are ready to make compromises on. And those involve an Egyptian commitment to close the tunnels into Gaza, so that Hamas won't rearm itself, a commitment of Hamas to put the cease-fire on all the factions and to prevent terrorism attacks against Israel and an Israeli commitment to open up the Gaza Strip to the rest of the world, ending the economic siege on Gaza.


COOPER: And Christiane continues to join me.

Christiane, I should point out we just heard a few distant booms here in Gaza City. I can't really see any impact, so I'm not sure how far away they were or what kind of an impact they may have had.

It seems though, Christiane, while the talks would be in effect, the likelihood of any kind of ground operation would be diminished. Is that -- would that be a correct read?

AMANPOUR: Well, that's what everybody is sitting on tenterhooks waiting to see.

The Israelis describe it as pursuing basically a dual track, that they're getting their military ducks in order. They have, as you know, called up more than 70,000 reservists, or 75,000 and they have tanks and materiel and troops waiting at the Gaza border. A lost the roads have been closed off around there. It is a closed military zone around that area.

What is interesting also, though, is that the Israeli military officials have told me they feel they are having an impact in terms of reducing the amount of rocket fire coming out of Gaza. Even though there is this back and forth as you obviously can see in Gaza, people in the Southern part of Israel can see, it continues, but Israel believes it is reducing the number of rockets that is coming over.

And, of course, it has intercepted quite a few of them with that Iron Dome. Palestinians for their point tell us that, look, you know, any more of this kind of killing that leaves civilians dead is going to further inflame the situation among the Palestinians and make it more difficult to come to a quicker truce. So, you know, these are issues that, you know, while the talks may be going on, any number of things on the ground might derail them.

So, again, we're just waiting to see how these talks resolve, but what we do know is that the United States is involved. President Obama we have been told, even as he's in Asia, has been calling both the prime minister of Israel and the president of Egypt to be updated and to give the U.S. point of view on all of this. But it is Egypt who is taking the lead and all the U.S. and other officials are talking to the Palestinians via the Egyptians.

COOPER: Christiane Amanpour, appreciate it. We will continue to check in with you throughout the day and well into the night here on CNN.

Our Ben Wedeman was early on the scene of the strike that we witnessed earlier today, several hours today several hours earlier today on the media center, three rockets hitting a lower floor in that building according to Israeli officials, killing one member of Islamic Jihad and also Palestinian sources on this side also verifying that.

Ben filed this report. Take a look.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): About 3:20 in the afternoon, we heard three large explosions. We saw a great big ball of flame coming out of the third floor. It appears to have been an Israeli airstrike.

This is the (INAUDIBLE) building. It contains the offices of Al-Aqsa Television, a television station affiliated with the Hamas movement. It also was hit the day before. Apparently, people in the building did get a phone call from the Israeli military, telling them to leave.

Now, we did see at least one man being taken out on a stretcher by the ambulance services, and that man was severely burned. We subsequently learned that he in fact was dead. They're still looking inside if there is anybody else who survived or was killed in the bombing and, of course, trying to put out the fire.


COOPER: That was a report filed from Ben Wedeman earlier.

And Ben Wedeman joins me right now.

That strike killed one member of Islamic Jihad, according to Israel and also Palestinian sources here.

WEDEMAN: Yes. And one other person, apparently a Christian store owner, died of a heart attack as a result of that attack. But certainly it's not the first time. That building was hit another time.

COOPER: Just on Sunday.

WEDEMAN: Yes. And in fact they received a warning in the building that the building would be hit.

What happened is the journalists who were in the bulling left, stayed out for several hours, felt they needed to get back to work, went back in and that's when it was hit.

COOPER: Do we know today how many people were in the building or was it pretty much empty?

WEDEMAN: It was pretty empty. Obviously, there were a couple of people there, but it was not operating.

COOPER: In terms of the -- throughout the day, we have continued to see rockets being fired into Israel. How sophisticated are the kinds of rockets? Because over the years, you have been there, seen the rockets being fired up close, seen them being assembled. They're more sophisticated now than they were...


WEDEMAN: Dramatically so.

Six years ago, I went to a workshop where they were being made. They were crude, no guidance systems, very small warheads, stuffed full of jagged pieces of metal, all rolled up in tape.

Now we're seeing bigger missiles, missiles that come from outside. They don't have sophisticated guidance systems, but they have a range that is far greater than what we saw before, obviously much higher lethality than they had before as well.

COOPER: How are the missiles getting in?


WEDEMAN: They're getting through the tunnels. These Fajr-5 missiles are long missiles. They have to be disassembled and brought in one by one.

Another significant change we're seeing is that, whereas before, the rocket teams, the missile teams would go out in olive groves on the outskirts of Gaza and also within the towns themselves, and put it on a tripod. They had three minutes to set it up, light it and run. Now what they're doing is they're burying these automatic missile launchers that, as far as we know, are locally made, in the sand. Somebody remotely presses a button, they go up and they fire.

So there is no longer that immediate risk to the people involved in launching the missiles. I think that's really one of the biggest changes as far as the missile systems that are being used.

COOPER: Interesting.

We will continue to have more from Ben throughout the day and the evening. Ben, thanks very much.

Our coverage continues from Gaza, also from the border towns in Israel that have also been hard hit by some of these rockets that we were just talking about.

We're going to take a short break and our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the conflict here in Gaza. We have reporters all throughout the region. We talked to Christiane Amanpour in Jerusalem earlier. We will talk to our correspondents who are also on the Israeli side in these border towns where people have continued to run from the barrage of rockets fired from Gaza City and elsewhere in Gaza over the last six days.

Our Piers Morgan talked to Israel's president a short time ago. Let's listen to some of what he said.


PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Obviously, a very serious situation that is escalating by the hour now. How do you see this resolving itself?

SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI PRESIDENT: Well, there is also an attempt to introduce a cease-fire.

We have two surprises. On the positive, they're not on a warring one, the positive is the constructive role that the Egyptian president is playing right now. And we appreciate very much his efforts. The unpleasant one is the Iranians. They are trying again to encourage the Hamas to continue their shooting, the bombing. They are trying to send them arms. They are out of their mind.


COOPER: And our Piers Morgan joins us now.

Piers, did you get a sense of how likely any kind of a cease-fire, even short-term, may be?


I'm not sure the president knew himself. I think it is a very fluid situation. It is interesting to me that he went out of his way to praise the Egyptian president, clearly I think believing he is leaning towards at least trying to help the Israelis in this situation. At the same time, very, very strong and strident about Iran. He said he didn't believe it as a rumor, but a fact that Iran is basically arming, training, and helping Hamas in this campaign.

And he says that until Iran is stopped, then this will continue. So he clearly is trying to, I think, build up a sense of Iran being behind all this, and Egypt perhaps being the peace brokers. I thought it was interesting. I talked to him about the root problem here, which is clearly the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza.

And I put it to him that, you know, it is all very well firing aimless rockets and which they do which they say is retaliation. Of course, the Palestinians claim it is the other way around, and this has been going on, this vicious cycle, for some time. But listen to what he had to tell me about the plight of the people in Gaza, because it is quite interesting.


PERES: Well, whoever criticize us should suggest an alternative.

We started with great restraint. In the last six days, 1,200 missiles fall on our civil lives, on mothers, on children. We tried to do it with restraint, but apparently they hide themselves in private homes, even in mosques, and we're trying our best not to hit any civilian on the other side.

But, unfortunately, war is a war and they can't stop it. In one minute, you just stop shooting, there won't be any casualties. We should appreciate if one of our critics will suggest an alternative. What can we do, to take the missiles and say what?

MORGAN: I think the critics would say that this particular strategy has proven over the last few years to be an unsuccessful one. And, in fact, all it achieves, because of the densely populated nature of the Gaza Strip in particular, it just foments more hostility among the people towards Israel and that, in the long-term, cannot be good for Israel and that what needs to happen is some way to make the people of Gaza feel less oppressed.

PERES: We are working with the people of Gaza to try not to make their lives difficult.

Gaza is open. The economic situation was improved. And we don't know why all of a sudden they started to shoot. I'm not talking about civilian only, but at children. They start to shoot at 8:00 in the morning when the children go to the school. Why? What for?

I mean, it is not in our hand, you know, that to -- terrorism to fight terrorism is not a pleasant experience. And they don't care. They are really producers of death, and without any consideration.


MORGAN: What I was struck by there, Anderson, was the fact that the president tried to make out really that there was no real blockade of Gaza and second there was a kind of economic prosperity. You're in that region now. I just don't sense that anyone in Gaza believes either of those things.

So there is a slight element of denial, perhaps in a P.R. reasons if nothing else, but there is a real danger here, I think, of people taking sides in that region and this escalates. The reason I say that is the Turkish prime minister, Erdogan, has come out and today and said: "Those who associate Islam with terrorism close their eyes in the face of mass killing of Muslims, turn their heads to the massacre of children in Gaza. For this reason, I say that Israel is a terrorist state and its acts are terrorist acts."

So although, you know, President Peres believes he has the Egyptians on his side, and it may well be the case, he has clearly not -- got a big problem with what is happening in Turkey and others, and this could escalate very seriously. COOPER: Piers, we are going to obviously have more with Piers Morgan on his program at 9:00 Eastern time tonight. We will have more of that interview. Piers, appreciate talking to you.

We're going to take another quick break. We will have more from Gaza, more about the possibility of some sort of truce in the short-term, a cease-fire and what that might mean for any kind of long-term piece in the region. We will be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage. We're live in Gaza City.

Night has fallen here, traditionally the time when the attacks increase. We have not heard anything just in the last 10 minutes or so. But the steady sound of those drones circling overhead continues as it has since this conflict began. It is a sound that it is ever- present in the skies over Gaza.

We have various correspondents, as I told you, all throughout this region. We're going to shortly talk with our Fred Pleitgen, who is on the Israeli side of the border where many of the rockets which have been fired across the border, that is where they hit, because they don't have necessarily the long range that some of these more sophisticated rockets that are here -- most of the rockets they have are shorter range, they fall in the areas along Ashkelon and Sderot and places along the Israeli border, where they have become sadly and unfortunately very used to running from rockets and seeking shelter.

They have a good early warning system and we will talk a little bit about that. We have seen a number of the rockets obviously being intercepted by the Israeli defenses. We will show you some of that video.

But our Reza Sayah spent time on the Egyptian side of the Egyptian- Gaza border. As you know, supplies are often smuggled from the Egyptian side in underground tunnels, not only regular supplies for people here, but weaponry as well. That's how some of these longer- range, more sophisticated rockets have been smuggled in.

Reza was there earlier today.


REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're at the Rafah border crossing where Egypt's border meets Gaza. Gaza is a very small piece of land, about twice the size of Washington, D.C. It has four gateways, three of them are inside Israel. They're pretty much blocked off in an effort by Israel to choke off Gaza.

This is the only one that leads from Gaza into an Arab ally. That's Egypt. While the air assault continues in Gaza, while the violence increases, what is increased here is the anger by Egyptians who want Egypt and the government to step up and intervene. RAMI SHAATH, EGYPT: The people have changed. We have changed and we're not going to take that for -- we're not going to wait for the government to move. We're going to take things in our hand and we're going to lead the government into certain positions that is required for Egypt.

SAYAH: There is roughly 500 protesters here. They made a seven-hour journey from Cairo. Now they have lined up down the street. Each of them are showing their identifications to security forces, and then heading into Gaza. We have asked them when do you think you will come back? They say, we don't know. We're just happy we're going in.

Are you scared?

DIANA EL LASSI, EGYPT: Yes. I mean, absolutely I'm scared. You hear bombs. You don't know what you're going in there for, but I think that's -- I think that's what we got to do. You have to be scared and overcome that fear by just going in there.

SAYAH: As more demonstrators continue to file into Gaza, back in Cairo, the Arab League, a group of 22 Arab states, has announced that on Tuesday they're going to send in more than two dozen Arab foreign ministers into Gaza. This is part of the Arab League's push to publicly stand with the Palestinians.

Also in Cairo, Egypt's spy chief in talks with Hamas officials and Israeli officials trying to establish a cease-fire. This is the same spy chief that in 2011 helped secure the release of Israeli soldier SAYAH: Gilad Shalit. Many say if there is going to be a cease-fire, Israel's spy chief is going to play a key role.

Reza Sayah, CNN at the Rafah border crossing.


COOPER: That was the scene earlier from our correspondent Reza Sayah.

I want to go now down to Atlanta where Deborah Feyerick is standing by with CNN's Hala Gorani, who has some more information about the negotiations for any possible kind of cease-fire -- Deb.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we have been monitoring the cease-fire negotiations to see who, what players are at the table and specifically what they're talking about.

And Hala Gorani from CNN International joins us.

You have been following it. What are you learning now?

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. I have been speaking with someone who is in Cairo, who is familiar with the negotiations ongoing there.

When I spoke with the government spokesperson, Mark Regev, just about an hour-and-a-half ago on CNN International, he wouldn't confirm if there was even an Israeli delegation in Cairo. I got it through the reliable source that there is indeed currently in Cairo an Israeli delegation. The way it works, Deborah, is that the Israeli delegation will discuss possible ideas with the Egyptians who are very much involved in all of this and want to contain it as do other neighbors and then the Egyptians will talk with Hamas representatives and officials.

And the hope is that eventually all these discussions will lead to some sort of deal, so there is a cease-fire in place to stop the rocket attacks going from Gaza into Southern Israel and stop the aerial attacks onto Gaza.

FEYERICK: And the area we're talking about, obviously, this is Egypt, Cairo, Egypt, Israel here and Gaza. Let's touch here and you have got Gaza and this is the area we're talking about. This is where the rockets are being fired into Israel, Israel firing back into Gaza.

This whole area, which is in contention, what do the Israelis need to accept a cease-fire and what are you learning do the Hamas organization, what do they need?

GORANI: The leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, held a press conference in Cairo and said, essentially, the aerial strikes need to stop, the targeted assassinations need to stop and the blockade of the territory needs to stop as well.

As far as Israelis are concerned, they're saying the rocket attacks need to stop, not just the lull, we need this to be a permanent deal. We also need to be able to feel that the population in the Southern part of our country is secure.

The two sides publicly are far apart. But right now, what is interesting is that about an hour ago, we understood from the government spokesperson Mark Regev again that there was a cabinet meeting that was designed to discuss some of the ideas being floated. This is significant. Why? Because it means the door isn't closed. They're still talking right now.

However, I spoke with a Palestinian representative as well, who said, look, 48-hour window here, extremely decisive. If there is not a deal in the 48-hour window, then we can say with more confidence that a ground assault is more probable.

FEYERICK: And that's why everybody is on edge and that's what everybody is looking for.

GORANI: Right. Yes.

FEYERICK: Hala Gorani, thank you so much.

We're going to toss it back to you, Anderson, but, again, all eyes on whether these troops that are stationed at the borders right now, whether they're going to be walking in -- Anderson.