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Hamas, Israel OK's Some Conditions; Rockets Hit Beer Sheva; Hamas Shares Its View of Conflict; Interview with Hamas Spokesperson, Osama Hamdan; Interview with the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat

Aired November 20, 2012 - 09:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Carol Costello. We begin this hour with breaking news.

A possible cease-fire about to take hold in the Israel-Gaza conflict. The news comes from Egypt's president, who's been trying to broker a truce. Just minutes ago he declared that Israel will soon halt its airstrikes on Gaza.

CNN's Reza Sayah is along Egypt's border with Gaza. Tell us more.

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't want to jump to conclusions. I think we should be very cautious. But there are growing signs from where we are standing in Egypt that there could a closing in on a truce or cease-fire. The latest sign is a statement made by Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, according to state TV. He said that, quote, "Israeli aggression would end on Tuesday." That, of course, is today.

That's consistent with similar statements we've heard from other Egyptian officials and Hamas officials late last night. We spoke to a senior Egyptian official and he told us that he's optimistic that in the next 24 hours there would be a cease-fire. Hamas officials are being even more specific. A senior Hamas official telling CNN that Israel has agreed to the general terms but they have rejected the timing.

Hamas conditions, according to this official, are this. Hamas wants Israel to stop the air operation, the air assaults, and they want the ground crossings, the blockades to be opened up immediately. According to this Hamas official Israel is saying, OK, we'll stop the air operation but the ground crossings, the ground blockade, we'd like to do that gradually. And that seems to be the sticking point right now.

So, Carol, if you listen to Egyptian officials and Hamas officials, some optimism. Israeli officials in Tel Aviv, they seem to be a little bit more cautious when it comes to describing any kind of progress in these talks.

COSTELLO: Well, the rhetoric still coming from Egypt is interesting, to say the least. This is a statement from Egypt's president. He referred to, quote, "the travesty of Israel's aggression." Not exactly the words of a peacemaker. So what does that say about the fragility of this cease-fire?

SAYAH: Well, I think we should look beyond rhetoric. What's happening in Egypt is interesting. Because the public is applying pressure on this post-revolution government led by Mohamed Morsi, a figure in the Muslim Brotherhood. They want them to take a tougher stance against the Israeli government. Remember this government came in, promising that tougher stance.

At the same time, Egypt has some critical alliances with the United States, with the Western power. Egypt is depending on these governments to help them recover economically. There's all sorts of indications that throughout this process, they do not want to jeopardize those alliances. And that's why they've done their best, it looks like, to play the role of peacemaker. At the same time, placate the Arab world, the Egyptian scrip, by making strong, sometimes fiery statements against the Israeli operation.

COSTELLO: OK. We'll keep our fingers crossed. Reza Sayah, reporting live from the Egyptian border this morning.

The U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she is heading to the region tonight to begin separate high-level talks. She'll visit Israel, Ramallah, and Egypt but not Gaza. The message, it is up to Hamas to make the first move toward peace.


BEN RHODES, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The bottom line still remains that Hamas has to stop this rocket fire. So ultimately they're the ones who are going to have to be a part of a solution that ends the type of terror that Israeli citizens have faced over so many months with this barrage of rockets coming into Israeli territory.


COSTELLO: Lots of rhetoric flying out there.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer hasn't been far from the violence. He's reporting that several rockets were fired into Beer Sheva in Israel this morning. Beer Sheva is 30 miles from the Gaza border.

Wolf, you were in a private home, talking to the family when the warning sirens went off. What happened next?

WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Well, I got to this house, Carol. And the sirens had gone off. And there was a nice residential area, a quiet area. And then when you get to the house all of a sudden you see the destruction.

I spoke to the father, the mother, four kids. And they fortunately got about 30, 40 seconds, when the sirens went off. In almost every house in Israel they have what they call a safe room, which is really a concrete closet, if you will, that they can stay in there during shelling. And they fortunately all went in there and they survived. You wouldn't believe the house.

We just, you know, pretty shocking situation to see up close what's going on. And within a few minutes, we had gone to one of these command centers, an emergency center where they deployed ambulances, and we were in the command center. They let us in there to watch what's going on. And all of a sudden there were these -- what they call these red alerts, sirens going off, rockets coming in.

And within maybe 10 to 15 minutes 11 additional rockets were detected coming toward Beer Sheva. And several of them were destroyed by the Iron Dome, this anti-missile system. But several of them also landed. And some caused serious casualties. They're determining now the extent. They let us get into one of the ambulances to head over to the scene, we did that. But it's a painful situation clearly on both sides, what's going on, and a lot of folks, understandably, would like to see this end once and for all. That's what the --


COSTELLO: Well, let's talk about that, Wolf. You know -- obviously, obviously, Wolf, the violence is continuing in that region. Egypt's president just came out and said there's word of a possible cease-fire that may take place as early as today. Does it seem like that's going to happen to you?

BLITZER: You know, I'm driving now back to Jerusalem. And it's interesting. This is the second -- second time one of these Hamas missiles has actually reached the Jerusalem area, which is about 75 kilometers from Gaza. And so it looks like one of these Iranian made Fajr-5 longer-range missiles actually did reach Jerusalem. Fortunately it landed in an area outside of Jerusalem, not far really from the West Bank, in Bethlehem.

It didn't cause any damage but the alarms, the sirens did go off in the Israeli capital and it caused a lot of panic, a lot of concern. But the missile landed in this area where there was apparently no damage.

But look, the shelling continues on both sides. There's a cease-fire, that would be great. If they can work it out, I know the Egyptians, the Qataris, the Turks, Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. secretary general, a lot of folks, Secretary Hillary Clinton, is not getting involved. Let's see if they can do it.

I still think it's a 50/50 chance. We saw Israeli troops there, they're big numbers, their armored units just outside of Gaza. They're waiting for a decision from the Israeli government, from the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whether or not to go into Gaza or not. So if they go in, that would be obviously such a densely populated area, it'd be a disaster for everyone concerned. But the Israelis may decide to do it. My own sense is that they're close to a cease-fire. Let's see if they can achieve it.

COSTELLO: And a word about Hillary Clinton. She will not be meeting with Hamas because of course the United States considers Hamas a terrorist organizations. Might that change with this conflict? BLITZER: It would only change if Hamas meets the long-standing conditions that the U.S. and the European Union -- I spoke with Tony Blair yesterday, the representative of what they call the Quartet, which is the U.S., the European, United Nations and Russia. It would only change if Hamas met the long-standing conditions, which are recognizing Israel and agreeing to end violence and accepting all the previously arranged agreements between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

So if Hamas were to accept those conditions, yes, I think the U.S. would go forth and end that boycott of Hamas. But it doesn't look like Hamas is ready to accept those conditions, at least not yet. Let's see what happens down the road. But it does look like they're ready to do that any time soon and as a result, the U.S. will boycott Hamas and won't have any direct talks, obviously, with Hamas and we'll still regard it as a state department listed terrorist organization.

COSTELLO: All right. Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Beer Sheva, Israel, this morning.

Israeli police say a man attacked a security guard at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. The guard was only slightly injured. According to witnesses the attacker was wielding an ax, but he also had a knife. The man now under arrest.

President Obama getting updates on the Middle East aboard Air Force One, he is now in the air, on his way back home. He wrapped up his historic three-nation tour of Asia just hours ago with stops in Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia. It's in Cambodia where President Obama attended the East Asia Summit and met with the outgoing Chinese premiere just before leaving.

They focused their meeting on trade issues and how the two powerful nations can work together. When also congratulated Obama on his re- election.

Oil prices up on the Middle East conflict. Yes, oil prices are rising because of the Middle East conflict. But will gas prices in the United States continue to fall? We'll check it out.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

COSTELLO: It is 12 minutes past the hour. We are continuing to follow that breaking news. A possible cease-fire about to take hold in the Israel-Gaza conflict. The news coming from Egypt's president, who's been trying to broker a truce. Just minutes ago, he declared that Israel will soon hold its airstrikes on Gaza.

With us now the governing body of Gaza, Hamas. The group's spokesperson, Osama Hamdan, joins us by phone.


OSAMA HAMDAN, HAMAS SPOKESMAN: Thank you. COSTELLO: Egypt is talking about a cease-fire, but there's been no word from Israel or Hamas. How real is this?

HAMDAN: Well, it's clear that there is an Egyptian negotiation and worked on the issue for the last 24 hours. And it's in the hands now of the Israelis. I think the Egyptians are waiting for some support, a promised support from the United States in order to make an end for that. So we expect to have an outcome of this issue today as President Morsi has said.

COSTELLO: So do you think it's possible that the violence will stop by later today?

HAMDAN: Well, I think it's possible to stop the direct attack against Gaza. And I hope that will be a good lesson for the Israeli government. It's not good to attack the Palestinians, expecting that they will not react against the attack.

COSTELLO: If Israel has agreed to stop firing rockets into Gaza, will Hamas do the same and agree to stop firing rockets into Israel?

HAMDAN: Well, from our side, we were clear. Mr. (INAUDIBLE), the head of policy bureau of Hamas, has stated this very clearly. There is an agreement, a cease-fire agreement and a clear condition, we are ready to accept that. Right now they are not accepting that. I think the Israelis have done that. I mean the attack against (INAUDIBLE) expecting the Palestinians will take it without any response.

Now they want to go without paying the political price for that. It's not -- they have to pay the political price for this. Otherwise if they continue their attack, maybe Netanyahu loses his political future in the upcoming elections.

COSTELLO: Well, let me put it this way. More than 100 of your citizens, including women and children, have been killed in this latest round of fighting. And a top Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, taunted Israel to begin a ground war, knowing if that happens, so many Gazans will die. Some might say this is not the road to peace.

So, what do you gain by talking so tough?

HAMDAN: Well, Mr. Meshaal has not asked them to stop the ground operation. He said we don't want this operation but if they decide to do that, they will face the resistance.

It's clear. We didn't want them initially to bomb Gaza. But when they have done this, there was the reaction. In fact, in Gaza, they are targeting the city. This is an Israeli problem which no one is talking about. This is the Israeli --


COSTELLO: But, Mr. Hamdan, isn't it time, with so many people dying, to soften the rhetoric, to find a road to peace?

HAMDAN: Well, I think it's clear. The road for the peace is to accept the fact that Israelis occupying the Palestinian land and they have to withdraw from those lands without any conditions. The Palestinians, according to the international resolution, has the right to live in peace on their own land, establishing their independence over a sovereign state.

I think the war (INAUDIBLE) must point to the clear point of the struggle, which is the occupation. We need to hear the clear voices from the international community, the United States saying there must be an end to the occupation and Israelis cannot continue as occupiers anymore.

COSTELLO: Mr. Hamdan, the United States will not talk to Hamas, will not negotiate with Hamas until it accepts Israel's right to exist. Is Hamas prepared to do that?

HAMDAN: Well, I think the United States committed the biggest mistake in its -- in the history when they rejected to talk to the Palestinians who have the right to live in peace, who are the oppressed side of the --


COSTELLO: Well, sir, the United States is talking to the Palestinians, but is not talking to Hamas because Hamas is not willing to recognize Israel's right to exist.

HAMDAN: Excuse me. Excuse me. Until now, until now, there is no clear American commitment towards the Palestinian rights. Until now, there is no clear declaration that they consider the Palestinian people as a nation who have to live in peace without occupation.

I think if the United States has done this, the Israeli opposition will be changed and this will be the first step in creating the peace in the region.

COSTELLO: And I'd just like to ask you one more time, do you ever foresee a time in the near future that Hamas will recognize Israel's right to exist?

HAMDAN: Well, I think this will not be a question for the Palestinians to be asked under the occupation, when they are oppressed. The answer will not be considered. You have to ask that for the government of the independent Palestinian people. They will -- they have the right to answer this question at that time. Without this, our clear target is to be liberated from the occupation so no one has to ask us to recognize the occupation.

COSTELLO: I just think that for much of the world, your answer is frustrating, because that means that conflicts like this will continue to happen every few years or so and the people of Gaza will be the people who suffer because, by some studies, by 2020, the Gaza Strip will be unlivable.

HAMDAN: Well, I think the most frustrating thing for the Palestinians is always talking about the Israeli needs, about Israel's security, about Israel's existence without talking about the Palestinian needs, about the Palestinian security, about the Palestinian rights. Israel has the most powerful, equipped army in the region. Israeli is more powerful than several armies.

They are claiming at the same time that they are afraid of the Palestinians. Well, this is -- to be said all the time. You have to start talking about the oppressed people, the people who are under the occupation for six decades.

I think the Palestinians, after 20 years of the peace process without any outcome of this process, they are talking to themselves. There is no need to peace process. Abu Mazen himself is talking about a complete failure for the peace process after 19 years of signing Oslo agreement.

This is the result of what is Israeli doing. This is the result of the wrong policies of (INAUDIBLE) for the conflict in the region. I think it's the moment of truth.

You have to understand we have rights as Palestinians and we need the international community to recognize those rights and to force Israel to respect those rights. I think without this, the Palestinians are not ready to receive questions, answering them. We have been answering those questions for more than 40 years without any results.

COSTELLO: Thank you so much for joining us this morning. Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan joining us on the phone from Beirut.

Coming up next, I'll talk live with the mayor of Jerusalem. We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Screams and sirens heard today in Jerusalem as violence continues in Israel and Gaza.

You can see people taking cover, but there is word coming into CNN of a possible ceasefire in the Israel/Gaza conflict. News is coming from Egypt's president, who's been trying to broker a truce. Just minutes ago, Mohamed Morsi declared Israel will soon halt airstrikes on Gaza.

Nir Barkat is the mayor of Jerusalem. He joins me now by phone.

Welcome, sir.

NIR BARKAT, JERUSALEM MAYOR (via telephone): Thank you.

COSTELLO: What are you hearing of this ceasefire?

BARKAT: Well, it's hard to tell because rockets are leaving Gaza and hitting innocent people in Israel. And it's really frustrating to see how the Hamas is using indiscriminate fire on civilians, on schools and on homes.

The frustration is that they're not willing to recognize Israel and their charter is to destroy Israel. And, unfortunately, they're not talking about looking, seeking a solution. They're seeking how to upgrade their ability to destroy Israel. And one must realize that when we're coming to negotiate with them on any term.

COSTELLO: So, if Egypt has really brokered a ceasefire, would you be happy about that? In light of -- I just interviewed a Hamas member who would not say that he would recognize Israel's right to exist.

BARKAT: Well, we know that. We know their charter is to destroy us. Their charter -- unfortunately, they don't share our values. Our values are how to create a better world using technology, science, seeking relationships with the rest of the world. They're focusing on destruction, on killing, hurting innocent people. And today, they even tried today to take a shot at Jerusalem. God forbid.

Could you imagine what would happen if they hit the holy site in the city of Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall, the mosque? They would, of course, blame us for that.

But their -- the whole philosophy behind their thinking is how to create damage, how to destroy, how to, unfortunately, bring death versus life and inequality in the rest of the world. And when speaking to people like that, it's not a ceasefire that leads to a solution. Unfortunately for them, it's what is the best way to damage and hurt -- and this has to be born when people come to our region and are looking for a solution.

So, from the Israeli perspective, we have to manage this conflict in a smart way and unfortunately understand that it's not something that we can actually get an agreement with them, because any agreement they make, whenever they feel comfortable, they will destroy the agreement. The agreements they have are all temporary and they have one goal, to destroy Israel. And we have to understand that. When there's a ceasefire, they are not speaking --

COSTELLO: Mr. Mayor, let me ask you this then: in seeking some resolution to this, because -- obviously, the way Israel is reacting to Gaza and Hamas isn't working, because the violence continues and the same problem is there. So, isn't it Israel's responsibility, because it wants the right to exist and to protect its people, to find another way?

BARKAT: Well, you know, I come from the business world. When someone somebody comes to do a business deal with me and tell me he wants to kick me out of the business, then the answer is no deal.

It has to be clear that when people want to destroy us, that's their charter and you found yourself when you spoke to this -- unfortunately, to the speaker, they want to destroy us and they'll use anything. They will tell you the truth, they will lie to you, they'll commit suicide -- of course, if they're willing to commit suicide, they're willing to lie. And, unfortunately, Israel knows -- unfortunately, this is our neighbor.

Now, what we have to do is -- I believe they want to destroy us -- and, therefore, what we are doing is a surgical strike. Our missiles have a way to pinpoint the people responsible. Not indiscriminate fire. And we have to focus on the evil people that want to destroy us and make sure that at any given moment we know how to manage the situation with them. Unfortunately, this is the Middle East and this is our neighbors.

COSTELLO: Mayor Barkat, thanks you so much for joining us this morning -- the mayor of Jerusalem.

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