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Netanyahu Meets With Ban Ki-Moon; Egypt Sees End to Gaza Conflict, but for Now the Fighting Continues; Street Violence Escalates in Gaza; Interview with Mark Regev; Interview with Hanan Ashrawi

Aired November 20, 2012 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": I'm Wolf Blitzer, live in Jerusalem. It's 6:00 p.m. here in Israel. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

After seven days of rockets and air strikes, sirens, fear, and destruction, Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza may -- repeat, may -- be closer to a truce. Reports out of Egypt, which has acted as a mediator even while backing Hamas, say a ceasefire is imminent but that's not been confirmed by Israel.

As we speak the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is on her way here to Jerusalem for a late-night meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. She's due to meet tomorrow with the leader of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, President Mahmoud Abbas and, after that, she will fly to Cairo to meet with the new Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi.

She won't meet with Hamas which the U.S. government regards as a terrorist organization.

For his part, Netanyahu met last hour with Secretary of State Ban Ki- moon. The two met with reporters only moments ago.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER, ISRAEL: Unfortunately, Mr. Secretary, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad and the other terrorist groups do not share your concern about our civilian casualties or about civilian casualties at all.

They're deliberately and indiscriminately targeting our civilians and they deliberately hide behind their civilians.


BLITZER: That was the Israeli prime minister meeting with the U.S. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.

Earlier today, Israel put an all-out ground assault of Gaza on hold, and I'm quoting now, "to give time, limited time for a diplomatic solution." Egypt sees an end to the Gaza conflict. That is clear. Egypt's President Morsi says, and I'm quoting him now, "The travesty of the Israeli aggression on Gaza will end in a few hours."

Christiane Amanpour is here. We're watching what's going on.

Christiane, the diplomacy is intense right now, but it's by no means a done deal.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's not a done deal, but by all the signals we're getting, it looks like both sides feel they are just about there.

Obviously, you're not there until the whole thing is done and ready to be announced, but the messages that we're getting from Egypt, which are very significant because Egypt is the lead. There is no one else. It's Egypt which is the lead with Hamas.

The U.S. is talking to the Palestinians via Egypt. Obviously, Israel is at the table with the Egyptians. And we're hearing from the Israelis, as well, that possibly they will be ready to announce some kind of ceasefire not far from now.

And that's consistent to what we have been hearing over the last several days. The Israeli government has said, President Netanyahu in various statements and his spokespeople have said that they would rather see this resolved diplomatically.

They were pushing for the success of the diplomatic track while all the time preparing the military track at the same time in parallel in case the diplomacy didn't work.

It seems to me, particularly, having told me earlier today, officials, that this was on hold, any kind of ground offensive to give diplomacy a work -- a chance to work, it seems that something must be coming to a head because Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on the way, as you say.

She will be meeting. Maybe there will be an announcement when she meets with Prime Minister Netanyahu this evening here.

BLITZER: It's going to be a late night meeting for the two of them. And it was a surprise that she's coming here to the region, going to meet with the Palestinian Authority president and then meeting with President Morsi.

AMANPOUR: Well, that's right. I must say though, I think that it's obviously, you know, important that she meets with the only Palestinians who the U.S. recognizes, but the real players, obviously, are Hamas and they're in Gaza, as you mentioned. The U.S. does not recognize Hamas.

President Obama, we're told, has been also in very late night talks for his time zone. He's been in the Far East on that East Asia Summit trip, but he's been talking to Prime Minister Netanyahu, talking to the Egyptian President Morsi, and the U.S. has said that they really believe that the Egyptians have played a very significant and very constructive role.

Again, we'll wait to se what happens, but this is a major test for Egypt, not so much for Egypt, but for how Egypt and the world might work together on these issues, the first time an Islamist leader elected in Egypt has taken part in these very, very difficult kinds of things.

BLITZER: And even as they are apparently close to a deal, a lot of rockets came into Israel today, including not far from where we are here in Jerusalem.

A whole bunch came in the south in Beer Sheeva. I was there earlier in the day and the Israelis are continuing their strikes in Gaza, as well.

AMANPOUR: Well, that's right. I mean, the air war, so to speak, continues while the diplomacy also continues.

This is a tough neighborhood, Wolf, and nobody is going to hold off until the ink is about to be dried on the paper.

But as you say, Hamas has had the benefit of this post-Arab Spring support from Arab leaders. They're all coming into Gaza to stand shoulder to shoulder and in support of Hamas and giving Hamas, which the West would like to see isolated, giving Hamas this legitimacy, unlike any previous Arab leaders and they're also though pushing for this ceasefire, so trying to use their leverage in that way.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour is our CNN International anchor and the ABC News global affairs anchor. Christiane, thanks, as usual.

We're getting some news in from CNN's Reza Sayah right now. He's joining us live from the Egypt-Gaza border. Reza, what are you learning?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, obviously, we're talking about the possibility of a truce, of a ceasefire in the coming hours, but we just got some emphatic, very loud reminders that the fighting continues.

Right behind us is the Rafah border crossing. About two minutes ago, at least three or four huge explosions. We can't independently verify what these explosions are, but we can tell you, for the past two days that we've been here, we've heard the incessant buzz of what sound like Israeli drones up above and Egyptian security forces who are manning the Rafah crossing believe that these explosions are being caused by Israeli drone strikes, Wolf.

BLITZER: When you hear those explosions going off, are the folks running for cover over there where you are, Reza? Because you're right outside of Gaza on the Egyptian side, I take it.

SAYAH: Frankly, they're used to it. They may duck. They may look to see where it came from. They may listen to the car alarms, but by now they're very much used to the explosions, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stay in close touch with you, Reza Sayah, on the border between Israel and Gaza.

Lots happening right now. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Just back in Jerusalem after spending most of the day in Beer Sheva in the Negev. It's about 70 kilometers or so, 40 miles, from Gaza.

And I witnessed what was going on. At least 30 or 35 Hamas rockets came into the area. When I was there, about 11 were coming in.

Several of them were destroyed by Israel's "Iron Dome" anti-missile system, but several also hit various civilian targets, including one home, a residential area.

From the outside, it didn't look so bad. Only when I got inside did I see the destruction in this house. I met the mother, the father, four kids who all had about 30 or 45 seconds to get into one of their so- called safe rooms, a shelter in the house.

I went inside there later. It's about the size of a closet, but it's all concrete. Fortunately for them, they got inside. They were saved, but the rest of the house, as you can see from these still pictures we took -- the rest of the house pretty much destroyed.

It's a situation that, unfortunately, continues even as negotiations are under way to come up with some sort of ceasefire.

And despite word of a possible ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the two sides continue to exchange serious fire today.

Ben Wedeman is joining us now, he's monitoring all the developments from Gaza City. Ben, I know there's been some high-level Arab League visitors to Gaza. Give us the latest. What's going on?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. This was a delegation led by Nabil Elaraby, the secretary-general of the Arab League.

It included the Turkish foreign minister, the Iraqi, the Jordanian, and others. This is the highest level delegation that's really ever come to Gaza since Hamas took over back in 2007.

And we heard, for instance, Nabil Elaraby, the secretary-general of the Arab League, saying their ultimate goal is to end the occupation.

So, what we're seeing and what several of those ministers told me, the radical, the dramatic change compared to four years ago when Israel launched Operation Cast Lead is that the Arab government, because of pressure from the Arab people, are much more actively engaged in trying to resolve this situation, in trying to bring, A, a ceasefire, but they're looking beyond that to some sort of political resolution of this conflict that's been going on for more than 60 years. And, of course, people reacted quite enthusiastically wherever they went. They went to, for instance, a hospital. They went to the site of one of the bombings that left 11 people dead on Sunday.

And there were people chanting their support for Turkey, for Egypt, for the Arab League and others, so this really is a radical change, and I asked one Palestinian diplomat about the American role and he just shook his head, and he said, you know, they're just not in it this time, that before they were much more engaged.

Now, they seem to have farmed out the responsibility, he said, to Egypt, to Turkey to try to bring about a resolution to this problem. Wolf?

BLITZER: You know, Ben, when you see what's going on in Gaza, does it feel like a ceasefire may be imminent?

WEDEMAN: Not yet. In fact, just when somebody told me that there were rumor that a ceasefire would take place, within the next few hours, I heard what sounded like the whoosh of a rocket being fired by Gaza and, within the last half hour, I have heard several explosions.

Bearing in mind, however, that oftentimes what I have seen here in Gaza and elsewhere is that before a ceasefire goes into place, both sides usually fire a few rounds just to make a point that they're still engaged, they're still fighting.

Now, Wolf, I want to bring in Anderson Cooper, my colleague. Anderson, you saw something in the streets right below us. What was that?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, we also have a photograph and I want to warn our viewers it is disturbing to see.

We were here about an hour, hour-and-a-half ago and we heard people on motorcycles yelling, God is great, and also yelling about a collaborator.

And then when we looked out the window, we see what you are going to see in the picture, which is about six men, six to eight men on motorcycles dragging the body of a man who was clearly dead, his feet tied by rope to one of the motorcycles, dragging him down a main street in Gaza City.

They were saying he had been a -- he was a collaborator with Israel, which is obviously, as you well know, something -- there's a lot of suspicion about people here because of the targeted strikes that Israel is doing.

WEDEMAN: In fact, when we were at the meeting with Arab League members and the Turkish foreign minister, our driver witnessed the same motorcycle driving by.

He said that there were people running around the body as it went by slowly dragged by the motorcycle and the men on the motorcycle were shooting the body ... COOPER: Oh, really?

WEDEMAN: ... as it went by. This has happened before in the West Bank during the intifada here in Gaza.

It's well-known there are many collaborators. Many people who are feeding information to the Israelis, but such a public manner of displaying it is a bit ...

COOPER: There's a local media report saying that six, alleged collaborators were actually killed, shot to death in the streets, but we only saw the one body, later on, being dragged through. Obviously, a very disturbing scene.


So, Wolf, otherwise today in Gaza, there's been a variety of dead. In fact, the Israelis dropped leaflets over the northern part of the Gaza Strip telling people to evacuate that area.

And I saw donkey carts, trucks, motorcycles with people with as many possessions as they could bring. Here, they have been moved to U.N. schools in Gaza City to provide them with temporary accommodations.

So, talk of a ceasefire, Wolf, but it doesn't really feel like it.

BLITZER: Yeah, doesn't feel like it here either, although the speculation is it could be imminent.

Ben, we're going to get back to you. We're going to get back to Anderson, of course, as well.

We'll take another quick break. Much more of the breaking news from Jerusalem right after this.


BLITZER: All sorts of rumors floating around right now. How close is a ceasefire? Is there a ceasefire?

Let's bring in the chief spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Mark Regev is joining us here on CNN, live.

Mark, thanks very much for coming in. Is there -- has there been an agreement reached thanks to the Egyptians of a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel?

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN (via telephone): Diplomacy is still ongoing. We're currently meeting with a the secretary- general of United Nations. Later on tonight here in Jerusalem we'll be meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The ball is still in play. I'd like to be able to tell you we've reached a situation where Israelis no longer have to worry about rocketing coming in across the border and blowing up their houses. We're not there yet. BLITZER: How close are you?

REGEV (via telephone): You know, until you're there, you're not there. And to say we're 50 percent or 80 percent, it doesn't mean anything.

We want to come out of this with a new reality in Southern Israel, that the citizens of our country no longer have to live in fear of an incoming rocket launched by Hamas in Gaza.

That's the bottom line. When that can be achieved, this operation is over.

BLITZER: Because there are some reports quoting Hamas officials as saying, shortly, a formal announcement will be made of a ceasefire.

REGEV (via telephone): We have no illusions as to Hamas, what their radical agenda is, what they'd like to do if they could.

I mean, we saw earlier today they fired a rocket at this city where we're sitting now, the city of Jerusalem, a city that is so special to tens of millions of people across the planet. They shot a rocket.

You know Jerusalem, Wolf. This city has Jewish neighborhoods. This city also has Arab neighborhoods. They could have killed Palestinians. The rocket ultimately landed in the West Bank. They don't care.

The rocket could have landed on one of the holy sites of the three great religions. What were they thinking?

I think that demonstrates more than anything else who we're up against and why it's important to come out of this with clear arrangements that we get a long period of quiet for the people of Southern Israel who deserve to live a normal life.

BLITZER: So, this report that's now moving on the Reuters -- from the Reuters news service quoting officials as saying that Egypt has brokered a ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel, you say ...

REGEV (via telephone): No deal done yet. Our strikes against Hamas continue. We're hitting them hard until we see an end of rockets launched on Israel.

Now, I understand why Hamas is saying what they're doing. We're hitting their command and control. We're hitting their arsenals. We're hitting their missile launching. We're hitting their communications.

We're hitting them hard because they have been shooting at our people. They've been targeting Israelis and they still target Israelis.

I understand that they want a time-out, but if they're interested in a time-out just to regroup and to come and shoot back at Israelis a week from now after they've rested and replenished their missile stocks, we're not interested in that. What we want to see, we want this ended, once and for good. We want a new reality where Israeli civilians no longer have to live in fear of these rockets.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say, though, even though there's no agreement yet, you're very close?

REGEV (via telephone): You're not there until you're there.

BLITZER: Can you tell us what the stumbling block might be?

REGEV (via telephone): I can't go into the details of the negotiations because, if these negotiations are to succeed, they have to be done discreetly.

The United States is very important in this. That's why our meeting with Hillary Clinton is very important. The meeting now with Ban Ki- moon, the secretary-general, I think is also -- he's coming from Cairo. The Egyptians have the ability to play a very important role.

If it all comes together, it will come together. If not, we don't have an agreement, then, unfortunately, we'll be forced to use other means to protect our people.

I want to see diplomacy succeed. I hope we do.

BLITZER: And the prime minister will be meeting tonight with Hillary Clinton?

REGEV (via telephone): Correct.

BLITZER: And what happens after that is anyone's guess? Will there be public statements by the two of them?

REGEV (via telephone): You know, if it was dependent on America and Israel, we wouldn't have this problem.

Unfortunately, there are other actors here and, particularly, Hamas, who is a particularly a prickly customer.

And, you know, and people have to remember this, they are designated a terrorist organization not just by Israel, but by the United States State Department, by the Canadian government, by the European Union, by Japan, by Australia.

These people are terrorists who target innocent civilians and we should have no illusions as to what their agenda is.

BLITZER: Mark Regev is the spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Thanks very much for the update.

And there you have it. He's saying no deal yet. They're still working intensively and the Israeli prime minister will be meeting later tonight here in Jerusalem with the U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Israel has launched nearly 1,400 air strikes into Gaza, targeting 100 sites overnight. Gaza's health ministry says at least 114 Palestinians have been killed, more than 900 injured since the violence began seven days ago.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Want to welcome back our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem.

According to Reuters, a Hamas official says Israel and Gaza militants have agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, but we heard only moments ago a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister saying no agreement has been reached yet.

He says diplomacy though does continue, but until an agreement has been reached, there is no agreement. Heard that from Mark Regev, the spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Joining us on the phone from Vienna is Hanan Ashrawi. She's a member of the PLO's executive committee, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Hanan, thanks very much for joining us. What are you hearing about a possible ceasefire?

HANAN ASHRAWI, MEMBER, PLO EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (via telephone): Yes. Actually what I have heard so far is that the talks have been going well and that from Egyptian and from Hamas sources that they expect an announcement of a ceasefire within the next couple of hours and probably tonight.

So, the news from Cairo is much more positive or sanguine than what your Israeli spokesman is doing, saying, but hopefully there will be a ceasefire and yet that remains the first step.

What we need to do is ensure that all the causes of the violence, of the Israeli assault on Gaza, of this tragic loss of life would end by ending the occupation.

BLITZER: What is your understanding of the ceasefire? What are the terms? What would Hamas immediately be required to do? What would Israel immediately be required to do?

ASHRAWI (via telephone): Well, not all the details are known, but basically a ceasefire is a cessation of acts of violence, but the thing is it has to go beyond that.

Because the siege and the incursions and the policy of assassinations carried out by Israel are the things that provoked this latest round of violence and, unless you deal with them, you're going to have one round after another with temporary ceasefires.

So, right now, the Hamas very clearly wants to ensure that this ceasefire would go beyond just a temporary halt, but would also involve a cessation to all assassination measures by Israel as well as lifting the siege.

Israel, of course, has also two other requirements, including it wants to ensure that Hamas not only stops violence, but is also responsible for policing other organizations in Gaza and ensuring that no violence will take place against Israelis from Gaza.

BLITZER: Does the Palestinian Authority, and you're a representative of the PLO, have any real authority in Gaza right now.

We know that you obviously have extensive complete control, basically, over the West Bank, but what about in Gaza?

ASHRAWI (via telephone): Well, Gaza is still run by Hamas, but the Palestinian people of Gaza are nonetheless Palestinians, and the PLO represents all Palestinians everywhere and because Hamas was represented by all Palestinians, not just the West Bank.

So. we believe we have one political system, even though now in Gaza there is a rift, but the people of Gaza are not just Hamas and labeled terrorists, the way the Israelis try to present them as though they are all, men, women and children are all terrorists.