Return to Transcripts main page


Israelis Say No Cease-Fire Agreement Reached; 7th Day of Israeli/Hamas Exchange of Fire Despite Truce Talks; Israel Says Iran Supplying Hamas with Weapons; Israeli Cities Near Gaza at Risk; Israel Wants 24-Hour Calm Before Deal Agreed To.

Aired November 20, 2012 - 11:30   ET


HANAN ASHRAWI, PLO EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBER: Well, Gaza is still run by Hamas but the Palestinians of Gaza are still Palestinians, and the PLO represents all Palestinians everywhere. And Hamas was elected by all Palestinians, not just by 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 no the 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. There are civilians. There are innocent people. They are living in this miserable place entirely under siege. And at the same time, the Israeli spokespeople justify whatever happens to them by saying they're Hamas. No, Hamas is a political movement, yes, but Israel has been targeting Hamas and has been targeting all the innocent civilians in Gaza, which led to the killing, the murder of 133 Palestinians, the wounding of over 300 -- sorry, of over 900. And most of these are civilians. So no justification would be accepted.

And, of course, Gaza is entirely vulnerable. It's at the mercy of a very brutal Israeli assault, bombing and shelling, and they expect that the people of Gaza would lie down and die quietly while Israel has a free hand in Gaza. This cannot be acceptable.

So the issue is how do we deal with the siege? How do we deal with the occupation? How do we bring Israel into compliance with international law and with the requirements of a genuine peace, not just truces and cease-fires while Israel continues to hold control over all Palestinian territory?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the PLO executive committee. She's joining us from Vienna right now.

Thanks very much, Hanan, for joining us. We'll see if there's a cease-fire announced in the next few hours or not.

We'll take another quick break. Much more of the news when we come back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Following lots of breaking news right now. I want to welcome back our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, in Jerusalem.

Israelis and Palestinians exchanging attacks for a seventh straight day despite lots of talks right now of a possible truce. A Hamas official tells Reuters, Israel and the militants in Gaza have agreed to an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that would go into effect at midnight local time, a little more than five hours from now. But, and this is a huge, huge "but," the Israeli government says the negotiations are still under way. Just a few moments ago we spoke with a spokesman for the prime minister of Israel who says no agreement has been achieved yet.

There has been though lots of tit for tat today. The fire power and the assaults from both sides continuing to be relentless.

Israel has long accused Iran of supplying Hamas with rockets it's now using to attack Israeli cities.

The former British prime minister, Tony Blair, who has been trying to negotiate peace in the region, met with me yesterday. Here is what he said.


TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER & MIDDLE EAST ENVOY: It's not just the issue to do with the acquisition of nuclear weapons capability. It's the instability they push around the region the whole time including in Gaza. Some parts of some of the groups in Gaza are absolute proxies for Iranian power and they push these missiles into Gaza which then, you know, cause the type of issue we've got today. So, you know, I think -- well, let us hope that in the end it changes.


BLITZER: The Iran/Hamas connection is part of what officials say is an extensive pipeline of weapons support. Analysts say it's through this pipeline that Iran supplied Hamas with the new Fajah 5 (ph) missile, which has a greater range than anything Hamas had before. And as we have seen, this new weapon is capable of striking areas outside of Tel Aviv and here in Jerusalem from Gaza.

Joining us now with his expertise in all of this, CNN contributor, the former CIA officer, Bob Baer.

Bob, thanks very much for joining us.

What do you see Iran's role in this current crisis as being?

BOB BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER & CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, they've got a hand in all of this. It goes back to 1992. We're talking two decades, when an alliance formed between Iran and Hamas. It happened in Lebanon. Iran immediately started supplying weapons, training, the knowledge of building bunkers, everything they could. Hezbollah, as proxies, went to Hamas with the same sort of training, went into Gaza, and they've never stopped supplying Hamas with rockets. The intelligence is indisputable. Now, I don't think they have political control over Hamas, but nonetheless, they are fueling this conflict against Israel.

BLITZER: We know the Iranians have, I believe, a much better relationship, Hezbollah, in Lebanon, than they do with Hamas in Gaza. Is that your understanding?

BAER: Oh, absolutely. Hezbollah is their principle proxy in the Arab world but also Hamas -- they are Sunni Muslims. It's very important for Iran to keep a connection to radicals, to the Muslim Brotherhood, and the rest of it. They do not intend to let that go. And if Hamas asks for weapon, they will supply them anyway they can. And most are coming through Egypt. That border is very porous. The Rafah Crossing I know are closed, but there are other crossings under the ground, and that's where they're coming in, the components for the missiles, and Iran has taught Hamas how to build these things locally.

BLITZER: There was a missile that reached the outskirts of Jerusalem and actually landed on the West Bank, not far from Bethlehem, just a little while ago. The sirens went off here and there's a lot of suspicion. I don't think we've confirmed it yet, that it was one of those missiles that has a range of about 75 kilometers, 50 miles or so. Jerusalem is not that far away from Gaza.

What do you think, Bob -- and all these reports coming out, Hamas suggesting that Egypt has successfully brokered a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, that will be announced in the next few hours? The Israeli government saying that there's no deal yet. What do you think is going on?

BAER: Oh, I think we're close to a cease-fire, but the important is the word cease-fire. This conflict is by no means resolved in any sense of a peace, a real peace. It needs a political decision. You need to lift the embargo. The Palestinians have to disarm. I don't see that anytime close. So we may get a cease-fire for a day, for a year, for two years, three years. We just don't know. We're by no means at the end of this.

BLITZER: Bob Baer, thanks very much for joining us.

We'll take another quick break. We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We want to welcome back our viewers in the United States and around the world to our special coverage.

I'm here in Jerusalem. A Hamas official tells Reuters, Israel and the militants of Gaza have agreed to an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that would go into effect at midnight local time. That's less than five hours from now. But this is not necessarily a done deal according to the Israeli government. A spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says -- and he said it right here just moments ago -- negotiations are still under way. There is no deal yet.

We're hoping to talk to Hamas, get more information on what they know. We're speaking with Egyptian officials. And we're trying to get other information as well. As soon as we get an update on what's going on, we'll, of course, let you, our viewers know when we know what's going on. It looks like they're getting closer and closer and closer, but until there's a deal, and it's announced, there is no deal, as the diplomats like to say.

All of this is taking place as there's been no let up on the ground. Today, there were scores of rockets coming into Israel and going the other way. Israeli air strikes continuing to pound targets in Gaza.

Yesterday, I spent some time not far from Gaza, and it was a very, very ominous moment.


BLITZER (voice-over): Within minutes arriving in the city just a few miles from the Gaza border, the sirens went off meaning Hamas rockets or missiles were in the air and on the way.


BLITZER: The Israelis in this region take these warnings very seriously. They know they have only 30 seconds before a rocket or a missile reaches the area.

(on camera): We're just running inside. The sirens have just gone off.

(voice-over): We get into the small, secure room. Israeli soldiers and civilians are already crammed inside. They clearly have a very worried look. That's because earlier in the day, precisely at this very high school, a rocket landed. The damage is very visible. Fortunately, no one was injured.

(on camera): You can see it came right through the concrete and landed at this school. This is a school here in Ashkelon, and you can see the rocket damage all the way down here.

(voice-over): No one was injured by the other rocket that caused us to scramble to the shelter. Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system destroyed the rocket on the way to Ashkelon.


BLITZER: You could see the lingering plumes of smoke in the sky.

BENNY BUCKNEN (ph), MAYOR OF ASHKELON: The missiles targeted this school. This is the third time.

BLITZER: Benny Bucknen (ph) is the mayor of this city of more than 100,000 people. He's been living this nightmare for a long time.

BUCKNEN (ph): Maybe a hundred of traumatic wounded people and especially children. So --

BLITZER (on camera): When you say traumatic, because psychologically, they're scared?

BUCKNEN (ph): Of course.

BLITZER (voice-over): Schools in this city have been closed since the latest exchange with Hamas escalated in recent days. He says he's most worried about the children who have been traumatized by the sirens and explosions. This shelter is designed for the children, many of whom sleep here.

We drive over to a residential area of Ashkelon where a rocket had landed the day before.

(on camera): We're in a quiet residential neighborhood, but you can see it wasn't so quiet yesterday. Where the rockets hit this area over here, if you go over there, you can see the damage over that garage area. The rocket apparently came right in there. But then fortunately everyone in this neighborhood had gone into their shelters, their closed rooms, and -- but you can see some of the shrapnel reaching all the way across the street over here to this house over here. This was one of the safe rooms actually in this house, but there was no damage inside.

(voice-over): The owner of this home was at work at his office, but his wife was inside the house. He says she ran into their secure safe room and is OK.

Ashkelon is eerie right now. The cafes and shops along the Mediterranean beach are pretty much empty.

BUCKNEN (ph): Many people left the town. Many people just don't want to go outside because it's dangerous.

BLITZER: Like many of the residents we spoke to, he was not very optimistic about the immediate future.

(on camera): We're here along the beach in Ashkelon. Normally, this place would be lively. It's a lovely day. The sun is just beginning to go down right now. We're watching what's going on. It's empty. This whole area pretty much is desolate. The Israelis are staying inside their homes. They're not going out to coffee shops. They're not going out to theaters, at least in this area, because of the pounding, the rockets that have been coming in, that Iron Dome, that thud you hear all the time over the sky. And you realize, not far away, only a few kilometers, is Gaza, a densely populated area right along this same Mediterranean. My own sense is this could be such a wonderful area if they could just achieve some real peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but obviously that's going to have to wait at least for now.

(voice-over): But for now there's a very deep silence on this beach, unlike what we heard earlier in the day.


(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And even as diplomats try to broker a cease-fire, and we may be only hours away from some sort of an announcement, the fighting clearly continues, the shelling coming into Israel and the Israelis pounding targets in Gaza.

We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Our CNN international anchor, Hala Gorani, joining us from the CNN center in Atlanta.

Hala, what are you learning about all of the talk of a possibly imminent cease-fire?

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I've been in touch with sources familiar with the negotiations and the talks going on in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, as well, and who was familiar with the conversations that occurred between the prime minister in Israel and various officials, including the United Nations' secretary-general. I understand that, as far as the Israelis are concerned, despite the fact that a Hamas official announced a cease-fire agreement had been reached, that as far as the Israelis are concerned that's not the case. They are not there yet. And one of the requests to being floated a period of 24 hours of total calm be put in place before the Israeli side agrees to any deals. So this would add one more layer to our understanding of what's discussed behind closed doors, as far as the Hamas and Palestinian position. There are questions of end of targets assassinations and easing of the blockades. But the Israelis, it appears, Wolf, at this point, want to make sure there is calm for least 24 hours, that period be put in place before they agree to any deal.

We're hearing, as you mentioned earlier in the program, in this hour, that the Egyptian president is saying that in a matter of hours a cease-fire deal will be agreed upon. But as far as the Israelis are concerned, as far as sources I'm speaking to right now, they're saying no deal has been agreed to at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hala Gorani, stand by.

Ben Wedeman is in Gaza.

Ben, are you hearing more explosions, what are you hearing now?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're hearing distant explosions and thuds. It's not particularly intense. I'm hearing overhead the usual buzz of the drones.

And I just add to what Hala said earlier, I spoke with two senior Egyptian officials, part of the Arab League-led delegation to Gaza, and they seemed optimistic. They seemed to think that it really would be only a matter of hours before a cease-fire would come into effect. They didn't have any details about this 24-hour period of quiet that the Israelis are demanding before a long lasting cease-fire take effect. I was with the Arab League delegation and most seemed optimistic some arrangement would be worked out, and the much-feared ground invasion by Israel would have been avoided -- Wolf?

BLITZER: What do you think, how do you think that would play if the Israelis demand that there be a 24-hour period of calm before any agreement is signed or implemented? You think Hamas is willing to go along with that?

WEDEMAN: It's important to keep in mind, Wolf, Hamas is the largest group here in Gaza and, theoretically, runs the Gaza Strip. But there are many other groups. There's Islamic jihad, for instance, which is sometimes at odds with Hamas. Now, we have been getting these sort of strange text messages from one of these Islamic jihad leaders that is hinting that they also would go along with the cease-fire. But then there are other groups. The Salafis, there are jihadist groups here, who might see it in their interest to continue this current round of fighting simply to enhance their credentials. Even though Hamas and Islamic jihad might agree to a cease-fire, there's no real guarantee that they'll be able to guarantee one 100 percent -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Lots of fluid developments happening right now. But in the midst of all of the negotiations for a cease-fire, clearly the bombing continuing on both sides.

Ben Wedeman, will stand by for us. He's watching what's going on in Gaza.

Hala Gorani, thanks as well.

I'll be back, 4:00 p.m., live conversation in "The Situation Room." More coverage after this.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. A special welcome to our viewers around the world, joining us on our sister network, CNN INTERNATIONAL.

Day seven of the Israel/Gaza bloodshed. Hamas says there's a cease- fire agreement with Israel, but Israeli spokesman says it is not a done deal.


MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: I understand they want a time-out. But if they're interested in a time-out just to regroup and come and shoot back at Israelis a week from now after they've rested and replenished missile stocks we're not interested in that.


MALVEAUX: I want to go straight to Wolf Blitzer live in Jerusalem.

Wolf, first of all, tell us what the state of the cease-fire is. You've been talking with Israeli officials. They say, not yet a done deal. Hamas is trying to push this forward. What do we know?

BLITZER: Well I think they're pretty close right now. I know that the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, has been very much involved. He's got good relations with Hamas. The Israelis have a relationship. I don't know how good it is, but they have a relationship with the Egyptians. I know there have been Israeli envoys that have gone to Cairo to meet with high-ranking Egyptian officials.