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Crisis in Israel Continues; Will There be a "Cooling Off" Period?

Aired November 20, 2012 - 15:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper reporting from Gaza City.

I want to welcome our viewers on CNN in the United States and watching around the world on CNN International.

For the last hour or two, much of the world has been watching and waiting for some sort of statement to be made out of Cairo, Egypt. But no statement has thus far been made. A senior Hamas official had told CNN that a statement would be made announcing a cooling-off period, but, again, no such announcement has been made. We're still waiting to see if any announcement will be coming out of Cairo or anywhere else this evening in the hours ahead.

It is 10:00 here in Gaza City. Within the last 40 minutes or so, we have heard a large number of explosions in Gaza City. In fact, just about 40 minutes ago, while our Ben Wedeman was on the air, there was a large blast about a block, a block-and-a-half away from the location we're in right now. I want to show you what happened as it occurred.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it is pretty clear that we are moving in the direction of...


WEDEMAN: I can hear shattering glass out there right now. The building just shook. Of course, because I was looking at the camera, I didn't see where the blast took place. Anybody see it? OK, to the north of this building here. So, despite talk of cease-fire, Hala, it appears that the guns are still firing.


COOPER: And I can tell you just while we were playing you that tape, which took place about 40 minutes ago, there was another blast about a mile from here, an incoming round.

We actually went to the scene of that blast that Ben Wedeman experienced, about a block or a block-and-a-half away. It is apparently a villa owned by a very well-known banker, former minister who no longer lives there. Locals says it was unclear who was using that building, but the building was pretty much destroyed. A fire was burning. We got there before ambulance crews got there, did not see any sign of wounded or any bodies. But, again, can't confirm if there were any injuries or fatalities as a result of that blast.

I want to bring in our Arwa Damon. We are shortly also going to bring in Wolf Blitzer live in Jerusalem for us.

But, Arwa, what do we know about this any chance of -- they're not calling it a truce, they're not calling it a cease-fire, they're calling it a cooling off period.

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And at this point it most certainly feels as if that cooling-off period really has not materialized.

We were just talking about everything that we -- the residents of Gaza have been experiencing most recently. And you were talking about that house that was just hit around the corner and saying how people that lived around it didn't necessarily know who may have been occupying it at the time. That's what a lot of people are facing out here tonight.

They don't necessarily know to the full extent who is actually living around them, so they don't necessarily know if they will be safer at home or safer if they leave.

COOPER: Also earlier in the day, during daylight hours, we actually could see leaflets being dropped by IDF forces. You actually have one of the leaflets. What is it telling locals?

GORANI: Basically, this is the leaflet that was being dropped and it is telling the local population to stay away from certain neighborhoods, and they're neighborhoods in that direction.

And it is giving them the specific routes that they should actually be taking, specific roads that are supposed to be safe for them, but we went down to some schools that are now being used as refugee camps and people were piling in and donkey cart after donkey cart, with people's belongings packed on top of it, arriving in trucks, trying to seek sanctuary in the schools.

But even while we were in the schools, we heard a blast that rattled windows, went outside and less than a minute drive away it was a vehicle that had been struck, two people in it were killed. And so even in these schools when people are fleeing, trying to stay safe, there really isn't that sense that they're actually going to be.

COOPER: Another scene we witnessed earlier today, during daylight hours, shortly before it got dark and sort of around dusk, about six or so motorcycles driving down one of the main streets near Gaza City, with a number of men on the back. Tied to the rear of one of the motorcycles was the body of a man who was being dragged down the street, clearly dead.

The men on the motorcycles yelling out Allahu akbar, God is great, also saying he was a collaborator, he was a spy for Israel. And local reports were that six people had actually been shot, accused as being collaborators, though no trial, of course.

GORANI: No. And we were also speaking earlier today to a local journalist here and she was telling us that the last time there was war between Gaza and Israel, around 90 people were executed in a similar fashion during the duration of that. People were accused of being Israeli spies.

She was also saying though that how it is for her, for a lot of her friends, a lot of people that we're talking to, seeing scenes like that, she has actually witnessed that as well herself, it really made her blood curdle. This is not a Gaza population that normally behaves in this manner and she was just saying that it goes to show you how frustrated and angry people do become in this kind of a situation.

So you have this boiling anger towards the Israelis because of what is happening to them. You have this ongoing anger and frustration because people have been living like this for decades now. And then you have this anger because they're actually seeing their own society beginning to deteriorate and turn against itself as well.

COOPER: Hillary Clinton we're told has just landed in Tel Aviv.

We're joined now also by our Wolf Blitzer who is standing by in Jerusalem.

Wolf, do we know what Hillary Clinton -- what her schedule is going to be, what she intends to be doing?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: She's going to be coming from Tel Aviv, from Ben Gurion Airport, outside of Tel Aviv, she's going to be driving up to Jerusalem and she's going to go right into a meeting with the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

We do expect either before or after the meeting statements from Hillary Clinton and from Benjamin Netanyahu. And my sense is, Anderson, that there could be an announcement of some sort of tentative agreement, if you will, cease-fire or truce. Maybe it will happen at that meeting. The U.S. has been very much involved behind the scenes. The president has been making phone calls from his Asia trip, the secretary of state has been making phone calls from her trip.

She's now going to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu tonight. Tomorrow, she will go to Ramallah on the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and then she will fly to Cairo to meet with the new Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi. She's very much involved in all of this.

I do think that the U.S. and the Israelis to a certain degree have been impressed by the role that Egypt has played as a facilitator. Egypt has good relations with Hamas right now. And the Egyptians have played a very significant role. If, in fact, a cease-fire is announced within the next hour or two, and there is good reason to believe some sort of announcement will be made, it could be made by the prime minister with the secretary of state at their joint event that's coming up soon, then I think the Egyptians will have played a very significant role in making that happen.

Here is a question, though, that I think we will have to answer. What was the U.S. role in helping to a certain degree to make this possible? Were there U.S. assurances provided to the Egyptians? U.S. assurances provided to the Israelis? I don't know if there were any financial, additional economic or military assistance or anything along those lines.

The U.S. does provide Israel and Egypt with extensive military assistance. But these are some of the questions, Anderson, I suspect we're going to be pondering in the coming hours.

COOPER: Right. And, again, it remains to be seen what kind of announcement if any will be made, where that is made, whether it's in Jerusalem or the announcement as we have been told will be made by a Hamas official in Cairo, about some sort of cooling-off period.

On the ground here in Gaza, we certainly have not seen much of a cooling -off period in the last several hours and including this hour as well.

It is not clear, though, Wolf, and I'm interested in your thoughts on this -- Hillary Clinton is going to be meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah. Obviously, the U.S. does not recognize Hamas, therefore, they will not be meeting directly with Hamas. Why are they meeting with Mahmoud Abbas? Has he really played much of a role here? Is that more of a face-saving gesture?


I think it is more of a face-saving, symbolic gesture because the U.S. has had a very good relationship with the Palestinian Authority, PLO, the Fatah, a branch of the Palestinian movement if you will led by Mahmoud Abbas and the prime minister, Salam Fayyad, and they want to continue that.

These are the Palestinians, Mahmoud Abbas, Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority that does recognize Israel, does recognize previous Israeli/Palestinian agreements and has vowed to stop violence, if you will. As a result, the U.S., the European Union, others have recognized them as the authoritative voice of the Palestinians.

They don't recognize Hamas. Hillary Clinton, for example, as you know, won't be going to Gaza to meet with Hamas. U.S. officials don't meet with Hamas. The European Union doesn't meet with Hamas at the same time because they see Hamas as a terrorist organization. But there are indirect contacts through others and in this particular case, largely through Egypt, also through Turkey, also through Qatar, countries that the U.S. has very good relations with, but direct U.S. negotiations or talks with Hamas, that's out of the question until Hamas accepts the basic conditions that have been put forward, end violence against Israel, accept previous Israeli/Palestinian agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist.

At that point, the U.S. would recognize Hamas, but right now that hasn't happened.

COOPER: Yes. It certainly hasn't happened and no sign that all of those conditions are going to be met any time soon. Again, another large explosion here.

We're going to take another short break. We will have more with Wolf, more with Arwa and our correspondents all throughout the region.

When we come back, we also want to show you how the rockets are getting into Gaza, fascinating up-close look. We will be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the situation here in Gaza City and in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

One of the things we have been witnessing over the last seven or so and eight days of the conflict are the increasing level of sophistication of some of the rockets that are being fired by forces here in the Gaza Strip toward Israel, in particularly these Fajr-5 rockets, which are far more sophisticated than rockets they previously had rockets that are made in Iran.

We wanted to take a look at how the rockets are getting here, the pipeline through which they are being sent.

CNN's executive editor, Tim Lister, joining us now with that from Atlanta -- Jim.

TIM LISTER, CNN EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, Anderson, it's really extraordinary, a pretty circuitous route.

But this is kind of how it works according to U.S. officials, Egyptian officials, Israeli officials. The weapons or the weapons components start in Iran. They either come via ship from ports like Bandar- Abbas, which is approximately there, or through overflights across Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and into Sudan.

Some come into Khartoum, some to Port Sudan, which is the major Sudanese port on the Red Sea. From there, a very long land journey up to the top of Sudan, up into Egypt, and then across into Sinai. Sinai may not look like very much at this vantage point, but it is the size of West Virginia, it is huge, it's empty, and bedouin smugglers are known to pretty much control the whole territory. The Egyptian state really doesn't have much to do in Sinai.

In fact, we talked to a bedouin tribal leader yesterday who said they're very clever not to use the highways, the few highways that go across Sinai. They let the air down in their tires and cross the deep sand, very often carrying both African migrants and weapons, Fajr-5, Fajr-3 parts in the same four-by-fours until they right get across to the Gaza border -- Anderson.

COOPER: And then they're brought in through these tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, yes?

LISTER: They're brought in through the tunnels. Very often they're disassembled according to some of the bedouin sources we were talking to yesterday. Some of the tunnels are huge. You can get a truck through them. Therefore they're capable of taking in quite a lot of ammunition, anti-missile rockets, anti-aircraft missiles, and the added wrinkle is now that since Gadhafi's fall in Libya, what we have seen is a flow of weapons into Egypt again, SAM missiles, anti-tank missiles, that have crossed from the Libyan border at (INAUDIBLE) which is right up here, across the delta, and across Sinai to the Gaza border.

There are multiple sources now. The Egyptian security forces simply can't cope with this inflow, especially in an area like Sinai, which is pretty lawless to start with.

COOPER: I want to bring in CNN's Ben Wedeman, who has a lot of experience with the region, lived in Cairo up until recently.

You have actually spent time in Gaza, in one of these bomb-making factories, essentially, rocket-making factories, but the level of sophistication has grown exponentially.

WEDEMAN: Yes. The weapons they were making in that particular workshop were crude, they were made -- the propellant was made out of fertilize, and it was all pretty much put together locally. What we're seeing now with the Fajr-5 rockets, these are sophisticated rockets that can go very long way.

And we have seen them go out and they look like the real thing as opposed to these -- the homemade rockets were crude. They had -- they have no guidance systems whatsoever. The rocket teams had three minutes to set them up and fire them. Otherwise, the Israelis would find them, target them and kill them.


COOPER: Tim Lister was talking about this pipeline through the Sinai used by the bedouins. A lot of the components are brought in. But Egypt authorities must know these rockets are coming through.

WEDEMAN: They do. And the nature of the Egyptian police and security services is that they're very poorly paid and they're very easy to bribe.

Therefore, it is not too difficult if there is a lot of money involved, to do almost anything, in the Sinai in particular, which is a part of Egypt that since the revolution has really become a lawless area where the hand of the Egyptian government is quite light at this point.

COOPER: There is obviously a lot of anger toward Israel here and a lot of blame directed toward Israel. Are people upset that Hamas will set up a rocket battery in a neighborhood?

WEDEMAN: Yes, they are. You have to realize that these people, a lot of the people have nothing to do with Hamas. They maybe don't even support Hamas and when they find out Hamas is setting up a rocket launcher right next to their house, they're not happy. And I have seen over the years going back many years that ordinary Palestinians have told fighters and rocket launchers teams and whatnot, don't come near my house because they know that what happens is the strike will come back and they could pay the ultimate price.

COOPER: What are we seeing from Israeli capabilities? We're seeing -- obviously we're still hearing the constant presence of drones overhead, and some of these drones are capable of actually firing rockets. There's also ships offshore, artillery pieces on Israeli territory, and of course fighter jets as well.

LISTER: That's true, Anderson.

Even before these missiles, rockets get anywhere close to the Gaza Strip, the Israelis are thought to have intercepted several shipments in Sudan. They won't say anything about it, as they often will not, but the Sudanese claimed that on four separate occasions, Israeli planes have struck at convoys carrying weapons.

There were two cars very close to Port Sudan, one last year, the one the year before that in 2010 that were hit, and then was a big convoy struck in 2009 that was thought to have been carrying Fajr-3 components. And just in October of this year, last month, a large industrial complex, the Yarmouk industrial complex on the edge of Khartoum, we can see the satellite photographs of before and after.

It was hit six, enormous craters, 16 meters each of them, an entire ammunition plant destroyed, 40 trailers, shipping containers destroyed. The Israelis said nothing. The Sudanese were convinced it was an Israeli airstrike carried out against an ammunition factory. That particular factory, according to U.S. officials, has been essentially under Iranian control since 2006.

So, although the Israelis say nothing, they have been pretty active in monitoring this pipeline of weapons shipments and trying to interdict it whenever they can.

COOPER: Tim Lister, fascinating to see this pipeline up close and the response to it. Appreciate your reporting on that. Thanks very much.

We will take a short break. Our coverage continues.

As we told you, Hillary Clinton landed earlier. We want to get an update on where negotiations or discussions may stand right now. We will talk with someone in the know when we come back.


COOPER: Well, there has been a lot of speculation, a lot of rumors, a lot of discussion over the last several hour, and last several days, frankly about a potential cease-fire, potential truce.

We got word from a senior Hamas official to CNN several hours ago that there would be an announcement out of Cairo at 9:00 local time. It is now well past 10:00 local time. No such announcement was made. Originally, the word was that Hamas was going to be announcing what they described as a cooling-off period, or calming-down period. What exactly that means, what the parameters of that are was unclear then and is certainly unclear now. We continue to hear explosions obviously here in Gaza City and elsewhere in Gaza.

I want to bring in someone from the Washington Institute, Mr. David McAvoy, who is joining us -- excuse me -- David Makovsky from the Washington Institute.

David, what are you hearing from the Israeli government side about negotiations, about any potential announcement?

DAVID MAKOVSKY, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: Look, I have heard from officials this evening that they thought there would be a text, an agreement somewhere very late tonight.

But, you know, Anderson, in the Middle East there is brinkmanship and people don't always know where the brink is. Sometimes the fighting is fiercest before the cease-fire, but I think the hope was that there would be a text this evening, and it would be while Hillary Clinton is here. Clearly, they want to give Egypt the credit, but her role was unclear, but, you know, in this brinkmanship, Anderson, you never know if one side puts in a few words the other side can't live with, and until it's done, it isn't done.

So I wouldn't go to the bank with this yet. Even though there is optimism, I wouldn't take it to the bank at this point.

COOPER: Yes, until something is actually done and even once it is done, it still has to be seen how it is actually carried out on the ground. Obviously, Hamas not in full control of all of the forces, all the groups operating here in Gaza and capable of firing rockets toward Israel.

Do you know from the Israeli side what the parameters of a cease-fire would need to entail?

MAKOVSKY: Well, clearly, Israel has talked about this two-stage cease-fire, which is quiet for quiet as they call it, that, you know, people just stop firing. If people want something more elaborate, then there would be that sort of conversation.

But, you know, with the reservists, you know, poised on the border, and people in shelters, they think that any sort of negotiation would be protracted and they certainly -- they don't want to hold themselves to that. They just want to stop the fire and then have a more elaborate conversation. And the question is if, like, a small a more basic cease-fire morphs into a wider cease-fire with more responsibilities for each side, and that will, you know, there is going to be demands here on all sides.

But I think, in the short term, all sides can claim some political credit of a basic cease-fire, but, you know, the question is are they willing to be more ambitious and develop it even further and therefore make it less likely that there will be another round of fighting down the road? COOPER: And that likelihood of course always remains. As we have seen in the past, when there have been cease-fires in the past, ultimately violence does break out until there is some sort of a long- term solution and that seems very far off.

David, I appreciate your expertise. And thank you for joining us, David Makovsky from the Washington Institute.

Our coverage continues from here in this region. We're going to be going back later on to Wolf Blitzer, who is monitoring developments. As we said, Hillary Clinton is on the ground. She's going to be heading toward Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu. From there, we will also be going to Ramallah to meet with Mahmoud Abbas.

We will be right back. Our coverage continues.