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Day Eight of Israeli Campaign; Clinton to Give Press Conference; Interview with George Mitchell; Interview with Micky Rosenfeld

Aired November 21, 2012 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": It's day eight of the Israeli campaign to try to put a stop to rocket fire from Gaza. Not only is there no cease-fire between the Israelis and Hamas militants, terror returns to the streets in Tel Aviv on this day.

Israeli police say more than 20 people are hurt, three of them seriously, from a bomb explosion on a bus. The bus was passing by the Israeli army military headquarters in Tel Aviv at the time.

The Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is in her second day of what's being called "shuttle diplomacy." She's meeting with all the parties except Hamas.

Within the past few minutes, she's apparently wrapped up talks in Cairo with Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi, who this time yesterday was saying a truce, at least a cease-fire of some sorts, was just hours -- hours -- away.

Let's go to Tel Aviv where Sara Sidner is standing by on the streets of Tel Aviv. Sara, tell our viewers what happened just a few hours ago in Tel Aviv.

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Around noon, Tel Aviv time, there was an explosion on the Number 61 bus. It was very close to the military headquarters here, very close to the courts here, along a street that was eventually block off by police.

There were at least 22 people were injured. Some of those people were on the bus. Some of those people were outside of the bus. They suffered everything from panic attacks to a couple teenagers who have the worst of the injuries.

We talked to the e.r. doctor just behind me in this hospital here who told us that one of the teenagers may lose a limb, perhaps an arm because of the soft tissue that has been blasted away.

And, also, the other, a lot of shrapnel wounds in the face. Both may face a lifetime of disability and those are his words.

We talked also to the police who said that they are still looking for a suspect, trying to figure out exactly who is responsible for blowing up this bus. We saw the bus before it was driven away. All the windows had been blasted out. There was glass all over the place. A lot of the people who were hurt were hurt from glass blasting out and hitting their bodies.

We know that here at the hospital they've been quite busy trying to make sure that they can do as much as they can for these patients.

We do know, the good news is no one is expected to lose their life, but certainly a lot of fear here in the streets of Tel Aviv.

BLITZER: Sara, this is the first time I think in about six years or so, since 2006, that there's been a major terrorist attack in the commercial heart of Israel in Tel Aviv, and we know that there are various groups praising this operation, but as far as the responsibility is concerned, what are Israeli police or military officials telling you? Do they know who's responsible?

SIDNER: They are telling us they do not yet know and they're trying to figure out exactly who is behind this attack.

We do know from the folks that are working on these patients -- they have dealt with this, as you said, you know, in the '90s, much worse scenario in the '90s, when buses would blow up and cafes were blown up.

The explosives used in this one, according to those who are working on the patients and according to the injuries these patients have who were inside the bus, they said a much smaller explosive.

What we've been hearing from the police is that they do not believe this was a suicide bomber, someone who got on the bus laden with explosive and blew themselves up, but instead that there something left on the bus or thrown into the bus that then exploded.

They are looking for the person who did that and perhaps a second suspect, as well. They are combing the entire country now.

First, it started in Tel Aviv. We did see helicopters in the air for much of the day after this explosion happened, but they are trying to figure out who is behind this attack.

And, you know, as we go forward with trying to figure out whether or not there's going to be some sort of truce or cease-fire between Gaza and Israel, this is not a good sign if any of those militant groups inside Gaza are responsible for this, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's absolutely true. Sara, thanks very, very much.

And, as she says, the Israelis are looking for someone who apparently threw this bomb on that bus, that individual still large.

Later this hour, we're going to be speaking with the chief spokesman for the Israeli police, Micky Rosenfeld. He'll be here with me in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Reza Sayah is joining us from Cairo right now where the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has been meeting with the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi.

Reza, we understand those meetings have wrapped up. What's the latest?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we were under the impression that they wrapped up. Now, we've just gotten word from the President's office and Secretary of State Clinton is still meeting with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and other Egyptian officials.

That means they've been in meeting for a good two hours. That is a very lengthy meeting when it comes to diplomatic matters and that drives home the fact that this is an incredibly important matter for both Washington and Cairo. All eyes on these two countries to see if they can hammer out a cease-fire between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

It really makes sense that these two countries are getting together to establish a cease-fire in this conflict. Of course, Washington with strong ties to Israel, and then you have Egypt. They already have their peace treaty with Israel, 1979 Camp David Accords.

They've come out and said they're not going to disrupt that peace treaty, but what's important with Egypt, what they can bring to the table is their ties with Hamas. They have strong relations with them.

Of course, Hamas was born out of the Muslim Brotherhood and that's why much of the world is eager to see if these two countries, the U.S. and Egypt, can get together and get these two sides to stop fighting.

They haven't been able to do it yet, but diplomatic efforts continuing at this hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's no word yet, I take it, Reza, on whether there will be joint public statements by the Egyptian president and Hillary Clinton following there meetings? We don't have an indication of that, one way or another yet, do we?

SAYAH: The last statements we received from the President's office was that there would be a press conference. That's what we are waiting for.

We anticipated this meeting to take place earlier this afternoon, local time in Cairo, and for the press conference to follow, but this meeting has gone on for a little bit longer than we expected, so we're looking to see if a press conference comes after this meeting wraps up.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see if they announce some sort of cease- fire, some sort of agreement, if they announce that Hillary Clinton is returning here to Jerusalem for yet more talks with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

She had an unexpected meeting with him this morning following her session in Ramallah with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, after meeting with Netanyahu late into the night, last night.

Reza Sayah, we'll stay in close touch with you. Thanks very, very much.

Lots of dramatic developments happening right now. We'll take a quick break. Much more from Gaza and from Israel when we come back.



GEORGE MITCHELL, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO THE MIDDLE EAST: We knew that when we began this effort there would be many obstacles and difficulties and there have been, but we will persist in our determination to achieve comprehensive peace in the Middle East.


BLITZER: That was the former U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell. He didn't -- he wasn't speaking this week. He wasn't speaking in the past several months.

That was exactly, almost exactly, two years ago after another flare-up between Israel and Hamas and another round of peace talks with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Yet, here we are two years later.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: In the days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region for an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all people of the region.


BLITZER: Egypt still playing a significant role in the peace process, if their is a peace process, between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the wars are still raging for all practical purpose.

Peace talks, not much happening now, hasn't happened in a while, which brings us back to Senator George Mitchell who is joining us now from New York to give us some perspective on the hope for peace in a region that has been daunted -- haunted, I should say -- by decades of violence.

Senator Mitchell, thanks very much for coming in. Is it credible to think that the Israelis and Hamas can reach some sort of truce, if you will, that is lasting as opposed to just some temporary cease-fire?

MITCHELL: Well, I certainly think they can reach a truce. Whether it will be long-lasting or not is more problematic and depends upon the parties themselves, but, as you pointed out just a moment ago, Wolf, this has a very long history, going all the way back to the creation of Israel.

Since then, there have been 12 Israeli prime ministers, 10 American presidents, 20 secretaries of state and the conflict continues.

And, you mentioned, two years ago, of course, you will recall that it was almost exactly four years ago that the last huge outbreak, comparable to what is now occurring, was happening in the region and, in fact, it ended just four day before President Obama took office for his first term.

So, this is a long, complicated conflict.

BLITZER: We're seeing the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, now engaged in a little mini-"shuttle diplomacy" to achieve this kind of cease-fire. Let's see if she succeeds, but she says she wants to leave at the end of this first term by the President.

Here's the question for you as a former special envoy. If you were asked by the President for some advice, would you recommend that he name another special envoy to deal with Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or leave that directly in the hands of the new Secretary of State?

MITCHELL: I think the tremendous demands upon any Secretary of State, worldwide, and given the importance of this issue, having someone dedicated specifically to the issue makes sense.

It doesn't, of course, guarantee a favorable result. There were many envoys before me. There are likely to be many after me, but I do think that it does warrant -- the importance of the issue to the United States, to Israel, to the whole region, is sufficient to adjust that, in my judgment.

BLITZER: Yeah, I agree. And I think it's got to be somebody in a very, very high level. You did an amazing job in Northern Ireland as all of our viewers remember.

For some time, I've suggested that the former president, Bill Clinton, who came close at the end of his second term to a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians, that he be named, especially now that his wife is leaving the State Department.

I saw John McCain, the Senator, liked that idea. He proposed it over the weekend. Tony Blair, the special envoy from the so-called "Quartet," he was intrigued by it when I show with them this week. And today I spoke with Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, who only had strong words for Bill Clinton, as well.

Would that be something that would be a good idea?

MITCHELL: Well, President Clinton is highly regarded in the region and on both sides and he certainly would be a credible choice.

I don't think, however, it ought to be limited to him, in case he weren't able to do it. I don't think you want to create the impression that whoever the President does name, if anyone, is there for sort of a second choice or doesn't enjoy the confidence of President Obama.

Because that's very important for any envoy in the region, having the confidence of the President and the Secretary of State.

BLITZER: But you do need someone at a -- in order to -- you worked hard to try to get this people process going. You need someone of that stature, don't you, someone who has the credibility among the Israelis and the Palestinians to really get this peace process off the ground? Don't you agree?

MITCHELL: Yes, I do. I think it is important.

The most important thing is that the person be seen as having the confidence and the trust and access to the President because both the Israelis and the Palestinians, indeed everybody with whom we deal around the world, will want to make sure that their words are being heard directly by the President and by the Secretary of State.

So, obviously, the -- a person like President Clinton would have that kind of stature and would have that kind of access and so I think he'd be obviously a very credible person to do it.

All I'm suggesting is that if, for any reason, he doesn't wish to do it or the President doesn't wish to offer it to him, that we not take the position that there's no one else that could do it. There are many others that are able and well-known persons who might be able to perform the task efficiently and well.

In the end, obviously, it's up to the parties in the region. The presence or identity of an American representative, while important, in the end, you can't have a peace if the parties who are doing the fighting aren't prepared for it.

The real issue is creating an argument that persuades them that their self-interest lies in reaching an agreement. Now, I think that's possible. I made that argument to both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, unsuccessfully. They were not prepared to accept it at that time.

But I believe that Israel's self-interest is -- and its security will be enhanced by an agreement with the Palestinians. And I think that the Palestinians aren't going to get a state, which they want and ought to have, unless and until the people of Israel have a reasonable sense of security.

As President George W. Bush put it in a speech in Jerusalem just before he left office, each is invested in the other's success because neither can obtain its objective unless the other side gets its objective.

The Israeli people want security. They have a right to it. The Palestinians want a state. They ought to be able to have a state. And each of them should be invested.

So far, the many obstacles, the complexities which you, Wolf, know very well, have prevented that from occurring, but I think, ultimately, they will both come around to that realization.

BLITZER: I hope so and I couldn't agree more with your assessment. And I know whoever President Obama names as a special envoy will want to sit down with you and consult in-depth on some of the recommendations you have on how to move this peace process off the ground.

Because, as you know and I think all our viewers know, the stakes not only for the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the entire region and, dare I say, the entire world, are enormous right now.

Senator Mitchell, thanks very much for coming in.

MITCHELL: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we're standing by. We're watching several breaking news developments, that terrorist attack in Tel Aviv today, terrorists going after a bus that was bombed right in the heart of the Israeli commercial center. We're watching that story.

Also watching what's happens in Gaza. Right now, Israeli air strikes continuing even as the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is meeting with the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, to try to come up with some sort of deal.

As all of these situations, all of these talks continue, the human toll has mounted. Officials now say at least 142 Palestinians and at least five Israelis have been killed since the violence began eight days ago.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: A terrorist attack right in the heart of Israel's commercial center in Tel Aviv. First time in about six years that there's been a bus bombing in Israel. Joining us now is the chief spokesman for the Israeli police, Micky Rosenfeld. Who is just back - you're here in Jerusalem - just back from Tel Aviv. So, walk us through first of all, casualties. How many casualties?

MICKY ROSENFELD, ISRAELI POLICE SPOKESMAN (via telephone): Well, after the initial explosion which took place on the bus itself in the heart of Tel Aviv, there were 24 people that were treated in the Ichilov Hospital, the main hospital in Tel Aviv. Three of them in moderate to serious condition being treated from the shrapnel from the explosion itself. And throughout the afternoon, the Israeli police have continued to investigate that terrorist attack. It's clear to us that it was a terrorist attack by at least one individual that must have put the explosive device on the bus.

BLITZER: And that individual is at large?

ROSENFELD (via telephone): Well, we've heightened security in general, both around the different areas, both around Jerusalem, as well as Tel Aviv. BLITZER: But you haven't arrested anyone yet?

ROSENFELD (via telephone): At the moment, that's correct. We haven't arrested anyone.

BLITZER: So, this person is on the loose, whoever did that?

ROSENFELD (via telephone): Whoever was behind this attack, at the moment, is on the loose, but what I can confirm is that the Israeli police, as well as border police and other different security organizations, are working together, using both on an operational- level, as well as intelligence, looking for the suspect or possibly suspects. And this is taking place right now as we're speaking.

BLITZER: So, what do you believe happened? I know the investigation is preliminary, but I assume you've interviewed eyewitnesses. What do they suspect happened?

ROSENFELD (via telephone): We questioned a lot of people at the scene, both who fled the bus, as well as people that were at the hospital, themselves. We asked them who they saw and what they know.

Obviously, I don't want to go into too much detail about the investigation, but what we do know is, after the initial explosion, the bomb disposal experts examined what type of explosive device.

We believe the actual size itself was approximately two-to-three kilos. This is all part of what we're looking at at the moment, as well as who exactly either planted it there or put it on the bus fled the scene immediately after that.

BLITZER: Who is responsible? I know there are some groups taking credit or responsibility for this. What do you believe?

ROSENFELD (via telephone): At the moment we don't know who is behind that attack, whether it was a lone attacker or it was something that was much more organized and worked out by a terrorist organization. That's something that's being looked into at the moment.

Always after a terrorist attack here in Israel, the different terrorist factions try and take responsibility. From what we know until now, there is no official statement from any organization that says we carried out the attack.

The previous attack that took place in Tel Aviv was over six years ago and the most recent terrorist attack was, in fact, in Jerusalem in March 2011, where just behind me where we are there was a British woman who was killed near the central bus station.

BLITZER: But based on the initial forensic evidence, do you have -- does it have the fingerprints or hallmarks of a specific terror organization?

ROSENFELD (via telephone): Absolutely not. That is being looked at exactly when we're talking now. The investigation department is working in full coordination with the police headquarters, with the commissioners, with the high-ranking officers who are examining exactly what took place.

We're carrying out security assessments all the time. Obviously, it's a very significant incident. This is a terrorist attack in the heart of Tel Aviv, something that hasn't happened for a long while and, therefore, we'll find the terrorists sooner or later.

BLITZER: And, so, you say you've enhanced security not only in Tel Aviv, but across the country. You're taking additional precautions.

ROSENFELD (via telephone): We've heightened security. We know that there are a number of alerts that we've received, but not specific alerts. This morning's attack that took place, there was no specific alert.

We've heightened security in general, both around Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other major cities in Israel, taking into consideration, obviously, that there's a heightened attempt, at least from the terrorist organizations in the Palestinian areas inside Israel, Jenin, Shren (ph), Nablus and other areas. And, therefore, we'll do everything possible in order to prevent a further terrorist attack from taking place.

BLITZER: One final question. You say at least one person was involved, but there could have been more?

ROSENFELD (via telephone): There could have been more, but we're trying to understand if someone fled the scene or this was something that was planted. All this is under investigation by the Israel national police at the moment.

BLITZER: Micky Rosenfeld is the chief spokesman for the Israeli police. Thanks very much.

ROSENFELD (via telephone): Thank you.

BLITZER: We'll take a quick break.

We're going to go into Gaza where there's activity going on. Ben Wedeman is standing by.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: The diplomatic effort to halt the violence between Israel and Gaza further complicated after a bomb rips through a public transport bus in the heart of Tel Aviv, injuring 24 people.

Though they didn't claim responsibility, a tweet from Hamas militants to Israelis following the attack read and I'm quoting, "You opened the gates of hell on yourselves."

And new video, an explosion in Gaza City.

Since the conflict began some eight days ago, authorities say 142 people have died in Gaza, more than 1,000 injured. In Israel, five people are dead, 70 are wounded.

Let's go to Gaza right now. Ben Wedeman is watching what's going on.

Ben, what's the latest? Air strikes pounding, continuing, I take it?