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Chicago Shootings; Tensions Rise in Israel; Iraq in Crisis

Aired July 7, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: a tornado warning for a major American city. Stand by. We have details.

Also under attack, Israel is on alert responding to new rocket fire. A dangerous conflict is calculating after another brutal death of a teenager.

Plus, is this the face of terror? U.S. officials now are weighing in on this video that claims to show the elusive leader of ISIS just as he may be planning to activate deadly sleeper cells.

And big city bloodbath, dozens of people shot over the long holiday weekend, some are dead, many are wounded. People across America are asking, how could this happen?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following two breaking stories, the explosion of violence in the Middle East and severe weather now unfolding right here in the United States.

A new tornado warning is in effect in Boston. More than a quarter of a million people could be affected. Millions more are in the path of this new dangerous storm system.


BLITZER: There's other breaking news we're following tonight.

Sirens blaring, rockets flying, southern Israel hit with a new barrage of attacks from Gaza. War fears clearly are on the rise after the slaying of three Jewish teenagers, the revenge killing of a young Palestinian teenager and now the beating of his American cousin. Anger clearly boiling over on all sides and there's new fallout for the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well.

Let's bring in our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman. he's on the scene for us in Jerusalem.

Ben, first of all, what's the latest with the escalating violence going on between Israeli forces and Hamas, Palestinian forces in Gaza?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, between 8:00 and 9:00, local time, Israel received somewhere between 40 and 60 rockets fired by Hamas, which claimed responsibility.

There were -- basically landed in a variety of cities in open areas in Southern Israel, only one reported casualty. But, of course, the ambulance services are on high alert, as is the military. We heard from a spokesman for the Israeli army that they have already mobilized hundreds of reservists and are prepared to mobilize as many as 1,500.

This comes after overnight strikes by Israel on Gaza Sunday, where at least eight Palestinians, six of them with Hamas -- rather, five of them with Hamas, two with other factions -- were killed. One of the targets was a tunnel, according to Israeli officials, a tunnel that was being dug into Israel with the intention of possibly kidnapping Israeli soldiers, so a real escalation.

It's been quiet for the last few hours. We are expecting an almost immediate Israeli response to that barrage of rockets between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. Hasn't come yet. But we know the Israeli cabinet met for three hours this afternoon to discuss the options. We have yet to see the other shoe fall quite yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it looks like a powder keg. It was already so intense with the murder of the three Israeli teenagers, the murder of a Palestinian teenager and now the beating of the Palestinian teenager's cousin, an American. And it's really intense right now. What's the latest on this, what, 15-year-old American kid who was beaten up by Israeli police?

WEDEMAN: Well, he's out on bail living with relatives not in the family home, but in an adjacent neighborhood as ordered by the court.

Now, he is -- he will be able to leave if he's not charged. He's scheduled to return to the United States in the middle of the month. His mother, however, want to press legal charges against the Israeli police for beating and kicking their son.

So that's where that situation stands. Now, as far as Mohammad Abu Khdeir, the 16-year-old Palestinian who was killed in a revenge murder, we did see that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did call his father, Hussein, to extend his condolences. But there's still a lot of bitterness in Eastern Jerusalem.

We're hearing about violent clashes in Hebron and other parts of the West Bank as well. So lots of clouds over this part of the world -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by because I want to continue this conversation, Ben. I also want to bring in our CNN Middle East analyst, the former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren. Also joining us, our foreign affairs reporter Elise Labott.

Mr. Ambassador, reports now that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be in deep trouble, key coalition partners ready to bolt. What's the latest on that?

MICHAEL OREN, CNN MIDEAST ANALYST: Good to be with you, Wolf, as always. Yes, the foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, announced today that he

was breaking up his party's unity government, unity party with the prime minister's party. And many balls in the air politically that were precipitated by this round of fighting in Gaza. The foreign minister known for his more right-of-center views accused the prime minister of not reacting with sufficient robustness against the Hamas rocket attacks.

Over the last three weeks, Israel has been struck by hundreds of rockets. It hasn't been widely reported. And there's a growing feeling that the government wasn't doing enough. About a million-and- a-half Israelis have been running for bomb shelter, and particularly this evening. Over the course of the day, about 80 rockets fell in Israel.

BLITZER: The 15-year-old American Palestinian who was beaten up by Israeli police, we saw the video. It's pretty shocking. He had his hands tied behind his back and he was badly beaten up. There's no excuse for that kind of behavior by Israeli police, is there?

OREN: Absolutely not. It will be investigated. And if the family wants to bring charges, chances are they will bring charges.

But while much of the world's been focused on that very regrettable incident, again, we're facing a situation where a war is rapidly unfolding in the south. My wife and I were attending a bar mitzvah ceremony just south of from Tel Aviv -- I'm speaking to you from Tel Aviv -- out on the lawn, with several hundred people.

All of a sudden, the alarm, the sirens went off. Hundreds of people ran for the shelters. We ran into a concrete building. We took a woman who had a baby, put her into the corner, and another young woman was shivering with fear. Then the rockets came in, about five rockets. Two of them were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti- ballistic system. We saw them blow up almost right over our heads. Three others of the Hamas rockets landed in a field and that's just south of here, of Tel Aviv.

Israelis are very much focused on what's happening tonight. Hundreds, thousands, many thousands of Israelis are spending the nights in bomb shelters. Patients are being wheeled in their beds to special sealed rooms, protected rooms within Israeli hospitals south of Tel Aviv.

So Israeli attention is focused on what's unfolding in the south and waiting to see what will be the response of the Israeli armed forces to the onslaught of rockets this evening.

BLITZER: I spoke, Elise, in the last hour with a Palestinian representative here in Washington, Maen Areikat, and he, like the former Israeli ambassador, very concerned there's a powder keg could explode.

U.S. officials, you're talking to officials in the State Department, elsewhere. How worried are they right now that there could be a full- scale war between the Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza? ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, they are very worried about it. Secretary of State John Kerry was on the phone this weekend to Prime Minister Netanyahu urging restraint.

The U.S. is also reaching out to U.S. allies such as Egypt and Qatar to put pressure on Hamas, for them to use restraint. It doesn't seem like anybody with what you see going on in the region right now, Wolf, in Syria and Iraq, no one really wants a wider escalation of this conflict.

But at the same time, as the ambassador said, even though Israel is facing this barrage of rockets, what's really got the international outrage right now is the killing of this -- the beating of the teens, the beating of the Palestinian and the murder of the Palestinian. So that's really in effect almost taking the attention away from the actions that Hamas is doing today.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman, what's it like in Jerusalem right now?

WEDEMAN: It's really tense.

And people are -- emotions are really boiling over. For instance, I know a producer for NPR who was just outside the Damascus gate this evening. They were interviewing some woman in Arabic and an ultra- Orthodox Jew went up with a stone and apparently may have broken her shoulder.

Last night, I was in a restaurant just on the line that divides East and West Jerusalem and at a certain point the waiter came over to us and said move your car out of the road. It looks like there's going to be a fight. There are settlers on one side of the road, Palestinians on the other. Israeli police in the middle.

Things like that, you see -- even though you realize there are tensions here, they really seem to be boiling over. I, for instance, on the day last Monday, after the funeral for the three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and killed, I was in downtown Jerusalem on Jaffa Road and heard a commotion and sort of turned the corner and saw well over 100 Israelis who were chanting death to the Arabs and one of the people in the crowd came up to me and said, once the sun goes down we're going to attack them.

On the plane side, there's real hostility to any Israeli presence on the eastern side of the city given the situation. I have been coming to this city for 25 years and even though the intifada, the second intifada was very tense, what we're seeing here is a calm of a few years is really starting to fall apart in front of your eyes.

BLITZER: So much -- like so much else going on throughout the region, throughout the Middle East. Ben Wedeman, be careful. Elise Labott is here. Thanks very much. Ambassador Oren, thanks to you as well.

More news we're following here. On the front lines against ISIS terrorists. Stand by. We have an exclusive report amid growing fears that sleeper cells may be activated for a spectacular bombing attack. We're also getting a new assessment from U.S. officials about this

brazen video that appears to show the rarely seen leader of ISIS.


BLITZER: Iraqi forces are stepping up security in and around Baghdad, as fears spread that ISIS terrorists may be planning to activate sleeper cell inside the city and launch some kind of truly spectacular attack. If that happens, this could be the man who orders the attack.

U.S. officials have been studying a newly released video to determine if it is fact the leader of ISIS that is shown.

Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what are you learning?

STARR: Wolf, take a look at this video and figure out just how comfortable this terrorist leader is in the middle of the public in northern Iraq.


STARR (voice-over): The U.S. believes this is the first public appearance by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed leader of what he calls the Islamic State, the violent Sunni-backed militants fighting across Syria and now Iraq.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: We have seen of course the reports of the video. We have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video.

STARR: al-Baghdadi suddenly appeared for prayers at this mosque in Mosul in northern Iraq calling for a holy war for his Islamic caliphate, confident he is safe from attack.

JESSICA LEWIS, INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF WAR: Conditions in Mosul must be such that Baghdadi feels like he personally can appear in public and make such a sermon without fear for his own security.

STARR: Even sporting what appears to be a flashy wristwatch. What is so remarkable is until now al-Baghdadi has never openly appeared. There have only been a couple of photos.

He was well-known to the U.S. a decade ago. He was captured near Fallujah in 2004 and held by the U.S. for several months before being released. Now under him, the violence has only grown. For months, al-Baghdadi's fighters have fought from Syria, and across the border into Iraq, taking major cities, expanding control and setting their sights on Baghdad. Photos distributed by militants in the north show destruction of Shia and even Sunni holy sites.

The U.S. calculates militants have captured hundreds of Iraqi military vehicles, large stocks of ammunitions and small arms, some rocket launchers and artillery, everything aimed at making their fighters able to quickly move. But can al-Baghdadi keep up the momentum that's brought his troops to the outer edge of Baghdad forcing Iraqi government troops to reinforce their defenses?

LEWIS: Baghdadi has hung his entire vision for the caliphate upon continued military victory. So in order to sustain the caliphate at this point, Baghdadi has to keep winning.


STARR: Look, this guy is so secretive and has never appeared in public like this. Are they 100 percent sure it's him? No. But the working assumption across the U.S. intelligence community is that Baghdadi now feels so comfortable at appearing in public for a lengthy period of time, they believe this is him.

One of the things they're watching, Wolf, is to see when and if the Sunnis in Iraq will break with this man, if they will reject his violent extremism -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, so chilling. Barbara, thank you.

Meanwhile, thousands of Iraqi forces are in position right now fighting to hold the line against these ISIS troops and a possible offensive into Baghdad or even a sleeper cell attack from within.

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is joining us from Baghdad right now. She has an exclusive report.

Arwa, you're one of the most courageous journalists out there. Tell us what you saw.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the areas that the U.S. is especially concerned about is to the northwest, west of the capital. This is a predominantly Sunni area. They're very worried about ISIS potentially making gains.

And we travelled with a Shia militia known as the Badr Brigades, one of the key lines of defense protecting the vital Baghdad International Airport.


DAMON: Baghdad's airport is about three kilometers, 1.5 miles in that direction. This is its first outer perimeter of defense with fighting positions like this one set up all along it. The boundary that they're using is natural. It's the canal that's just down below.

(voice-over): There are seven similar concentric lines of defense between here and the front line, about a 20-minute drive away, which we visited last week and is, we are told, still being held by Shia militiamen that once fought the Americans.

But Baghdad has been eerily quiet this last week and everyone is on edge, anticipating spectacular bombings and sleeper cells emerging. That is especially of concern out here, this close to Baghdad's airport and the capital's western edge.

(on camera): They're seeing a lot of activity at night, especially after 2:00 a.m. But they don't know exactly what those cars are doing. They're quite suspicious because they're coming at 2:00, 3:00 clock in the morning.

And this is one of the areas, because it is predominantly Sunni, that people are quite concerned that ISIS has sympathizers, if not sleeper cells.

(voice-over): Shia Brigadier General Ali Abdurah Zakshumari (ph) tells us he doesn't want to turn it into a sectarian matter, but, he says: "This area has safe havens. Whenever you see Sunni areas, you will have safe havens."

These men are with the Badr Brigade, Shia Iraqis trained in Iran to fight Saddam Hussein's regime. They joined U.S. forces as the Americans invaded Iraq and then announced they would become a political movement, now officially at least taking up arms for the first time in over a decade as Iraqi security forces desperately need reinforcements.

(on camera): That house right there next to the cell phone tower is one of the locations where they have been seeing quite a bit of the suspicious activity at fairly odd hours, but they haven't yet been able to secure the permission to go in and search it.

(voice-over): So they watch and wait, bracing themselves for battle. Mosul, they vow, won't be repeated here.


DAMON: But, Wolf, the fight against is not going to be won by military means alone. There has to be that political solution that the U.S. has also been trying to pressure Iraq's various political leaders about, trying to urge them to speedily form a government of national unity.

That, however, at this day seems as if it is going to be taking quite some time. Parliament was expected to convene tomorrow. However, we are now hearing that has been postponed until August 12 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Looks like there's no progress at all if anything on that political front, that situation clearly getting worse. Arwa, excellent report. We will check back with you tomorrow as well, Arwa Damon reporting live from Baghdad.

Just ahead, it's been called the murder capital. Now a deadly new round of shootings in a major American city over the long July 4 holiday weekend. CNN is on the ground listening to the anger, looking into what went so horribly wrong.


BLITZER: Outrage and finger-pointing today after a holiday weekend bloodbath; 11 people were killed, dozens wounded in a series of shootings not in a place like Baghdad, but in a major American city, President Obama's hometown of Chicago.

CNN's George Howell is there with the latest.

George, this is truly shocking what has been going on, the shooting especially during the July 4 weekend. Give us the latest.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's the point. There were some in Chicago who celebrated the sights and sounds of the Fourth of July through fireworks. But in other neighborhoods, people took cover amid the loud crack of gunfire. It was a bloody, it was a violent weekend here in Chicago even though police admit they had a plan in place. The problem is, it just didn't work in some places.


HOWELL (voice-over): Bullet holes left over from a violent weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It sat in this tire and in this fender wheel right here, one that bounced off right here.

HOWELL: And on the ground, a cross now marks the spot where Tonya Gunn was shot and killed. This family sits outside where she used to sit, to grieve.

MARLIN WILLIAMS, UNCLE OF VICTIM: I feel hurt. I will never be able to see my niece again. I will never be able to enjoy her cooking. It will never be the same. She got shot in front of her daughter, 11- year-old daughter.

HOWELL: The victim of a drive-by shooting. Marlin Williams says his niece was cooking food on the grill late Sunday night when gunfire erupted. Theirs is just one of more than a dozen families who will be burying loved ones.

Police say at least 60 people were shot and wounded, 14 were killed.

GARRY MCCARTHY, CHICAGO POLICE SUPERINTENDENT: Ladies and gentlemen, it's Groundhog Day here in Chicago.

HOWELL: Sadly, it's something many in Chicago have come to expect during holidays, when the weather warms up during the summer months.

MCCARTHY: We obvious had a plan. The plan included putting hundreds more officers on the streets at the times that we needed them, in the places where we needed them. And what were the results? The results were a lot of shootings and a lot of murders, unfortunately.

HOWELL: McCarthy says part of the problem is it's too easy to get guns like these that were seized by police. But it's the guns police couldn't get that played a factor this weekend, even though police say the murder rates are going down from years before.

WILLIAMS: That's just talk. To me, it's just talk. It's just I don't believe they're really doing their jobs.

HOWELL: There's a feeling of frustration lingering on this street, a family left helpless to change what's happened.

WILLIAMS: It's hard to say what I'm going to do next. I'm just going to prepare for her burial.


HOWELL: So we know that there is a vigil that's set to take place here within the next hour with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, with Superintendent Garry McCarthy all talking about violence here in Chicago.

But you heard there in the story the frustration on many of the streets here, people asking whether this is a lot of talk that we're seeing and hearing or whether something will actually change, especially on these weekend when the temperatures warm up. Wolf, it's something we will have to continue to monitor and hopefully things will get better. But obviously that's what people want to see.

BLITZER: It's so shocking to see those kinds of reports, on July 4 holiday weekend, a dozen people shot and killed, 50 or 60 more shot and severely injured. It's hard to believe this kind of stuff still goes on here in the United States. But clearly it does. We will stay on top of this, George, because it's shocking, shocking story to all of us. As much as we cover it, we're always shocked by these numbers.

George Howell reporting.

Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSITROOM.

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That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Now let's step into the CROSSFIRE with Stephanie Cutter and Newt Gingrich.