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Official: U.S. Considering Airstrikes On ISIS In Iraq; Up To 10,000 Christians Flee Iraqi Homes Due To ISIS; Final Hours Of Fragile Cease-Fire; Source: White House Signaling Aggressive Action In Northern Iraq

Aired August 7, 2014 - 20:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening. Thanks for joining us. The breaking news tonight, American Air Forces tonight have launched a risky new humanitarian mission back into Iraq with tens of thousands of innocent lives on the line.

Men, women, children, members of a nearly extinct religious sect, the Yazidis, dying of hunger and thirst on a mountain top, some just days or hours from death we're told. Thousands more refugees, many of them Iraqi Christians on the run.

Their largest city now occupied by fighters, who gave them an ultimatum, convert to Islam or die. Those fighters, the Jihadist militia, known as ISIS on the march retaking a strategic dame today and closing in on Irbil, which is hosting about 40 American military advisors right now.

So with Northern Iraq tittering on the brink, President Obama met late today with his national security team. We're now waiting to learn whether the president will speak tonight or not. We have extensive coverage in the hour ahead.

Barbara Starr on the plan. Jim Acosta on the president's decision to launch the mission. Jim Sciutto on ISIS and Ivan Watson on the ground in Northern Iraq in Irbil.

We begin with Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. So what do we know at this hour about the operation?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: In Irbil, Anderson, tonight we can tell you that Iraqi officials are telling us Iraqi Air Forces have been striking all day at various targets in and around the Irbil area. No U.S. fighter jets involved at this point. The U.S. clearly sharing intelligence with the Iraqis.

Why Irbil? Why the concern? There are 40 American troops there working as advisors, as ISIS advances on Irbil, you can bet the top concern is the safety of those Americans, the safety of American personnel in Iraq has always been the marker for the president as you would expect their protection, their safety if that becomes at risk in the hours or days ahead.

There will most likely be those air strikes to try and take out any ISIS threat, protect the Americans, and possibility even evacuate them from the area. We need to be clear, at this hour, none of that has happened, but we are headed towards the prospect of air strikes as the situation deteriorates.

COOPER: The prospect of U.S. air strikes?

STARR: That is correct. If those Americans are at risk and there needs to be a way to protect them, the first line would be clearly a U.S. military action to insure their safety and that works a couple ways. You try and evacuate them, get them out of there or if it is so dire, you launch U.S. air strikes against ISIS on the ground, but that is a very difficult target to even identify.

It's been the same problem all the way along. You're in an airplane at 30,000 feet. How do you know if those civilians on the ground are civilians or are they ISIS fighters? Air strikes very, very difficult business.

COOPER: What about the humanitarian air drops and what exactly are they supposed to achieve?

STARR: Well, this is a terrible humanitarian crisis, you know, thousands of people stranded in this remote mountain area dying literally of hunger and thirst, children dying for lack of water, all of this has really emerged over the last several days, couple of weeks, perhaps.

The U.S. pulling this operation together, we understand, very rapidly. Humanitarian air drops to try and get food, water, perhaps medical supplies, other supplies to these people and try and get some help to them. ISIS advancing on those positions where those people are.

All of this very publicly understood. The administration reacting to it very quickly. I will tell you-all day today at the Pentagon, very tight lipped, extremely tight lipped about all of this.

Not giving us details about exactly the status of the humanitarian drops, when they will occur and how soon tonight we will learn the details of what has happened. They want to ensure the safety of those U.S. aircraft and U.S. air crews.

COOPER: All right, Barbara Starr, appreciate it. We'll continue checking with you.

President Obama made ending U.S. military involvement in Iraq obviously a campaign promise. Tonight that commitment in a phrase is up in the air overtaken by events and urging humanitarian need.

With inside details on how President Obama reached the decision to act, let's go to Jim Acosta at the White House. What do we know about what's been going on behind closed doors. Barbara Starr saying people are being tight-lipped at the Pentagon. What have officials at the White House been saying?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They've been very tight-lipped here, as well, Anderson. I've been talking to White House officials, they caution us things are very fluid and moving minute by minute all day long. You showed the picture of the president meeting with his national security team earlier today.

Anderson, I think what is also interesting is that earlier today, the president was observed having a very animated discussion with his chief of staff, Dennis McDonough, outside the oval office. That's a sight we don't see very often.

Obviously, of these kinds of actions are being considered. That would lend themselves to a very tense discussion and we saw that unfold out in public earlier today.

The other thing we should mention, Anderson, and Barbara was talking about this, advisors in Irbil that would meet one of the conditions that the president has set out for some sort of military action to take place.

If American interests are threatened, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest emphasized earlier today, a U.S. air strike is possible. One other thing they have also talked about, this humanitarian crisis that's been unfolding in Northern Iraq.

That humanitarian crisis, Josh Earnest said, is similar to what they saw in Libya three years ago when you saw Muammar Gaddafi's forces moving in on Benghazi. Those rebels were at risk of being wiped out. That was a humanitarian trigger for NATO air strikes.

The White House very interestingly pointing to that example earlier today and then finally, one of the other conditions the president has set is the Iraqi government. They wanted to see a more unified Iraqi government.

The White House press secretary is pointing to. Instances in which, you know, portions of Iraqi minority communities have been worked into the Iraqi government at various levels. That would also satisfy some of the president's conditions for launching air strikes.

At this point, though, we have to tell you, Anderson, I tried mightily earlier today to pin down Josh Earnest on this. They are not saying whether or not these air strikes will take place -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jim, it's interesting. When the president decides to send American advisors several weeks ago to Iraq, there were a lot of questions about what about the potential for mission creep. You now have a situation where because there are American advisors in Irbil, there may be the need to do airstrikes to protect those American advisors, which you could define as mission creep.

ACOSTA: That's right. All along the White House has said, the president has said that if they put those advisors in place. That they will be protected. They are not going to be sent in and then not have backup from the United States military.

So that was always something that they, you know, were taking into consideration. At the same time, Josh Earnest mentioned this earlier today, no boots on the ground. They are insisting, Anderson, no boots on the ground. So when you talk about mission creep, it's not going to creep in that direction unless the White House is going to engage in a major reversal. I just don't see that happening at this point.

COOPER: You understand how much this situation on the ground has changed, the fact that Irbil, a place, which has been thought to be relatively out of the danger zone is now being threatened itself. The president could speak tonight. Do we know when?

ACOSTA: We don't know when. We've been hearing rumblings of this possibly occurring all day long, and very interestingly, the White House has told us basically to stick around here, Anderson. They have not given us that routine guidance that it's OK to go home for the night, no more possibilities of a presidential statement either in person or in paper. We're waiting minute by minute the way you are.

COOPER: All right, Jim Acosta, appreciate it. Not only is Iraq taking a turn for the worst, it's happened faster and more extensively than most people first saw. ISIS which President Obama once compared to the junior varsity, not the big leagues, has been making one dangerous strategic move after another and quickly, as well.

Our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, joins us with more. Why is now the tipping point for the White House to get involved in some capacity be it humanitarian or military? Are things that bad on the ground, not just for this group in the mountains but for Irbil itself?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This has been building for some time, but it is the rapid deterioration on the ground. You have one a looming massacre for these 40,000 some Yazidis. You have two, a direct threat to the U.S. military advisors and other consular staff in Irbil. That's immediate.

But more medium term, long term, you have ISIS that has solidified and in fact expanded its territory throughout Northern and Western Iraq. When you look at the map, how it expanded from six weeks ago to today, you can see it's not just the cities that it captured on the map there.

But also the territory in between where it's operating and when I speak to U.S. officials, they say one, ISIS is not giving up this terriroty anytime soon. In fact, they are solidifying their control.

Two, Iraqi forces have not shown ability to this point to gain that territory back. You're seeing air strikes this evening from Iraqi war planes in the north, but really just to hold back an ISIS advance not to gain back any of this territory.

So you have an alarming situation here, Anderson, with, you know, even worse than what we saw as a looming threat in Afghanistan with al Qaeda before and after 9/11. ISIS has more territory. It occupies this territory more like an army than a terrorist group, in fact, like a government.

They are issuing license plates, collecting taxes, directing traffic there and just keep in mind for our viewers. It's not just a threat to the region. U.S. officials also repeatedly tell me they are training and they are preparing for attacks on the U.S. homeland.

COOPER: It's also not just ISIS forces. They are in league with Sunni groups, which have a longstanding animosity obviously toward the central government there, but it's extraordinary, you know, when you think about it, just how pathetic the Iraqi military has been, particularly the officer core.

This is a huge military with the United States has poured a tremendous amount of money and training and time into this military. And the fact that a lot of these generals and the Iraqi military were basically given political patronage positions they don't really have experience themselves.

They are just there to see what is in it for them. The fact they have not been able to retake ground is really shocking.

SCIUOTTO: It's alarming, particularly with the investment of U.S. blood and treasure, $2 trillion, more than 4,000 lives lost, but also a tremendous focus on building this military to be able to secure the country after U.S. forces withdrew.

But what you hear from U.S. military officials consistently is this, they had a good fighting force when U.S. forces withdrew. That Prime Minister Malaki effectively dismantled that.

One by removing a lot of Sunni generals and officers that have been put in place by putting his own Shiite friends and cronies into those positions. And creating in effect a dominant Shiite fighting force as opposed to a national Iraqi fighting force.

And there by dismantling all that work that the U.S. military put in creating this force and we're seeing the results of that right now.

COOPER: And no real sign that that's going to change any time soon. Jim Sciutto appreciate it. Now let's go to Ivan Watson on the ground in Irvil. Not far from dividing line between Kurdish forces and ISIS. What's the latest there?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just to give you a sense of how close the fighting is tonight, Senior Kurdish officials telling me that the Iraqi Air Force carried out strikes on a number of suspected ISIS targets and claiming to and we haven't confirmed this on our own, claiming to have killed two ISIS commanders, one in the town called Hawija.

Another in a town called Guare and that is a town that ISIS purportedly controls and it's only about 35 miles as the crow flies, 35 miles southwest of the center where I'm standing now and that's part of what triggered real fear, not only in the surrounding countryside where I've seen a stream throughout the day of Iraqi civilians just piling into anything that can basically move.

Moving on foot even to escape the ISIS advances. They captured a couple towns and villages within the last 48 hours, pushing forces back. Last night you had Kurds taking to the hills and the leadership pledging that the militia would in fact be able to protect this city from the militants getting closer and closer to the city's gates.

COOPER: I mean, the fighters have always been considered and early on in the fight against is were able to hold their own, what happened to them? Are they still -- do they have enough weaponry and ammunition?

WATSON: It is a remarkable turnaround if you think about two months ago when ISIS burst onto the scene capturing Mosul. The Kurds were celebrating as the Iraqi military melted and looked like they could come closer than ever to independence, which is a dream for a lot of people.

Now there is real fear as it's proven that ISIS has been able to push fighters out of a number of towns and villages, closer and closer here to Irbil. Officials telling me they are out gunned, that ISIS captured so many armored vehicles from the Iraqi army.

Armored vehicles and weapons that had originally been supplied by the U.S. government that it is out gunning the Kurdish Peshmarga who were still using Kurdish officials say weapons that they inherited from Saddam Hussein's army.

That they don't have the same kind of armored Humvees that ISIS now have and that ISIS have succeeded in pushing them back from a number of these towns and villages in the flat lands. The Kurds are relying on Iraqi air strikes, but say the Iraqi Air Force has to defend its first priority Baghdad, which is not the Kurdish homeland here in the north.

We'll have to watch how it unfolds, but the Kurds will have two crisis, the battlefield against is and growing humanitarian crisis here where the United Nations estimates some 200,000 people have flooded toward the territory, civilians, fleeing within the last 48 hours.

This is anybody who is not a Sunni Muslim. So they are Christians. They are Yazidi minority. They are Shiites that I've met as well and other groups that are scared for their lives of these ISIS militants.

COOPER: It is an incredibly alarming situation. Ivan Watson, appreciate it. Jim Sciutto, Jim Acosta, Barbara Starr, we are going to check in with all of you throughout the hour.

A lot ahead. Right now, we have to take a quick break as we wait to hear one or the other from the White House about President Obama making comments. We'll dig deeper next into the enormous humanitarian crisis and the larger strategic and military implications if ISIS keeps rolling.


COOPER: Welcome back, breaking news, alarming news, U.S. relief flights heading for Iraq carrying life-saving supplies for tens of thousands of Iraqis, members of the Yazidi sect trapped on a mountain top without food or water on the baking hot summer sun of Northwestern Iraq.

ISIS fighters down below and in control of big chunks of strategic territory in several major cities. It's a far cry from how President Obama described the situation three years ago.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Iraq is not a perfect place. It has many challenges ahead, but we're leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.

COOPER: Safe to say, things have changed certainly with the military. Joining us now, Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Rick Francona, "New York Times" correspondent, Stephen Farrel and our national security analyst, Fran Townsend, a former White House Homeland Security adviser.

Colonel, what do you make of this? Obviously, it's a very fluid situation, but in terms of, there is the humanitarian drop component and then there is also the possible, the use of U.S. military fighters to bomb advancing ISIS forces.

LT. COL. RICK FRANCONA, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, both are probably important on the humanitarian side. This is something we can do, but it has to be done right. You can't just push things out of the back of an aircraft. They have to be targeted to get to an area where people can actually find them and use them. You don't want them going out and exposing themselves to ISIS fire.

COOPER: Right, there is concern, I mean, if you're dropping supplies out of a c-130 from a height or even from low, you have to have some sort of fighter jet escort, I would say.

FRANCONA: They will go in there. They will probably have F-16s that are equipped to do air defense suppression. That's the big fear. It has ISIS gotten itself a hold of some weapon that can knock down a higher flying aircraft.

We talked about this and the Malaysian aircraft, these more capable anti-aircraft systems. Right now, we don't believe they do, but who knows what they have taken, say, from the Syrian. ISIS has proven itself to be very effective in moving things from one place to the other very quickly.

COOPER: Then there is the issue of a possible air strike against ISIS forces advancing on Irbil. That's always been at the worst is has been doing, Irbil was considered safe.

FRANCONA: Capitol of the Kurdish area. You have to worry about them, as well. If you do air strikes there, what are you going to go after? Will you try to bomb? It's not like is has a headquarters somewhere. This is basically an armored force on the move. So you have to target individual vehicles, very, very labor intensive and weapon intensive.

COOPER: You spent a lot of time in this region. There is a lot of fault lines in this region. STEPHEN FARRELL, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Very much so. This is where Arab meets Kurd and religious fault lines, as well. You have Sunni Muslims and brought many years ago, completely complicating the picture and between all of these, the tiny threads of the Christians, the other sectors, all of whom are vulnerable and persecuted and looks like another round is coming out.

COOPER: What is the end game? You have them on this mountain now giving the humanitarian supplies, where can they go?

FARRELL: The only close place they could possibly go is into the Kurdish region. You can drive there very, very quickly. Geography is no guarantee of safety.

COOPER: Fran, what is going on in the White House at this hour? You've been in those situations before and the president is soliciting to, you know, to all his advisers. We saw an animated conversation he was having with some of his national security outside the White House. Explain what the conversation about it is like at this stage?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's actually at this point quite tactical, Anderson, which is not normal inside the situation room. So the question is what is the need? What is the Iraqi capability and what is our capability to fill any gap so that is to meet the original need?

You know you have the humanitarian crisis. You've got to deal with that. What capability are the Iraqis able to provide? If they are able to provide bombing and bombing sorties, we can come in behind them and do humanitarian assistance.

But that's really -- you're looking to figure out what is the need, what is the delta, the piece that the Iraqis because they are focused on the military campaign can't provide that we can come in behind them and do.

And can we help support them in terms of the effort the Iraqis are making? So it's right now, the president and his national security team will be very focused on real tactical questions, tactical problems and they will be looking to the U.S. Military and intelligence community for answers.

COOPER: Colonel, there is a short-term crisis about getting aid to these people in need, bolstering the Kurds, but longer term, I mean, talking weeks and month, still have the core problem, the Iraqi military that has been the officer core has been, you know, turned into a joke by Prime Minister Maliki.

FRANCONA: Yes, the prime minister collapsed, melted away so you're leaving them to defend Northern Iraq. They are basically a light infantry and they are not capable of defending themselves against an armored force, which is fast moving in on them.

As we've talked before, someone in the ISIS organization has gone to a war college. They have a lot of former Iraqi officers that know what they are doing. COOPER: They also have a lot of Sunni supporters who are -- who they are using and who are former Baathist in the way.

FRANCONA: It snowballs as they roll down there, but that's going to stop as they get closer. As Stephen mentioned, as they get into a more Kurdish areas, they will meet more resistance.

COOPER: A lot of these generals who were put into place in the Iraqi military are there because they are friends of somebody, they are not actually battle field. They don't have battle field experience and not even really engaged with their troops. They are there to see what they can get out of the military by selling supplies or corruption.

FARRELL: That's nothing particularly new for the army going back decades. Don't forget how quickly that military crumbled away. You talk about Sunnis, but the soldiers on the ground have to make a calculations, who are they fighting and where are they fighting?

They are fighting in an overwhelming Sunni area. Are they going to give up lives and expect that a sheer prime minister is really going to help them out? What will they expect they have a chance against Sunni Islamist force in a Sunni area where people are going to be calculating, who is our biggest enemy here?

COOPER: Yes. Stephen Farrel, appreciate it. Col. Francona as well and Fran Townsend.

Up next, more on what makes ISIS such a powerful threat right now What you need to know about the militant group that's taken over the largest Christian city and so much of the rest of the country as well when we continue.


COOPER: Again, the breaking news tonight, President Obama launching an aerial relief mission, U.S. Air Force cargo planes bringing badly needed supplies to civilians cornered by ISIS fighters in Northern Iraq.

The question now, will it work and will humanitarian efforts be enough? The answer may depend, of course, on ISIS. Take a look.


COOPER (voice-over): Brutal, well-organized and well-financed. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria also known as ISIS has rapidly morphed into the world's most dangerous Jihadist organization, the method so extreme al Qaeda has disavowed any relationship with it.

The group seized on the power vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal in Iraq, the continuing Syrian civil war and the hostility between different Muslim groups to grow and influence and bolsters its ranks becoming a magnet for battle-hardened jihadists from around the world.

Its goal is synonymous with its name to set up an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East and with its recent advances in Northern Iraq, that goal appears to be closer. ISIS now controls crucial swats of territory stretching from the Syrian City of Aleppo all the way to the outskirts of Baghdad.

And it's threatened to advance on the capital itself. ISIS was originally known as the Islamic State of Iraq, al Qaeda's affiliate there. It was tasked with creating a sectarian civil war to destabilize the country during the U.S.-led occupation.

But its current leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has a larger vision for the group. Al-Baghdadi assumed control of ISIS in 2010 at the age of 39, a religious scholar who claims to be a direct descendant to the Prophet Mohammed. His shrewd leadership and ruthless tactics have inspired thousands and many call him the new Osama Bin Laden.

As ISIS has grown, it's assumed the responsibility, not just of a terrorist group, but of a governing power, often providing food and services to the residents in the areas it controls. ISIS rules through fear imposing Sharia Law and holding executions to keep people in check and with each city it conquers, it seems the power and influence grows.


COOPER: Joining me now live, "Quartz" managing editor, Bobby Ghosh, who has done extensive reporting on Iraq, Spencer Ackerman, national security editor of "The Guardian" and CNN national security analyst, Bob Baer, a former CIA officer.

Bob, you say that there is a significant risk of retaliatory inside the United States if American forces take out a large number of ISIS fighters, do you really believe that?

BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I've heard that. There are Americans that have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with ISIS. They have American passports. They can easily comeback to the country.

Number two, I'm hearing from officials on the Mexican border that they believe and I can't confirm this, that ISIS members are coming back that don't have American passports walking across the border.

They say it's a significant threat and they clearly have bad intentions. So I think the level of terrorism, while not absolutely certain has gone way up, the threat of it.

COOPER: Bobby, in terms of Jihad organizations we've seen, where does ISIS rate?

BOBBY GHOSH, MANAGING EDITOR, "QUARTZ": I think they are off the charts. I think they make everything that's come before them seem tame --

COOPER: Because?

GHOSH: Because in terms of efficiency and organization, you can compare them with the Taliban, but in terms of sheer brutality, this is a new low. I can't think of any other terrorist group, even al Qaeda that seems to enjoy the act of slaughtering people as much as --

COOPER: It's like a death cult.

GHOSH: It is exactly death. These are guys that put out these videos and I've spent far too many hours over the last 15 years seeing videos like this. I've never seen anything on this scale. They enjoy the killing and keep in mind, fellow Muslims --

COOPER: Of course, that's who they are killing.

GHOST: That's who they can killing. They are killing them with a relish and putting out videos where they are not killing one or two but hundreds of people and the kind of slaughter that you last saw, the last saw in Nazi concentration camps.

COOPER: Is it that ISIS has no one been able to actually stand up to them given the pathetic nature of the Iraqi forces?

SPENCER ACKERMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR, "THE GUARDIAN": Where has the resistance been? This is week 12 or 13 since they over ran Mosul. The Kurdish hyped up, they retreated back to Irbil. We have to see a situation in which ISIS challenged on the battle field. Bobby is absolutely right. The contrast between the way in which they are so savvy at social media is also like nothing we've seen from an organization with ISIS' goals.

COOPER: What has happened to the Peshmerga? It's much vaunted fighting force. Why is Irbil itself under threat?

GHOSH: They haven't had to fight since the hay day of Saddam Hussein, 20, 25 years ago. A lot of the battle hardened commanders and many of the soldiers, especially, went to Irbil or the other big cities to change their lives, to try and take advantage of the new wealth coming. They are now the politicians. All those gleaming buildings in Irbil, Irbil looks like a small version of Dubai. Who is behind it?

COOPER: They don't have the battle field experience?

GHOSH: Not very much. Once they have given up the life of people who love death and sort of basically enjoyed different kind of life of luxury, it's going to be hard for them to go back.

COOPER: Bob, you say some of the people fighting along ISIS have really extensive military training. It's important to remember. This isn't just ISIS forces, these are also Sunni groups, some were part of the Sunni awakening that have been turned away essentially by al- Maliki.

BAER: Exactly, Anderson. You know, you've got Republican guard officers who do understand tactics. They are fighting along with ISIS and don't forget, two months ago they over ran Camp Spiker and they got sophisticated weapons stolen from the army like night vision goggles, which the Kurds don't have.

They are complaining about bitterly is that the ISIS can fight at night, they can't. You're seeing engineers, sophisticated and also seeing that Sunni tribes are fighting with them because they are fighting against Maliki and Baghdad. So what we're seeing here is not just ISIS, but we are seeing what's called, you know, Sunni intifada against the Shia and including now against the Kurds.

COOPER: Spencer, the difficulty for the White House for anybody who wants to try to get involved in this is what is the end game? I mean, there is an immediate crisis, but as if there is a solution on the battlefield from Iraqi forces, you know, a week away or two weeks ago.

ACKERMAN: You have an enormous gulf in the way administration has conceptualize this problem between the immediate of this crisis, the humanitarian situation or impending threat to Iraqi Kurdistan, which has been stable despite all the chaos of Iraq and the idea that you would condition any response leverage it in order to get major rearrangements in the Iraqi political structure.

So they can have a sustainable peace is what they talk about, a victory that can stand up beyond this point. How you bridge that gap has not been something administration really has been able to explain, let alone pull off.

COOPER: The parliament is out to launch and Maliki is still hanging on to power. Bobby Ghosh, appreciate you being in. Spencer Ackerman, Bob Baer as well.

Coming up, with the Gaza cease-fire set to expire in a just few hours, Hamas is ready to fight again if its demands are not met. The military wing of Hamas is saying. We'll hear from the Israeli and Palestinian sides next.


COOPER: Welcome back. The cease-fire in Gaza is set to run out in less than five hours, 8:00 a.m. local time, 1:00 a.m. east coast time in the United States as negotiators in Cairo are working to extend the cease-fire, Hamas' military wing is ready to fight again if its demands aren't met. We'll hear the Palestinian perspective in just a moment.

But first Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev, joins me. So Mark, hours away from the 72-hour cease-fire coming to an end, how confident are you that an extension can be reached before tomorrow morning?

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: Frankly, we don't know. Israel is ready for an unconditional extension of the cease-fire. We've said so all along. We hope it's possible to solve issues in Cairo, but Hamas is the wild card and they have said publicly at 8:00 tomorrow morning they open fire again and if that's the case, of course, we will respond to protect our people from their rockets.

COOPER: But you're saying without a doubt Israel will not -- if the cease-fire does come to an end, you're basically going to wait and see what Hamas does in terms of whether or not they start firing? REGEV: One hundred percent, Israel has no interest whatsoever in seeing more bloodshed. It's been more than enough. Hamas ultimately will have to show the world what it really is and if it does break the cease-fire and launches another on slot of bloodshed and violence and suffering, it will be clear who is responsible and who should be held accountable.

COOPER: Hamas wants an end to the blockade and establishment of a seaport, an airport, you know, open borders with Egypt, with Israel. How far away are you from agreeing to any of those demands?

REGEV: Hamas has a list of demands, I think, my prime minister put it like this, he said they have a list of demands from here to bloody and if you don't accept and sign on the bottom line, we'll shoot rockets again and obviously that's a position that is unsustainable.

In the framework of the Cairo talks and the framework of sustained cease-fire, of course, we're willing to discuss easing the restrictions, easing the sanctions on Gaza. They were put there in the first place because of the violence. It's the rockets that led to the restrictions, not the other way around, the restrictions to the rockets --

COOPER: When you say --

REGEV: It's a non-violence from Gaza --

COOPER: How long are you talking about?

REGEV: We can discuss that in the talks in Cairo and I think some things are best left to the negotiations and publicly. The bottom line is this, Anderson, if it's quiet from Gaza, of course, we can move forward and try to normalize the relationship. The government in Gaza, the Hamas terrorist group can shoot rockets in Israel and complain that Israel doesn't have a normal relationship with them.

COOPER: You're not willing to publicly say what period of quiet, what length of quiet there has to be in order for progress on the issues Hamas and other Palestinian factions are wanting.

REGEV: There are things that are best left I think for the negotiating room. I've expressed the principles and those are clear and ultimately, if Hamas does break that cease-fire tomorrow morning and launches its rockets on Israel and forces us all into more conflict and forces us to respond to protect our people, I think Hamas will be exposing itself before the entire international community for what it really is.

COOPER: Israel all along now for days, you have been saying you want a demilitarized Gaza, Hamas, there was a Hamas official who said yesterday Hamas will never give up or today said Hamas will never give up its arms. Is that -- I mean, there are those in Palestinian side who say look, any country should have the right to be able to defend itself, should be able to have the right to have arms, to control their own borders. REGEV: First of all, terrorist groups don't have rights to have arms, that's clear. The Israeli position on demilitarization is supported internationally by the United States, by Canada, by Europe. People believe that Hamas must be demilitarized because it's a violent terrorist group.

More than that, there is a Palestinian commitment signed by the Palestinian authority that Gaza should be demilitarized. It's time the international community insisted that that commitment be fulfilled.

COOPER: Mark Regev, appreciate your time. Mark, thank you.

REGEV: Thanks for having me.

COOPER: Reports that negotiations are progressing, but there is no deal yet to extend the cease-fire with strong words from Hamas' military wing, the clock is ticking and chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat joins me.

We understand Hamas is urging you and other members of the Palestinian delegation negotiating in Cairo not to extend the cease-fire unless their demands are met. Do you believe the cease-fire should be extended?

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think every effort is being exerted now to sustain and extend the cease-fire and at the same time, alleviate the suffering of people in Gaza. We need medical supplies, food supplies, we need electricity, water, shelter and I think this can be done in parallel.

The most important thing is we need to extend and maintain the cease- fire. It's an agreement signed with Israel. We signed agreements with Israel to open five passages with Israel. We signed an agreement to have a harbor and airport and 12-mile sea limits for fishermen.

And I hope the Israeli government will say we commit to what we already agreed with the Palestinian Authority and the agreement signed. Also in the agreement reached in 2012.

COOPER: So what do you say then to Hamas, particularly the military making these threats, basically, to launch rockets when this cease- fire ends? Does that mean -- what you're saying is Palestinian factions including the Palestinian Authority are not standing behind what Hamas is saying, is that correct?

EREKAT: What we're saying is that it's in the Palestinian interest to sustain and maintain and extend the cease-fire and at the same time, the balance here is to alleviate the suffering for the 1.7 million people in Gaza.

COOPER: But can you get Hamas to do that?

EREKAT: They will continue using -- yes, absolutely. That's what we're there for. We submitted a paper as a Palestinian paper on behalf of Hamas and everybody else and the paper specified in parallel, we'll do the sustaining the cease-fire, extension.

And at the same time, we need the international community to provide aerial, sea and land bridges to alleviate the suffering for people. We have no electricity, no water, no medical supplies, 450,000 people are without shelter. So Anderson, yes, we need this to be done in parallel and the balance is between extending cease-fire and providing the basic needs of people.

COOPER: It does sound like there is a difference between what the military wing or some people are saying and what the Palestinian delegation in Cairo is saying, what you are saying tonight. How -- I mean, you say publicly you are speaking with one voice, but is that really the reality? Do you really have control over the military wing of Hamas?

EREKAT: Well, look, I went personality last week and met with Mr. Marshall. We agreed on this paper and then we agreed on the delegation. The delegation is in Cairo. Believe me, as Palestinians, we work to have the cease-fire. It's our blood and Anderson, you should note that during the last 28 days of fighting, not a single Israeli child was killed or woman or home. We have people wounded in Gaza.

COOPER: Hamas and Jihad launched plenty of rockets. The fact they are ineffective and Israel shoots a lot out of the sky and that's the reason some children were not killed. It's not because of a lack of intent on Hamas' part, you would acre knowledge that? You say no Israeli children were killed, it's not for lack of trying.

EREKAT: We don't -- Anderson, Anderson. I don't condone the killing of civilians. I don't condone the killing of Israelis. I want to make peace and live and let live and I want to give this cease-fire the chance it deserves. It's in my hand as Palestinians to say my prayer with Egypt, the United States, it's balanced.

And I hope the Israel behavior will stop preventing the entry of medical supplies, food supplies, electricity, water, and doctors in order to extend the cease-fire. I think that's fair.

COOPER: Saeb Erekat, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you.

EREKAT: Thank you.

COOPER: Essentially, what he's arguing is that there should be dual tracks at the same time and negotiations on the cease-fire and also opening up the borders by the Palestinians. Israel is saying there should be a time of calm, quiet before these other demands can be considered.

Several late updates on Iraq and the White House and Capitol Hill when we come back.


COOPER: More breaking news on Iraq, a senior White House official telling Jim Acosta, the president has said his top priority in Iraq would be protecting American personnel. Our chief congressional Dana Bash has some breaking news, as well. Dana, what have you learned?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That White House officials are making the rounds by phone talking to members scattered out across the country on congressional recess informing them of their plans. Now this is classified, so they are being careful in telling me what they have been told.

But I can tell you one who was briefed by the White House says the administration is signalling that they are repaired to be aggressive in defending the Kurds much more than in the past getting involved in sectarian battles when it was involved in Baghdad.

And the reason is because they feel this is a lot more cut and dry, a lot less complex and because the Kurds are being persecuted, quote, "Unequivocally worthy of our defense." That's according to a source that I spoke with.

And they are, they clearly have a plan and they do expect to hear from the president at some point, either tonight or tomorrow morning, but again, on the Hill, they said we'll -- that the White House has a plan and we're going to hear it soon.

COOPER: All right, Dana Bash, appreciate that. We'll be right back. More ahead.


COOPER: We'll leave you this hour with American planes to airborne a humanitarian mission to Iraq now underway. We'll break in if there is any late word from the president. We're bring you his comments live if he speaks in this next hour. We'll see you again at 11:00 Eastern Time. Right now, the CNN original series "The Sixties" begins.