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Meltdown in Gaza

Aired June 15, 2007 - 12:00   ET


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome, everyone, to YOUR WORLD TODAY, and a special report on the Palestinian crisis.
I'm Michael Holmes.


After a tumultuous week filled with bloodshed, the Palestinian territories awoke to a very new reality. The militant group Hamas has crushed its bitter rival and now has complete control over Gaza.

HOLMES: Indeed. Over the next hour we are going to put this in perspective for you, explain the events that led up to the crisis.

MCEDWARDS: We're also going to examine Israel's role in the conflict. We're going to analyze what action, if any, the international community could or should take at this time.

HOLMES: And of course, the bottom line, what does this mean for the Palestinian people, millions of them.

MCEDWARDS: That's right. And for people who think that fighting in the Middle East is nothing new, what is happening there now is new. It is new and it is very different.

At the moment, the Palestinian territories are effectively split in two. Now, Gaza is about the size of Washington, D.C., with more than a million people living there, crammed in there.

HOLMES: And you can see there from that map that it is -- for those who don't know, it is separated geographically from the West Bank. These are two separate entities, really. It's militarily controlled at the moment -- Gaza, this is -- by Hamas, which has close ties to both Syria and Iran.

The flags there you see green for Hamas. Hamas gunmen have taken over the Palestinian presidential compound. They've also taken over border crossings and other security checkpoints.

MCEDWARDS: Now, the West Bank remains under the control of Fatah -- at least for now -- and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Fatah is supported by the West. It has political ties with his Israel. Hamas does not.

HOLMES: Now, the West Bank, let's look at that now. That's much larger than Gaza. Gaza is not a big place, 50 kilometers or so, by maybe a dozen kilometers wide. The West Bank is roughly the size of the U.S. state of Delaware, or for Europeans, twice the size of Luxembourg.

Ben Wedeman is in the West Bank city of Nablus. Atika Shubert is in Jerusalem. And our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, is in London.

MCEDWARDS: All right. Let's begin with Atika Shubert. She's going to brings us up to speed on where the situation stands right now, what has been taking place today -- Atika.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fighting has stopped in Gaza, largely because Hamas has so thoroughly defeated Fatah forces there. But now Hamas has the tougher task of governing Gaza.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Fatah gunmen ransack Hamas' media office in Nablus. Destruction, the theme of the day. Fatah answers Hamas' rampage in Gaza with its own.

In the streets below, Fatah fighters warn this is only the beginning. "We'll continue to do this until Hamas has been destroyed," says gunman Abu Askandar (ph). "This is the law here, delivered through the barrel of a gun."

Blind rage smashing everything associated with Hamas.



SHUBERT (voice over): Hamas in charge. Photos show Hamas gunmen inside the Gaza residence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Posing at his desk, making a mock phone call, saying, according to Reuters, "Hello, Condoleezza Rice. You have to deal with me now."

But perhaps this is the most poignant photo for Palestinians, Hamas gunmen trampling on the portraits, not just of President Abbas, but of the late and revered Yasser Arafat, father of the Palestinian national movement.

Hamas is in charge of Gaza, but can it govern? Even as mask gunmen trumpeted their authority to the media, looters had taken over the streets of Gaza, stripping down the empty homes of Fatah leaders.

Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh insists that he is still prime minister of the Palestinian government. But Palestinian president and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has dissolved the Hamas-led government and installed an emergency cabinet under the leadership of former finance minister Salam Fayyad.

So, who is in charge? It depends on where you're at.

In Gaza, Islamic militant group Hamas is the undisputed power. In the West Bank, the Western-backed Fatah is still in control. The dream of a united Palestinian state torn in two.


SHUBERT: This is not just about a fight for power. It's also about what kind of a state Palestinians want, the Islamic militancy of Hamas, or the more weak secular government of Fatah in the West Bank? And for those who had hoped for a united Palestinian state, this is a stark choice -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: A stark choice. And, I mean, what are people saying, Atika? What are you hearing? Is this the end of this dream, of this notion of a unified Palestinian state?

SHUBERT: Well, for many Palestinians, their dream still hasn't ended, but this is very much a big setback for them, particularly for residents in Gaza. They're wondering how Hamas is going to be able to govern if they're going to be cut off from the support and the funding from the Palestinian Authority. And that's a big concern for them, because there's no way to get in or out of Gaza, particularly with the gateways closed from Israel.

MCEDWARDS: Right. Atika Shubert for us.

Thanks, Atika -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right.

While those green flags of Hamas flatter across Gaza, a symbol of the domination of Hamas, the West Bank remains largely in the grip of Fatah, which seems determined to keep it that way.

As Ben Wedeman now reports, some Fatah militants are going on an offensive of their own.


WEDEMAN (voice over): Fatah gunmen ransack Hamas' media office in Nablus. Destruction, the theme of the day. Fatah answers Hamas' rampage in Gaza with its own.

In the streets below, Fatah fighters warn this is only the beginning. "We'll continue to do this until Hamas has been destroyed," says gunman Abu Askandar (ph). "This is the law here, delivered through the barrel of a gun." Blind rage smashing everything associated with Hamas.

(on camera): This is a taste of the mahem to come. Fatah is now taking revenge on Hamas, destroying everything it can, burning their offices, killing their members.

In Nablus, killed, 31-year-old Anis Salus (ph). Relatives say he was grabbed as he left a mosque Thursday, bundled into a car and driven away.

Mourners accuse Fatah of behind the killing. Specifically, they blame Mohammed Dahlan (ph), who was Fatah's strongman in Gaza before it was overrun by Hamas.

"No one is investigating how he was killed," Anis' (ph) father tells me. "No one is investigating anything."

A few hope the carnage will end soon. "God willing, this was the last killing, says Nablus resident Abu Mohammed al-Halibi (ph) at the funeral, "and we'll be brothers again."

With anger on both sides, it doesn't look like the bloody conflict between Hamas and Fatah will be so easily buried.


WEDEMAN: And we understand that there are further roundups of Hamas militants in the villages surrounding Nablus, and this is something apparently being repeated throughout the West Bank.

I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN, reporting live from Nablus.

MCEDWARDS: All right.

While the West looks at the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza with alarm, Hamas supporters say it was necessary to end decades of Fatah corruption and nepotism. They point to last year's elections as giving them a popular mandate.

Let's take a closer look now at Hamas. And to do that, we are going to bring in Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

Christiane, thanks a lot for this.

Hamas did win that election back in 2006 fair and square. People sometimes forget that.

Where is Hamas' base of support, if you will?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, amongst the people. And, you're right, all the observers said that they won it fair and square, and, frankly, this was an election that had been insisted upon by the United States and Western allies, because the program was to promote democracy.

Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas warned that he didn't want those elections to happen. Perhaps he was afraid that Hamas would win. And of course, Hamas did win.

When we went there to do reports on this, we found very clearly that the people were not voting for Hamas for any religious or militant views or reasons, but rather because they had become fed up with what they call the institutional corruption of Fatah and the ineffectiveness of Fatah. In other words, over all these years, about 10 years, really, since the Oslo Peace Accords, Fatah had not yet been able to get with the Israelis an accord to have an independent state.

So Palestinians were fed up and they thought maybe they would try something new. But of course, after Hamas was elected, because the West and Israel doesn't recognize Hamas, doesn't approve of its -- of its militants, wants it to recognize Israel, wants it to renounce terrorism, wants it to keep to all the agreements that the previous Palestinian governments had made with Israel, the western Israel basically cut off Hamas and cut off all those people in Gaza.

And for a while, there was mounting humanitarian crises. But more important, a major political vacuum, with increasingly the reality in the West Bank being totally divorced from the reality in Gaza -- 2.5 million people in the West Bank under Fatah control, 1.5 million people in Gaza under Hamas control. And the twain did not meet.

They've been tearing and ripping apart at the seams ever since. Saudi Arabia tried to patch things up in Riyadh not so long ago, where they summoned Haniyeh and Mahmoud Abbas and formed this unity government. And now that's come apart at the seams. And it's very hard to see how this is going to be put back together at this stage.

MCEDWARDS: Yes. You know, you touched on it there, Christiane, but I think it's talking a little bit more about the fundamental difference between Palestinians living in Gaza and those in the West Bank, the economic differences and the religious differences.

AMANPOUR: Well, by and large, if you take the big sort of picture in the West Bank, it is ruled -- or dominant there is Fatah, which is the institution, sort of parental faction of the Palestinian movement. Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement was the godfather of Palestinian nationalism. And it's mostly a secular movement.

The problem is, it became very sclerotic, very corrupt. It was unable to get a deal with Israel.

Israel made promises, didn't keep them. Palestinians didn't keep certain promises, too, and it just fell apart after Camp David of 2000, when President Clinton made a last-ditch effort to try to get a peace process, a final peace process. Yasser Arafat rejected it, and the whole thing came falling apart.

Then after 9/11, with this new war on terror, a new president in the United States, a new reality in the Middle East, basically Palestinian nationalism and legitimate aspirations for nationhood were all conflated with Palestinian terrorism as seen perpetrated by Hamas. And the whole thing then went off the sort of peace track, went on to the war on terror track, and there's been no meaningful diplomacy, really, ever since.

So that is the reality of what's happening in the Palestinian territories. And now Israel is saying that it's glad the unity government, so-called unity government of the Palestinians, has come to an end, that it would much rather work with a so-called moderate Fatah under Mahmoud Abbas.

The thing is, how is that going to work and what really is going to happen?

MCEDWARDS: Yes, that's the big question.

Christiane Amanpour for us in London.

Thanks for that.

And we're going to bring Christiane back a little bit later in our special program, about 10 minutes from now, with more.

Christiane, we'll see you then.

HOLMES: OK. The meltdown in Gaza is part of a greater conflict, really, in the Middle East, one that's been going on for generations, really.

MCEDWARDS: Yes, it has.

We've got so much more ahead in this special edition of YOUR WORLD TODAY.

Coming up, a Fatah legislator calls the actions of Hamas mutiny. We'll hear more from him.

HOLMES: And we're also going to speak live with a Hamas representative.

That and a lot more coming up next right here on YOUR WORLD TODAY.


HOLMES: Pictures there from Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president's offices in Gaza. You can see a lot of disrespect being shown there by Hamas supporters.

Many Fatah supporters, meanwhile, consider this Hamas takeover of Gaza as one of the blackest days in Palestinian history. One leader says even arch enemy Israel shows more mercy than their Palestinian brothers in Hamas.

I spoke earlier with Fatah legislator Saeb Erakat, who says the chaos must stop at Gaza's borders.


SAEB ERAKAT, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATOR: Those people who carried out this coup de tat there want to separate Gaza from the West Bank. This they will regret. Gaza cannot survive without the West Bank. Gaza should be a single territory with the West Bank.

I think you're right, what an we do on the ground? Maybe nothing at this stage. But trust me, Michael, we have 1.5 million Palestinians who do not (INAUDIBLE) situation. And popularity, I don't think what you see coming to the streets after mosque is what you call popularity.

Popularity to Palestinians, Palestinians are very highly educated people. Palestinians will not be fooled. Palestinians will not be fooled when they are witnessing their economic social fabric being destroyed, when they're seeing their dream of a Palestinian state, their aspirations set back, set 50 years back. They will not (INAUDIBLE).

There will be a morning after. Now, Michael, you're right. As you say, Abu Mazen's home is occupied in Gaza. Mazen's compound, the present compound, is occupied. But I think every possible effort must be exerted now to make sure that the fight does not spread to the West Bank. And we're making sure that this will not happen.

Secondly, we're going to see to it with the region, with others, what's to be done, what the steps are that we'll be taking in the future in order to ensure that the livelihood of 1.5 million people who are living in Gaza must be preserved. And they should not be undermined and should not be punished. And there should not be any greater punishment on our people there.

HOLMES: And once again, the civilians in Gaza are caught in the middle.

Let me ask you this. What -- if you can't do anything, if Abu Mazen, Mahmoud Abbas, cannot do anything, Fatah cannot do anything, and this new government, as far as Gaza is concerned, really means nothing, what can the international community do?

I mean, let's face it, the West has not done a whole lot in supporting Mahmoud Abbas since the election. Israel hasn't done a whole lot to support him. And this has allowed Hamas to gain this level of control.

What can the outside world do to persuade Hamas to step back, if you like? They're not likely to do it.

ERAKAT: Well, look, I don't want to look yesterday. I don't want to talk about the past.

I used in this program with you once -- I said they're tying Abu Mazen's hand, tying his legs, throwing him to the sea, and asking him to swim. You're not swimming, you're not a partner, you're drowning, you're not good for us.

Now if we don't help ourselves as Palestinians, I don't think that the international community will send their kids to Gaza to do our job for us. The situation is very difficult. The situation is extremely, extremely difficult.

But I think we, as Palestinians, through what we have -- we have 1.5 million people in Gaza. Trust me, Michael, they will not allow this chaos (INAUDIBLE) to continue.


MCEDWARDS: And again, that was long-time Fatah supporter and Palestinian lawmaker Saeb Erakat giving us his take on the crisis.

And now we want to hear from Hamas.

The group's representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, joins us now on the line from Beirut.

Mr. Hamdan, Saeb Erakat has described Hamas' actions as essentially a coup.

Your response?

OSAMA HAMDAN, HAMAS REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I believe Mr. Saeb Erakat is not telling the truth. The problem is not towards Fatah. There is no side (ph) against Fatah.

(INAUDIBLE) it's not a problem with Abu Mazen. It's a problem with a minority, a group of the security forces, some generals, who were creating their own wars, who did not respect the results of the elections, and they worked hard to undermine the Palestinian national unity government, and also they worked hard to undermine the security plan which was endorsed by the government and Abu Mazen himself...

MCEDWARDS: Mr. Hamdan...

HAMDAN: ... which was supposed to secure and stabilize the situation in Gaza.

So this is the problem, and I believe (INAUDIBLE) and did not act in a proper way. This will complicate the situation. It will not solve the problem.

MCEDWARDS: You know, there were reports as well that Hamas gunmen were executing Fatah forces, killing them on the streets. Is that true?

HAMDAN: Well, I believe it's not true. If anyone wants to say this, he has to give an evidence.

They are saying that in order to cover what they are doing (INAUDIBLE). They are attacking humanitarian institutions. They are attacking schools. They are doing everything to attack all the institutions.


MCEDWARDS: Hamas used hospitals in recent days, used hospitals as battlegrounds.

How can you defend that?

HAMDAN: Well, we didn't attack the hospitals. That's what we are saying.

(INAUDIBLE) the media can go there and they can discover if they are telling the truth or not.

What I want to say, there was questions which was asked to Mr. Saeb Erakat, what can the outside or international community do to persuade Hamas? I believe it's very simple to answer this question -- to declare clearly that the international community accepts the democracy results and is ready to deal with the government and is ready to deal with Hamas, and is ready to encourage Hamas to be an effective partner in the international community and in the region.

MCEDWARDS: But you know, even if that happened, if there was a recognition of Hamas, what is Hamas going to do next in Gaza? I mean, how long before aid runs out, food runs out? And how long before your own people are in even more dire need inside Gaza than they are now?

HAMDAN: Well, I believe we are not talking about this. We're talking about a whole other situation. We're talking about all the Palestinian territories.

What the international community is doing? They (INAUDIBLE) the Palestinian people under siege, punishing them, a collective punishment after the election just because they said that they want Hamas. And I believe this is the first mistake and the biggest mistake.

And all (INAUDIBLE) after that is to make more mistakes, not to try to solve this mistake. I believe we are talking about the whole Palestinian different issue. The whole international community has to accept the idea that it's a democracy and there were results of this democracy.

Hamas respects the Democratic process, and we expect the Palestinian internal political system. And we are a part of this system, and we will keep this system, we will not work against the system, and we will not accept anyone to work against the system.

MCEDWARDS: Osama Hamdan, the Hamas spokesperson in Beirut.

Thank you so much for talking to us.

HOLMES: All right.

Still ahead, as Gaza wakes up to this new reality of really total Hamas control, how is the world reacting?

MCEDWARDS: Well, the U.S. says it still stands behind President Abbas. But can it do anything to stop the situation from spinning more out of control than it already is? Does it still really have the influence, the credibility in the Middle East?

HOLMES: Credibility, I think, is the key word there.


HOLMES: Yes, we'll cover that angle with our chief international correspondent, Christine Amanpour, when we come back.


MCEDWARDS: Welcome back to our special coverage of what really amounts to a total meltdown in the Palestinian governance. The declaration by Hamas that it controls Gaza has left many nations wondering what to do next.

Members of the Middle East quartet, which includes the U.S., Russia, the EU, and the United Nations, talked today, and they are expected to issue some kind of a statement later on. The U.S. State Department says much of the international community has thrown its support behind the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, at least for now. And Washington says it will not give up hope for regional peace.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: President Abbas has exercised his lawful authority as president of the Palestinian Authority, as the leader of the Palestinian people. I will remind you that he was elected in 2005 by a large margin. And we fully support him in his positions to try and end this crisis for the Palestinian people and to give them an opportunity for -- to return to peace (ph) in the future.


HOLMES: Well, the leaders in three troubled Middle East areas all have the support of the United States. Those leaders include the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, at the top of your screen there. He is, of course, struggling to keep things under control even in the West Bank alone.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora also faces strong opposition within his own country.

And, of course, the same goes for the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.

Which begs the question, has U.S. support, particularly in the Middle East, become a political liability? Is America's influence in the Middle East waning?

Joined now again by our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, to help answer those questions.

It's a salient point, isn't it? To be supported by the U.S. is almost a kiss of death, isn't it?

AMANPOUR: Well, some would say yes. Some would say that U.S. influence is waning. But others would say that it's essentially sort of a mismanagement of the diplomatic effort that has led to these crises in this part of the world.

Of course, also, there is the whole post 9/11 situation in which the realities on the ground have changed. Iran has become resurgent, has become an active regional player.

There are U.S. troops in Afghanistan, U.S. troops in Iraq. There was hope that the Iraq situation could have solved the Israel- Palestine situation, and it's actually done just the opposite.

So there is a real sort of crisis of diplomacy, a real kind of vacuum of meaningful diplomacy right now in that particular region. And proxy wars, if you like, going on, on the ground.

HOLMES: All right. Christiane, thanks very much for your assessment there.

Let's go to Hala Gorani. She's standing by in Baghdad now.

And Hala, as host of our "Inside the Middle East" program, you cover the region in a very broad sense.

Talk to me about what the concerns are there among Western governments, but also among governments in the region, particularly when we talk about the rise of Shia influence in the area. And especially from Iran.

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, these conflicts we're talking about today, Michael, in Gaza, in Lebanon, they predate the Iraq war. What the Iraq war has done -- and this is something we have noticed on "Inside the Middle East" and during our reporting throughout the region -- is that the Iraq war has exacerbated some of these conflicts. And what has amounted to a Shia revival in some parts of the Middle East, and the fact that the U.S. is backing a Shia-dominated government in Iraq, for instance, is worrying some of the U.S.'s most precious allies, such as oil-rich Saudi Arabia, for instance, or other Gulf countries, that either have substantive Shia majorities, or in the case of a small island nation like Bahrain, Shia majorities.

So what you're seeing here is the Iraq war acting as an exacerbating influence, putting to the fore and long-standing simmering tensions between the Sunni and the Shia that are being played out now on a wider regional scale, for instance, between Iran, Shia Iran, and Sunni Saudi Arabia.

HOLMES: All right, Hala, let's bring in Christiane again, Christiane Amanpour. Let's talk about Iran, Christiane, if we can, and the fact that the U.S. is sitting there and having to watch Iran basically take the victory, if you like, of a lot of what's going on in the Middle East, because they are supporting the biggest thorns in the side of the U.S.

AMANPOUR: Well, right now the U.S. and Iran are having their first face-to-face meetings and talks about Iraq, the first time in 30 years since the Iranian Revolution. There's no doubt that Iran is resurgent. There's no doubt that President Ahmadinejad of Iran is provocative and confrontational, and taking Iran's foreign policy, at least on a public way, in a much different direction than it has been in the past.

On the other hand, it's also common practice right now by the U.S. and its allies to blame Iran, like the bogeyman, for everything going on in the Middle East. For instance, in Afghanistan, the latest was allegations, for instance, that weapons were going from Iran to support the Taliban.

Now the Afghan government has denied that, and anybody with any knowledge of the Middle East, it sort of beggars the belief that Iran would support its bitter enemy the Taliban.

All that to say that the real question now is about Gaza. What will happen there? Up until now, whether the West and Israel has disliked Hamas or not, which it has, Hamas' activities has been against Israel, not against the United States.

The question is, what happens in a Gaza that's isolated with Hamas and other militants running it, with no engagement from the outside? Then what does Gaza become? Does it become a militant that projects outside of Gaza and away from just Israel or what? And that is the big question. And that's why it's so urgent to try to get some kind of diplomas going, although it's very difficult to see how right now.

HOLMES: Chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, thanks to you, and also to Hala Gorani there in Baghdad.

We're going to take a short break now on YOUR WORLD TODAY. Don't go away, though. We'll be right back.


MCEDWARDS: Welcome back to our viewers joining us from more than 200 countries and territories around the world, including the United States. I'm Colleen McEdwards.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes. You're watching a special report on the crisis unfolding in Gaza.

MCEDWARDS: That's right. Now we want to look at Arab countries now and their role. They are certainly eying the chaos in Gaza with alarm, with a lot of concern. Arab League foreign ministers gathering for crisis talks in Cairo. The situation deals a major blow to months of attempts by U.S. allies Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia to somehow unify the Palestinians and get peace talks with Israel back on track. Arab League has appealed to both Hamas and Fatah to return to those Egyptian-brokered talks.

Our Aneesh Raman is at the site of this meeting, in Cairo, and joins us now with more.

You know, Aneesh, the Arab League is often described as a paper tiger. So the question, I guess, what really can the Arab League really do at this point?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The short answer, Colleen, is very little. The emergency session of the Arab League is under way right now. We expect, at most perhaps, a resolution to be passed in the coming hours that will call in a joint statement by the foreign ministers for a cease-fire, and as well will call for both sides, Fatah and Hamas, to be part of some Egypt-backed mediation process.

Now, as you mentioned, how does that impact things on the ground? Not by much. Especially not tomorrow.

So why is this important? Why is this meeting important? Because it is evidence of the region very much on edge. These are officials in the Arab League, among Arab states who are, to some degree, shocked at how quickly things have destabilized in Gaza.

And what is emerging is now a major Achilles Heel. Who has the influence in the Arab League or among Arab states to directly and immediately impact things on the streets of Gaza? There are serious questions as to whether Fatah and Hamas have control over their own fighters.

But now, the issue is whether the Arab League, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, whether any of them, have enough influence to bring about an end to this violence. The Saudis were responsible for the unity government. That has not been dissolved. The Egyptians were just in Gaza in the past week trying to bring Fatah and Hamas together. They were reportedly back in Cairo. That has proved a failure.

So the big issue right now is the diplomats are sitting together, trying to claim some sense of relevancy, Colleen.

COLLINS: so people must be talking, as well, Aneesh, about what impact this crisis is going to have on the wider region.

RAMAN: They are. I mean, you've got an impact on two levels. First, how do these governments, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia chief among them, deal with Hamas and Fatah separately? These are governments that have tried to bring the two together for the sake of Palestinian unity, for the sake of peace. But if they can't even deal with each accordingly, which they probably won't, how does that impact things on the ground.

The second issue is a broad one. The Arab League has pushed again the land-for-peace deal with the Israelis. They can't even push that if they don't have a unified Palestinian government to start the talks.

So all sides are really concerned that all the effort over the past few years to try to bring some momentum to the peace talks has essentially gone completely away is now pretty much useless, given the situation in Gaza.

MCEDWARDS: All right, Aneesh Raman for us. Aneesh, thanks very much.


HOLMES: Israel, of course, keeping somewhat of a nervous eye on this developing situation, but staying out of the fray at the moment. Israeli troops left Gaza, of course, two years ago. But it still controls all of the gateways, really, in and out of Gaza.

For the Israeli point of view, we turn now to Dan Gillerman, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.

And how worrying, Mr. Ambassador, is all of this to Israel? DAN GILLERMAN, ISRAELI AMB. TO U.N.: It's very worrying to Israel, and we're watching it with great concern. I must say that the worry must be shared by the whole international community, because what we are seeing is just one piece of this horrific puzzle, which is turning the whole Arab and Muslim world into a battleground between moderates and extremists. It's happening in Lebanon between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Army. It's happening in Iraq between Sunni and Shia. It's happening between the Persians and the Arabs. And it's happening in our area and right next door, between Hamas and Fatah.

HOLMES: More than one commentator actually, even in the Israeli press, are saying that if the West, the U.S. in particular, and Israel had done more to help Mahmoud Abbas and give him support, financial and political support, then Hamas would not have risen to the level of power that it has.

GILLERMAN: Well, as you know, Hamas has risen to this level of power after winning the elections, which may be a lesson to teach some people about how difficult it is, indeed, to democratize the Middle East. But we've done a lot to try and embolden and bolster Mahmoud Abbas. I know the U.S. has, but you must understand, I think Christiane said it before, this is not between Israel and Hamas. This is not even between the U.S. and Fatah.

This is really Iran with its mad and ranting and lunatic president, who denies the Holocaust while preparing the next one, and who is intent on terrorizing and destabilizing the whole region. And this is Iranian work, this happened in Lebanon, it is now happening in Hamastan, which was Gaza until yesterday.

And what people must understand, sadly and tragically, that this is just the preview soon to be seen in a theater near you and in every Arab country. Which is the reason, I suppose, why the Arab leaders are so worried they're meeting in Cairo (INAUDIBLE).

HOLMES: It's certainly depressing looking at the region as a whole at the moment, and what's going on, and really there are links between what's going on in different parts of the country. When it comes to the Palestinians in Gaza, 1.4 million people who are so often caught in the middle of what's going on all around them, the vast majority of innocent people just trying to get by there, what is Israel going to do to try to help out, alleviate some of that suffering? I know that there are aid shipments around. When are you going to be able to get them in? What are your plans?

GILLERMAN: Well, we are very worried about the fate of the Palestinian people. We don't want them to be harmed. They are the victims of their own regime and they are literally victims. One of the saddest, most horrific factors, that when you look at what is happening in the Arab world, not only are most terrorists Muslim, but sadly and tragically, the vast majority of the victims are Muslims and you don't hear any Muslim leader, whether religious or political, stand up and say enough is enough.

Now, we feel very sorry for the Palestinians. We want to help them. We will be trying to get shipments in. We will try to litigate their humanitarian problems. I hope the rest of the world does.

But the Palestinians also have to understand that they have to make a choice. They are the ones who elected Hamas. They are the ones who made them their governing body and they have today, to decide whether yet again, they want to make that choice and live under a terrorist movement, which is controlled by Iran from Tehran, and whether they want to continue this or, indeed, turn Gaza, which could have become a paradise, into a place where the government looks after their standard of living, and their quality of life, or continue to be held hostage to this government which is turning into a (INAUDIBLE) into Israel.

HOLMES: I understand what you're saying, Mr. Ambassador. I also have to say, though, that the ones -- the west and others talk about democratizing the region as a whole. This was a democratically elected government. It was just that the U.S. and Israel didn't like who won. And then the whole region, the whole area was cut off financially, that they were basically sanctions imposed, which made life difficult, even more difficult for Palestinians, and that helped bring about the rise of Hamas, because of how they operate, and how they run things on the street.

Do you think that in some ways, the U.S. and Israel contributed to the rise of Hamas?

GILLERMAN: I think the U.S. and Israel may have made a mistake by allowing these elections to take place, because nowhere in a Democratic society, whether it's in Europe or the United States, is a terror organization dedicated to the destruction of another country allowed to take part in elections.

But, once they won the elections, I think the international community was very right in making those three very simple demands and principles, saying that there would be no engagement with Hamas until they recognize Israel, relinquish terror and honor past agreements. Once ...

HOLMES: But meanwhile, that weakened Mahmoud Abbas, did it not, the man that could be seen as perhaps the moderate voice who Israel could do business with. He became weakened by that.

GILLERMAN: Do you think he would be strengthened if Hamas got money and support from the international community? I don't think so. I think, in fact, that the only reason Hamas was seeking a national unity government was for two reasons. One, in order to try and win legitimacy from the outside world because they felt that the international pressure was, indeed, working, and that they could not govern or deliver on their promises to their people.

And secondly, in order to regroup, and rearm and gain strength in order to kill Fatah, which was their plan all along, this was ...

HOLMES: How does Israel help Fatah then, because that helps Israel, does it not?

GILLERMAN: Well, Israel is very interested in helping Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas and in fact, bolstering and emboldening the moderates while isolating and marginalizing the extremists. We will do everything in our power in humanitarian ways to make sure that the people in Gaza do not suffer through that very unfortunate choice they have made.

I believe the rest of the world will make a humanitarian effort. But, at the end of the day, it's for the Palestinians who unfortunately, as Abbas even said, never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to make their own choice, and to decide if they want to live in a free, Democratic society or under a terrorist regime controlled by Tehran.

HOLMES: Dan, a lot longer -- keeping you a lot longer than we planned, but interesting stuff. Always good to talk to you, Mr. Ambassador.

GILLERMAN: Thank you, good to be here.

HOLMES: Thank you, (INAUDIBLE) the Israeli Ambassador to the U.N., good to see you.

MCEDWARDS: And coming up, we're going to have a who's who of Palestinian politics for you.

HOLMES: Yes, boy, we're going to -- that's a long list, too. We're going to tell you about the man who used to be prime minister, still is, as far as he's concerned. The man who is president of the Palestinian authority, which that isn't quite what it used to be.

MCEDWARDS: Sure isn't. And the man who has been chosen to be the next prime minister of the Palestinian people. At least some of them, anyway. We'll lay it all out for you when we come back. Stay with CNN.


MCEDWARDS: Welcome back to our special coverage.

As the past few days have certainly drastically altered the political landscape for Palestinians, we want to look now at where things stand with some of the key players. These are some names you're going to be hearing a lot of in the weeks and months ahead.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of course, dissolved the unity government between his Fatah movement and Hamas. He was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005. He also heads the Palestinian Liberation Organization and succeeded Yasser Arafat. The west considers Mr. Abbas a moderate, and a viable partner for peace with Israel.

Now, President Abbas has sacked Ismail Haniya as prime minister. Haniya is a senior Hamas leader, who was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Gaza. He is vowing to remain in power though, saying that the Abbas decision was hasty and that now is not the time for unilateral decisions. Salam Fayyad, meantime, is Mr. Abbas's choice to replace Haniya as prime minister. He's a political independent which makes him interesting. He's an economist who is well-respected by the international community. He served as Finance Minister in the Palestinian unity government.

HOLMES: All right, let's take a closer look now at the man that President Mahmoud Abbas has tapped to be the new prime minister. A lot of people have liked this guy for a long time.

MCEDWARDS: Yes, that's right. We just mentioned him. And we're going to give you more on him now. He's 55 years old, Salam Fayyad. He's an independent, as I mentioned. He has twice served as Palestinian finance minister.

HOLMES: And got a lot of good marks from Western governments for how he ran that finance department.

MCEDWARDS: He's well connected with Western governments as well.

CLANCY: He is. A lots of contacts.

Here's John Vause.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Salam Fayyad did a lot more than just the books. He took on the shady world of Palestinian finances, as well as Yasser Arafat, and introduced open and honest accounting, and when many Palestinians talk about Fayyad, the words decent and honorable usually follow.

"He's a very good man. He's a decent guy," this man says.

"Salam Fayyad has honor and I will vote for him," says another. His two-and-a-half years as finance director earned him international respect and a few death threats at home.

ED ABINGTON, FMR. U.S. CONSUL GENERAL: Increasingly, he felt that he was being taken for granted, that his financial practices that he put in place were increasingly being breached by the prime minister, more money was being spent, but there weren't enough revenues being collected to pay for the increased expenditures.

VAUSE: His platform is simple -- Palestinians must get their house in order if they're to ever have their own state. He makes no promises and says it'll take time and hard work.

SALAM FAYYAD, PALESTINIAN P.M. DESIGNATE: As I talk to people, this is the key point I make, that there is, indeed, a connection, direct connection, between getting things right domestically and being able to achieve national aspirations.


HOLMES: John Vause reporting there.

MCEDWARDS: Coming up next, a story that is quite literally out of this world.

HOLMES: Yes, when the computer goes a little nuts, you just reboot it, right?

MCEDWARDS: Right. Yes, well they've redone that on the International Space Station and the problems haven't gone away.

HOLMES: Good lord. We'll update you on what's going on above us, when we come back.


HOLMES: Astronauts have been trying to solve a stubborn and very serious problem on the International Space Station, so far without success. An array of computer systems that control vital functions and systems onboard the outpost is acting up on Tuesday.

MCEDWARDS: And the problems seem to have coincided with the installation of some new solar panels. Hmm.

HOLMES: OK. Back here on Earth, space correspondent Miles O'Brien keeping an eye on the situation.

MCEDWARDS: That's right. He's with us now to talk about what's going to happen next here.

Hey, Miles.

HOLMES: You know everything. Why haven't you fixed this?


HOLMES: Come on.

O'BRIEN: I'm no engineer.

MCEDWARDS: You can reboot, can't you?

O'BRIEN: I do know this, when you something messes up on your computer, the first thing you do is look at, what did I do to it last, what did I install, right?


O'BRIEN: And that's exactly what they have done. Ever since those arrays came in, the trouble has begun for those computers, and these are the heart and soul of the Russian side of the space station.

Live pictures, Space Shuttle Atlantis there. If you look at the top part of your screen, that's where that torn thermal blanket is, or that lifted away thermal blanket. The space walkers are getting ready. They're going to go out and fix that blanket very shortly, and we'll be keeping you posted on that. But I want to talk to you about these computers. Overnight, daylight hours Russian time, the crew onboard the space station spent a lot of time in concert with ground controllers in Poyolov (ph), a Moscow suburb, going through wires, trying to see if there's any electromagnetic radiation that was created by these new solar arrays that might have tripped these computers. We're talking about a total of six computers. They operate three pairs with redundancy.

Bottom line is, they can't figure out what caused them to shutdown. They've turned them off. They're thinking about ways to go after it now. And we'll get more for you later on it. But as it stands right now...

MCEDWARDS: All right, Miles, thanks a lot for that.

HOLMES: Good to talk to you. I've got to go. We'll be back after the break.



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