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Interview With Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren; Crisis in Israel; Conflict Continues in Gaza

Aired November 20, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 on the East Coast of the United States, 5:00 a.m. here in Gaza City.

And it's been a day of dramatic developments on both sides of the border in Gaza and the Gaza Strip, as well as throughout Israel, a lot of talk about cooling down, about a potential cease-fire. But, if anything, over the last several hours in Gaza, we have seen things heat up. It is very hot, indeed.

A short time ago, several hours ago, many explosions just in the area behind me. I'll show you the videotape. But, first, there's no audio, so I'm going to talk over it, because we didn't realize actually what was about to occur and we weren't recording sound during it.

But a very loud blast, as you see right there, basically all of us ducked down in the office. We thought that was the end of it. Neil (ph) , our cameraman, panned over and then a series of more explosions. Turns out this was a number of government buildings that is what is said to have been hit. It's not clear if those are secondary explosions or if those are multiple rockets going into the building.

I then started pointing out it was not over at that point. You can't hear the sound, but let's listen in now. That's just the sound at the tail end of it, the last few seconds which we were able to capture on tape. We did not think we were on the air during all this time which is why we weren't recording sound, but you heard how loud the blasts were at the end.

Consider how loud the blasts were even earlier when we weren't recording sound, really an enormous series of blasts. The percussion of it, you could feel for many, many blocks. A huge cloud of smoke blanketed the entire area here in central Gaza for several blocks. We don't have information on casualties, if there were any, or if there were any injured.

Today, though, a day of dramatic developments here on the ground. Bloodshed here in Gaza City, also in Israel as well. We will have reports on both sides of the border. Also want to warn you, what you're about to see is very disturbing. It's what we witnessed with our own eyes from our vantage point here and what we saw in the last 24 hours here in Gaza City and also in Israel. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER (voice-over): Day seven, talk of a cease-fire or time-out never materializes and the fighting rages on. Rockets continue to fire from Gaza and massive explosions rock Gaza City.

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


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

COOPER: CNN's Ben Wedeman during a live report. We rushed to the scene of the blast moments later.

(on camera): I'm told that this house, this villa, belongs to a very wealthy man who is actually a member of Fatah who is not here as a wealthy banker, and some local people here believe maybe somebody else was living in the house or maybe Hamas had taken over the house and that's why it was a target.

But now a number of ambulances have arrived on the scene, but again, just not clear if there was anybody inside the house at the time.

(voice-over): Earlier on the streets of Gaza, we witnessed this, a number of men on motorcycles dragging what is clearly the body of a dead man. They were yelling God is great and claiming the man was a collaborator with Israel.

Also on the streets of Gaza City, Israeli forces drop leaflets telling residents to flee the area.

(on camera): Again today, Israeli forces dropped leaflets over Gaza City warning people to stay away from installations where Hamas is. This is typical of the leaflets that get dropped, basically tell people to move away from anyplace that they see Hamas members. It's not an easy order to follow, though. Gaza City's a very densely packed city.

(voice-over): Across the border in Israel, the barrage of rocket fire continues. CNN's Fred Pleitgen runs for cover when sirens blare warning of a possible rocket attack.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We just had an air alarm. It's going off right now. We are going to get into a safer place. It literally just went off as we got on the air. Come on. Get this thing unplugged. Let's get inside.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Well, please be safe. COOPER: And when the rockets land, destruction, lives changed forever. At least 11 rockets hit the Southern Israeli city of Beer Sheva today.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer visited a home left in ruins there. A family of six ran to a safe room and survived with just 30 seconds to spare. Farther north outside Tel Aviv, a residential building was also hit. Just hours ago in Jerusalem, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived for peace talks.

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.


COOPER: That is what the last 24 hours have looked like. Again, the breaking news this evening, a series of massive explosions have really rocked central Gaza City over the last hour or two, and it is often the time when some of the biggest explosions occur, so we are watching with some trepidation to see what may occur over the next hour.

We will talk to Wolf Blitzer, my colleague from CNN, in Jerusalem. Also here with me is Arwa Damon, Ben Wedeman, also is Fouad Ajami from Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He's joining us in New York. A little bit later on, we will be joined by Princeton University's Anne-Marie Slaughter, as well as talking to the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Wolf, though, bring us up to speed on what you're hearing about Hillary Clinton's activities. She landed in Tel Aviv, met with Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. Later on she will meet with Mahmoud Abbas, and then go over to Israel, to Cairo, to meet with Mohammed Morsi. What are you hearing about what's come out of her talks with Netanyahu?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, they met for about two hours, and it wasn't just with the prime minister, but the defense minister of Israel, the foreign minister, the national security team.

They spent two hours going over what's going on. The statement released by the State Department says she was briefed on the Israeli position on all these issues. She's making it clear she wants to see a de-escalation of what's going on. She uses the word a calm. They are avoiding the word cease-fire for right now, but throughout the day, as you know, there was all this speculation coming from Hamas and Egyptian officials that they were close to a cease-fire agreement.

The Israelis downplaying that possibility, saying they weren't there until they actually had an agreement. There's no agreement and if anything, it looks like there was an intensification of the shelling in Southern Israel today by Hamas and an intensification of Israeli attacks in Gaza witnessed by what happened to you guys, what you saw over the past hour or two in Gaza City. The negotiations will continue tomorrow. Hillary Clinton as you point out, she will be going to Ramallah to meet with the Palestinian Authority leadership. Then she's going to Cairo to meet with President Mohammed Morsi. I wouldn't be surprised, based on what I'm hearing, Anderson, if there's no deal yet, she might then come back here to Jerusalem, engage in what they used to call a little Henry Kissinger-type shuttle diplomacy.

There's a lot of work to be done. The stakes are enormous right now. If Israel moves into Gaza with massive amounts of ground forces, tanks, heavy artillery, armored personnel carriers, it will be a disaster. You know this area, you're there. You know how densely populated it is. It's going to be a serious problem.

And what the U.S. and Egyptians, I think most of the international community, they want to make sure that Israel doesn't do it. The Israelis don't want to do it either, I'm told, but the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, he keeps saying that in order to keep the rockets and missiles from coming in, they might have to do it.

COOPER: The death toll now in Gaza, Palestinian officials say, is 137, people killed so far in the seven, now eight days going into this conflict. The official death toll for Israel is five. One IDF soldier was killed today and that's the first soldier killed by a rocket fired from Gaza.

I'm joined by Arwa Damon, Ben Wedeman here in Gaza City.

Arwa, you have really been looking at what life is like for civilians here, and the blasts that we saw earlier really bring home the difficulty so many civilians face because people don't necessarily know where a Hamas rocket battery may be or where Hamas officials may be living or who's inside what building.

Even news groups which are operating in some of these office towers have no idea who else may have an office elsewhere in the building.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, they don't. The other thing, too, is that since the Israelis did expand their bombing campaign, not just targeting the various sites that they say Hamas was using to launch rockets from, but also targeting government institutions, that has made that situation that civilians find themselves in even more difficult.

That massive explosion that took place back there was targeting a government installation, we do believe. However, that government installation is in a residential area and there are no air raid sirens here. There is no way for people to get an advance warning. On many occasions, sometimes they will tell you that they don't necessarily know what the house next door is being used for, or what certain locations may or may not be, so there really is no way for them to determine how to keep themselves safe, bearing in mind, too, that they don't actually have the option of leaving the Gaza Strip.

COOPER: Ben Wedeman, we are seeing a real role, a huge role being played by Israel here. It is a vast difference than it has been in the last couple years obviously under the Mubarak regime. You have been talking to a number of foreign ministers from the Arab League who are here today. What are you hearing about the talks that are ongoing?

WEDEMAN: The talks that are ongoing, we were hearing earlier in the evening that in fact, they were very close to some sort of agreement. But apparently that got -- sort of ran into a road block. The Israelis not agreeing to this proposed solution put forth by Hamas, conveyed by the Egyptians.

What was interesting is that these Arab ministers, they're not just Arab ministers, but the Turkish foreign minister as well, this is the first time such a large Arab delegation has shown up here, and several of them made the point to me that the reason why they're here is the Arab spring, that they have to be much more sensitive to public opinion. Public opinion now is very much in support not of Hamas, but in support of the people of Gaza.

And another point one of the Palestinian officials made to me, not a Hamas official, in fact, a Fatah official, a senior one, was that the United States isn't playing the sort of role that they were expecting. They were expecting a much more active, assertive role by the United States and, instead, they find Egypt, Turkey and other countries of the region are playing a much more proactive role in this crisis.

COOPER: Fouad Ajami joining us in New York.

Fouad, Hillary Clinton is going to be meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, with the Palestinian Authority, with Fatah, in the West Bank. There's a lot of observers who are saying that's sort of a face-saving move, trying to help him out, and he's sort of been sidelined in all of this. Who comes out of this among the Palestinian group stronger? Does Hamas emerge stronger no matter what happens and what does that mean moving forward for U.S. relations with Palestinian groups?

The U.S. does not recognize Hamas, and it's been trying to deal with the Palestinian Authority, but if Mahmoud Abbas has lost power through all this, what does that mean moving forward to where -- getting some sort of longer-term peace deal?

FOUAD AJAMI, HOOVER INSTITUTION: To be honest with you, Anderson, I don't think either Palestinian faction comes out ahead.

I think the Palestinian people have known now six decades of futility, if you will. They have never been able to formulate what they need to do with their own life. They have never really had a diplomatic answer. So I think now the Hamas people will have their moment in the sun. There will be people who will come to them. There will be visitors from afar.

The Turks will come in and the Turkish prime minister who is not helping the situation, who just called Israel a terrorist state. So they will draw the full solace. It will be full solace for Hamas. There will be no victory for Hamas. For Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, he is really on the sidelines. He's come forth with a way, we can talk about it later, he wants to bring the issue of Palestinian statehood to U.N. on November 29. That too is a false road. There really isn't a Palestinian way through the gun and through Hamas.

COOPER: No military solution, frankly, to this conflict by either side, some sort of political solution down the road, but again, that road map seems very far off at this point.

We're hearing some distant sounds of explosions, not anywhere in central Gaza City, but sounds like far off in the distance. We're going to continue to broadcast from here, also from Jerusalem from the Israeli side of the border and those border towns that have been hard hit over the last seven to eight days. We're also going to talk to Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, when we come back.



PLEITGEN: We just had an air alarm. It's going off right now. We are going to get into a safer place. It literally just went off as we got on the air. Come on. Get this thing unplugged. Let's get inside.


MALVEAUX: OK. Well, please be safe.

We're going to...


PLEITGEN: We're going to move to a safer area. You still with me, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: I am, Fred. Please do move to a safe area. If you have to disconnect, please do.

PLEITGEN: Yes, we're moving inside. Come on, guys. Let's go. Come on.


COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage from Gaza City. You can hear the sound of IDF drones circling overhead central Gaza, Gaza City, also the sound perhaps of some distant booms, explosions off, I'm not sure exactly the location of those.

That drone is a -- the drones are an ever-present sound over Gaza City and over much of Gaza.

I'm joined right now by Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Ambassador Oren, I appreciate you being with us.

At this point, there had been a lot of talk, mostly talk coming out of Egypt, that some sort of announcement was going to be made earlier this evening. Obviously, that did not occur, talk about a cooling down period. What can you say about negotiations that have been ongoing?

MICHAEL OREN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, first, it's always good to be with you, Anderson.

Secretary of State Clinton is in Jerusalem this evening. She's held talks with Prime Minister Netanyahu and we are trying to reach a resolution to this conflict. That resolution has to include first and foremost an end to the firing of hundreds of rockets even today by Hamas on five-and-a-half million Israelis. Most of our population is under rocket fire even as we're speaking. That has to stop.

But we also want -- we want to create a new situation, a new situation where terrorists from Gaza will not be able to fire on our civilians every month or even every week and paralyze half the country, and to create a situation where advanced rockets and other armaments cannot be smuggled into Gaza from Iran.

COOPER: As far as you are concerned, though, is a military solution to this problem possible even? Most people seem to say there is not a military solution. It's ultimately got to be a political solution.

OREN: Well, the solution is for terrorists like Hamas and other terrorist groups to accept Israel's existence and accept that we're permanent, legitimate and we're not going to go anywhere.

And if they try to destroy us, we will defend ourselves. That's the solution. Hamas is not a partner for negotiations, not in the eyes of Israel, not in the eyes of the United States or the European Union. They're regarded as a terrorist organization. Right now, the solution is to stop the fighting. It's to stop the shooting at our civilians, to prevent the smuggling of advanced arms into Gaza and to create a situation where terrorists on a regular basis can't open fire on our civilians and disrupt their lives.

COOPER: How concerned are you that Hamas will emerge from this stronger, whereas Mahmoud Abbas has seemed sidelined in all of this and, if anything, seems weakened in power after these eight days?

OREN: I don't think Hamas is going to emerge from this strengthened, Anderson, not at all.

They have had -- a large part of their leadership has been eliminated. Many of their control centers, their arms factories -- they have taken a tremendous blow from the Israel Defense Forces. We have conducted about 1,500 attacks against Hamas centers in the strip. That's 10 times more than the last round in 2008-2009 during the Cast Lead Operation.

As for President Abbas, he has an option. He can rejoin us at the negotiating table. We're willing to negotiate tonight, even, for a two-state solution, a Palestinian state living side by side with peace, security and mutual legitimacy with the state of Israel, and that will make President Abbas a very I think strong and prominent leader indeed.

COOPER: As you know from the Palestinian perspective, though, they say the occupation of West Bank areas, the building of new settlements, has got to stop. Is that something Israel's willing to negotiate on?

OREN: Well, we froze settlements for 10 months awhile ago and they didn't come back to the negotiating table.

Anderson, you're in Gaza right now. In 2005, we ripped up the 21 Israeli settlements there. We uprooted them. We evacuated 9,000 Israelis from their homes in order to advance peace with the Palestinians. Instead of peace, what did we get? We got Hamas. We got Hamas, we got thousands of rockets fired on our civilians.

Settlements are not the issue. The issue is sitting down at the negotiating table and facing face-to-face Israelis and Palestinians together working out our differences. And as I said, we're willing to do that. Even tonight, even tonight in the midst of this crisis, we are willing to start negotiations and to swiftly reach a two-state solution.

COOPER: You really don't believe the building of new settlements, though, is an issue for Palestinians?

OREN: I think it's an issue for Palestinians. We have issues with the Palestinians.

Palestinians name squares in the West Bank after terrorists. Palestinians try to delegitimize us in the world. We don't like it. It's an annoyance, but we don't say it's a precondition for negotiations. We're willing to sit down, and work out all of these problems, settlements, borders, Jerusalem even, a very complex issue, by negotiating face-to-face.

We know there's no alternative. It's not only Israel that says this, Anderson. It's President Obama says it. The European Union says it. The quartet says it. There's no alternative to direct talks.

COOPER: Ambassador Oren, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much for being on the program.

OREN: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Joined now again by Fouad Ajami, also Anne-Marie Slaughter from Princeton University, a CNN contributor, and formerly working with the State Department, also Jill Dougherty, our foreign affairs correspondent.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, you heard about what the ambassador is saying. Is it as simple as that? Is it as simple as Israel says they're willing to talk and that settlements aren't an issue?

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: No, and above all, it's just not as simple as saying Hamas is a terrorist organization and they have to stop.

Hamas is being strengthened by this. Israel of all nations should understand the symbolism of David vs. Goliath. This is -- the more they act and the more casualties there are, the more destruction there is in Gaza, they have done this repeatedly and they themselves understand that this is only a temporary solution.

So there has to be a negotiation and the most positive thing we have heard tonight, Anderson, is really that everything could be back in play. Right? It's been frozen for months and months, so everything could be back in play, but Hamas has got to be part of the solution, at least as represented by the Egyptians. You can't just pretend they're not there and negotiate only with Fatah.

COOPER: Fouad, what about that? Honestly, what do you think the likelihood of a long-term solution is, a long-term negotiation really is? Because there are plenty of critics of Israel who have said that Israel has not been serious over the last few years about sitting down at the table.

AJAMI: Well, to be honest with you, the prospects for a great accommodation, I don't see them. They're not very bright.

It's very interesting. We have to say something about American diplomacy in this struggle. This region has always used America as a great arbiter, that we can come in and we can broker these big conflicts. For the last 12 years, to be fair, 12 years, eight under George W. Bush and four under Barack Obama, the question of Israel and the Palestinians was kicked down the road.

No one really addressed it. And the very interesting thing about President Obama, he really doesn't have this -- there's a kind of an obsession with the Middle East that Jimmy Carter had, Bill Clinton had, and even Bush was interested in the diplomacy of freedom. The interesting thing about President Obama, and he calls the shots, it's his diplomacy, the Middle East doesn't tug at him and so we have come into this late. And there are 12 years, if you will, of abdication.

COOPER: To that point, Jill Dougherty, Hillary Clinton is in the region. What are you hearing from the State Department? What can she really do at this point? Is it too little, too late? It certainly seems like Egypt has been in the forefront of these kind of talks.


She's meeting obviously tonight two hours with Benjamin Netanyahu and all of those senior officials, the foreign minister, et cetera. But then she goes tomorrow, Wednesday, to Ramallah, where she meets with Mahmoud Abbas, and then she goes to Cairo. That's really the key, one of the keys, because Mohammed Morsi can speak and has influence with Hamas, and hopefully can do something. But I think Fouad is right. They haven't been able to really, you know, change much of anything. And now the president who didn't want to get involved for awhile or found that it was kind of useless, not going anyplace, is involved by sending very dramatically his secretary of state.

COOPER: At some point, Anne-Marie Slaughter, do you see the possibility of some sort of recognition of Hamas?

SLAUGHTER: No, but I really have to disagree with my friend Fouad.

I don't think it's right to say that Barack Obama is not pulled by the Middle East and isn't fully committed to the same vision of peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were. I think he has been stymied and has been unable to find an opening.

That opening may be now, and I think he certainly did want to renew American efforts in a second term, but I think he also understands and it's very important that there will be no peace unless the other powers of the region are involved, and it can't just be Egypt.

It has to be Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, and here finally we have those players in the room and we may really have an opportunity for an opening.

COOPER: It takes two sides to negotiate. Fouad, are there political reasons that both sides, Hamas in the case of Gaza and Israel, Netanyahu's government have for keeping a conflict going?

AJAMI: Well, of course, the men of Hamas, this is -- like we said before, this is their moment.

The men of Hamas have nothing to offer the people of Gaza. Think of the people of Gaza almost as a captive population. The men of Hamas won that territory, if you will, by war. They waged war against the Palestinian National Authority in 2007 and conquered Gaza and ran it as a protection racket, so Hamas cannot be part of the game. Hamas can't be part of negotiations.

Maybe the Egyptians can try to mediate. Maybe they could do it under the table, but you can't bring Hamas. Hamas is not committed to a peaceful resolution and the hope lies that we can rejuvenate the government of Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah because it's only through the Palestinian National Authority that any form of accommodation could be reached.

Israel could reach agreements with Syria. It could reach agreements with Egypt, et cetera, with Jordan. You can reach agreement with governments, established governments. You can't reach agreements with gangs.

COOPER: But, Anne-Marie, hoping that Hamas goes away or is somehow weakened, is that realistic? SLAUGHTER: No.

I mean, I don't think -- the United States is not going to recognize Hamas tomorrow, and obviously Congress does prevent the administration from dealing directly with Hamas, but, again, you know, actually, I don't see the people of Gaza blaming Hamas for their troubles. I see them blaming Israel.

I see Hamas actually being strengthened. And in the end, you have got to include Gaza. You have got to have both parts of the Palestinians. That's exactly what Qatar and Egypt have been trying to do is to bring Hamas and Fatah closer together.

So I think, as I said, we're not going to address them directly, but through Egypt, I think they have to be represented.

COOPER: When you talk to people here in Gaza about Hamas, what they say publicly is often different than what they may say to you privately off camera. I'm going to talk about that with Ben Wedeman next, also more with Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Fouad Ajami, I appreciate you being on tonight, Jill Dougherty as well.

Our coverage from Gaza City continues. We will be right back.


COOPER: Another rocket landed just a short time ago during the commercial break here in Gaza City. Going to bring that to you.

Also, an up close look at Hamas. And what people here really feel about Hamas. We'll be right back.



COOPER: One of the biggest strikes we saw yesterday was on this building. It's the Islamic National Bank. I'm assuming it was a target by Israeli forces, because this is the bank where salaries for Hamas members are paid out from.


COOPER: That building was struck yesterday, very close to the large strike that we saw earlier this evening. Here with Ben Wedeman again. Also joining us are Ann Marie Slaughter, also formerly of the State Department and CNN contributor.

Let's talk about Hamas. Fouad Ajami in the last segment was saying he thinks that sort of the Gaza population is a captive population to Hamas. How popular are they? They clearly have support. They won an election here. These days, how popular are they when you talk to people? WEDEMAN: Not very. They do have a system. They're the biggest employer in Gaza. So if you want a job, and you can't find anything, you'll provide something with Hamas. They provide food. They provide education to a certain extent. Also, medical care. So people do appreciate that, because here in Gaza as you've seen, it's a very poor place.

COOPER: So they provide a safety net for the poorest.

WEDEMAN: On the other hand, many people resent them, because they feel that they're power hungry. They're dishonest. They're greedy. They, for instance, monopolized the tunnel trade to Egypt. They tax everything that goes through. Nobody can dig a tunnel, operate a tunnel, without paying taxes, officially or unofficially.

So there's a feeling that Hamas is, in a sense, turned Gaza into its own business.

COOPER: And how -- do people know where all the rocket batteries are? Do people know where Hamas is? Because I mean, we ourselves are trying to figure out, well, is there Hamas in a building where we are, there might be a strike? Do people know everything about the locations of Hamas installations?

WEDEMAN: You have to keep in mind, Gaza is a small place: 1.5, 1.7 million people. Everybody -- everybody here seems to know everybody else and know who their family and what their family background is, so people have a good idea of who is Hamas and who isn't.

On the other hand, they do function. They sort of move in this society. They're not strangers. They're Palestinians. They're Gazans, like everything else. So they do have an ability to sort of slip around and not be -- sort of conceal their identity. But people are very aware of sort of everyone's basic inclinations.

COOPER: It's really interesting, Ann Marie. Because when you talk to Israeli officials like we just heard from Ambassador Oren, you know, they keep denying that Hamas comes out of this stronger and that the Palestinian people will reject Hamas, but privately Palestinians here may say to you that they are upset about Hamas. That's not the public message that they feel comfortable saying on camera.

If Hamas emerges stronger, I mean, what hope is there of some sort of resolution?

ANN MARIE SLAUGHTER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, again, any time you are attacked, the natural response is to rally around the flag, and that's true in the United States. It's true in Gaza, wherever, so it -- I think it is true that, if you held competitive election in Gaza with a real alternative to Hamas, it's not at all clear to me that Hamas would win. But in this situation, where people are under attack, they -- I think Hamas does come out stronger.

Again, I think the only real way we can move out of the situation -- Ambassador Oren said wanting to move to a new situation, a new starting point, is to broker a deal where Hamas is represented by the Egyptians, at least until you get to the next phase, where Fatah and Hamas, and there are parts of Hamas that are considerably more moderate than the more extreme groups in Gaza, then you've got a roughly unified Israeli -- I'm sorry. Roughly unified Palestinian negotiating party. But for right now, they're going to have to go through Egypt.

COOPER: Clearly Hillary Clinton, by meeting Mahmoud Abbas, they're hoping to bolster Fatah, hoping to bolster the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Is that likely?

WEDEMAN: No, it's not likely, because Fatah is sort of on the sidelines. What -- what cards can they play? Nothing. The real axis is Gaza/Cairo. Cairo has real influence here. Fatah is not popular in the West Bank. There have been protests against it for corruption, for the rising cost of living. They're not popular.

So I understand that Secretary Clinton needs to go there as sort of just paying respects to Mahmoud Abbas, but if she really wants to make progress regarding Gaza, it will come from Cairo.

COOPER: Is it possible that you could foresee a time when Hamas accepts Israeli's right to exist? Because Israel officials, when you talk to them, that is the point they obviously always come back to.

WEDEMAN: Well, it's interesting to hear Israeli officials talk about Hamas today. Because it sounds exactly like the way they spoke about the PLO in the 1980s, and, therefore -- but that changed. The dialog changed, they got into negotiations, they signed the Oslo Peace Accords in September 1993, and now the PLO are the moderates. So there's no reason why not to foresee the day when Hamas will be speaking on behalf of the Palestinians with the Israelis.

COOPER: A little more with Ben, Ann Marie Slaughter. We appreciate it.

When we come back, we want to show you some of -- some of the other things we saw today. Leaflets being dropped by IDF forces warning Gazans to move out of areas, warning Gazans to stay away from Hamas installations. Easier said than done. We'll be right back.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What has caused this mass exodus was the Israeli army dropping these leaflets, warning residents in certain areas that they needed to depart immediately for Gaza City. And the leaflet even indicates specifically which route they should take to stay safe.



COOPER: One of the reasons so many civilians, women and children, sometimes get injured in the blasts here in Gaza is that there are no air-raid warning sirens. Sometimes the IDF is able to drop leaflets. Sometimes they actually even call or send text messages. Without air-raid sirens, the death toll is higher than it might otherwise be.

More on that ahead.



WEDEMAN: I think it's pretty clear that we are moving in the direction of -- I can hear shattering glass out there right now. The building just shook. Of course, because I was looking at the camera, I didn't see where the blast took place. Anybody see it?

OK, to the north of this building here. So despite talk of cease-fire, Hala, it appears that the guns are still firing.


COOPER: Joined by Ben Wedeman and Arwa Damon here in Gaza City.

How you don't flinch, I'm not sure. I'm still jumping out of skin at most of this stuff. But it is one of the things that's very disconcerting for residents here is there are no real air-raid warning sirens, which there are in -- on the Israeli side of the border. So people really have no idea where a blast is going to occur.

WEDEMAN: No, and what they do, in fact, is they just try to avoid going anywhere near they might think could be a blast or an attack or something.

For instance, here in this office, several of the staff are sleeping here tonight, because they're afraid to go home in the dark. So you really just try to be as cautious as possible and don't stray too far from areas where you're comfortable in.

COOPER: We saw leaflets being dropped earlier today in one part of the city, and Arwa Damon went to find people who are moving to areas of Gaza that they thought would be safer. Take a look.


DAMON (voice-over): This is the first family we came across, barreling down the road. All they knew was that they did not dare stay at home.

"We left without knowing where to go," says Afaza Zaza (ph). (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

They say they could hear explosions as they fled.

(on camera) What's behind this mass exodus was the Israeli army dropping these leaflets, warning residents in certain areas that they needed to depart immediately for Gaza City, and the leaflet even indicates specifically which route they should take to stay safe. (voice-over) And though few believed the Israelis, they thought it was a better option than staying behind. Afaza (ph) says the house was hit a few days ago.

(on camera) This is the second school that they have actually gone to, looking for a safe place to stay. But it obviously was full, as well. Now we're going with them to try out a third one.

(voice-over) It's already packed. People angrily moved benches, staking their claim.

There is another school, a young man gestures. Come with me. Amidst a frantic search, fear. Four years ago, the last time Israel launched an operation in Gaza, a school was bombed. The Israelis said Hamas was using the cover of schools to fire rockets.

But whatever the risk for these families, there is no alternative.

(on camera) This gives you an idea of how chaotic the situation this is. This is the fourth school that the family has been to now, looking for a place to stay.

(voice-over) Finally, they find a room. Come, come quickly, they call the rest of the family as others help to clear space. She is exhausted and stunned. The children arrive, talking breathlessly about seeing a ball of fire outside.

(on camera) We're less than a minute away from the school, and while we were standing in there, we actually felt the windows of the building there shaking from an explosion, and it seems that this was the target.

(voice-over) Little reassurance for those that fled to stay safe.


COOPER: We're joined by Arwa, and Ben and Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem.

Listening to your piece and just talking to people here, talking to Gazans, you really realize just how few options that the average person here has. Unemployment is very high, poverty is very high. And it's one thing to say we'll move to a safer area or move away from an insulation that Hamas has, there's not a lot of places for people to go.

DAMON: No, there aren't. And last night, for example, we were at a family's home. And normally, there used to be seven of them living in this one house, and now their numbers had swelled up to 30. Some of them moving because they thought their neighborhoods had come under bombardment way too many times. They also are hearing horror stories or even experiencing the horror stories of strikes hitting residential homes.

One family moved into this other house, because their own ceiling they said was made of this thin sheet of metal, not thick concrete, and they were worried about it caving in on them.

COOPER: And on both sides of the border, you see tragedy, and people's lives have been forever affected, who have lost loved ones, have lost family members, who have lost their homes, or just have the psychological damage of living under constant threat.

Wolf Blitzer, you've spent the last two days in various towns along the border, on the Israeli side, Ashkelon and elsewhere, and everybody has been impacted by these shells, by these rockets.

BLITZER: And there's hundreds of thousands of Israelis that live within, let's say, 40 or 50 kilometers, 20 or 30 miles just north of Gaza, and they feel directly affected. There is a school in Birsheba (ph) or in Ashkelon, any of these major cities over the past week, seven days now, the kids haven't gone to school. A lot of them are sleeping in shelters. They're sleeping in bunkers, because they're afraid. Those sirens go off, they're traumatized. Their moms and dads are very worried.

I was in one of them today in Birsheba (ph) there. The outside didn't look too bad. When I got inside, the whole house was basically destroyed inside.

Fortunately, the mom and dad and four of their five kids -- the fifth was away, but four of their five kids they were there. They heard the siren go off. They had 30 seconds. They ran into the small room which is their safe room. It's a concrete bunker, really, sort of like the side of a closet. And they waited it out. When they got out, they were fine, they were OK. But their house is totally destroyed and not livable at all. They're going to have to go live in a hotel right now as they wait for whatever is going to happen.

And you can see on the face of the little kids who had heard the sirens going off, these kids were pretty traumatized by what happened. And it's just one story out of a lot that's going on. On both sides of this border, it's pretty awful right now, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, in 2006, we spent a month in Tiar Shimon (ph) and the areas north, in the fight against Hezbollah, and it is a terrifying feeling to have these rockets come in. At least, you know, though there is no air-raid warning sirens here in Gaza, there are air-raid warning sirens on the Israeli side of the border, but the flipside is, there's no targeting at all with the rockets that are being fired and so there's no -- they can land anywhere, and you really have no idea where they're going to land, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, and that's the point that the Israelis keep saying. They try, when they go into Gaza, they try to go after specific targets if you will and try to avoid civilian casualties.

The Hamas rockets, they just go into areas that are -- they just aim them. They're not very reliable; they're not very accurate. One of the rockets today, a longer-range Fajr-5 that went out of Gaza actually landed on the outskirts of Jerusalem. And it was not very far away from Palestinians in the West Bank. It could have easily gone into a Palestinian community in the West Bank and just landed in a field, didn't cause any damage. But they're very inaccurate and they're just sort of a weapon of terror, if you will, and people are scared.

COOPER: Yes. Ben, just very quickly, there are a lot of people here in Gaza who do not believe that Israel selects targets, that Israel tries to avoid civilian casualties.

WEDEMAN: No, I think, especially this time around there are some -- many people here who do know that the Israelis are going after specific targets. And I was speaking to one Palestinian here today, who said that some people are happy that Hamas is being targeted and that civilian casualties, certainly compared to last time around, are lower than they were.

BLITZER: That's the fear of the ground invasion that civilian casualties would increase with that.

Ben Wedeman, Arwa Damon, thank you very much.

Wolf Blitzer, we're going to take a short break. A lot of other stories to report in the news today. We'll have that when we come back.






COOPER: That blast occurring about two hours or so ago. Government installation being hit multiple times.

We've got a quick news bulletin. Some of the other stories we're following right now. Susan Hendricks joins us with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Susan.

SUSAN HENDRICKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, social media led authorities to four American men who are accused of planning jihadist attacks against American targets. All four are charged with terrorism. Three of them were arrested by federal agents in Los Angeles, who say the men posted their alleged plots on Facebook. The fourth suspect was found in Afghanistan.

Officials in Indianapolis have taken two people into custody for questioning in connection with this blast that killed two and leveled a number of homes in the area. But they are not under arrest. Yesterday, authorities confirmed they were conducting a homicide investigation.

The voice of Elmo has resigned from "Sesame Street." Kevin Clash quit after a young man filed a lawsuit today, claiming that Clash enticed him to have sex when he was 15 years old. Just last week, another young man recanted a similar claim.

And late word tonight from Hostess that is not what Twinkies fans want to hear. Hostess says a last-minute mediation session with the Bakers' Union was unsuccessful. The company goes to bankruptcy court tomorrow and is expected to seek permission to liquidate.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Susan, thanks very much.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right after this break.