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THE SITUATION ROOM

Brink of War; GOP Mocks Obama While Planning Lawsuit; Mideast Battle Happening via Social Media; House GOP Suing Obama; Feeding the Hungry

Aired July 11, 2014 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report. Brink of War. The breaking news -- rockets break through Israel defense systems in a damaging new show of Hamas fire power.

The battle opening up on a second front as well, as Israel issues a new warning about a possible ground invasion of Gaza.

Stand by my firsthand account of the dangers in Israel right now, what it's like to race for cover as sirens blare and rockets blast.

We're also live in Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes are taking a terrible toll and a Hamas leader is vowing to stand firm through a long and bloody battle.

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

Israel's air defenses are being put to the test by dozens of new rocket attacks from Gaza throughout the day and into the night. Hamas militants say they are now aiming for an ominous new target, the Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv. Potentially, that could put many more visitors to Israel in danger as well as citizens.

At least one of the rockets intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome system today was streaking over the Tel Aviv area. We're following all the breaking news in Israel and in Gaza, including the looming threat of an Israeli-led ground war into Gaza.

Our correspondents are standing by. They are with me here in the region, they are back in Washington.

But first here is my reporting from near the Gaza border.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You can here the sirens have gone off. So, we're all being told to get to a shelter. So, we're running.

(voice-over): The Israeli military says about 100 rockets or more were fired from Gaza over the past 24 hours and millions of Israelis raced for shelter, just like I did twice in the same day. Uh-oh. Here goes. Looks like they got another siren. All right,

we're just stand over here next to the wall. Ten minutes? Ten minutes.

You can see all the sailors running over here.

(voice-over): I toured the Ashdod naval base near the Gaza border, where crews are on alert for Hamas attackers.

(on camera): There's another machine over here.

(voice-over): Troops here were the first to detect a brazen move by armed militants who stormed Israel's Zikim beach from the sea.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw the divers coming over. There was a group of terrorists, Hamas terrorists.

BLITZER (on camera): Were they ready to die?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe they came to die. But before they want to die, they want to kill as much as they could.

BLITZER: We spent much of the day near the Gaza border arriving at the brunt-out ruins of a gas station in Ashdod, shortly after it was struck by rocket fire, igniting cars in flames and seriously injuring one man.

(on camera): Now, let's take a look. And you can see some of the damage and the destruction. These are automobiles, cars that were just here to get some gas, maybe get some maintenance.

(voice-over): We saw evidence of this escalating conflict everywhere.

(on camera): If you look right behind me, you see a huge, huge plume of smoke that has just come up. That's an Israeli airstrike on a target in northern Gaza right now.

(voice-over): We could hear and see Israeli airstrikes all day long. Officials in Gaza now say at least 100 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli airstrikes, including more than 20 children.

The leader of the Hamas military wing is now warning that his forces are digging in for a long battle. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is keeping all options open, including a ground invasion of Gaza; 30,000 Israeli troops have now been called up and people all across this region are on alert knowing tanks could start rolling in at any time.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: So far, no Israelis have been killed in the endless barrage of rocket attacks. But it's a very different situation in Gaza right now, where Israeli airstrikes have taken a very, very devastating toll.

Let's go to our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman. He is joining us live from Gaza City with the very latest.

What is it, Ben?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, well, our death toll estimate is about 113 at this point.

There was an air raid this evening that left like four or five people dead, including apparently a leader from the Islamic Jihad's military wing. But it's not just military leaders, militants who are being hit in Gaza. It is ordinary citizens.

Today we went to the house, a house in Jabalia, to the north of here, where shortly before that a 4-year-old boy, Sahir Abu Namus, had been killed when a piece of shrapnel from an Israeli rocket ripped half of his head off. And we have seen devastating pictures, video from the hospital where his father is just absolutely devastated by his son's death.

In that neighborhood, we also watched as a man was hurrying away with three of his children. He told me, I'm going out. I'm leaving here. I'm going to another place, because I don't want my children to die in a rocket attack as well.

It's important to keep in mind here, Wolf, that there are no bomb shelters in Gaza. There's no Iron Dome system to stop the Israeli missiles from falling on Gaza. There's no air raid sirens to warn you of trouble coming.

Israel does have this knock on the roof system where somebody calls up the person in the household and says leave the house. But in the case of Sahir Abu Namus, nobody apparently received a phone call. He was just a boy playing in the street. Afterwards, we saw other children there clearly traumatized by seeing the boy next door get his head blown off.

It's a much different picture here in Gaza and a very disturbing one at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very disturbing, indeed. Very disturbing. Ben Wedeman on the scene for us, be careful.

Meanwhile, Israel faced attack today on a second front. A rocket was launched from Lebanon that landed in Northern Israel. Could this be a sign of a wider war in the region?

Let's go to CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom. He's joining us from Beirut.

What happened today, Mohammed?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a very tense morning in Lebanon today, three rockets in fact launched from southern Lebanon into Israel.

Then Israel retaliated by launching at least 25 rockets into Lebanon. Now, no casualties were reported on either side. But it really goes to show just how concerned the Lebanese are about not wanting to be drawn into this ever-escalating conflict by the fact that the Lebanese armed forces were deployed extremely quickly that southern Lebanon.

They found at least two other launching pads with rockets aimed toward Israel. They dismantled those launching pads, dismantled those rockets. They don't want to see Lebanon drawn into the conflict. They're doing everything they can to try to calm tensions now. We hear along the border that things are calm right now, but there is concern that militant groups could try something else.

At this hour, nobody has claimed responsibility for these rocket attacks. And there's no indication that any well-known militant group is behind them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because we all remember a few years ago there was a real war in the northern part of Israel involving Hezbollah in Lebanon and so much of Israel's -- the northern parts of Israel, whether Haifa and other towns up there, were basically evacuated because of rockets coming in from Lebanon.

Is there a real serious likelihood that Hezbollah right now would align itself formally with Hamas and open up a two-front war?

JAMJOOM: Right now, Wolf, the conventional wisdom here in Lebanon is that Hezbollah is stretched far too thin as far as their fighting in Syria goes to really try to want to get involved with Hamas and with the conflict that is going on there in Israel right now.

Right now, the Lebanese don't think that Hezbollah would really dare get involved. Their fighters are extremely involved in Syria. They're fighting alongside the Syrian regime trying to retake Syria for Bashar al-Assad. They just don't have the manpower to get involved in another conflict at this time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mohammed Jamjoom in Beirut for us, thanks for that update.

Let's now hear from the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. He's once again joining us on the phone. He's in the West Bank city of Jericho, his hometown.

Saeb, thanks very much for coming in.

Does your president, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, have the clout to convince Hamas to stop firing rockets and missiles into Israel?

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: That's what he's trying to do.

And, Wolf, that's what he has been in touch with Secretary Kerry today. He's been in touch with Prime Minister Erdogan. He's been in touch on the phone with the mayor of Qatar. He's been in touch with Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, Mr. Nabil Elaraby of the Arab League.

He's been in touch with President Hollande of France. He's been in touch with Khaled Mashal in order to do one thing. The one thing is to specify a zero hour so we can have the 2012 cease-fire agreement. And so far, we're facing a very, very disastrous humanitarian situation in Gaza.

People don't see what is happening there. There are more than 2,000 homes that have been affected by the raid, more than 100 killed, maybe 1,000 wounded. It's really a deteriorating situation. So, we're exerting every possible event in order to have an end to this scene and to restore the agreement reached in November 2012.

I don't think that the escalation or the war attack from the ground or missiles or F-15s will get us anywhere. The only thing now is why we're on the Security Council now. We're here so that we can pass a resolution to impose a zero hour so the fighting can stop.

This is not a war, a traditional war between two armies and two navies and two air forces. This is something that we need to contain through the restoration of the cease-fire and then to continue with the reconciliation and then to continue forward with the negotiations, and because at the end of the day, what we have been witnessing in the last month in the West Bank and Jerusalem and Gaza and Israel is that we need peace.

We need the two-state solution. The answer to all of this (INAUDIBLE) is not through more violence and through more missiles and through more of the same. It's through sanity, wisdom and statesmanship through ending this conflict. It's through the two-state solution. It's through a state of Palestine to live side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel along the 1967 lines.

That's what all this...

(CROSSTALK)

EREKAT: ... is proving.

And we need the Israeli government to stop defending its settlement activities, to stop defending its occupation and to really (INAUDIBLE) restore the 2012 agreement and then to engage in a meaningful peace process that will lead once and for all to put an end to this occupation and to realize a two-state solution.

BLITZER: Saeb, I spoke in the last hour with Osama Hamdan, the spokesman for Hamas. Unlike you, he's not ready to accept a two-state solution. Here is the question. Why did the Palestinian Authority decide to form the sort of coalition with Hamas?

EREKAT: We did not form a coalition with Hamas. We formed a government with national consensus, a government program of two-state solution.

You had President Mahmoud Abbas announcing the government. Two-state solution, the state of Palestine to live side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel on the 1967 line. Mr. Mashal knows that. Hamas does. So the thing is that once we go in reconciliation, we said to Hamas when we defer, we go back to the ballot boxes, not to the bullet boxes.

So, that's on us. What we need to do now is to, number one, stop the fighting and stop the cycle of violence, stop this -- it's not going to get us anywhere, other than widening the cycle of violence, counterviolence, extremism, chaos, not only between Palestinians and Israelis, but look at our whole region.

Where is Iraq, where is Syria, where is Libya, where is Yemen? Everything is getting out of hand. What we need to do immediately is to see that we have a cease-fire. Number two is to see that international community led by United States and President Obama and Secretary Kerry to restore the peace process in order to achieve once and for all a two-state solution. This is the way out.

BLITZER: It looks like that peace process right now, Saeb, and I know you were intimately involved working closely with your Israeli counterpart, Tzipi Livni, and Secretary of State John Kerry. It looks like that is dead for now. Is there any hope that is going to be revived?

EREKAT: Well, look at it. Look, Wolf, we can -- you are right now. It looks like wishful thinking. It looks like -- difficult.

But do you think or anybody in the world think that there is an alternative to a meaningful peace process that can achieve the two- state solution? Look, we have been (AUDIO GAP) cycle for generations and generations and generations.

It's time to end this conflict. It's time to end this situation. It's time to end the Israeli occupation. How can we do it? We can do it through the good offices of President Obama, John Kerry, the Europeans, the Russians, the U.N., the Arabs. We have an Arab peace initiative. We have all the things that are ready.

And then if this cycle of vicious violence doesn't show us one thing, that what we need is not more war and bombs that fall in the street. What we need is really an Israeli government that is willing to commit to the two-state solution. We have recognized the state of Israel right to exist on the 1967 line. And 57 Arab nations (INAUDIBLE) nations have said once Israel withdraws from (INAUDIBLE) the Arab peace initiative of 2012, which is the most strategic offer made by (INAUDIBLE) especially by the Saudi Arabians and all the Muslim and Arab nations.

This is the way out. It may sound tonight like it's wishful thinking. It may sound like it's really farfetched. People may be accusing us of not living the real reality. But does anyone have an alternative? Is there a way out other than achieving the two-state solution on the 1967 line, where the state of Israel can live side by side the state of Palestine?

Really, we have recognized the state of Israel. Unfortunately, Wolf, up to this moment, we haven't have any Israeli standing up and saying we accept the state of Palestine on 1967. We have two states, but never a definition of the 1967 line. That's what is needed.

(CROSSTALK)

EREKAT: We don't need to reinvent the wheel. We don't need -- from the start, we know the endgame. It's two states on 1967.

BLITZER: Let's hope that that peace process can be revived. It looks grim, as you know, as all of us know right now. But certainly there's always hope.

Saeb Erekat, thanks very much for joining us.

EREKAT: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up from Jerusalem, we're live here. The U.S. is offering to facilitate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, so what might that look like? Is it even remotely possible? We're getting some new situation that is coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Stand by. I will get a new assessment of Israeli preparations for a possible ground invasion into Gaza.

The top Israeli military spokesman is standing by. We will get the Israeli military perspective when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back live here in Jerusalem reporting on the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

CNN's Diana Magnay is joining us now. She's down in Ashkelon. That's near the Gaza border.

We were there together earlier in the day and there were a lot of rockets coming in and a lot of intercepted rockets by that Israeli Iron Dome. What is the latest there, Diana, and what are you seeing?

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There really were.

And the rocket fire did not cease. In fact, it picked up as it really tends to do as night falls and the early evening. We then went to a kibbutz, which is just 780 meters away from the border. Extremely close. You look out through the barbed wire parameters of the kibbutz and you are almost face-to-face with Gaza. And yet this is a beautiful little oasis of calm compared to conditions within Gaza itself.

But yet the skies are just ripped up with the noise of explosions, rockets, and we had an anti-tank missile come incredibly close to us. In fact, it hit a military jeep in the military base right next door injuring two IDF soldiers there.

And the people who live in this kibbutz they sent their children away to a kibbutz in the north of Israel hoping they would be safer there. The fact of the matter is, today we had rockets come over from Lebanon. It's questionable how long their safety there will be guaranteed. The rest of them are just constantly going in and out of the safe houses they all have to have in their homes.

So it's a very strange and sort of surreal situation in the beautiful place with this really quite terrifying noise ripping the air above them. And only yesterday a house was hit in Nahal Oz. That's all well and good to say that. But, of course, as we know, as we know from Ben Wedeman, you know, this is the situation. In Israel, still there hasn't been any casualties on their side. It's very scary for people, obviously. But it's nothing compared to those people on the other side of the border so close who don't have safe houses, who don't have warnings and who don't have anywhere to run.

BLITZER: Yes, there have been some Israeli injuries, but no fatalities, at least not yet. Diana Magnay along the border there between Israel and Gaza, thank you so much. Stay safe over there.

We're here in Jerusalem. The cross-border air ware is relentless, rocket fire coming in from the Palestinians. Airstrikes going down to Gaza from the Israelis. Both sides say they're prepared for a longer conflict. It could be potentially a ground war, maybe even in the coming days.

Let's bring in our foreign affairs reporter, Elise Labott, and she's joining us from Washington.

What are you hearing there, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. is saying it's prepared to help negotiate a cease-fire to end the cycle of violence. But the question is, is the timing right?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT (voice-over): With Israel gearing up for a possible ground invasion of Gaza and Hamas rockets reaching further into Israel than ever before, can the U.S. broker an end to the cycle of violence?

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're offering assistance of the United States to try to facilitate a cease-fire that we believe is in the best interest of both sides.

LABOTT: Things have changed since 2012 when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Egyptian President Morsi brokered the last cease-fire. Gone is the sway Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood held with Hamas.

Now Egypt's new President Al-Sisi considers Hamas a terrorist group. And after the collapse of American-led peace talks in April, U.S. officials acknowledge the Obama administration feels frustrated with both sides.

Speaking in Israel, a top White House official pointed the finger at Israel saying its continued occupation of the Palestinian territories is "not only wrong but a recipe for resentment and recurring instability."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a certain reticence to get involved right now because the feeling is we get sucked in and then we can only get the parties to go a certain way and then we hit a wall. We're not going to get involved in -- you know, unless we're sure that it's really going to lead to positive outcome. LABOTT: Palestinians say international intervention is critical.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL: What we want is cease-fire. I think it's the responsibility of the international community to stop the escalation.

LABOTT: But Israel is in rush for the fighting to stop. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says he will end the military operation only after he restores quiet in a lasting way. Publicly, the U.S. said it wants a de-escalation. But officials acknowledge the U.S. is willing to give Israel some time to defang Hamas before moving towards a cease-fire.

DAN SHAPIRO, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: If the moment calls for that and we believe that would be useful to getting to our goal of ending the rocket fire and de-escalating and returning to the cease-fire, the calm, I'm sure Secretary Kerry would be willing to do that. Obviously, the moment has to be right, obviously.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LABOTT: But now the U.S. is looking to Qatar, Wolf, who you know has close ties with Hamas to broker an end to the conflict. And Qatari officials tell me they're actively involved in trying to de-escalate tensions. You remember they helped broker that deal between the U.S. and Taliban over the return of Bowe Bergdahl and are hoping to play a similar role here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will see if the Qataris can do that. Thanks very much, Elise Labott in Washington.

We're here in Jerusalem.

Joining us now, the spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.

Colonel, thanks very much for coming in.

I want to just get your thoughts on Ben Gurion Airport right now. A lot of international flights come in. They go out. There was a threat today from Hamas. The planes shouldn't come in because they could be endangered. When I was flying in the other day, into Ben Gurion Airport, I was told that the pilots are being cautioned to take some new maneuvers as they come in not the old-fashioned way. What's going on at Ben Gurion Airport?

PETER LERNER, SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: Well, clearly Hamas has the capability to launch rockets at all of Israel.

That's part of threat. That's anything from 200 kilometers from the Gaza Strip, they have the ability to reach. Ben Gurion is in that distance. They have indeed made these claims. They have been making empty threats throughout the last four days. Everything they have thrown at us has met actually a brick wall.

BLITZER: So, is it still safe for commercial aircraft to take off and arrive at Ben Gurion Airport?

LERNER: Yes, absolutely.

BLITZER: You have no worries about that?

LERNER: We take care...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But there are some new procedures that are under way to ensure that, is that right?

LERNER: Well, of course. There's a heightened sense of threat. We have to take care of the people that are coming in and flights are continuing, of course.

BLITZER: We spoke yesterday. You told me 30,000 Israeli reservists have now been formally activated to go to their units. What is the number right now?

LERNER: We're around 34,000, 35,000 out of the 40,000 that was approved. We might even see some more added on to the figure.

BLITZER: Above the 40,000?

LERNER: Above the 40,000.

What is important about the force is that they are enabling us to utilize the regular forces, the regular standing forces to be prepared. They have the capability to mobilize quickly. They have the capability to get the job done if required. This is a potentially long mission that we need to be prepared for.

BLITZER: Because what I was told was that the reservists they are taking jobs inside Israel and some of the active-duty regular Israeli military personnel they are moving to the border with Gaza.

LERNER: Yes, that's exactly true.

The reservists, they will be going to the northern command to defend the northern border, to defend in the central command, in the midst of the Central Command, and the regular, the standing troops, they will be brought down to the potential preparedness for Gaza Strip.

BLITZER: How close is the IDF, Israel Defense Forces, to a ground invasion of Gaza?

LERNER: I think that really depends a lot on what Hamas does.

We have voiced since day one that we have no interest in any sort of escalation with the Gaza Strip. But these terrorists, they're firing indiscriminately into Jerusalem and into Tel Aviv. You enjoyed the run to the shelter today. We have to be prepared. Are we days closer? I hope not, but it could happen. We could find ourselves there.

BLITZER: It could happen when?

LERNER: It could happen soon.

BLITZER: What does that mean, soon?

LERNER: It could happen in the immediate future. It's not -- again, it's -- I don't have a date that we're going. We have to be prepared. I would say we are prepared now for immediate action if required.

BLITZER: Who was responsible for those rockets that came into the northern part of Israel today from Lebanon?

LERNER: That's a good question.

There are lots of various different factions within Lebanon. Ultimately, who is responsible? The Lebanese government. They are a sovereign state. They have overruling responsibility for everything that comes over the border.

But it's a working assumption that there could be heightened threats from Lebanon. And indeed, we saw this rocket today. We don't know if it's symbolic, just some sort of, you know, identity, identifying with Gaza, or if it's something more substantial. So, we're watching closely what is going on, on our northern border.

BLITZER: How worried are you that there could be a two-front war right now against Israel, rockets coming in from Gaza, rockets coming from Lebanon as well?

LERNER: We're watching it close. I think suffice to say that, you know, we have to be prepared on all fronts. The Middle East around us is bubbling and sizzling all the time. And recent years, even on a heightened manner. And so we have to be prepared or it could happen on the border with Syria. It could happen on the border with Lebanon. So we need heightened preparedness, a level of preparedness, and the ability to operate swiftly.

So when these rockets came across or a rocket landed in the north this morning, we had an immediate rapid response on the ground to strike back at those potentially Morsi's rockets.

BLITZER: I've spoken with some Israelis who have said to me what their fear could be if Israel moves in with tanks, armored personnel carriers into Gaza. There's even greater civilian casualties. Not only will there be an angry reaction from inside Lebanon but from the West Bank itself. The Palestinians in the West Bank, they could start another intifada as it's called. You have to worry about that kind of scenario unfolding.

LERNER: I think there's a lot about conflict management in this region. The IDF is part of the tools to deal with some of the issues. Indeed we saw today was Friday, Ramadan, we didn't have major issues, injured (INAUDIBLE). And I would say that the despite the existing threats that we do have, the situation now is manageable to a level, right, does not pose a substantial threat at this time. BLITZER: We've seen very disturbing video. Ben Wedeman showed it to

us from Gaza earlier. Little kids severely injured. Some killed in these Israeli airstrikes. I know you try to avoid civilian casualties. But that's such a heavily populated dense areas. Already you're being criticized by some who are engaging in what they call war crimes.

LERNER: I would say to those primarily, Hamas is carrying out indiscriminate rocket launching against Israeli civilians. The IDF uses its weapons to safe guard its civilians. Hamas uses its civilians to safe guard its weapons. That is the absurdity of the situation.

When we are operating, we are taking unprecedented care in order to pinpoint those terrorists. They are -- you know, they exploit the civilian population. They operate from mosques. They launch rockets from the parking lots of ambulances. You know, they abuse anything and everything at hand and then they point the finger at Israel.

I would say first of all where is Hamas' accountability to this issue? They have to step away from the population. They are holding the Palestinian population of Gaza as hostages to their own will and trying to inflict damage on the Israeli civilians.

I would say in this conflict, there is only one party that actually cares about the civilians, the Palestinian civilians and it's not Hamas.

BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, thanks very much for joining us.

LERNER: Thank you.

BLITZER: The spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.

Just ahead, as we continue our live coverage from here on Jerusalem, the parallel war between Israel and Hamas using social media instead of rockets and missiles.

We're taking a closer look at how both sides are using propaganda. Who's winning this battle for the hearts and minds.

More of our special coverage coming up right here in the SITUATION ROOM from Jerusalem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back here in Jerusalem, we're live with our special report.

People around the world are watching the attacks. They're watching the bloodshed that's unfolding in the Middle East. There's a second battle going on as well, an important propaganda battle on both sides are stepping up their respective pitches.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is taking a closer look at that -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, once again a war is playing out on social media and once again, of course, civilians are caught in the crossfire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hamas rockets endanger about 40 percent of Israeli civilians.

STARR (voice-over): Just part of Israel's increasingly sophisticated social media strategy using sites like Twitter and YouTube to get its message out.

Propaganda is not new but here both sides at war also for the hearts and minds of their followers. The messages increasingly pointed.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Information is a critical piece of the modern battle field. We used it when we were in combat, the Israelis are using it the best they can. Hamas is using it. Hezbollah is using it.

STARR: This video from Hamas shows their weapons being manufactured. In another statement posted on YouTube from Hamas --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have not started the aggression and the war.

STARR: -- Israel hits back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hamas upgraded its weapons arsenal. The terrorist organization now holds about 10,000 rockets and missiles.

STARR: Israel even uses an image of the Statute of Liberty keeping congressional support always vital.

RON DERMER, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Looking at Israel, can you imagine what America would if it was facing a similar threat?

STARR: As Hamas rockets fly against Israel, and Israeli airstrikes pound Gaza, and Israeli Twitter image says Israel is only striking military targets, including weapons and launchers hidden among civilians. Israel says it warns Palestinians to get out of the way.

Hamas announced in January its military wing had been banned from Facebook. Now it relies on this homepage. Showing the latest photos and news updates from its point of view. But like for many militant groups, social media is also a recruiting tool.

HERTLING: Shots of weapons falling in neighborhoods being destroyed will recruit more terrorists on their side.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And Israel and Hamas have both gotten so savvy using social media. At one point, they were actually in a Twitter war. Spokesmen for both sides firing cyber salvos at each other -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes. Who would have thought a Twitter war going on as a

real war is going on at the same time.

Barbara, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper. Joining us now is Ari Shavit, he's a columnist for the Israeli newspaper. Ari is the author of the bestselling book, very important book, "My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel." Also joining us Shibley Telhami, he is a professor, is a well-known Middle East analyst at the University of Maryland and the Brookings Institution.

Ari, you're really worried that this is about to escalade, this situation right now, aren't you?

ARI SHAVIT, COLUMNIST, HAARETZ: Absolutely. Israel leads attacks in unprecedented way. It showed a lot of restrain in early stages. But I'm afraid that if this goes on, the Israeli Cabinet might feel it has to strike and get boots on the ground and I'm deeply worried about the consequences of that.

BLITZER: What would the mission be?

SHAVIT: Look, right now Israel is in the problem that it is perceived as weak because all of its major cities are attacked. And really to use the analogy, this is the equivalent an al Qaeda operation launching rockets from Cuba, first to Florida, then at Philadelphia then New York and Washington. New York and Washington will hit. So it's true no people were killed. But the symbol. This is a violation of Israeli sovereignty and where from Gaza will we pulled out of? Where we dismantle all settlements?

No checkpoints there. No settlements. No occupation and what we get is these rockets. The Israeli government that I'm not a fan of was also very restrained. It did not go into use of power. So the Hamas has really provoked Israel in a big way.

I wish, I pray that my government will still be restrained in the coming days because right now they're under a lot of pressure to do something even symbolic to respond to this major Hamas provocation.

BLITZER: You know a lot of the Israeli soldiers are going to be killed and injured if there's a ground war.

SHAVIT: I'm deeply troubled about an Israeli ground operation. I'm deeply troubled. I'm not happy about it. I hope it will not get there. But one has to see where -- if we are to prevent this escalation something big has to be done. I was warning about the escalation days ago. I'm afraid that the international community didn't act in time.

All players the region, not only Israel, the Arab moderates are really terrified of Hamas's behavior. But Hamas was not stopped. And now I fear that Israeli extremists and the public opinion pressure might push the government into an action that might be dangerous and counterproductive. BLITZER: Well, let me ask Shibley Telhami.

You know the region well, Shibley. Is there a way out of this really dire scenario, what Ari has just painted?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT: Well, first of all, I don't think either Hamas leadership or the Israeli leadership really wants escalation. I don't believe that Hamas was looking for provocation, actually. I think they paid a heavy price for it two years ago. This is not something -- I mean, you know, you know, you look at the horrific results on the Gaza side, not just the civilian but the infrastructure. Some of their own leaders, what they have to -- the pieces they have to pick up after this is all over.

This is not something they're looking forward. In any case, they were moving in some ways for reconciliation with Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. I think they're both were dragged into it because of the series of events that were horrific on both sides. But nonetheless, right now I think the Israeli -- obviously there is pressure on both of them to escalade. No one wants to be seen to have lost it.

So there is -- there is a possibility for a diplomatic effort. But let me just say this. I don't, you know, whatever Ari says, there is no military solution to this. So Israel, what does it mean for the Israelis to go in? I mean the Israelis, in the first place, left because it's too costly to occupy. Occupation doesn't work. You bring in more destruction and anarchy.

The missiles keep coming. Every time we've seen that there's the -- the range of Hamas missiles seem to grow. And if in any case, if you have anarchy in Gaza you can end up with al Qaeda instead of Hamas.

BLITZER: Well, let me --

TELHAMI: So it's not like you have a solution.

BLITZER: Let me ask Ari about that. Is there a way out you think right now or is thing going to really escalate?

SHAVIT: First of all, let me agree with my friend. I think that the military option is a very bad one. Basically --

BLITZER: Military option and ground invasion.

SHAVIT: Yes. But basically I will tell you what the solution is, the solution is, although we must remember Hamas is a religious fascist movement. It's a very -- it's not only against Israel. It oppresses individuals, it oppresses women, gays, Christians. It's a really ugly political movement. And yet I'm into coexistence as long as they do not attack Israel. So the real solution is actually to demand a total demilitarization of Gaza.

No rockets in Gaza and then let the economy prosper. Let them have their own life. This is the political solution for Gaza and this is what the international community should be pursuing. But the international community did not act. It ignored the problem for a long time. And this is why we have this escalation now.

This is a result of the political vacuum created by the collapse of the peace talks and we all have to take all actions possible at this late moment to prevent something which can actually turn into a real crisis.

BLITZER: Let me let Shibley wrap it up. Quickly, you agree, Shibley?

TELHAMI: Well, this is an impossible outcome unless you have a state. I mean, basically obviously the two-state solution was predicated on an assumption that Palestinian that would be largely demilitarized. I think that's been pretty much accepted as a security arrangement. And in that context it's possible. But to think that there would be no independence and Gaza would just accept the limitations that they have with no sovereignty and not have a military power still remain under the control of Hamas or anybody else is just not going to happen.

So I think, you know, the main thing we have to do in the short term is number one save lives. Have a ceasefire that ends the conflict. Have diplomatic efforts to revive the negotiations. In the end without political horizons you know we're going to be at this again every two years if not sooner than that.

BLITZER: Unfortunately.

Shibley Telhami, thanks very much for joining us. Ari Shavit, thanks to you as well.

Two of the smartest guys I know when it comes to the Middle East.

Still ahead, we're live here in Jerusalem. Back in Washington House Republicans mocked President Obama as they prepare to sue him. Could the case wind up helping Democrats?

The SITUATION ROOM from Jerusalem continues right after this.

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BLITZER: We're live here in Jerusalem. We'll have more on the fighting between Israel and Hamas in a few moments. But first we're getting new details about congressional Republicans' plans to actually sue the president of the United States over his use of executive orders.

Here's our chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Republicans are beginning the process of authorizing the House to sue the president. Passing legislation is intended to show it's not political. But four months before an elections, everything is political. Unusual tweet and all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): With this tweet House Republicans take mocking the president to a whole new level. A photo of Obama with a woman that says, "Hey, girl, I'm not interested in photo ops."

It is intended to point out the president's hypocrisy when he said this about not visiting illegal children detained in the U.S.

OBAMA: I'm not interested in photo ops. I'm interested in solving a problem.

BASH: House Republicans may be simply having fun with an Internet meme. "Hey, girl" when even used to make fun of Paul Ryan in 2012. But the congressman in charge of electing House Democrats wasn't laughing, saying no, it's this tweet that says a thousand words, classless, offensive and paid for by taxpayer money.

This comes as House Republicans are taking great pains to argue that their big move against the president on another issue this week -- suing him -- is not political but rather a constitutional struggle.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: It's not about Republicans versus Democrats. This is about the legislative branch that's being disadvantaged by the executive branch.

BASH: For months House Republicans have been working on suing the president for abusing his power, changing laws by executive order without Congress. They considered everything from the environment to immigration but decided to sue only on Obamacare. The president waiving the so-called employer mandate.

REP. PETE SESSIONS (R), RULES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The argument is, it's something that impacts this year 80 million Americans who need to understand whether we're going to follow the law as it is or get to the end and cause chaos with the president arbitrarily waves the law.

BASH: But just four months before the midterm elections, Obamacare also happens to be what galvanizes conservative voters more than anything else.

(On camera): When you pick the number one political issue for Republicans it looks a little political.

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: Well, I've got to tell you, it's the number one issue in homes. And it is one of the top issues with women. Because they have seen their access to health care cramped.

OBAMA: You sue him, impeach him. Really?

BASH (voice-over): Democrats across the board dismiss the suit as a transparent stunt.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL (D), NEW YORK: This is a political strategy and it's intended to rile up the Republican base to go out in the midterm election and vote. And it's so transparent. Everybody knows that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Democrats are cashing in on the GOP suit against the president raising money from their base outraged about it and Democrats insists the GOP move will hurt them with voters in swing districts. Independents who are fed with dysfunction in Washington and see this lawsuit as part of it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, thanks very much.

Just ahead live here from Jerusalem, a deadly air war, signs of a looming ground war this region is clearly on edge. I'll share some final thoughts on the latest developments. But first a look at a humanitarian mission back in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY (voice-over): Photographer Tim Moxley had an aha moment on Instagram in 2012.

TIM MOXLEY, PHOTOGRAPHER: I was noticing that, you know, there were certain photos that told, you know, a bit about people, a story about people's lives in the city.

CUOMO: He brainstormed with fellow photographers and they created their own hashtag.

MOXLEY: Weloveatl is a hashtag that we started on instagram for asking people to proclaim their love for the city, show a little bit about their lives in the city.

CUOMO: They showed some of the photos in an art gallery, when people continued to submit to the hashtag, they came up with a new plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had the idea to buy a bread truck and turn it into an art gallery. Kind of a food truck for photography.

MOXLEY: We hang the photos in the truck and sell the photos and we donate all the money to the Atlanta Community Food Bank.

CUOMO: #weloveatl has helped families across north Georgia.

JULIE BRYANT FISHER, ATLANTA COMMUNITY FOOD BANK: We have been fortunate enough to be partner with We Love ATL. And since that time that's brought us more than $7600. So for us at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, that equates to 30,000 meals.

CUOMO: Who would have thought a hashtag could do so much good.

AARON COURY, #WELOVEATL: We're bringing kind of art and culture and charity together. And we hope that it starts to spread all over the country because we love the idea of celebrating your city. That what we've realized throughout this project.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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BLITZER: I've been coming to the Middle East for many years. I must say this is an incredibly tense time right now because no one really knows what the next venture is going to be, whether the Israelis are going to send ground troops, tanks, armored personnel carriers into Gaza where there could be so much destruction, so many casualties, not only Palestinian but Israelis as well.

It's a really awkward situation for those of us who were trying to cover it. I was down in the southern part of Israel today not far from the Gaza border. I saw these rockets coming in, I was at a gas station, saw the destruction of the gas station. Everybody goes to gas stations. You take a look at what's going on and you see the destroyed cars, the vehicles. One, an Israeli handicapped individual couldn't get out of a car and was severely injured in the process. Could happen at any place.

Israelis look at those pictures, they get very, very worried. Palestinians are going through hell in Gaza right now. My big fear is this situation is about to get a whole lot worse. I hope it won't but I fear it will.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. "ERIN BURNETT, OUTFRONT" starts right now.