Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Crisis in Israel; Interview With U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson; Palestinian Official Reacts to School Bombing; Despite Sanctions, Russia Sends Arms into Ukraine; Republican-Led House Votes to Sue Obama; Israeli Spies Once Poisoned Hamas Leader; 2 More Americans Exposed to Ebola; Interview with Rep. Michael McCaul

Aired July 30, 2014 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The U.N. is directly blaming Israel.

The deputy secretary-general of the United Nations standing by to join us live this hour.

Plus, new crash site danger. Ukrainian officials accuse pro-Russian rebels of planting land mines near the wreckage of Flight 17. We have new pictures from the scene.

And Ebola alert. A new warning that Americans may be -- from contracting the virus. We're learning of more U.S. citizens who might be infected after one died.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Tonight, the United States is condemning a deadly new strike on a United Nations school being used as a shelter in Gaza. But the Obama administration is stopping short of placing blame on Israel or anyone else.

U.N. officials aren't holding back. They say their initial assessment suggests it was indeed Israel's fault. Palestinians say 20 people were killed, including sleeping children.

We have correspondents and newsmakers standing by as we cover the breaking news here in the Middle East and around the world.

First, more on the fighting between Israel and Hamas and another failed attempt to stop it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): In the fourth week of bloody warfare, another U.N. school hit. New evidence of the danger from Hamas and its network of tunnels and an attempt to take a time-out from the fighting falls apart again.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: OK. Let's start with that unilateral... (EXPLOSIONS)

VAUSE: It's over, as you can tell.

BLITZER: Israel authorized what it called a four-hour humanitarian window to let civilians in Gaza escape from damaged buildings, move to safer places and get supplies, but militants continue to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel and Israel responded with airstrikes.

This deadly strike before the ill-fated cease-fire is sparking new outrage and controversy. Another United Nations school in Gaza being used as a shelter for several thousand Palestinians was hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we see here are massacres.

BLITZER: The U.N. is blaming Israel after conducting an initial analysis of shrapnel at the scene.

PIERRE KRAHENBUHL, UNRWA COMMISSIONER GENERAL: We have all the elements in place to conclude it was Israeli artillery.

BLITZER: Israel says militants in the vicinity of the school opened fire. And IDF soldiers returned fire directing it at the source of the attack. Israeli officials say their forces do not target U.N. facilities. And they stress that the U.N. has repeatedly found militant rockets hidden inside its schools.

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: If there is fighting going on and around U.N. facilities, if our forces were involved in a firefight, it's because Hamas has decided that it's open season on the U.N.

BLITZER: New casualties for Israel in its campaign to find and destroy Hamas tunnels. The Israeli military says three soldiers were killed while uncovering a booby-trapped tunnel shaft in a home in southern Gaza. Hamas has bragged about using its tunnel network to attack Israeli troops posting this new video. It claims to show Hamas fighters emerging from what it called a tunnel behind enemy lines and running toward an Israeli military tower just east of Gaza.

Israel has acknowledged that an infiltration like that took place killing five of its soldiers and one of the attackers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Now a firsthand account of the strike on the United Nations school and shelter.

CNN's Karl Penhaul is in Gaza. He went there just a little while ago.

Karl, tell us you saw, what you learned.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we looked up into the first floor of that school around and a shell had come right through the roof into the top floor. Another round had smashed through the latrines and blown out the wall of a classroom. A man told us that the men had been sleeping outside, that women had been sleeping in the classrooms with their children. This strike came just before dawn and one woman said that with the explosions, the school filled with smoke and shrapnel came down like rain. Another man said elderly men had been cut to shreds as they slept in the courtyard.

Debris was all around. And what we were looking for as people showed us fragments of shrapnel they had picked up, we were keen to find out exactly what happened at the school gates as well. Another pathetic footnote to this incident and the donkeys that had bought these dirt poor families to a safe haven at the school, the donkeys had also been killed. They were lying scattered around at the school gates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You spoke to U.N. officials on the scene. Tell us what they told you.

PENHAUL: We had the chance to speak with the commissioner general of the United Nations relief agency in charge of these schools that are then turned into shelters. U.N. investigators went down to the school very shortly after those explosions and they did a crater analysis and they did shrapnel analysis. They gathered other evidence.

And U.N. investigators say they have enough evidence to conclude that Israeli artillery, three explosions caused this tragedy, Wolf. Let's listen to what they have to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KRAHENBUHL: This is the sixth time in this phase of the conflict that one of our school buildings sheltering displaced people has been hit in this way. And I think the word is just simply, enough is enough. Now measures have to be taken. People who go to these places expect that they go there because they will be safe. And here is the confirmation that it appears there is nowhere where you can be safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PENHAUL: The Israeli military, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, says that Hamas and Israeli military were looked in a fight in that area. That Hamas opened up with mortar fire. The Israeli military says it is investigating the incident, but leaves open the possibility that Hamas mortar fire may have caused this incident.

But the United Nations investigators say not so. This time, they say that they have enough evidence to conclude that it was the Israeli military, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the people who are there? Where are they spending tonight?

PENHAUL: Wolf, the tragic answer to that is that those people are sleeping tonight in exactly the same place. More than 3,000 people are crammed into that school. They have nowhere to go. They got there because they thought it would be a safe haven. They left their own homes because they had become a battlefield. Now

the shelter they were staying has become a combat zone. They have nowhere more to run. They have to stay there and they are bedding down tonight in the debris of those attacks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Karl Penhaul on the scene for us in Gaza, Karl, thanks very much.

Later this hour, we will speak with the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations.

But let's bring in a spokesman for the IDF right now, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.

You just heard your name mentioned. Since your initial statement on what happened, have you been investigating? What else have you found out about this attack on the U.N. shelter?

PETER LERNER, SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: Clearly, this morning we woke up with these tragic photographs. The footage is just heartbreaking.

The IDF is currently investigating the situation. We still don't have a clear-cut answer except for the fact that indeed the area -- there was combat in the immediate vicinity near the school. Terrorists launching mortars at the IDF forces and an exchange of fire.

This is the reality we are facing. We can't conclude at this time that it was IDF, but indeed, we have to make sure and see what exactly what's happened. I will say over the course of the last 48 hours, we have seen several attempts by Hamas to pin to Israel and to attribute to Israel attacks they have carried out from within Gaza and have actually struck the hospital, the Shifa Hospital, and the incident in the beach camp with people which were injured and killed in these incidents.

They tried to pin that to Israel when we have nothing to do with it.

BLITZER: But if the United Nations presents evidence to you, shrapnel, for example, from this specific attack and it's Israeli military hardware, that's going to be something you will have to deal with.

LERNER: Absolutely. The Israel Defense Forces -- and I think it's necessary to say this. We do not target U.N. facilities.

If we would target U.N. facilities, then Hamas wouldn't be hiding rockets and weapons within their schools, would they? Because then they would be in jeopardy. We know about the UNRWA school premises. We are operating and working together with UNRWA so they can continue their humanitarian -- their important humanitarian mission. That's something we are doing.

We have to get to the bottom of this incident. Indeed it is a tragedy. It's heartbreaking the pictures we have seen today. BLITZER: Because they say they repeatedly gave you the coordinates of

the specific U.N. school and shelter and they kept telling the Israeli military, please, please, please be careful.

LERNER: They are conveying on an open hot line that we have with them extensive information about all of their operations. Of course, we are taking that into consideration.

But we have a reality on the ground. We have a reality where Hamas are abusing all international symbols. They have no limits. And we have to get to the bottom of this incident. It is a problem on the ground, but in this close contact reality, we have to realize that there is a severe problem with this -- with -- the other side are exploiting the situation.

BLITZER: So when the State Department and the White House back in Washington, when they say Israel can and should be doing more to avoid civilian casualties, you say?

LERNER: Israel opens and speaks candidly to its allies and friends across the globe. Indeed we take into consideration what they are saying. We are operating in an extremely volatile, delicate situation where we have to keep our eyes on the focus on the point.

These terrorists, Hamas, which are behind the aggression, continue to attack us, continue to launch rockets and continue to try and infiltrate us.

Today we had three soldiers killed going into a house, a civilian house which is within the civilian arena, which could be next to an UNRWA school, which has been booby-trapped, which has a tunnel in it. And they blew it up on our soldiers. This is how they are operating within that area. This is the type of challenge we are facing. We do not mean to kill civilians. We do not engage civilians. Our focus in on the terrorists but those terrorists are exploiting the situation.

BLITZER: Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, reported today that Israel has asked the United States and the U.S. has agreed for stockpiled weapons, ammunition, stuff that's stockpiled here in Israel because Israel presumably is running low, need more of these munitions. Tell us what's going on.

LERNER: That type of relationship does not take place between the military, so I can't really comment on that, but rather on the defense ministry level and between the defense ministry and the Pentagon.

There are prepositioned packages here, which are Israeli and that's the type of relationship...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Is Israel running low in certain supplies that you need the emergency assistance from the United States?

LERNER: When you're planning these type of operations, you need to plan and look forward. We don't know where it's going. We have to prepared for every option on the ground and we have to take everything into consideration.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the operation to try to destroy the tunnels. The commander of the Southern Command, General Sami Turgeman, he said that Israel seems to be pretty close to finishing that part of this military operation, finding and destroying the tunnels. What's going on in that front?

LERNER: We are progressing every day. We have spoken about it quite extensively over the last few days. Every day we are seeking out these tunnels, engaging them, and taking out whole packages of them so they no longer pose that threat of easy infiltration.

We have more than half of those, over 31, 32 tunnels now, and over half of them are now destroyed. But indeed it is a long and extremely challenging project because doing it under fire for once, doing it under the understanding that there could be terrorists inside these tunnels, when we talk about a group of terrorists, we're not talking about a handful. We're talking about 10, 13 people that can storm a position at any given time.

You have seen the footage that the terrorists released yesterday and the type of operations they are carrying out with these tunnels. We can't let that happen.

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

LERNER: Good evening.

BLITZER: Let's get the perspective of the United Nations right now.

Joining us from New York is Jan Eliasson. He's the deputy secretary- general of the United Nations.

Thanks, Secretary-General, so much for joining us.

Explain what you believe happened at that U.N. school, because U.N. officials, as you know, in Gaza, they are directly blaming the Israeli military for killing these Palestinians who sought shelter at this UNRWA, this United Nations facility.

JAN ELIASSON, UNITED NATIONS DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL: We have received with shock and dismay this information this morning and immediately had a dialogue with our people, Mr. Krahenbuhl from UNRWA who just appeared with you.

And he gave us enough information that gave us the reason to conclude that it was Israeli artillery. And I think this can be substantiated. Of course we have to continue the investigation, but I think the statements made by the Israeli spokespeople that there was fire in this area and that there was fire returned into this area is also an indication that it was indeed Israeli artillery.

It is a horrible situation because we had been in contact with Israeli Defense Forces at least 15 times, and as late at 8:50 last night giving an exact description level of where the school was and telling them that we had 3,000 people in that school.

So they had the coordinates and, therefore, we really have to think about warfare in a city environment, as this is. This area is like a big metropolitan area in the United States like Detroit, metropolitan area.

Where do people go? The Israeli Defense Forces have asked us to bring them into these shelters. They are and they were under our protection. That's why it's so horrible for us to see the people that are there under our protection being killed, especially when you see innocent children and innocent civilians being killed to this extent.

BLITZER: Pictures are awful indeed.

Secretary-General, what specific evidence, what specific piece of evidence did you find, your experts on the scene in Gaza find that they conveyed to you that they concluded that was in fact an Israeli shell or artillery or whatever it was? Do you know what it was that convinced them?

ELIASSON: Well, I can't go into detail, and I'm not an expert on this myself, but we have enough expertise in the area to analyze fragments of shrapnel, fragments of shells. Evidently in this case, it was very convincing what we saw and what we have seen.

BLITZER: Was there any evidence at this specific shelter of this school that Hamas militants were there, that they were storing weapons there? Because the United Nations has said in the past that there was evidence of Hamas rockets and weapons being planted in some U.N. facilities in Gaza.

ELIASSON: It would be extremely irresponsible for us to have militants in that school. And UNRWA, our people assure us there was no such presence whatsoever.

There might be in the neighborhood, but definitely not there. When those unfortunate cases have been disclosed that, in fact, there were storage of weapons in UNRWA facilities, we have concluded that this was in the schools that we had left and deserted and were not under our control. But we look into that also, of course. All this must be investigated.

BLITZER: I just want to clarify one thing. There was a report earlier that UNRWA officials, United Nations officials in Gaza did find some rockets in the United Nations facility, but then they supposedly -- and you can tell me if this is true -- handed those rockets back to Hamas militants. Is that true?

ELIASSON: No, what we have concluded at this stage of the investigation is that they were found in a deserted school that we were not using and nobody was there.

So we had no control over that facility. What then happened with the weapons and whatever was there, we don't know. We're looking into that. But, of course, there's no presence of any such material in any of the shelters that we have now. You may know that we now shelter, house over 200,000 people. The

Israeli Defense Forces have asked us to take them into these shelters from areas that were under bombardment. We now have 200,000 people. If we are to spread them out, if there's now an attack against even shelters, we have no place -- they have no place to go. The situation is absolutely critical now from a humanitarian perspective.

Therefore, we have to -- stop the fighting immediately. We lose almost control of the situation, especially since the energy, the electricity is not there anymore. We have problems of pumping water. We have problems of supplying water to hospitals.

We cannot have refrigeration of food. Sewage is going right out in the street now because we can't pump it out. And, remember, this is an area where you have a huge population in a very, very small area. And it's right in the middle of summer, so you have great health risks coming. I would say we need that cease-fire immediately, and perhaps then one can see this in two stages, an immediate end of the fighting and then a more durable cease-fire, where the main concerns can be addressed.

We know and understand very well that Israel must stop the rocket attacks into their own country. And, of course, the tunnels where attacks are being carried out must be stopped also.

But we also have to go to this absolutely critical situation that Gaza is completely isolated and that we need to lift this blockade. But the first step must be to stop the fighting. Nothing can be gained from continued bombardment. And I hope both Hamas and Israel come to this conclusion.

Continued escalation is a ticket to misery. And we must now really use this horrible moment of seeing these children die in U.N.- protected areas as a reminder of how important it is to really stop the fighting now. I can't see any reason, anything to gain to continue in this manner.

BLITZER: Secretary-General, the Israelis say they will accept the cease-fire along the lines of what Egypt initially proposed, an immediate cease-fire. Then you deal with a lot of these other issues down the road. But you first stop the fighting right away.

The Israelis to this moment, they say they are ready for that. Hamas says they are not ready for a cease-fire until Israel eases some of the siege, as they call it, of Gaza, takes other steps to ease what's going on. They want it to come simultaneously. They don't want to do it step by step.

How do you reconcile that specific difference because that seems to be the main reason why there is no humanitarian cease-fire right now?

ELIASSON: Yes. We are in contact with Egypt. We are in contact with Turkey and Qatar who have connections to Hamas. We are in contact with the United States. Secretary Kerry is doing a very good job.

We are of course in direct contact with the Israelis. And it is absolutely crucial that they exercise the influence now. And I think to square the equation that you formulate, we have to see it in two stages. One is to stop right now. And Hamas and Israel must understand the need for that urgency of just stopping the fighting.

And then during that humanitarian cease-fire, which I hope will come about, one can then bring out the substantive issues that you mentioned. The Israeli side will bring up the tunnels of the rocket attacks and Hamas will bring up the issue of the blockade and open up for both to leave and to come into Gaza. It's absolutely closed right now.

These two issues can be discussed and by that create a durable cease- fire. So we have to think of doing it in two stages. That is at this stage. And then of course you have the deeper issues of the whole relationship, Israel and Palestine, which is a much larger issue.

But I think the Gaza situation should be -- can be solved if both sides come to the conclusion that they need to just stop the fighting and let us deal with these enormous challenges and then deal with these two issues, which are legitimate from both sides.

BLITZER: The deputy secretary-general of the United Nations, Jan Eliasson

Jan Eliasson, thanks so much for joining us. And let's hope there can be a real cease-fire. Then they can start dealing with some of the long-term issues, as you would like and so many people would like to see happen, because it is a tragedy, what's going on right now. Thank you very much for joining us.

ELIASSON: Indeed, Wolf. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Still ahead, we will get the Palestinian point of view. We heard from the Israelis, the United Nations. A top negotiator, Saeb Erekat, he is standing by live. We will get his thoughts on what's going on.

We're also learning of more Americans who may have been exposed to the deadly Ebola virus. This outbreak is spreading rapidly and causing fear in the United States and around the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back here in Jerusalem. We're following the breaking news. Let's get the Palestinian perspective right now. The chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erakat, is joining us once again on the phone. He's in Doha, Qatar. Doha, Qatar an important place. Saeb Erakat, I assume you're meeting with officials, leaders in Qatar. You're also meeting, I assume, with Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas. Tell us what's going on.

SAEB ERAKAT, PALESTINIAN CHIEF NEGOTIATOR (via phone): What's going on, Wolf, is we're trying to put an end to this vicious attack against Gaza. You saw the story of the school today. It is not something short of problematic (ph). People who were asked to take refuge in this school under the U.N. And you have the deputy U.N. secretary, who's been defying that these people took refuge with the influctions (ph) and the orders from the Israelis. And yet, they shelled that school, and the number of killed Palestinians, they have reached 1,361.

What I'm doing in Doha, I just met with the foreign minister, Mr. Khaled al-Attiyah. I'm leaving early tomorrow with Mr. Khaled Mashal. We are trying very, very hard with the Egyptians, with the Americans. I spoke to Secretary Kerry. I spoke to Sam Shepard (ph) today, with Israel (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in order to get a cease-fire. A cease-fire. A cease-fire, that's what's needed.

The question is not what comes next, what comes now. Gaza is with no electricity. The power station was hit by the Israeli army. What we need to do is we have a cease-fire. We need the U.N. to get its act together in order to, you know, have the power station operating. Because if you keep one point half million people without electricity, that means more Ebola and tons of diseases in terms of the situation.

So of course, parallel (ph). You need a cease-fire and at the same time you need to have a major, major humanitarian relief, medical supplies, food supplies, water, electricity to these people, to shelter them. That's what you need. That's what you need. So we can't say that we have a cease-fire and then we talk about water. It has to come in parallel.

And that's what we're arguing. That's what we're doing. And I believe we can do it. We can do it if the Israeli army stops its escalation. Escalation. Today and yesterday the number of Palestinians killed has been averaging 170, 140.

BLITZER: Saeb Erakat, even if the political wing of Hamas is on board, maybe Khaled Mashal, your meeting with him tomorrow morning, will be on board. Some have pointed out the military wing of Hamas is not on board. How much of a split is there between the political leadership of Hamas and the military wing of Hamas?

ERAKAT: I think, Wolf, what we're doing now, the Israelis have an offer now. They have an offer for a cease-fire. I'm not going to mention ours or theirs, but a cease-fire, a suggestion made by the President Abbas (ph), who has in his hand, that once Israel accepts, every Palestinian will accept without any exception. And you can mark my word on that.

What we need is to hear from the Israelis this same offer. As I told you yesterday, Wolf, was made by Secretary Kerry five days ago in Cairo. Seven-day cease-fire, Israel rejected. Then the U.N. made two days, then two hours, one day. Israel rejected. And up until today, a few hours ago, the president, Mahmoud Abbas, suggested a humanitarian cease-fire for a certain period of time. OK. And he told everyone, he told Secretary Kerry. He told the Egyptians. He told all the people involved in Qatar and Turkey and Arab world that, if we can get Israel to approve this cessation, this cease-fire, everybody would be on board.

So why can't Israel accept this immediate cease-fire with this deteriorating situation in Gaza? Gaza is a major disaster, Wolf. You know it. Israel knows it. Abbas knows it. Everyone knows it. It's really very difficult to be a Palestinian now. It's really very difficult to be a Palestinian watching all these massacres, all these killings, all these children, all these women, and you're standing up; you can't do anything. You can't even get the world to stop these attacks. These attacks in 2014.

And the casualty list is growing and growing every hour, every hour. And mostly names of children, names of women, names of girls, names of the young and old people, and the whole Gaza Strip is going down the drain.

BLITZER: All right. Let's see if there can be a cease-fire. That -- that would be excellent news for everybody involved. The Israelis, is the rockets and the missiles stop coming into Israel; the Israelis stop the airstrikes. And then a country, a state like Qatar, which has a lot of money, presumably could get involved and start pouring some of that money in to help the people, the Palestinians in Gaza who need it desperately right now.

Saeb Erakat, we'll check back with you tomorrow. You'll tell us what happened in your meeting with Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas. Saeb Erakat, joining us from Doha, Qatar.

Just ahead, intense new fighting in eastern Ukraine as there are new accusations that Russia is sending more arms to the separatists. Is it all part of a new Cold War? I'll speak with the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Mike McCaul. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're live here in Jerusalem. We're also following important breaking news elsewhere. Fighting in Ukraine clearly escalating as Russia sends more arms across the border to separatists, including the same weapon that may have been used to take down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.

CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The vicious and growing fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists, leaving scars across eastern Ukraine.

This is the damage by the shelling of Donetsk City proper on Tuesday when a building holding militants was targeted, apparently by government forces, but an apartment block was hit by mistake.

Even as the Russian-backed fighters get attacked by Ukraine's government forces, Moscow is not giving up.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We continue to see Russian military forces gather at the -- at the border of Ukraine, the southeast border with Ukraine.

STARR: Russian tanks, artillery and heavy weapons continue to cross into Ukraine, according to the U.S., and there is more.

KIRBY: Some of the air defense systems that continue to flow up to the border and then across the border are of sufficient range and equivalent capability as to what we saw shoot down the Malaysia Airlines flight.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You really have to stand...

STARR: CNN's Nick Paton Walsh traveled to the crash site, documenting what is left. Flower petals and teddy bears laid in memory by local residents, huge pieces of wreckage, and fighting all around.

That crash site still cut off from international observers desperately trying to get there, but forced to turn back.

MICHAEL SOCIURKIW, OSCE SPOKESMAN: They didn't have to tell us it was unsafe, because the explosions further up the road in the direction of that site were very, very loud to the point where we almost had had to -- had to crouch down for safety.

STARR: The U.S. believes Ukrainian forces are making progress at pushing the rebels back, but nobody knows what Vladimir Putin's next move may be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And behind the scenes, the U.S. still trying to figure out if there's anything it can do to help those international observers get to the crash site -- Wolf.

STARR: Barbara Starr reporting for us from the Pentagon, thanks.

And joining us now, Representative Michael McCaul. He's the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us. Is this a new Cold War that's under way right now with Russia?

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R-TX), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: I believe it is. I think Putin has taken us back to the Cold War. I think his long-term game strategy is to take back the Baltic states and the Ukraine, wherever Russian-speaking peoples reside. That's where he wants to go in and really reconstitute the old Soviet Union.

And I think, you know, in this case, it's instructive that weakness invites aggression. And I think Mr. Putin does not have respect for our president, unfortunately, and now he's playing a war of aggression that he thinks he can win.

BLITZER: So what will it take, in your opinion, for the Russian president to stop?

MCCAUL: Well, look, I think the sanctions the president laid out are a good first start, but they're not going to be effective. Even the Brookings Institution said that Russia can absorb that shock. I think what needs to be done are tougher sanctions on the energy

exports out of Russia, which would cripple Russia's economy.

At the same time, the Europeans and Ukraine rely on that, and they're dependent on Russia. One fix I have would be lifting the crude oil ban that we have in the United States. We could export that to help Ukraine, to help Europe and then cripple Russia's economy. And at the same time, Wolf, create jobs here in the United States.

BLITZER: Do you think the European allies and others will go along?

MCCAUL: I think if we, certainly -- the Europeans, remember the E.U. specifically begged us to lift the ban on crude oil exports in a secret memo that was later released. So they want us to do that.

It would take one action, a stroke of the pen by the president, to lift that ban so we could make them energy independent from Russia, and that would have a devastating impact on the Russian economy. I think that's the best chance for success here. No one wants to see an all-out war between the United States and Russia. I think this a good, workable solution to get there.

BLITZER: You know, it's been, what, nearly two weeks since the tragic downing of the Malaysian Flight 17. The investigators, the OSCE monitors, they're still not really able to fully access the crash site due to the volatility in the region. Russia continues to support and arm those separatists. So does this latest round of sanctions, does it go far enough to deal with this current crisis? You want a lot more, right?

MCCAUL: I do, and Brookings Institution, which is not exactly a conservative think tank, they agree with me. That they're not going to be effective. They're not going to stop Putin from his over- aggression on the Baltic states and the Ukraine.

And we talk about the crash site, it's been nothing short of a disaster in terms of the inability of the international community to get in there.

The last briefing I had, Wolf, was that they actually -- they laid land mines around the crash site to prevent international investigators in there. So this is really overt, not to mention the fact that it was just disclosed recently that they are also in violation of the nuclear arms treaty that President Reagan struck with Gorbachev. They have developed weapons that are in violation of that treaty.

This is -- we talk a lot about al Qaeda and the border and other issues, but I see this as becoming a real threat to the United States.

BLITZER: Who's responsible, in your opinion, for this deterioration in U.S./Russian relations?

MCCAUL: I personally think it's the president's lack of leadership globally. I don't think he's well-respected. I think you know, you look back to what Churchill warned about in World War II, what President Kennedy talked about in terms of building up a military and a democracy to defend a democracy, and Reagan, I don't see this president really going down that road.

And again, the principle of weakness invites aggression is precisely what we're seeing with respect to Russia and Mr. Putin. I've been over to Russia. It's a national pride that he's reinvigorated his country with. And I believe that his long-term strategy again is to take back what was formerly the Soviet Union.

BLITZER: Strong words from Mike McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thanks for joining us.

MCCAUL: Thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Just ahead, new fears that Ebola may be spreading. As one U.S. official calls the deadly virus and I'm quoting now, "It's only a plane ride away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This just into THE SITUATION ROOM. Only moments ago, the Republican-led House of Representatives approved a resolution authorizing a lawsuit against President Obama. The final vote was 225-201. Five Republicans voted against it. No Democrats voted for it. That's just coming in. House Republicans want to go ahead and sue the president because of his actions on Obamacare.

Other news we are following, we're learning more about the man who has been the face of Hamas, and his years old connection to Israel's prime minister who may have once ordered his assassination.

Brian Todd has been investigating.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): September 1997, Khaled Meshaal was hours, perhaps minutes away from dying. He had been walking on the streets of Amman, Jordan, when two men later reported to be agents of Israel's intelligence agency the Mossad injected or sprayed him with poison.

KHALED MESHAAL, HAMAS POLITICAL LEADER (through translator): I heard a loud noise in my ear. It felt like an electric shock.

TODD: The Israeli agents were captured.

Jordan's king reportedly threatened to put them on trial if the Israeli government didn't provide an antidote. The White House even intervened, President Bill Clinton trying to keep peace between Jordan and Israel pressured Netanyahu to provide the antidote. Netanyahu, widely reported to have ordered the hit, relented.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once he survived this attack, this leader previously relatively unknown became very popular. His stature goes straight to the top. He's the living martyr.

TODD: Meshaal is now the leader of the Hamas movement. He recently spoke to CBS News.

MESHAAL: We are not fanatics. We are not fundamentalists.

TODD: But one Israeli official calls the 58-year-old former teacher the Osama bin Laden of Hamas. Analysts say he's inspirational commander for attacks and deal maker, securing status and money for Hamas from his home in Qatar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is the ATM of Hamas right now. The Qataris provide significant funding to Hamas. And Khaled Meshaal is the point man for that.

TODD: The Qataris denied that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Qatar does not support Hamas.

TODD: It's not clear how much control Meshaal has over the military wing of Hamas, which launches the attacks on Israel, and street cred is an issue of Khaled Meshaal. He's reportedly been to Gaza only once, and the Israeli themselves might be trying to undermine Meshaal's standing within Hamas, pitting him as an isolated, hampered jihadist.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: This guy, Khaled Meshaal, he's roaming around five-star hotel suites in the Gulf states, having a time of his life, while his people, while he's deliberately putting his people as fodder for this horrible terrorist war that they're conducting against us.

TODD: Analysts say Meshaal wants to eventually become leader of all the Palestinians.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But will he? The U.S. has designated Meshaal a terrorist. The Americans and Europeans would have a tough time recognizing his legitimacy, and his survivability is in question. There are a lot of rivalries within Hamas. And when I asked if the Israelis might target Khaled Meshaal again, an Israeli official said, no comment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Just ahead, we're just getting new word that more Americans may have been exposed to Ebola. Stand by for the latest details on the deadly outbreak.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're live from Jerusalem. But we turn to another breaking news story.

Two Americans are in isolation tonight after they came into contact with an Ebola patient, this comes as the CDC issues a new warning, the-deadly virus may be only, quote, "a plane ride away."

CNN's Pamela Brown has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the deadly virus moves across West Africa, concern about it spreading even further mounts. Two Peace Corps volunteers exposed to the virus are in isolation, and under observation before they can return to the U.S.

The Peace Corps announced today it is pulling out hundreds of its volunteers from the three West African countries where Ebola has spread. And CNN has learned that the Centers for Disease Control is considering raising the travel warning to affected countries to the highest level, advising Americans against any nonessential travel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course, there's a possibility of somebody flying in from Africa or someplace.

BROWN: As two American aid workers stricken with Ebola in Liberia are showing signs of improvement, the Christian organizations they worked for are evacuating all nonessential personnel out of the country. The son of one of those infected aid workers spoke on the "Today" show.

JEREMY WRITEBOL, SON OF EBOLA PATIENT: She's fighting through it and continuing to express a few symptoms. But she's able to move around on her own and they're getting lots of fluids into her.

BROWN: The disease has already claimed the life of a Minnesota father of three, Patrick Sawyer. Sawyer flew from Liberia to Ghana. After a layover there, he flew into Togo. There, he switched to another plane and became violently ill as he flew to Nigeria. Sawyer's widow says she spoke with her husband just days before she died.

DECONTEE SAWYER, WIFE OF AMERICAN EBOLA VICTIM: He was visiting his sister. She was ill. And he helped care for her and so, he contracted it that way. They didn't know it was Ebola, because Ebola displayed other symptoms like malaria symptoms. So, they thought she may have malaria, so he was helping. Had he known he, you know, would have definitely taken better precautions.

BROWN: Liberia has shut down some of its borders and closed all of its schools. And health officials in certain West African countries are screening inbound and outbound airline passengers. And the CDC is working with them to show people how to protect themselves from Ebola.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And the CDC says if a passenger on a U.S.-bound flight exhibits Ebola-like symptoms, flight crews can actually be patched through to the CDC emergency center in Atlanta, and put health officials on alert -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. The news continues next on CNN.