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Crisis in Israel; Interview With Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers

Aired July 28, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm going to show you why destroying those tunnels has now become Israel's top military priority.

And the U.S. offers new satellite evidence against Russia and a direct accusation that Moscow wants to move into Ukraine.

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 skies over Gaza have been lighting up, and the sounds of explosions are echoing across the area. And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is warning Israelis to brace themselves for what he describes as a lengthy military campaign.

Israeli forces are on the attack again. So are Hamas militants, after a temporary little cease-fire. The body count is soaring. Israel now puts its death toll at 46 including five soldiers killed in combat today. Officials in Gaza say at least eight children were among those killed during a strike on a refugee camp. The Palestinian death toll now above 1,000.

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

First, an exclusive look inside Hamas tunnels in Gaza along with more on the latest fighting today.


BLITZER (voice-over): New bloodshed in Gaza and Israel. Children and other civilians among the victims. Families in anguish, and Israel and Hamas trading blames for strikes on a hospital and a refugee camp in Gaza.

MAEN AREIKAT, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO UNITED STATES: How many Palestinians needs to lose their lives in order for this Israeli government to understand that killing more Palestinians is not going to contribute to a political resolution to this conflict?

PETER LERNER, SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: That's just preposterous. We did not target Shifa Hospital. BLITZER: New deaths on the Israeli side as well. Soldiers

killed in a mortar attack near the Gaza border. With the death toll climbing, the United Nations held an emergency meeting to appeal for a new cease-fire.

BAN KI-MOON, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL: In the name of humanity, the violence must stop.

BLITZER: The sounds of battle echoing again on both sides on the Gaza border after a brief cease-fire, Hamas launching new rocket attacks on Israel, and Israel resuming air and ground strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza.

This is priority number one for the Israel defense forces, finding and destroying dozens of Hamas tunnels, underground escape hatches in Gaza used to infiltrate Israel and launch attacks. I went to the front line near the Gaza border to see one of those tunnels with an IDF Colonel Oshik Asulad (ph).

Israeli forces have uncovered more than 30 tunnels in this area.

(on camera): All right. Let's go in.

(voice-over): This tunnel is just under two miles' long and about 45 feet below ground. It begins in the southern Gazan city of Khan Yunis and ends here along near an Israeli kibbutz along the border with Gaza.

(on camera): Let's go a little bit further in.

This tunnel -- I guess the tunnel was built for relatively short people, because, if you stand up, you're going to hit your head. I'm not that tall. But you see, it's pretty -- pretty secure, this concrete. They spent a lot of effort building this tunnel.

(voice-over): Hamas boasts about its network of tunnels, posting this video allegedly showing masked militants entering Israel before being targeted by an Israeli airstrike. This video was released by the IDF.

Hamas never got to use the tunnel I visited.

(on camera): The Israelis found it. They destroyed a big chunk of it back there. They have kept this part.

Hamas has other tunnels that lead into Egyptian territory used to smuggle weapons and supplies into Gaza. But the IDF says the underground passages into Israel have only one purpose.

(on camera): From what you know, what was the purpose of this tunnel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attack soldiers. They want to take regular people, children, woman, men.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: So there you see the tunnel that I visited earlier in

the day on the border between Israel and Gaza.

Let's go to Ground Zero right now. CNN's Karl Penhaul is in Gaza City.

Is it still intense there, are the flares going off over the skies? We saw it about an half-an-hour or so. We heard artillery. What's going on, Karl, right now?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For about the last hour now, Wolf, we have seen a lot of illumination flares drifting down into central Gaza City. If you listen you can hear across in Eastern Gaza the sound of artillery.

That is artillery that field guns -- the M-109 field guns sending out just this barrage of rounds. But these are illumination flares. They get about where we are now, close to our vantage point, and then you hear an explosion. That is the artillery shell popping out the illumination round.

That will then drift down on a parachute and then in the distance you will hear the clank of metal. That's the ammunition round with the canister falling down on to the tarmac at street level. Now normally those flares may be used to light the way if there's troop maneuvers or armored unit maneuvers or they possibly could be used to be marking some kind of target.

It is not clear in this area of Gaza City what is going on, what the target may be. We haven't heard live ammunition rounds exploding in this immediate area. So difficult to see what the strategy is going on here. What we have heard from the loudspeaker is somebody, possibly from a mosque, calling on the citizens of Gaza City to stay inside. He was saying stay inside for you own safety.

After he said that we saw for approximately an hour these illumination rounds drifting down and drifting down, the thud of an explosive there as the illumination round pops down. But, as I say, not clear right now, Wolf, what the target may be.

BLITZER: Let's find out right now. Karl, stand by.

I have got the spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, who is here with me in Jerusalem.

You see the pictures, what's going on in Gaza City. Colonel, I assume you know.

LERNER: To understand the footage we have to think about what we have actually seen throughout the course of the day. What we have seen is long-range rockets launched all the way up to Haifa.

BLITZER: From Gaza City?

LERNER: From Gaza.

BLITZER: From Gaza City where we're showing those pictures?

LERNER: The long-range capabilities are in the midst of Gaza City in the areas of Beit Lahia.


BLITZER: Are those your targets that right now you're going after in Gaza City?

LERNER: Without going into specifics, we're continuing our activities.

And as I said, we have to look at what happened today. We have had long-range rockets all the way up to Haifa. Three quarters of our country threatened by these rockets. We had mortar rockets close by killing four soldiers in the immediate vicinity of Gaza and we have had infiltration from a tunnel into Israeli territory and also shots fired there at our forces.

We have seen the capabilities of Hamas, we have seen their intentions what they mean when they say cease-fire. We're seen it on all fronts. We are determined to continue with our striking against Hamas as a terrorist organization. This is an organization that is running a campaign of terror against the state of Israel. They're our neighbors in our back door and we don't want them there.

We want them to stop this aggression against us. We want to deal with these attacks, we want to contain it and take the battle to them, not have them bombarding us with these rockets.

BLITZER: I assume the flares that we saw over Gaza City, those are Israeli flares, you're illuminating the skies. What's the point of that?

LERNER: We have extensive operations. And indeed part of this is the flares that are coming over. We have other activities that are taking place in the peripheral areas to deal with the tunnels like you visited today.

So indeed we have extensive operations and they are part of what we see as the development of this plan of action which is a gradual plan, increasing the pressure on this terrorist organization that will be pursued and threatened.

BLITZER: So the artillery that we're hearing, is that naval artillery? Is that ground artillery? Where is that artillery coming from and what is the target?

LERNER: You can't see any targets there specifically. I think it's safe to say those are illumination. They do that, they illuminate the sky. We're carrying out our activities in order to strike Hamas and to I would say paralyze the organization who cannot feel free to operate against the state of Israel and expect to live beneath ground in these holes that they have dug, if it's beneath hospitals or in other places throughout the Gaza Strip, and expect to come out and everything will be normal. BLITZER: As you know, there was a refugee camp that was hit

today, a hospital in Gaza that was hit today. A lot of casualties, including children. Hamas says us Israel was responsible.

LERNER: That's ridiculous. It's outrageous. There's nothing true about that.

Just we shortly ago, we released our analysis of the launch trajectory of the rockets that came out of Hamas' controlled area in Gaza. They were launched towards Israel. One of them actually reached Ashkelon. You visited there. Two of them fell in the area of Gaza City, one in (INAUDIBLE) refugee camp and one of them on the hospital in -- Shifa Hospital, and a fourth one which actually landed in the sea.

So that's a ridiculous claim. It's outrageous. There's no limit to the lies that these people will tell. This is the type of organization that is actually putting the figures of the deaths in Gaza.

BLITZER: Colonel, stand by for a moment. I want to get back to you.

But, Karl Penhaul, I understand there's been more what, illumination, more artillery. What are you hearing and seeing right now?

PENHAUL: Absolutely, Wolf. It is so good that you have Colonel Peter Lerner there, just to advise him that one of the Israeli illumination rounds, two of them have in fact have fallen into a United Nations school being used as a shelter for displaced people, that approximately 300 yards from our building.

We understand, as Mr. Lerner has explained, that those rounds are being used to light up the sky. There is no moon tonight. So I would guess perhaps, and it is just a guess on my part, that those rounds could be being used to light up the sky for drones to then perhaps look for targets.

But again I saw people in that United Nations school about 300 yards from us looking at that illumination round drop down towards the courtyard. These illumination rounds, of course, are being fired from artillery shells. I believe they're coming out from the .155- millimeter self-propelled field guns up there on the border. That is a big canister once it is ejected, that illumination round, and those are falling to ground.

As I say, we just saw the illumination flares dropping into the school courtyards. So perhaps you could just advise there so that we see no accidents, no unintended accidents with any of these canisters falling into that school or any of these illumination rounds starting any unwanted fires -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Karl, stand by.

I just want to follow up a little bit on that and some other questions. Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner still with us, a spokesman for the IDF.

The canister comes down, it illuminates the skies and it falls on the ground. Can it start a fire? Obviously, if it hit someone, it could cause some serious problems.

LERNER: They aren't explosive ammunitions. They are indeed to illuminate the sky and used for different types of activities, whether it's ground or aerial surveillance and different types of activities.

There are plenty activities taking place on the ground with Hamas terrorists that are utilizing the civilian environment in order to conceal their actions.

BLITZER: Is today the most intensive day of military activity on the part of IDF, Israel Defense Forces, since this ground campaign began?

LERNER: I think we have had more extensive activities over the course of the last two weeks. Indeed, you have to understand this is a ground activity. The actions taking place on the ground are extensive. We're combating and meeting these terrorists in their backyard and we're not letting them spill over into Israel.

BLITZER: The Hamas militants who got into a tunnel not far from the tunnel I was at today, they got into Israel, had an exchange of gunfire with Israeli troops. What happened after that? Because earlier in the day there were reports that some of these Hamas militants were in Israel and remained at large.

LERNER: To the best of my knowledge, and I was checking it just before I came on, the force at the location indeed engaged the terrorists and I'm aware of one terrorist that was either killed or injured on that site. We pursued the rest.

I can't confirm anything else other than that. Indeed, you know, this is the exact type of concerns we have with these tunnels, the way they just built them, this is a whole strategy.

BLITZER: How close are you to destroying all of the tunnels?

LERNER: We know what we know. We saw this tunnel that was today where we actually had an idea that there was a tunnel there, but we didn't know where it was going to come out. This is the concern that we have.

The entire strategy of investing in these tunnels that have taken -- it takes them about -- they can go five meters per day to build these tunnels. So in a three-kilometer tunnel, that's an extensive project.

BLITZER: Yes. I was in one of those three-kilometer tunnels earlier today, 2.8 kilometers, to be precise, and this lieutenant colonel who was escorting me from the IDF said it took them about two years, he believes, to build that...

(CROSSTALK) LERNER: That is strategy, that is vision, that is something that

they thought that in a situation like this would give them the upper hand. I'm happy to say that every time they have tried to infiltrate Israel they have made the IDF forces, they have failed. This was a bad project and it has been a bad investment on behalf of Hamas, with about $30 million investing in pouring cement into the ground, an investment which I'm happy to say is null and void.

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

Let's get a different perspective right now. Joining us on the phone is the Palestinian delegate to the United States, Ambassador Maen Areikat.

You understand, Ambassador, why Hamas was building these tunnels?

AREIKAT: Wolf, you asked me this question earlier, and I told you when people are located and besieged, they can't move freely, like human beings between one point to another, they are besieged in the Gaza Strip.

These tunnels have uses not only for military purposes. Some of them are for military purposes. But let's focus on what the spokesperson has said. These spokespeople have the audacity to say we're continuing our activities, we're continuing to strike at Hamas.

Just now, as we speak, Wolf, a report of a house in Rafah, eight civilians killed in one house from one family, eight children earlier, two at the hospital of Shifa. Who are they targeting? The question should be directed to the Israeli government. Who are they really targeting?

If all these pictures keep coming from Gaza, the dead civilians, the children, they want to convince us and the rest of the world that they're really targeting any militants or any fighters? This crazy war, the crazy campaign must come to an end. Israel's appetite for killing Palestinians must come to an end. This is the only way we can put an end to this conflict, engage the two parties in meaningful political dialogue to resolve the underlying political issue.

BLITZER: Maen Areikat, you're looking at the live pictures -- I don't know if you can see them, but the live pictures out of Gaza City right now. Karl Penhaul was telling us what's going on. These Israeli flares over the city illuminating the city, although it looks like a large part of Gaza City has lost power right now, because certainly on the ground it's a lot darker now than it was an hour or so ago.

How close would you say and you're very well aware of what's going on the parties are to what the U.S., the U.N. and so many others would like to see, some sort of humanitarian pause, a cease-fire? Is that all at realistic any time soon?

AREIKAT: Well, I am. I am looking at these pictures. Wolf, imagine the children and the civilians who are being

terrorized by these flares, anticipating an imminent strike right now. They're inside their home. They don't know when the next missile is going to hit their homes or their buildings. They don't know who the Israelis are targeting.

This is one way of the psychological warfare that Israel is deploying to scare and terrorize the population, the innocent civilians who are living in the Gaza Strip. As for the political initiative, I understand that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been in touch with various Palestinian factions. They are still working on putting together a delegation that would be going to Cairo, Egypt, very soon given that guarantees will be provided for their safe passage going to Egypt.

I think the Israelis must understand that the more they inflict on the Palestinian side, the more the Palestinians will be united. They are not going to be able to convince any single Palestinian that this war is not directed at their very existence and directed at their safety and their own security.

And the Palestinians today stand united. This war that Israel is waging against innocent civilians must stop immediately. And they should heed the calls of the United States, the international community and they should put aside their domestic agenda and not play with the Palestinian innocent life as the domestic agenda to outfit and outstage each other in Israel.

BLITZER: So, Ambassador Areikat, what I hear you saying is that this war that's been going on now for only three weeks or so has brought Hamas and the Palestinian Authority closer together rather than separating them. Is that your conclusion?

AREIKAT: It's brought the Palestinian people together, of course. These are innocent Palestinians who are being killed.

And it brought us together because we understand now that this current Israeli government has no plans whatsoever to resolve the conflict with us peacefully. We have seen this happen to us from 1982 in Lebanon, to 2008 to 2009, to 2012, to 2014. This current Israeli government has no peace agenda.

They don't want to involve the Palestinians in any political negotiations. That's why they undermined the efforts of Secretary Kerry in April, when they reneged on their commitments. That's why they're embarking on this crazy campaign because they want to destroy once and for all any political prospects for a solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

They're telling the world clearly, we are not interested in peace. We want to subjugate the Palestinians, we want to continue to occupy them by force. We don't want to see the Palestinians free and independent. And they know before we do that this is something that the Palestinian people will never accept.

BLITZER: Ambassador Maen Areikat is the representative of the PLO in Washington, D.C.

We're going to get the Palestinian perspective, the Israeli perspective, the U.S. perspective. I spoke earlier with the U.N. special envoy, his perspectives. We're trying to get all perspectives here in THE SITUATION ROOM on CNN. Thanks very much, Ambassador Areikat, for joining us.

Still ahead, as Israel pounds Hamas targets, a new warning about what could happen if the militant group is wiped out. Could it even lead to a more dangerous situation for Israel and the region? Stand by.


BLITZER: We're coming to you live from Jerusalem.

While Israel battles rockets and tunnels from Hamas, there's a new warning from a top U.S. military official against eliminating the group that the U.S. government has officially sanctioned as a terrorist organization.

CNN's Brian Todd has more. He's joining us from Washington.

Brian, tell our viewers what is going on.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the warnings being sounded tonight because that military intelligence official and analyst we spoke say there are elements inside Gaza which are worse than Hamas, they're more radical and they're more violent. One of them is a group that's wreaked havoc in Iraq and Syria recently with a series of vicious battles and grotesque treatment of its enemies.

We have to warn you some viewers might find some images in this story disturbing.


TODD (voice-over): Israel pushes on, destroying Hamas tunnels, degrading the group's firepower amid calls to go even further.

Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren says "Israel must be permitted to crush Hamas." But if Hamas was wiped out, who would fill the void? The Pentagon's top intelligence officer said the threat could grow even greater in an interview with CNN's Evan Perez.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There are other things there that, you know, behind Hamas, if Hamas gets out of the way that perhaps could be worse.

LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, DIRECTOR, DEFENSE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: We would probably end up with something much worse, something like ISIS or an ISIL.

TODD: ISIS, ISIL, now calling itself the Islamic State, three names for the same group, radical Islamists fighters who have now taken over much of Iraq, so brutal they have been disowned by al Qaeda. They just overran an army base in Syria.

Video of the aftermath of that battle purports to show the severed heads of Islamic State victims impaled on poles in the city of Raqqa. CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the video. Could this play out in Gaza? Experts say there are elements of the Islamic State in Gaza, along with other groups more extreme than Hamas.

MATTHEW LEVITT, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: If Hamas was somehow destroyed and nothing was left in its place, you had a vacuum, You could have a situation where the most militant elements, from Islamic Jihad, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, from these smaller Salafi jihadi groups could somehow band together into something more radical.

TODD: But analysts say it's not likely the so-called Islamic State would actually take over Gaza. They're too small in number, not well-coordinated there. So, how far will Israel go with Hamas?

MICHAEL OREN, CNN MIDEAST ANALYST: I think it's important to deal Hamas a decisive blow, not necessarily replacing it, and then demilitarize Hamas, so that you have a defanged Hamas running Gaza.


TODD: But could a defanged Hamas be some day be overrun by ISIS, that Islamic State, or other more militant groups who might eventually gather steam in Gaza? Analyst Matthew Levitt says Hamas would still probably have a lot of political and social power in Gaza having run schools and hospitals and other civil services.

But, Wolf, it's an open question tonight. If Hamas is wiped out there, some of these groups could gain some steam eventually.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

And joining us now, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.

Do you agree with the Defense Intelligence Agency head, who says as bad as Hamas might be, it could be a whole lot worse?

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), CHAIR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I -- candidly, I just don't even understand the context of that, Wolf.

Think about what they're doing. They're -- they have been militarizing the Gaza Strip for, really, more than a decade. In the last few years, have been obtaining advanced missile systems, some that they make internally, but some from external. Some believe it's from Iran. And they're firing these at civilian populations.

It's hard to argue that you can get worse than that.

Thankfully, the Iron Dome has been effective and I think the counter-offensive of that with the Israelis has been effective.

I -- you cannot go into this thinking well, we're going to a -- we're going to allow one terrorist organization to freely operate because there might be another one that's worse. I think that is a loser from the start.

I think what they need to do is demilitarize the Gaza Strip and -- and part of that means that you have to deal a decisive blow to Hamas and its military wing, period, pure and simple. The Palestinian Authority can fill in. Other organizations that could provide governance could fill in.

But when you say don't go too far in destroying a terrorist organization, I -- boy, that really concerns me that maybe they don't fully understand the sophistication of Hamas and who its allies are in Iran and other places.

BLITZER: The Israeli government says their ultimate goal is to demilitarize the Gaza Strip. Here's the question. Can that be achieved through diplomatic political means, or can it only be achieved, as some here, some hardliners in Israel, suggest through military means?

ROGERS: Well, you never ever want to give up on the diplomatic solution. But the problem is they've had plenty of opportunities to do that. Think of all of the money that they -- they should have spent on getting people connected to water in the Gaza Strip. Twenty percent of the population isn't even connected to a water source. Ninety percent of the water that they get is not up to western standards, even close.

All of the money that went there, a lot of that money went into tunnels, missiles and weapons systems. It just doesn't seem that they want that part of the equation. I don't know. I think it's very, very difficult. I think in order to get them to negotiate, you have to damage the military wing of Hamas to the point where they're willing to sit down and talk about demilitarization. If you don't do that, they're not going to give up their rockets. They're not going to give up their weapons. We've seen that in '06. We've seen that in other -- other excursions, especially into the -- between Gaza and Israel.

I just don't see it that way. I think we're going to have to have a decisive military victory in order to get them to negotiate to a better place.

BLITZER: So when the Obama administration tells the Israeli government of Prime Minister Netanyahu, go ahead and accept an immediate cease-fire, unconditional cease-fire. A lot of Israelis say they -- they don't want to do that right now, because they want to finish what they see as a threat to Israel. You say?

ROGERS: I say that's right. You shouldn't -- you shouldn't ask Israel to give up on what they know is certainly counter-tunneling, and you did a phenomenal job today of pointing out the sophistication of those tunnels. I think there are over 35 now that the Israelis have found and are trying to deal with.

The sophistication of that, they need to continue with that detunneling or that counter-tunnel kind of operation in order to have a secure border. At the same time there are certain logistic centers for the manufacturer of these missiles that they know and have been able to locate through intelligence. They ought to have the ability to dismantle those.

An immediate cease-fire without having the difficult to continue on the counter-tunneling, I think, is a serious mistake, and that's why Israel won't take it. I don't even know why they have that conversation, just like there needs -- humanitarian aid should be to Gaza under certain conditions.

Those are the two ways you can get to an agreement. This notion that you have to just stop doing what you're doing, when over 2,000 missiles have landed or have been fired into Israel, it does -- it doesn't meet the reality on the ground and the threat that Israel is under right now.

BLITZER: Mike Rogers is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

ROGERS: Thanks, Wolf. Be safe.


BLITZER: Israeli flares continue being illuminated over the skies of Gaza City. Right now, we hear the pounding of artillery as well. We're going to go back to Gaza City. You hear those drones. Listen to those drones. They're going through the skies over Gaza City right now, as well. Much more of the breaking news coverage right after this.


BLITZER: We're coming to you live from Jerusalem. Take a look at this. You're looking at live pictures, though, from Gaza City. We've seen flares for nearly two hours now. Those would be Israeli flares. We've also heard explosions, gunfire. And you hear that buzzing sound. Listen to it for a second. Those are Israeli drones flying over Gaza City. Listen to this.

Presumably those drones are going to continue flying. Some of those drones are doing reconnaissance. They're looking at images. Other drones, presumably, have missiles that could be launched at the same time.

All of this happening while the prospect for some sort of cease- fire, at least for now, remains dim and there's a growing force of critics out there who are blaming the man who's been at the center of the negotiations to try to achieve some cease-fire, the U.S. secretary of state, John Kerry.

Our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, has been following all of the diplomatic tensions right now include some serious tensions between the U.S. and Israel. What are you hearing? What are you seeing, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Israel prime minister says today he's prepared for a lengthy campaign, suggesting that Israel is gearing up for a longer campaign as hopes weaken for a cease-fire.


LABOTT (voice-over): On the streets of New York today, a big show of support for Israel but behind the scenes tensions are high as Secretary of State John Kerry struggles to secure a cease-fire.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: Any process to resolve the crisis in Gaza in a lasting and meaningful way must lead to the disarmament of Hamas and all terrorists groups.

LABOTT: But after a week of shuttle diplomacy, Kerry is under fire. The headline in Israel's leading newspaper, "Haaretz," reads "Reckless Kerry Risks Causing Escalation." "John Kerry Ruined Everything," writes respected columnist Ari Shavit. His proposal for a cease-fire negotiation is considered, quote, "a strategic terrorist attack, viewed as treating Hamas's demands, equal to Israel's security needs." And his attempts to bring Qatar and Turkey, viewed by Israel as friends of Hamas, into the negotiations, catastrophic.

Pushback from the White House was swift and strong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: John Kerry, on behalf of the United States, has been working every step of the way with Israel in support of our shared interests.

LABOTT: Israel's ambassador played down the appearance of a rift.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Criticism of Secretary Kerry for his good- faith efforts to advance a sustainable cease-fire is unwarranted.

LABOTT: Hamas leader Khaled Mashal gave a nod to Kerry's diplomatic efforts in an interview with Charlie Rose.

KHALED MASHAL, HAMAS LEADER: Mr. Kerry months ago tried to find a window through the negotiations in order to meet our target, to live without the occupation, to reach our state.

LABOTT: On Monday, Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed operations would continue until the tunnels from Gaza into Israel were destroyed. He told CNN's Candy Crowley he was opening to easing conditions for Gaza but only if Hamas was disarmed.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I think you can't get social and economic relief for the people of Gaza without having a short demilitarization.


LABOTT: And the international community is growing more alarmed at the mounting civilian casualties. United Nations Security Council met in emergency session overnight to call for an immediate cease- fire. In an intense phone call with Prime Minister Netanyahu Sunday, President Obama expressed serious concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm sure he did. Elise, thanks very much.

I want to show our viewers what's going on over Gaza City right now. We've been showing these images for the past nearly two hours. Israeli flares have been illuminating the skies over Gaza City. You hear -- if you listen carefully, you hear the sounds of Israeli drones. They're flying over Gaza City right now. Maybe they're reconnaissance drones. Maybe they're drones with Hellfire missiles.

You see a lot of smoke. You see a lot of -- a lack of power in the major parts of Gaza City right now. I don't know if the generators, power stations have simply stopped working or if there are some actions to kill some of the power in Gaza City.

Let's bring in Martin Indyk right now. He's a former U.S. special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian negotiation. He's now the vice president and is director of foreign policy of Brookings Institution in Washington.

Martin, thanks very much for joining us. What do you think -- you know, I'm here. I'm in Israel. The criticism of John Kerry, if you read the Israeli newspapers, coming from Israeli officials, is very intense. They think he went way too far in accepting some of the Hamas demands for a cease-fire -- for a cease-fire. What do you say?

MARTIN INDYK, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I'm frankly flabbergasted by the piling on here. Secretary Kerry was doing his very best to achieve what we all understand Israel wants, which is an end to the rocket fire. And a humanitarian cease-fire that could lead to a negotiation in Cairo that could lead to the disarmament that Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for.

He worked with the two parties that had some influence on Hamas. That's Qatar and Turkey. There wasn't an alignment with the Muslim Brotherhood, or some kind of rookie mistake. That was an attempt to get Hamas to stop firing the rockets by working with the two parties that had some influence on them. This was not to undermine the Egyptian initiative, but it was, in fact, to reinforce it and make it workable.

So I think that what Ambassador Derma (ph) said is right. This is exaggerated. It's a piling on, and they should back off and express appreciation for the indefatigable efforts that the secretary of state has been undertaking on their behalf.

BLITZER: Because the argument that you hear in Israel -- I've heard it now myself from several high-ranking Israeli officials, members of the cabinet and others -- is that Kerry went too far. Instead of getting Turkey and Qatar to accept the Egyptian proposal as is, he went ahead and started accepting what Turkey and Qatar wanted, in effect undermining the original Egyptian ease-fire proposal, which the Israelis accepted.

INDYK: The people of the -- all I can say, Wolf, is that they should read the Kerry proposal which has now been leaked and compare it with the Egyptian initiative and they will find that there is no significant difference between the two. It's an absurdity to argue that was undermining the Egyptian initiative. It was a way to operationalize the Egyptian initiative by getting a cease-fire to stop the bloodshed, that may stop the bloodshed -- Israeli blood, as well as Palestinian blood being shed.

BLITZER: What do you make of the fact that it looks like Hamas and the Palestinian Authority now have been brought closer together because of all of the bloodshed? How will that impact -- if in fact there is ever another Israeli-Palestinian peace process -- how does that impact the peace process you worked so hard for a year to get off the ground. You got -- made a little progress and then all of the sudden, it totally collapsed.

INDYK: We've got to start with first thing first, and that is to get the cease-fire in Gaza and then some kind of permanent arrangement in Gaza that puts the Palestinian authority back in control there. Hamas, through this reconciliation agreement just before the Gaza conflict broke out agreed that the Palestinian Authority back in control there. Hamas and Fatah had through this reconciliation agreement just before the Gaza conflict broke agreed that the Palestinian Authority should take control. So, that's the first step.

In the context of putting the Palestinian Authority back in control, there needs to be the principle of one government, one gun. That is the demand of Abu Mazen, the leader of the Palestinian Authority. And that means that not just Hamas but all of the militias in Gaza will have to disarm and that needs to take place in the context of a broader process of opening Gaza and ensuring that there's international support for the reconstruction of Gaza.

So it's kind of a three-point package that needs to be negotiated once we have a cease-fire in place. If that can be fire, and it seems a long way off tonight. The Palestinian authority in Gaza, as Hamas originally agreed, then it can become possible to look at the idea of resuming the negotiations, this time with a unified Palestinian Authority, with West Bank and Gaza -- with it representing West Bank and Gaza.

And that would in fact strengthen the ability of -- our ability to deal with the Palestinians and get a meaningful agreement.

BLITZER: Well, let's see if that can emerge from what clearly looks like a disaster happening right now.

All right. Thanks very much, Martin Indyk, joining us, the former special Middle East envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

We're live here in Jerusalem. But right now flares are illuminating the skies over Gaza City. You also hear the buzzing sound. Those are Israeli drones flying over Gaza City. Listen carefully for a second.

They continue flying over Gaza City. There are have been explosions now for nearly two hours.

Much more of the breaking news coverage right after this.


BLITZER: Let's go right back to Gaza City. Karl Penhaul is on the scene for us. We've been watching the breaking news.

Karl, the explosions, the gunfire, the flares illuminating the skies, and we're hearing the sound of those Israeli drones flying over Gaza City. Update our viewers.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is an update for you, Wolf. Those illumination rounds continue to fall down across Gaza City and the drones have continued to sound loud overhead. That seems to me to be an indication that illumination round are popped up into the night sky so those drones could have a good look of what is going on down below.

Remember, there is no moon at all tonight and that is why the drones and the cameras on their drones and off in the distance those explosions going up now from F-16 fighter bombers.

BLITZER: Karl Penhaul, stand by. Take a quick break. More of the special coverage right after this.


BLITZER: Live here in Jerusalem, but we're really watching the scenes of explosions and gunfire in Gaza right now.

Crisis here in the Middle East, certainly the fighting in Ukraine, it seems like there are fires raging across the globe. As former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, the world is a mess but is that really the case.

Tom Foreman is joining us in Washington.

Put this into some sort of perspective for us, Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. If you look at the world map, it is easy to see that the U.S. government is dealing with a lot of hot spots right now, with no indication any of them are cooling. So, let's take through some of them.

We start with Israel in Gaza. More than a thousand people have died since the current clash began in early July. Most of them Palestinians and according to the U.N., most of them civilians -- no matter how that came about.

Right next door, we look at Syria. It's in its third year of a civil war, 150,000 killed. The White House says the government troops have used chemical weapons and yet President Bashar al Assad is still firmly in power, sworn into his third term just last week.

If we keep moving on over here to Iraq, the stories of terrorist group ISIS that wants to establish an Islamic state, spanning parts of Iraq and Syria. The U.N. estimates clashes between ISIS and Iraqi government leaving more than 5,500 dead and 1.2 million have been driven from their homes.

In Libya, down here, the worst fighting since 2011 revolution is under way, U.S. just evacuated the embassy. So as some other countries, powerful militias were challenging the government, 97 people killed in just two weeks.

And, of course, up in the Ukraine, as we know, fighting rages on, where the civilian jetliner was shut down, more than 1,100 dead, 100,000 out of their homes.

And as if all of that is not enough, remember, Iran and North Korea are the main concerns, North Korea threatening it nuke the White House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sound like a lot going on going on right now and it's mostly bad.

That's it for me. Thanks for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.