On Monday's Special Report with Bret Baier, as FNC aired a special episode with host Baier stationed in Jerusalem to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, during the show's "Fox All Stars" segment, conservative columnist and FNC contributor Charles Krauthammer charged that as the Obama administration pushes for a peace agreement, the President has actually pressed Israel unusually far on the issue of construction within existing Jewish settlements, going further even than Palestinians had previously demanded in recent negotiations.
After proclaiming that the "delay in the peace process is a self-inflicted wound on the Obama administration," and after noting that the issue of settlements had previously "been in consensus," he continued:
The U.S. and Israelis had agreed, no new settlements, no new expansion of territory in settlements and dismantling of existing settlements. And the Palestinians had accepted that, had never refused negotiations for anything else. But then Obama adds a condition of no thickening of settlements, i.e., you don't construct a kindergarten if children are born, which the Israelis have rejected. And all of a sudden, the Palestinians and Arabs have said no negotiations until Israel jumps through this higher hoop.
So the Arabs and Palestinians have said we are not going to move, we're going to let Obama extract unilateral concessions out of the Israelis, and that is why the process has stopped.
Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Monday, August 31, Special Report with Bret Baier on FNC:
CLIP OF ISRAELI PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES: I think we are going to make maybe by the end of September. President Obama will chair it. And I think at least there is a chance that we will decide to reopen the negotiations. I'm talking very friendly and very frankly with Bibi Netanyahu. I think he is aware of the choice, and there is no chance, no escape, no alternative but to go ahead and make this peace.
BRET BAIER: Israeli President Shimon Peres talking about a previously undisclosed meeting that is expected to happen at the U.N. General Assembly gathering in New York later on in September. When the White House was asked about it, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that he would not contradict our interview with President Peres.
He also said there is hope for progress as far as the settlement issue. So what about all of this and also the developments on Iran, Israel, and Iran? Let's bring in our panel, Steve Hayes, senior writer for the Weekly Standard, Juan Williams, news analyst for National Public Radio, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles, let's start with you in the Brady Bunch format here. What about this development on the peace process and this meeting that we didn't know about?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: It's more like Hollywood squares, actually. The whole delay in the peace process is a self-inflicted wound on the Obama administration. Let's remember that for over a year, the previous prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, had been negotiating with the head of the Palestinians and made an astonishingly generous offer in December of '08, which the Palestinians refused, as they always refuse. So Obama comes in and instead of picking up and trying to get the Palestinians to moderate, what does he do? He attacks Netanyahu. He tries to make an issue of settlements, which had been in consensus. The U.S. and Israelis had agreed, no new settlements, no new expansion of territory in settlements and dismantling of existing settlements. And the Palestinians had accepted that, had never refused negotiations for anything else. But then Obama adds a condition of no thickening of settlement, i.e., you don't construct a kindergarten if children are born, which the Israelis have rejected. And all of a sudden, the Palestinians and Arabs have said no negotiations until Israel jumps through this higher hoop. So the Arabs and Palestinians have said we are not going to move, we're going to let Obama extract unilateral concessions out of the Israelis, and that is why the process has stopped.
JUAN WILLIAMS: I think that this is really great news. It was impressive that, you know, that Special Report is able to break this story, because I think this is really the start of a new epic, potentially, in some sort of Middle East peace deal, and it's necessary. To leave it as it is, the status quo, I think would have been lamentable. I think history would have judged the Obama administration as being neglectful on a key issue of our time. And of course it extends everything across the Middle East, because it touches on a terrorist threat. It touches on Iran. It touches on the safety of the world in terms of terrorist threat. So let's take away this element, and I think you have an opportunity with the notion of talks opening in the fall. And I think that the Obama administration has been wise in this regard, you know, to say to the Palestinians as well -- you have got to come to the table willing to make sacrifices and compromises. The question is whether the difficulty between Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas and who is exactly in charge of the Palestinians, how will the Obama administration handle this? You can't ask Israel to negotiate with two sides of the same people, you know. Who is the legitimate government of the Palestinians? That is the real issue for me.
STEVE HAYES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I think Juan is right that that is a major issue, and it's an issue that I think ultimately could present a serious stumbling block. But I think the most interesting thing to come out of your interview with President Peres was this emphasis on the Sunni states. You're reaching when you are talking about these coming negotiations, you have got a point at which there is some common ground between Israel on the one hand and various Sunni states on the other -- Qatar, Dubai, United Arab emeritus, Saudi Arabia, obviously, being the biggest and most important one, on the question of Iran and what happens to Iran. And what seems to be potentially this emerging deal is a nine- month suspension of settlements, probably with a natural growth settlement, which, as Charles points out, gets us back to essentially where we were, and then in exchange, potentially having the U.S. put more pressure on Iran, leading regional pressure on Iran and potentially at the U.N. I think it's difficult right now for Israelis to put much faith in Barack Obama and the United States actually doing anything on Iran. We have seen what he said repeatedly on Iran, even at times when all that was required was a denunciation of what were some horrible efforts on the streets of Iran. He didn't do anything.
BAIER: Charles, quickly on Iran and Israel's positioning to really practice, prepare for the possibility that Iran becomes nuclear, did you hear anything in President Peres' response that perked your ears?
KRAUTHAMMER: Well, he is very much of a moderate, but even he reflects even the moderates and the left of Israel, and understand that Israel will not accept a nuclear Iran and they will attack. That is absolutely unmistakable, unless the world stops them. It is only a question of when. And the only question is how long will they give the United States to actually help the program before Israel acts?
BAIER: All right, former vice president's criticism of the Obama administration is making big news. We'll talk about that with the panel. We'll dissect it, next.
On the Sunday, January 11, Good Morning America, ABC's Simon McGregor-Wood reported: "There's mounting concern over Israel's tactics. Human Rights Watch accuses Israel of causing civilian casualties by using these phosphorus shells in built-up areas. That's against international law. Israel denies it."
Later, on the January 11, World News Sunday, during a story which focused largely on the deadly obstacles left by Hamas members for Israeli troops to wade through and even credited the Israeli military with trying to avoid civilian casualties, McGregory-Wood this time mentioned that the purpose of phosphorus munitions was to "obscure troop movements." McGregor-Wood: "Human rights campaigners accuse Israel of using shells containing burning white phosphorus. They're meant to obscure troop movements, but Gaza's hospitals are filling up with civilian burn victims."
#From the January 11 World News Sunday:
DAN HARRIS: Now, to another international crisis likely to land in Barack Obama's lap on day one, Gaza. Today, Israeli troops pushed deeper into the most populated areas, engaging in some of the fiercest fighting yet. Both sides are now engaging in some unconventional tactics and deceptions. Simon McGregor-Wood is in Israel tonight.
SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD: Hamas has left many surprises for Israeli soldiers in Gaza, so many doors are booby-trapped, Israeli soldiers enter buildings by blasting through walls. These tunnels and bunkers stored weapons and hid fighters. Soldiers have discovered dozens of roadside bombs, bomb-sniffing dogs have become a soldier's best friend. At this specially built mock Palestinian town, Israel is training thousands of reservists to send into Gaza's dangerous battlefield. The holes here have already been made. These Israeli reservists are trying to train in an environment as close as possible to the one they may eventually face in Gaza. They're training how to go house to house to find their targets while sparing civilian casualties. But that's not always possible. The Israelis accuse Hamas of shooting from positions crowded with civilians, including schools and mosques. Israel's heavy weapons have caused hundreds of civilian casualties. Human rights campaigners accuse Israel of using shells containing burning white phosphorus. They're meant to obscure troop movements, but Gaza's hospitals are filling up with civilian burn victims. Until now, Israeli forces have encircled Gaza's cities to really damage Hamas. They may have to go further in. That will mean more casualties on both sides. Before any ceasefire, Israel insists Hamas must be unable to rearm. That means shutting down hundreds of smuggling tunnels like these under the Egyptian border that are used by Hamas to smuggle weapons. Israel is pounding them from the air. But once a rock solid diplomatic deal to make sure they remain closed when their soldiers finally leave the increasingly mean streets of Gaza. Simon McGregor-Wood, ABC News, at an Israeli training base in southern Israel.
#From the January 25 World News Sunday:
DAN HARRIS: It's been a week since the fighting in Gaza ended, but both sides are being dogged now by complaints that they violated the rules of war. Israel has come under especially tough criticism for its use of a chemical agent. Simon McGregor-Wood is in Jerusalem tonight.
SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD: It was these shells that set fire to the main U.N. compound in Gaza City. It burned for days. The shells always burst in midair, sending out streaks of white smoke and bright, burning lumps of phosphorus. It's a chemical that produces clouds of white smoke. It's good for hiding troop movements, but in contact with skin, it causes ferocious burning that's difficult to stop.
MARC GARLASCO, MILITARY ANALYST: You can watch very clearly the jellyfish effect of the white phosphorus shell, and this causes extreme fire and the potential for civilian harm.
SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD: It's controversial, but not banned, unless intentionally used against civilians. But in Gaza, they are everywhere.
YAEL STEIN, HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE: There's no doubt that civilians will get injured because of the use of it, and therefore, it is forbidden.
SIMON MCGREGOR-WOOD: In response to accusations it used phosphorus illegally, the Israeli army has launched an investigation. In a statement, it would only say it uses weapons permitted by law. But Israel is worried about possible war crimes charges. Today, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised the government would defend its soldiers from these charges, just as they had defended Israel in Gaza. Phosphorus has been used since World War I. In 2004, the U.S. used it to root out insurgents in Fallujah. At Gaza's Shifa Hospital, we found nine-year-old Mohammed al Mamlik, burned when a shell burst above his home. "You have no mercy," he said to Israel. "You're doing everything to us, and we are just children." Mohammed's doctor says he's not exactly sure what caused his terrible injuries, but after he was admitted, the burning continued for hours. Simon McGregor-Wood, Jerusalem.
#From the Sunday, January 11, NBC Nightly News:
LESTER HOLT: Overseas now. There are growing signs tonight that Israel's ground offensive into Gaza may be about to enter a new and possibly more intense phase. NBC's chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, is near the Israeli/Gaza border and joins us now with the latest. Richard?
RICHARD ENGEL: Good evening, Lester. We've been hearing a steady barrage of artillery fire into Gaza tonight as Israel made its deepest advance yet into Gaza City and sent in some reserve troops. It's a slow, dangerous advance into Gaza City. As Israeli troops push deeper into the city of 400,000, Israel says it is finding an urban minefield, Gaza rigged for battle. Israel intensified its bombing of houses, roads and mosques it claims were boobytrapped with mannequins strapped with bombs, anti-tank mines and waiting suicide bombers.
AVITAL LEIBOVICH, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESPERSON: We see boobytrapped areas, we see snipers that are all over the civilian neighborhoods, and not only the civilian neighborhoods. Hamas is using a lot of mortar fire.
ENGEL: Today, the Israeli Army showed reporters a video filmed by its soldiers at Gaza City Zoo. Next to a lion's cage, the soldiers follow a cable they say was attached to a bomb. They defused it. But for Palestinians, shelter in Gaza is increasingly hard to find. Thousands are taking refuge in United Nations schools. There's little food or clean water. And doctors in Gaza today accused Israel of using controversial white phosphorus munitions. Human rights groups say video from Gaza appears to show white phosphorus shells exploding to create smoke to hide troop movements. The chemical can also be lethal.
DOCTOR NAFIZ ABU SHA'ABAN, AL-SHIFA HOSPITAL: Burns which we receive here are not like the burns which we used to treat here. It's mostly massive and very deep burns.
ENGEL: White phosphorus is not illegal under international law. The US military uses it extensively in Afghanistan. Today, Israel refused to comment on white phosphorous, saying only it abides by the laws of war.
MARC GARLASCO, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: The problem is that the Israelis are dropping them over the refugee camps, and this is causing potential for civilian harm that just can't be justified.
ENGEL: Israel blames Hamas for civilian deaths in Gaza because its fighters have bunkered in cities and continue to fire 20 rockets and mortars a day into Israel. Israeli intelligence believes Hamas has not been able to restock its supply of rockets, but still has enough in reserve to continue firing them into Israel for another two to three weeks, Lester.
#From the Tuesday, January 13, Special Report with Bret Baier:
BAIER: Israel is sending its key negotiator to Egypt Thursday to participate in cease-fire talks. Egyptian mediators are pushing Hamas to accept a truce proposal, and U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon is headed to the region. But while many are talking peace, Israeli troops are pushing forward in Gaza. Correspondent Reena Ninan has an update.
REENA NINA: The Israeli military is now surrounding Gaza city, where half a million Palestinians live pounding with air strikes what is considered the most densely populated place on Earth. Border crossings with Israel and Egypt are closed, and civilians are faced with little choice but to brace themselves and find shelter wherever they can. Of the more than 950 people killed in Gaza since this campaign began, Israel estimates the number of dead Hamas fighters ranges from 400 to 500. The rest are civilians. But Palestinians disagree, saying the majority are civilians. The Israeli military uses white phosphorus in artillery shells to create smoke screens to mask troop movements on the ground. Human rights groups say this substance is lethal when used in populated areas and have left burn marks on civilians in Gaza. This video shot exclusively by Fox News shows a destroyed home in Gaza, and this Israeli shell with Hebrew writing reads "exploding smoke," a military description for phosphorus. Palestinian doctors say these shells left dozens injured.
FRED ABRAMS, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: It shoots down more than 100 flaming, burning hot wafers which can set homes on fire and burn civilians. And we're beginning to see that now, deep and troubling wounds. It looks like they're being affected by these, by these bombs in populated areas.
NINAN: Israel says the use of exploding smoke is not meant to target civilians.
AVITAL LEIBOVICH, ISRAELI ARMY SPOKESWOMAN: Any munitions we're using is with accordance to the international law.
NINAN: Today, Hamas released this video showing their snipers shooting down Israeli soldiers. The Israeli army confirmed several of their soldiers have been wounded in combat. Reports suggest Israel would like to end its military campaign before President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration next week. The next few days will determine the substance of an agreement that could end this round of violence. Along the Israeli-Gaza border, Reena Ninan.
#From the January 7, 2009, The Situation Room on CNN:
WOLF BLITZER, AFTER COMMERCIAL BREAK DURING 4:00 P.M. HOUR: Happening now, Israel accused of targeting Gaza with white phosphorous. That's a banned substance that can severely burn civilians. Is there any photographic proof? We're going to go live to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr will have a fact check for us.
WOLF BLITZER, DURING THE 5:00 HOUR: Beyond the casualty toll, this war has triggered a humanitarian crisis. In Israel, where a million people are within Hamas rocket range, schools and public institutions near the border have been closed. But in Gaza, it's truly a nightmare. Relief agencies say two thirds of the population is without electricity right now, and fuel is in very short supply. A U.N. agency reports 800,000 people have no running water. Food is getting into Gaza, but distribution is a problem, leaving many short of basic items. Hospitals operate on generators, but are short of medicine, blood and other supplies. Starbursts lighting up the skies over Gaza, there's controversy right now growing over just what types of munitions are these and how they are being used. Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has been looking into this.
BARBARA STARR: Questions are being asked, what is this weapon the Israelis exploded several times over Gaza? We showed the video to a defense expert.
JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: White phosphorous. Willy peat white phosphorus shells, obviously. There's nothing else like it. That's obviously what it is. No doubt whatsoever.
STARR: But an Israeli official told CNN: "I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used." Israeli officials insist this is just smoke used to mask Israeli movements on the ground. Home rights activists believe the Israeli Defense Forces are using white phosphorus -- an incendiary material that can badly burn anyone in its path.
FRED ABRAHAMS, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: But in populated, closed areas, as in Gaza, where civilians can be affected from the burning particles, then it raises very, very serious concerns.
STARR: International protocols prohibit the use of incendiary weapons against civilian populations. In this video, it's not clear if the burning material falls on populated areas. In 2005, the U.S. military acknowledged using white phosphorous in Fallujah to flush out insurgents. Now, the Israelis may be using a similar strategy with a different goal.
PIKE: Hamas combatants are going to see all these bright burning particles coming at them. They're going to put their heads down. They're going to stay indoors. And that's going to give the Israel troops tens of seconds in which they can displace, they can move around out in the open.
STARR: Wolf, whatever these weapons are all about, the Israeli Defense Forces insist they abide by all international laws regarding the use of weapons and ammunition.
#From the Thursday, January 13, CNN Newsroom:
RICK SANCHEZ, INTRODUCING THE 3:00 P.M. HOUR: Is Israel using a chemical against Palestinians in Gaza?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These burns are not usual burns, severe, very deep burns.
SANCHEZ: Using white phosphorous against civilians, even combatants, to burn them is against international law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been burning since 1:00 in the morning Nohir Homada tells our cameraman around noon. If you move it with your feet, it reignites. You can't put it out with water, only with sand. This matches the properties of white phosphorous, which ignites on contact with air.
SANCHEZ: Is Israel using white phosphorous? We examine what Palestinians say, what doctors say, what human rights groups say, and what Israeli military officials are saying in response.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This resulted from some sort of bomb. These burns are not the usual burns. These are severe. These are very deep.
SANCHEZ: Very deep burns, very nasty injuries, possibly from a very nasty weapon Israel is now being accused of using in Gaza. This is something that may be tough to watch. It burns flesh to the bone. What is white phosphorous? When we come back.
SANCHEZ: There's also an important story that's taking place in Gaza. It's about accusations that Israel may be using weapons that international law says they shouldn't use – at least not the way they're accused of using them. This is called white phosphorous. This report is being filed by CNN's Ben Wedeman.
BEN WEDEMAN: Is Israel firing white phosphorous into Gaza? Human Rights Watch says yes, and is backed up by munitions experts. And this, say Palestinian doctors, is the result. Dr. Nafiz Abu Sha'aban says he's been treating burns for 27 years, but says he's never seen anything like these. He says most of the severe burn patients have been sent to Egypt. But because of the fighting, this man, Adil, can't get out.
DR. NAFIZ ABU SHA'ABAN, SHIFA HOSPITAL BURN UNIT: And he was brought to us last night with severe burns on the back, the face, both lower limbs. It's about 47 percent total burned surface area. This resulted from some sort of bombs which might, bombs which contain phosphorous, as we said before, because his burns are not like the usual burns. These are severe. These are very deep burns, with strange heat.
WEDEMAN: White phosphorous is known to burn flesh down to the bone. It's designed to provide illumination or a smokescreen in battle. Under an international protocol ratified by Israel in 1995, such incendiary weapons are allowed when "not specifically designed to cause burn injury to persons."
MARK ELLIS, INTERNATIONAL BAR ASSOCIATION: There's not a, per se, prohibition against using white phosphorous in conflict. But there are significant restrictions as to when it's used and how it's to be used. For instance, it is illegal to use white phosphorous against any personnel – not only civilians, but even legal combatants. So it cannot be directed at personnel. So you're limited to having it directed at military targets.
WEDEMAN: International law says incendiary weapons cannot be used where there is a concentration of civilians – and Gaza is one of the most densely-populated places on Earth. This house north of Gaza City was hit by something Sunday. "It's been burning since 1:00 in the morning," Munir Hammada tells our cameraman around noon. "If you move it with your feet, it reignites. You can't put it out with water, only with sand." This matches the properties of white phosphorous, which ignites on contact with air. Last week, an Israeli official told CNN, "I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorous is absolutely not being used." Now Israeli officials have this response to questions on its use:
MAJOR AVITAL LEIBOVITCH, ISRAELI ARMY SPOKESPERSON: Any munition that Israel is using is with accordance to the international law. Israel does not specify types of munition nor types of operations that it's conducting.
WEDEMAN: The precise extent to which Israel is using white phosphorous is unclear. But the use of such a controversial weapon in the crowded and confined conditions of Gaza is bound to raise questions – questions Israel is, for now, hesitant to answer. Ben Wedeman, CNN, Jerusalem.
SANCHEZ: It sort of makes you ask a lot of questions. Let's do this. Let's go over to our Twitter board, if we can. I think maybe this question is being posed by Nevinews puts it in perspective: "It's not the question of using white phosphorous, it's the question of using it in a dense, civilian populated area." Which is, by the way, pretty true to fact of the way it's written international law. Jim Clancy joining us now. What do you make of this and what have you learned?
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL: Well, it's a big controversy. You know, in anything like this, you always want to refer to an expert. And I have an expert that's there in Israel right now, trying to get into Gaza. He works for Human Rights – Fred Abrahams. And he tells me, no, it's not illegal, but it's wrong to use it in a civilian area. It's a spectacular picture. A Howitzer puts this up. There's an air burst, Rick. And then 116 of these wafers goes down. Even if the guy covers it up with sand, as we saw in Ben Wedeman's report, if they uncover that, it makes renewed contact with the air, it goes off-
SANCHEZ: So it's a chemical. So when we-
CLANCY: But it's not a chemical weapon.
SANCHEZ: It's not a chemical weapon, but it's a chemical.
SANCHEZ: It's a dangerous chemical.
CLANCY: It's a very dangerous, very horrible injuries.
SANCHEZ: One that international law says you probably shouldn't use in a manner in which it affects either combatants or civilians in any way. In other words, you can use it in a place where you want to change an area or for military strategy, but don't use it on people?
CLANCY: Yes. They say they're using it as an obscurant, which means that it's going to cover their fighters, cover their tanks as they move into some of these areas. Howitzer fire it overhead, the smoke comes down, the phosphorus comes down, moves everybody out of the way. They get out of the way, and then there's smoke to cover their troops' movement.
SANCHEZ: What kind of impact could this have, though, if it continues to be reported, to the point where it is now and you have somebody like Human Watch, human rights groups saying look, there's a problem here, I think they're doing it, even though Israel is saying, no, we're not.
CLANCY: Human rights investigators and the international media are not getting into Gaza right now. So it's not going to be that big of a problem. And, you know, a few points-
SANCHEZ: Well, is that a problem? If you are going to deny-
CLANCY: Well, sure it is.
SANCHEZ: -something and you're not going to-
CLANCY: Sure it is.
SANCHEZ: -allow reporters to go in there and cover it, you're going to be faced with these types of questions.
CLANCY: You know, my friend, Fred Abrahams, pointed something else out. He said, you know, that's the most spectacular story, white phosphorous. The one we should all be looking at – and he said both Israel and Egypt bear some responsibility here – where are the civilians going to get out to? If this noose keeps tightening in Gaza, where do they go? How do they get out? There's no egress routes for any of them. They're trapped in there.
SANCHEZ: Yes, it's a very difficult situation. By the way, before I let you go, do you think this will be over before Barack Obama takes office? Because it's going to be difficult for Israel-
SANCHEZ: -to start this new administration with this going on.
CLANCY: As I look at it, come on, we're talking about a week, right?
CLANCY: Rick, they're not out in a week. They have declared they will be out. Israel will likely come forward and say, you know, we want to get this truce done. If they can point a finger at Hamas, yes, they would, you know, have a pass to stay. But I think they'll try to say, we're on our way out. But it's going to not get done by the time Barack Obama stands up there and takes the oath of office.
SANCHEZ: Jim Clancy.We thank you for stopping by, as usual.
#From the Thursday, January 15, CNN Newsroom:
RICK SANCHEZ, TEASING THE 3:00 P.M. HOUR: A story with huge international consequences. The United Nations says Israel fired on one of its buildings in Gaza. And they say they used white phosphorous. What do the Israelis say?
Now, let's talk about another problem in "Around the World," this one having to do with Israel. The United Nations today said that Israel has attacked one of its buildings, one of its offices there in Gaza. And they're even going as far as to say, and this might be the more shocking part of this report, at least as far as it's being interpreted, that they may have used white phosphorous in that attack. That would obviously be something that's going to get a lot of reaction around the world. Let's do this first as we look at these pictures, now. Pictures coming in from some of the fighting in Gaza, we understand Ben Wedeman has finally been able to get into Gaza, has been able to file some reports for us, now. Ben, start us off, if you're there, tell us what the situation is. And please, if you have any information at all for us on this white phosphorous accusation being leveled by the U.N., tell us what you know.
BEN WEDEMAN: Well, Rick, I have to tell you, from the start, we spent the entire day just trying to get into Gaza. So I haven't really been following those reports as closely as I would normally be. We got into Rafah just after dark, and we're now in an empty apartment on the outskirts of town. But I'm hearing Israeli jets overhead as we've been hearing them for many hours, actually. And one dropped a bomb about, I'd say maybe half a kilometer from here, and it, really, you could feel the pressure, the shockwave from that, it shook the building, it shook the windows. And this seems to be going on constantly here, these over flights and the occasional bombings. At the moment, where we are, the streets are completely deserted. All the stores are closed. There is electricity in this part of town, but I can see other parts of town are completely dark. And as you know, yes?
SANCHEZ: Is there any sign, Ben, that they're becoming more entrenched in this assault or that they're starting conversely, perhaps, to pull back some?
WEDEMAN: There's no indication of that whatsoever, certainly not here. Now, what residents are telling me is that compared to the last few days, the bombing has been less intense. But, as we've seen those pictures coming from Gaza City, and as we were driving across the Sinai when we stopped in various places to load up with supplies, everybody was watching TV, live Jazeera pictures of intense fighting, intense bombing of Gaza City. So even though it does seem diplomacy is starting to actually have an effect, on the ground it seems the Israelis continue to pursue this offensive. As we heard from Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, at the beginning of this operation, he said they would pursue it, in his words, "to the bitter end."
SANCHEZ: Wow. Ben Wedeman following that story for us there. He's out now, as you can see here, actually in Gaza. We've been hoping that Ben was able to get in. Ben, thanks so much for being with us and try to stay safe, my friend.
WEDEMAN: All right.
SANCHEZ: Jim Clancy joining us now to bring us up to this report that we made moments ago. It's the U.N. saying one of their buildings was attacked by the Israelis, by the IDF. And they're saying or accusing Israel of using white phosphorous. How big a deal is this?
JIM CLANCY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a big deal on one level because here you have, it's another U.N. installation. Israel is once again saying they fired at us first; somebody was using the compound to fire at us. They've said this in the past. The U.N. is denying that. Who's telling the truth? Impossible to tell. The actual independent observers can't get in there.
SANCHEZ: But let's go through this. First they said that they were using white phosphorous and they denied it. Then they said, then they were accused of using white phosphorous on people and they denied it, and now they're accused of using white phosphorous on the U.N. building. After awhile there starts to be a pattern, there. This is not helpful for Israel around the world, if for no other reason, through perception.
CLANCY: Well, and you've got it right. You look at it here, and obviously they say it's an obscurant, used as an obscurant, meaning a smoke screen. That's fine. Not in a civilian area. When you-
SANCHEZ: All Gaza is civilian – is there anything – is there any pastures in Gaza? Is there any place out there that's not heavily-
CLANCY: No, there's not. When you look at these, the dramatic pictures that come in, and you see all of this, what you have to realize is, as this battle is going on, the Hamas fighters are down in underground tunnels when this stuff is hitting. The people up top are the civilians. And it's going to raise serious questions here, and it's going to raise questions because General Dynamics, a U.S. company, has developed this weapon. And it is said to-
SANCHEZ: Made in America.
CLANCY: Made in America. You've got cases where people say, hey, doesn't this violate the Export Control Act that says you can't use these weapons?
SANCHEZ: Some people will question whether there's not some culpability.
CLANCY: It's a lack and respect of human life, we're seeing right now, by both sides. Not by one side, by both sides.
#From the Thursday, January 15, American Morning on CNN:
JOHN ROBERTS, DURING THE 6:00 A.M. HOUR: Returning to our breaking now, right now a column of black smoke rising over Gaza city as flames race through the United Nation's central compound for humanitarian aid. The complex houses food, fuel, medicine and about 700 Palestinians who were seeking refuge from the fighting. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says the incident was a grave mistake.
Joining me now on the phone from Gaza city is John Ging. He's the head of operations in Gaza for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Mr. Ging, what's the current situation on the ground there in your complex?
VOICE OF JOHN GING, UNRWA DIRECTOR: The current situation is very, very dangerous, and now we have a fire and our compound has been hit a number of times this morning under this all night long barrage of artillery and tank fire into this area of Gaza city, which is very densely populated.
So they shot one artillery shell hit one of our buildings where three were injured and then we are dealing with three more rounds that were fired into the compound, which have caused phosphorus fires.
GING: My staff on the ground extremely lucky that they were not injured when those rounds hit into the workshops area, the warehousing area. And now, they're on fire basically and, of course, it's a major problem there because those people should know you can't touch phosphorus with water otherwise it becomes very toxic.
ROBERTS: Right. Yes.
GING: (INAUDIBLE) doesn't put them out.
ROBERTS: Let me just drill down on that for a second if I could. As we said, Defense Minister Ehud Barack says this was a grave mistake. You claim that it was white phosphorus artillery shells that hit the compound. Phosphorus, as you said, when you pour water on it, the fire just gets worse. The only way to try to put out the fire is to smother it with sand or some other compound. But this idea that they're using white phosphorus shells which will burn anything short of metal and will give extraordinary burns to human beings, all the way down to the bone, any idea why they're using white phosphorus shells in an area like that?
GING: No, that's the question which you might need to put to them. That's the question that you need to course through them. I'm now here at the receiving end.
It looks likes phosphorus. It smells like phosphorus, and it's burning like phosphorus. That's all I can -- that's all I can say. That's why I'm calling it phosphorus.
We're trying to deal with this. Our whole transport compound is on fire and now that's in danger of spreading into the warehouse with all the food and medicine, thousands of tons of food and medicine.
This is a hub of the whole operation, the whole United Nations operation here in Gaza. This is the hub. This is where it all comes to, gets distributed from.
GING: We were hugely fortunate this morning that the tankers of fuel, thousands upon thousands, hundreds of thousands bases (ph) of fuel ready to be deployed but they didn't go up at the same time. We have warned the Israelis hour by hour through the night of the vulnerabilities here as the shells came closer and closer and shrapnel was coming into the compound on a regular occasion and nonetheless, we have now been subjected to these direct hits.
ROBERTS: All right. Well, boy, don't know what you can do if you can't even get the emergency equipment there. Best of luck to you, John. We'll keep on following the story this morning.
GING: Thanks a lot.
#From the Thursday, January 15, American Morning on CNN:
KIRAN CHETRY, DURING 7:00 A.M. HOUR: All right, we're coming up on a minute before the top of the hour. And thick black smoke is blanketing Gaza City. It's coming from an inferno at a United Nations relief compound. One U.N. official telling CNN that it was hit with white phosphorus artillery shells. International law forbids using them in densely populated civilian areas. A U.N. spokesman says 700 Palestinians were taking shelter there. Hundreds more could be affected as food and fuel and medicine is burning inside.
#From the Thursday, January 15, American Morning on CNN:
ROBERTS, DURING 8:00 A.M. HOUR: New pictures to bring you this morning, looking live at Gaza City. This is the United Nations relief and works compound. We had John Ging, who's the director of the relief agency in Gaza, on a little while ago. Apparently what had happened was two or three Israeli artillery shells fell on that compound. According to John Ging, those shells were loaded with phosphorus, which is highly incendiary, it burns in the presence of air. The only way to put it out ---- you can't put it out with water, that actually makes the fire worse. The only way to put it out is to smother it. Because of all the fighting go on in the area, emergency crews can't et get to that compound.
A couple of people who were hurt in that attack, which the defense minister on the Israeli side quoted grave mistake. At this point, we don't know the extent of the damage. It was confined to buildings but John Ging was worried that it was going to spread to the warehouse where a lot of relief supplies, particularly medicines are being stored. A very grave situation unfolding in Gaza City. You can see just pillars of thick black smoke billowing out of the United Nations relief and works compound after it was hit by Israeli artillery shells, allegedly containing white phosphorous.
#From the Monday, January 12, Anderson Cooper 360 on CNN:
COOPER: Now to breaking news in the Middle East, where Israeli forces have tightened their hold on Gaza. It's already Tuesday morning there. We're getting reports of more explosions and artillery fire.
Nic Robertson is in the border.
Nic, what are you seeing and hearing?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, over this shoulder, I can hear machine gun fire, over this shoulder, heavy thumps of artillery landing.
We have had barrages of artillery fire that at moments have been sort of continuous, rolling barrages and the heavy crump and thump of artillery behind me at the north end of the Gaza Strip, also, tanks moving into -- tanks moving into -- into the Gaza City.
We understand that those tanks have been moving in on the sort of southeast and the northwest side of Gaza -- Gaza City -- also, accusations today that Israel has been using white phosphorous shells, increasing the human suffering inside Gaza.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): In Gaza, doctors show patients with what they describe as burns from phosphorous shells fired by Israeli forces.
"This has spread on the bodies of the injured, creating burns of varying degrees," the doctor explains.
Israeli officials don't specifically deny using white phosphorous, but insist:
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The IDF is using its munition with accordance to the international law.
ROBERTSON: Day by day, civilian suffering in Gaza worsens, which, despite leaflet drops and phone warnings, Israel seems incapable of stopping.
MARK REGEV, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON: People can move temporarily out of combat areas.
ROBERTSON (on camera): To where?
REGEV: (INAUDIBLE) Gaza Strip.
ROBERTSON: And you're providing them these safe locations?
REGEV: I think they know. I mean, the people of Gaza know better than most where Hamas keeps their military installations.
ROBERTSON: But, if they did, then all these civilians wouldn't be killed.
REGEV: I think, also, you have got to be careful with the numbers.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): Without offering evidence, Israel says Hamas is killing political opponents, and they account for 10 percent of the dead.
According to Palestinian medical sources, more than 900 people have been killed so far, almost 300 of them children and close to 100 women.
ISMAIL HANIYEH, HAMAS PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I say to our people that, by God, we're closer to victory than ever. This precious blood will not be wasted for nothing. By God, we will make victory, with God's permission.
ROBERTSON: Israel's prime minister has said his country is nearing its goal of stopping Hamas attacks. But the conflict shows no signs of letting up, in Israel, more Hamas rocket attacks, not as many as this time last week, here causing four casualties.
(on camera): This rocket struck barely an hour into a cease-fire agreed for humanitarian relief. It reinforces the emerging reality that, even once a permanent cease-fire is agreed, Hamas will almost certainly retain the ability to shoot rockets when it chooses.
(voice-over): Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is hinting, cease- fire talks in Cairo could conclude in days.
TZIPI LIVNI, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: This is something that depends not only on Israel.
ROBERTSON (on camera): Are you playing for time to get a bigger military effect on the ground?
LIVNI: We are working simultaneously. And we need to have our decisions in the next few days.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): She also indicated, the deal may come before Israel has put Hamas' rockets completely beyond use.
(on camera): And if they were to fire one rocket after the understanding?
LIVNI: Israel, we changed the equation. We are not going to stand any one -- even one rocket.
ROBERTSON (voice-over): If Israel is preparing for a cease-fire, knowing Hamas can still shoot rockets, it will be stopping short of its stated goal when operations began, which was to put an absolute end to Hamas rockets, not a Band-Aid, a permanent cease-fire.
COOPER: Nic joins us again live.
Nic, just on the white phosphorous charges, a military is allowed to use white phosphorous on the battlefield for illumination purposes, not against individuals. Is that -- is that correct? Am I wrong?
ROBERTSON: No, that's absolutely correct.
And that's what Israeli officials are saying. They're saying, we have got the same ammunitions in our weaponry that, for example, NATO forces, U.S. forces have.
And we know that, for example, in the Fallujah operation in Iraq in 2004, U.S. troops used white phosphorous for illumination. It's when it falls to the ground, before it fully burns out, that it causes these types of casualties -- Anderson.