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Loud Blasts, Fires in Tel Aviv as Mideast Violence Explodes; Rocket Fire Continues between Israel and Gaza after 13-Story Tower Collapses in Gaza Following Israeli Airstrike; Ahmaud Arbery murder Suspects Arraigned on Federal Hate Crimes; Fulton County D.A. Plans to Seek Death Penalty, Enhanced Hate Crime Charges in Atlanta Spa Shooting. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired May 11, 2021 - 14:30   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Just give us some color of life there over these last couple of days.

HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Sure. So, I'm actually in a building that was hit by a rocket earlier this morning in the early hours. And it saw several people injured, including one critically.

So we came to report from outside of this building. And throughout the day, I lost count of the number of times we've had to rush in as a result of air-ride sirens, incoming rocket attacks.

With me right now are residents. These are everyday people who live here. There's at least four children. There's a few older people. There are parents and even dogs down here.

People come down here with what's most important to them, their families, their children, their pets.

There are chairs here for people to sit. People have brought down some water, some food.

The residents here have been incredibly kind to us, offering us their water, offering us their food.

And this building actually has already sustained damage, has already been through an attack, so they have just been coming in and out of this shelter throughout the day.

The children for the most part have been staying close to the shelter. The parents asking them to stay inside.

Occasionally. when there has been a lull through the day that we have been going outside, we've been trying to report from outside. And sometimes the children and people with the dogs will go out into the streets. But the moment you hear those air raid sirens, you have seconds to get into a shelter, especially with where we are, as close as we are to Gaza.

You have just, usually they say about 15 to 30 seconds to make your way into the building, make your way into a protected place.

And right now, Israeli officials are warning people, large swaths of the country, to stay close to the protected parts of their building.

Pretty much all the buildings in Israel are required to have some sort of shelter, some sort of reinforced room where people can go into in moments like these. And they are coming into heavy use today.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hadas, Oren, stand by.

We want to go to CNN's Elliot Gotkine, in Tel Aviv.

Elliott, tell us what you're seeing on the streets there.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN REPORTER (via telephone): In my part of town, I should say that it's reasonably calm. Although, the sirens sounded, by my count, around about five times.

The first time was around about half past 8:00, quarter to 9:00, local time. I got my children out of bed, went down to the shelter.

We heard a number of loud booming sounds overhead. which is usually the sound of the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepting rockets.

We came back up and 30 seconds later the sirens went again. So I think they went on and off about five times.

There were several loud booms. We felt the windows in my living room shake from the kind of sound waves from the missiles being -- from the rockets being intercepted by Iron Dome.

But you know, once the sirens have stopped, I should say that things do seem to return to normal. You see cars going on the streets.

Although, you're not seeing very many people out there as most people are staying close by to their shelters in case the sirens go off again.

BLACKWELL: Elliott, we were just hearing from Oren Liebermann that his time in Israel, that to hear and see what we're seeing in Tel Aviv now is not common, if not unprecedented.

From your perspective, knowing now that the threat has been made and we're seeing the fires in Tel Aviv, the significance of now these rockets reaching that city.

GOTKINE: Well, the significance in terms of the current violence is that the IDF will see this as a major escalation. So when we saw this morning and overnight, we saw missiles -- and I

was down in Ashkelon towards the Gaza Strip, just in front of a residential building that had been struck by a rocket, that was seen as an aggressive move.

But it was seen as a degree of restraint, if you like, on the part of the -- so, yes.

CAMEROTA: Are you still with us, Elliott?

Yes. We can imagine -- yes, of course, we can imagine how difficult it is to get sound out of this, out of basements as people are hiding.

Oren, you were just listening to Elliott talk about their having to rouse his children from bed, having seek cover when they heard the, you know, windows shaking, as he described, from the incoming missiles.

Your thoughts as you listened to him?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Look, there's no doubt about it, when those red alert sirens go off, you run for cover.

But if I'm not mistaken, any new construction in Israel is required to have a bomb shelter, a reinforced shelter. I had one in my apartment in Jerusalem.

And all the homes around Gaza have those as well. That is in Israel, around Gaza.

It's a terrifying feeling to have to run to those. I've stood on the border of Gaza many times and had to run into one of the roadside bomb shelters. And they have those as well in case you're driving and the red alert sirens go off.

And they go off, they fill the air. And they are, frankly, a reminder of the fighting that can sometimes happen and the need to think about safety first.


I do want to point out that, as people are running for cover in Israel, the exact same is happening in Gaza. There are civilians and women and children there who are also running for cover as this fighting continues.

People there who don't support Hamas, don't support Islamic jihad, but need to protect themselves from ongoing fighting, just as there are Israelis who are not part of the Israeli military who are running for cover now.

This, if it doesn't end, will play out countless times over the coming hours, perhaps over the coming days. And you have to consider the possibility that will happen over the coming weeks. In the rounds of fighting that I saw in my time there, there were always, pretty quickly, U.N. and Egyptian efforts behind the scenes to try to calm things down, acting as intermediaries between Israel and between Gaza.

I would imagine those efforts are ongoing right now. But at this moment, it doesn't look like they have any chance of succeeding or finding some way to de-escalate the situation.

It is very much on the rise. And a situation that is quickly deteriorating as more powerful rockets and, therefore, more powerful airstrikes against larger targets.

BLACKWELL: All right, we have Elliott back on the line with us.

Elliott, you were talking about how the IDF would see this as an escalation now, what we're seeing in Tel Avis. I want you to pick up with that line.

But also, take a bit of what we heard from Oren there that there are other players here who are calling for calm, who are calling for de- escalation from Israel.

And the likelihood that that would be adhered to considering the planes in Tel Aviv tonight.

BLACKWELL: All right, Elliott.

So let me bring that to you, Oren.

Continue that line, the expectation that this will be, that there will be the calm that the U.S. and other places have called for after this attack in Tel Aviv.

LIEBERMANN: It's simply difficult, looking at the pictures we've seen now. Not only the pictures we're looking at this very moment of a street in a city near Tel Aviv and the fires burning there.

A bus was hit, if I'm not mistaken. An empty bus, if I'm not mistaken. But also the residential building that was destroyed in Gaza and the other targets hit there.

Having seen many rounds of fighting, it's simply difficult to see a situation now where there is a ceasefire for tonight, for example, or a ceasefire early tomorrow morning.

It's not impossible but it certainly doesn't look to be the likely situation.

Up until this point, the conventional wisdom that Prime Minister Benejamin Netanyahu doesn't want a war and that Hamas doesn't want a war. Hamas was too busy trying out how to govern Gaza, as well as manage the relationship, vis a vis, Israel.

And Netanyahu has, for years, tried to avoid a war with Hamas, a war with Gaza, because of the costs of a war and the costs of sending ground troops into Gaza.

At this point, even if that's what neither side wanted at the beginning, it looks like that's where this is headed.

In the past, if was obvious when this fighting started, the concessions that Hamas was looking for, it doesn't seem as obvious right now.

What is Hamas looking for? If Hamas if looking to make a stand against Israel, that's an indication that this fighting may continue.

Israel, if seems, feels, based on statements made by the prime minister, that it, too, has a statement that it needs to Gaza. And therefore, it doesn't look like we're about the enter just 24/48/72 hours of fighting.

But this could continue for days, perhaps weeks. It's difficult to say at this point. Even as the international community and those working behind the scenes are trying to get this, somehow, to de-escalate.

CAMEROTA: Oren, thank you very much for all of your reporting.

Our thanks also to Hadas for her reporting, as well as to Elliott, both of whom are taking shelter right now. But still on the ground, able to report for us.

We are grateful to all of you.

And, of course, Victor, we also have more breaking news stateside here.

BLACKWELL: Yes. This is coming out of Georgia. This is related to the Amaud Arbery case and federal arraignment. We will talk about this, the breaking news on the other side of the break.


Stay with us.



BLACKWELL: We continue now with the breaking news, the escalation in the back and forth of rocket fire between Israel and Gaza.

You see the pictures on the left, flames in Tel Aviv. And this comes after a 13-story tower was collapsed there in Gaza after an Israeli airstrike.

CAMEROTA: We're joined now by CNN's Ben Wedeman. He is in Jerusalem for us.

Ben, what's happening?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what you have is a real intensification of these strikes and counterstrikes between Israel and Gaza. Most recently, of course, massive barrage fired from Gaza into Tel Aviv.

There's reports of a bus being hit south of Tel Aviv in the city of Holon with three people injured, at least there.

The death toll in Gaza, the latest we've seen from this back and forth, has been 28.

What is clear is that this escalation is continuing. There doesn't seem to be any effort by either the Palestinians or the Israelis to rein in what is clearly a wave of violence that is only intensifying.

Both sides seem to be following a script that we've seen before. In 2014, I was here in Jerusalem, then in Gaza, when you had massive protests here in Jerusalem that sparked rocket fire and other attacks from Gaza that led to a very long and bloody war.


And it does appear, at this point, if you take into consideration the events of the past few days, that's where we're heading once again.

BLACKWELL: Ben, how does this compare to what we saw in 2014?

WEDEMAN: What I'm surprised by is the speed of the escalation. The escalation in 2014 went on for a matter of weeks.

What we've seen in really the last 72 hours is that, you know, protests here in Jerusalem over house evictions, over police actions, trying to restrict the access of Palestinians to the temple mount behind me.

It has quickly escalated into these attacks and counterattacks between Gaza and Israel in a way that simply was not the case in 2014. It was much more gradual.

And we don't see -- you know, we've heard the United States calling for calm.

But these calls for calm really don't seem to resonate very much at the moment with both sides taking, it appears, a very hard line at the moment. And as I said, nobody is stepping back at this point.

Of course, it's worth mentioning that, clearly, in this case, Israel has the overwhelming advantage in terms of force and resources. But it doesn't appear that that seems to have convinced the Palestinians to act otherwise.

CAMEROTA: Ben Wedeman, thank you very much for all the context and all the reporting.

Obviously, we are following this throughout the hour and the afternoon, and we will come back as soon as possible.

But we also have breaking news here, back here in the U.S. The three men, the Ahmaud Arbery suspects, have been arraigned on federal charges.

This is the first time that they have all been in-person in court and the first time that the Arbery family has come face-to-face with them.

So, we have the breaking news about what happened there as well, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we also have an update on the investigation in the prosecution of the man that authorities say is responsible for the spa shooting that we saw several months ago and the search for the death penalty there, pursuing that as well.

So we've got our reporters from Georgia. We've got details on those breaking stories coming up after the break. Stay with us.



BLACKWELL: We're following two breaking news stories out of Georgia.

The three men arraigned on federal charges in connection to the death of Ahmaud Arbery, all three men are facing federal charges for hate crimes and the attempted kidnapping of Arbery.

Also, breaking, the Fulton County district attorney has filed notice she plans to seek the death penalty and enhanced hate crime charges against Atlanta spa shooting suspect in that case.

CAMEROTA: Two big stories, the breaking news we're following.

We have luckily CNN senior legal analyst, Elie Honig. He's also a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Elie, thanks so much. We scrambled you right away.

Let's start with Ahmaud Arbery, the three suspects. Tell us about the three federal charges their facing, I assume, in addition to the federal murder charges?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. In federal court, these three defendants are charged with a federal hate crime.

What you have to prove there's that they committed murder but also that the motivation, the basis for their act there was some sort of racial animus or racial hatred.

And I think the evidence the prosecutors will be using is there was evidence some of these defendants used racial epithets at, during and at the time of the murder.

That's what the prosecutors have to prove. Essentially, murder plus the racial motive.

BLACKWELL: So, let's turn now to the other breaking news we have here. The search for -- or seeking the death penalty here in the case against Robert Aaron Long.

Is this what you would have expected in this case?

HONIG: It's always up to the prosecutor's discretion whether to seek death penalty. But there's a death penalty statute on the books in Georgia. If you're not going to seek it in a mass shooting case like this, I'm not sure when you ever would.

So if the death penalty is ever appropriate, it would be a case like this with so many victims.

Under Georgia law what prosecutors have to show here, again, is murder but also what we call an aggravating factor.

If you look at Georgia law, the aggravating factor here is committing a mass shooting, using a weapon in some sort of public place where you would put multiple people's lives in danger.

It's also important to note here, Victor, a jury will have to find two things separately. First a jury will have to decide whether this defendant, the shooter is guilty.

Then, separately, the jury will have to decide whether to impose the death penalty.

You need to be unanimous in order to impose the death penalty under Georgia law.

CAMEROTA: Elie, just to remind everybody, back to the Ahmaud Arbery case, that was February 23, 2020. We all remember he was going for a jog in a subdivision, a quiet subdivision, and he was basically chased by these guys.

And they were, now as you say, you know, charged with all of these various crimes.

Here's the picture of Ahmaud Arbery.

And then there was the video of the encounter. We've all -- obviously, video has played such an important part in what we've seen with George Floyd, et cetera, all of these cases that have piled up in terms of cell phone video and dash cam video.

What do we expect with this when this trial begins and when?

HONIG: Yes, that video is truly harrowing. I know we've all seen it.

I think you have to ask the same question we asked in the George Floyd killing, the trial of Derek Chauvin, which is: Would we even be here if not for the video? Would there even be charges in this type of public awareness if not for the video? We're in a new era now.


I think when you look at that video of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, you can see why it has been charged. You can see why it's been charged as a murder. You can see why it's been charged as a hate crime.

Because when you just look at that video, there seems to be no justification for the violence for the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

Ultimately, that will be up to juries both in the state and federally. There's two separate sets of charges here.

BLACKWELL: All right. Elie, thanks so much. As Alisyn said, scrambling to be with us as the breaking news continues to come in this afternoon.

Thanks so much.

Of course, we'll continue with the breaking news out of the Middle East. The violence in Israel, the sirens blaring, the airstrikes. We're live as the situation escalates.