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Plan Collapses As Israeli Strikes Resume; Death Toll In Gaza Reaches 194; First Israeli Killed In Fighting; Opposition Leader Backs Netanyahu Actions; Cease-Fire Gets No Traction; Hamas Fired During Cease-Fire; Israel Resumes Airstrikes
Aired July 15, 2014 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, Israel has resumed its air strikes over Gaza. A cease-fire effort fails after six hours. Right now, Hamas militants fire rockets into Israel. Is there any prospect of peace? We're going to ask experts.
And right now, in the United States, one of the hottest national debates of the summer and time is running out. Can Congress come to a compromise on the border crisis in the next week and a half? Our analysts will weigh in.
Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting today from Jerusalem. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
A proposed cease-fire falls apart. The crisis in the Middle East rages on and the stakes are clearly rising along with the death toll. We're just getting word of the first Israeli death since the start of the current conflict. Officials say an Israeli volunteer delivering food to soldiers was hit by a mortar shell.
In other developments, Israel resumed air strikes against targets in Gaza after pausing its operation for about six hours. For its part, Hamas never observed the cease-fire. The militants fired almost 50 rockets into Israel during that six-hour pause in Israeli air strikes.
The secretary of state, John Kerry, says he's willing to fly to the Middle East as early as tomorrow if needed. Kerry postponed a visit to the region to give the cease-fire time to take hold. There's no immediate word on his plans, now that the deal has effectively collapsed.
And in Gaza, the casualty counts continues to climb. Palestinian officials say 194 people have been killed. At least 1,400 have been wounded. The death toll has surpassed the number of people killed in Gaza during the 2012 conflict between Hamas and Israel.
Israeli officials warn that the cease-fire wouldn't last unless Hamas militants stopped firing rockets into Israel. They did not. And the air strikes clearly have now resumed. More than 60 of the rockets fired from Gaza have targeted Ashkelon along the southern coast of Israel, that's just north of the border of Gaza.
CNN's Diana Magnay is standing by. Diana, give us a sense of the mood where you are now that the cease-fire has collapsed. DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, today, most
residents of Ashkelon spent a considerable amount of their time ducking away as the air sirens sounded over the city. We saw numerous intercepts in the sky as the rockets kept coming.
When I talked to people and said, earlier, when we thought the cease- fire might have a chance, they said, well, we don't think it does because even if weapons and it's all quiet for now, it won't be quiet for long. But I don't think anyone really anticipated that it would be quiet for such a short time. Now, it seems back as it was before. The mayor of Ashkelon is very hard lined. He wants Benjamin Netanyahu to go in strong against Hamas to really cripple the organization, take away their arsenal of missiles because this, along with other towns in the south, is a town that constantly comes under a barrage of missile fire.
And people said to me, as the sirens sounded, as they ran for cover, you know, we just can't live like this. We can't operate on a normal basis like this. We feel for the people in Gaza. There has to be some solution. But we can't continue our lives like this. We must be able to ask of our government a way out of this kind of bombardment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Diana, we'll check back with you. Diana Magnay, she's in Ashkelon, down in southern Israel near Gaza.
The death toll in Gaza clearly getting closer and closer to 200. The number of injured is at least 1,400. And the collapse of the cease- fire increases the chances of many more civilian casualties.
Our Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman is joining us from Gaza City. So, how bad is the situation there, Ben, right now?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we've heard a lot of outgoing fire and return fire from the Israelis this evening, Wolf. So, it does look like an escalation is on the way which is a great disappoint machine for many people here in Gaza, who last night had hoped that there would be a cessation of hostilities.
But we were up in the northern part of Gaza, as we watched more and more rockets being fired during that brief period from about 9:00 a.m. when that Egyptian proposed cease-fire was supposed to go into effect until 3:00 p.m., when Israel said, enough was enough, and they started to respond. And we saw spirits dropping steadily as the day went on. There were, really, people hoping they could go back to their homes, keeping in mind at least 17,000 Gazans have fled the northern part of the strip, living in around 20 U.N. schools or with relatives. So, it does look like there are darker days ahead here in Gaza -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You're a real expert on the region, Ben. Give us a sense, is there a real unanimity, if you will, within Hamas or is there disagreement, shall we say, between the political wing and the military wing?
WEDEMAN: Well, what we saw last night, Wolf, was the military wing coming out pretty quickly and saying that this is a nonstarter, the Egyptian proposal. The political wing saying, well, we can consider it; we can talk about it. But I think both sides in this case, the political and the military wing, look at the situation in Gaza prior to this escalation as untenable. Egypt had cut the border with Gaza, destroyed all the tunnels, thereby depriving the government here, the Hamas government, of huge tax revenues they were reaping off of the tunnel traffic.
Gaza and -- for instance, it's been months, Wolf, since people have been paid, the employees of the Hamas-led government. So, they see this crisis, which is very dangerous for them, as, essentially, the only way out, at this point. And, of course, what could happen is the Israelis could really come in with a ground invasion, reap utter destruction here, and then the people of Gaza may, in fact, turn on Hamas in anger that they launched -- they've been engaging in the launching of these rockets into Israel. Nothing has been gained and so much has been lost. So, it's a real high-stakes game that Hamas is playing and it could end up the loser -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ben Wedeman in Gaza for us. Ben, thanks very much.
The opposition leader in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, says he supported the cease-fire effort with Hamas. Isaac Herzog says Israel must do more to find a long-term solution to stop the overall cycle of violence. But he applauds the action taken by Prime Minister Netanyahu in the current crisis.
ISAAC HERZOG, OPPOSITION LEADER, ISRAEL: Despite the fact that I'm the opposition leader, first and foremost, I must say, Benjamin Netanyahu has taken the right decision. I think he was very restrained, very cautious, very focused, and we gave him full backing for all the steps, including the decision to accept the cease-fire that the Egyptians offered today.
BLITZER (on camera): Because there are some Israelis on the left, and your labor party's on the left, who said six hours was not enough. They should have given them 12 hours, 24 hours. What would have been the problem if they would have given Hamas more time to come around and accept a cease-fire?
HERZOG: I'm -- look, I'm the leader of the peace camp in Israel. I definitely believe in going forward boldly to peace with the Abu Mazin, with the Palestinian authority. However, the bad guys in this story are Hamas.
BLITZER (live): I'm going to have more of my interview with Isaac Herzog later this hour. Stand by for that.
In the meantime, with a cease-fire now in the wind, what happens next? Joining us from London, our Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour. So, Christiane, you and I, we've covered this region a long time. Hamas, what do they achieve by rejecting that cease-fire? CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it
didn't really look like much of a cease-fire to begin with. Almost immediately, it was rejected by the military wing. I mean, there were no real long talks. We suddenly heard that there was some proposal from Egypt but no indication of any kind of details.
And right now, where you are, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been speaking and according to initial tweets that are coming out, explicitly according to tweets coming out, indicating a broader IDF, Israeli Defense Force, move against Gaza imminently.
So, we don't know, does that mean the dreaded ground offensive? You know, the last time we cover that was in Operation Cause led back in 2009. And, you know, of course, it brings a whole other level of destruction and death to all sides. So, this is a very depressingly familiar cycle that we've been covering for many, many years, and it just keeps going on. And each time it's been stopped with a cessation of hostilities or a so-called cease-fire, it's simply a holding pattern for the next time. And that's what we're witnessing right now.
BLITZER: Secretary Kerry was considering going to Egypt to get directly involved, but he's postponed that visit. What can the U.S. do right now to bring about some sort of cease-fire?
AMANPOUR: Well, you know what? A lot of people will have a lot of differing opinions on this. I know, within the United States administration, since president first came to power, there was a reluctance to get involved in this of all crises, because it had bedeviled so many successive administrations. And the idea that we heard coming out of the White House is if we cannot be sure that we can engineer a peace process or mediate a peace deal, then why should we get involved?
Well, now, we've seen secretary of state Kerry spend many months trying to get involved after a lot of sitting on the sidelines by the administration. And a very short time period, a nine-month time period, put in place. And when that collapsed, everybody went back to Washington. And there's been a lot of criticism by the peace camp in Israel. We spoke to a leading commentator, Ari Shavit who, as you know very well, is extremely well respected on all sides. And he says the United States cannot afford and we, in the region, cannot afford for the U.S. to be staying out of this.
So, will secretary of state Kerry re-launch his potential mediation bid? We don't know. I'm going to be talking in a short while to the former Israeli Mossad chief, Efraim Halevy. And he has an incredibly interesting take, saying that Israel cannot, in fact, afford to annihilate Hamas in Gaza because the option, the -- Hamas, he says, is the least worst option. Otherwise, he fears there could be an ISIS- type group taking over there. And he points out that, in the past, Hamas has fought those kinds of groups.
So, look, it's a very complex situation that there is no easy answer to unless the leaders on both sides are willing to take, as they say, those very hard choices for peace. And so far, they haven't been willing.
BLITZER: We'll look forward to that interview with Efraim Halevy, the former leader, former head of the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, coming up on your program. Christiane, thanks, very, very much.
Coming up next, right here, we'll have the story from Gaza and the question, who is really in charge of Hamas? I'll speak with the former adviser to the Palestinian authority.
And later, an Israeli ground invasion even more likely right now. The former Israeli ambassador to the United States will join us.
BLITZER: The death toll in Gaza has now topped the toll from the 2012 conflict between Israel and Hamas. Also some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, have also been injured in the Israeli air strikes. Joining us now from Washington is Khaled Elgindy. He's a fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, a former adviser to the Palestinian Authority.
I've been trying to get an answer from a lot of experts. You're an expert, Khaled. Why would Hamas reject this cease-fire?
KHALED ELGINDY, CTR. FOR MIDDLE EAST POLICY, BROOKINGS INST.: Well, I think two things. First, the content. And, second, maybe even more importantly, the way it was presented. The content basically ignored all of Hamas' key demands and simply reiterated everything that was in the previous cease-fire from two years ago.
And the process really, you know, Hamas has made a big point about emphasizing that they only learned about the cease-fire through the news media, like everyone else, and that they were not consulted in this process. And I think they very much feel slighted.
BLITZER: Is there any hope that they may reconsider and that the Israelis would undertake once again a pause after -- because right now it's pretty brutal, as you well know.
ELGINDY: It is. I mean I think - I think it is possible. I think there's - it's safe to say there's a fair amount of posturing by all sides, including Hamas. I think they, you know, are clearly hoping for better terms. They're hoping to be taken more seriously, to be contacted and consulted directly. But ultimately I think the threat of a ground invasion I think really raises the stakes for everyone, including Israel, including Hamas, including even the Egyptians who will have to worry at some point about Egyptian public opinion.
BLITZER: Last night I interviewed a spokesman for Hamas, Osama Hamdin (ph), in Beirut and he called it a joke, this Egyptian proposed cease- fire. But the Palestinian authority chief peace negotiator, Saeed Erekat (ph), a man you know well, he welcomed it. He thought it was a right -- the right step in this overall process. Is there a real split now between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority? ELGINDY: Well, as you know, there's been a seven-year split. And they
have only just, in recent weeks, begun to start to undo the damage from that division. It was very early in the process of the - you know, the unity government had just been created when we had this crisis in the West Bank and in Jerusalem and now in Gaza. So the - you know, the ink is barely dry from the Palestinian reconsolidation agreement. So it is under a lot of pressure. It's not surprising that Hamas and Fatah see things very different.
BLITZER: Because the Egyptians, I'm told, are very, very angry at Hamas for rejecting their proposal. How's that going to play out, the relationship between Hamas and Egypt? \
ELGINDY: Well, the relationship was not good to begin with. For the past year, Hamas has been on the receiving end of immense pressure by the new regime in Egypt since the Brotherhood president was overthrown a year ago. And - so there's no love lost and trust is at an all-time low. So -- but the problem is that the Egyptians are an absolutely essential part of this process. And so there's no way around that. The Hamas political leadership would like to bring in other intilockiters (ph) like the Turks and the Qataris, who they feel are more sympathetic to their cause, and they may have a role. But at the end of the day, there will have to be some accommodation with Egypt.
BLITZER: Khaled Elgindy joining us from Washington. Thanks, Khaled, very much for your expertise.
Up next, we'll have much more on the Middle East, including expectations from Israel and the U.S. role in the peace process.
And as the immigration crisis along the U.S. border with Mexico heats up, deportations begin. We'll have the latest on that as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): (INAUDIBLE) tries to hit Israeli citizens, Israel will hit them. When there's no cease-fire, our response will be fire. In this operation, there are several fronts. The military, the political and the front itself. We are in parallel working on all these fronts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That was the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking just moments ago here in Israel. The cease-fire really never got off the ground. Lasted only six hours. It was really a unilateral cease-fire. The Israelis stopped their air strikes. Hamas didn't. Now that cease-fire, whatever it was, is clearly over. Let's get some analyst. Joining us now, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. He's a CNN Middle East analyst.
Thanks very much for joining us. You know, a lot of people are wondering, was there ever any real hope that that cease-fire would get off the ground? Did you really anticipate that the fighting would stop?
MICHAEL OREN, CNN MIDEAST ANALYST: I personally, Wolf, no. Hamas is backed into a corner. It's got no friends in the region. Militarily, it's proven very ineffective in causing significant damage against the Israelis. It's interrupted life here but it hasn't destroyed Israeli cities. No backing from the Egyptians, no backing from the Saudis and economically bankrupt.
BLITZER: So is Israel going to go in on the ground into Gaza?
OREN: Well, we have the foreign minister today, Avigdor Lieberman, calling not just for a limited ground operation but for a major ground operation.
BLITZER: Well, he's a real hard-liner. He voted against the cease-fire in the Israeli security cabinet.
OREN: He did. And the prime minister, Netanyahu, came under tremendous criticism from his own party, as well as from other right-wing members of his coalition, for agreeing to that cease-fire. He paid a political price. But there was just an interesting poll on Israeli television that showed that while more than half of Israelis are in favor of Netanyahu's handling of this crisis so far, that same more than half of the population is against accepting the cease-fire.
BLITZER: So where do we go from here? I mean it looks pretty awful.
OREN: It looks like, if Hamas doesn't back down, that this could escalate further. But the hope, and if you want to hear some hope is, that Hamas is playing for time. Hamas wants to have some type of achievement to claim after this round of fighting. It wants to have prisoners released that Israel arrested on the West Bank. It wants to have the crossers - the cross points opened on the Israeli-Gaza border, the Egyptian-Gaza border, some lifting of Israel's maritime blockade. Something to show for its efforts. Right now, neither the Egyptians, nor the Israelis are poised to give into those demands.
BLITZER: The Egyptian proposals on all of those issues could have been discussed down the road. In Cairo, they invited a high-level Israeli delegation to come, a high level Hamas delegation to come. But Hamas was saying, you know what, before you have those discussions, before the end of the fighting going on back and forth, you got to accept several of those initiatives.
OREN: Well, Hamas is playing a game that you play in the, we're not far from the Jerusalem outdoor market here. It's kind of a bargaining in the market. Hamas knows that once it goes into those negotiation, it's going to be sitting opposite the Egyptians, the Israelis and the Palestinian Authorities and maybe even the Americas. No friends of Hamas in that room. So the chances of their achieving significant successes in that room are very, very minimal. So they're holding out. They continue to fire. I think as Israeli pressure continues to mount on Hamas, maybe we'll have some greater willingness of Hamas to negotiate.
BLITZER: You're back in Israel now. You spent the last few years in Washington as the Israeli ambassador to the United States. Some disturbing reports coming out, Israeli police on extremism among Israeli Jews. And we saw some real brutality against the young Palestinian, Palestinian young, Palestinian cousin. What's going on here in Israel? Explain some of this extremism because it's really, really ugly.
OREN: It is indeed ugly. And what has occurred here is years of terrorist rocket fire. We're in Jerusalem here. Right below us there were two major bus bombings during what the Palestinians called the second intefadeh (ph), less than a decade ago. All of this has had a continuing corrosive effect on Israeli society. People just get fed up and become more radicalized. And --
BLITZER: But the way that police report described the brutality in killing the young Palestinian. They waited, they waited, searched for that young kid, and then brutally killed him. I mean, it was really chilling if you read that report.
OREN: Indeed, but the three Israelis who have been accused of this have a long history of violence. One them has been declaring legal insanity. I don't think they're representative of Israeli society, but I do think that there is a sense here that we've put up with years and years of rocket fire, terrorist attacks. Israel had offered the Palestinians an independent state twice. They -- Israel withdrew from Palestinian areas and just got thousands of rockets in between. That has an impact on Israeli public opinion.
BLITZER: Yes, but there's no excuse for that kind of brutality.
OREN: Absolutely none whatsoever. And I don't think that those three people were arrested there. These are people with serious mental problems.
BLITZER: But there are other, you hear death to Arabs, those chants. You hear that when you're walking around.
OREN: I do.
BLITZER: You see signs. I've been here a few days. I've seen it. It's pretty chilling.
OREN: Well, I think you're seeing it now in the opposition to the cease-fire. People aren't willing to go back to the status quo ante. The status quo that existed after the previous cease-fire which enabled Hamas just to build up its rocket arsenal, to get bigger rockets, more long-range rockets. And then to choose a time when it can open fire, because that's what Hamas did, it's a little like North Korea. They were -- Hamas was having trouble paying its salaries of its own personnel, so they opened fire on Israel in order to get a little bit more legitimacy. No one wants to go back there. People become very skeptical here, Wolf, and that's what you're seeing, this skepticism.
BLITZER: Michael Oren, thanks very much for joining us.
OREN: Good to be with you. BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have a lot more on what's going on. That cease-fire didn't exactly turn out the way it was supposed to turn out. Much more of our coverage right after this.