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Hospital Hit By Shelling In Gaza; Death Of More Than 17 Soldiers; Kerry Departs From Middle East; Israeli Troops Targeting Hamas Militants Inside The Country; President Obama Steps Up Call For End To Bloodshed; Priority Number One To Find Tunnels; Kerry Goes to Egypt; Putin's Responsibility; Interview With Rep. Adam Schiff

Aired July 21, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Right now, we're watching two major stories in Gaza and in Israel. More shelling, more death as the world pushes harder for a path to a cease-fire.

And right now, in Ukraine, investigators finally gain access to the wreckage from the Malaysian Air Flight 17 but fury towards Russia continues to grow and President Obama is asking what separatists are, quote, "trying to hide."

Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Jerusalem. I'd like to welcome our viewers from the United States and around the world.

We're following breaking news. The Israel defense forces has just announced the deaths of seven more Israeli soldiers. That brings the total to 25, 25 Israeli soldiers who have been killed over the past few days. Thirty Israeli soldiers were wounded today. Three of them, the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, says critically. More than 500 Palestinians have been killed over these past several days, most of them civilians.

Earlier today, President Obama stepped up his call for an end to the bloodshed in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. In a statement less than two hours ago, President Obama, again, supported Israel's right to protect its people, but he sounded the alarm over the growing number of civilian deaths.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Secretary Kerry has departed for the Middle East. As I've said many times, Israel has the right to defend itself against rocket and tunnel attacks from Hamas. And as a result of its operations, Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas' terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.

I've also said, however, that we have serious concerns about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives. And that is why it now has to be our focus and the focus of the international community to bring about a cease-fire that ends the fighting and that can stop the deaths of innocent civilians, both in Gaza and in Israel.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Meantime, on the ground, here, Israeli troops have been targeting Hamas militants inside the country, inside Israel while Palestinians say Israel shelled a hospital in Gaza.

Here are some of the latest developments we're following. The Israeli military says it killed more than 10 militants who infiltrated the country through those tunnels from Gaza into Israel. The Israel defense forces says that this video shows the Hamas militants and the strike that killed them. Watch.

In Gaza, the health ministry says five people died in an Israeli strike on a hospital there. A doctor appealed to other hospitals for help. He says the operating room is now inoperable.

Israel says it's looking into claims by Hamas that it captured an Israeli soldier. Israel's ambassador to the United Nations initially disputed the claim.

And as we heard from President Obama, the secretary of state, John Kerry, arrives in the region today. He's traveling first to Cairo to push for a cease-fire. And while the violence rages on, the death toll rises. Officials in Gaza say at least, at least 515 Palestinians have been killed. The death toll for Israelis now stands at 27, two Israeli civilians and 25 Israeli soldiers dead.

We're covering all sides of the conflict with our correspondents in Israel and in Gaza. Atika Shubert is in Israel. She's right near the border with Gaza. Ben Wedeman is in Gaza City. Ben, let me start with you. What can you tell us, first of all, about that Gaza hospital attack? That hospital had been shelled.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that hospital, Wolf, is in Delibera which is south of here, hit in the afternoon by some sort of projectile. Not clear, at this point, what it is. But, as you mentioned, five people were killed in that strike, including one patient -- hard explosion to my left, and four people who were visiting relatives in that hospital.

Now, what's significant is that Delebera is where the Israeli military told people to go for safety in these recorded messages they've been sending out. Those were -- messages were received by the residents of the Muhasi (ph) and Brage refugee camps, which are to the east of their, closer to the Israeli border. Those people, many of them, have moved to Delebera. And that is where this strike took place. So, this seems to be repeating a pattern. We've seen people go from one area of Gaza to another for safety and don't find it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, Ben, President Obama, he expressed concern about the rising civilian death toll in Gaza. Israel accuses Hamas, as you know, of putting civilians in harm's way. Palestinians paint a very, very different picture. What are they saying to you?

WEDEMAN: Well, there's some Palestinians who will say that Hamas, in fact, does operate in areas where there are civilians and there's a certain amount of resentment about that among some. On the other hand, there is growing resentment, profound resentment, and anger at the death toll.

Yesterday, by some estimates, it's more than 100 because many people believe they still haven't been able to dig the dead out from the neighborhoods like Shujeia (ph), which were -- I saw by myself -- with my own eyes, severely damaged by this Israeli shelling. And keep in mind, Wolf, of course, this is not a conflict that began earlier this month with rocket fire from Gaza and Israel responding. This is a conflict that goes back 100 years.

And for Palestinians, they still plan to go back to their homeland. They still look across the border at towns like Ashkelon and Ashdod and remember the days when their grandparents lived there. And, therefore, they see what's going on, the conflict, the death, the destruction, as really part of that very long conflict -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's been long -- way too long that this conflict has been going on. Ben Wedeman, be careful over there.

Meanwhile, Israel has vowed that Hamas will emerge from this conflict substantially weakened. President Obama says Israel has already done significant damage to Hamas capabilities and is pushing for a cease- fire.

Atika Shubert is joining us. She is along the Israeli-Gaza border, on the Israeli side. Are there any signs over there that the prime minister, based on everything you're hearing and seeing, as far as troop movements, are concerned that Israel is getting ready for some sort of cease-fire and withdrawal of its troops from Gaza, Atika?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, we haven't seen anything like that. And to be perfectly honest with you, it seems to be ramping up. We've been hearing artillery rounds throughout the day. We just saw fighter jets going by. And so, if anything, it seems like the Israeli troops are going in even harder. They -- we have already -- just confirmed with the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, that seven soldiers were killed today. And we understand that four of them were killed in an incursion into Israel with Hamas militants actually able to tunnel inside. So, with that tunnel network still being used in this way, it seems that, for now, Israeli forces are going to continue with this operation and perhaps even escalate it inside Gaza.

BLITZER: That -- those tunnels, the Israelis say that's priority number one, because they've actually done a pretty good job deterring or dealing with the missiles and the rockets coming in, thanks to that iron dome anti-missile system. But if these tunnels emerge and there are openings from Gaza into Israel, the Israelis are deeply worried that Hamas militants will go through those tunnels, come into Israel and kill Israelis. So, do you have any sense of how many of those tunnels have already been destroyed and how many more may be out there, Atika? What are you hearing?

SHUBERT: There could be dozens more out there. They've detected at least 13. My understanding is another five have very recently been detected as well. And we've been hearing explosions, frankly, that sound like they've been collapsing a number of these tunnels. But there's still an extraordinary threat because what the IDF is describing is, essentially, an underground city where you have these massive tunnels and then branching out into numerous areas.

I went to Kibutz near Olm (ph) today where the infiltration occurred, literally just a few hundred meters away from the perimeter fence. So, it is a significant threat. They say they're uncovering a lot of these tunnels but the fact is we don't know how many exactly there are out there. And these tunnels have been used very effectively to pop up behind Israeli lines and ambush Israeli troops. And this is where a lot of the casualties on the Israeli side are coming from.

BLITZER: Just be careful over there. Don't go too close to that border. Those tunnels are potentially very, very deadly. Atika Shubert. Be careful. She's on the front lines for us along the border between Israel and Gaza.

Let's get to another major story we're following right now. We'll have more on Israel and Gaza later. But we're also following the downing of that Malaysian jetliner in eastern Ukraine. Just in the last few hours, Dutch investigators arrived at the scene of the crash, a scene many are still describing as chaotic. That team has begun conducting DNA tests to help identify victims. The pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine who control that area claim they're giving international monitors free access to the crash site. They also have released the refrigerated train cars holding some 200 bodies and will allow them to travel to a central part of Ukraine.

But now, new fighting has broken out in the nearby Donetsk area and many of the rebels have actually left the crash site to join in those battles. The secretary of state, of the United States, John Kerry, says there's no shortage of evidence showing the crash is the work of pro-Russian rebels. And he's calling for what he says is a moment of truth for Russia.

President Obama also spoke on the situation in Ukraine a little while ago on the south lawn of the White House. Building on what secretary Kerry said the president called out the rebels and how they've handled this crash site.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Unfortunately, the Russian-backed separatists who control the area continue to block the investigation. They've repeatedly prevented international investigators from gaining full access to the wreckage. As investigators approached, they fired their weapons into the air. These separatists are removing evidence from the crash site. All of which begs the question, what exactly are they trying to hide?


BLITZER: Let's go to our Phil Black. He's now in Donetsk where the new fighting has broken out. Phil, so what happened in the last hour or two? What have you seen because, clearly, it's escalating?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there has been some renewed violence on the outskirts of Donetsk, the regional capital here of this territory that is held by these pro-Russian separatists. And that is significant because it is the gateway to any sort of increased effort to get in there and get the resources and people necessary to investigate that crash site which is only about an hour from where I'm standing.

I think the key development today, Wolf, is the one that you touched on. The fact that the separatist rebels here have agreed to allow the bodies they have collected to be transported from here. They're being kept in refrigerated rail cars. They have now left and are heading north to the northeast city of Kharkiv. It is a region of Ukraine close to the Russian border. But it has not been caught up in this separatist and pro-Russian movement that has so destabilized the southern region of the country. And from there, they're going to be loaded onto a Dutch aircraft, flown back to the Netherlands, and that is where that process, that important delicate process, of identifying these bodies, will take place. It's where they will be processed, DNA samples taken and compared. And it is from there that they will be flown back to the various countries of origin around the world to be reunited with their families.

Another key development that has been announced by the Malaysian prime minister who says that his country has been in close negotiations with the separatist forces who control this territory and, of course, control that crash site. He says that a deal has been reached for the black boxes, those very important voice and data recorders from the cockpit of MH-17, to be handed over to Malaysian officials. And from there, they will be taken somewhere else to be analyzed. So, an evening of significant progress. That train, with some 200 bodies almost, heading north to a city beyond the control of the separatists. And in a few hours' time, we expect that handover of the black boxes to take place as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Black, what worries me is that whole area, especially where -- around where you are in Donetsk but also where that crash site is, there are a lot of armed men all over the place. The violence escalating. I'm worried about those international teams coming in, including a lot of international journalists, including our own journalists on the scene. I hope everyone, everyone, is safe. Phil, you're doing an excellent job for all of us. For our viewers in the United States and around the world. Be careful other there as well.

Still ahead, much more news. President Obama demands that the Russian President Putin use his influence with the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine to let in plane crash investigators. We're going to talk about that with the Republican Congressman, Ed Rice. He's chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

But first, the secretary of state, John Kerry, he's now racing here to the Middle East to try to stop the killing in Gaza and Israel. Democratic Congressman, Adam Shift, of the House Intelligence Committee, he's standing by as well.


BLITZER: More than 500 people have died in Gaza and Israel. More than 500 on Gaza alone. Twenty-seven Israeli soldiers and civilians are now confirmed dead. Thousands of people have been wounded in this latest round of fighting between Hamas and Israel. The vast majority of the casualties have been Palestinians.

Secretary of State John Kerry has now gone to Egypt, should be arriving very soon, with the goal of trying to broker an immediate cease-fire. Democratic Congressman Adam Ship of California is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: So you're privy to a lot of information we're not necessarily privy to. Is that really realistic in the next few days, a workable cease-fire can be in place?

SCHIFF: Well, it's certainly possible and I wish the secretary luck on his trip. It's going to be tough. Wolf, as you know, Egypt, which has traditionally brokered a cease-fire in a situation like this, a fight with Hamas, doesn't have the leverage it used to since it's been fighting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hamas is part of the Muslim Brotherhood. But other nation, Qatar, Turkey, may have more influence. And if the secretary can get some of those regional allies to pressure Hamas into accepting a cease-fire, that's the only way I can see this ending because as long as those rockets are coming, Israel's going to defend itself. As long as those tunnels are open and people are trying to infiltrate, Israel is going to do what it needs to protect its citizens.

BLITZER: Because the president, once again, repeated today, he said it the other day as well, President Obama, he said he would like to see a cease-fire -- the cease-fire that occurred the last time Israel and Hamas fought at the end of 2012, November 2012, he'd like to see that recreated. That would mean an immediate Israeli withdrawal of all of its forces and thousands of Israeli troops are now inside Gaza dealing with these tunnels, these rocket launchers and other military hardware. That would mean an immediate Israeli withdrawal. Some Israelis have said to me, they want to do away with all these tunnels first, then they might be ready to withdraw. How much of a problem is that going to be if they haven't completed the destruction of these tunnels that go from Gaza into Israel?

SCHIFF: Well, it's certainly going to add to the challenge of bringing about a cease-fire. But as you saw, Wolf, Israel was willing to accept a cease-fire earlier. I think they'd still like to have a cease-fire. It may not be possible, frankly, to stay until all the tunnels are destroyed because it takes time to even find the tunnels and many of them have multiple entrances and exits. And, of course, the casualties on the Israeli side are also mounting.

So I think a cease-fire is possible. And I think Israel would like a cease-fire. Whether the timing is right yet for a cease-fire to be accomplished, I don't know. But I certainly think it was worthwhile for the president to dispatch our secretary of state to see if he can help bring that about. BLITZER: I don't know if you know anything about this, but our colleague - our CNN contributor, Josh Rogin of "The Daily Beast," is reporting that U.N. officials in Gaza, UNRWA officials I presume, the United Nations Relief Work Agency that deals with Palestinian refugees, they found some rockets inside a U.N. school. Instead of destroying them, they actually handed them over to a police force established by Hamas. Have you heard anything along those lines?

SCHIFF: I haven't heard about the handing over of these rockets back to Hamas, but I have certainly seen many reports that Hamas has hidden these rockets in U.N. facilities, in schools, near hospitals, using basically humid shields. And, you know, some people say, well, Gaza is small, and they're going to be civilians around wherever Hamas operates. That may be true, but Hamas has fully aggravated the situation by using these sites to hide its munitions, to hide some of its militants, and that is, in part, responsible for this heavy civilian casualty count.

BLITZER: Do you see any possibility that the Palestinian Authority leadership of President Mahmoud Abbas, who's basically secured the West Bank, he's cooperated militarily with Israel, he's now involved in trying to get a cease-fire, that the P.A., the Palestinian Authority, could effectively take charge not only of the West Bank of Gaza, and push Hamas aside? Is that at all realistic, congressman?

SCHIFF: I don't think it's probably realistic during this fight unless the fight became very, very prolonged. It certainly is possible when this fight is other. I think the people in Gaza are very unhappy with Hamas and Hamas has very few friends left in the world. So the conditions in Gaza are deteriorating. I think many residents of Gaza hold Hamas responsible for that, as they should. So I think that Abbas' position should be improved.

But sometime there's this perverse effect, as you know, in the region, Wolf, where Hamas gains in stature just by fighting with Israel. So, in the near term, I don't see that happening. But, hopefully, in the midterm, we can see a unified government under Fatah leadership in both territories and a resumption of some peace negotiations.

BLITZER: And hopefully, in the end, what they call a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine leaving peacefully side by side.

SCHIFF: Exactly.

BLITZER: It seems like a dream right now, but maybe they can get back to that work down the road.

Hey, congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

SCHIFF: It's the only answer. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, he's defending his country's military operation in the conflict with Hamas in Gaza. We'll have details.

Also, growing pressure on the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to help the international community investigate the crash of MH17 in Ukraine. Republican Congressman Ed Royce, he's chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, he's standing by to join us with his take.