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Israel Finds Tunnels in Gaza; Nabil Shaath Talks Israel Attacking Gaza Tunnels; Daniel Ayalon Defends Israeli Actions; Pro- Russian Rebels Hand Over MH17 Bodies, Flight Recorders.

Aired July 22, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: The Israeli military says it's battling a growing threat from underground, nicknamed Lower Gaza. So far, 23 tunnels have been found running from Gaza into Israel.

CNN's Martin Savidge has a closer look.



MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The same thing that has challenged and slowed Israeli soldiers in Gaza is now spilling the war out of Gaza into Israel -- tunnels. Early Monday, Israel defense forces say two terrorist squads of Hamas militants used tunnels to infiltrate Israel, possibly intended to launch an attack on civilians.

This as Israeli military video is said to show five of those Hamas fighters, first crouching in the brush, then firing on nearby Israeli soldiers. At one point, one of the men can be seen reloading. Then, as the Israelis returned fire, the militants appeared to retreat back to their tunnel when an Israeli air strike hits. The incident forced area roads to close, residents to shelter in their homes, and tied up security forces for hours. The military says 10 Hamas militants were killed and a number of Israeli soldiers wounded.

Inside Gaza, the IDF says a well-organized and deeply entrenched network of tunnels has hampered Israeli movement, allowing militants to pop up unexpectedly, firing on soldiers or tossing grenades before dropping back out of sight.

Israeli military officials refer to the underground works as Lower Gaza and suggest some of the war is being waged underground. Engineers methodically work to destroy them using heavy earth-moving equipment or explosives.


SAVIDGE: Israel believes there are many more tunnels yet to be found. And as soldiers battle through Gaza streets, another danger lurks just beneath their feet.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Jerusalem. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us from West Bank, Ramallah, specifically, the former Palestinian foreign minister, Nabil Shaath.

Nabil, thank you for joining us.

Talk a little bit about these tunnels. The Israelis say it's one thing when the Palestinians in Gaza had tunnels going into Sinai to smuggle food or stuff like that. It's another thing to have these tunnels coming into Israel, where Palestinian, Hamas militants can cross in and try to kill Israelis. Bottom line, is Israel justified in going after these tunnels from Gaza into Israel?

NABIL SHAATH, FORMER PALESTINE FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, in this case, this is a clear case of self-defense. I mean, these are attacking soldiers into Gaza. They're attacking to Gaza. There are people who are fighting back to stop soldiers from invading Gaza. This is a case of pure self-defense. This is not a case in which these soldiers, these Hamas soldiers are attacking Israel. They're just fighting back the Israeli attack, the military attack on Gaza. I don't see it really where the moral or the political or the legal problem here is. Israel should stop its onslaught on Gaza and then there will be, really, no tunnels of any use to fight back. These are tunnels inside Gaza as much as I know.

BLITZER: As far as you know right now -- and I know you're very aware of what's going on, how close is Israel and Hamas, at least to a temporary cease-fire for humanitarian reasons? Because last night, we heard maybe there's been some progress. Have you heard of anything that could give any encouragement to those who want a cease-fire?

SHAATH: Well, everybody -- we are at least here and everybody else in the region is working for a cease-fire. Abuse mazen, Mr. Abbas, our leader, just arised to see Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and I'll be seeing him also within a few minute, but he had really been all around, from Cairo to Istanbul, Qatar. We are meeting with him in an hour in order to brief us fully on the development of the cease-fire arrangement. I do not really have much information now to assess the probability.

But I would say that a cease-fire is desirable by everybody to stop the real horrors we are seeing in Gaza. That 20 full families ranging between six and 17 members have been killed. 600 Palestinians have been killed, 40 percent of them children. Therefore, we need to stop fire. But we need an assurance that once that cease-fire is on, that Israel will abide by earlier commitments not to put siege around Gaza, not to make Gaza in a draconian siege situation where people are deprived of any rights to survive. People of Gaza need to live in peace so that we can end once and for all this situation and move towards a real peace process that ends the Israeli occupation and creates a two-state solution. The two have to be --


BLITZER: Did Hamas make a mistake last week -- didn't Hamas make a mistake last week in rejecting the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire, which Israel accepted, but Hamas did not?

SHAATH: We tried our best to get Hamas to accept that cease-fire. All that Hamas needed was a real assurance that if it accepts the cease-fire, the Israeli ground attack will withdraw and there will be some sort of international commitment for ending the siege on Gaza. Yes, free some prisoners captured by Israel during this war.

Now, as this did not happen and we were not able to conclude that, this does not really justify the kind of war that is taking place in Gaza today. We are continuing to negotiate a cease-fire and we're trying to continue to negotiate a commitment to Gaza that, at the end of that cease-fire, Gaza will be restored, will be rebuilt, will get some freedom, will get some security. That's the amount of assurance that we need so that we can push forward and get the cease-fire on the ground.

BLITZER: Nabil Shaath, the former Palestinian foreign minister, thanks very much for joining us. I'd like to continue this conversation in the days to come. There's a lot going on. We'll see, when the Secretary of State John Kerry comes here to Jerusalem, I assume he'll go to Ramallah to meet with President Mahmoud Abbas as well.

Nabil Shaath, thanks very much for joining us.

Just ahead, we're going to get the Israeli perspective. The former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon, is here. We'll be speaking with him. Much more on the breaking news after this.


BLITZER: The alarm over the number of civilian deaths in Gaza is driving the push for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Are the concerns about the deaths of innocent civilians, including children, putting Israel in a no-win situation?

Once again, Daniel Ayalon is joining us, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States.

You heard what the former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said. She was pretty blunt. She said -- to use the word proportionality, she's concerned that Israel is going too far in reacting to the missile and rocket attacks, and its moral authority is being undermined. Your reaction?

DANIEL AYALON, FORMER ISRAEL AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Well, Wolf, she was blunt. Let me be also blunt. First of all, I know her personally. I know Secretary Albright personally and I respect her. I think in this issue, she was totally wrong. There's no proportionality in wrong. If there was proportionality in what the Nazis would still be in Europe. The United States itself did not lose its moral authority when they killed, from the air, over 500 civilians in Belgrade or in Kosovo. I think Madeleine Albright was then in the administration of Clinton doing that. If you not -- proportionality, in a war situation, if it's tit-for-tat, it's bloodletting all over without stopping. I think this is crucial to reach decisiveness in battle. Otherwise, this is the moral -- the morality is not being served.

BLITZER: Because it's painful to see those pictures --


AYALON: Absolutely.

BLITZER: -- more than 600 Palestinians have been killed and so much of them young kids, families. It's awful.

AYALON: It is awful. I don't know how many hundreds of young Israeli kids have been traumatized and are being served in special care. So, you know, it's on all sides. We do not want it.

I heard also Nabil Shaath. I would say he's shedding crocodile tears. He's saying these tunnels are self-defense. It's like saying an armed robber who comes to your home and threatens to kill your family, you know, he's using the gun as self-defense. No. You have to take care of him. Hamas is committing a double crime here.

BLITZER: Should Israel accept a cease-fire, even if those tunnels aren't completely destroyed, even if Hamas still has rocket launchers capable of firing rockets and missiles into Israel? Should Israel accept a cease-fire in place and withdraw all of its ground forces in Gaza?

AYALON: Israel has accepted three times a cease-fire.


BLITZER: It's a new situation now.

AYALON: The short answer is yes. I would say, you know, if I were to be in the decision-making process in Jerusalem, I would say, yes, but one condition, that after the cease-fire, we demilitarize Gaza. We take away, just like we did in the international community in Syria, taking away all the chemical arsenal of Assad. We have to take all the rockets and blow up all the tunnelings in Gaza. In this situation, I would say cease-fire right away.

BLITZER: Is that realistic to demilitarize? Is Hamas going to give up its weapons? Is that realistic?

AYALON: Of course not. Hamas is isolated. The only ones helping Hamas now is basically Iran, Qatar, Hezbollah, and Turkey, unfortunately. But we have the moderate Arab countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan. Even the Palestinian Authority. Their interest is really to take away Hamas' power and to really re-establish Palestinian Authority over Gaza. This can be done only if we demilitarize Hamas. And we can do it. You saw all the concrete. You saw all the concrete, millions of cubic meters of concrete. When Israel was limiting the inflow of cement to Gaza, we were pounced by all the humanitarian organizations. We said, it's not going for the benefit of the population. It's going to build these tunnels. We see now these tunnels.

BLITZER: One final question, Madeleine Albright said the only real solution for Israel and the Palestinians is a two-state solution. Israel living alongside Palestinian. Is that realistic?

AYALON: Well, it is realistic if we have a partner which, first of all, believes in our right to be here.


BLITZER: Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority, believes that.

AYALON: As a Jewish state, because Mahmoud Abbas talks about a two- state solution, Wolf, I did not say him two states for two people.

BLITZER: He believes in a state of Israel and a state of Palestine. What's wrong with that?

AYALON: Well, he has to understand that Israel, our DNA -- you know, we have accepted the Palestinians' right for self-determination. Reciprocity, they should respect ours. We are a Jewish state. What can we do? Judaism is not just a religion. It's a culture. It's a history. It's values. This is who we are. If he said that, I think the road to peace would be much easier.

BLITZER: Daniel Ayalon, the former Israeli ambassador in the United States, thank you very much for joining us.

Up next, Richard Quest is standing by. We're going to speak with a senior official from Malaysia Airlines. We'll ask the about the scene in Ukraine, latest in the investigation. Stay with us.


BLITZER: On "This Day in History," July 22nd, 2004, the 9/11 commission issued its final report and concluded, in part, that leaders didn't understand the gravity of the threat. That quote, the danger of bin Laden was not a major topic among the policy, media, or the conference, on "This Day in History."

Let's get back now into the investigation into the downing of MH-17 over the Ukrainian skies. Pro-Russian rebels who control the crash site have sent the bodies of the crash victims to the government- controlled part of the Ukraine. They have also handed over the plane's flight data recorder to the Dutch authorities. Air accident investigators will go through them, including a senior investigator from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

CNN aviation expert, Richard Quest, is joining us from New York.

Richard, I want to bring in Hugh Dunleavy, the commercial director for Malaysia Airlines. He's joining us from the airport in Amsterdam.

Richard, you have an immediate Question for Dunleavy. Go ahead, Richard.


Hugh Dunleavy, you've had every criticism thrown at your airline but the main and substantial one, sir, is that whether it was legal to fly that route on the 17th. Was it wise for Malaysia Airlines to take L- 90?

HUGH DUNLEAVY, COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR, MALAYSIA AIRLINES: On the time we organized the flight of MH-17, the flight corridor we were using was an approved flight path. And we followed that flight path accordingly and it was accepted by the air traffic control and like many airlines, had been flying that route for many, many weeks and with hundreds of airlines passing that route every day, we believed it was safe to do so. Obviously the event of flight MH-17 has changed our mind about the designation of a safe corridor.

QUEST: Do you know believe, since other airlines have chosen not to fly, many airlines did fly. I completely accept that, sir. But doesn't that just show, as was seen today with Tel Aviv, some flying, some not, that the air routing and planning is not fit for purpose, and needs to be revised?

DUNLEAVY: I think that's something that really needs to be questioned between the airlines, the International Civil Aviation Authority and Ayata on what is the specification for a safe flight corridor. So the historical standards accepted by the aviation industry now need to be reviewed in the light of the ability of the various groups to use very sophisticated weapons that can reach into the normal flight operating altitude of civilian airliners. I think it's time that we all got together and reviewed how we decide on what is designated a safe flight corridor and what should be the frequency with which those designations get reviewed. Because, as we know, the situation on the ground can get very volatile very quickly and how quickly will we get the airlines and organizations to make sure that their systems are updated accordingly.

BLITZER: Mr. Dunleavy, there are reports that we all know -- we've seen the pictures -- that the wreckage has tremendously been altered at the scene. Is that the case?

DUNLEAVY: Yes. Unfortunately, that is the case. The crime scene, which is what MH-17 is, has been, I think, picked clean by the various groups that were in control of that area. And there are horror stories about people stealing SIM cards, going through credit cards and the personal possessions of the passengers on board and I think the entire site has been compromised. To what extent that will be -- will defeat the activities of the forensic investigators to determine the exact cause of the loss of that aircraft, I can't speculate on that. But it has been certainly contaminated.

BLITZER: Richard, I know you've got to run but you have one more question. Go ahead.

QUEST: Was it a mistake, sir, to route MH-4 over Syria on Sunday? You have seen the stories. You know the abundance of caution. What happened that allowed this to happen? DUNLEAVY: Yes. So here's what the situation is. Following MH-17, we

at Malaysia Airlines implemented a review of the processes that allows us to select which flight corridor to use. MH-4 was selected a route over Syria which, again, according to the civil aviation organization was designated a safe corridor to use. And because it's considered a safe corridor, our flight planning systems will look at those opportunities and select a flight path to follow.

In view of MH-17 -- we've taken a second look at that and one of our processes now is to go back and say, regardless of what the civil aviation organization says is a safe corridor, we need to put in another layer of protection to say, what else is going on in the region and could there be a potential for another situation like flight MH-17 and in which case we will close down those corridors so they will not be candidates for us to use in the future. The challenge is every airliner will make their decision independently. We're not intelligence organizations. I think this could lead to enormous confusion, which is why my recommendation is that the airlines, Ayata and ICAO get together and really review the process for designating safe flight corridors.

BLITZER: I think everyone wants to err on the side of caution right now.

Mr. Dunleavy, the bodies are now in a secure area. What role will Malaysia Airlines play going forward right now?

DUNLEAVY: So, the primary function of the Malaysia Airlines team, particularly here in the Netherlands, is to look after the needs of the next of kin. We need to listen to what their situation is, listen to them and help them through the grieving process and provide whatever assistance we can to help them get through this terrible tragedy.

Obviously, from a technological viewpoint, our engineers and our flight operations people will be made for availability to whatever investigation authority follows up of the MH-17 incident.

BLITZER: Mr. Dunleavy, good luck to you and good luck everyone involved in this investigation. Thanks very much for joining us, Hugh Dunleavy --

DUNLEAVY: Thank you.

BLITZER: -- of Malaysia Airlines. Thank you.

That's it for me. Thank you for watching. I'll be back at 5:00 p.m., for a special two-hour edition of "The Situation Room."

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