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Strike Hits U.N. Shelter In Gaza; Cease-Fire Efforts Intensify; Kerry Pushes Two-Phase Cease-Fire; Russia Is To Blame; CNN Freelancer Abducted in Eastern Ukraine; Ukraine Prime Minister and Cabinet Resign; Identifying Victims; Kerry in Cairo; Start of Barghouti Interview

Aired July 24, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Jerusalem. I'd like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

The United Nations is reporting multiple deaths and injuries from a strike on a U.N. shelter in Gaza. This comes as the U.S. secretary of state is traveling across the region. He's trying to broker a deal to end the bloodshed.

Here are the latest developments on the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Images from the scene of that attack on the U.N. shelter show pools of blood on the ground and ambulances racing to the scene. The building is a school that was being used as a shelter. We'll have much more on this in a live report from Gaza coming up.

Meanwhile, the FAA has lifted the ban on U.S. carriers flying into Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv. The agency says Israel is taking steps to mitigate potential risks to commercial planes. And we just got word that Delta is now joining United and Air Canada in resuming flights to Israel.

And the behind-the-scenes effort to come up with a cease-fire, they are intensifying. The secretary of state, John Kerry, he's now in Cairo after meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. More details now on the breaking news coming out of Gaza. The deadly strike that hit a U.N. school building being used as a shelter. The Israeli military says it's investigating the incident, but a Hamas rocket, the Israeli military says, yes, a Hamas rocket, they are claiming might, repeat might, have been responsible. They're investigating.

CNN's Ian Lee is joining us now live from Gaza City. So, Ian, what are U.N. officials saying? What have you seen? What is the very latest because the pictures, the information you've shown us, they are devastating.

IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, really, there's a lot of uncertainty tonight in Gaza over what exactly happened. We're hearing from many different sides. Importantly, though, right now, the U.N. has yet to place blame on anyone from Hamas. Hamas is saying that this was a strike by Israel, saying that this was Israeli artillery that hit this place. Now, the Israelis are saying that it actually could have been a rocket, a Hamas rocket that failed to take off and go towards Israel that fell short, and that's what potentially could hit the school. Now, the Israelis say they are investigating. And it -- this -- it will likely come out exactly what happened.

But what I can tell you, though, is over a dozen people have been killed in this incident, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. They are saying that as well as over 200 people -- we went to one of these hospitals. We saw the injuries. We saw the deaths. A lot of chaos. A lot of people looking for their loved ones trying to find out the status, if they're alive or if they're dead. And when I was looking around to see who was injured, I was struck by just how many children and women and old people were hit by this rocket. When you look at there, these are schools where people are meant to take shelter. They're meant to be safe from the war. But that just hasn't happened over the course of this conflict. The U.N. has said that twice that their schools have been hit by Israeli fire.

And the U.N. has also said, though, on the other hand, that they have seen twice Hamas rockets stored in the U.N. schools. And these schools are supposed to be zones for civilians, noncombatants to go and find shelter. But at four different incidents, the U.N. is reporting that that just isn't the case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's important to note, too, Ian, and you're very familiar with this, you're there, the Israelis told Palestinians, especially in some of the northern parts, get out of those areas, go to more secure areas. So, a lot of these people went to that U.N. shelter, the building that was hit today, thinking it would be safe. Are there really safe places in Gaza, which is such a heavily concentrated, populated area in a very small strip of land, are there really safe places? About 100,000 people have fled their homes so far, according to the U.N., is that right?

LEE: Well, that's right. And really, there aren't many safe places, really aren't any safe places at all here in Gaza. Like you just said, there's over 140,000 people taking refuge in these U.N. schools, and they're hoping that they can just ride out this conflict. And as we saw today, that just really isn't the case. And there is a lot of suspicion over this attack. This U.N. school hit is the largest death toll, really -- the death toll that we've seen from an attack on a U.N. school, and there's going to be a lot of questions about how this school was targeted and was hit.

Now, we had a CNN crew that went back there just a little while ago to look around some more and what they described was a point of impact that was just barely scratched, really just scratched the surface of the ground, but shrapnel everywhere. And that has a lot of people wondering just all over Gaza, all these people who are in U.N. schools right now are wondering if they're safe. And I was at a U.N. school just yesterday looking around. And there are a lot of women, a lot of children, a lot of elderly, a lot of people who are hoping just to not become another casualty in this war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see whether it was an Israeli or a Hamas rocket or mortar shell or whatever that was responsible for this awful, awful scene at this U.N. shelter in Gaza. Ian Lee on the scene for us, thank you.

The latest deadly strike reinforces the urgent need for a way to end the bloodshed. Secretary of state, John Kerry, he's back in Cairo right now. He's in the middle of his mission, shuttle diplomacy some are already calling it. He's pushing for a two-phase approach to the cease-fire but he's having trouble getting Hamas to go along with that approach.

Our Global Affairs Correspondent Elise Labott has been talking with officials on all sides of these cease-fire talks. And she's joining us now from a conference in Aspen, Colorado. Alise, explain what Kerry means by this so-called two-phase approach.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the secretary wants the immediate necessity to be to stop the fighting. Both sides stopped the fighting. And then you can talk about some of the larger issues of the conflict. Hamas, as you know, is making sure its demands are met, most particularly ending this blockade, opening up the crossings of Gaza. Israel wants Hamas to be disarmed but Secretary Kerry is saying, listen, we need to stop the fighting right now. Today's attack really underscores the need for that. And then, we can talk about some of these larger issues and subsequent negotiations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because this is really an Egyptian proposal that was put forward days ago. The Israelis accepted it. Hamas rejected it. Has there been really any significant movement, based on what you're hearing, Elise, since then?

LABOTT: Not really, Wolf. Well, Secretary Kerry is saying they've made some progress, but (INAUDIBLE) what the progress is. Hamas really does seem to be emboldened over the last couple of days because some of the victories it's had in killing Israeli soldiers and the like.

And on the Israeli side, they keep having these rockets coming across. So, while Israel says it's ready to stop the fighting, Hamas is really digging in. And while Egypt is the one having this proposal, it really doesn't seem that the Egyptians have much influence on Hamas right now.

BLITZER: Elise Labott in Aspen, Colorado. Thanks very much.

Reminding our viewers, coming up later, we're going to get both Israeli and Palestinian views on efforts to reach a cease-fire. I'll talk with Dr. Mustafa Barghouti. He's a member of the Palestinian parliament. He's well plugged in. Also, Yair Lapid, he's the Israeli finance minister, a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu's inner security cabinet. Both standing by. We'll get the latest on an effort to achieve a cease-fire.

But now to another major global crisis. The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Here is what we know right now. The U.S. ambassador to Ukraine says, and I'm quoting now, "The responsibility for this tragedy rests with Russia." Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt says Moscow is supporting pro-Russian militants in Ukraine. He cites reports of rockets and heavy artillery being fired from Russian territory into Ukraine to advance the separatists campaign. Russia maintains it played no role in the crash.

Reuters news agency is quoting a rebel leader in Ukraine as saying separatist fighters did have a Russian-made Buk missile system, and it could have been sent back to remove the evidence. Meantime, U.S. officials tell CNN some of the thousands of Russian troops near the eastern Ukraine border have broken into smaller groups, have moved within five miles or less of the border with Ukraine. When asked about the situation on the border, Russia's deputy defense minister said dozens of Ukrainian shells have exploded in Russia and Moscow is simply showing responsibility and restraint.

And now, a new, disturbing development in this story. A Ukrainian journalist working as a freelancer for CNN has been abducted by pro- Russian separatist. Anton Skiba was seized Tuesday night by armed men. CNN is making a public plea to the people holding Anton to release him immediately.

Our Ivan Watson is joining us now live from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. Ivan, tell our viewers exactly what we know what happened?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, imagine the scene, Wolf, when my colleague and Phil Black and his crew were coming back from the disaster site of Malaysian Air Flight 17. They pull up right outside this hotel where there was a group of gunmen waiting led by a senior official from the Donetsk People's Republic. And they proceeded to identify this young Ukrainian journalist, Anton Skiba, who had been working for us for all of one day as a translator and guide. They identified him and then promptly detained him, walking away -- him away to a waiting car. We have not seen him since.

He's been accused both of being a terrorist and a Ukrainian agent by the pro-Russian separatists here. We haven't gotten any additional comment despite many requests for information from the officials here. A number of different press freedoms' groups and human rights organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the United Nations have all called for Skiba's immediate release. The CPJ saying that, quote, "abductions and detentions of journalists are happening at dizzying speed right now in eastern Ukraine." Among the people who have gone missing is a British journalist by the name of Graham Phillips who worked for the Russian T.V. network, "Russia Today." He disappeared Tuesday night on the outskirts of Donetsk. It is an increasingly tense situation as the war continues, taking place, in some cases just about a half hour's drive away from the crash site of Malaysian Air Flight 17 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, let's hope Anton is released quickly and is no longer held. Ivan, be careful over there yourself. Thank you.

Exactly a week after the downing of Flight 17 and amidst all the violence there, the Ukrainian government is now going through a political upheaval. Today, the Ukrainian cabinet which includes the prime minister resigned. Let's go to Kiev.

Sara Sidner is on the scene for us. Sara, what's behind this?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, what the prime minister says is behind this is this is what was promised during the presidential elections back at the end of May. Basically that this was a fresh start for the electorate, that they could put who they want in place. You have to remember, there are still members of the parliament that are linked to the ousted prime minister who is still no longer in the country running from corruption charges.

And, you know, what you are looking at is the government saying, well, we promised a fresh start, and now we're going to give you that. It may seem a bit misguided to the rest of the world who can see that Ukraine is dealing with really a three-pronged crisis. The longstanding one is the economy and dealing with that. But the other two that the world is focused on is, of course, the downing of the plane, the Malaysian flight and the investigation into that which Ukraine is heavily involved with as well as what's happening in the eastern part of the country. You've got a major conflict going on with pro-Russian rebels. And so, this government has a lot to handle and now, of course, politics playing into all this.

But to be clear, everyone sort of stays put even though they have resigned, even though the cabinet has resigned and the P.M. has resigned, they stay put until a new government is in place to keep the stability here in the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Sara, thank you. Sara Sidner in Kiev.

Coming up, more remains of Flight 17 victims are being taken to the Netherlands for identification. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's at the site where the long and difficult process is taking place. We'll speak to Sanjay. That's coming up.

And as the situations in the Ukraine and the Middle East heat up dramatically, President Obama caught right in the middle. Our political panel getting ready to weigh in on what the United States should be doing.


BLITZER: Right now in the Netherlands, a solemn procession is underway. Seventy-four more coffins carrying the remains of Flight 17 victims are being taken to a forensic lab for identification. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is outside the military base where the caskets are being brought in. Sanjay is joining us now.

Sanjay, you're a member of the American College of Forensic Examiners. So what is the identification process like? It's obviously much more different than your typical autopsy I take it.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, just in terms of scale alone, Wolf, it's going to be very different. When you think about autopsies, there are several different things that the examiners want to establish, cause of death, manner of death and identification. With regard to cause and manner, you know, for the most part, that's established here. There may be some surprises or clues that emerge, but this is really about identification. And the basics apply, Wolf.

So we have -- there's an incredible technology that exists in order to be able to identify and provide that identification. But still, the examiners have to go have these conversations with people, these loved ones in their homes and ask them, what clothing someone was wearing, jewelry, any identifying body marks. They'll also obtain things like dental records and medical records and any DNA. Wolf, you might imagine, those are incredibly challenging, emotional conversations to have. And they want to make sure they only do it once. So that's part of what the examiners are doing now is trying to collect some of that information.

So just behind me over here is the military base, Wolf, where the remains are being brought. And I want to show you, Wolf, within just a few minutes, there's probably hundreds of people lined up now along this road waiting for the procession of hearses coming from the airport, expected now any minute.

Wolf, I'll tell you, I've been here a little bit now. I've visited this country several times in the past. It's an -- everyone, they say, was affected in some way by what happened with that crash of the plane. And you really get that feeling when you're here. Everyone has been coming up, paying their respects. And it's a very somber tone but also a collective one. People really coming together at a time like this. The investigators, I should point out, Wolf, 75 of them, represent countries from all over the world, countries from which passengers on that plane resided. So it's a multinational investigation from a forensic standpoint, Wolf.

BLITZER: A sad, sad story. Sanjay, is there any sense how long this process of identification is going to take place?

GUPTA: Well, it's always hard to say. And if you talk to the forensic examiners, they'll say, look, we're going to be very careful not to rush this. The thing that they want to avoid more than anything else, Wolf, is making a mistake, for obvious reasons. This is not something where, you know, if you made a mistake and misidentified, that would be catastrophic emotionally and otherwise. So, you know, they take their time.

I can tell you, after the plane crash in Tripoli back in 2010, there were 104 passengers on that plane. It took about 30 days to correctly identify people on that plane crash. So I think you're not talking about hours and days necessarily but certainly weeks and months.

And, again, the investigators that are already here, part of the process is actually talking to the families ahead of time and collecting some of those records. Some of that needs to be done even before the full investigation really begins, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta on the scene for us there. What a somber story indeed. Thank you, Sanjay, for that report.

Still ahead, the race to get a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. We're going to hear from both sides, including the Palestinian parliamentarian Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, and the Israeli finance minister, Yair Lapid.


BLITZER: Intense international efforts are underway right now to try to achieve a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. The secretary of state, John Kerry, he's been in the region meeting with Palestinian, Israeli and other leaders, including Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general.

Let's assess where everyone stands now as far as a cease fire is concerned between Israel and Hamas. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is the founder of the Palestinian National Initiative. He's a key member of the Palestinian parliament. He's joining us now live from Ramallah on the West Bank.

What -- where - where does it stand, what the Americans call this two- phase proposal, stop the fighting right away, Hamas stopping shelling rockets and missiles into Israel, Israel stops its strikes in Gaza and then deal with the second phase, all of the other issues. Where does that stand, Dr. Barghouti, right now?

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, MINISTER, PALESTINIAN PARLIAMENT: Well, the Palestinian side - and, by the way, it's not just Hamas, it's all the Palestinian groups, including the Palestinian Authority -- are calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, which could last five, six days, during which time all the issues could be discussed on the table. The Israeli official stand, which was declared by the Israeli government, is that Israel is refusing any form of cease-fire and insists on proceeding with its operation, which is becoming nothing but a huge massacre, killing so far almost 800 Palestinians.

While I am sitting here waiting for the interview with you, 15 more Palestinians were killed and 5,000 people were injured. One-third of them are children. This is becoming a true massacre, especially after the Israeli army has decided to attack even not only our schools, which were thought to be safe place for people who were deported from their homes, by shooting them. And we are talking about almost 100,000 people who are in schools today. And today the Israeli army attacked one of the schools, killed 16 people there and injured 200. In reality, 44 percent of the small area - of the land of Gaza, which is a very small area, only 140 square miles with about 1.8 million people --

BLITZER: Doctor Barghouti, hold on for a moment because I think we've just lost your audio. I want to try to fix it. Let me - let me just see if we can reconnect with your audio. I don't know if you can hear me right now.

Let's take a quick break. More with Dr. Mustafa Barghouti right after this.