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Interview With State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf; Crisis in Israel; Russia and Ukraine

Aired July 25, 2014 - 16:00   ET


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: That cease-fire the U.S. has been trying to broker between Israel and Hamas, it just suffered a setback.

I'm Brianna Keilar. And this is THE LEAD.

The world lead. On the same day that Palestinians have declared a day of rage after more than 800 of them have been killed, the Israelis reject the initial language for a U.S. cease-fire proposal. But America's top diplomat isn't ready to give up yet.

Also in world news, the Pentagon says Russia is poised to give more firepower to the Ukrainian rebels accused of shooting down Flight 17 with a Russian missile. How much longer can Vladimir Putin get away with claiming his country isn't involved in this war?

And why is she the most hated woman in the Netherlands? Here's a hint. The Dutch think her father had a hand in killing nearly 200 of their fellow citizens.

Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Jake Tapper.

And we begin with developments in two major stories in our world lead. In Ukraine, new U.S. intelligence shows Russia is getting ready to move moral powerful weapons across the border to pro-Russian rebels to who want to break away from Ukraine. And in the Middle East, hopes of a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians are just not coming together like the U.S. wants.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been working to broker a deal to stop the fighting for a week to allow in humanitarian aid, but the Israeli security cabinet has unanimously rejected the initial language of it. According to sources, the framework would include a one-week humanitarian cease-fire.

That would allow medical supplies to be brought into Gaza. Meantime, talks would continue for a more permanent deal between Israel and Hamas. Kerry says reports that Israel voted to outright reject the seven-day cease-fire are false. He claims there was never a formal proposal submitted for them to reject and he adds Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is open to a much shorter 12-hour cease-fire as a show of good faith.

I want to bring in our own Wolf Blitzer now. He has been covering this from Jerusalem.

Wolf, we saw some high hopes here for a cease-fire. What's gone wrong?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I was pretty optimistic that there would be a cease-fire. I thought that Secretary of State John Kerry working together with the Egyptians, working with Qatar, working with Turkey, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, I thought they would get some sort of cease-fire at least for a week or so as phase one, during which they could start working on some of the long-term issues.

But the Israelis were not happy with what they heard from the secretary of state. Even before the Israeli security cabinet was meeting and they unanimously decided not to accept the language as put forward, it was clear to me from other Israeli officials, including a spokesman for the prime minister and the minister of intelligence, they weren't happy with this deal. Listen to this.


MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: We want to come out of this with a sustained period of quiet. We don't just want a time- out for Hamas to recharge its batteries and have more rockets on Israel.

Terrorism should not be appeased. And there should be no prize for terrorism for launching rockets on Israeli civilians.


BLITZER: Israelis clearly saw this deal as something that would benefit Hamas. It would stop the Israeli military operations, if you will. The Israelis want to do as much damage to those underground tunnels that Hamas has built from Gaza into Israel. They want to destroy as many of the Hamas rockets and missiles as they could.

They weren't about ready to stop right now. And I think that's in part why the Israeli cabinet decided that the deal as put forward right now, a deal we don't know for sure even if Hamas was going to accept it, but right now the Israelis don't like it. So this operation clearly is going to continue at least for the time being.

KEILAR: Wolf, do you think there already any conditions where Israel would accept a seven-day cease-fire or thereabouts?

BLITZER: Yes, I this I there would be. I think one of the ingredients that the Israelis would want is they wouldn't necessarily have to pull out troops from Gaza. They could keep those troops in place for seven days.

Another condition they put forward is during these seven days, even though military operations won't take place, Hamas won't launch rockets and missiles into Israel, Israel won't launch air or naval strikes or already shells into Hamas targets in Gaza, the Israelis did want to continue their effort to blow up, if you will, those underground tunnels. That's one of the ingredients the Israelis wanted. Hamas wasn't about to accept either one of those ingredients.

What Hamas wanted was a complete Israeli withdrawal right away and the lifting of what they call the siege of Gaza and they wanted to show some benefits from what has happened over the past two-and-a-half weeks or so and the Israelis were not about to give them any benefits.

Right now, if Secretary Kerry thinks he can come up with some sort of cease-fire, he's got an enormous amount of work to do.

KEILAR: He sure does. He's trying very hard. Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem, thank you.

And turning now to that other major international story that we mentioned, that claim by the Pentagon that Russia is about to step up its involvement in a big way big way in the war tearing apart neighboring Ukraine.

I want to bring in our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, how soon could the Russians start moving more weapons over the border into Eastern Ukraine?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, as it was explained to reporters here at Pentagon this morning, it could happen at any time.

In fact, they do believe it is imminent, that intelligence is showing them that Russia plans to send heavy weapons, more heavy weapons into Ukraine, including something that is known as .220- millimeter multiple-launch rocket systems, something similar to this. These are weapons, ground weapons that will up the potential for additional ground fire, ground attacks.

If they send these across the border, they can attack at a range of 20 miles. This could significantly increase the hostilities in the region. The Russians have been sending heavy weapons across the border for days now. As for this latest shipment, the U.S. may not know exactly when it happens, because they will have to send a satellite overhead to keep monitoring the situation, keep seeing where things are moving.

But what they do know at this point, they say Russian weapons, Russian troops are close enough to the border to move at any time -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Is this a new type of weapon we're seeing there in the area, Barbara? Is this something that, for instance, might be comparable to what we saw taking down Flight 17?

STARR: Well, it is a heavier weapon, if you will, than what has been seen in the realm of ground fire weapons. There have been tanks, artillery, some multiple-launch rocket systems, as we say, a broad variety of ground weapons.

Worth remembering quite different than what took down Flight 17. These are ground weapons we're talking about, surface-to-surface they call them. Flight 17 taken down by a surface-to-air missile. One of the most interesting things right now may be, where are those other surface-to-air missiles? Are they seen? Does anybody know where they are?

Right now, the Pentagon says it hasn't seen any more movement of those. But that's one of the things they're also watching for.

KEILAR: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you.

For more, let's now go to Marie Harf. She's the deputy spokeswoman for the State Department.

Marie, there's a lot of things happening as we speak right now. I want you to help me sort of sort this out. We have heard from Secretary Kerry that Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to a 12-hour halt in the fighting as a down payment towards presumably something larger, but then we're also hearing from a reporter with "Haaretz" that Israel's minister of defense is telling soldiers to be prepared for the possibility that Israeli Defense Forces will be ordered to expand the Gaza ground operation very soon.

Explain this to us. These seem like contradictory moves here.

MARIE HARF, SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: Well, Brianna, thanks for having me on today.

I know there's a lot of news coming out of Secretary Kerry's conversations he's been having. I think right now what we're trying to determine is how to get as quickly as possible to a cease-fire. The secretary today talked about a humanitarian cease-fire of seven days that would start in 48 hours.

So, what he's going to be doing over the next 48 hours is talking with the Qataris, with the Turks, with other partners in Europe to see if we can push the parties to accept this humanitarian cease-fire, so, as Wolf said, we can get food and medicine to the people on the ground, we can have a pause, and then hopefully negotiate a longer- term cease-fire that really can end the kind of fighting we have seen recently.

KEILAR: How do you bridge the gap here, though? How does the secretary bridge the gap when you have Hamas demanding that Israel take its troops out of Gaza? Israel is nowhere near agreeing to that. What are the hopes really for finding a cease-fire to the tune of a week?

HARF: We know this is very complicated. And we don't underestimate that.

I think why you see the secretary having dozens and dozens of phone calls and also direct conversations that he will have over the next few days is because there are a lot of different parties here who can push the Israelis and also Hamas to get to a place where they can accept a cease-fire.

They're talking through all the details of what that might look like, and they are very complicated. You're absolutely right. But that's why we're working, for example, with the Qataris and the Turks, who have leverage with Hamas and can help push them. We will work with the Israelis to see if we can get terms they agree to, because all you have to do is look on the ground today at some of the pictures your viewers are seeing to know that we really need to end this, at least for humanitarian reasons, for a little while, until we can get a broader agreement in place.

KEILAR: The role -- or the perspective of Israel is that you give a cease-fire to Hamas and it just restocks its weapons, it reinforces its tunnels and its bunkers. They say that's what happened in 2008 and 2012. How can it be ensured that this would be different?

HARF: Well, look, clearly we need to deal with the issue of Hamas rockets in the long term -- and in the medium and long term, I would say.

But what we need to do right now to stop the immediate hostilities we see, to stop Hamas rockets from flying into Israel like we have seen, to stop the civilians who are put in harm's way by this conflict is to get a cease-fire. And then, once we get that in place, we can talk about how we can improve this going forward and make this a little more of a longer-term situation.

But we can't do that until we just literally on the ground get the two parties to agree to stop what's going back and forth over the border right now.

KEILAR: Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador, wrote a column today that said basically that Hamas needs to be crushed. That is what he said. That was the headline. And he said -- although you're seeing all the shuttle diplomacy, he said the best thing that Secretary Kerry, that Ban Ki-Moon, that all of these officials can do is actually to do nothing. What's your reaction to that?

HARF: Well, I think anyone who knows Secretary Kerry knows that doing nothing is never an option for him, because we believe this is important to be engaged on.

Look, we have stood by Israel throughout this administration, helping them develop and fund the Iron Dome system that is actually shooting Hamas rockets out of the sky today. We have stood right by them as they have fought against Hamas. But the reality is, those rockets are coming into Israel today.

We need to work with our partners to see if we can get a cease- fire.


KEILAR: But, Marie, how do you stop -- in the case of a cease- fire, how do you stop Hamas from just recharging?

HARF: Well, it's a longer-term problem, Brianna.

And that's why I think you have seen the secretary not only committed to working to get a cease-fire now, to get a longer-term cease-fire, but also to work towards a more comprehensive peace agreement in the region. That's why we have been so committed to this. That's why doing nothing is not an option.

But what we need to see is immediate cessation of hostilities, so we can have the civilians on both sides not in harm's way anymore. And then we can figure out what the next step is and how to get there.

KEILAR: Marie, thanks so much for joining us. Really appreciate it.

HARF: Thanks, Brianna.

KEILAR: Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the State Department.

And coming up, forget a cease-fire. My next guest says give war a chance. That's right, the former Israeli ambassador I was just talking about arguing that the battle in Gaza should continue until Israel has crushed Hamas. But what about the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire?

Plus, investigators in need of police protection more than a week after Flight 17 was brought down -- now new details on who might finally be taking charge of the crash site ahead.


KEILAR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

With no significant cease-fire agreement, the U.S., Egypt, Qatar and other countries will now return to negotiations to find a solution, but the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. says the world should not be trying to stop the violence in Gaza. Instead, it should do nothing.

Michael Oren writes in "The Washington Post" that, quote, "Israel must be permitted to crush Hamas in the Gaza Strip and that while Hamas will resist demilitarization and more civilians will suffer, by ending the cycle once and for all, thousands of innocent lives will be saved."

And we're joined now from Tel Aviv. Michael Oren is with us. He's also a CNN Mideast analyst.

Thanks so much for being with us.

And I'm really hoping as well -- this is a question that I asked of Marie Harf, the deputy spokeswoman at the State Department. The Israelis have rejected this latest cease-fire proposal. They have agreed, it appears, to this 12-hour pause as sort of a down payment we're told. That's what Secretary Kerry has said.

What do you think of this brief cease-fire? Do you agree with it? MICHAEL OREN, CNN MIDEAST ANALYST: Well, if it's for

humanitarian purposes, for people to get food to the civilian population -- that would be fine. But it would be not in Israel's interests, it is not in America's interests. I don't think it's in the interests of the rationale world to let Hamas off the hook this time. Repeatedly, we've been engaged in Israel in combat with Hamas and with Hezbollah in Lebanon. And every time it starts with the terrorists sending thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and towns, Israel responds.

Then, before Israel can win against the terrorists, some U.N. body comes along and imposes a cease-fire that basically lets the terrorists win, it enables them to replenish their missile stocks, bring in bigger missiles, more long range missiles, and then to choose the next time when they can fire at Israel.

We've got to break that cycle once and for all and defeat an organization -- Hamas, which is no different than al Qaeda and ISIS, which hates the West and hates everything America stands for.

KEILAR: Make sense of this for us. We're hearing from a "Haaretz" reporter that the minister of defense is telling Israeli soldiers to be prepared for an expansion of the operation in Gaza. It seems like that, along with even this 12-hour cease-fire or pause, it seems like these are contradictory. Doesn't it?

OREN: Well, not really. If the 12-hour pause -- again, I can't confirm that, Brianna. The 12-hour pause is designed to let the civilian population gather food, some have to go to a bank and get money. To do that, that's fine.

But 12 hours will not let Hamas regroup and rearm. That's what you don't want.

And it won't -- Israel has to finish this job to maintain the pressure on Hamas so that Hamas will receive a definitive defeat. That will be read by other terrorist groups around the Middle East. It will be interpreted I think correctly by Iran. And they'll draw I think the right conclusions, not to take on Israel again and not to take on the West I think is essential for not just Israel's security but America's security.

KEILAR: You say in your column, Michael, that it's noble what Secretary Kerry and Ban Ki-moon and others are doing. But you say that they should do nothing.

We just heard from the State Department that that's not an option. I mean, it was almost in a way sort of laughed off, that that would be something that the U.S. would go along with. Knowing that, what kind of conditions for a cease-fire do you think Israel might be able to agree to?

OREN: I think that if people really care about peace in the Middle East and they really care about the Palestinians, because I had I both Palestinian civilians and Israeli civilians are victims of Hamas, then they'll let the Israeli forces do the job and they're prepared to do the job.

Brianna, I've come interest funerals this week and come from sitting with the bereaved families of fallen soldier. We're paying a very, very heavy price here but the Israeli society is willing and ready to pay that price.

I was ambassador from the United States during a very sad period where Americans were war weary after long conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. We've been in conflict without letup for 66 years, and we don't have the luxury of being weary. We don't have the luxury of bringing our troops home because they are home. They're fighting on their own soil.

KEILAR: I want to --

OREN: So, the answer to your question, a cease-fire, Hamas gives up its weapons. Hamas disarms. It is demilitarized. There can be aid for the people of the Gaza Strip. Border crossings can be open. Perhaps Israel can ease up its maritime blockade.

There's something in this for the Palestinians, too. Moderate Palestinians can be strengthened and even deployed at some of those border crossings.

But Hamas has to know it wasn't won. If Hamas is crushed, then terrorists throughout the entire Middle East will be crushed.

KEILAR: But, Michael, can you understand the international community is watching these pictures that are horrible -- children, Palestinian children bleeding on television. These are moving images. There is no way that you cannot feel sympathy for these children who obviously -- you know, are just innocent victims. Essentially in your column, it seems like you're asking for a smaller price of life to be paid now instead of a larger price later.

But can you really imagine the international community going along with accepting that in the short term?

OREN: Those pictures are deeply painful to me, too, Brianna, to everybody here. And nothing is worse than civilian suffering. Hamas has brought on that suffering. Hamas has dug deep beneath that civilian population. It's using that population as a human shield.

Today, it wasn't widely reported in the American press but hundreds of Palestinian civilians have surrendered to Israel forces saying that Hamas has threatened them. If they try to leave combat areas that Israel has warned them to leave, they'll be shot by Hamas. That's what we're dealing with. It's an organization that uses children to dig these terror tunnels.

It is not a rational modern organization. It's murderous, genocidal, it seeks to kill not only all Israelis but to kill all Jews worldwide.

If we do not crush it now, Hamas will restore its arms. There will be bigger rockets, longer long range rockets. The next round will take an even higher price in civilian life.

By letting Israel crush Hamas now, we will save lives in long run.

KEILAR: All right. Really appreciate your perspective. Former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, thank you.

And coming up, eight days in and still pieces of a plane, personal belongings, even bodies are lying on the ground in Ukraine. So, why hasn't anybody other than these gun-slinging rebels gone in to take over control of this site?

Plus, 10 members of the same family all of them gone in a different plane crash this week. And France's president says terrorism cannot be ruled out.


KEILAR: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Brianna Keilar, in for Jake Tapper.

Isn't anyone going to finally step in and secure the site of the Malaysia airlines crash? It's been more than a week since Flight 17 was shot out of the sky with 298 people on board.

The plane crashed in a highly volatile area in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels, the very ones who may have fired the missile that blew Flight 17 out of the sky. The rebels say they didn't do it.

Recovery workers want more access to the crash scene to look for more remains, but say they're getting blocked. These pro-Russian rebels have had free rein over the site since the crash. Who knows what they've done there? No one.

Ukraine has accused the rebels of tampering with the crash evidence and there's certainly been no one there to stop them. And what about all these countries that are trying to get involved?

Let's bring in CNN's justice correspondent Pamela Brown. At least we may know, Pam, who is leading the investigation here.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. That's absolutely right. We know that the Dutch are leading the investigation, Brianna. And the U.S. is assisting, as well.

In fact, I just spoke with an official who tells me as of now, the FBI has sent more agents to Ukraine in addition to the two agents who were sent there last week.

And from what we're learning, things are moving along with evidence collection and collaboration even though the Dutch and other nations' investigators still have not made it to the crash site.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BROWN (voice-over): Much of the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines

Flight 17 still sits where it fell, mostly unguarded and surrounded by pro-Russian rebels, with passengers from 12 countries on board, the investigation has drawn teams from around the world to piece together what brought the plane down.

JOHN GOGLIA, FORMER BOARD MEMBER, NTSB: Did the miss cause the fatal damage that brought the airplane down? I think most people assume that, but accident investigators are going to need to prove that.

BROWN: Ukraine asked the Netherlands to lead the crash investigation. The plane took off from Amsterdam and nearly 200 Dutch were on board.

JAN TUINDER, HEAD OF THE DUTCH POLICE TEAM: Countries are doing the very best to be very accurate.

BROWN: But their team still hasn't made it to the crash site. They're hoping to make it there with Dutch police protection.

Meanwhile, the British are analyzing the black boxes, said to be in good condition with no signs of tampering, even though they were handed over by pro-Russian rebels who are suspected of shooting down the flight.