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Hamas Now Wants 24-Hour Cease-Fire; U.S. Embassy "Suspending" Activity in Libya; Interview with U.N. Envoy Robert Serry

Aired July 27, 2014 - 07:00   ET


CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: We're learning Hamas has just agreed to a 24-hour cease-fire, a humanitarian pause as they call it. And that is to start precisely at this hour, 7:00, 2:00 p.m. their time. It would be mediated by the United Nations.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: Now, this after an extension by Israel collapsed overnight and shelling resumed.

We're covering these fast moving developments from both sides of the Israel/Gaza border.

Let's start with Wolf Blitzer, who joins us from Jerusalem.

Wolf, just a few hours ago this was a no go for Hamas, and now there's this about-face. Any indication why?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION: I have no indication why, but it is a major about face. Hamas originally said they weren't going to go along with the Israeli proposed 24 hour extension, humanitarian cease-fire, because Israel demanded part of that cease- fire be allowed to destroy those tunnels from Gaza that go into Israel during that 24-hour period. Hamas issued a statement saying they weren't going to go along with that and they -- they basically were firing rockets and missiles into Israel throughout that period.

Israel said it would extend that cease-fire for 24 hours, when Hamas didn't stop firing rockets into some of the southern towns, in Israel, Israel announced the cease-fire was over and they resumed pounding various Hamas targets.

Now, all of a sudden -- we just heard a little while, Karl Penhaul have more on this, Victor -- all of a sudden Hamas announces that they will now go forward with a 24-hour cease-fire. And let me bring Karl into this conversation.

Karl, help us better appreciate, is Hamas attaching the earlier condition that Israel has to withdraw its troops, stop blog up those tunnels? Is that part of the Hamas proposal now for 24-hour cease- fire?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bring up to date on that, Wolf, I just want to let you that even while you were talking there, another huge explosion here in the background. Our control room there picked that up on the microphones as well. We did -- we have been hearing a lot of artillery fire across the border as well. It is not clear whether now Israel will go along with this Hamas agreement to go along with the 24-hour cease-fire. It has been, as you suggest, it seems that the sticking point for Hamas at least on the first offer of Israeli 24-hour extension was the fact that Israel retain the right to try and go after militant tunnels and rocket launchers.

Hamas said that they wouldn't go along with that, they wanted Israeli boots off their territory for any cease-fire or humanitarian pause to hold. Now in the statement they put out by a text message a short while ago, they wanted this humanitarian pause to be overseen by the United Nations and it would be run from this hour following 24- hour period.

It does seem, though, that really the nitty-gritty of this is what is the condition? What can either side do during that cease-fire period? As I say, right now there is still artillery fire going on. Some of it pretty loud, some of it pretty close. In fact, I can tell you from where we are in our office the first time in 21-day confrontation, the artillery shelling has been so heaven they morning that we are now getting the smell of high explosives residue drifting in on the air.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect, we haven't gotten official reaction. I suspect if the rockets and the missiles stop coming into Israel from Gaza, then the Israelis will go ahead and accept that 24-hour cease- fire, humanitarian extension, they were willing to do yesterday. Hamas continued firing rockets and missiles, the Israeli condition, though, I assume will continue to be they are not pulling troops out of Gaza, they are going to continue trying to dismantle those tunnels, rocket launchers during that 24-hour period.

So, Victor and Christi, you can see it's a bit murky right now. Israel is still pounding away as we speak. You saw in Karl's live shot there.

But let's see what the reaction is from the Israeli security cabinet. They are meeting in emergency session we're told once again and later this morning, we'll hear directly from the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is going to be a guest of Candy Crowley's on "STATE OF THE UNION." That's at 9:00 a.m. eastern.

PAUL: Wolf, you mentioned those tunnels. And earlier this morning, Lieutenant Colonel Lerner with the IDF told CNN they believe they have targeted or taken care of at least destroying half of the tunnels. If they get to a certain percentage of those tunnels that they can destroy or if they get to all of them to destroy -- at that point, is there any indication that they may pull back on this assault?

BLITZER: I think the Israeli military objective is pretty clear. They want to destroy those tunnels, these go from Gaza into Israel. The Israelis clearly fear that Hamas militants will go through those tunnels, go into Israel, kill Israelis or capture Israelis, kidnap some, take them back to Gaza. They say they are not going to live with that kind of situation

so they are going after those tunnels. They want to see the missiles and the rockets stop. They originally thought Hamas had about 10,000. They think that Hamas has either used or been destroyed maybe 6,000 or so of those rockets and missiles but there are about 4,000 they say that are left. They would like to see all of those destroyed.

I don't know if those military objectives, the tunnels and the missiles and rockets are going to be achieved in the course of the coming days, but the immediate need is to see what the Israeli response is to this offer from Hamas for a 24-hour cease-fire that begins this hour so. So far, the Israelis are still pounding away. But let's see what they decide to do. They will make a decision.

My sense is based on what I heard from Israeli officials going into this, if they can continue going after those tunnels during the 24-hour period, they will stop the other major shelling, the major targeting that they have been doing and see what happens after that.

But we should get reaction from the Israeli government soon enough. One Israeli spokesman just told us that so far no comment from Israel.

BLACKWELL: All right. We'll stand by for that. Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. Karl Penhaul in Gaza. Thank you both.

And as Wolf just mentioned there, this morning at 9:00 Eastern, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be here on CNN discussing the latest efforts toward extended cease-fire. We'll see if this will hold for 24 hours. He will be Candy Crowley's guest on "STATE OF THE UNION".

Witnesses say there was, quote, "a lot of movement with fighter jets and helicopters as U.S. embassy staff left Tripoli in Libya."

PAUL: I want to show you some of the pictures from the Defense Department that show U.S. marines aiding the departure of embassy workers. This was yesterday remember, about 150 personnel including 80 marines were driven to neighboring Tunisia as militia fighting intensified.

BLACKWELL: Eric McPike joins us now from Washington.

Eric, what is the U.S. government saying about embassy operations there now?

ERIC MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor and Christi, both the State Department and the White House are stressing that this evacuation is only temporary. They are also pointing out the White House was involved in the decision.

Now, I received a statement from a senior administration official just yesterday saying that the president approved the state department's recommendation to evacuate the embassy as they wanted and both of these messages seemed to suggest that the administration has learned the lessons from that deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi two years ago. So this time, the lesson was that the president was made aware and he made the call, so they could avoid another tragedy like Benghazi.

And also there's this emphasis that it's temporary, to reassure that they are in control of the situation even as these other crises are raging in other parts of the world. Likely these messages are trying to avoid criticism but we already have seen Republicans blaming the Obama administration for negligence as far as Libya is concerned. House intelligence committee chairman Ed Royce, a republican, said that evacuating the embassy was the right call but he also said in a statement that this move was predictable essentially give at any lack of direction and leadership from the administration, since ousting Moammar Gadhafi. He says that the United States diplomatic absence makes the hard task of political stability in Libya even harder.

Now, adding to some of the skepticism how temporary this evacuation is, the White House and the State Department haven't said anything about what they can do to help now just that they will return to their work when this violence subsides, Christi and Victor.

PAUL: All right. Erin McPike, live for us in Washington -- thank you, Erin.

And joining us now is CNN counterterrorism analyst Philip Mudd.

Philip, we spoke yesterday with Republican Congressman Ed Royce. He's chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee. Here's what he had to say about the situation in Libya.


REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: I do think they should be much more engaged on the ground with the factions in Libya. I tried to encourage some of this with the administration, and I think they are on the right track but late into the game in terms of trying to bring factions together and use U.S. leverage in order to try to work this out.


BLACKWELL: And, Phil, when he says they, of course, he is speaking about the Obama administration, U.S. government.

Good morning to you first. My question to you, do you think the U.S. should be more engaged on the ground in Libya?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think the problem is broader than Libya. What you're looking at, all of the post-revolutionary countries, Iraq, you're looking at Syria, Egypt, Libya -- when you transition from revolution to democracy in societies that aren't used to democracy, you get factions who start to say whether they are former military factions, whether they are Islamist factions, who start to say, if we don't win elections, we don't have a stake in the government, therefore we're going to fight.

I don't think it's as easy as going in to support a faction because in these states, you are going to see wars potentially for years among factions who want to come out on top.

PAUL: Well, I mean, the U.S. has suspended operations in recent years at embassies in Cairo, in Yemen, in Damascus, of course, there was the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi. Is the Obama administration, in your opinion, is it losing its handle on violence in the region?

MUDD: I don't think you can look at the Obama administration, Western Europe, the United States -- I don't think you can look at the West as responsible for what's happening in the Middle East. In these revolutions, what you're seeing is a fundamental sort of divide in the state. In the state of Egypt, in the state of Libya, the divide is between those who once had power and who want to retain power, you've seen the military re-emerge in Egypt.

One of the major factions in Egypt is the former military. On the other side, you have in both Egypt and Libya, Islamists who want to gain power. So, I don't think it's the responsibility of the west to say who is going to come out on top when you have societies that say revolution means that we lose power, that is the military loses power, and we want to regain power now.

BLACKWELL: Let's switch to the situation there in Ukraine. There is a conversation reporting in the "New York Times" this weekend among Pentagon leaders, intelligence officials here in the U.S., about how the U.S. should help Ukraine in the response here to Russia. If they should simply support and shore up the Ukrainian government, or if they should offer intelligence to help the Ukrainian military go after those missile systems to give them an idea of where they are and effectively give them the information to go after Russia on their side of that border.

What do you think would be the best move for the U.S.?

MUDD: I think simple decision here is we've got incursions into a democratic state that is Ukraine, we have an interest in seeing that the Ukrainian government has information about what's happening within its borders. If I were in the chair in the White House Situation Room, this is an easy one, I'd say look, Ukrainian government has legitimacy, and I don't see anything wrong with giving intelligence on saying this is where the Russians are bringing military systems into your country. I'd give them the intelligence.

PAUL: We've got disturbing news that the team monitoring the site where Malaysian Flight 17 crashed is telling CNN the security situation is such that it cannot access the site today. In other words, it's too dangerous for them to get there.

At some point, is it -- we know we've got the Dutch, we've got Australia teams ready to go in. At this point, what do you do? Are we looking at a fire fight at some point down the line to get to it?

MUDD: Boy, I think we've got a couple of options here. One is as you suggest, if you want to secure this site it's going to take some sort of military force because Ukrainian opposition has been pretty consistent, I think, in their refusal to provide access to the site. But I think the critical point in this case is we've got a fundamental question that we've been facing for about 10 days now, that is, what happened? What does the intelligence say happened, and what is the information in that huge sort of debris field say what happened? And I think regardless of whether we regain access to the site the answer is pretty clear, the Ukrainian opposition with support from Russians downed an airliner.

So, regardless, what we do in that field, I know it's tragic, I know the families want better answers -- but the answer is pretty clear. We know what it is now regardless of whether we gain access. We can provide military fire power, potentially lose people in a firefight with Ukrainians, but we know what the answer is.

BLACKWELL: Well, the difficulty is that there are still according to some of the monitors there, there are still human remains in that field and there is a sensitivity of starting a firefight with the victims still in that area.

Phillip Mudd, CNN's counterterror expert and analyst, thank you so much.

PAUL: Thank you, sir.

MUDD: Thank you.

PAUL: Well, they are the first family members to arrive at the crash scene, the only members we know of, parents who lost their daughter on Malaysian Flight 17. Even seeing the rubble in person, they still believe she is alive.

BLACKWELL: And 33 years ago today, this little boy was murdered. And it changed his father's life and his mission. That was -- this is Adam Walsh, the son of John Walsh. We'll talk with John Walsh in just a moment.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

PAUL: It is 17 -- 18 minutes past the hour right now. We are supposedly 18 minutes into a humanitarian pause in Israel and Gaza with the fighting.

However, at the top of the hour, we did hear from Wolf Blitzer that there was still bombing and shelling going on.

We do want to talk to Robert Serry. He brokered this 24-hour pause that Hamas finally agreed to. There was a 12-hour pause that Israel agreed to. Hamas rejected it. There has been some sort of a turnaround.

Robert Serry, thank you for being with us.

ROBERT SERRY, U.N. ENVOY WHO BROKERED 24-HOUR CEASE-FIRE (via telephone): Yes, hello. PAUL: Hello. What can you tell us about why Hamas did an about

face so to speak and what is -- what are the terms of this 24-hour cease-fire?

SERRY: Well, I have as you know I have been calling on the parties to extend a cease-fire, let's not call it a cease-fire -- at humanitarian pause for 24 hours, unconditional humanitarian pause for 24 hours. Israel agreed to a 24 hours pause as you know as of yesterday night.

Now, despite initial disruption, rocket fire, I was informed that Hamas and other Palestinians factions are now ready to accept the pause for the period of 24 hours starting 2:00 p.m. local time. And as you said, that is already -- it is already after that time and we are in a situation that I have passed on this request coming from Hamas directly to my contacts in the Israeli government. And I am now awaiting also from Israel.

However, I'm extremely concerned after 2:00, both rocket fire and of course also Israeli operations are continuing. And I appeal on both sides to now show utmost restraint for this humanitarian pause to become effective I hope as soon as possible. This will allow civilians to resume their daily lives, both in Israel and in Gaza, you know that in Gaza, there are urgent work still to be done in terms of recovering bodies and wounded.

We all know that very important religious Muslim holiday is upcoming, the Eid-al-Fitr. So I really make an appeal to both sides not to miss maybe this last opportunity for calm.

Let me say one other thing. This would be another calm, and I hope still it can be achieved. But there can be no substitute for actually also talks for a more durable cease-fire that would also address some of the underlying issues of this conflict.

We all know that the return to the previous is in fact no longer an option. But I really hope is that if we have another 24 hours, is that actually parties with the help of Egypt and other parties including of course also Secretary Kerry, would also build on it and make progress toward a more durable cease-fire, because we cannot go on like this.

BLACKWELL: We know -- let's bring in Wolf Blitzer there in Jerusalem.

Wolf, we saw in the statement from the Hamas spokesperson that they cited the beginning of this festival as part of their reason for accepting this 24-hour humanitarian pause as Mr. Serry calls it. Are we hearing anything from the Israelis?

BLITZER: Still no comment from the Israelis. Let me ask Mr. Serry specific technical questions.

Mr. Serry, thanks very much for all of the work you're trying to achieve right now. As far as the Hamas position is concerned right now, assuming Israelis accept the 24-hour pause as you -- humanitarian pause as you call it -- has Hamas committed itself to stop sending rockets and missiles into Israel during those 24 hours?

SERRY: If you allow me, to the people in Gaza please don't go back on the streets or to your houses now until there is an effective cease-fire. And announcement to that effect is made. It is still very dangerous for people in Gaza. I'm still working around the clock and I hope that this opportunity will not be missed.

BLITZER: I know you're working very hard. But the understanding you have, if Israel agrees to this pause for 24 hours, there won't be more rockets and missiles from Hamas coming into Israel, will Israel real during this 24-hour period assuming it stops its airstrikes, will they still be allowed to go after, try to destroy the tunnels that go from Gaza into Israel during the next 24 hours?

SERRY: Well, Wolf, I have been asking for an unconditional humanitarian cease-fire, I prefer to call it a pause. It's it new real cease-fire. Of course, Israeli army is deeply now embedded into Gaza.

That's also why I said earlier that parties will have to address also the underlying causes and have to try and get as soon as possible to a more durable cease-fire which will also imply the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza.

But this is an unconditional pause I asked for. I of course hope that both sides will use utmost restraint and will not take actions that will lead inside this pause, to resume fighting.

BLITZER: So basically what I understand you're saying Mr. Serry is Hamas agreed to this unconditional cease-fire, but you're still weight for official response from the Israeli government. Is that right?

SERRY: That is right. I also tell Hamas that I'm perturbed that there are still rockets coming out, and that of course immediately stop now.

BLITZER: You say rockets coming from Gaza into Israel, is that what you mean?

SERRY: Yes. After 2:00. That is what I'm worried about and I'm also worried about any continued of course Israeli operations in particular if they would affect civilians.

I hope that both sides now can show some wisdom and reason and then we will be able actually to have a pause during an upcoming important religious period. As I said before, we need also a pause actually make, create momentum in political talks to get out of this, Wolf.

BLITZER: With Eid, the end of Ramadan, this would be an appropriate moment to start a 24-hour cease-fire. I know U.S. officials have told me, Mr. Serry, they hope there would be a cease- fire but then that could be expanded to another 24 hours, then could be expanded to a week. And during this process international diplomats including the

United States and Egypt and everybody else could get involved to deal with some of the longer term issues. I assume, Mr. Serry that is your objective as well.

SERRY: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: And is there a timeline when you -- when the Israelis told you they will give you a response whether they are accepting this 24-hour initiative?

SERRY: No. In this business -- time lines which are usually -- they're not kept. But I hope that of course the Israeli government will very soon take a position on this. And at the same time I hope that both sides will show already utmost restraint on the ground and will stop fighting.

BLITZER: You are very experienced at dealing with this crisis, Mr. Serry. Israelis sometimes suggest and I'm anxious to get your thought, there may be one position that the political wing of Hamas comes forward to, but then the military wing doesn't necessarily accept that.

Is Hamas speaking to you with one voice or do you sense there is a debate going on within the military and the political wing of Hamas?

SERRY: Well, you know, being involved in these delicate talks, Wolf, I rather prefer not to comment too much on this question of you. But let me say one thing. We have seen before that if there is a decision taken, and there is a decision taken by all the factions, to actually stop fire that they are capable of doing so.

That position has been taken. That's the opportunity. And I hope it will not be missed.

BLITZER: Yes, I hope you're right. And one final question, Mr. Serry, before I let you.

Assuming Hamas accepts it, will Hamas make sure that Islamist jihad in Gaza which operates in Gaza, and some of the other factions, they will be on board as well?

SERRY: Yes. Yes. This is by the way, a statement made on behalf of all of the Palestinian factions, not Hamas only.

BLITZER: That's encouraging to hear.


SERRY: Their readiness to start a humanitarian pause.

BLITZER: Well, we're going to find out what the Israeli position is. You probably bill get a phone call earlier than we will.

If you get an official reaction from Israel and Hamas, we'll put you back on the air and you'll tell our viewers in United States and around the world what's going on. Clearly, Mr. Serry, this is a delicate moment right now and we appreciate all of the good work you are trying to achieve. We'll stay in close touch. Thank you very much.

SERRY: Thank you, Wolf. Let's hope we get there.

BLITZER: All right. Let's hope that something positive can emerge out of this horrible situation.

Christi, Victor, you got the breaking news right there. It's up to Israel to decide whether they are going to accept this initiative from the United Nations from Robert Serry, the special Middle East envoy for the U.N., reports to Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general.

Let's see if Israel responds positively to this initiative, 24- hour humanitarian pause or cease-fire, truce, whatever you want to call it. Actually, it goes into effect, was supposed to go into effect a few moments ago, but I understand, as we speak has not gone in effect, rockets still coming in. Israel pounding away.

So, let's see what happens in the next minutes, maybe the next hour or so. We'll see where we go.

BLACKWELL: Yes, I know no official response but unofficially, supposed to start at the top of the hour and the last few minutes, as you said, our Karl Penhaul who's there in Gaza continues to hear the shelling.

Wolf Blitzer, thank you, and also to U.N. envoy Robert Serry, who we just spoke with a moment ago.

We'll be right back.