Return to Transcripts main page


New Attacks Disrupted Cease-Fire; Video Shows Deadly Attack on Israelis; 20 People Killed at United Nations School; Majority of Israelis Don't Want Cease-Fire; Commander of Israeli Forces Says Close to Completing Mission; Israeli Military Almost Done; Interview with Maen Areikat; White House on Mideast Conflict

Aired July 30, 2014 - 13:00   ET



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

Rocket fire and air strikes rattled Israel and Gaza today during what was supposed to be a brief cease-fire. So, what happens now? And what will it take to end the fighting? Here are the latest developments.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Just over here. This building just over here which has just been hit.


BLITZER: Explosions rocked Gaza even before the cease-fire expired an hour ago. Our Correspondent John Vause had to duck for cover. Israel says the four-hour humanitarian window, as they called it, to allow civilians to get supplies and move to safer locations clearly did not work. The Palestinian health ministry says 20 people were killed when a United Nations school was hit earlier today. The Israeli military says its soldiers fired after militants in that area opened fire on them.

And a new poll finds more than 86 percent of Jewish Israelis are opposed to the cease-fire, that according to "The Jerusalem Post." They don't want a truce now because Hamas is still firing rockets and Israel has not located all the Hamas tunnels.

We want to get all the latest on the ground that's happening right now. Our Correspondent John Vause is joining us from Gaza. John, we saw what happened a little while ago, that huge explosion right behind you. You were on the air live on CNN International when that occurred. What, first of all, is the situation right now like?

VAUSE (live): Well, Wolf, there has been the constant sound of Israeli tank and artillery fire coming from the south. That really hasn't let up since this humanitarian cease-fire collapsed, if you like. We had a fairly quick succession of air strikes about two and a half hours into that four-hour long window. Since then, it seems air operations, at least where we are, have eased up a little.

And we're now learning a little bit more about one of those air strikes that Israel carried out. It happened in the Shashaia (ph) marketplace. And what we're being told by officials in Gaza is that at least 17 people were killed there, including one reporter and about 200 other people were, in fact, wounded. There were some graphic scenes down there of the wounded as they all were rushed off to Shifa hospital. This has been a grim day in Gaza. Before that cease-fire went into place or that humanitarian window, 73 Palestinians had been killed. That number, obviously now, upwards of 90 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I saw some of that video. It really is heart wrenching to see what's going on over there in Gaza where you are. John, do we know which side first initially violated that four-hour humanitarian pause, as it was called?

VAUSE: Well, look, let's just put this into context. This was, in fact, a unilateral action taken by the Israelis. Hamas never accepted it. The minute Israel announced it, there was a Hamas spokesperson would appeared on television and he said this is a media stunt. Hamas does not accept this. They said later on to say -- later on, they said a much longer statement saying this was just a chance for Israel to reposition its troops, move its tanks around and Hamas wasn't prepared to accept any pause in the fighting and they weren't. They fired off 26 rockets in that two and a half hour period, according to the IDF. We saw those rockets being fired from here.

So, for Hamas, this was never a cease-fire. The Israelis did warn that they were stop their offensive if Hamas held its fire. Hamas didn't hold its fire and so Israel responded -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As you know, the Palestinians say Israeli forces shelled the United Nations' school today in Gaza, mot all that far away from where you are, killing, what, about 20 people in that school. Israel says its soldiers were simply responding to sniper fire or attacks coming against them. What do we know, as far as what was going on?

VAUSE: This, again, another incident being investigated by the Israelis. We've heard those preliminary results from the IDF investigation saying that their troops were, in fact, operating in that vicinity of the Jabalia refugee camp. That early investigation, according to the IDF, they say Hamas militants fired more of those on their soldiers. They returned fire. We spoke to U.N. officials here in Gaza. They have absolutely no doubt that that school came under attack from Israeli fire. This is part of what that U.N. official had to say.


PIERRE KRAMEMBUHL, COMMANDER GENERAL: What I'm able to say, at this stage based on the initial elements, is that we have clear indications in the first assessment that we have that the three projectiles hit the school. And on presenting and analyzing the pieces of shrapnel, we believe that we have all the elements in place to conclude that it was Israeli artillery.


VAUSE: And, Wolf, they say that this all happened at about 4:30 in the morning. And the U.N. has told us, they've told a lot of people, they did give the IDF the coordinates for that school not once, not twice, but 17 times.

BLITZER: Let me just ask a personal question. Are you OK? Our team over there, the CNN team, producers, photographers, everyone OK? Because it was a pretty alarming when we saw what happened to you a little while ago.

VAUSE: Yes, it was a little close. It's been close before. I'm pretty sure it will be close again. The IDF apparently knows where we are. We're hoping that we won't be in the firing line. I'm pretty sure that we won't be. But, yes, we're hoping for a quiet night here like everybody else in Gaza.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, the last few nights have not been quiet at all. It's now three weeks plus into this war that has been going on. And I suspect it won't be very quiet where you are.

Hey, John, thanks very much. John Vause on the scene for us in Gaza.

Meanwhile, some shocking video surfaced that purports to show Hamas fighter using a tunnel to attack Israeli troops. At least five Israeli soldiers were killed.

Our Martin Savidge has the disturbing details.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There was no way that CNN can authenticate the Hamas video but it does match up with information that we do know. For instance, Hamas claims that this video shows an attack on Israeli soldiers by militants using a tunnel on Monday. The Israel military confirms that there was an attack on Israeli soldiers on Monday by militants using a tunnel. Israel says five of its soldiers were killed in the attack. Hamas says it actually killed 10.

The issue of tunnels has become more of a justification for the ongoing military operation by Israel in Gaza than even the threat of rockets because the rocket threat has pretty much been knocked down as a result of the success of iron dome.

But the idea of tunnels, in other words, the concept that a terrorist could pop up in an Israeli home, that really scares people here, whether it's real or not. So, many Israelis are very heavily backing the ongoing conflict. It's over 80 percent of Israelis still support what is happening inside of Gaza.

Meanwhile, Israel has released video of its own, showing leaflets being dropped on Gaza. It says that it is doing all it can to try to limit the number of civilian casualties, the leaflets to warn people to either stay indoors or evacuate a neighborhood.

Israel says it also uses robo calls, text messaging, even something called a roof knocka (ph), a nonlethal explosive device that warns a person in the house that the next one really will be real.

Israel is well aware of the amount of criticism being launched against this country because of the high number of civilians that have been killed in the ongoing conflict. But Israel is also sending a clear message to its enemies. And that is, if those enemies think they can attack Israel and hide behind a civilian population to do it, Israel is essentially saying they better think again.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Jerusalem.


BLITZER: Let's go to southern Israel right now. Not very far away from the Gaza border, our own Sara Sidner on the scene for us. Sara, what's happening where you are? What are you seeing?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are in Ashkelon, a place you know well. We're hearing very strong booms, outgoing fire from Israel. The window is rattling from that. And that has been going on throughout much of the day. We were right on the border with Gaza not too long ago. And just after the cease-fire, we should mention, we saw what was a mortar that came over from Gaza. We also then heard the artillery firing again and again from Israel, sorry, the border into Gaza.

I want to note something now. We've been hearing there was a briefing from the commander of Israeli forces of the southern command basically saying that they feel that they are getting very close to completing their mission. An interesting thing to hear at this hour. What does that mean? We don't know. But coming close to completing a mission may indicate what is going to be happening in the next few days, possibly a week, with this particular task that Israel has set out for itself to try and rid all of Gaza of all these tunnels that they say are heading towards Israel or have already made it into Israel.

I also, just to note, here Wolf, spoke with the former -- one of the former heads of Mossad, Danny Yatom, and he told me, in his opinion, and this is his opinion alone but remember he is the former head of the Mossad, everybody knows Israel's intelligence agency, saying, you know, he doesn't see this going beyond a week. He says he believes that it may lack less than a week.

So, giving you some idea of an analysis of how long this pounding that Gaza is taking is going to go on, at least the mission that they set forth for themselves which is to knock out all of the tunnels. Again, another big baritone sound coming from Israel into Gaza. It's sounding like artillery fire just now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And have there been rockets, missiles from Gaza coming in from where you are in southern Israel? Over there, have you heard the sirens going off? Have you heard the booms from that iron dome anti- missile system?

SIDNER: We have. We have not heard sirens where we are along the part of the border that we have been. But we have -- certainly -- we certainly know that they have gone off in other parts of Israel. We know that during the cease-fire, there were at least 26 rockets, Israel says, came out from the border, very upset, saying, look, we've tried to have a cease-fire and this is how Hamas treated the case- fire, a humanitarian cease-fire, for the people there, of course in Gaza who have been suffering the great amount of casualties here. So, a frustration, as you might imagine, on the Israeli side. Fear and death happening far too often on the Gaza side as well. And there's fear here, too, as you know, Wolf, with the sirens going off and the possibility of a missile coming at you, people having, you know, 60 seconds to find a safe place, there's definitely a heightened sense of fear.

But also, there is a great deal -- the number of Israeli Jews who are really standing behind this offensive is up to 95 percent of those polled, in some pols, are saying they want this to go all the way and finally get rid of Hamas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Sidner in southern Israel for us. Be careful over there, Sara. Thank you very much. And Sara reporting potentially a major piece of news. The head of the Israeli military southern command saying they're getting close to completing their military mission in Gaza. We'll get some more details, what that mean -- what that might mean for a cease-fire. We'll stay in touch with Sara, with John Vause in Gaza.

But when we come back, we'll get the Palestinian perspective. The Palestinian representative to the United States, Maen Areikat, he'll join us live. Lots of news happening right here. Stay with us.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go right to Ambassador Maen Areikat. He's the Palestinian representative to the United States. He's joining us on the phone from Washington right now.

Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us.

I don't know if you heard the news. It sounds pretty significant. The head of the Israeli military's southern command, who is in charge of the ground operation down there, I think more than just the ground operation, says it looks like the Israeli military has almost completed its mission. That would sound as if they're getting ready for a cease-fire. What do you know about this, if you can update us?

MAEN AREIKAT, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO THE U.S. (via telephone): Well, I think -- I think they are trying there to indicate that they have completed their mission. You know, of course, we welcome any news, any progress towards a cease-fire. We know that there are intense diplomatic efforts. I think the fact that Israel has undoubtedly shown the entire world that, you know, the people who are being killed are only (ph) civilians and children. Targeting the (INAUDIBLE) school today, the market place in (INAUDIBLE), over the Eid, the three (ph) day of our holy feast, Israel killed 370 civilians, an average 120 every day. I think this is an indication that this war has no clear objectives and therefore they are indicating now that they could have accomplished - or they accomplished their objectives. BLITZER: It sounds to me like what the General Torgaman (ph), who's in

charge of this operation down in the southern part of Israel in Gaza, what he's suggesting, at least my impression is, he's suggesting they've located, they've destroyed the tunnels and they've destroyed a big chunk of the Hamas infrastructure -- military infrastructure, as far as those rockets and missiles are concerned. What are you hearing about that, if anything?

AREIKAT: Well, you know, listen, it's really difficult to verify and to assess. I know that it is a very huge destruction in the Gaza Strip. I know that there are almost 1,400 Palestinians have lost their lives, mostly civilians. I know that they are targeting civilian infrastructure. I know that they are targeting (INAUDIBLE) schools, radio stations, hospitals, the electric grid there.

This is a war waged against civilian targets there, Wolf. But, you know, there is always a price for that war. And the attention has been over last two days on these tunnels. Everybody seems to understand that the Palestinians are facing the most sophisticated weapons that Israel possesses. F-16s, tanks, navy boat (ph), you know? I mean what else do you expect the Palestinians to do? You know, they have to defend themselves against this campaign against them.

But they - again, we should really focus the issue on reaching that immediate cease-fire to stop the bloodshed, engage the parties to reach a longtime political solution. That must include Israel's lifting of that blockade against the Gaza Strip.

BLITZER: Where does it stand right now, based on everything you're hearing -- I know the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and others are involved, working with Egypt, and the United States for that matter, Qatar, Turkey. Where does that stand now in terms of getting a cease-fire, maybe even for a few hours or a day or two days? Any progress at all as far as you know?

AREIKAT: I think the major disagreement right now is, I don't know if there has been a shift in the Israeli position based on contact between them, the United States and other parties. The Israelis are insisting to continue their operations inside the Gaza Strip, even if Palestinian factions agree to a period of quite or truce to allow for these political negotiations to take place.

My understanding, that this is a major stumbling block right now. Israel wants to have a free hand to continue to operate inside the Gaza Strip and expect the Palestinians not to respond or retaliate. Once Israel accepts a truce that - with cease-fire, including on their part, I think the Palestinian delegation is prepared and ready to go to Cairo, to have talks with the Egyptians, who will also have talks with the Israeli delegation to try to consolidate (ph) that truce into a permanent cease-fire and hopefully deal with the other issues to make sure that this episode (ph) is not repeated and this carnage is not repeated by the Israelis in the future.

BLITZER: One final question, ambassador, before I let you go. Assuming the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas, he agrees, and the political wing, the leadership of -- the political leadership of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, in Doha, Qatar, they agree, is it a guarantee that the military wing of Hamas would also agree? Because yesterday it seemed to be a bit confusing, the military wing of Hamas rejecting, but it looked like the Palestinian factions have all agreed to.

AREIKAT: Well, I don't -- you know, I'm not very fully aware of the internal dynamics of Hamas. But I think, you know, they were trying to say exactly what I told you earlier, that unless Israel also commits to a total cessation (ph) of hostilities and cease-fire completely, that the Palestinians will be compelled to retaliate to any Israeli attacks.

I think the political leadership of Hamas, in my view, still in control of the situation. They are all awaiting for this hopefully period of truce to be agreed upon. They have accepted the efforts of President Abbas to form the delegation to go to Cairo. And they are ready and prefer to join these efforts as soon as they take place in Cairo. We hope that this will materialize in the next couple of days, hopefully sooner, because we want to see this bloodshed, we want to see this Israeli campaign stop enough for the bloodshed, enough for aggression and let's sit and talk and try to resolve this issue politically. There is no military solution to this problem.

BLITZER: Maen Areikat is the Palestinian representative to the United States, joining us from Washington.

Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us.

Meanwhile, a four-hour cease-fire here that was supposed to take effect in the Middle East didn't take effect very long. It was broken by explosions. We're going to get reaction to what's going on. Stay with us.


BLITZER: To clarify what the commander of the Israeli military's southern command, General Sami Turgeman, said to reporters in a briefing that just occurred. He said, "to his estimate," and this is General Turgeman, he said, "the Israeli military is only a few days away from completing its mission to destroy the tunnels that Israel knew about," those tunnels going from Gaza into Israel, "tunnels that Israel knew about before this current operation, as well as the tunnels that Israel has discovered since beginning this operation. That's General Sami Turgeman, head of the Israeli military's southern command.

Earlier today I had a chance to speak with the president's deputy national security advisor at the White House, Ben Rhodes. We spoke just before that four-hour cease-fire was supposed to go into effect. He had plenty to say about what's going on between Israel and Hamas.


BLITZER: Ben Rhodes is joining us. He's President Obama's deputy national security adviser.

Ben, thanks very much for joining us. The secretary of state, as you know, I think he's on his way to India

right now. So, is the U.S. leadership, in trying to get a cease-fire, is that over with, at least for now?

BEN RHODES, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: No, Wolf. We continue our discussions with Israelis and Palestinians and countries in the region. Obviously, we're in a very difficult time with a lot of violence back and forth. We're very concerned about reports, of course, that you have these weapons being hid in schools, just as we're also very concerned about the civilian loss of life among the Palestinians. All of that points to us, to the need for a cease-fire, a short-term cease-fire to be put in place so that we can again address the broader issues that we see at stake in Gaza.

BLITZER: I don't know if you saw it, and I assume you did, one of the Israeli television channels published -- put on the air what they said was a transcript of a rather testy phone conversation that President Obama had the other night with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I saw the translation of that. It looked pretty blunt. Was that accurate?

RHODES: You know, Wolf, I've seen a lot of crazy things the last six years in this job. That was one of the craziest. That quote/unquote transcript bore no resemblance to the call that the two leaders had. Yes, they had a very candid exchange about the situation in Gaza. They talked strategy, about how to pursue a cease-fire. They talked about Israel's need to defend itself, about the need to take care to avoid civilian casualties. But that was a totally made up transcript that you saw appear in the Israeli media. We were able to correct the record, and so were the Israelis by the way, who also made clear that that was not at all a transcript of the call.

BLITZER: Yes, Mark Regev, the spokesman for the prime minister, also denied that was the transcript. And I've got to tell you, though, it's getting a lot of momentum, a lot of publicity, a lot of buzz here in Israel. What can be done right now? I know there's an immediate crisis. It's awful what's going on in Gaza. But it seems -- there seems to be a little tension developing between two very close allies, namely the United States and Israel. What needs to be done to fix that?

RHODES: Well, Wolf, again, I think on the basics, on the fundamentals, there's not any distance. The United States has provided enormous support for Israel's security. You have seen there in Israel the effect, for instance, that the Iron Dome system has had, which the United States helped develop and fund, in saving Israeli lives from these rockets. We have supposed Israeli's right to defend itself.

We've also, however, focused on diplomacy on trying to bring about this cease-fire. We believe that's the way to stop the rocket fire into Israel. We believe that Israel can still deal with these tunnels as it pursues a cease-fire. And we believe that a discussion about a long-term fix to some of the challenges that we see in Gaza, including Hamas's stockpile of weapons, that would be in the interest of Israel's security. So we're going to continue to send that message to Israel, privately, publicly. And again, I think the fundamentals the relationship between the United States and Israel allows for discussion and sometimes debate about tactics.

BLITZER: The Israelis say, and we heard this just a little while ago here on NEW DAY from Mark Regev, the spokesman for Prime Minister Netanyahu, if you go back to that original Egyptian sponsored cease- fire, Israel will accept it right away without any conditions. What they didn't like, clearly, some of the add-ons that were put forward in subsequent conversations. Is that original Egyptian

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Israelis say -- we heard this just a little while ago -- if you go back to that original Egyptian sponsored cease-fire, Israel will accept it right away without any conditions. What they didn't like, clearly, some of the add-ons that were put forward in subsequent conversations. Is that original Egyptian proposal still on the table?

BEN RHODES, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Yes, Wolf. The Egyptians have been in the lead for cease-fire negotiations. Their proposal has been the basis for everything that's followed. There's been discussions with Israel, with Egypt, with the Palestinian Authority, with some other countries in the region, like Turkey and Qatar, but it's on the basis of that Egyptian proposal. What we said is if we get these short-term cease-fires in place to provide for a humanitarian pause October ground, that parties can convene in Cairo for those discussions, again, with the Egyptians in the lead, in helping to bring people together, in pursuit of a more lasting cease- fire solution. So, again, that is a proposal we continue to work with. And that's been the basis of a lot of our discussions with Israel.


BLITZER: That was Ben Rhodes, the president's deputy national security adviser at the White House, speaking with me on CNN's "NEW DAY" earlier today.

Three weeks of hell in Gaza. We're looking at what triggered the latest crisis, this latest crisis between Israel and Hamas. We're going to see how it all unfolded. Stay with us.