Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Maen Areikat; Hamas Militants Attack Through Tunnels; Ebola Scare Forces Highest Travel Alert; Interview with Liberian Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; Investigators Reach MH17 Site

Aired July 31, 2014 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me now to discuss this and the larger issue is Maen Rashid Areikat. He's the Palestinian representative to the United States.

Thank you so much for being here.


TAPPER: We appreciate it.

So, I know you do not represent Hamas. You represent the PLO. But seeing that video, do you understand or even support Israel's mission to say they need to destroy these tunnels?

AREIKAT: Well, I'll tell you something. This is not the issue of tunnels here, Jake. It's much more complicated than that. It didn't start with the tunnels.

TAPPER: I get that.

AREIKAT: These tunnels were used for different purposes.

TAPPER: Well, the ones from Egypt to Gaza were used for smuggling in goods and services, but the ones from Gaza to Israel as a Hamas representative told me the other day are for military.

AREIKAT: These tunnels were built some time ago and over the last two years, during the cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, that Israeli breached 226 times since November, 2012 until July 2014, 225 times, killed 26 Palestinians. Hamas never used these tunnels to attack Israel.

TAPPER: I take your point, but does Israel not have a right to destroy these tunnels? Can you understand why any nation would want to destroy the tunnels?

AREIKAT: Hamas and Palestinian factions utilize these tunnels when Israel invaded the Gaza strip, killed 1,432 Palestinians so far. So every nation, every people has the right to defend themselves.

TAPPER: If we're trying to seek a way out of this, all this death, most of it on the Palestinian side, wouldn't agreeing to shut down the tunnels be a good start? AREIKAT: It will be if Israel also promises not to continue its aggression against the Palestinians. Look at the numbers, Jake. The number and scenes and pictures are coming to you speak for themselves.

TAPPER: I understand but the Israelis would argue it's not a question of numbers. It's an intent. Certainly Hamas has tried. If it's not for the lack of trying by Hamas.

AREIKAT: When I listen to people describing Palestinian faction as being terrorists and they have terrorist intentions and I look at the number of civilian kills here, I ask myself who is the terrorist in this confrontation in this conflict in the one who killed 1,432, 80 percent of them civilians or Hamas, which killed only 57 Israeli soldiers and one Israeli civilian?

TAPPER: With all due respect, that's because they're not very good.

AREIKAT: This is not the case. They killed most of these Israeli soldiers when they went into the Gaza Strip. So they were invading troops going into Palestinian territory. Now, this issue is being magnified here. I think you are completely ignoring that this conflict did not start on July.

TAPPER: I understand the issue of the occupation as Palestinians refer to it, and I'm not saying that that should be even tabled, but let's talk about trying to end the conflict right now so that the innocent Palestinians, the children are not killed. Wasn't it a mistake by Hamas a few days ago to reject the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the PA's larger cease-fire proposal?

AREIKAT: Well, the PLO said at the time that the announcement was made prematurely without finishing deliberations with Hamas. Let me tell you how this can get in there, Jake. We need to get to a cease- fire you know whatever you want to call it, a lull, a truce to allow for humanitarian rescues to go into the Gaza situation so dire medicine is, you know, there's a shortage of medicine. No clean water.

TAPPER: No electricity. That's why I don't understand why there isn't an agreement of a cease-fire.

AREIKAT: You need to take advantage of that temporary truce to engage the two sides with the help of Egypt and other international players.

TAPPER: Hamas rejected the Egyptian cease-fire proposal, sir.

AREIKAT: I understand. Hamas rejected because the cease-fire did not include a political solution to the conflict. This conflict is the result of the Israeli blockade that has been imposed on the Gaza strip for seven years. People are in an open air prison.

They cannot even leave the Gaza strip. There is a political problem there. Once this period is achieved, the two parties will meet with the help of the Egyptians and other international players. They will discuss the details of a longer term arrangement that will allow for quiet and peace to prevail. TAPPER: From your mouth to God's ears. Thank you so much for coming in. We really appreciate it. Maen Rashid Areikat, thank you for your time.

When we come back, a life or death waiting game for two Americans with the deadly Ebola virus. Now word that one of them received an experimental serum. Will that be enough to save her? Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. In other World News, for just the third time ever, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has raised the travel alert to level 3. Warning against nonessential travel to Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, the West African nations are, as you likely know, trying to stop a virus that can kill you.

And one of the most horrific ways there is to die. Still, despite the fact that Ebola was just one unused flight ticket away from the United States, the CDC is saying not much to worry about at least here at home.

Take that however you want from the government agency that was blasted recently for transporting anthrax the way you would bring a ham sandwich to work. The Ebola death toll passed 700 today and it's not showing any signs of slowing down, 1300 people have contracted the virus and odds are sadly most of them will not survive.

Among the sick are two Americans who may come home to the U.S. U.S. officials are in ongoing talks about getting the Americans out of Africa and one of them may have given up his only chance of survival to save the other. CNN's Pamela Brown is following all the latest for us.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: As the biggest Ebola outbreak in history worsens in West Africa, the CDC is now warning Americans against traveling to the stricken countries. The health agency is now raising the travel an alert to the highest level, three, for the first time since the SARS epidemic and the CDC is flooding the zone with 50 more workers to help fight Ebola.

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, DIRECTOR OF CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: It's not going to be quick. It's not going to be easy, but we know what to do.

BROWN: The CDC warns it could take at least three to six months in the best case scenario before the outbreak is contained. The situation becoming more urgent for the two American aid workers stricken with Ebola, Dr. Ken Brantley fighting for his life, his condition worsening.

His organization Samaritans first hailing his selflessness saying he turned down the one available dose of experimental serum so it could be given to his fellow aid worker, Nancy Writebol. Writebol's friend telling CNN he remains hopeful the serum will help. JOHN MUNRO, PASTOR, CALVARY CHURCH: She seemed to be quite stable, resting quietly. And then later in the day, her condition seems to have worsened a bit. And then we got this latest news about this serum so we continue to pray.

BROWN: In the U.S., officials are discussing how and when to medevac the two back to America. This Gulf Stream Jet outfitted with an isolation pod could be used to transport someone with an infectious disease like Ebola.

With the deadly virus only a plane ride away, the U.S. is prepared for the worst. The country has 20 existing quarantine centers at these international airports and border crossings.

(on camera): Hospitals in the U.S. like this one in D.C. have been put on high alert. If a patient walks in exhibiting any flu like symptoms and has recently been to West Africa, they will immediately little be put into the an isolation room like this.

(voice-over): The room is sealed off. Access to the patient is extremely restricted. The room is also equipped with a special ventilation system though Ebola is not spread through the air.

DR. GLENN WORTMANN, MEDSTAR WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER: Forget that history of coming from West Africa. Our antenna is going to go up. Think about Ebola.

BROWN: The doctors and nurses treating the Ebola patient would suit up, an impermeable gown, masks and gloves, but the aid workers in West Africa with Ebola were also wearing protective gear. How they were able to contract the deadly disease remains a mystery, a stark reminder to health care workers on the front lines of this widening epidemic. Pamela Brown, CNN, Washington.


TAPPER: Our thanks to Pamela Brown. Joining us now is the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Madam President, thank you so much for joining us. First, you have an update on the two Americans battling Ebola in your country?

PRESIDENT ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF, LIBERIA: We understand they're still under treatment. They still have not yet been cured of the disease, but they're being treated very well and giving fullest of attention.

TAPPER: Madame President, you've told the Ministry of Health in your country to consider burning the bodies of those who have been killed by Ebola. You also ordered Liberia's borders closed. Have those measures done anything do you think to curb this horrible outbreak?

SIRLEAF: Stopping the movement across borders have had a little effect. We still need more enforcement of it. When we -- the order we gave to close schools and to do other things that we are still in the business of trying to enforce it. This is serious. It's a strange disease. Our people know nothing. There's no cure. There was denial. It's now turned into fear and panic and therefore, even controlling borders and controlling places where we put quarantine is difficult because of the free movements that people are accustomed. This is a very, very serious, it's very nearing a catastrophe.

TAPPER: Do you think the people of Liberia understand how grave this threat is?

SIRLEAF: No, they don't and that has been the problem. But that information is now getting through, as I said, there was quite a bit of denial. People did not respect the health authorities' advice. They thought this was just a scam. But now they are seeing people die. People are dying in their communities.

There are dead bodies all over the place and they now know that it's real. They know that it's deadly and they are now beginning to respond. Unfortunately, they are beginning to panic and run from one place to the other for safety.

And that's our challenge is to be able to contain them to make sure we keep them in the places where they can be quarantined. We can identify and trace people with whom they've interacted so that we can stop the spread of this disease. Please, let me -- go ahead.

TAPPER: Our thoughts and prayers are with you country. But of course, you need more than thoughts and prayers. The U.S. today announced it's flooding the affected areas with new health care workers. Tell the world what you need to help stop this epidemic, to help stop what's going on in Liberia.

SIRLEAF: Let me first say that this is not a Liberia problem or Sierra Leone problem or Guinea problem. It is an international problem. What we need is to build our capacity in terms of technical assistance, for training, technical assistance for treatment in the form of doctors and nurses.

Those who have expertise in this area perhaps having served in Uganda or in the Democratic Republic of Congo that we can mobilize them. The Centers for Disease Control have people here. We are grateful for that. But it's not enough because they are stretched thin.

They need to have additional support. Logistics, the supplies, preventive material to be able, prevention, the things like chlorine and those things that will keep people safe, that would improve hygiene. The basic things are all needed.

Liberia has tried. We've used our own resources, but obviously we have limitations in our own resources and we hope the international community will see this as a grave international disease, an international catastrophe and will respond to it in like kind.

TAPPER: President Sirleaf, lastly, if you would, what's your response to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here in the United States? Raising the travel alert to your country? To a level three basically suggesting that no one go to Liberia unless it's essential travel? SIRLEAF: I think that's an acceptable preventive measure. We don't -- have not reached a place of any international threat. But any measure that would prevent people that will limit movements until we can contain this problem is welcome. And we welcome the partnership with the Centers for Disease Control that we now have.

And we will work with them to ensure that will while this advisory is respected, that they become comfortable, that we've taken enough measures and our exit points including airports to prevent people and to contain this.

The medicine front tier is working with us. Maritime press is working with us. We are all in accord on trying to prevent and contain even as we try to respond to those that require treatment.

TAPPER: Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, thank you so much for your time and best of luck.

SIRLEAF: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: Coming up next, two weeks and still as many as 80 victims remain at the Flight 17 crash site. Why is it taking so long for their bodies to be retrieved? It's horrific. We'll be right back.


TAPPER: Welcome back do THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. For the first time in nearly a week, international investigators finally made it to the crash site of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. For days on end, the area controlled by pro-Russian rebels presented too much of a threat to the team, which is from the organization for security and cooperation in Europe.

Their suspicion that those very same separatists may have shot the plane down two weeks ago today, 298 innocent people were on that doomed flight. And now the Australian government is saying up to 80 bodies could still be at the site.

Joining me now from Eastern Ukraine is Michael Borchukiw. He is the spokesman for the OSCE. Michael, good to see you as always. It's been days since you were last at the site. What was your assessment when you finally got back today?

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, OSCE SPOKESMAN: Thanks for having us again. Well, I can tell you the first thing we did was pause for a moment. It was two weeks to the exact hour since that plane came down. And then we immediately got to the work or the investigators did in terms of really doing a quick survey, a rapid assessment where human remains might lie in the main crash site.

And they did find some human remains and the idea is to get them there tomorrow as much as we can. And for them to start collecting that. And also Jake, to map out where crucial pieces of the debris as they realize time is no longer on their side.

So they need to really zero in and find out where crucial pieces of debris is, for example, pieces that have very unique marks on them and take that for analysis.

TAPPER: Michael, do you share the view of the Australian foreign minister that there are 80 bodies that might still have not been found yet?

BOCIURKIW: Well, we're in no position to do so as the OSCE. We're the monitoring mission. We facilitate the access of experts. They did tell me today that they did spot some and also said that there were fields there that didn't look like they'd been searched at all because there was no kind of bent over branches or anything like that.

So that gave them indication that number one, they need to move quickly and secondly, they may need specialized assets, for example, sniffer dogs maybe surveillance equipment to find those precious remains as soon as possible.

TAPPER: And very, very quickly, Michael, if you would, do you feel like you now have a solid route to able to get back to the site daily? Are both sides now cooperating?

BOCIURKIW: Well, we certainly hope so. Today, we proved the route that it does work. Tomorrow is another day. Right now as we speak talks are going on. So fingers crossed really for another success tomorrow with a lot more people on the ground.

TAPPER: Fingers crossed indeed, Michael Bociurkiw, thank you so much and best of luck tomorrow. Coming up, it was supposed to be the last order of business before a month long break. But House Republicans killed a last minute vote after a revolt within their own party. Stay with us. That's next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Turning to the Politics Lead now, those visions of vacation homes and fishing trips will have to wait for members of the House of Representatives. Their five-week recess was expected to start today.

But the GOP leadership in the House is delaying it after they pulled a $659 million emergency funding bill to deal with the thousands of undocumented immigrants detained at the border, many of them children.

The GOP has called a meeting in the morning as it considers its next move. Here was the reaction on the House floor to the delay.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The House will be in order.


TAPPER: Really? Members of Congress, you're booing because you have to stay another day?

Really, because I don't know, maybe you haven't seen Congress's latest approval rating. Fifteen percent. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf

Blitzer. He's live from Jerusalem in "THE SITUATION ROOM."