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Middle East Truce Broken After 90 Minutes; Soldier Captured; 72-Hour Cease-Fire Collapsed; Hamas Spokesman Denies Soldier Captured; Kerry Condemns Attack
Aired August 1, 2014 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Secretary of State, John Kerry, is condemning the attack, calling it an outrageous violation of the cease-fire that he and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon announced the night before. Hamas denies it has the missing Israeli soldier. And it insists it was Israel that violated the 72-hour truce by launching a deadly attack on neighborhoods in Rafah.
Gaza health officials say Israeli shelling has killed at least 40 people and injured 250 on this day that was supposed to be a cease- fire. Right now, it's unclear who violated the cease-fire. You hear one version from the Israelis. A very different version from Hamas officials.
CNN's Karl Penhaul is joining us now live from Gaza City with more. What is the very latest? The cease-fire now completely history. The fighting has resumed probably with a vengeance. What's the latest, Karl?
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The fighting certainly has resumed, Wolf. We've heard artillery pounding throughout the afternoon on Gaza's eastern border. We've also had reports of fighting and shelling going on on Gaza's southern border around Rafah where the incident this morning took place.
We were also on the border, on the eastern border, about two and a half hours into this morning's cease-fire, and saw, from our position, Israeli tanks maneuvering. And then, we heard them fire at least four shells into buildings where we were at.
Now, in terms of developments, well, of course, in that shelling incident, down near Rafah, that happened about an hour 30 into the cease-fire, around the same time that the Israeli military reported the confrontation with Hamas fighters, the Palestinian Health Authority said shelling took place close to civilian market and close to a hospital. They are reporting 40 people killed in that and 250 people wounded.
Also in the course of the day, we've heard statements both from Hamas' political and military wing that there was fighting with Israeli soldiers close to Rafah this morning. They accused the Israeli military of trying to advance beyond its front lines before the cease- fire started and say that the fighting continued after the cease-fire.
However, Hamas is taking no responsibility for capturing any Israeli soldier. That raises the question, could this have been, perhaps, another militant faction? Could it, perhaps, have been Hamas may still be trying to get that soldier to a secure location or could that soldier still be somewhere laying on the battlefield -- Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, Karl, it's interesting because earlier in the day, you were reporting Hamas in this initial statement, said they had some sort of, quote, "unique announcement." That was the word that was used. Unique announcement to make. It was unclear what they meant. There was speculation since then. Maybe they were referring to their capture of this Israeli soldier. What have you heard about what was supposed to be that word, unique? What were they driving at? What were they referring to when they used that word?
PENHAUL: You're absolutely right. That was a brief statement on the ALAXA (ph) T.V., the Hamas-run T.V. station. That was made this morning probably about, I would guess now, five hours or six hours into the cease-fire or the supposed start of the cease-fire. There has been no follow-up from them. They have made no further statement on the television.
However, as I say, we have had that written statement on al Qassam's Web site, as well as comments from one of the spokesman from the political wing, Fazi Balgum, stating that there was a firefight near Ramallah but not taking responsibility for the capture of any soldier. Unclear what this unique operation near the Kerem Shalom border crossing was that Al-Qassam was referring to on ALAXA T.V. this morning -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Karl Penhaul in Gaza City for us. Karl, thanks very much.
Let's get the Israeli version of what's going on. The spokesman for the IDF, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner is with us once again. Colonel, do you know for sure that Hamas, not some other group, but Hamas has this Israeli soldier?
LT. COL. PETER LERNER, SPOKEPERSON, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: What we know for sure is this is modus operandi of this organization. They've been striving to do so from day one of this mission. They have announced already, several times, abduction. They've tried several times even bodies, body parts. This is what they've been trying to do. That's why there's enough circumstantial evidence to point to Hamas as the people who are responsible for it. You add to the fact that they are actually investing in these tunnels which are theirs. They belong to Hamas. They have invested in them. They have put all of their capabilities into them. I would say absolutely Hamas.
BLITZER: Because some analysts have suggested that Islamic jihad also has invested in these tunnels and this operation may have the fingerprints or some indications that Islamic jihad may have been responsible, not necessarily Hamas.
LERNER: The only thing I know, at the time, is that we were in the midst of a humanitarian cease-fire. A humanitarian cease-fire for the people of Gaza. These terrorists came out of the ground with bad intentions. They carried out a strike. They killed two of our soldiers and abducted Hadar Goldin. This is -- this is what we know currently. This is what they're doing. This is what they've been try to do. This is what we've been warning about specifically of the -- our concerns of these tunnels. This is why we have to deal with them. We don't have a choice.
BLITZER: Because this was an operation involving suicide bombers, if you will, right?
LERNER: Yes, one of them came out of the -- out of the tunnel and blew himself up, killing two soldiers.
BLITZER: Because some analysts have said that's more in line with Islamic Jihad, suicide bombers, as opposed to Hamas. Does Hamas have a reputation of doing suicide bombings, wearing those suicide vests?
LERNER: Well, absolutely. We've seen it throughout the history of the conflict with Gaza, with Hamas. Whether it's in (INAUDIBLE) in the west bank or more in Gaza, they have always utilized suicide bombing as a tactic. And it has been, to a great effect, been dealt with by our intelligence and operational capabilities in those areas. But, indeed, in this scenario, it is a possibility. I'll say again, we don't know who, at this time, is behind it. It is the M.O. of Hamas. We know that they've utilized and built these tunnels for specifically these kinds of attacks. And that is what they're doing.
BLITZER: As far as you know, has anyone claimed responsibility for capturing this Israeli soldier?
LERNER: No, I'm not aware.
BLITZER: All right. So, nobody's made any announcements or anything along those lines. You're looking -- there's a massive search underway. I take it you're going house to house in that Rafah area near that tunnel, is that right?
LERNER: We're operating on the ground. We're utilizing everything we have at hand, whether it's infantrymen, whether it's the intelligence capabilities that we have. Indeed, this is a grave, grave situation that has the potential of extreme escalation. We are taking it extremely serious. We don't -- we didn't want this. We were -- we were happy with the cease-fire that was in place. We had 90 minutes of cease-fire. We were looking to be, at this hour, 12 hours after that cease-fire. But they chose to escalate. They choose to carry out this attack. Now, we are in pursuit of them. This terrorist organization, Hamas, cannot continue without consequences of their actions.
BLITZER: So, when you say grave escalation, because it looked pretty escalated over the past three and a half, nearly four weeks, how much more escalated could it get?
LERNER: Well, this changes things further. I mean, we were, up until now, we have two main goals to deal with, severing those tunnels leading into Israel, dealing with the rockets which are striking our towns. We've had some 20 rockets during the course the day. And now we have another concern. A soldier that has been abducted. A soldier that's been held -- that's been kidnapped. Obviously, it's something we can't accept. It's not -- it just won't happen.
BLITZER: Will you trade for that Israeli soldier as you have in the past?
LERNER: I'm not in the position to say that.
BLITZER: But that's something Israel has done in the past. When you say 20 rockets have been fired into Israel, did any of them cause any significant damage, as far as you know?
LERNER: We have the iron dome missile defense system which was successful in intercepting the vast majority of those headed towards civilian built-up areas. So, no, we don't have casualties. We are investing in life. That is what we're doing with this technology.
BLITZER: As far as you know, are you gearing up for an escalation by mobilizing yet more Israeli reservists?
LERNER: We have thousands of troops on the ground now. We're utilizing a combined effort with our air force, with our navy and the ground forces together. We have a substantial capability on the ground to meet the task. We also have more forces if that's required. I'm not certain that that's the situation, at that time.
BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, thanks very much for joining us, a Spokesman for the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces.
We'll get a very different perspective. Up next, Dr. Mustafa, a Palestinian parliamentarian. He's standing by to join us live from Ramallah. We'll get his take on what's going on. So far, a very, very awful day. It was supposed to be a good day. There was supposed to be a cease-fire. That didn't exactly work out. This crisis clearly escalating right now. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Let's get Palestinian reaction now to the very rapidly changing, clearly deteriorating situation between Israel and Hamas. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian parliament, a founder of the Palestinian National Initiative. He's joining us, once again, from Ramallah on the west bank. Dr. Barghouti, there were high hopes. This cease-fire that was announced by the U.N. secretary general, the secretary of state, applauded by the Palestinian authority, so many others, would work. What happened, in your analysis? What went wrong? Why did it collapse?
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, FOUNDER, PALESTINIAN NATIONAL INITIATIVE: Well, in the first place, this cease-fire was really quite fragile because it had a problem in it which was that the Israeli army reserves the right to continue its military operation while there was a cease-fire. In the sense that one of the conditions of the cease-fire was that the Israeli army would continue to destroy tunnels and, of course, bombard places. And probably this was one of the reasons why this cease-fire collapsed.
On the other hand, Hamas says that those who broke the cease-fire were the Israeli side and that the operation they did was at 6:30 in the morning which is one and a half hours before the cease-fire took place. In reality, in my opinion, the whole approach was wrong and it's repeatedly done in a wrong way because I believe, now, all the parties should be invited to Cairo and just start negotiating about long-lasting cease-fire, instead of having a cease-fire for 24 hours that is broken and in 72 hours that is broken. Half cease-fire, two- thirds cease-fire, this will not work. This has to stop.
And the situation is really getting bad. At this very moment, more than 1,500 Palestinians are killed in Gaza. If this took place in the United States, you would be talking about a quarter of a million Americans killed. If it was the United States, you would be talking about 1.5 million people injured within 25 days. This is crazy. And it has to stop. And now it is -
BLITZER: So -
BARGHOUTI: Spreading to the West Bank. I've just come back from Hebron (ph), where we had mass -- yes, go ahead, please.
BLITZER: Yes, no, I want to get what's going on in the West Bank in a moment, but what you're saying, Dr. Barghouti, is that it was doomed from the beginning because the cease-fire that was negotiated by the U.N., the U.S., involving Egypt and Qatar and Turkey, it did allow Israel to continue this effort to destroy those tunnels. Jeffrey Feltman, who's the undersecretary-general -
BLITZER: At the United Nations, in charge of political affairs, he just made a statement. He said in his - And this is Jeffrey Feltman from the United Nations. He said, "it was very clear that the Israelis were going to continue the try to do the destruction of tunnels. And the Israelis have been clear about that publically. The Israelis never ceased saying that." So he says, basically Feltman, the U.N. under- secretary-general, he says everyone knew that Israel, even under the 72-hour cease-fire, was allowed to go ahead and continue its operation to destroy the tunnel. And you say that permission for Israel to do so, which was accepted by the U.N. and everyone else, doomed it to failure.
BARGHOUTI: I say it was wrong, yes. I say these arrangements were incomplete. And this is like having half pregnant woman, half cease- fire. What does it mean to be allowed to continue operations? But that is not the reason why it broke down. According to what the Palestinian side is saying in Gaza, they did not break the cease-fire because of this. But in my opinion, this -- these conditions would not allow a proper cease-fire to take place.
BLITZER: Is there a battle going on, as far as you know, Dr. Barghouti, between the political wing of Hamas and the military wing, and for that matter, between the military wing of Hamas and Islamic jihad? Because some are suggesting that the capture of this Israeli soldier, the suicide bombing, the killing of these two other Israeli soldiers at that tunnel, maybe had more of the trademark of Islamic jihad than Hamas. Give me your analysis. BARGHOUTI: No, I don't think so. I think there is a complete
compatibility between the political and the military side. And we have not noticed any sign that there is -- there are differences between the Palestinian groups in Gaza. On the contrary, actually, the only thing between all Palestinians, including people in the PLO and Hamas and jihad got stronger. And that's why we had joint delegation, a unified delegation that was supposed to negotiate a long-lasting cease-fire and the end of this Israeli operation and aggression on Gaza. So I don't think these are real factors.
I think in reality what Hamas did is to try to take advantage by one military action just before the cease-fire ended, and the Israelis were taken by surprise. They suffered. And because of that, they took revenge. And that's why they attacked Rafah and killed 40 people and injured 200 more, making the situation even worse.
I think there is a way out of this. And the way out of this is to sit down now, before declaring humanitarian cease-fire, just sit down and negotiate now in Cairo. Everybody should come there. The secretary of state, Ban Ki-moon and Palestinians and Israelis and sit down and negotiate a full cease-fire. End this aggression. End this terrible massacre that is taking place and discuss all the issues, including lifting the siege (ph) from Gaza. This is what we need. The humanitarian crisis today in Gaza is just beyond anybody's tolerance.
BLITZER: I don't think that's going to necessarily happen, but it's an interesting proposal you're putting forward, Dr. Barghouti. Very quickly, tell us what happened today on the West Bank, because you're concerned clearly that what's going on in Gaza, what could spill over into Hebron and other parts of the West Bank. What happened there today?
BARGHOUTI: Well, there is a real uprising all over the West Bank. Today, I was in Hebron. We had tens of thousands of people demonstrating in the streets. Demonstration I've never seen like before. It was peaceful. Mainly nonviolent. But, unfortunately, encountered gunshots from the Israeli side. And we had 120 people injured.
In other places like (INAUDIBLE), one young man was killed by the Israeli soldiers. Another one in (INAUDIBLE) Ramallah. But there are demonstrations all over the country. It's a real uprising. And people are protesting in solidarity with Gaza, demanding the end of this aggression, but also demanding their freedom and the end of occupation. I think it's very much like the first intefadeh (ph), popular, nonviolent, but very massive.
BLITZER: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, joining us from Ramallah on the West Bank. Dr. Barghouti, thanks very much, as usual, for joining us. We'll continue our conversations with you.
The short-lived cease-fire lasted maybe an hour, hour and a half. It had been brokered by the U.S. and the U.N. Now the secretary of state, John Kerry, is reacting to the escalating crisis. We'll take a closer look at the latest efforts to try to maybe bring some sort of cease- fire back. Is that really realistic? Is that doable? Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: The United States Secretary of State John Kerry, he's working the phones following the disintegration of today's so-called cease- fire. He's already spoken with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. He will also soon be speaking, we're told, with the Palestinian authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.
Earlier, Secretary Kerry issued the following statement, among other things saying this, "the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms today's attack, which led to the killing of two Israeli soldiers and the apparent abduction of another. It was an outrageous violation of the cease-fire negotiated over the past several days and of the assurances given to the United States and the United Nations."
Let's bring in our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.
That statement, a very strong statement from Secretary Kerry. He's still oversees. I think he's still in India. It looks like pretty much he's on the same page as the Israelis, right, Elise?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. He's actually on his way back from India on his plane. He made all those calls, not only to the prime minister and the Palestinians, but also to the foreign ministers of Qatar and Turkey, who have been working with Hamas.
And you've seen over the last several days that Secretary Kerry and the United States have really increased their pressure on Israel about the civilian deaths in (ph) the Palestinian in Gaza. And, really, I heard that Secretary Kerry was really tough on Prime Minister Netanyahu to accept that cease-fire. But I think the U.S., in this statements, makes no bones about the fact that they hold Hamas responsible. And in the statement, Wolf, Secretary Kerry also says it would be a tragedy if there were even more loss of life as a result of this violation. I think that means that the U.S. is really bracing for a very heavy handed response by the Israelis, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, there already has been a significant loss of Palestinian life as a result of the violation.
BLITZER: Two Israeli soldiers were also killed. And one Israeli soldier was captured. So what can realistically the secretary of state, the U.N. secretary-general, the Palestinian authority president, other who are involved in trying to get a cease-fire, what can they do? Is that at all realistic any time soon?
LABOTT: I don't know how realistic it is right now, Wolf, and we need to see. Hamas has just told our own Jim Sciutto that they do not have a captured Israeli soldier. So I think we need to shake out what happens there.
But I'm speaking to U.S. and Egyptian officials. They don't want this to be dead. Clearly this - the, you know, initial hours of a cease- fire, as you know, Wolf, are very shaky. I think that what the Egyptians and the U.S. are hoping is that cooler heads will prevail. And, obviously, talking in the next 24 hours, doesn't look like it will be possible. But the Egyptians are hoping that the Palestinians and the Israelis will come to Cairo and try and talk. But they are saying -- I've talked to very senior Egyptian officials saying, look, we're not going to talk to these parties until they adhere to the cease-fire that they signed up to, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, I suspect any new cease-fire, the Israelis will demand one of the conditions not only the decommissioning or destruction of those tunnels, but they will also demand that they're going to be able to go, if necessary, house to house in the search for that missing Israeli soldier as well. And who knows if that's a deal breaker as far as a cease-fire is concerned with the Israeli military. Thousands of Israeli troops in Gaza right now. It does not look very promising indeed.
Elise, thanks very much for your reporting.
Just ahead, in less than 24 hours, the prospects for some sort of cease-fire in the Middle East diminish oh so drastically. We're taking a closer look at why today's events could be a real game changer between Israel and Hamas.