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Israel and Hamas Point Fingers Over Attacks; Cease-Fire in Gaza Ends; Dealing with Hamas; Israel Criticized Over Shelter Strike; U.S. Condemns Attack
Aired August 4, 2014 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, another cease-fire is over, attacks have resumed. Israel's facing a new round of criticism after one of its missiles killed nine people outside a U.N. Shelter. I'll speak with a deputy general of the United Nations, Jan Eliasson, and he's standing by live.
Can and will Israel do more to prevent civilian casualties? I'll speak live also this hour with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer.
And are divisions within the leadership of the Palestinians in Gaza making any sort of lasting cease-fire impossible? I'll speak again live this hour with Nabil Shaath. He's the former Palestinian foreign minister, a key member of the Fatah Party.
Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Israel and Hamas accused each other of violating what was supposed to be a temporary cease-fire. The humanitarian truce has ended. What will it take to end the conflict? Here are some of the latest developments. The seven-hour cease-fire gave Palestinians a chance to stock up on some supplies. They crowded into Gaza's largest open air market shortly after the truce took effect.
Those are images in Jerusalem. Police there disrupted what they're calling a terrorist attack. They shot and killed a man driving an earth mover after he turned over a passenger bus. This video, posted on social media, said to show the moment police responded.
Israel confirms its forces carried out an air strike on a house in a Gaza refugee camp today. Gaza health officials say an eight-year-old girl was killed. An Israeli government spokesman denies that troops violated the cease-fire because it was an ongoing operation. That's the Israeli position. Still, criticism over civilian casualties is growing louder after an attack Sunday on another United Nations shelter. Nine people were killed there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENNIFER PSAKI, ISRAELI SPOKESWOMAN, STATE DEPARTMENT: When you have a situation where innocent civilians are killed in Gaza, there's more that Israel can do to hold themselves to their own standards and the United States of all countries has experienced this in places like Afghanistan. We're saying they need to hold themselves to their own standards and do more here in Gaza.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, speaking out earlier today on "NEW DAY."
Meanwhile, Israel says it's reviewing what happened but no ordinance fell inside the school. That's what Israel says.
Let's get to the very latest on what's happening inside Israel. Right now, Jake Tapper is joining us from Jerusalem. Jake, both Israel and Hamas they are accusing each other of violating what was supposed to be a rather brief humanitarian cease-fire. It didn't last very long. Hamas never even actually agreed to that Israeli proposal. So, what's going on now? Give us a sense of what Israel's next move might be.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're told that much of the ground campaign in Gaza is coming to something of a close, at least a slowdown. When we were near the border with Gaza earlier today, Wolf, we saw evidence that tanks and armored personnel carriers seemed to be leaving the region, being pulled back. But obviously, the strikes continue. There was the strike at the refugee camp. The strike at that school in Rafah in southern Gaza.
I spoke with somebody from the United Nations earlier today who told me that the strike was, indeed, outside the school. It hit two members of Islamic Jihad, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, who IDF says they were targeting. But then, it also killed a number of others, including a guard for that U.N. school turned shelter, a volunteer and several very young children. And the question the U.N. is asking is if they were following these two members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, why did they have to strike at that time as it was near the shelter?
And then, of course, Wolf, there's been violent activity today here in Jerusalem. There was an event with an Arab Israeli taking a mechanical equipment and overturning a bus, killing an orthodox Jew, a 25-year-old, then being killed by police himself. And then, a gunman on a motor bike shooting and injuring, severely, an Israeli soldier near the campus of Hebrew University.
So, a lot still going on. Not much of a cease-fire in this part of the world.
BLITZER: Yes, it looks like it has a relatively new development, what's going on in Jerusalem right now. Jake, we've heard of other incidents, obviously, closer to the border with Gaza, but now it's hitting Jerusalem. I guess that must be a major, major source of concern. Let me read to you, and to our viewers, what the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said today. He said, the campaign in Gaza is continuing. What is about to conclude is the IDF action to deal with the tunnels.
But this operation will end only when quiet and security are restored to the citizens of Israel for a lengthy period. When you were driving down south towards the border over there with Gaza, did you see on the roads, like, tanks and armored personnel carriers actually heading north, heading away from the Gaza border or sort of just redeploying in the area?
TAPPER: They seem to be redeploying. But they were being pulled away from the border on to the road. It was very difficult to tell where exactly they were going. And, of course, there's -- Israel's defense force doesn't always exactly announce what they are doing next. I should say, we were in Ashkelon which is north of Gaza. Shortly after we left there, the alarms went off and there was a rocket fired, I believe, from Gaza into that region.
And then, we were at a kibbutz very close to southern Gaza. In fact, we could see Raza (ph), the village where this U.N. school turned shelter was hit nearby. We were there and shortly after we left there, a missile was fired -- or a rocket, rather, was fired from Gaza into Israel. We saw evidence of mortar being -- having hit in that Kibbutz yesterday as well.
So, the firing continues. There is no peace of mind. Even when we were there, during the supposed cease-fire, nobody expecting that it was going to last and everybody on edge, expecting incoming any moment.
BLITZER: Jake will anchor a special "LEAD" at 4:00 p.m. Eastern today from Jerusalem. We'll see you at 4:00 p.m. Eastern. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper, from Jerusalem today. We'll look forward to your report. And then, later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, Jake will be back for more, "CNN TONIGHT." Jake will be anchoring later tonight as well. He's going to be a busy guy over the next several days.
Let's get some more on the situation on the ground in Gaza right now. Martin Savidge joining us from Gaza City. Martin, the IDF confirmed that these Israeli forces carried out this aerial strike on a refugee camp in Gaza, basically just a couple minutes after the cease-fire was supposed to go into effect. So, what's going on now? What's the reaction there? What are you seeing? What are you hearing?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, as you can see, the sun has already set. We're starting to slide into another night of darkness here. There's no power so it's going to be pretty dark. Except for those who are fortunate enough to maybe have a generator. There was no cease-fire today but certainly an easing of fire. But that said, there was plenty of outgoing rockets and mortars that were being fired from inside Gaza in the direction of Israel. And there was also a lot of artillery that was coming in from Israel, obviously in the opposite direction.
But going to that strike you mentioned. It was Israel that said and declared this humanitarian cease-fire, starting at 10:00 a.m. local time. Two minutes later is when the air strike was carried out on the refugee camp on the beach, killing one child and injuring a number of other people. Now, Israel says, well, no, that wasn't a violation of the cease-fire. Anybody here would say they just don't see it that way. It certainly sounded like a cease-fire was starting at 10:00. 10:02 is after that time. Hamas was claiming it was a violation of the cease-fire. There were a number of rockets that were fired. But, again, not the intensity during that period that we have come to see. However, after it all ended, yes, then we started to hear the thump of artillery pounding away again in the Shajia (ph) area. We're also hearing now of rising casualties down in the Jaffa area that has seen intensive fighting for the past couple of days. The death toll continues to rise, even though, maybe for a while today, Palestinians had a break and a chance to gather things before it started once more -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Martin Savidge. We're going to stay in close touch with you in Gaza City. Please be careful over there. Martin Savidge reporting.
Israel is facing some tough criticism over another attack on a U.N. shelter. Up next, I'll speak live with the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations about civilian casualties in Gaza and what can be done to get some sort of cease-fire.
And later, we'll get reaction from Israel's ambassador to the United States. I'll ask him about dealing with Hamas, the operations in Gaza. We'll also hear from former Palestinian foreign minister, Nabil Shaath.
BLITZER: Israel is coming under sharp criticism over the latest civilian casualties in the battle with Hamas. A strike on a U.N. school being used as a shelter drew strong condemnation from both the United States and the United Nations. Nine people were killed. The Obama administration called the strike disgraceful. The state department says it was appalled. The U.N. called the strike disgraceful. The State Department says it was appalled. And the U.N. called it a gross violation of international humanitarian law.
The Israeli military says the strike targeted three members of Islamic Jihad on a motorcycle.
Jan Eliasson is the deputy secretary-general of the United Nations. He's joining us now live from the U.N. Secretary-general, thanks very much, once again, for joining us. Israel says it's reviewing what happened at that U.N. shelter. Can you tell us what the United Nations knows about it?
JAN ELIASSON, DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL, UNITED NATIONS: Well, first of all, we know the tragic consequences of the bombing and the nine or 10 people killed, the 27 or so wounded. But the information that we have gathered from our people on the ground (INAUDIBLE) point very strongly to the direction of this being an Israeli attack.
BLITZER: And if the Israelis say, as they do, that three members of Islamic Jihad were racing by on a motorcycle, that's why they opened fire, would that alleviate your concern?
ELIASSON: Not very much because even if that was the case, according to basic international humanitarian law, you have to take into account that an installation was in the immediate neighborhood sheltering 3,000 people. And let us remember, this is almost city warfare.
JAN ELIASSON, UNITED NATIONS DEPUTY SECRETARY-GENERAL: That an installation was in the immediate neighborhood sheltering 3,000 people. And let us remember this is almost city warfare and using artillery or maybe in this case air attacks is an extremely dangerous act and it does not square with the principles of both proportionality, that has be (ph) proportionate to the act taken by Hamas or militants, and also to the principle of precaution, that you have to take precaution and you have to protect civilians.
BLITZER: And what about - what about the Israeli point that Hamas, Islamic jihad, they deliberately place themselves in the midst of these civilian -- concentrated civilian areas, including United Nations shelters, and as a result they themselves, Hamas, Islamic jihad, some of the other Palestinian factions, they are to blame for what happenings. That's the point that you repeatedly hear from Israeli leaders.
ELIASSON: No, I cannot deny in any way that the military installations are close to the civilian. Whether that is a conscious act or not, I don't want to speculate in. But the very fact that you have everybody living so close by. That, in fact, is a question of city warfare. It means that you have to take precautions to make sure that shelters are protected, especially since we are extremely careful to share this information with the Israeli Defense Forces and exact - giving exact location of these shelters. In this case, in Rafah, 33 times, (INAUDIBLE) only an hour or two before it happened, to warn them that we had the school there with kids playing at the gate, where this occurred. So I would hope that Israel would see the enormous importance of living up to these principles of international law and also see the enormous and horrible human effects, what is happening. This is now the seventh attack against an UNRWA - an UNRWA installation, and the third school.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let me read you what the prime minister of Israel said today, Benjamin Netanyahu. "We have no intention of attack the residents of Gaza. In practice, it is Hamas that is attacking them and denying them humanitarian aid. I think that the international community needs to strongly condemn Hamas and also demand, just as we are demanding, that the rehabilitation of Gaza be linked to its demilitarization."
Is that a realistic proposal, demilitarize Gaza, in exchange Israel lifts what the Palestinians call the siege, opens up Gaza and international aid, people can come out, people can leave. Is that realistic, demilitarization in exchange for lifting those restrictions on the residents of Gaza?
ELIASSON: What we hope still is possible is that we achieve what we want to achieve with the 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire that was supposed to start last week. That would have meant that both sides cease the fighting right now without conditions. And that would create a three-day pause in which one could discuss the legitimate concerns of both sides. The Israeli concerns about the bombings and the use of tunnels and the people in Gaza, Hamas' concern about the blockade. And this was supposed to be discussed in Cairo.
I would hope that we would go back to that model of finding an agreement to end this, with also taking into concern the legitimate worries from the Israeli side and, of course, the Hamas side.
BLITZER: And, very quickly, secretary-general, yesterday I spoke in Jerusalem with Robert Serry (ph). He was the U.N. special envoy for the Middle East. Like Secretary Kerry, he blamed Hamas for the break- up of that 72-hour U.N.-supported cease-fire. Is -- do you agree with Robert Serry, that it was Hamas responsible for violating that earlier approved humanitarian cease-fire?
ELIASSON: Our statement on Friday was based on the information that we received from the field, and that pointed in the - in that direction. We, of course, have also received conflicting information afterwards, not least the fact that the Israeli soldier was not captured but was, in fact, killed. So we will, of course, continue to review what exactly happened at that time. But what we saw that morning was a breach of the cease-fire and that was very, very damaging to what we had planned to do the next few days.
BLITZER: Jan Elaisson is the deputy-secretary general of the United Nations. We'll stay in close touch with you, secretary-general. Thanks very much.
ELIASSON: Thank you.
BLITZER: Up next, we'll have more on the crisis in the Middle East. I'll speak live with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. We'll get his reaction to the criticism now being leveled against Israel from both the United Nations and indeed from the U.S. What's left to accomplish in the ground war, we'll get his update. Stay with us.
BLITZER: We heard condemnation from the United Nations over an attack at a United Nations RWA (ph) shelter at a school in Gaza over the weekend. Nine people were killed. Now the Obama administration called the attack, and I'm quoting now, disgraceful.
Joining us now is Ron Dermer. He's Israel's ambassador to the United States. Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.
RON DERMER, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Thank you.
BLITZER: Not often you hear a U.S. official calling an Israeli action disgraceful. Your reaction.
DERMER: Well, it was a rush to judgment. You just don't know all the facts. This has happened a number of times where people say certain things about Israeli action without actually knowing all the facts and this is another one of those cases. Actually in the same statement, it was said that we shelled that facility. Obviously we didn't shell the facility. We didn't actually hit the facility at all. This was a targeted air strike against three Islamic jihad terrorists who were on a motorcycle. As to why civilians were killed in that operation, because usually
those strikes are very accurate and very pinpoint, that's something we're investigating now.
BLITZER: But, you mean, from a jet fighter you can pinpoint three guys on a motorcycle?
DERMER: You know, we're pretty good at targeted strikes. And we've done it many times in the past. Why there were civilian casualties, I don't know. But we certainly didn't shell it and we didn't shell a school.
I just saw your interview with a U.N. official that came before. I didn't hear him mention that three U.N. schools, UNRWA schools were used actually to house and to store rockets. So this is a problem. But we don't target U.N. facilities. We face an enemy, unfortunately, that both targets our civilians but embeds themselves next to hospitals, schools and mosques. In this particular case, it was a targeted strike. I'm not sure that Israel was the one that killed the civilians around it, but that's something we're investigating. We've had now a couple of cases, Wolf, you know you were there, where there was attempts to say that Israel had hit a hospital. Israel didn't. Then was an Islamic jihad missile. Then you had another case in a refugee camp where a number of children were killed. Again, Islamic jihad missile. Then you had a third case saying that we just hit an open market. It turns out that we were responding to anti-tank fire.
The problem is these things are said. There's a rush to judgment without knowing the facts. And I think that's wrong because I think it was Mark Twain who said, a lie goes halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on. Everyone should relax, not rush to judgment, let all the facts come in and then you'll know -- people will know what I know, which is no military has done more to put civilians on the other side out of harm's way than the state of Israel.
And this is happening, I heard something else in this statement, you know, what we do in Afghanistan, what we do in Iraq. Remember, Israel is under assault. We've had 3,000 rockets every single day that are fired at Israel. We have two-thirds of our people in bunkers. So imagine how the United States would reaction if 200 million Americans were sitting in bunkers. I don't think they would use less force than Israel's using.
BLITZER: But this is not just a U.N. official, this is the number two guy at the United Nations, Jan Eliasson, the deputy secretary-general, and he said, you know, you can't be precise with a jet fighter going after guys on a motorcycle. You're going to kill civilians.
DERMER: Well, maybe he's a military expert, but Israel tends to be pretty precise and we have a situation where our own homeland is under attack. Again, let me repeat, imagine 200 million Americans who day after day, 100 rockets are being fired. Do you really seriously want to tell me that the United States military would use less force --
BLITZER: So did you go to the State Department to protest the statement that Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, put out?
DERMER: I haven't. I haven't spoken - I haven't spoken to that. But as I said, there have been a number of statements that have been made. I think they're very unfortunate.
BLITZER: Because she used the word "disgraceful." That was cleared by the highest levels of the State Department.
DERMER: She does not know all the facts. And when she knows all the facts, maybe she'll make a different statement.
BLITZER: But it's not just she. You can't just blame Jen Psaki. She's just the spokeswoman.
DERMER: It's not - it's not a personal issue.
DERMER: I'm saying a general rush to judgment about actions Israel takes. By the way, another thing, issue of civilians. People are now putting out these statistics, 80 to 85 percent of people are civilians. That's false. That's what --
BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) United Nations.
DERMER: OK, based on what? Based on statistics that a Hamas health official is giving them. I'll remind you, in Casled (ph) it was said that two-thirds or three quarters of the casualties were civilians. It turns out that two-thirds were fighters but no one was reporting on it.
BLITZER: What is the Israeli estimate of the 1,800 -
DERMER: It's about 50 percent. It's about 50 percent.
BLITZER: So you say out of the 1,800, 900 were militants?
DERMER: I don't know if there are actually 1,800 casualties. That's something we have to look -
BLITZER: Deaths we're talking about.
DERMER: I don't know if they're 1,800 death because I don't know what they're lopping into that number. But I'll tell you, according to our numbers, you're talking about one to one, which in urban warfare is unprecedented in any other conflict anywhere. And this is happening at a time when we are being rocketed every single day. That's what makes this so different. And that's what I think people don't understand. This is not a war by remote control happening thousands of miles away. This is happening when our civilians are rushing multiple times a day -- you were there -- into bomb shelters.
BLITZER: Is there any progress on a cease-fire emerging from the talks in Cairo between a Palestinian delegation and the Egyptian government?
DERMER: Well, I don't know. We'll have to see the developments over the next few hours but we've had now seven different cease-fires and --
BLITZER: And we're - you know you're hearing - we're hearing these rumors that they may be coming up with a proposal to present to Israel.
DERMER: Well, you know, you've been there for four weeks, you know about those rumors. We'll see what ends up happening but we've had -
BLITZER: Would Israel be open to a cease-fire?
DERMER: We've had seven cease-fires. Unfortunately they've been violated by Hamas each time. Their idea of a cease-fire is that Israel ceases and they continue to fire. It's very simple to have a cease- fire. All you have to do is stop firing rockets at Israel. Unfortunately, they have not made that decision. Not yesterday, not today. We'll see what will happen tomorrow.
BLITZER: Is the destruction of the tunnels going from Gaza into Israel complete?
DERMER: I understand it's almost complete. It's a question of hours, not days.
BLITZER: So all Israeli ground forces are moving out right now? Most of them are out already or what?
DERMER: Well, they've been redeployed, yes, to different lines.
BLITZER: What does that mean, redeployed?
DERMER: Well, it doesn't mean that they're necessarily behind the international line, border. We'll just have to see. We're actually putting our forces into place, which allows them to achieve the military objective, which is to have quiet and security for the people of Israel.
BLITZER: Well, you heard Livni (ph), the chief Israeli negotiator in the peace talks, I think she's the justice minister, right, say that there's a way Israel could build some device around Gaza to prevent the rebuilding of those tunnels. What can you tell us about that?
DERMER: Well, I think it's a - first of all, we have to have an answer to essential problem. How do we prevent Gaza and Hamas in Gaza from rearming itself? We don't have a problem with the people in Gaza having development. We -- our war is not against the Palestinians. Our war is against Hamas. We have now had three different conflicts with Hamas. Cass (ph) lead in 2008, Pillar (ph) of Defense in 2012 and now in 2014 we're right back again. How do we make sure there's not a round four?
And here there's a question of what mechanism do you put in place, particularly with Egypt, to prevent Hamas from simply importing all of these rockets from using concrete and iron, which should go to build schools and hospitals, to actually build this underground tunnel network and to manufacture these rockets. These are legitimate questions. And then, there are very specific ideas -- I get e-mails, I would say, five e-mails a day from people saying, we have a brilliant idea of how you can prevent those tunnels from going underneath your borders. I'm not aware of what the best technology is. But Israel is a high-tech country. I'm sure we have bright minds thinking how to solve this problem.
BLITZER: You're going to the State Department to protest that statement?
DERMER: I've got a few other interviews to do today. Maybe after.
BLITZER: Ron Dermer is the Israeli ambassador to the United States.
Ambassador, thank you very much for coming in.
DERMER: Thank you.