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Palestine Leadership Divide Could Hamper Cease-Fire Agreement; Hamas Rejects Israeli Cease-Fire Proposal; Former White House Press Secretary James Brady Dies; U.S., U.N. Condemn Israeli Strike.

Aired August 4, 2014 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Both sides of the conflict are having trouble making a cease-fire stick. Why are some now wondering if a divide within Hamas itself could be a major stumbling block? Much more coming up right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Washington.

A temporary humanitarian cease-fire is over. Both Israel and Hamas accuse the other of breaking it. One of the biggest challenges to a longer-term cease-fire may be the divide that exists within the Palestinian leadership itself, not just between the political and military wings of Hamas.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is joining us from Abu Dhabi.

Nic, tell us about what seems to be a significant divide even within Hamas between the political wing and the military wing.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, certainly, there was a lot of questions raised about this on Friday when Hamas was accused of breaking the cease-fire, breaking that truce, after it had barely begun. I asked Khaled Meshaal, the political chief in exile of Hamas, if the political leadership could really control the military on the ground. He said they could. He told me this when I asked him the same question about four years ago, in 2010 when, again, 2008, 2009, Hamas' leadership was accused of falling apart. He's sticking to the same position.

What we saw today, the cease-fire today that Hamas didn't sign up to, again, that's raising questions. Why didn't they do it? What we can see from Hamas' position here and what Khaled Meshaal told me on Saturday is that having signed up to a cease-fire, but not the -- not under the terms, or not signing up to the terms that Israel wanted that would allow this cease-fire to go ahead, this truce but they can continue to shut down tunnels, it appears they didn't want to get into the same situation this time. This time, Israeli troops went on a cease-fire. They stayed in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip. Hamas, perhaps not wanting to get caught out, as they would see it, this time not signing up. But what we do see at the end of the day is that they have, by and large, observed the truce by not firing a multitude of rockets into Israel. And one of the things that Khaled Meshaal said to me, Wolf, was that

he does want these humanitarian truces for the Palestinian people to be able to regroup and resupply themselves. Not a lasting cease-fire, but these short truces.

So at this stage, it's hard to really say there absolutely is this divide between political and military because the intent seems to be in the same direction. And past track record seems to show they can come through this united -- Wolf?

BLITZER: It's interesting, now that Israel says they've basically completed the job of destroying the tunnels going from Gaza into Israel, has begun redeploying or withdrawing its ground forces from Gaza, that may, may, open up the door for some sort of cease-fire. We'll see in the coming day or two what emerges from Cairo from the talks going on there between the Palestinian delegation and the Egyptian government.

Nic, thanks very much.

Nic Robertson reporting for us from Abu Dhabi.

Up next, we'll get reaction to what is going on within the Palestinian leadership. Stand by for that.

Also, can Israel be brought back to the negotiating table in Cairo? Stay with us.


BLITZER: As you know, Israel called for a humanitarian cease-fire earlier today in Gaza. It was limited to areas where Israeli troops weren't already involved in operations. Hamas rejected that cease- fire proposal.

Let's get some Palestinian perspective. Nabil Shaath is a senior Palestinian government official. He's a former Palestinian former minister. He's joining us from Ramallah.

Nabil Shaath, where does it stand right now? We're hearing suggestions, rumors, coming out of Cairo that maybe there's some sort of breakthrough in the talks between the Palestinian delegation there, meeting with Egyptians and others. Where do the talks stand as far as you know right now?

NABIL SHAATH, SENIOR PALESTINIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL & FORMER PALESTINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, as far as I know, the Palestinian delegation is committed to reach a cease-fire agreement. We're ready to practice a cease-fire agreement. But the most important party, which is the invading Israelis, are not there. They're not in Cairo. Therefore, the party that you need to negotiate with is absent. You have a small American delegation. The Egyptians are listening to the Palestinians. But there is no negotiating party from the Israelis. And therefore, I really wonder what -- whether the Israelis want a cease-fire. What they're doing is something called a unilateral withdrawal, which keeps them in Gaza, keeps the bombing on. Yesterday, they killed 143 civilians. Today, so far, about 50 civilians have been killed. We don't really have a cease-fire on the ground.

BLITZER: Now that the Israelis say they completed their operation destroying those tunnels going from Gaza into Israel, they're redeploying their forces even as we speak. That's what we're told. Is there a breakthrough possible? Do you suspect, now that the Israelis think the major part of their military operation is over?

SHAATH: Well, the Israelis are now trying to finish Rafah, the Rafah area, the southeastern area. That's why all the killing in the last two, three days is in Rafah. But most of those killed are civilians, are children and women. And the excuse for not going through the humanitarian cease-fire was the missing Israeli officer in the invading parties. But then this Israeli officer was buried yesterday. And there is no excuse anymore. They are still not there. This question of unilateral withdrawal does not commit them to anything. It does not commit them to a cease-fire, nor does it commit them to the aftermath of a cease-fire, which is giving a decent life to the Palestinians in Gaza and eventually ending occupation. And that is really the problem.

Where do we go from here? The delegation is still in Cairo. The Palestinians are committed to a cease-fire. But the Israelis are calling it a unilateral one, which allows them to bomb whenever they want to.

BLITZER: You heard -- I don't know if you heard, but Nic Robertson, our reporter, he did an interview with Khalid Meshaal in Doha, Qatar the other day. He just from reported from Abu Dhabi. Like other analysts out there, he said there is a significant split within Hamas itself, between the political wing and the military wing, and that's a potential problem as far as a cease-fire is concerned. I'm anxious to get your analysis of that, Nabil Shaath.

SHAATH: Well, that problem did exist in the early days of the war. In fact, in the days before the beginning of the war. But the fact is that today there is five members of the leadership of Hamas and two members of the leadership of jihad are in Cairo, and they are in the delegation led by the PLO, led by a Fatah senior person, Mr. Mohammed (ph), ordered, in effect, by president Abbas. And they are all unanimous on what needs to be asked, and where their commitment will be. I really have followed our side at least in the Cairo negotiations, and they are almost unanimous on willingness to accept a cease-fire and to accept the aftermath of a cease-fire, which is ending the siege of Gaza primarily.

BLITZER: I know the Israelis speak directly to high officials in the Egyptian government. Is there still a dialogue between Israeli officials and Palestinian Authority officials right now? Because I sense that potentially could be productive. But give me your analysis.

SHAATH: There is direct contact here in the West Bank from our security people. But we really abstained from any contacts in Cairo except through the Egyptians. The Palestinian delegation is only talking to the Egyptians. The Egyptians are talking to the Americans and possibly to the Israelis, or maybe the Americans are talking to the Israelis. It's a very long chain here of communication. But it doesn't get us, so far, anywhere, because the casualties are still continuing and the civilian losses are still there. Therefore, that line of communication could have been broken, had the Israelis been in Cairo. Had they really been committed to a cease-fire, they should have been in Cairo.

BLITZER: If the Israelis do show up in Cairo, Nabil Shaath, would all of them sit around the same table, Egypt, the Palestinians, the Israelis, the U.S., if they want to participate, Turkey, Qatar, all of them would be around the same table and be hashing out an agreement? Is that the vision you would like to see?

SHAATH: That's the vision I'd like to see. But the agreement, so far, the Egyptian initiative, so far, does not provide for such a roundtable. It provides for -- again, we talk to Egyptians, the Egyptians talk to Israelis, and then the Israelis talk back to the Egyptians. Still, if these three delegations were in Cairo, really authorized to talk, seriously, about peace and about ending that aggression on Gaza and a real cease-fire, it is certainly going to be much easier and much better than this long chain of communication via the capitalists (ph), instead of being in the same place in Cairo.

BLITZER: Nabil Shaath, senior official in the Palestinian Authority, a former foreign minister, thank you for joining us.

Nabil Shaath joining us from Ramallah on the West Bank.

SHAATH: Thank you. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: And we're just getting word into CNN that the former White House press secretary, James Brady, has died. He was press secretary to President Ronald Reagan. As you know, he was shot during an assassination attempt on the president. He was seriously wounded, permanently disabled by a bullet wound to the head. He and his wife, Sara, later became supporters, advocates for much stronger gun control laws in the United States. The Brady Bill, by the way, became the law of the land in 1993. It imposed waiting periods for handgun purchases, established background checks for gun purchases. James Brady was 73 years old.

And we're going to talk a little bit about James Brady. I worked with him. I knew him well. Very, very wonderful man.

In fact, Gloria Borger is here with me now, our senior (sic) political analyst.

I remember when he was the White House press secretary. I was a reporter. You were a reporter. We used to talk to him all the time. Talked to him in the years that followed. He became very passionate on this issue together with Sara.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: On this issue of gun control. You know, it's been more than 30 years since the assassination attempt, and they both devoted their lives. He was permanently disabled as a result of this shooting. And they both devoted their lives to gun control and to preventing gun violence with varying degrees of success, Wolf. As we all know, not as much as they would have wanted. But he did remain press secretary, even though he couldn't continue in that job until the very end of Reagan's term. And he was affectionately known by people as "The Bear," a warm and lovable guy.

BLITZER: Yeah. They renamed the press briefing room after him.

BORDER: They did, the James S. Brady Briefing Room.

BLITZER: Yeah. He was a really good press secretary too. He was able -- what good press secretaries can do, to convey the positions of the president of the United States.

Hold on a second. Let's listen to Josh Earnest, the current White House press secretary, speaking about James Brady.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- on the Afghan elections, it's continues to have a bumpy process, as far as the counting of votes --

BLITZER: I'll get that tape. I'll play for you what the current White House press secretary says about a former White House press secretary.

But James Brady, really, really good guy, dead at age 73.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Israel's so-called humanitarian cease-fire ended shortly after it began. The prime minister vowed today to continue the campaign in Gaza until long-term calm is restored. But some of the tactics used by Israel causing major controversy. On Sunday, the U.S. and the U.N. had some of their harshest criticism of Israel, condemning the strike on a U.N. shelter run in Gaza. Washington called the attack disgraceful.

Let's bring back Gloria Borger, and Elise Labott, our global affairs correspondent.

Very strong words. You cover the State Department, Elise. You know this. For them to say "disgraceful," in terms of an Israeli action, that's a big deal.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's about the toughest criticism I've ever heard from the United States against Israel in my many years covering the State Department, Wolf. And I think it reflects a growing consensus, both here in Washington and overseas in capitals, that while Hamas did start this, while they are responsible for the rocket attacks and tunnels, that when you look at the mounting casualties, civilian casualties on the Palestinian side, it's time now, enough is enough, what I'm told, by many officials. And it's time to end the operation. And you heard the Israeli ambassador, very defensive about what the U.S. is saying. Saying, listen, don't rush to judgment. And I understand he'll be reaching out to the administration to protest what they thought was a real unfair strike.

BORGER: And last week, you heard the president walk a fine line here. On the one hand, he gave Israel unequivocal support. No questions asked.

BLITZER: That was Friday.

BORGER: That was Friday. But he also talked about the civilian casualties, the unnecessary civilian casualties. He made that a large part of his statement. It's very clear that both the president and the State Department are saying, look, we're on your side, don't make us equivocate. We want to stay on your side, but there is a limit to what we can do when we see this kind of civilian casualty.

LABOTT: In every conflict with Israel, there this inevitability that the U.S. firm position that Israel has a right to defend itself comes up against those pictures wee see on the air and the civilian deaths, which always are going to be asymmetrical, just because of the sheer power of the Israeli military. And we're reaching up for it right now. And the U.S. officials are also saying, listen, you see that we have Iron Dome. Those rockets are not making that much damage. And also, some of these big crises that furthered the conflict, like the kidnapped teens, which now it's a little bit in doubt whether it was Hamas, this Israeli soldier turns out not to be captured, he was killed, they're sending the message, listen, Israel has to maintain credibility.

BLITZER: That's where we go from here. We'll stay on top of this story.

Guys, thanks very much.

Obviously, a little bit of a strain right now, shall we say, in U.S./Israeli relations.

BORGER: A lot of strain. Yeah.

BLITZER: We'll see how long it takes to patch it up, if they can do it. See what happens on the Israeli side, U.S. side. We assume they'll work hard.

Elise Labott, Gloria Borger, thanks very much.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back, 5:00 p.m. eastern, a special two-hour edition of "The Situation Room." Much more coming up on that.

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin will start right after a quick break.