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72-hour Cease-Fire Holding in Gaza

Aired August 5, 2014 - 13:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. Let's get back to the crisis in the Middle East right now.

We're about 12-and-a-half hours into the three-day cease-fire in Gaza. Let's get the Palestinian perspective on what's going on.

Joining us from Gaza is Dr. Mustafa Barghouti. He's a member of the Palestinian Parliament. A founder of the Palestinian National Initiative.

Dr. Barghouti, thanks very much for joining us. A quick question before we get to some substance. How difficult was it for you to get from Ramallah on the West Bank, where I normally speak to you, over to Gaza? Was it -- was it difficult to get into Gaza?

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, MEMBER, PALESTINIAN PARLIAMENT: It was extremely difficult, Wolf, because the Israelis would not allow me to cross through areas, so a trip that would usually take two hours from Ramallah to Gaza could not happen. I had to travel for a day and a half because I had to go to Jordan and then fly from Jordan to Egypt and then cross Sinai and then spend the night in Arish and then next morning go to Rafah and cross through Rafah.

And it wasn't easy at all. I mean, there were lots of restrictions. And the Israeli army was bombarding the area when I crossed. So we had to take big risk to get to Gaza. But finally, I managed, after long wait and I am so happy to be with the people here in Gaza.

BLITZER: Well, I'm glad you got there safe and sound. I'm glad that there's a cease-fire that's in effect right now. I'm encouraged, you know, as you know, I was there for almost four weeks. There were several false alarms. How do you think this one is looking right now, this cease-fire?

BARGHOUTI: It seems to be holding so far. Yesterday, the Israeli side kept bombarding Gaza overnight. We were bombarded by sea -- from the sea, from the air. F-16 jet fighters continued to throw bombs as well as apache helicopters and drones. You know. And artillery as well. So until the very last moment, this morning, they're continuing to fire. And there were also a few rockets shot from there three minutes before the cease-fire took place.

So far the cease-fire seems to be holding. It seems the Israeli army withdrew already blood from most of the areas except certain parts in the northern part of Gaza. But now what we see is a very reality because the devastation, the destruction, is beyond description. I've never seen anything like that before. Whole neighborhoods completely smashed to earth.

I've met thousands of people stuck in shelters in the UNRWA schools with no sanitation -- no sanitation facilities. People have lost their homes, their clothes, their papers, their memories in the houses they've lost. And the biggest suffering is on the side of the children. Two children stopped me in the Shifa hospital where they're standing with their families, and told me, you know, during the feast Palestinian children get new clothes and so on, and two of these kids told me, we need -- we want our new shirts, you know.

It was very, very painful to hear that because now thousands of families have been really devastated. I don't think there is any justification for what the Israeli army did to the people of Gaza.

There are many painful stories, too. I mean, I saw a young girl whose name is Amira Khatab (ph) who's 2 years old left alone in the hospital, injured. She lost her father, her mother, in the Israeli airstrikes. Her brothers, sisters, her grandfather, grandmother. There is nobody there. And the woman who's taking care of her is a woman who lost another daughter and her other daughter is injured.

The human cases are beyond description. I visited the family of a handicapped girl who was staying in a handicapped house and their place was bombarded by the Israeli airplanes, although it was a home for disabled people. Three were killed. Three were injured. And this young girl is having burns all over her body. Plus a broken shoulder and a broken hip, although she's having cerebral palsy. So the human suffering today in Gaza is really very big.

BLITZER: Well --

BARGHOUTI: And there shouldn't have been -- what has happened is unacceptable.

BLITZER: It's an awful situation. But let me ask you, if Hamas had accepted the Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire three weeks ago, which the Israelis accepted, the Palestinian Authority accepted, Egypt obviously wanted it, the U.S., the U.N., a lot of that suffering could have been avoided if Hamas would have done then what they have now done, accept a cease-fire.

BARGHOUTI: That's the Israeli narrative, Wolf, but it's not true. Because what Hamas accepted today and what Palestinians accepted, because it's not Hamas alone, and reality, we shouldn't be talking about Hamas versus Israelis, the Palestinians versus the Israeli side. What the Palestinians accept today is not what the Egyptians proposed three weeks ago. When the Egyptians proposed, what they proposed, the Israeli army would have stayed inside Gaza.

This is not happening today. The army have to get out so that the cease-fire would last. I think there are great differences between the previous Egyptian proposal and what is accepted now. And now you have a unified Palestinian position, all the parties together with clear nine demands including not only to have a cease-fire but also to have a serious lifting of the siege on Gaza.

And there is one very important proposal that I understand the depths of and the value of, which is that Gaza, from now on, should have an independent humanitarian passage to the world that is not controlled by any other country. We cannot continue to subject the lives of Palestinians to the will of different Israeli governments who decide from time to time to tighten or ease this terrible closure on the humanitarian situation or any other country.

That's why we need a real independent force. We need the human passage that links us to the world. We need to give our people in Gaza some hope because all of this would not have happened if there was no siege. If people who are educated would have had jobs. If there isn't this terrible unemployment and terrible level of poverty.

I don't think you can blame Palestinians for refusing to allow the Israeli army to stay inside Gaza. I think that main party that should be blamed for this devastation and even for the deaths of many Israelis that should not have died is the Israeli side that killed at least 1,866 Palestinians and with the passage of every day, they are discovering new bodies, and the injury of 9,500 people. More than that.

BLITZER: All right.

BARGHOUTI: And this is very important for the world to know. Because Israel destroyed electricity, infrastructure, sewage systems, there is a very serious risk of epidemics today in Gaza.

BLITZER: All right.

BARGHOUTI: We had our medical teams diagnose several cases of meningitis and this is a very difficult humanitarian situation.

BLITZER: Dr. Mustafa Barghouti joining us from Gaza, we'll stay in close touch with you, as we have over the past month. Good luck over there. Be careful. We'll hope that cease-fire holds and people can at least begin the process of trying to reassemble their lives. We'll see what happens next.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti joining us from Gaza City.

Up next, we're going to get the Israeli perspective on what's going on. The cease-fire now continuing for about 12 and-a-half hours. Supposed to last 72 hours. See if it can last a whole lot longer than that.

A spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Mark Regev, is standing by live.


BLITZER: Mission accomplished. That's the tweet sent out by the Israel Defense Forces when the latest cease-fire went into effect. In four weeks, Israel destroyed 32 tunnels from Gaza into Israel built by Hamas. Joining us now from Jerusalem is Mark Regev. He is the spokesman for

the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Could be a little risky to use those words, "mission accomplished." We don't know in the long term if the mission -- was accomplished, do we, Mark?

MARK REGEV, CHIEF SPOKESMAN FOR ISRAELI'S PRIME MINISTER: Well, the jury's out on how this all turns out. We hope the cease-fire is sustained. We hope that the border between Israel and Gaza will be quiet. We hope we don't have to worry about rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. We hope we don't have to worry about terror tunnels with these death squads coming across the border, trying to kill our people.

We hope all that's behind us. But ultimately, the ball is in Hamas' court. We'll be watching very closely to see if Hamas does, in fact, honor the cease-fire. So far we've had 8 1/2 hours. That's good. But we'll be watching closely to see how they behave in the future. We don't want to see a resumption of hostilities. But if Hamas reopens this conflict, of course we will be ready to respond.

BLITZER: So far so good. Now is Israel sending a delegation? Is that delegation of Israeli officials already left Israel for Cairo to begin the follow-up talks, part of the cease-fire agreement?

REGEV: Of course. The Egyptian framework says clearly immediate unconditional cease-fire and then negotiators meeting to discuss with the Egyptians different details. And we're of course we've accepted that package. And as you reported here, we accepted that package three weeks ago. Three weeks ago. And Hamas rejected it then. And we had three weeks of violence, of fighting, of rockets on Israel, of combat in Gaza. With a lot of hardship. A lot of suffering and death.

And I just don't understand how anyone can justify Hamas' rejection of the cease-fire then, three weeks ago, and now justify Hamas only suddenly accepting it today. Three weeks of violence paid for by Hamas. And all the very difficult situation that exists today in Gaza, there's one address for that, that is Hamas, that started this conflict and allowed this conflict to go on much, much too long.

BLITZER: When will the Israeli delegation begin the talks with the Palestinian delegation and the Egyptians? I assume the U.S., the U.N., other parties will participate as well. When will those discussions actually begin?

REGEV: There'll be -- I mean, the phones are being used the whole time. I expect our people to be in Cairo within the framework of the 72-hour period. And we've got a lot that we want to put on the table. Because for us it's important that this -- what we've just been through isn't repeated in six months or a year. That this is behind us. And for us, it's crucial that Hamas is not allowed to rearm. There's a signed Palestinian commitment that Gaza should be demilitarized. It's time the international community got behind and insisted that Palestinians meet their own commitments. And it's crucial as a first step that we don't allow Hamas to import

more rockets from Iran that we don't see Qatari money support building a Hamas military machine again and we don't think Hamas dig more tunnels so they can send death squads into Israel. From our point of view, if we don't want to see a return to all this, it's crucial that Hamas doesn't rebuild its terrorist machine.

BLITZER: What did you think of Dr. Mustafa Barghouti's proposal that there'll be an international opening from Gaza to the outside world not controlled by Israel, not controlled by Egypt, controlled by, I assume, by some sort of international guarantee that would at least give the Palestinians in Gaza some breathing room, if you will?

REGEV: Well, that's the position of Hamas. And he was echoing Khaled Meshaal on that point, the leadership of Hamas. It's clear why Hamas wants such an opening because they want to be able to import weapons from Iran, weapons from Syria and from -- money from Qatar and Turkey so they can rebuild their terrorist machine.

The reason both Egypt and Israel have put restrictions on the border is because we don't want Hamas to do that. And as long as Hamas is committed to this violent jihad against Israel, as long as Hamas doesn't want to invest in the people of Gaza but wants to invest in its terrorist war machine, of course, those restrictions have to stay in place. We can't allow Hamas to have an open border with Iran and with other countries who want to help them replenish their terrorist machine.

And I remind you that the U.N. secretary-general who established a special committee on this issue said that the Israeli blockade of Gaza, the naval blockade, to prevent the import of such weapons is legal under international law.

As long as Gaza is hostile, as long as Gaza is violent towards Israel, we have a right to prevent weapons arriving there.

BLITZER: Mark Regev is the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel. Thanks, Mark, very much for joining us.

Still ahead, we're going to continue our analysis of what's going on. It's a fragile cease-fire. Hanging in the balance. I spoke with the Hamas spokesman who refused to back down from some vicious anti- Semitic comments. The interview with Osama Hamdan. And also analysis of what he said, what it means, that's coming up next.


BLITZER: As of right now, it appears the 72-hour cease-fire between Hamas and Israel is holding but will this cease-fire turn into something more permanent? A lot of people suspect the answer is no. The reason there's some intense hatred out there. Take a look at this clip from my interview with a Hamas spokesman, Osama Hamdan, from last night's "SITUATION ROOM."


BLITZER: So do you believe that Jews used to slaughter Christians?


OSAMA HAMDAN, HAMAS SPOKESMAN: You have -- you have to ask that for the church which claims that, you know, this is the fact. You cut the words. Not you. The Israelis in memory. They cut the facts. And they start this propaganda. To say that they are innocent. They want to cover the genocide which is happening in Gaza now. They want to cover themselves when they are killing 2,000 Palestinians, injuring more than 12,000 Palestinians in a barbarian attack against Gaza and they are connected to the same old mentality which shared the others.

This man who is the deputy speaker of the (INAUDIBLE) when he says, we have to put all of the Palestinians in a concentration camp. What does it mean when you have -- when you talk about Yochanan Gordon who wrote, Palestinian genocide is permissible. What does it mean? Those people are the people who are hating the humanity.


BLITZER: That's a clip from "THE SITUATION ROOM" last night. I gave Osama Hamdan several chances to deny his claim made only the other day that Jews killed Christians to use their blood in the making of motzahs for Passover. He pointedly declined to distance himself from that despite my repeated request that he do so.

Let's bring in Bobby Ghosh, he's the managing editor of "Quartz." He knows the subject well.

Why would he even say something as obscene as that? Because you studied this issue, Bobby.

BOBBY GHOSH, MANAGING EDITOR, QUARTZ: Yes, well, in a conflict where we've seen both sides plumb new depths in rhetoric, this one is a blast from the past. This has -- this is an ancient calumny that has been heaped upon the Jewish people for centuries all over the world, in the Arab world but also in Europe, and this is the root of anti- Semitism in some ways.

And the reason he said that, I can't figure for the life of me why he would say that. Now you know from having been there that in Palestinian, in Gaza, this has taken almost as sort the factual truth. A lot of young people, that's all they've ever been told. That's what they've been taught in their mosques, in some cases, that's what they've been taught in their schools and that's what their parents and elders have told them.

But that's -- they have an excuse. They've never had an opportunity to learn differently. They've never had a chance to explore the facts of the case. But Osama Hamdan has no excuse. He has had an education, he has exposure to the outside world. He's had plenty of opportunity to make inquiries and understand that that -- that blood libel is -- is exactly that. It's libel. It's untrue.

So why he said it completely baffles me. The only explanation I can come up with is that he -- it's a sort of dog whistle to the people on the street in Gaza that I'm one of you. I believe in what you believe. He's part of the political leadership of Hamas. They are distant from Gaza. They are in Qatar and distributed elsewhere.

They are -- they have a problem with street cred, the fighters on the street, as we've seen over the past several weeks, the fighters on their street basically go their own way from their political leadership. I can only speculate that perhaps Hamas -- that Hamdan was trying to send some sort of a dog whistle to people back in Gaza.

BLITZER: Yes, it's pretty disturbing when you think about it. What do you think about this cease-fire, though? Forget about the blood libel comments and all of that. Do you think this 72-hour cease-fire will stay in effect and that it could lead to some sort of maybe progress down the road?

GHOSH: Well, there's a lot of pressure -- there's not much pressure on Netanyahu from within Israel to stop the offensive. It's clear the poll showed that many Israelis support the offensive. They want the IDF to go and finish the job, which is the expression they're using.

What we are less clear about is whether, on the Palestinian side, whether in Gaza there is pressure in Hamas to stop the fighting. It's hard to do polling in a war zone. But you have to think that Hamas knows that the people of Gaza have suffered enough. This has taken an enormous toll in blood, in people, but also in building and sort of physical infrastructure. So you'd have to think that the leadership of Hamas feels a certain responsibility towards the people of Gaza and therefore wants to at least explore the possibility of negotiation.

Now what we saw from Hamdan, of course, is a little glimpse of the difficulties. If the people -- if the others in the leadership think the way he does, believe in the myth of the blood libel, then that gives you a sense of the gulf between reality and their position which makes it difficult to negotiate with these people.

But the hope is that between the people of Gaza and the external sort of Arab community, that some pressure is being put on Hamas to stop shooting, start talking.

BLITZER: Bobby Ghosh is the managing editor of "Quartz." Bobby, thanks very much for your perspective.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Another two-hour edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM."

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