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Live Press Conference with Benjamin Netanyahu; Netanyahu Says Hamas Must Be Held Accountable for Loss of Lives; Dealing with Tunnels Militarily or Diplomatically; Cease-Fire Talks; Palestinian Reaction

Aired August 6, 2014 - 13:00   ET


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER, ISRAEL: And Hamas must be prevented from rearming as part of Gaza's general demilitarization. That is the sure way to guarantee that this conflict will not repeat itself. And I'm very glad that Secretary Kerry and others have put forward the need to demilitarize Gaza. This is a long-standing Palestinian obligation yet to be fulfilled.

Setting anew this long-term goal is important for Israel. It's important for the people of Gaza and for all of us who want to see an end to the violence and an end to the suffering. Every civilian casualty is a tragedy. A tragedy of Hamas' own making. I think the noble laureate, Elie Wiesel, put it best when he said, Hamas is engaging in child sacrifice. And this is something for which it must be held accountable. For the sake of all our children, it must not be allowed to get away with this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, prime minister. We'll now do questions. First question, "New York Times" Isabel (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) cease-fire (INAUDIBLE) this time around (INAUDIBLE.) That was before (INAUDIBLE) before (INAUDIBLE.) And I (INAUDIBLE) that stage (INAUDIBLE)what people are asking was this a strategic goal, was it the goal of this operation, was Israel kind of improvising, was there a strategic plan here or (INAUDIBLE)? And the second question, if I may, we've seen (INAUDIBLE.) (INAUDIBLE.) And I just wondered is there a concern of (INAUDIBLE) is perhaps (INAUDIBLE.) Thank you.

NETANYAHU: Thank you. We had started dealing with the tunnels. First of all, we were going to deal with the threats posed from Gaza, either by military means or by diplomatic means. One of the two or both. We began dealing with the first tunnel before the Egyptian initiative. I don't know if you're aware of it, but we had information about an impending attack from one terror tunnel. And we took action before we had the air attacks on our -- before we had the air attacks on Gaza in response to their rocketing attacks. We actually dealt with one tunnel.

If we could have dealt with the rest of the tunnels through the Egyptian proposal which had an immediate cease-fire, as we have now, and both sides can raise the topics and specifically the issue of security would be raised, as was mentioned. When we said security, we meant, obviously, that we would bring up the question of the tunnels. Could we deal with it through nonmilitary means and the other threat against Israel, that's preferable. As it turned out, Hamas rejected this. And, therefore, we had to deal with a military means.

So, we addressed the other tunnels, in addition to the one we had already addressed with the military means, by doing the -- by actually going in. That first tunnel was struck from the air. We didn't know that it would achieve that result. And it's very hard to achieve that result from the air. You either achieve it by agreement or you achieve it by actually going in to the other side, finding the points of origin of the tunnel or a point of origin, identifying the trajectory of the tunnel, and then dismantling it, destroying it through various means. And that's basically what we did.

If we could have done it diplomatically, fine. If not, we did it militarily. And the army just told us that they completed this activity. And then we went out. We went in to deal with the tunnels. We went out after we finished dealing with the tunnels.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jerusalem question, prime minister.

NETANYAHU: Well, obviously, we're concerned. We hope that everyone, everyone will work now to calm the situation. That has been our goal from the very beginning, in Jerusalem, everywhere, in the Palestinian areas. We don't need to see loss of life there anymore than we want to see it on the Gaza front. I want to make sure that you mention the temple mount. I want to make sure that everyone understands that Israel respects and will continue to respect the status quo on the temple mount. We know that there are arrangements there, including the traditional role of the Hashemite (ph) kingdom of Jordan and we are not about to change it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CNN in the front row.

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Prime minister, (INAUDIBLE), CNN. First of all, the idea of who suffered the largest casualties yet of any Palestinian-Israeli conflict, we understand 61 soldiers killed, three civilians. We've seen more than 1,800 people killed in Gaza, 900 or almost 1,000 of which are civilians, estimated. Do you really feel that your actions, Israel's actions, were proportionate? And were you using the appropriate precision weapons, even if Hamas is using them as human shields? And the second question --


MOHSIN: -- if I may.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- everyone won't be able to ask if you do two.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we have many people to ask. Please.

NETANYAHU: Why don't you ask the first question, let me answer that, then you can ask the second question.

MOHSIN: Thank you.

NETANYAHU: Why don't we do that. So, first of all, the answer to both your questions is, yes. I think it was justified. I think it was proportional. And that doesn't, in any way, take away from the deep regret for -- we have for the loss of a single civilian. We've gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties. Hamas has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that they have civilian casualties, as you've just seen.

Now, let's imagine your country. It could be any country. It could be the U.S., it could be Britain, it could be Germany, France, India, you name it. Let's imagine your country attacked by 3,500 rockets. Your territories infiltrated by death squads. What would you do? What would you demand that your government do to protect you and your family? You'd demand that and you'd be right because security, protecting the people, is the first obligation of any government.

But what if the rockets are fired from civilian areas? And the tunnels come from schools, from mosques, from private houses where civilians live? Should you then not take action? Do the terrorists have immunity because of the fear that some civilians will unfortunately get hurt? Let me tell you what I think disproportionality is. It's not acting to defend your people and giving the terrorists the license to kill. I think that's disproportionate and that's wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I ask you to give up your second question so more people get to ask, please, I apologize. John Reid from "The Financial Times."

JOHN REID, REPORTER, "THE FINANCIAL TIMES": Thanks very much. Mr. Prime Minister, are you prepared to give Abu Mazen and the Palestinians -- the Palestinian authority a leading role in the post war order in Gaza. And if so, can you talk about that, specifics including policing the borders?

NETANYAHU: We have cooperated and are cooperating with the Palestinian authority on matters that you raised. There are other matters as well. And the answer is that we're cooperating with them and are prepared to see a role for them.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so there you hear the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, saying he's willing to cooperate with the Palestinian authority, the President Mahmoud Abbas, their strong Israeli coordination on the west bank. We'll see if that can be replicated in Gaza. But you did hear a very, very powerful strong statement from the prime minister of Israel, condemning Hamas, going after Hamas, and is basically accusing Hamas of being responsible for all those civilian deaths that have occurred in Gaza over these past four weeks. Bottom line point was if Hamas had accepted the Egyptian sponsored cease-fire three weeks ago that Israel then accepted, 90 percent of those casualties would not have occurred.

We're going to get full reaction. We're going to dissect what we just heard. I want to bring in Jake Tapper who's joining us now from Jerusalem. He's our anchor of "THE LEAD." Jake, you're on the scene there. So far, this three-day cease-fire, day two right now, seemed to be working. What's the latest there? JAKE TAPPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does seem to be working. We are

still waiting to hear about the Israeli delegation officially arriving in Cairo. We have reports from Cairo that they have arrived but the Israeli government has yet to confirm that. Of course, the U.S. State Department, as we reported earlier today, has also sent a small contingent. They will be there in an advisory and observatory role. They are not getting involved in the nitty-gritty of the negotiations. As you know, Wolf, these are not direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, because two of the five factions of Palestinians are organizations that Israel and the United States, I might add, considers to be terrorists, both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic jihad.

So, this will be done through intermediaries, through the Egyptian government. If I could just make an observation about Prime Minister Netanyahu's press conference. Obviously, he is bilingual and that is an enormous strength for any world leader when he's trying to convey a message to the world community. Most of his press conferences, of course, here in Israel are done in Hebrew. He clearly feels as though he needs to make the case for Israel. That Israel has taken a public relations hit is not new.

Obviously, more than 1,800 Palestinians were killed in the latest military operation by Israel. The Israeli defense forces estimates that 900 of the 1,800 were militants, were individuals they were targeting. That still means 900 were civilians. So, you see Prime Minister Netanyahu there using a multimedia presentation to make the case that there were reports -- a few of them, because obviously it's difficult to report from in Gaza, but reports from other journalists showing how rockets were fired from an adjacent hospital, and also, of course, IDF video trying to show that they did fire warning shots.

Making the case that this huge loss of life is not the fault of the Israel defense forces who, in most cases, were actually physically responsible for the dropping of ordnance, blaming it all on the Hamas, the militants, the terrorists, according to the United States, who control the Gaza strip, who, of course, did refuse, did reject earlier cease-fire offers, offered both by the Palestinian authority last week and by the Egyptians three weeks ago, laying all the blame at the feet of Hamas. Of course, that's a blame that the Palestinian leadership, both in the west bank and Gaza, rejects wholeheartedly. But Prime Minister Netanyahu there making his case aggressively -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And you saw him, also, Jake, show some video at the beginning. Video by journalists who are now out of Gaza. And he made the point that journalists in Gaza, they're restrained. Hamas won't let them show rocket launchers in the midst of heavily populated areas. And now, all this video is all of a sudden surfacing out there on the Internet. He showed some of that as well. That's -- over the past 24 or 48 hours, that kind of video has emerged. What's -- I assume there's more of that on the way.

TAPPER: I assume so as well. Martin Savidge, our reporter on the ground in Gaza, on Monday, showed some video. It was not as clear as the video from the Indian reporters with NDTV. Really obviously Hamas and other militants in Gaza don't exactly send out invitations to the media before they fire these rocket. It's often done very surreptitiously, as we saw from that extraordinary report by NDTV where these individuals, perhaps with Hamas, perhaps with another group, constructed a tent in a nearby -- right next to a population center, constructed a rocket and then fired the rocket, according to that extraordinary report.

Martin Savidge, I should note, did have a report. It showed the flash. It was taken at night. Not -- he didn't have the good fortune, I suppose, as an odd term to use, but he didn't have the good reporting fortune to have been given a hotel room right next to one of these sites. But these instances of Palestinians, of Hamas, firing rockets from population center, have been reported on in the last few weeks, at great length. But it's true that, right now, we're seeing some of the more extraordinary video come out. Mainly, I think, because a lot of these reporters have gotten out of Gaza and feel more free to report what they saw -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, finally, what's the latest on the arrest? The Israelis have now told you, Mark Regev, the spokesman for the prime minister, they have in custody an individual who is accused killing those three Israeli teenagers. An event that really sparked this current cycle of violence. What exactly do we know about the individual who has been arrested?

TAPPER: Well, we know very little in terms of concrete facts. We know what the Israeli government has told us, which is this person was arrested a month ago, and it's been kept under wraps. It is an individual who is related to one of the two suspects who are directly accused of carrying out the kidnappings and the murders of those three Israeli teenagers, one of whom, of course, had dual citizenship with the United States. The individual they have in custody, the Israeli government says, is a senior official with Hamas. A senior member, I should say, rather, of Hamas, and somebody who has said, according to press accounts, that he was given orders to put this plan into motion.

But, again, these are statements by a government. We have not seen any evidence or proof of this. And the two specific suspects, Wolf, we are told by the Israeli police, by the Israeli government, these two specific suspects are still wanted and at large, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jake Tapper, thanks very much. Jake's got a lot more on this on "The Lead," 4:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll stand by for that.

I want to go to Cairo right now. CNN's Reza Sayah is on the scene for us.

Reza, I take it the Palestinian delegation has been there for a couple of days. The Israeli delegation is there. What's the latest as far as these follow-on talks? Because this is day two. We're hoping it lasts into day three and that it expands even further, this cease-fire. What do you know?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it's been extremely challenging to report on the facts when it comes to these talks and report how they've been progressing. Obviously one of the reasons is because they're not direct talks. These are separate talks taking place in different places in Cairo. The Palestinians on one side, the Israelis on another location. Things are complicated. And there are growing indications that even though these two sides agreed on a cease-fire, that they agreed to stop fighting, they seem to be on a different page when it comes to how to move forward.

We've spoken to a Palestinian delegate who is part of the negotiating team here in Cairo and he tells us that he's not quite convinced that the Israeli delegation that's here in Cairo is authorized to talk about the core demands of Hamas. And, of course, those include the lifting of the blockade, the opening of the border crossing, the release of the prisoners. Remember, that was the condition for Hamas to come here to Cairo, that those four demands would be addressed. According to this Palestinian delegate, he's not sure that the Israeli team here is authorized to do that.

And then a short time ago, we received a statement from a senior Egyptian government official and he described these talks like this. He said they're an experimental discussion at this point in order to consolidate the cease-fire. So based on that statement, it looks like they're still talking about the parameters and the frameworks of this particular 72-hour cease-fire and how they move forward. No indication that these two sides are talking about the core demands. So, again, signs of complications moving forward.


BLITZER: And we know that the United States, the Obama administration, Reza, is sending a delegation to Cairo as well. What do we know about the role that the U.S. will play because it seems to be relatively secondary as opposed to a main role. But give us your analysis.

SAYAH: Yes, and I don't think that's unusual, considering how these particular talks are taking shape. There's all kinds of indications, as we mentioned, that these talks are focusing on the immediate cease- fire that's in place right now, the 72-hour cease-fire. There's no indication that these two sides are talking about the nitty-gritty, the so-called permanent peace, lasting truce. If that was the case, if these talks would reach that status, you can be sure that Washington would send a higher level team. At this point they've decided to send a lower level delegation in an advisory monitoring capacity, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Reza Sayah, critical talks underway where you are in Cairo. We will, of course, stay in very close touch with you. We're going to have much more coverage of the crisis in the Middle East. That's coming up.

But we're also following other important news, including what's going on, the reaction over at the Pentagon. We have new details on that attack in Afghanistan that killed an American general.

And later, what could be the biggest Internet theft in history. You're going to hear what was targeted and the Russian gang that's now suspected of committing the crime.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

We just heard the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, make his case that Hamas is responsible for those civilian casualties in Gaza. Let's get the Palestinian reaction right now. Joining us on the phone is the former Palestinian foreign minister, Nabil Shaath. He's a key adviser to the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

So, Nabil, I guess that one of the main points that we just heard the prime minister make is, if Hamas would have accepted the cease-fire that Israel accepted, the one Egypt put forward three weeks ago that the international community accepted, the Palestinian Authority accepted, if Hamas would have accepted it then, he says 90 percent of the casualties in Gaza would not have occurred and he blames Hamas for what has gone on. What's your reaction to that?

NABIL SHAATH, FORMER PALESTINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (via telephone): Well, thank God we are now in a cease-fire. The spilling of blood is over. The killing of civilians, women and children, is over. And I hope this will really last.

But Hamas' rejection at the beginning and its present acceptance really has absolutely no justification for Netanyahu to have done the massacre he has done in Gaza. The -- entering into Gaza and destroying 25,000 buildings and killing 2,000 civilians and injuring about 30,000 is really far more than what is reasonably expected from an invading army like that of Mr. Netanyahu, to do in a highly densely populated area like Gaza, where the result is catastrophic. And the people who have done the killing are his officers and soldiers and not - and not anybody else.

BLITZER: The other point he made is that Israel had no choice, 3,000 rockets coming in. And he said that there's now video evidence, and we've seen some of it from journalists who have left Gaza, showing that Hamas deliberately put those rocket launchers in heavily populated areas, outside of U.N. shelters or schools, and as a result, Israel had to take action. What do you say to that point he just made?

SHAATH: Well, that is the excuse he has made to start this whole bloody war from the very beginning. I -- he should have said that this 3,000 rockets have injured six civilians and killed two military people so that people would really put this in perspective. These 3,000 rockets were almost like stones thrown in a demonstration. And, in fact, not making any more injury than what stones would do in a demonstration. Not that I approve of them, but the reasonableness of his argument totally vanishes when you compare the rockets and their effect with the bombing and its effect. And I think this is - this is what should be looked at when you assess the attack of the Israelis on Gaza.

BLITZER: The other point he made is that they have finished destroying Hamas tunnels going from Gaza into Israel. And he said no country would allow infiltration along those lines. He said that mission has basically been accomplished.

Let's move ahead now and see where we go from here. What do you believe, Nabil Shaath, are the prospect that, a, the three-day cease- fire, now we're in day two, can be expanded, and then the substantive issues around the negotiating table can really achieve some progress?

SHAATH: Well, we have a one united Palestinian delegation appointed by President Abbas and it's led by one of the PLO leaders, but it has all the factions, Fatah, Hamas, jihad and everybody. And they are united, their determination, to have an extended cease-fire that hopeful last for a very long time. And they are all in agreement that at the end of this cease-fire, the Israelis should stop the siege of Gaza, allow Palestinian fishermen to fish in their own seawater and peasants and farmers to grow their fields that are close to the Israeli borders and that the people of Gaza will have a decent life that is safe and that allows them access and travel and real freedom.

There's also an agreement that those prisoners which were released by the Israelis in the Shalit exchange and then were re-arrested by Israel should be released, together with the prisoners that should have been released with Abu Mazen's (ph) agreement with Mr. Kerry. Now, if these are done, we hope that this will lead to a quick reconstruction of Gaza and a step forward to hopefully go back to the political settlement. And that will produce an end of occupation and a real two-state solution.

What we are talking about now are all measures that are really security (ph) oriented in order to bring back Gaza to life again. But what needs to be done and not really to delayed is to look into the reasons that have led to this situation in Gaza.

BLITZER: All right, Nabil. Nabil Shaath is the former Palestinian foreign minister, key adviser to the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. And there is a Palestinian delegation, led by the Palestinian Authority, in Cairo right now, including representatives from Hamas, Islamic jihad and all of the Palestinian factions. An Israeli delegation is now in Cairo as well. A U.S. delegation on the way. We'll see what, if anything, can be achieved. In the meanwhile, the cease-fire seems to be holding. Nabil Shaath, thanks very much for giving us your reaction to what we heard from the prime minister of Israel.


BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the crisis in the Middle East coming up, but there's other news we're following, including this, Russia, it may be ready to pounce. With tens of thousands of troops poised by the Ukrainian border, Russia reportedly now saying it wants clearance to advance for what it calls humanitarian reasons. We're going live to Ukraine when we come back.