Return to Transcripts main page


Official: U.S. Considering Airstrikes in Iraq; Russia's Next Move?; Crisis in Iraq Escalates; Cease-Fire in Israel

Aired August 7, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is nine hours until the Israel-Gaza cease-fire is set to expire. And now Hamas' military wing says, if you don't meet their demands, go ahead and let it expire.

I'm Jake Tapper, and this is THE LEAD.

The world lead. As the minutes in the cease-fire tick away, Hamas is pushing its negotiators to reject an extension and return to battle unless three key demands are met. Is the bloodshed about to begin all over again?

Also, a source tells CNN the U.S. government is now considering airstrikes in Iraq after Islamist militants chased as many as 40,000 Iraqis into the mountains and took over Iraq's largest Christian city, all of this less than three after President Obama declared Iraq stable.

And with Ukrainian forces making gains against pro-Russian rebels, NATO warns that Russia has 20,000 troops perched right on the border. Will Vladimir Putin order an invasion under the guise of peacekeeping?

Hello, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live in Jerusalem.

At this hour, President Obama has called a meeting of his senior advisers, as a U.S. official tells CNN that the White House is considering airstrikes on the Islamic militants who have overrun Iraq. We're going to get into all of that.

But, first, the reason we're coming to you live from Jerusalem today, breaking news now about that 72-hour cease-fire that went into effect Tuesday and only has nine hours left in it. Now Hamas' military wing has told its negotiators in Egypt to reject any extension of the truce unless its demands are met.

The last three days have been relatively, mercifully quiet. But Hamas says, unless the Gaza blockade, those restrictions on trade and the movement of Palestinians come to an end, Hamas fighters are warning that quiet could be shattered in eight hours and change.

Israel wants Hamas to disarm. But it has indicated that it would be willing to extend the truce unconditionally. Hamas of course is the militant Palestinian group that controls Gaza elected in 2006, labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Right now in Egypt, Israeli representatives are meeting with

Palestinian negotiators through intermediary Egypt, not just from Hamas, but of course from the Islamic Jihad, the Palestine Liberation Organization and other factions as well. Not direct negotiations, but through Egypt.

Let's bring in Mark Regev. He's spokesman for the Israeli government.

Mark, I want to get your reaction to the news that the Qassam Brigades said unless the demands are met, the cease-fire is over.

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: Well, Israel won't break the cease-fire.

We're interested in the cease-fire continuing. We understand that's important for the piece and quiet of the people of Israel and the people of Gaza. But Hamas is the wild card. We know they could restart hostilities. And if they do so, I think it will be exposed before the whole world who Hamas is. They don't have any qualms whatsoever about restarting a whole set of bloodshed, a whole violence that serves no one's interests except their own radical extremist agenda.

TAPPER: Is it possible this is just a negotiating ploy, that they are just going to will say this until 7:59, and then say, never mind, we will agree to the cease-fire?

REGEV: Unfortunately, we have to take these threats very, very seriously, and we have to be prepared to act if they, in fact, do break the cease-fire and start shooting volleys of rockets at Israeli cities again.

We have in the past accepted all sorts of cease-fires, only to see Hamas break them and shoot their rockets at Israel. And if that happens again tomorrow, we of course will respond, but it will be clear before the entire world who is responsible for the violence, who is responsible for the carnage, who is responsible for the onslaught of bloodshed.

TAPPER: Mark, how are you preparing? What are you telling your negotiators? What is Prime Minister Netanyahu telling negotiators and what is he telling the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces?

REGEV: Well, it's clear Hamas has a list of demands from here to Vladivostok.

And it's clear that you can't meet all of Hamas' demands.

TAPPER: Well, these three demands, let's get down to those three demands. It's allowing the seaport to function. It is opening the entrances in Egypt and in Israel, so that there can be freedom of movement. And then there is lifting whatever you want to call it. Most people call it a blockade. Those do not seem like unreasonable demands, Mark.

REGEV: Well, first of all, the restrictions on Gaza, the sanctions that exist on Gaza are there because of the violence.

Hamas can't shoot rockets into Israel and then say it wants an open border with trade. It just doesn't work that way. The key to normalizing relations between Israel and Gaza is ending the violence, ending the jihad. Now, if Hamas is willing to do that, many things are possible.

Unfortunately, so far, we have barely had three days of quiet and Hamas is already threatening to shoot rockets again into Israel. That's not how things are going to move forward.

TAPPER: Would Israel be willing to go along with those demands as part of a future peace negotiation?

REGEV: We have said publicly if there's a sustained period of quiet, where we don't have those missiles coming into Israel, we don't have those tunnels with the death squads coming out of them trying to kill our people, if there's an end, a cessation of all violence and aggression from Gaza into Israel, of course we're willing to discuss easing the restrictions and easing the sanctions.

That's why we're in Egypt. That's part of the Egyptian framework. But Hamas, if it really wants to see more easing, it has to play its part and we have to see a total cessation of violence once again.

TAPPER: Surely, you understand that a lot of people in Gaza see what happened in the West Bank with President Abbas and his agreement to demilitarize, and the West Bank's still not a state. Settlements are still being purchased, still no airport. And they say, we shouldn't demilitarize. Abbas demilitarized, and he didn't get anything out of it.

REGEV: I think more and more Palestinians in Gaza, as we have seen now since the fighting ended for the 2.5 days, are coming out of the rubble and asking, why was this is necessary? Why did Hamas force this conflict upon us?

Why is there extremist agenda which ultimately is destroying so much property and lives in Gaza. I think Hamas has a lot to answer for.

TAPPER: Do you not see that the conditions in which the people of Gaza live because of these restrictions on their movement, because of the closure of their seaport, they can't have an airport, there is a blockade, that this causes a lot of them to be desperate and turn to violence?

I'm not excusing it. I'm not excusing it in any way. But I'm just saying that's the reality on the ground.

REGEV: But the reality is as follows. The rockets led to the restrictions.

If the rockets stop, if the violence stop, the restrictions can be aced. It's as easy as one plus one equals two. The question is, is Hamas willing to end the fire of rockets into Israel? If they can answer that question unequivocally, if they can say no more aggression, of course we can move forward in trying to normalize the relationship between Israel and Gaza.

But as long as they remain committed to this violent jihad, as long as they're stuck in that radical mode, like ISIS in Iraq, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, I'm sorry, Israel has to protect itself. And they cannot expect to have a normal relationship with my country when they have this violent agenda toward our people.

TAPPER: Mark Regev, spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

Coming up, the clock ticking down on the temporary cease-fire in the Middle East as negotiations crumble, Hamas now vowing a long war if demands are not met. Is there any hope the truce will last?

Plus, other big breaking news, thousands of Christians desperately fleeing Iraq as terrorists tell them, convert or die. And now sources say the U.S. is making plans for possible military intervention. Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper live from Jerusalem.

We are entering about the final hours of a, I think it's fair to say, fragile cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas, Some Palestinian officials hinting today that progress is being made in the negotiations in Cairo, but Hamas leaders, at least those with the military wing, didn't seem to get that memo.

A spokesman for the group essentially drew a line in the sand for Israel with this message: Meet our demands or get ready for battle.

Joining me now live is Sabri Saidam. He is the deputy speaker of the Fatah Council and former adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Thank you so much for joining us.

How concerned are you that this cease-fire will expire without an agreement in place? Do you think Hamas is possibly just making a gambit here, this is a negotiating ploy?

DR. SABRI SAIDAM, DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL, FATAH REVOLUTIONARY COUNCIL: Well, I'm very concerned, in answer to your question.

I'm not only concerned because of what Hamas had said. I'm concerned that Benjamin Netanyahu has not scored enough points for him to win a victory on the ground. And I think he will resume that attack on Gaza because he wants to end the next elections, basically. It's not the war of Israel vs. the Palestinians. It is Netanyahu vs. the Palestinians.

So the tunnels are not finished. The rockets are not finished. He would want to go back and score more points, kill more people, demolish more of Gaza, and get the victory he wants. So, I think it is a fierce battle. And I'm not that optimistic, to tell you the truth.

TAPPER: It has to be said the Palestinian Authority, Fatah, Egypt, Israel, most of the players that I can count want this cease-fire to continue unconditionally.

Hamas doesn't seem to want that, unless their demands are met. What's your message to Hamas right now? I assume that you're worried that the expiration of the cease-fire will mean more innocent dead people, especially in Gaza.

SAIDAM: Indeed, no one would like to see any civilian being hurt, regardless of his or her religion or walk of life.

But what's happening here is not to basically say that the Palestinians are divided in any way. We have a united delegation that is there in Egypt. It's negotiating on behalf of the PLO. Hamas is included. Islamic Jihad is included. So, it is not a message to Hamas.

It's the message to the international community that Israel is running the longest occupation in modern time, that Israel is annexing more and more land as we speak, and that Israel is turning its back to United Nations resolutions. So it's not about the borders anymore.

It's about -- it's not about the livelihood of Palestinians anymore. It's not about lifting the siege of Gaza anymore. And I'm not belittling these points that I mentioned.

What is -- what is most important to the Palestinians is to end occupation. You cannot equate occupation with security. If Israel wants security, it has to allow justice to be served. And it has to adopt the following slogan: Live and let live. If that formula is not achieved, I think we will see a war that's going to resume in a few hours or a war that's going to re-happen in two years, three years time.

So, the end to occupation will mean peace for Israel and security for its citizens. But I'm afraid this formula does not happen or does not seem to be on the cards for at least the coming future.

TAPPER: Do you really think that Israel should be expected to say in a three-day cease-fire that they're willing to, without any concessions, agree to all of Hamas's demands? I'm not even saying they're unreasonable demands in terms of lifting the blockade and allowing the exits and entrances opened and allowing the seaport. But certainly in a negotiation, it's not -- we're going to have a negotiation now, you get everything you want, I don't have to give you anything, that's the end of the story. You're more sophisticated than that.

Isn't -- shouldn't you be telling Hamas right now that's not how negotiations work?

SAIDAM: Well, again, Jake, you insist it is Hamas versus Israel. We have a united delegation that's in Egypt. It's negotiating on behalf of the Palestinians at large. It's not only Hamas. It is the demands of the Palestinians. Even the American administration said repeatedly we have to basically root out the problems that have caused and have led to the scenes we saw in Gaza.

So, without facing the music, without turning to the fact that Israel has to end its occupation, without even acknowledging that had it not been for the existence of Israeli occupation, we would not have seen the scenes that we saw in Gaza. That problem will continue to occur. Death will continue to be on the cards and more bloodshed.

I think as an ordinary human being, I would say, you know, we would love to live in peace. We are not humans of different planet. We are as everybody else on this planet, we'd like to see peace. We are definitely not the children of a lesser god.

So, Israel cannot go on the rampage without being even taken to International Criminal Court. That will happen because 2000 people were killed. Majority of which are women and children.

So, Israel is given a free hand and the international community has to uphold international law and stop Israel, this attack that Israel is conducting and control this military might that's benefiting from the silence of the international community and killing more and more of the Palestinians and creating the very violence that you mentioned in one of your questions to Mark Regev.

I think CNN, other channels would have to adopt the Palestinian narrative that end to Israeli occupation would mean security for Israel. Other than that, I don't see any progress being made and what is going to happen in Gaza if Israel agrees to several demands here and there, it is going just to be a small or short anesthesia that's going to just put problems aside only to resurface in the coming future.

TAPPER: All right. Sabri Saidam, thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, Iraqis fleeing terrorists, celebrating killing as they make their way across Iraq. Now word that President Obama is meeting with senior advisors right now as we speak. Are they making plans for military action in Iraq? Did they already make those plans?

Plus, pro-Russian rebels losing the battle in Ukraine. Is Vladimir Putin planning to increase Russia's direct role in the conflict when the whole world seems to be against him?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. Coming to you live today from Jerusalem where we're learning that Hamas militants may let the clock run out on the truce that has less than nine hours left before it's supposed to expire.

Meanwhile, President Obama is right now meeting with his senior advisors. Could they be discussing air strikes in a different Middle East crisis? One that the U.S. supposedly left behind fewer than three years ago? ISIS, the Islamist terrorist militia and an al Qaeda offshoot which

has burned a path through Iraq, has now taken over the largest Christian town in Iraq and chased as many as 40,000 Iraqis, mostly members of religious minorities into the mountains.

If they come down, they face ISIS guns. If they stay, they could die of starvation or dehydration, which is why the Pentagon is now considering emergency relief drops to those stranded Iraqis, according to a U.S. defense official.

But a U.S. official always tells CNN that what's happening in Iraq right now, quote, "just might meet the threshold", unquote, for air strikes.

Now, obviously, that would jump this up to a whole new level. Maybe that's what the had President Obama so worked up when he was talking to his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, earlier today in Virginia. Lots of big arm movements there.

Our Jim Acosta today pressed the White House about potential air strikes.



JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, Jim, I'm not in a position to rule things on or off the table in this context. It's important for everyone to understand and the president has made this clear, that there are no American military solutions to the problems in Iraq. The president has at the same time demonstrated his clear willingness to take the kind of military action that's required to -- to protect core American interests.


TAPPER: OK. Was that clear for you?

Remember, it was fewer than three years ago when President Obama declared Iraq, quote, "sovereign, stable and self-reliant", as the last American combat troops pulled out of the country.

Our chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto is in Washington.

Jim, this is exactly the kind of situation that could quickly turn into genocide. ISIS is giving these people the ultimatum of convert or be killed. Give us an idea where this is taking place and how much of Iraq ISIS now claims as their own. Give us an idea.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I'll tell you, I'm told now that U.S. officials that the administration is considering airstrikes and that is in response to rapidly moving events on the ground. First, the situation with the Yazidis, they trapped here between Mosul

and Erbil, surrounded in effect by ISIS forces and they're starving. They're dying of thirst literally and fearing for their lives because of the threat from these ISIS fighters who will kill them. We've seen what they're capable of. They advertise what that he capable of in previous massacres that they've undertaken in northern Iraq.

The other thing that concerns administration officials is this -- the advance of ISIS just in the last month and a half. These are the cities they had presence in or controlled as of June 19th. And this is where they are now. These dots here in purple showing where they've taken over new territory and keep in mind that they also have territory connecting these various cities kind of in a spider web of control. And this is moving very quickly. So, quickly it has alarmed the administration. Now airstrikes, something the president had taken off the table are back on the table.

TAPPER: Jim, I mean, I have to say, Israel, Gaza, Iraq, Syria, the border with Mexico, Russia, Ukraine, this is a dizzying amount of foreign policy nightmares.

How is the Obama administration dealing with all these multiple fronts of chaos?

SCIUTTO: It remains to be seen really. This is the issue. I had a briefing with senior intelligence officials today. You know, a few -- a couple of years ago, we used to talk about the failed state of Somalia, and what a danger that was. You had al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliated group there, which has threatened, already carried out attacks in Africa and elsewhere.

But in the last couple of years, you now have several failed states in the region. Iraq and Syria, now a home base for ISIS, they declared a caliphate there. Yemen, a home base for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Libya, increasing a failed state. Al-Murabitun, it's a new offshoot, also al Qaeda-tied group.

All of these groups in all of these countries have I'm told by senior intelligence officials have their target set on the U.S. now. They haven't been able to carry out those attacks yet, but they have that aspiration. And this is what the administration is facing now, this is what intelligence officials are facing now.

Every morning when they wake up, they're getting briefings on the threat emanating from these countries.

TAPPER: Jim Sciutto, thank you so much.

Let's get now to our senior international correspondent Ivan Watson. He joins us live from Erbil, where thousands of Iraqis are on the run, looking for shelter from a slaughter.

Ivan, where can they go and how safe are they right now?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, for now, the Kurdistan regional government, it does control, for instance, the city of Erbil, but part of the panic has come as ISIS has advanced really to within 40 miles of Erbil, the biggest of the cities controlled by the Kurds. What that triggered was an exodus of Iraqi civilians towards the Kurdish region even as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters were having to pull back Wednesday night. It triggered an alarm bells here in Erbil. There was a run on the supermarkets here. Some people leaving Erbil and heading for the hills, and prompting the Kurdistan regional government to issue public messages to try to reassure the population to tell them yes, the Kurdish Peshmerga can defend Kurdish territory.

What I saw throughout the day here was just a constant stream of Iraqi civilians walking, piling into the back of trucks, piling into taxis, into buses, any kind of transportation possible and showing up at the gates of this Kurdish stronghold and now they're bedding down in parking lots, in unfinished buildings for the night here and there's no real system to provide food or water to these people. I've seen some ad hoc distribution of water.

But the United Nations is warning up to 200,000 people have fled towards Kurdistan area within the last 48 hours. The patriarch in the Chaldean Christian community issuing a warning of 100,000 Chaldean Christians on the run with little more than the clothes on their back. It is really a dire situation right now.

TAPPER: Ivan Watson in Erbil -- thank you so much.

Coming up next, he's made no attempt to hide his desire to punish the United States and Europe, but is Vladimir Putin going too far this time?

Plus, it provoked fury in Israeli. The kidnapping and murder of three teenagers weeks ago. How did that event lead to the war in Gaza? Well, today, I went searching for answers. That's ahead.