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Palestinians, Israel Agree on Cease-fire; U.S. Approves Syria Spy Flights; Release of Inspector General's Report on V.A. Hospitals; Israelis Agreed to Send Delegation Back to Cairo; U.S. Ready to Strengthen Moderate Rebel Forces; Ceasefire Agreement; Spy Flights over Syria; Brown Shooting Audio
Aired August 26, 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, Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza say they've reached a deal with Israel. A new cease-fire is now underway. If it holds, it puts an end to more than seven weeks of fighting.
Also, right now, President Obama approves U.S. reconnaissance flights over Syria. Are air strikes over ISIS targets in Syria the next step? And might the U.S. actually end up working with Bashar Al Assad's government in Damascus?
And right now, we're only minutes away from the release of the inspector general's report on V.A. hospitals across the United States. Did excessive wait times lead to the deaths of some of America's veterans?
Hello, I'm whole Wolf Blitzer reporting from Washington. We've got some breaking news right now. We're following breaking news about a breakthrough in the fighting between Israel and militants in Gaza. Within the last hour, Palestinian and Egyptian officials announced a news fire -- a new cease-fire has been reached. And Israel, only a few moments later, said it has accepted the truce.
Our Correspondent Reza Sayah is joining us from Cairo right now where the negotiations led by the Egyptian government have been taking place. So, Reza, walk us through the details. What do we know about this cease-fire?
REZA SAYAH, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think what's important to stress is this does not address the core demands, the core issues that have been the source of this (INAUDIBLE) a temporary cease-fire where both sides have agreed to stop fighting, which is good news, and, at some point, return to Cairo and engage in indirect negotiations. We spoke to a senior Egyptian official a short time ago and he, essentially, tells CNN that this is the same initiative, the same agreement that was on the table one week ago today. And that, according to the Palestinians, the Israelis rejected.
According to this Egyptian official, with this particular agreement, the Israelis have agreed to make some concessions and that includes the easing of the blockade on Gaza. They haven't agreed to lift the blockade completely. They've agreed to ease the blockade to enable the passing of humanitarian aid and some construction material. According to the Egyptians, the Israelis, with this agreement, have also agreed to extend a territorial limit for fishing for the Gazans. And, again, both sides have agreed to come back to Cairo, at some point, although it's not clear when, to engage in indirect talks.
What shouldn't get lost in all this is the fact that, again, the core demands, the core issues that have been the source of this impasse have not been addressed.
And the big question, when you look at this bloody conflict, when more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, more than 60 Israeli soldiers were killed, what have these two sides gained? If you look at the core demands, they haven't gained anything.
Of course, Hamas, the Palestinians, they wanted a complete lifting of the blockade. They still don't have that with this agreement. The Israelis wanted the disarming of Hamas, the demilitar1ization of Gaza. And, again, according to this agreement, they don't have that either.
But, again, the good news is they have agreed to stop fighting, at this point, to come back to Cairo. And we'll keep an eye out on things, once they get here, to see if they can make it any different from the scenarios that we've seen in the past weeks and the past years for that matter -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the Israelis have agreed to send their delegation back to Cairo to resume these indirect negotiations with the Palestinian delegation which includes, of course, representatives from Hamas Islamic Jihad, some of the other militant groups as well. The -- there's been some confusion, Reza, about what time the cease-fire goes into effect. Some suggest it's already in effect right now. Others, midnight Gaza-Israel time which would be 5:00 p.m. here on east coast of the United States. Is the cease-fire now technically in effect?
SAYAH: It is. And we're going to clear that up for you. State media here in Egypt falsely reported that the cease-fire would begin midnight local time which is in several hours. But the Egyptian senior official that we've been talking to, and Palestinian officials, have told us that the cease-fire is already underway. It started at 7:00 p.m. local time which is about an hour ago -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, all right. Reza Sayah, we'll watch it closely. We'll stay, obviously, in very, very close touch with you. We'll see how these negotiations take place. Let's hope it stays quiet now between Gaza and Israel.
In just a few minutes, we'll get some more on the implications of the cease-fire. Our Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour will join us live. Stay with us for that.
Let's get to some other news right now. The latest on the fight against ISIS. The U.S. taking fresh aim at the militant group. This time, though, in Syria, officials telling CNN President Obama has given the go ahead for reconnaissance flights over Syria. Flights meant to gather intelligence on ISIS militant positions there. This comes a day after the Syrian regime said it was open to help from the United States and other countries in its own battle against the ISIS forces.
Barbara Starr is joining us from the Pentagon right now. Barbara, I want to play a quick comment from the president. Just a few moments ago, in his speech before the American legion about U.S. interests in Iraq and Syria. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, we're strengthening our partners. More military assistance to government and Kurdish forces in Iraq and moderate opposition in Syria.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All Right. So, he's basically lumping in the moderate opposition forces in Syria to the Kurdish forces, to the Iraqi military forces. What are you hearing about what the United States will do to strengthen what he calls these moderate opposition forces in Syria in their own battle against ISIS as well as against the Bashar Al Assad regime?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you'll recall, several weeks ago, the U.S. said that it would begin supporting, once again, these moderate rebels, trying to provide perhaps some weapons, perhaps some training. But this has been problematic for years now, you know, trying to figure out who the so- called moderate rebels really are and what can be done for them.
Right now, I think it's fair to say ISIS is on the front burner for the Obama administration at this hour. The president has authorized reconnaissance flights over ISIS targets, try and get a better understanding of exactly where they are, where their troop formations, their training camps are, to prepare to go in with air strikes if he makes the decision to go down that road. They need much better intelligence. They need real-time intelligence.
All we've seen so far are ISIS strikes, as you see, across the border in Iraq. Those air strikes, officials tell us, have had some effect. They've stopped the ISIS momentum, in parts of Iraq, and that's what they're hoping to replicate in Syria. If the president makes the decision, go after ISIS in that northern area of Syria, up against the Iraqi border, and try and stop ISIS from its momentum in that area -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So, we know the president has approved these reconnaissance flights over Syria. Have they actually started yet?
STARR: Interesting question. The Pentagon is getting very closed mouth about all that. We do not know, at this hour, if there has been the first reconnaissance flight into Syrian airspace. Let's be very clear about that.
But the U.S. has continued to fly drones near the border on the Iraqi side. That's something that has been going on as part of the reconnaissance program over Iraq for some time. And officials tell us they do have the capability to see somewhat into Syria, you know, making that decision to actually go into Syrian airspace a very big deal because it would be a violation of the sovereignty of the -- of Syria.
Will the U.S. coordinate with Bashar Al Assad? Don't count on it. Many U.S. officials, many U.S. military officials, telling us they have no intention telling Assad anything about what they may be up to -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. And she raises an important question about cooperation with the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al Assad. He has offered, by the way, to partner with the United States in his own fight against ISIS. ISIS representing a major threat to his regime.
Let's go to Nick Paton Walsh. He's joining us now from London. So, what's the likelihood, as remote as it might sound, that there could be this alliance, if you will, a partnership between the U.S., the Bashar Al Assad regime, and their common battle against ISIS?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think nothing really in public, Wolf. I mean, you've got to bear in mind, a year ago, they were in the middle of accusing the Assad regime of using chemical weapons and killing 1,200 people on the outskirts of Damascus and contemplating whether or not they would launch airstrikes against Assad.
Many argue, too, that the 10s of thousands of civilians killed by often indiscriminate bombing in northern Syria is actually the crucible in which the radicalism of ISIS was formed. That people were so infuriated by the absence of western intervention and the brutality of this Assad regime that, in fact, they found ISIS a better potential better alternative. Hard to imagine but what many argue in these circumstances.
So, to suddenly turn around, even given the threat ISIS poses and have Washington and Damascus reach an open entrant (ph) agreement seems highly unlikely. Perhaps, tacitly, they may allow each other wriggle room, operating space.
But I think it's going to be very difficult, in the words of former General David Petraeus, for them to, in fact, to become the Assad regime or even the Iraqi government, Shia government air force, and carry out missions to assist their fight on the ground. Often against Sunni rebels which, I should point out, ISIS most certainly are as well -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nick, you heard the president say in his speech, at the American Legion a little while ago, that the U.S. is ready to strengthen the moderate rebel forces, opposition forces in Syria. But I know, from my own conversations with U.S. military and intelligence officials, they're very worried if they were to supply sophisticated weapons, whether tanks or armored personnel carriers, anti-aircraft missiles, for example, to these moderate rebel forces, these opposition forces, in Syria, those weapons could wind up in the hands of ISIS. How serious is that fear?
WALSH: Well, certainly, you have to bear in mind what Syrian moderate rebel groupings. They have been decimated in the past few months. This is the fourth or fifth time the White House has said they will assist those groups. And that it's constantly been stymied by infighting between the groups and now, most particular, the fact that they are being heavily hit by ISIS advancing towards them on the outskirts of Aleppo.
Now, of course, they have to be in a much better position to be able to take complicated weaponry like (INAUDIBLE) to have to down Syrian air power and have Washington not to worry that will end up in ISIS hands once their positions are overrun. Sadly, the time for the Syrian motor opposition to suddenly become the magical solution to this is beginning to fade. Many are worried that as ISIS advances west, they are, in fact, dealing an existential blow to that Syrian motor opposition. They've been on the ropes for quite some time. They seem to surge back in some areas. But they're really not the force that many, two years ago, thought might prevail in this brutal civil war -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And we know the U.S. military has been badly burned by the loss of a lot -- huge amounts of sophisticated weaponry the U.S. left behind in Iraq for the Iraqi military, which the Iraqi military simply abandoned as they ran away from the incoming ISIS forces in Iraq. And that has left a very, very bitter taste in the U.S. military's mouth. And, as a result, they're very worried about what could happen in Syria if they were to leave stockpiles of weaponry for the moderate opposition forces in Syria. Nick Paton Walsh reporting for us. Thanks very much.
Up next, we'll have much more on the president's decision on Syrian flyovers. Our own Christiane Amanpour standing by to weigh in on that decision as well as the cease-fire now announced in Gaza.
And the sound of gunfire caught on tape. Newly released audio said to be from the shooting of Ferguson, Missouri. An audio expert tells us what he hears.
BLITZER: As we told you, a deal has now been reached between Israel and the Palestinian leadership on a ceasefire in Gaza. This one is supposedly a longer-term agreement, unlike the short-term deals we've seen come and go over the past 50 days or so. Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is joining us from London.
We've all been disappointed that all of the earlier cease-fires didn't exactly work out as planned. What about this one, Christiane, you think it's any different?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, really, who knows. And to that end, I did speak to the U.K. ambassador to the U.N. about it just as it was being announced and he said that this one must be sustainable. We can't just keep going on repeating this cycle of violence and everybody being back at exactly the same place in another couple of years or so.
So to that end, this is an open-ended cease-fire we're told. There's no definitive number of days put on to it. They are, the parties, apparently, according to the officials, going to continue to work out all the bits of it and they'll return to Cairo, we're told.
We're told that it involves expanding some fishing rights for the Palestinians off the Gaza coast. It involved some easing of the blockade into Gaza and presumably it also involves guarantees of no violence from Gaza into Israel.
But what the U.N. secretary-general told me, in no uncertain terms, and very, very bluntly, this must be the last time. He said, we've continued to keep building up Gaza, then everybody destroys it. Build and destroy. Build and destroy. This has to be the last time. We cannot do it anymore. So you do get a sense of the world very, very anxious that this one should stick.
BLITZER: Let's talk about Syria also for a moment. The president, as you know, President Obama, has authorized surveillance flights over Syria. A lot of folks believe that's a precursor to the start of U.S. air strikes against ISIS targets in Syria. What's your take on that?
AMANPOUR: Well, it seems that it may very well be. And actually, and that's not my take, is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, who has said that ISIS needs to be confronted on both sides of what is now a nonexistence border between Iraq and Syria. As we know, finally, the United States did employ air strikes and push back ISIS from certain areas, pushed it back and helped the Kurds up in northern Iraq. But the U.S. has sat on the sidelines of the Syrian war for the last three years and has pooh poohed -- the White House has actually pooh poohed the notion that any intervention would have prevented the rise of ISIS.
Now, it's possibly being forced to intervene to prevent ISIS, which is now got a territory which Britain is calling as big as the size of Britain. A huge terrorist state that's possibly able to strike, and maybe in the future striking Europe and the United States. So it's very, very, very critical right now.
BLITZER: Yes. Could you see, as crazy as it might sound, some sort of covert cooperation between the U.S. and the Syrian regime of President Bashar al Assad in Damascus? They have a common enemy, namely ISIS.
AMANPOUR: Well, again, I asked the U.S. -- the U.N. ambassador from Britain and he said there is simply no way. And, of course, it would be the height of desperation and cynicism after both President Obama and many world leaders have called for Assad to step down, using those words, Assad must go, over the last three years. Now, nothing was done to insure that Assad must go, but the notion of now cozying up to him and forming some kind of alliance of convenience has been dismissed by the British, by even the Pentagon. In fact, the British ambassador told me the monster of ISIS has been created by Assad, the Frankenstein.
So, you know, this what they're saying. You never know what might happen. But the truth of the matter is that actually Assad, accord to officials, has been enabling ISIS, partly as a self-fulfilling prophesy to say, listen, I told you we were fighting terrorists, well, here they are, but also because the moderate Syrian opposition, who are on their last legs, they had been fighting ISIS and they've been pushing back and they've been actually doing quite well until a lot of outside help came in on the side of Assad, which was Syria and Hezbollah, as you know.
BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour reporting from London for us. Christiane, thanks very much.
We're going to have much more on all of these stories coming up.
Also, other news, including the sound of gunfire caught on tape. Can this newly released audio shed light on the deadly shooting in Ferguson, Missouri? We have details. That's coming up in a live report.
BLITZER: A series of gunshots, a pause, then more gunfire. That's what audio experts say they hear on a newly released recording said to be from the Michael Brown shooting. The man says he captured the audio while talking with a friend on a video chat service. You can hear him talking, but listen closely to the shots in the background.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are pretty. You're so fine. Just going on some of your videos. How could I forget?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: CNN's Stephanie Elam is joining us now from Ferguson, Missouri.
Stephanie, we could - we should point out, CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of the tape, but how significant could all of this potentially be based on all the experts and sources you're discussing this with in Ferguson and elsewhere?
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, when you hear that, it gives you a bit of the time line. If, in fact, it is real and true and it did happen -- it is the sound of the Mike Brown shooting, what it does is that it gives us now a sort of a sketch of what was happening. Because the question is, what was going on in that pause? It sounds like there's about six gunshots, then there's a pause of about three seconds, and then there's another four gunshots that you hear. So what many people want to know is, what was happening in that time.
The other thing that I keep hearing is that it's very hard to decide what you should do in three seconds, that that is too short of a time to react. But others are saying, this is showing that he had some intent to go after him further.
Also the question remains between he said and they said because Officer Wilson has indicated that he thought Mike Brown was struggling from his gun. But we've heard from witnesses that when the shooting occurred, he was away from the police car, Mike Brown was, and that he was saying that he was unarmed and that he was saying that he was -- had no defense on him.
So what it's going to come down to is how this timeline that we're hearing of this audio, if it is really from that shooting, what it means as far as who may have been the aggressor and who may have been to blame in this situation, Wolf.
BLITZER: If, in fact, it is the shooting, key words, because the autopsy, as you know, done by the family, commissioned by the family, showed there were six bullets in the body of Michael Brown and here we hear 10 shots, if you will. Here's the question, has this audiotape been presented to the grand jury, to the federal or the FBI investigators? What do we know about that?
ELAM: We do know that the FBI does have this recording and that they're analyzing it to see if -- for its veracity, to see if it's real, to see if it does play into this case. So we'll be waiting to hear more about how that will play in. But if it, in fact, does, then I would suspect it would also play into the grand jury here in Missouri, which, keep in mind, we're not going to hear the results of that until they estimate mid-October as far as the legal system here in Missouri says. So it could play in. The first question, though, is it real? And that's what we're waiting to find out, Wolf.
BLITZER: Stephanie Elam reporting from Ferguson, thank you.
An audio expert has listened to the tape, tell us what he heard. He says there is a three second pause between the series of gunshots. We asked about the significance of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL GINSBERG, FORENSIC AUDIO EXPERT: There could have been a reloading of the weapon or there could have been movement or getting into another position or any number of different reasons. Of course, we would love to have had video of this event. But, unfortunately, all we have to go by are witnesses and this audio.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As Stephanie said, no word yet on what, if any, impact this will have on the shooting investigation. We'll stay on top of this story for you.
Up next, we'll get back to Iraq and the battle against the ISIS terrorists there. The terror group is gaining ground. We're going there live. We'll get a closer look at American options.