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CNN NEWSROOM

Cease-Fire Between Israel and Hamas

Aired November 21, 2012 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to welcome our viewers watching in the United States and around the world now on CNN INTERNATIONAL. I'm Anderson Cooper, live from Jerusalem.

Breaking news, a cease-fire is set to start now, just hours after fighting between Israel and Hamas hit the heart of Tel Aviv. We're waiting to see what this hour will bring. We have reporters on both sides of this border. Both sides have been firing rockets at each other, right up until now. We'll have live reports from Gaza and Ashkelon, Israel, in moments.

Yesterday, around this time, we reported on hopes for a break in cross-border rocket attacks when a senior Hamas official described to CNN as a calming down period. Even as diplomats, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, searched for a truce, the fighting last night intensified. Israel trained rockets and artillery fire in Gaza overnight. 100 confirmed strikes destroyed bridges, tunnels and buildings. Hamas returned fire with dozens of rockets, 62 according to the Israeli Defense Forces. About a third were intercepted by Israel's iron dome defense system.

This attack, a bomb, a public bus around lunch time, not far from Israel's military headquarters. The blast wounded 24 people, added a new urgency to efforts to reach a cease-fire. The military wing of Hamas tweeted to Israelis, quote, "you opened the gates of hell on yourselves."

About 40 minutes after the bus bombing, our cameras captured this explosion in Gaza City. All the while there was a flurry of diplomat activity. Secretary Clinton met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Then she headed to Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Mohammed Mori. Then, about 90 minutes ago, the cease-fire was announced by Egypt's foreign minister with Secretary Clinton at his side.

Let's go straight to Fred Pleitgen, who's live in Ashkelon, Israel, where sirens have been going off earlier. Also joining us is Ben Wedeman in the Gaza Strip, in Gaza City.

Fred, what are you seeing right now in Ashkelon?

Fred Pleitgen, have the rockets stopped in Ashkelon? FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, the rockets, yes, Anderson, the rockets have stopped in Ashkelon. It was actually quite interesting because up until about -- I would say about a minute before our broadcast began, there were still booms that were heard in the sky. And about 10 minutes ago we actually had to run for cover here in Ashkelon. Now, however, it appears as though things are quiet.

But I can tell you from speaking to people here on the ground, they are telling us they don't really believe in this cease-fire just yet at this point in time. Folks that we're speaking to at this cafe, who have actually been watching the speech of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just a couple of minutes ago, say that they believe that this is not a solution to the problem, that quite possibly they are going to be having to face rockets falling on their heads very soon again, Anderson.

COOPER: I'm also joined here in Jerusalem with CNN -- by CNN's Wolf Blitzer. We are both going to be monitoring developments over this crucial next hour. This next hour really key to what happens for the next 24 to 48 hours.

Ben Wedeman is also joining us in Gaza City.

Ben, from what you're seeing, what you're hearing, any incoming, any outgoing?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, within the last half hour to 40 minutes, there was quite a lot of both. We saw three separate volleys of rockets fired from the area just behind me. And just about seven or eight minutes ago heard the sort of incoming rounds landing also just not far from here.

Now it has gone quiet. We can still here the drones overhead, but certainly it did seem that both sides were trying to get in their last knocks before the clock struck 9:00.

Anderson.

COOPER: Ben, it's important for people to realize, Hamas is not the only actor in Gaza which has been firing rockets. There's also Islamic jihad and other groups. What is the likelihood that Hamas will be able to stop other groups from some -- any form of aggression? Because as part of this cease-fire agreement, they are responsible for a cessation, a stopping of all aggression toward Israel by all factions.

WEDEMAN: OK, Anderson, I just heard a large explosion in the distance.

As far as that goes, certainly Hamas, as far as Israel considers Hamas to be the government in Gaza. They don't recognize it. But they consider it responsible every time a rocket is fired out, every time there's some sort of disturbance of the peace, so it speak. So they will be obliged to some extent to try to stop other groups, like Islamic jihad, like smaller organizations, from breaking the cease- fire.

And Hamas has really gained a lot out of this war. You have to remember that back in January 2006, when Hamas won the parliamentary elections, the Palestinian parliamentary elections, the United States and Israel immediately took steps to isolate it, politically, economically, in every possible way. Now we find that Hamas has now -- has hosted leaders from Turkey, from Egypt, from Qatar, foreign ministers from a variety of Arab countries. Its gained quite a lot in the last eight days. And some people here would say it would be foolhardy for them to lose their gains simply because some small faction decides to launch a rocket over the border.

Anderson.

COOPER: And you're looking at a live picture on the right-hand side of your screen of Gaza City. And I want to keep that picture up as we continue our discussion to see if there are any more incoming shells from Israeli defense forces, any outgoing rockets from factions, from Hamas and other factions inside Gaza.

I'm joined also by Wolf Blitzer here in our studio, in Jerusalem. You just spoke to Mark Regev, the spokesman for the foreign ministry --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: For the prime minister.

COOPER: For the prime minister. You asked him some key questions. And for some there were not answers. In particular, what happens to the borders, to the blockade of Gaza City?

BLITZER: I think that will depend if this thing holds. If the rockets no longer go into Israel, if there's no firing at Israeli troops who are patrolling the border, if that stops, I think the Israelis are prepared to take some steps to ease some of those blockades, some of those restrictions. But that's going to take a while. That's not going to go into -- I suspect that's not going to go into effect right away. The Israelis want to test Hamas right now. They want to test this agreement, see what happens over -- not just the next few hours, but the next few days, see what's happening and then they'll begin to reciprocate, I suspect, but I don't think they're going to do much right away.

COOPER: But he also made it clear that the Israeli government holds Hamas responsible

BLITZER: Right.

COOPER: For all the factions, Islamic jihad, any al Qaeda related other -- al Qaeda related groups, anybody who is firing rockets into Israel.

BLITZER: And that's a problem. As you were just there, Anderson. You know that Hamas may not be able to control every element, every terrorist organization that may be operating there. And they could sabotage it if they get an opportunity. Some of them might want to do that. So we'll see.

I think there is a good relationship between the Hamas leadership and the Egyptian government of the new president, Mohamed Morsi, who himself is a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. There's a whole new regime in Egypt right now. And what's intriguing is not only the U.S. administration of President Obama, but the Israelis. They went out of their way to praise President Morsi for his role right now. So potentially there could be an improvement in Israeli-Egyptian relations if this agreement holds. That's obviously a big -- a big if right now. We're going to see what happens in the coming hours. We're watching it closely.

COOPER: And Ben Wedeman, Egypt has a role in basically monitoring developments and has a responsibility now, according to this agreement, the parameters of the cease-fire. Egypt, will they be able to stop smuggling of Hamas weapons through those tunnels, from Egypt into Gaza City? Because there's a lot of concern obviously on the Israeli side of the border that Hamas will simply use any kind of a cease-fire, use any stopping of violence to basically replenish their stockpile of weapons.

WEDEMAN: Really is up to the political will of the Egyptian leadership to make sure this happens. We've seen it in the past that the Egyptians will sort of tighten and loosen their hold on Gaza when they see fit, when there are tensions, for instance, in the days of Hosni Mubarak, when there were tensions between Hamas and the Egyptian government, suddenly it became very difficult for Palestinians in Gaza to leave the Gaza Strip and go through Egypt. Sometimes they would decide to crack down on the tunnels.

After the last flare-up, the Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, part of the agreement when the fighting ended was that the Americans would provide money to the Egyptian government to build an underground wall, steel wall, to prevent tunnels from being dug. What happened is the Gazan tunnel diggers are very good at what they did and they were able to basically knock holes in that wall. So the Egyptian government is going to have to really sort of redouble its efforts to make sure that, a, there's no smuggling out of Gaza -- into Gaza of weapons, and, b, that they have, you know, an eye on what's going in and out.

And certainly if they take a passive approach, if they don't do that, then it will be very much a repeat of what we've seen in the past. A lot of weapons getting into Gaza and others as well. People as well. You have to remember also that the Sinai, which since the revolution -- Sinai peninsula of Egypt, since the revolution in Egypt, has become something of the wild, wild east for the country. Thousands of prisoners escaped during the revolution, found their way into Sinai. So Egypt has a double problem. It has to re-establish its control over Sinai if it's going to have any effect on arms smuggling into Gaza.

Anderson.

BLITZER: You know, you know, it's Wolf over here, Ben.

What was intriguing to me, Anderson, and I think it's intriguing to a lot of people, the U.S. role in all of this, because we know in the statement that the White House released, the readout if you will of the president's conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he promised there would be additional financial assistance to Israel in connection with that iron dome anti-missile system. There were political assurances provided to the Israelis as well that the U.S. would support Israel as a result of the -- of this agreement that Israel has a right to defend itself.

But I'm intrigued also by what the U.S. promised Egypt right now because I'm sure there was some significant assurances, not only economic, financial, military, political assurances to the new government in Egypt as well.

COOPER: Ben Wedeman -- and again, we're monitoring developments -- if you're just joining us -- is Gaza City. We're keeping up our live camera, a picture there as Ben Wedeman is also there in Gaza City, to see if this cease-fire is holding now just a few minutes old, if there are any rockets outgoing, any more explosions, incoming. And, Ben, if you hear anything, obviously let us know.

There are critics of this agreement already who are saying, look, this is just a return to the status quo that existed before this latest flare-up of the conflict began some eight or nine days ago. How will anything be different? Within 24 hours of this cease-fire, the borders are supposed to reopen to the way they were before, but there is still essentially a blockade in effect now.

WEDEMAN: Now, the blockade, as far as the border with Israel is concerned, is not going to change. There's -- that's really not in the cards. I think what Hamas wants is much freer movement in and out of Gaza through Egypt. And beyond that, what they're looking is the ability for Palestinians here in Gaza to travel in and out because that's one of the main complaints you hear about from Palestinians here is they feel deprived of the ability to get out of Gaza, to get an education, to travel abroad. It's very difficult at the moment and I think they would like to see that change.

Anderson.

COOPER: Also joining us here is Sara Sidner. She is on -- or in Tel Aviv.

Sara, earlier in the day we saw a bus being thrown onto -- excuse me, a bomb being thrown on to a bus. What's the latest on the situation there?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, there have been many people that have been released from the hospital. Five people still in the hospital after that blast.

And, you know, we talked to some of the people about, you know, the cease-fire just around that area and what they thought about things and it really depended on who you talked to. One person saying, you know, they just wanted the prime minister to finish the job, and I'm quoting here, and go in and stop this from forever happening again. Stop rockets from ever being able to come over into Israel again. In other words, do whatever is necessary, including a ground war. While others are like, we just want to see an end to the violence. If it can start with something, like a cease-fire, and then move into something more permanent, we'd be happy with that.

But, ultimately, everyone wanted a permanent solution. We heard that over and over and over again. A permanent solution to this conflict so that it doesn't keep flaring up again every few months because just back in October, Anderson, there was another flare-up, rockets coming over, more than 80 rockets coming over into Israel and a response by Israel with air strikes, (INAUDIBLE) air strikes there in Gaza. And there was a peace deal or a cessation brokered by Egypt. Similar scenario, not as public, but behind the scenes, Egypt got involved, and things calmed down. And here we are again in November, seeing this, although it ratcheted up to an alarming degree to a lot of people.

But I just got off the phone with a senior Israeli official who said, there is great optimism in his mind that they're seeing Egypt do something that they weren't sure they could count on. You know, when the Mubarak regime was in place, they were able to counter them to at least be the intermediary. And they were worried that this new government, the fact that it's the Muslim Brotherhood, the fact that that's, you know, someone that Hamas has real connection with, that there may be a difference in the way that Egypt acted. And they're very happy to see Egypt coming in between and accepting being really the keeper of this truce, of this cease-fire. So some optimism there, despite the fact that, you know, we did see rockets come over just before and here of air strike there in Gaza.

Anderson.

COOPER: The next hour -- the next hour or two are going to be critical, whether or not this cease-fire does, in fact, take hold. So far there seems to be quiet in the skies over Gaza City. Except our Ben Wedeman reporting a sound, obviously, of IDF drones continuing to echo throughout the very crowded buildings and streets there.

We're going to take a short break. Our coverage continues. We're going to hear from the White House about the conversation between President Obama and Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage. Just at the top of this hour, a cease-fire agreement went into effect. An agreement by Israel and Hamas through Egypt and eight days of deadly fighting. The agreement came after 24 people were seriously hurt today when a bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv. I want to bring in foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty, who is at the White House.

Jill, the president has been on the phone with the Israeli prime minister, Netanyahu. Also Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi. Do we know the content of those discussions? What did he say?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, when it comes to Netanyahu, of course, you know, he expressed appreciation. And also the most important thing, talking about that the -- President Obama would push for additional funding for iron dome, that protection from incoming rockets, and then also for other missile defense programs. So, obviously, that is very, very important for Israel because if they did not feel secure, they would not have gone along with this. That's one of them. And then the other side, I think, Anderson, is this praise that you're getting from President Morsi. This is going to be very important. President Obama praising him for his personal leadership. Remember, here in the United States, there has been a lot of criticism, especially on Capitol Hill from Republicans, about Egypt. And this is a way of President Obama being able to make the case that perhaps for Egypt there could be something in it.

Some people here, for example, have pushed for cutting funding to them. They get about $450 million a year from the United States. And this could be inoculation from that by President Obama saying, look, he came, you know, to the fore, and he pushed for this agreement, this cease-fire. And we'll have to see whether it's doable. But there was success in that.

And then also the role of Hillary Clinton. You know, obviously her very intense shuttle diplomacy to try to carry out what the president wanted and her own ability to help smooth the way for this.

COOPER: Jill Dougherty, for years now, though, for some six years at least, the U.S. and Israel has tried to politically isolate Hamas. Has that now completely failed?

DOUGHERTY: Well, don't think they can completely isolate them because, you know, the reality that they see now is Hamas, like it or not, controls Gaza. So what you have to do is try to bring them on board. And the only person who can really do that, who is able to do that, is Mohamed Morsi. After all, Muslim Brotherhood. He, interestingly, could play a role maybe in a way that is better than President Mubarak, who had no love lost for the -- for Muslim Brotherhood and other let's say more radical elements. So there's an interesting dynamic, I think, coming out in this, that role of President Morsi.

COOPER: Even though Hillary Clinton met with Mahmoud Abbas, who's a leader of a different faction of Palestinians, with the Palestinian Authority, the Fattah group in the West Bank, obviously she did not meet with Hamas. The U.S. does not recognize Hamas. But most observers will say Hamas came out of this stronger and Mahmoud Abbas seems weakened in all of this. We'll see how that plays out in the days and months ahead.

Jill, appreciate the reporting. We'll check back with you as this story develops.

The fragile cease-fire between Hamas and the Israelis, we continue to show you on the right-hand side of your screen. The skies over Gaza City critical over the next minutes and hours to see if this cease- fire holds. Will it mean a stop to the rocket barrages, which have bloodied the region for the last week? We're going to talk coming up to Mark Kimmitt, as well as CNN's Ben Wedeman in Gaza. Talk about the military situation in terms of the weapons both sides have been using. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the cease-fire between Hamas and the Israelis. It took hold at 9:00 -- 9:00 p.m. local time here. Some 24 minutes ago. The skies over Gaza City seem to be free of rocket fire for the first time in the last eight days. If it holds, we'll be looking at what it's going to mean for the region, for Gazans, most importantly, and for Israelis. Both sides of the border.

I want to bring in Mark Kimmitt, a retired U.S. Army general, also our CNN's Ben Wedeman, who is in Gaza City.

Ben, I understand you've been hearing some celebratory gunfire?

WEDEMAN: Yes, quite a lot of celebratory gunfire here in Gaza. This is a city that, for the last eight days, has been between the bombardment, the air strikes and the rocket launches. Deathly quiet. Now it's come back to life. You can hear the gunfire. You can hear the mosques. I can hear cars in the streets. So it does seem that people do feel that the cease-fire, at least for the time being, is beginning to take hold.

Anderson.

COOPER: And, Ben, I know the answer to this question, but I've gotten a lot of tweets about this, because I've talked about celebrity gunfire earlier today. So I'm going to ask you the question I've been asked a lot, how do you know it's celebratory?

WEDEMAN: Well, I just know. You can tell when there's a clash going on, people don't just sort of empty their magazines into the sky. This is sort of coming from every direction at the moment. I'm hearing cheers as well in the street. There is -- it's not the atmosphere of a gun battle or a clash. This is celebratory gunfire.

COOPER: I also understand -- and I just saw something over your head. I assume -- are those fireworks?

WEDEMAN: I did not see it. I'm just going to ask my colleagues. Were those fireworks or something -- tracers. Tracer rounds. So, yes, all part of the celebratory gunfire fest that's going on here.

COOPER: Ben, also, earlier in the day, there was a reaction when the bus bomb went off in Tel Aviv. I know you tweeted about it. What was the reaction that you saw on the streets in Gaza City?

WEDEMAN: Well, it was certainly muted compared to what I'm hearing now. We did hear sort of scattered celebratory gunfire, which was fairly brief. It didn't go on for very long. We did hear the mosques praising those who had conducted that attack in Tel Aviv, but it wasn't sort of as noisy as this particular celebration looks like it's going to become in the coming hours.

Anderson.

COOPER: A remarkable change just in the last hour to see people out on the streets over the last several days in Gaza City at night as it has been much throughout the day. The streets have been largely deserted.

General Kimmitt is also joining us.

Militarily, what does a cease-fire actually mean here? And in your experience, what -- do they actually hold in this part of the world?

GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, they really don't. But I think, first of all, it's not an issue of militarily, it's about political. And that's why you see the people out in the streets right now. They've stood up against Israel, they've prevented an invasion and they have been able to take Israel and fight them to a cease-fire on the bargaining table and not in the streets of Gaza. It could well be that the peace may hold for some period of time, but there are a significant number of elements that would like to see violations of the cease-fire because they're not happy with the peace that's going on right now or the cease-fire that's going on. So while you can be assured that Israel will be able to control their forces, it will be more problematic for Hamas to be able to keep all those disparate (ph) elements, (INAUDIBLE), some of the other al Qaeda groups, from trying to intentionally stop the cease-fire, break the cease-fire, and get the fighting to start again.

COOPER: General Kimmitt, it's not clear how many of these Fajr 5, these Iranian made, more sophisticated rockets that we've seen being fired toward Israel, what kind of stockpiles, the exact number that they had. The IDF clearly feels that they have depleted Hamas and other groups' ability to fire rockets into Israel and that's what they say they've been aiming for over the last eight days or so. How concerned are you, though, about Hamas just using a cease-fire, using any halt to the violence to just replenish their supplies of these rockets?

KIMMITT: Well, that certainly could be the case. And I agree with you, they have probably depleted a significant amount of the Fajr 5s and Fajr 3s. That's what my colleagues are telling me as well, that Hamas is somewhat happy that they have a cease-fire, because they were running out of their most effective capability.

The terms of the cease-fire, particularly as regards Egypt's role in upholding this cease-fire, in many ways will determine if they're able to get additional capabilities through the tunnels on the border or from the blockade. So Egypt remains an instrumental player, the key player in this entire cease-fire.