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THE SITUATION ROOM

Egypt Calls for Halt to Fighting; Interview with Osama Hamdan

Aired July 14, 2014 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, this is a SITUATION ROOM special report, Brink of War.

On the run -- thousands of Palestinians flee for their lives as Israeli missiles rain down on Gaza and the civilian death toll climbs.

Ducking for cover -- our CNN crew caught in a frightening and confusing incident at a border checkpoint, as the number of Hamas rocket attacks nears 1,000 coming into Israel.

Plus, extreme weather danger -- you're looking at a live picture of Washington, as nearly one third of the country faces severe thunderstorms, flooding and dramatic drops in temperature.

So what is the weather phenomenon -- what phenomenon is causing it all?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news and it is significant.

Egypt is now calling for a halt to the fighting starting tomorrow morning, offering to broker, help maintain a cease-fire, just as it did during the last armed conflict between Israel and Hamas some two years ago.

And we've just learned the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has ordered the Israeli Security Cabinet to meet first thing -- first thing Tuesday morning to review the Egyptian proposal, which senior Israeli officials say they are taking very, very seriously.

The two sides are one week into this latest deadly air war, with Hamas firing haphazard rockets into Israel.

Israel responding with precision air strikes -- precision air strikes that have now also killed at least 185 people in Gaza, topping the number killed in the last war. This according to Gaza Health Ministry officials. We're covering all angles of this dramatic story, significant story this hour.

Our correspondents are standing by across the region.

Our guests include the United States ambassador to Israel.

But first, let's get the latest on the fighting.

Tonight, a steady pounding on both sides of the border. I was waiting at a sealed border checkpoint with our crew when we had to duck for cover.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We just heard shots. We're not exactly sure what's going on, but you can see one Israeli soldier over there collapsed.

Did we get the all clear?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

BLITZER: Whoo.

A young Israeli woman soldier clearly was traumatized. She fell to the ground and started to cry. You don't often see that. So, later, she told me it's been really, really hard, especially on these young 18-, 19-year-old soldiers who come here on the border and hear these rockets going off.

(voice-over): Israel now says about 1,000 rockets have been fired from Gaza, some of them intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system, including this one, while we were in the border city of Sderot.

But another rocket made it through, damaging cars and this man's neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I heard a very strong boom around here. Everything shook. Things in my house fell. And I peeked from the door and I saw the dust going this way. So I understood it was very, very close by.

BLITZER (on camera): Hamas is showing off another weapon in its arsenal, claiming this video is of drones built by its military wing.

Israel says it shot down a drone spotted along its coastline.

(voice-over): Israeli forces massed at the Gaza border and striking from the air, hammering what Israel calls "terror targets," about 1,500 strikes so far. The Palestinian death toll is rising, this funeral for a father and son. U.N. officials say 70 percent of the dead in Gaza are civilians, including more than 30 children. And two women were killed when an Israeli air strike hit a center for the disabled.

A U.N. agency says 17,000 refugees now are taking shelter in 20 schools in Gaza.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: CNN's Diana Magnay is standing by live.

She's in Sdot. That's a kibbutz near the Israel-Gaza border.

Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is joining us from Gaza City -- Ben, first to you.

Have you gotten any reaction at all from Hamas to this Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire, which the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has now formally put out, as I reported earlier?

A senior Israeli official says the Israelis are taking it very seriously and they will have a special meeting of their Security Cabinet that the prime minister is convening first thing Tuesday morning.

Any reaction at all from Hamas in Gaza, where you are?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERIATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've heard, Wolf, from Fawzi Barhoum, who is a spokesman for the Hamas movement, who says that there will be no cease-fire as far as Hamas and the other groups and organizations here in Gaza are concerned, unless their conditions are met.

Their conditions are an end to the Israeli offensive, an end to the Israeli operations in the West Bank, a release of all those who had -- who have been rounded up in that Israeli operation in the West Bank, who were part of the Gilad Shalit deal from 2011. And so until those conditions are met, Hamas says there will be no cease-fire.

However, there is a lot of pressure from ordinary people here in Gaza for an end to the fighting. As you mentioned, the death toll is now almost 190. Life has been completely disrupted. More than 1,300 people wounded.

Here in Gaza, they're ready for a cease-fire, but maybe Hamas isn't -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because if you read carefully, as I have, and I'm sure you have, as well, Ben, the Egyptian cease-fire proposal, which the Foreign Ministry in Cairo has made public, they say some of these -- all of these issues, if they want, they could be discussed down the road. But the immediate need is to stop the Israeli air strikes, to stop the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. Stop that and then discuss some of this other stuff.

What you're hearing from a Hamas person in Gaza is they're not going to accept an immediate cease-fire in place and discuss these other issues down the road. They want Israel, for example, to release the Palestinian prisoners and these other demands they put forward before they accept any cease-fire, is that right?

WEDEMAN: Yes, that's correct. But that may not be the final word. That may have been his initial reaction to the news.

But we do know that despite the chilled relations between Cairo and Hamas within the last year, since the overthrow of Mohamed Morsy, Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, the president, was the head of military intelligence before he came to power. He's a man with a lot of connections. And he could easily twist some arms here in Gaza to make this thing work.

I don't think the Egyptians would have put it out on the table so publicly unless they thought it had a very good chance of working -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I'm going to be speaking later this hour with Osama Hamdan, who's the -- one of the chief spokesmen of Hamas. We'll get his reaction to this Egyptian cease-fire proposal.

Ben I want you to stand by for a moment.

Diana Magnay is in Escalon. That's one of the Israeli cities not far from the Gaza border. It's come under rocket attack from Hamas.

What are you hearing over there -- Diana?

I know the Israelis are taking this Egyptian cease-fire proposal very seriously, because a senior Israeli official told me so.

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, I think the most important thing to tell you, Wolf, is that even before we heard about this proposal, I was remarking with my team how quiet it was compared to the last few nights, or, in fact, the last week of this campaign, when every evening as dusk falls, we've had volleys of rockets going overhead.

Today, as dusk fell, we were standing overlooking the border, awaiting the very same thing. There was nothing. And there has been no rockets coming this way. So initially, we thought has some sort of consensus been reached between parties within Gaza?

Now we have this proposal for a cease-fire.

It's difficult to gauge, really, how Israelis will react. If there is the possibility that Egypt can broker a deal between both sides, and both sides do decide to stop firing at each other, I would imagine that a lot of people in Israel will go, well, what does that achieve?

We did exactly what we did this time two years ago. There was a cease-fire, then Hamas built up its rockets and the same thing happened.

And certainly, the sentiment from people here in the south, Wolf -- and I'm sure you've spoken to them, too -- is that they want to see the Israeli government be very hard on Hamas because they experience these rocket attacks not just during an operation like this, but pretty much consistently, the people in Sderot. It's a fact of daily life. I would imagine for the people in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem, they just want normal life to continue. I think you'll get a very mixed reaction.

And all of that is what Benjamin Netanyahu will be having to take into account, as he looks very carefully at this proposal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Together with his Security Cabinet. I was with in (INAUDIBLE) earlier today, along the border with Gaza. I can confirm everything you're saying.

Diana, stand by.

We're going to get back to you in a few moments, as well.

Let's get some Israeli reaction to the breaking news we're following.

CNN Middle East analyst, Michael Oren, he's the former Israeli ambassador to the United States, is joining us now from Tel Aviv -- it looks like the Israeli cabinet will meet tomorrow. They're taking this Egyptian proposal seriously.

Is this the breakthrough a lot of folks, Israelis and Palestinians, Ambassador, have been looking for?

MICHAEL OREN, CNN MIDDLE EAST ANALYST, FORMER ISRAELI AMBASSADOR: Well, it's an unusual development insofar as in previous rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas, usually a mediator, Egyptians -- in 2012, it was Secretary of State Clinton -- had to shuttle back and forth for hours hammering out the details of an agreement in order to get the cease-fire.

Now, the Egyptians are saying there's going to be a cease-fire and then they're going to sit down and hammer out the details of an agreement.

And Hamas, as you heard earlier, is saying that it wants these prisoners released. It wants Israel to lift its maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. It wants the border crossings open to Egypt. They're closed right now.

But Israel also has its -- its demands in any cease-fire agreement. It wants Hamas to be effectively demilitarized of its -- of its missile arsenal. It wants no return to the status quo that existed before, where there was a cease-fire that enabled Hamas to build up its missile arsenal with even bigger missiles and longer range missiles. And I can't seek for the entire Israeli public, but I think the average Israeli in the street is going to object to any cease-fire that really just brings Israel back to what existed in the last year- and-a-half.

Which leads me to think that there may be more to this cease-fire than just a pure cease-fire, that there's been some indication that Hamas will be relieved of its missile arsenal, perhaps by Egyptian or even Palestinian inspectors from the West Bank. Egypt certainly has a role, has an interest, in increasing the influence and the prestige of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and getting Mahmoud Abbas involved in controlling the situation in Gaza.

BLITZER: Well, we know that the new Egyptian president, Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, he's someone very different than the man he replaced, Mohamed Morsy, who brokered that last cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Israel has a pretty good relationship with this new Egyptian president. I suspect that is, in part, why Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, now is taking this Egyptian cease-fire proposal very seriously, convening a special meeting of the Israeli Security Cabinet first thing Tuesday morning.

You know Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, well. Walk us through what his thinking is right now, but do it relatively briefly.

OREN: It's just very simple. It's not going back to the status quo that existed between November of 2012, that is, the last cease-fire, and last week, when that cease-fire broke down. And that cease-fire enabled Hamas to build up its rocket arsenal.

So Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to present to his cabinet a cease-fire which he is going to say to them is going to result in a de facto demilitarization of Gaza, similar to the way that the chemical weapons were removed from the arsenal of Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria.

BLITZER: And you think that that's something Hamas would realistically be inclined to accept?

OREN: Well, I listened to the speech of the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, tonight and it was anything but a victory speech. Usually, Hamas declares some great victory over the Zionist enemy. Tonight, he virtually apologized to his people, he didn't want this war, sorry for putting you through so much suffering.

Hamas is isolated in the region. It is -- it's presided over a ruinous economy in the Gaza Strip. Hamas doesn't have a lot to fall back on.

But Hamas could also be incentivized here, I believe, Wolf, with the possibility of easing the Israeli blockade, of opening those border crossings between Israel and Gaza, and between Egypt and Gaza, and maybe some nice international aid package for the people of Gaza, not only to rebuild from their war damage, but to resuscitate the Gazan economy, which has been so morbid over the last few years.

Perhaps the Qataris will play a role here in providing funds.

BLITZER: Yes, they've got the money, the Qataris. We know they've been involved behind-the-scenes, as well.

Michael Oren, stand by.

We'll get back to you, as well. Coming up, we're live here in Jerusalem.

We're following the breaking news. A cease-fire proposal put forward by the Egyptians. The Israelis welcoming it; in effect, taking it very, very seriously. The leadership of Hamas -- we're still waiting for a formal reaction. It's a bit shadowy right now.

Who are the men calling the shots in the air war against Israel?

Would they be open to a cease-fire?

What does Hamas make of Egypt's new cease-fire proposal?

How seriously is Hamas taking this plan?

I'll speak with a top Hamas spokesman. He's standing by live.

Stay with us.

We're continuing our breaking news on our SITUATION ROOM special report live from Jerusalem.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're coming to you live from Jerusalem, where we're following the breaking news. Egypt now calling for a cease-fire to halt the fighting starting tomorrow morning, offering to broker, help maintain a cease-fire, just as it did during the last armed conflict between Israel and Hamas some two years ago.

And we've just learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered his Israeli Security Cabinet to meet first thing tomorrow morning, Tuesday morning, to review the Egyptian proposal, which a senior Israeli official has told me the Israeli government is taking very seriously.

Let's get the reaction from Hamas.

The Hamas spokesman, Osama Hamdan, is joining us once again from Beirut.

Mr. Hamdan, thank you.

Thank you very much.

Are you taking the Egyptian cease-fire proposal?

OSAMA HAMDAN, HAMAS SPOKESMAN: Well, I have to say, clearly, it's not until now a real proposal. Some ideas -- there is ideas, which was introduced by the Egyptians for the Israeli side, because everyone knows that Egyptian has hosted the negotiations in 2012 and there was a cease-fire.

Israel violated the cease-fire, so now we are sent talking back about the violation out and what may happen. We believe that the ideas are still ideas, unless the Israelis show a clear position toward those ideas, unless the Israelis say that they are ready to deal with them in a serious way.

We don't have, until now, any information about the Israeli position or any reaction from the Israeli side, except what Netanyahu have done. He called for a meeting for the Security Cabinet to discuss the issue.

BLITZER: Well, let me go through the Egyptian proposal, because, as you know, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has publicly released the document that they put forward to Hamas, to your leadership in Gaza, as well as to the Israelis.

And it's basically a four point proposal, very simple.

Point number one, which you will accept, is that, "Israel shall cease all hostilities against the Gaza Strip via land, sea and air and shall commit to refrain from conducting any ground incursions against Gaza or targeting civilians." That's something that you definitely want Israel to stop, launching air strikes into Gaza.

Here's what they want from you. This is the Egyptian proposal. And I want your specific reaction.

"All Palestinian factions in Gaza.."

HAMDAN: I -- I know the proposal.

BLITZER: -- "shall cease.."

HAMDAN: I know those points.

BLITZER: -- "all hostilities" -- I'm going to -- I'm reading this for our viewers, so they know what they want -- what the Egyptian proposal wants Hamas to do.

And here's the quote, "All Palestinian factions in Gaza shall cease all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel via land, sea, air and underground, and shall commit to refrain from firing all types of rockets and from attacks on the borders or targeting civilians."

If Israel stops firing on Hamas and the Palestinian people in Gaza, will you stop launching rockets against Israel?

HAMDAN: Well, I have to answer in two points, if you don't mind.

First, the Egyptians did not send that initiative to us. It was not sent to the Palestinian side, not in Ramallah, not in Gaza, not the Palestinian organizations, not only not Hamas. So it was released in the media, and we don't talk about such issues in the media.

This is the first point.

So until now, we consider that there is no official Egyptian initiative. We know that there is official efforts done by the United States and the mediators are the Turks and the Qataris.

The second point, what we have said from the first day is we did not start the attack. The Israelis violated the cease-fire. They started attacking the Palestinians. So the resistance movement reacted against that. We did the reaction.

So what we were asking for in the last eight, nine days, that the Israelis must stop their attack against us and must stop their attack against the West Bank, which is not clear in the Egyptian declared paper.

I insist we did not receive that officially yet. So they did not mention the West Bank...

BLITZER: All right...

HAMDAN: -- which was under a huge but collective punishments from four weeks until now. They have to mention that.

The Egyptians, also, they have to answer a big question. The prisoners exchange agreement was violated, also, by the Israelis. And 60 Palestinians were rearrested by the Israelis. We were talking about releasing them, also.

The members of the parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council, they were arrested just for effect story created by Netanyahu.

So we want some answers. I want to say clearly, we asked from the first day that Israel must stop attacking the Palestinians, stop the violation of the Palestinian or the cease-fire agreement and also stop the collective punishments against West Bank, including the siege on West Bank and Gaza.

Those ideas are not...

BLITZER: Because...

HAMDAN: -- here in the Egyptian paper.

BLITZER: I was going to -- I'm sorry for interrupting, Mr. Hamdan.

HAMDAN: Yes?

BLITZER: Because they say that if the Israelis stop firing on Gaza and the Hamas stops -- and the other Palestinian factions, Islamic Jihad, stop firing on Israel, then the Egyptian proposal goes on to say, "Border crossings for Gaza, which the people in the Gaza want, crossings shall be opened and movement of persons and goods through border crossings shall be facilitated once the security situation becomes stable on the ground," meaning there would be greater opportunities for a flow of people and traffic and goods through Israel to Gaza and back through Israel, as well as through Egypt.

HAMDAN: Well...

BLITZER: "Other issues, including security issues, shall be discussed down the road by the two sides."

So some of these -- there's no mention, by the way, of some of the other specific issues that you're talking about, like the -- Israel's retaking some of these Palestinian prisoners. But presumably, that could be discussed, because the Egyptian proposal says within 48 hours of the cease-fire, they will welcome a high level Israeli delegation to Cairo and a high level Hamas delegation to Cairo to work out these other details.

Is that -- does that sound acceptable?

HAMDAN: Well, John, this is a silly idea. It's a joke. It's not politics. It's a joke. Really, it's a joke. We have tried that with the Israelis, sign the Oslo agreement and you will have a state in five years. We were supposed to have a state in 1998 and we are still now, in 2014, and we are still under the direct occupation.

They can't say that, stop firing. The Israelis will stop firing with the upper hand. They can fire whenever they want and you have to stop that. And we will see if we can open the borders, if we can give you the right to live without the Israeli attacks.

The idea here is simple -- you have to stop the -- you have to make an end for the occupation. You have to make clear guarantees for the Palestinians that they will not suffer an Israeli attack anymore. They will not suffer anymore from the Israeli bombs. They will not suffer anymore from the Israeli threats. This is the idea.

We can't live all the day under the threat of the Israelis.

What is written in this paper is not really -- it's not really an initiative. It's not really an idea. What they are trying to do is to corner the Palestinians and to help the Israelis more. I don't believe that this is a political thing to be done. It's close to be a joke.

BLITZER: Close to be a joke, you say.

Let me ask you this question, because it's a sensitive issue.

HAMDAN: Yes.

BLITZER: I know the last time Egypt brokered...

HAMDAN: It's because (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: -- a cease-fire...

HAMDAN: -- you know...

BLITZER: -- at the end of 2012 -- hold on a second -- at the end of 2012, it was then Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, who is now in jail in Egypt.

Do you -- I know you trusted Mohamed Morsy. As the leadership of Hamas, do you trust the new president of Egypt, Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, to broker an honest cease-fire between Hamas and Israel?

HAMDAN: Well, let me say that we don't -- we did not trust only Mr. Mohamed Morsy, as the president, we trusted Omar Suleiman before in 2008, 2009. And he mediated and he was the broker and we accepted his mediation.

So simply the idea, if any mediator has the -- a good mediation, we will accept that.

When you are talking about the Egyptian mediation, I am telling you clearly we did not receive this declared paper from the Egyptians through the contact channels between us and the Egyptians, which means it's an initiative for the media. It's not a political initiative discussed by the Palestinian side. It's only -- it was -- I don't know if it was also discussed by the Israelis. I have no idea.

So if you want to trust a mediator, he has to do his work as he is supposed to be, as a neutral and a mediator, which is not clear in this situation.

BLITZER: Mohammed Hamdan -- excuse me, Osama Hamdan, the spokesman for Hamas, joining us tonight.

We will continue to stay in touch with you.

We'll check back with you tomorrow.

We'll see if anything happens following the Israeli Security Cabinet meeting first thing Tuesday morning.

Osama Hamdan, you were with us Friday night. You're with us tonight. We'll continue this conversation.

I know you're not very happy with the Egyptian proposal. You call it a joke. In contrast, the Israelis are saying they're taking it very seriously.

Let's continue to get reaction to the breaking news -- HAMDAN: Well, it's good...

BLITZER: -- we're reporting tonight live...

HAMDAN: -- it's good to hear some jokes in such a situation.

BLITZER: All right, well, it's an awful situation for...

HAMDAN: It's good to have some jokes in such a situation.

Why -- why not to be (INAUDIBLE)?

BLITZER: It's an...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: -- too many Palestinians, unfortunately, are being killed...

HAMDAN: This is the (INAUDIBLE). It's a very...

BLITZER: -- right now.

HAMDAN: Listen, this is the idea, to be...

BLITZER: Too many are being injured.

It would be good to see...

HAMDAN: This is the idea (INAUDIBLE). It's a very...

BLITZER: It would be good to stop the fighting, at least an initial

HAMDAN: This is (INAUDIBLE). It's a very awful situation. This is the idea. It's a very awful situation and someone is trying just to play games, not to be a real mediator to solve the real problem.

BLITZER: All right. I hear what you're saying, Mr. Hamdan.

Osama Hamdan, the spokesman for Hamas.

We'll check back, as I said, with you tomorrow, following the Israeli Security Cabinet meeting.

We'll see what the reaction from Hamas is.

So far that reaction negative.

We're going to have much more on the breaking news. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro. We'll get the U.S. reaction. He's standing by live. He's in Tel Aviv. Much more on the breaking news. This is a SITUATION ROOM special report.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're coming to you live from Jerusalem, where we're following the breaking news.

Egypt now calling for a halt to the fighting starting Tuesday morning, 6:00 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time, offering to broker, help maintain a cease-fire, just as it did during the last armed conflict between Israel and Hamas nearly two years ago.

And we've just learned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered the Israeli Security Cabinet to meet first thing Tuesday morning to review the Egyptian proposal, which a senior Israeli official tells me the Israeli government is taking very seriously.

We just heard a Hamas spokesman, on the other hand, call the Egyptian cease-fire proposal, in the words of Osama Hamdan, the spokesman for Hamas, "a joke."

Let's talk about it with Daniel Shapiro. He's the United States ambassador to Israel.

He's joining us now live from Tel Aviv.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us.

I know we have a little delay in our satellite between you and me.

But tell us what the U.S. reaction is.

I assume the U.S. is familiar with the Egyptian proposal. The Israelis say they're taking it seriously. So far, the Hamas, through Mr. Hamdan, is saying it's a joke.

What does the United States believe?

DANIEL SHAPIRO, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: Well, Wolf, I think I'll let our -- my colleagues in Washington give our first official response to what the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has published.

But let me tell you this. Since the beginning of this conflict, the United States has taken the position that, number one, this has been caused by the actions of the terrorist organization, Hamas, firing rockets and missiles against civilian populations in Israel, which we've condemned.

Number two, that Israel had the right of self-defense in the -- in the light of those attacks and we supported that right of self-defense.

Number three, it's caused hardship and suffering for civilians on both sides, Israelis who have had to run repeatedly to bomb shelters and some have been wounded. Certainly, there have been tragic casualties among Palestinians in -- in Gaza, which we deeply regret, as well.

And that what we needed was a diplomatic effort that would allow -- bring about an end to the rocket fire, which would allow a de- escalation and a return to the calm that had prevailed since 2012.

All along, Secretary of State Kerry has said to all the parties, to Prime Minister Netanyahu, to the Egyptians, the Palestinian Authority, other parties in this region, that the United States was available to work with those parties who could help construct such an arrangement.

Obviously, Egypt has a historic role in helping broker cease-fires and ends to conflicts between Israel and Hamas and -- and other terrorist organizations in Gaza. And so we know that Egypt is -- has a -- has a strong leadership role to play. And, of course, Secretary Kerry has been in close touch with his Egyptian colleagues, as well.

So we'll let -- we'll see how this develops over the coming hours. But I can tell you that our goal from the beginning has been to see an arrangement that ends the rocket fire, that leads to a de-escalation and a better outcome for the civilian populations of both sides.

BLITZER: That's clearly what the Egyptians have in mind, as well. I was a bit surprised to hear the Hamas spokesman call the Egyptian proposal "a joke," saying that formally, it hasn't even been submitted, presented, to the Hamas leadership in Gaza so that they -- they don't seem to be taking it very seriously right now.

But, you know, I understand what you're saying.

What about the secretary of State?

There's been a lot of speculation he could get directly involved, go to Egypt, go to Qatar, maybe come here to Israel.

What are you hearing about his direct involvement in this?

SHAPIRO: Well, I can tell you that from the beginning of this conflict, I think Secretary Kerry was in China at the time. Subsequently, he was in Afghanistan. Lately and currently, he's been in Vienna for the Iran nuclear talks.

And throughout that period, he's been very, very actively engaged. He's spoken repeatedly with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with his counterparts in -- in Egypt and Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, with President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, making very clear that the United States is, as I mentioned, calling for an end to the rocket fire and supporting Israel's right to self-defense, but also working to deescalate the conflict with those parties who could help make a contribution to that.

So Secretary Kerry, as you know very well, is always willing to go where he's needed to make a difference in our diplomatic efforts. But make no mistake, he's been deeply, deeply engaged on this, working the telephones and meeting with colleagues in -- in Vienna, as well, throughout this period.

And, obviously, we're hopeful that the days and hours to come will lead to that end of the rocket fire and the de-escalation and the return to the calm that we've been calling for.

BLITZER: That would be good, to stop the fighting and to stop the air strikes from Israel into Gaza, which have caused a lot of pain, a lot of deaths, injuries among Palestinians, a lot of innocent civilians.

And as you correctly point out, the chilling effect here in Israel, those sirens going off and nearly 1,000 or so Hamas rockets and missiles coming into Israel. No deaths in Israel.

One final question, because you're an experienced diplomat, and I just want to get your sense.

The Israelis have now gone into what I would describe as a silent mode. Usually, they're very talkative and as you well know, they're not afraid to make their points.

Once the -- they said that the Israeli Cabinet was going to meet in special session tomorrow morning to consider the Egyptian cease-fire proposal, which they're taking seriously, they canceled the chief spokesman for the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mark Regev, was supposed to be one of my guests tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, one of the chief spokesmen for the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, he canceled.

The fact that the Israelis are going on radio silence right now in advance of that cabinet meeting tomorrow morning, what does that say to you, Mr. Ambassador?

SHAPIRO: Well, I think it says to me that there is a serious diplomatic initiative underway. And, again, that's something we welcome and have provided our own encouragement and support for, and that the Israeli government obviously is taking it seriously and needs to have its internal consultations. And at the time when they understandably may not want to speak as -- as fully in public, until certain decisions have been made.

So I -- I certainly understand that.

They'll, I'm sure, look at any proposal that's put forward. And, as I said, our goal is to help support them and others to achieve an end to the rocket fire and the de-escalation.

And to look ahead. Obviously, we -- there's some history to these conflicts. After Operation Cast Lead, the United States and many other countries worked to try to help stabilize the situation in Gaza, to improve the situation on the ground for the populations and improve the flow of goods, also to work on removing weapons that had come into the hands of Hamas and terrorist organizations.

There were similar efforts that followed Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012.

So I'm sure the Israeli government will not only be looking at the...

BLITZER: All right...

SHAPIRO: -- the -- the current situation and how to achieve that de- escalation to come, but also how to try to prevent a recurrence of this kind of thing in the future.

BLITZER: Daniel Shapiro is the United States ambassador to Israel.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for joining us. We'll get -- we'll stay in close touch with you.

We're also, by the way, later going to be getting reaction from the Palestinian Authority side. Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, will be joining us live. Much more of the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to have much more on the escalating crisis here in the Middle East coming up in a few moments. But first some other news, including the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder revealing growing concerns about terror threats. CNN's Pamela Brown reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. national security officials tell CNN it's a top priority. The threat of U.S. and European citizens trained in jihad overseas and returning to their homeland.

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's more frightening than anything I think I've seen as attorney general.

BALDWIN: This spring, a Florida man sided with jihadists blowing himself up in Syria. He was one of what U.S. officials say are some 7,000 foreign fighters in Syria, of that about 3,000 are coming from Europe and around 100 are Americans. The Justice Department's top national security official John Carlin tells CNN in an exclusive interview the government is actively monitoring Americans who have gone overseas.

JOHN CARLIN, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR NATIONAL SECURITY: And make sure that we are able to observe disrupt them before they can come back to the United States or Europe to cause harm.

BROWN: Adding to their worry, those that are harder to keep track of.

HOLDER: A major concern of ours are those people who come from other parts of the world who can travel freely within, say, the European Union and who have the ability to come to the United States without visas.

BROWN: American officials say there is another clear and present danger, master al Qaeda bombmakers in Yemen teaming up with terrorists in Syria. A deadly combination.

CARLIN: For those who are thinking about traveling abroad to join with terrorist groups, I would like them to know that don't do it. You're going to end up in jail or dead. It's not a step that you should take.

BROWN: And then there's ISIS, a terrorist group that's split from al Qaeda. Busy commandeering Iraq and Syria, at least for now.

HOLDER: I think it's just a matter of time before they start looking outward and start looking at the West and at the United States in particular.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And in response to a new capability by terrorists officials are stepping up security measures at airports overseas and for some passengers here in the U.S. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Pamela Brown, thanks very much.

Coming up live from here in Jerusalem, we're following the breaking news. Tomorrow Israel's security cabinet will discuss a proposal for a ceasefire.

Our special report coming up at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Get back to the breaking news on Israel and Hamas in just a moment. But there is some severe weather unfolding in the United States right now. Our meteorologist Chad Myers is standing by.

Chad, what's going on?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Big storms, one just moved right through D.C., another one just north of Baltimore, and more all the way up to New York City. But these storms are going to put down very heavy rainfall. And yes, there could be some wind damage with it. I'm more concerned about late-night and overnight flooding as these storms are going to go all night long.

There are watches and there are also warnings in effect. If you get a storm over your house, stay inside. It will go away in 15 minutes. These are pretty fast movers. But flood watches are out, flood warnings are out. For some spots, an awful lot of rain coming down.

It's part of very cold air. It's going to come down from the north. It's not a polar vortex. No, we're not going to use that term. Just lots of nice, nice cold air coming in for this time of summer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chad, thanks very much.

Coming up, we're live from Jerusalem. A very dramatic day in the fight between Israel and Hamas. We'll have the very latest on the breaking news about a proposed ceasefire.