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THE SITUATION ROOM
Conflicting Reports on Gaza Strikes; U.N. Official: Israel Defying International Law; Interview with Mark Regev; Interview with Husam Zumlot
Aired July 31, 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 ANCHOR: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM special report. Breaking news. A fresh wave of civilian deaths and a soaring Gaza death toll now drawing sharp criticism of Israel by the United States.
Tunnel offensive. Israel's prime minister says the mission will continue, vowing to take out Hamas's underground network with or without a cease-fire.
Shimon Peres speaks out. the former Israeli president talks candidly about the crisis in my exclusive interview, his first since leaving office last week.
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 this hour's breaking news. New civilian casualties in Gaza, including a family of nine killed in what Palestinian officials say was an Israeli strike on their house inside a refugee camp. That came on the heels of this strike on a marketplace.
At least 17 people died in this incident. And according to Palestinian officials, the death toll is now at least 1,432 people. The majority, the Palestinian officials say, civilians. Despite growing criticism from the U.S. and the United Nations, Israel is vowing to continue its mission to wipe out Hamas tunnels with or without a cease-fire.
We're covering all angles of the breaking news this hour with our guests, our correspondents here in the Middle East and around the world.
Let's begin in Gaza. CNN's John Vause is there for us. John, what's the latest? What are you seeing?
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just a short time ago there was the sound of what seemed to be heavy caliber automatic fire, weapons fire coming from that direction over there.
Around this time last night, we were told by Hamas that there was, in fact, close fighting between Hamas militants, their fighters and Israeli troops on the ground here in Gaza.
For most of the day here, though, the Israeli air strikes did seem to wind down.
VAUSE (voice-over): Gaza has always been chaotic. But not like this. With the electricity out, traffic lights don't work. Water pumps and sewage systems are offline. A few who can be afford it have generators, and that includes the hospital here, already stretched and overwhelmed. But crucial life-saving equipment now powered by two mega-generators running 24/7.
It's been like this since Gaza's only power plant was hit on Tuesday and fuel storage tanks exploded into flames. Palestinians say all of this was caused by Israel.
"By attacking the power plant and cutting the electricity, they're killing the civilian life in Gaza," Jamal Ginesasi (ph), from Gaza's electric company told me.
But Israel's military says the power play plant wasn't a target.
(on camera): The Palestinians who work here say there has been incoming fire onto the power plant for three days before these fuel storage tanks were hit. In fact, they say on Sunday, the administration building just over there took a direct hit.
(voice-over): Israel's military says they'll look into those claims, as well, but the U.N. says if it was deliberately hit, that would be a violation of humanitarian law.
But right now, for more than a million Palestinians like Nafoz Mohammed (ph), no electricity means long days and nights inside with nothing to do. No TV, no radio, no lights. Too scared to go out because of air strikes. Stuck in a small two-room apartment with another family, 17 in all, who fled from the north after their homes were hit by artillery.
"All the children feel so scared when they cut the electricity," she says. "They just keep holding their mothers."
(on camera): Before the fighting began, Gaza actually got most of its electricity from Israel, but transmission lines on both sides of the border were damaged either by Hamas rockets or Israeli missiles. Both sides blame the other.
The Palestinians say repair work could take up to a week, but they say there's still no agreement with the Israeli electric company on when that work can begin.
But just last month, an Israeli politician called to cut the electricity to Gaza for good. An idea not without support in Israel, especially since the Palestinians haven't paid the electric bill for years, owing Israel tens of millions of dollars.
VAUSE: And Wolf, we did hear from an Israeli Defense Forces spokeswoman who said that they have reviewed all of the information from naval, ground and air forces who are in the region of the power station at the time that it was believed to be hit. They say every indication at this point is that the Israeli military was not involved. The Palestinians, though, do disagree.
And we had a few technical problems a little earlier. I was telling you that there's been the sound of heavy machine gunfire coming from that direction, as well. It was around this time last night when we heard a similar sound of heavy machine gunfire, rather, so it could indicate that what they said to us, that there was fighting between Hamas militants and Israeli soldiers; fairly close fighting on the ground here in Gaza -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. John, be careful over there. Let us know what's going on. If you see those flares coming up, let us know immediately. We'll come back to you, check out the situation.
Meanwhile, the U.N. human rights high commissioner is now suggesting Israel is deliberately defying international law with attacks on homes, schools, hospitals and U.N. facilities in Gaza, saying they do not appear, in her words, to be accidental.
CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has more on the growing criticism Israel is facing. What are you hearing over there, Barbara, at the Pentagon?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, across the administration today, there is growing horror and criticism of the civilian casualties in Gaza that the U.S. believes Israel is responsible for.
STARR (voice-over): Another Gaza building destroyed. The people struggling amid the wreckage and carnage. Israeli military videos showing what it says are Hamas rockets firing from civilian areas. A U.N. school hit, a marketplace became an instant killing ground.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The reality of Gaza today is that no place is safe.
STARR: Israel, using American ammunition in some these strikes, even as the U.S. calls for Israeli forces to do more to protect civilians.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The shelling of a U.N. facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible. And it is clear that we need our allies in Israel to do more to live up to the high standards that they have set for themselves.
The Pentagon is resupplying Israel with tank mortar grenades and other ammunition stocks. Israel, even by more illumination rounds like these to light up the Gaza sky at night. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not optics we're worrying about. We're
worried about civilian casualties.
STARR: The blame, Israel says, lies with Hamas using civilians as human shields. CNN's Karl Penhaul sees the weapons the Israelis are using.
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have Howitzer field guns. They have tanks. They're using mortars. Those are not precision weapons. Those are what are called area weapons. Those are aimed at inflicting mass casualties on an enemy force, but when you look at Gaza, of course, the problem there is that this is not only a densely populated but also a heavily built-up area with very few open spaces.
STARR: Retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling says selling ammunition is part of U.S. policy for supporting Israel and believes it is doing what it can. But the weapons used were never planned for urban areas.
LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), U.S. ARMY: For artillery and mortars, you can fire several miles away, but again, you don't have the resolution of knowing exactly what you're going to hit.
STARR: This school illustrates the awful reality. The Israelis say they were fired on. They fired back. And there may have been stray Israeli fire.
LT. COL. PETER LERNER, ISRAELI MILITARY SPOKESMAN: We are operating under the understanding that there are civilians in the area. We are doing that with the knowledge of the commanders.
STARR: And Israeli officials tell us that they actually have pulled back from dozens of planned attacks when they do learn that there are civilians in the area, but Wolf, still, the U.S. position as of today is that Israel can and should do more to protect civilians in Gaza -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly is. And that emerged through several statements coming out of Washington today. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thanks very much.
Let's get some reaction from Israel. Joining us once again is Mark Regev, the spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Mark, thanks very much.
Yesterday when we spoke, you said you were investigating that attack on that U.N. shelter that killed all those civilians. The White House wasn't sure who was responsible. That changed today. Listen to the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Israelis have said it is possible that there was stray Israeli fire. So while we underscore the importance of a full and prompt investigation of this tragic incident, as well as the shelling of other U.N. facilities and schools that have been hit, it does not appear there's a lot of doubt about whose artillery was involved in this incident.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Are you blaming Israel? You're saying.
MARK REGEV, SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: When we said last night already, that we didn't rule out the possibility that it was errant Israeli fire, but we said responsibility lies with those who are turning U.N. institutions into a combat zone. And our forces were taking hostile mortar fire. And when you're in the dust and when you're in the dirt and you're in a combat zone and time is precious, if someone's shooting at you, you shoot back.
Now I'm not justifying if there was an accident. If we inadvertently did, in fact, cause those deaths, we will of course, do an investigation. That's an operational failure. We regret every civilian casualty.
But let's be clear here. If Hamas is turning a U.N. school where refugees are seeking shelter, if they're turning that into a combat zone, it just shows what Hamas is. They don't give a hoot about human lives.
BLITZER: But are you acknowledging now that the weapon that killed those people in that U.N. shelter was, in fact, an Israeli weapon?
REGEV: I'm not, because we don't know that for a fact. We said honestly, yesterday after our initial investigation we know there was combat in that area, combat forced upon us by the Hamas terrorists who were shooting mortar shells at our forces.
We know there was an exchange of fire. We don't rule out the possibility that it could have been an errant Israeli shell, but we don't know that for a fact. I want to say Israel does not target civilians. Israel does not target U.N. solutions. And if this was misfire, it was an honest accident. No one deliberately targeted civilians. Let me be clear.
BLITZER: The U.N. high commissioner for civil rights, Navi Pilae (ph), she said she doesn't believe you, necessarily. She said none of the Israeli strikes on homes, schools or U.N. shelters, in her words, appears to be accidental.
REGEV: Well, I want to be clear here. Anyone who understands international humanitarian law and the laws of war knows that the most important principle is the separation of noncombatants from combatants. That's the first and primary law of law -- of war.
And what does Hamas do? Hamas deliberately blurs the difference between combatants and noncombatants. They shoot at Israeli civilians. And you know today we passed 2,800 rockets fired at Israeli cities from Gaza by Hamas terrorists. So they're indiscriminately shooting at our civilians, a war crime.
And at the same time, they're embedding their terrorist military machine in schools, in mosques, in urban areas, in football stadiums. They're using Gaza civilians as a human shield.
Also, Wolf, Hamas is actually guilty of a double war crime. Now, what is Israel doing? We're being targeted. They're shooting at our people, rocket after rocket, day after day, week after week. Close now, as I say, to 3,000 rockets on Israeli cities in a period of three weeks. What are we supposed to do? I mean, if it's illegal for us to shoot back, you are denying my country its right to self-defense.
BLITZER: Did you, Israel, destroy that power plant in Gaza with an air strike or artillery fire, because all those people, hundreds of thousands of people, are without power in Gaza right now?
REGEV: We did not target that power station, and we did a thorough investigation of all the forces -- air forces, ground forces, naval forces -- to see if, in fact, it could have been a mistake someone could have hit the power station. We believe that it's not clear at all who hit the station.
In fact, as you know, a lot of rockets fired by Hamas at us malfunction; they fall short. They fall in the grassy strip. We saw two examples of that earlier this week when a Hamas rocket landed on a school. And of course, all the Hamas officials and spokespeople say Israel, Israel. We could prove through photographs that it was clearly a Hamas rocket. That could have happened here, as well.
BLITZER: Because a lot of Palestinians and U.N. officials, others are saying, if you did take out that power plant this time, it wouldn't have been the first time Israel did it. They recall in 2006 after that Israeli soldier, Gilead Shalit, was captured by Hamas, the mighty IDF defense forces acknowledge that they blew up that power plant to retaliate for what they said Hamas did in capturing that Israeli soldier.
REGEV: This time I can assure you it was not a target. We have no evidence that anyone shot at it. When we make a mistake, if there is errant the fire, we admit it. We did it with that story on the beach, you recall, two weeks ago, where there it was a mistaken identification, and we thought we were going for terrorists, and we hit four boys.
And President Peres, who you interviewed this morning, publicly apologized, because we don't see the people of Gaza as an enemy and we make a maximum effort to minimize what the experts call collateral damage.
What is our challenge? You're dealing with a ruthless terrorist organization that has the opposite goal. Not only are they trying to kill Israeli civilians with those rockets, they are interested in Palestinian civilians dying, putting them in danger so as to shield their own terrorist machine.
BLITZER: One final question. How close are you and Hamas to a cease- fire that the U.S., the U.N., others are trying to put together?
REGEV: You know, this conflict could have ended two weeks ago when we accepted the Egyptian cease-fire proposals. It was Hamas that rejected those proposals.
So how close are we to a cease-fire? I'd say ask Hamas. Because even today, we had more than 100 rockets firing on Israeli cities by Hamas in Gaza. We've done cease-fires in the past. Israel has held its fire for hours, and always Hamas continues shooting. A cease-fire means that Hamas, too, must too stop shooting
BLITZER: Mark Regev is the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Mark, thanks very much for coming in.
REGEV: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: We're going to hear from a top Palestinian official in Ramallah in a few moments. We'll get his reaction, his understanding what's going on.
Also, my exclusive interview with the former Israeli president, Shimon Peres. He's speaking very candidly about the fighting in Gaza, where he disagrees with the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. We're live here in Jerusalem, and this is THE SITUATION ROOM special report.
BLITZER: We're live in Jerusalem. We're following the breaking news the United Nations human rights commissioner, now all but accusing Israel of deliberately defying international law with strikes killing Gaza civilians that in her words do not appear to be accidental. She's also accusing Hamas of violating international law with its random firing of rockets into populated civilian areas of Israel.
Let's get some Palestinian perspective. Joining us now is Husam Zumlot. He's a member of the Palestinian United Nations delegation. He's joining us from Ramallah on the West Bank.
Husam Zumlot, thanks very much for joining us. Is Hamas violating international law by firing more than 2,500 rockets and missiles randomly into populated areas of Israel?
HUSAM ZUMLOT, MEMBER OF PALESTINIAN UNITED NATIONS DELEGATION: Well, the whole situation is really in a striking violation of very basic human rights and international law indeed.
I believe that so far, the striking images from Gaza is what calls for our intermediate attention. And perhaps, really, during a time when you are seeing 1,420 Palestinians being murdered, more than 8,000 injured, and 240,000 displaced. By the way, Wolf, in proportion terms, if we compared this today, you asked, this would mean that you have a quarter of a million, God forbid, Americans being killed with this operation, almost 1.5 million being injured and more than 44 million Americans, again God forbid, being displaced.
So to start with Hamas and asking about Hamas is really missing the point as we leave it today.
BLITZER: But the Israelis say the only reason they're doing what they're doing in Gaza is because their populated centers are being attacked by Hamas with these rockets and missiles. They also point to the tunnels, as well. Do they have a point, the Israelis?
ZUMLOT: I don't think so, Wolf. They don't have a point. What the Israelis have been doing over the years even before Hamas has existed has continued.
The Israelis claim that it's about the tunnels, and they claim it's about the rockets. And here on the West Bank, we have no tunnels, and we have no rockets. Yet, the Israelis still are killing Palestinians on a daily basis. and are, as you know, colonizing the land, so -- and in the West Bank.
Let me talk a little bit about these tunnels. Of course, the tunnels are not just the creation of this war. The tunnels have been there in Gaza for the last seven years, and the root causes of the tunnels is Israel's imposed siege on the people of Gaza. And (UNINTELLIGIBLE). This is an act of dignity by the people of Gaza to try and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) underneath so they provide basic goods for their families when they are not allowed to function and to live normally on the ground.
However -- however, these tunnels are sometimes used for combat situations, and so far, I have not heard of these tunnels being used to attack Israeli civilians. There is no evidence of such a scenario whatsoever. The only evidence is these tunnels are used in the military sense to comfort Israeli combatant soldiers.
BLITZER: So in other words, what you're saying is that Hamas uses these tunnels. The Israelis say they found about 31 going from Gaza into Israel. You say it's a legitimate military operation that Hamas is doing. They try to get into Israel and kill or capture Israeli soldiers and not endanger Israeli civilians? Is that what you're saying?
ZUMLOT: No, this is not what I'm saying, Wolf. What I'm saying is the tunnel phenomena is not a military phenomena to start with. It was a human phenomena, primarily by the people of Gaza to try and get basic goods, very basic goods into Gaza when they had a siege for seven years, where their land was closed, the sea was closed, the air was closed by Israel and then this phenomena turned into a commercial phenomena. Some people, warlords benefited from it.
And then, in such situations of comfort, Hamas use it to confront Israeli soldiers. Because what I was telling you, I have not heard or documented any incident whereby these tunnels have been used to smuggle into Israel to attack Israeli civilians. Give me one incident of that.
And you know what? All this mayhem and destruction, I am from Gaza. I lived in Gaza -- I lived in Gaza most of my life. I know these neighborhoods. I know these people. I know the families, the faces. I've studied with these people. I've worked with these people.
What Israel is doing is really, really obliterating entire neighborhoods. And this is as ancient city, Gaza, one of the most old cities in the history of mankind. And the wholesale murder of these people cannot be justified by any -- by any means. Nothing can justify the targeting of the only, the sole electricity or power generator in Gaza except this logic of collective punishment.
You know what aches my heart the most, Wolf, in this situation? Only a few weeks ago, we had an international initiative sponsored by Secretary of State Kerry to try to and resolve this conflict and to look at the root causes by issue, which is primarily occupation, colonization, siege -- siege and subjugation of an entire nation, denial of basic rights.
And Mr. Kerry has offered us a glimpse of hope. And I don't want to repeat what happened. You know what Mr. Kerry said in the Congress only a few months ago. He said the following. He said that the Israeli prime minister, the Israeli government has blocked his initiative, and boof -- he used the word "boof" -- when the Israelis declared another settlement blocks.
And then there was another international initiative declared by President Abu Mazen to resolve the issue of Gaza to bring Gaza back to the equation. And he formed a national unity government. The first thing Mr. Netanyahu did was declaring that this was objected by him and blocked by him. And therefore, we create -- Mr. Netanyahu has created this.
Now we're talking about the symptoms. We're talking about tunnels.
ZUMLOT: We're talking about rockets, and we are forgetting that the root causes is really the occupation.
BLITZER: Husam Zumlot joining us from Ramallah on the West Bank. We're going to continue this conversation, Husam. But we've got breaking news.
I want to show our viewers pictures what's going on in Gaza right now. Looks like flares are going off. That's usually a sign that some air strikes or other sort of strikes could be imminent. We're going to go to Gaza and we're going to find out what's going on.
Also, my exclusive interview with the former Israeli president, Shimon Peres. He's speaking out very candidly about the fighting in Gaza where he agrees -- disagrees with the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Plus, GOP disarray. House leaders face revolt. The party faces backlash. Now they're putting their summer recess on hold. They're scrambling to come together on immigration. We're live here in Jerusalem, and this is a SITUATION ROOM special report.
BLITZER: I want to go right to our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott. She's got some breaking news on the potential for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
Elise, what are you learning ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Wolf, we just received a
statement from the State Department. Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and Robert Serry, the U.N. representative for the Mideast, have announced a 72-hour temporary humanitarian ceasefire to begin at 8:00 a.m. local tomorrow morning Jerusalem time. That would be 1:00 a.m. Eastern Time.
In a statement this says that the ceasefire is critical, Wolf, to giving innocent civilians a much needed reprieve. During this period civilians will receive urgently needed humanitarian relief. The opportunity to carry out vital functions including burying the dead, taking care of the injured, restocking food supplies and repairs on essential water and energy.
Now then, Wolf, in this next 72 hours, the secretary said he expects that parties from Jerusalem, from the Israeli government and from Hamas would be traveling to Cairo along with Palestinian Authority representatives to urgently negotiate an agreement on some of these larger issues that we've been talking about, these underlying issues surrounding the conflict on the Israeli side. That means the need to take care of these tunnels that the Israelis have been going after that -- they claim that Hamas has built.
And on the Hamas side and the Palestinian side, that means taking care of the urgent humanitarian situation, easing that blockade in Gaza -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to get immediate reaction from Israel. We're going to try to get reaction from Hamas. We're going to try to get Robert Serry, the U.N. special envoy for the Middle East, we'll get him, he's here in Jerusalem, try to get him on the phone and follow up on the breaking news.
A ceasefire proposal put forward by Ban Ki-Moon of the United Nations, the secretary-general, and Secretary of State John Kerry. We'll see what the reaction is from Israel and Hamas.
Stand by for that.
Earlier today, I had a chance to sit down with the former president of Israel, Shimon Peres, for an exclusive interview. His first since leaving office a few -- about a week or so ago.
The 90-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner certainly has a lot on his mind. We spoke about a wide range of issues. He told me how important it is he believes for Israel to destroy those Hamas-built tunnels and he was effusive in his praise for President Obama and for Secretary of State John Kerry.
He also praised the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, an area where he admits where he disagrees with the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.
BLITZER (on camera): How do Israel and Hamas achieve a ceasefire? PERES: I mean, first of all, we have to get rid of the problem of the
tunnels. No government, I mean, not the Israeli government, can stop the fighting before every mother in this country will be sure that, at the night, somebody won't jump out of the earth and kill her and her children. That's impossible.
Now the second problem is, ones we should answer this one, who is the legitimate government of Gaza? It's not clear.
I cannot see a ceasefire with rockets and with tunnels on a ceasefire., only without rockets and without the tunnels.
BLITZER (voice-over): Destroying that network of tunnels built by Hamas is the primary purpose of Israel's ground offensive in Gaza. But according to Palestinian officials, Israel's military offensive has killed hundreds of civilians.
(On camera): The White House and the State Department both have said Israel can do more to prevent civilian casualties.
PERES: To the best of my knowledge, Israel is trying to do so. I spoke with many pilots, many fighters. They're unbelievably aware of it. But you know, the place is dense. It's a small place. Extremely densely populated. And they made every place a part of their front. They planted the mines. They put in explosives in houses. If you touch the house, the house exploded. I mean it's unbelievable.
BLITZER (voice-over): This week, Secretary of State John Kerry was widely criticized inside Israel for attempts to broker a ceasefire. One Israeli columnist said he ruined everything. But the former president disagrees.
(On camera): Is the criticism here in Israel of President Obama and Secretary Kerry and their role in this current crisis justified?
PERES: Look, I know President Obama quite well. And also I know Secretary Kerry for many, many years. The president is a responsible friend of Israel. He answers many of the questions particularly in the domain of the defense and security. So if he has a remark, he may have his remark, but he shall not forget that basically he's a great friend and a good friend, and I trust him. And I don't mind to hear criticism from a friend.
I hope he doesn't mind to hear, too. I mean friendship is not just all the time we are flirting. But basically I trust him. I think he's an outstanding person.
BLITZER: All right. We're going to get back to my interview with Shimon Peres. I want to get back to the breaking news, though, first.
The U.S. and the United Nations announcing a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire. The Secretary of State John Kerry, the U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-Moon making a joint statement saying that they would like a ceasefire to begin tomorrow morning local time, 8:00 a.m. here in the Middle East. That would be 1:00 a.m. on the East Coast of the United States. A 72-hour ceasefire.
Jim Sciutto is our chief national security correspondent.
Jim, I know that this is the announcement from the U.S. and the United Nations. Do we have any assurances that either Israel or Hamas have accepted this initiative by the U.S. and the U.N.?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can't imagine the U.S. and the U.N. would announce it unless they had Israel's agreement and some assurances from Hamas, but still, it's a remarkable development considering where we were just a few hours ago. You had the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, as you well know where you are, saying that the military operations there were just the first phase of a broader goal in Gaza to de-militarize, you know, setting a very high bar there for success in the operation.
And as the statement makes clear, the focus now discussions in Egypt will be on achieving a more durable ceasefire. And it's those issues, satisfying Israel's demands for real progress on its own security and from the other side inside Gaza, their demands for some longer-term relief, not just an end to the current offensive but you've heard from Hamas leaders there that they want broader economic relief. They want the borders open. They want to be able to fish more of the sea off of Gaza, et cetera.
That's going to be the real challenge. Finding that durable ceasefire beyond these 72 hours.
BLITZER: Because the secretary of state, the U.N. secretary-general, they've made it abundantly clear, and I've spoken to Robert Serry, the special envoy for the United Nations here in the Middle East, they believe you start off with something relatively modest, 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours, and you see how that goes and then you try to build on that. You go to the first 72 hours.
If no Hamas rockets and missiles are coming into Israel and Israel stops its strikes, naval strikes, ground strikes, into Gaza, Hamas targets in Gaza, then maybe you can build on that. That's certainly the principle behind what the secretary of state and the U.N. secretary-general, Jim, are trying to do.
SCIUTTO: No question. You know, all about trust building, right? And we know that at the last attempt at a shorter ceasefire, you had competing suggestions from both sides that neither side was, in fact, ceasing hostilities. Rockets still coming into Israel from Gaza, from Hamas militants and Hamas saying that while the aerial bombardment stopped, the operations on the ground did not stop.
But it's interesting. You know, it's interesting that this comes now, Wolf, you mentioned earlier in the broadcast that very harsh criticism from the U.N. just a couple of hours ago accusing Israel of purposely targeting U.N. facilities in Gaza, saying, in their terms, in the terms of the U.N. human rights chief, Navi Pillay, saying that it was her view it was not accidental that Israel was hitting these facilities. That's a pretty strong charge and we know, as well, based on
statements coming out of the administration officials here in the U.S. that clearly while not as strong as the U.N. statements, but clearly their patience was running thin. And of course, you have the U.N. and John Kerry cooperating on, it seems spearheading this agreement, this ceasefire agreement.
BLITZER: Let me bring Elise Labott into this conversation. She broke this story for us a little while ago. Elise is our global affairs correspondent.
Do we know that Israel and Hamas have agreed to this U.S.-U.N. proposal, Elise?
LABOTT: Well, in this statement, Wolf, it says that Secretary Kerry and the U.N. representative, Robert Serry, as you've been discussed have received assurances from the Israelis, from Hamas that they would respect this ceasefire.
And as Jim said, this is -- what the U.S. is hoping is to build an opportunity. If you can start 72 hours and you can get some longer negotiations, going on a more durable ceasefire, then maybe you can extend the 72 hours. It's all about that confidence building and making sure that calm is in the area so that some of the humanitarian situation can be eased as we've been discussing.
Israel under a lot of international pressure but also I think Hamas realizes as the body count piles up on the Palestinian side that they need to be at least seen as trying to at least halt the fighting to have the Palestinian families be able to bury their dead, to be able to get some medicine in, to be able to get some food in. So that's what Secretary Kerry is hoping that this is a momentum that he can just use that opening to have some longer negotiations on easing the situation for everybody.
BLITZER: I want everybody to stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We'll watch what's going on. We'll get official reaction from Israeli officials, from Palestinian officials.
Stand by. The breaking news, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary of state of the United States, John Kerry, saying all parties -- that would be Israel and Hamas -- have agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire. We'll check that out. We'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: Secretary of State John Kerry and Ban Ki-Moon, the U.N. secretary-general, have just announced that they say all parties, meaning Israel and Hamas, have agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire starting at 8:00 a.m. local time here in the Middle East. That would be 1:00 a.m. Eastern on -- back in the United States.
Here's the statement that was just read at the United Nations. And I'll read it to our viewers. We could dissect it.
Tom Donilon, President Obama's former National Security adviser, is standing by. We're going to go through the statement. This is important information. The whole world right now is watching, whether or not this ceasefire will take place, whether it is realistic.
Here's the statement. "Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and United States Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United Nations representative in Jerusalem, the special coordinator, Robert Serry, has received assurances that all parties have agreed to an unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. This humanitarian ceasefire will commence 8:00 a.m. local time on Friday, August 1st, 2014. It will last for a period of 72 hours unless extended.
"During this time, the forces on the ground will remain in place. We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian ceasefire begins and to fully abide by their commitments during the ceasefire."
The statement goes on, "This ceasefire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much needed reprieve from violence. During this period, civilians in Gaza will receive urgently needed humanitarian relief and the opportunity to the carry out vital functions including burying the dead, taking care of the injured and restocking food supplies. To do repairs on essential water and energy infrastructure could also continue during this period."
Finally, the statement ends with this. "Israeli and Palestinian delegations will immediately be going to Cairo for negotiations with the government of Egypt at the invitation of Egypt aimed at reaching a durable ceasefire. The parties will be able to raise all issues of concern in these negotiations. We thank key regional stakeholders for their vital support of this process and count on a continued collaborative international effort to assist Egypt and the parties reach a durable ceasefire as soon as possible."
Tom Donilon, sounds very encouraging. Sounds like really important news. Give us your immediate reaction to this announcement by the U.N. and the secretary of state.
TOM DONILON, FORMER OBAMA NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Yes. The first thing is, Wolf, I think it is -- I think it is encouraging. I assume here that they wouldn't have gone forward without the support of the Israelis and Hamas for the process, point one. Point two would be I think it's important that it's going to be in Egypt. I remember Egypt proposed a ceasefire on July 15th, I think it was, which was accepted by the Israelis and rejected by Hamas.
Egypt is a key player here. Egypt controls the access into Gaza from the south. Egypt has a lot to say here about the kinds of arrangements that are going to be put in place in order not to have the kind of re-militarization of the situation that's taking place in Gaza. They're absolutely critical to the economic future of Gaza. So if Egypt is the host here is I think a very important piece.
Next, I think it's important that the Palestinian authorities are going to be present there. If I were working on this, I would want to have the Palestinian authorities, a situation enhanced, meaning President Abbas' situation, enhanced these negotiations, and to find a role for the Palestinian Authority with respect to Gaza going forward.
So those are some initial reactions I have. I think it is good news. I do think that obviously it would -- let's assume that they have the agreement of the Israelis and the Hamas to participate. There was one sentence here, I think, which would be interesting to understand. It says here that during this time the forces on the ground will remain in place. The question presented there is whether or not that covers the operations by the idea that the Israeli Defense Forces with respect to the tunnels, which was -- of course, then a threat for the Israelis are dealing with here in the context of the Gaza operation.
It's important to Egypt and I think really important that it has the participation of the Palestinian Authority, the Fattah faction, headed by President Abbas and his team.
BLITZER: And one of the key issues there, because the prime minister of Israel said it this morning. He said Israel is going to continue destroying those Hamas tunnels that go from Gaza into Israel. Ceasefire or no ceasefire, he says Israel's military is determined to do it. The commander of the Israeli military's southern command, though, said yesterday they were almost done destroying those tunnels so that could be significant right there.
I want Tom Donilon to stand by. We've got the Palestinian representative in Washington, Maen Areikat, standing by. We're going to continue to follow the breaking news. We'll see of the ceasefire really takes place.
Much more right after this.
BLITZER: Now we've got very significant breaking news right now. The United Nations and the Secretary of State John Kerry, Ban Ki-Moon and John Kerry, both announcing that all parties have agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire starting at 8:00 a.m. local time here in the Middle East. Seventy-two hours, the statement saying that all parties have agreed. We have not yet received an official statement from the government of Israel. We have not yet received an official statement from Hamas. We're waiting for those statements.
What we have right now is a statement from Ban Ki-Moon and John Kerry saying a ceasefire will go into effect in a few hours.
Let's get Maen Areikat to join us. He's the PLO representative in Washington.
Ambassador, what do you know about this? Has Hamas agreed to this 72- hour humanitarian ceasefire?
MAEN AREIKAT, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO THE U.S.: I think, Wolf, that the announcement by the secretary of state and the secretary- general of the United Nations came after careful deliberations with all the parties. I don't think that they would have announced this agreement without getting the approval of all the parties. So, yes, I think there has been on acceptance by both parties before the announcement was made.
BLITZER: As you know, Ambassador, the political wing of Hamas has accepted humanitarian ceasefires in the past but the military arms of Hamas immediately rejected those ceasefires and continued launching rockets and missiles against Israel.
Here's the question, Ambassador Areikat. Are you sure that the military wing of Hamas is on board and will stop firing rockets and missiles against Israel starting at 8:00 a.m. local time?
AREIKAT: Wolf, I disagree with the characterization that the political accepted and the military did not. I think what we have seen over the course of the events the last two weeks that there has been some kind of cohegence (ph) between the political and the military wings, and President Abbas, as a matter of fact, has been involved in very intensive discussions with the Palestinian factions over the last 48 hours.
The last 24 hours also witnessed the contacts with the different countries, with Hamas, with other countries in the region. You know, I believe that there is an acceptance for this for 72 hours to allow --
BLITZER: All right.
BLITZER: All right. Ambassador, hold on for a second. I want you to stay with us. I want to take a quick break. One minute. We'll be back in 60 seconds.