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Hamas Now Wants 24-Hour Cease-Fire; Middle East Propaganda War

Aired July 27, 2014 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer, live in Israel. I like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

For our North American viewers, "RELIABLE SOURCES" with Brian Stelter will begin in just a few minutes.

But first I want to bring you up to date on the latest developments here in the Middle East. There is now a lot of doubt about whether or not a new cease-fire will take place. Hamas says it has agreed to a 24-hour cease-fire. Diplomats from the United Nations are works very intensively right now to try to create what they're calling a humanitarian pause.

Yesterday, Israel said it was unilaterally extending a cease-fire that was supposed to begin, but Hamas rejected the Israeli extension, and overnight, Israel resumed military operations in Gaza after mortar fire from Gaza killed an Israeli soldier.

The Israelis also said it was responding to what it called incessant shelling throughout the earlier cease-fire from Hamas in Gaza.

Earlier, I spoke with Robert Serry. He's the United Nations special coordinator for Middle East peace and heard his appeal. Listen to this.


ROBERT SERRY, U.N. SPECIAL COORDINATOR FOR MIDDLE EAST PEACE: Appeal on both sides to now show utmost restraint for this humanitarian pause to become effective I hope as soon as possible.


BLITZER: So, let's go to Gaza right now. CNN's Karl Penhaul is on the scene for us.

Karl, it seems to me based on what I'm seeing in Gaza and in southern Israel right now not far from Gaza, there is no cease-fire. Shelling continues, the air strikes continue from Israel, and Hamas continues firing rockets and missiles from Gaza.

What are you seeing? KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I believe that your

reporting on that, Wolf, is absolutely correct. That's pretty much in line with what we're seeing from here as well.

As you described, there is very much to and fro on offers and counteroffers coming at different times. One of the sticking points for Hamas it seems to have been agreeing to that earlier offer of the cease-fire extension was that Israeli offer would have allowed Israeli troops on the ground to continue to go off militant tunnels and militant rocket launches, in essence to continue to destroy Hamas infrastructure, and that in many ways, you can read between the lines. Hamas felt that that was a very lopsided cease-fire which is why they didn't agree to that one. And then when we saw Israel pull the plug on its own cease-fire offer because of that heavy rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, which the Al Qassam brigades themselves took responsibility for.

Then, there was a period of very heavy shelling coming from the eastern border. A number of air strikes, at one point, just after midday local time, the artillery shelling was so heavy that even the smell of high-explosive residue was drifting in to the offices here in Gaza City. That is just to give you an idea of how heavy that was.

Shortly after that is when we hear Hamas' offer of a 24-hour cease-fire under some kind of U.N. mandate. And then that has all fallen apart as well. And about an hour and a quarter ago, another statement online from Hamas' military wing the Al Qassam Brigades saying that they fired off another five rockets into Israel. It doesn't look like any of the sides are listening to one another.

Certainly, no prospect of a cease-fire right now looking at what's going on on the ground, Wolf.

BLITZER: It looks very, very grim indeed. Karl, be safe over there.

Let's get the Israeli perspective right now. Joining us now is the spokesman for the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner.

Colonel, what's your understanding about an effort of a cease- fire between Israel and Hamas right now?

LT. COL. PETER LERNER, IDF SPOKESMAN: Well, basically, Wolf, it just goes to show what we've seen over the last three weeks now. Every time there's been a substantial suggestion of cease-fire on the ground, Hamas have fired rockets and indeed throughout the course of the day, even after they declared that they were carrying out a cease- fire, they fired more rockets at our citizens.

So, this just goes to show why we need to be persistent and take these tunnels out of the equation, take the rockets out of the equation, and safeguard the state of Israel.

Yesterday, I spoke to some of the commanders in the field and indeed I have visited the tunnels just recently over the weekend. What you see is a huge strategic decision on behalf of Hamas to infiltrate Israel, some three kilometers-long tunnel, 28,000 elements of cement. Each tunnel like this -- and we've exposed 31 -- costs about $1 million.

So, this is $31 million that could have been invested in the civilian population of Gaza. But they actually decided that they want to invest in this infrastructure that has only one purpose -- death and destruction of Israelis. We won't permit that to happen. We are fighting now to sever those capabilities and that is what we're doing.

BLITZER: Yesterday, you told me it would probably take at least another week for the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, to finish the job as far as those tunnels from Gaza into Israel. Is that still your assessment?

LERNER: Well, Wolf, we are continuing to demolish these capabilities and decommission tunnels. We've released several videos showing the demolition of these tunnels. And you see how extensive they are. In order to have I would say a complete picture of it, indeed we have voiced the need for at least a week in order to be pretty concise and complete.

We can't demolish less in less time, clearly, but we want to take this threat off of the table. We don't want these tunnels in our backyards. We're taking the fight to Hamas in their backyards and they are paying the price for this aggression.

BLITZER: So, there's no cease-fire at least for now. Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner of the IDF, spokesman for the IDF, thanks very much for joining us.

Let's get the Palestinian perspective right now. Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, is joining us on the phone.

Saeb Erakat, thanks very much for joining us.

First of all, I want you to listen to what the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, just a little while ago, told our own Candy Crowley right here on CNN about a possible cease-fire. Listen to this.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Hamas doesn't even accept its own cease-fire. It's continued to fire at us as we speak. Israel has accepted five cease-fires since this conflict began. Five. We've accepted them and implemented them, including two humanitarian cease-fires in the last 24 hours, which Hamas rejected, as they rejected all the other ceasefires and they've violated them.

So, you say Israel resumed our offensive -- no, we didn't resume our offensive. We had a cease-fire, they violated it, and now, they're violating their own cease-fire. And, obviously, we'll take whatever action is necessary to protect our people, including against the terror tunnels that they're trying to dig against us.


BLITZER: Saeb Erakat, I know you and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority have been working very hard to achieve a cease-fire. Where does it stand from your perspective right now, the effort to stop the fighting?

Saeb Erakat, can you hear me? I think we're having some trouble connecting with the chief Palestinian negotiator.

Let me just make sure that we haven't lost him completely. Saeb Erakat, can you hear me? It's Wolf Blitzer.

We have him on the line but obviously we're having some major problems with that connection. We're going to try to reconnect with Saeb Erakat. We'll get the very latest on what's going on from the Palestinian perspective.

Obviously, there is a lot going on right now. There's no cease- fire. Clearly, Hamas rockets and missiles keep coming in to Israel and Israel keeps pounding away. Their primary objective right now: those tunnels going from Gaza into Israel. And then, of course, they're going after other targets of Hamas as well.

Let me just double check, make sure we haven't lost completely Saeb Erakat. Saeb, are you there with us? Can you hear me, Saeb Erakat?

All right. We're going to try to that fix that line. We'll update all of our viewers on what's going on. We'll speak to Saeb Erakat and get all of the perspective.

In the meantime, we're watching this very dangerous situation unfold here in the Middle East.

For our international viewers watching right now, Becky Anderson will pick up our coverage with "Connect the World."

Let's go back to CNN's RELIABLE SOURCES. Brian Stelter is standing by in New York with more -- Brian.