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U.S. Economy Grew at 4 Percent in 2nd Quarter; Interview with Hanan Ashrawi; Land Mines Block Access to Flt. 17 Crash Site; Israel Military Declares Four-Hour Ceasefire; Interview with Bill Richardson

Aired July 30, 2014 - 09:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks so much, Chris. Have a great day.

NEWSROOM starts now.

Good morning. I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

We begin this morning with the crisis in the Middle East. The Israeli military declaring a four-hour humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, but with one very big stipulation. The ceasefire does not apply to areas where Israeli soldiers are already operating. So far no response from Hamas.

This humanitarian pause coming as violence raged overnight, bleeds into the day. Just a few hours ago a second U.N. school in Gaza was attacked. The United Nations says 19 people were killed, 126 others injured as shells rained down on crowds gathered for morning prayers.

In an early review, the Israeli military says it was responding to Hamas rocket fire in the area. Earlier today, Gaza residents looked up to see this. Leaflets falling like snow. We don't know yet what these leaflets say. But in the past they warned of future missile attacks as the Israeli military targets Hamas.

In the meantime Gaza has been plunged into darkness overnight. Take a look at this. At the top you see the Gaza skyline from just a few nights ago and you're going to see the majority of the city right now without power. A military strike on Tuesday ignited Gaza's only power plant and stripped Palestinians of electricity. That means no power to filter water, run sewage facilities or even recharge the mobile phones civilians use to keep in touch. And it may be an entire year before that plant is rebuilt and working.

CNN is using its global resources to cover the conflict like no other network with our team of anchors, correspondents and guests from around the world. But we begin in Jerusalem with Wolf Blitzer.

Hi, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: Carol, we're waiting to see what happens over the next three hours. So far the first hour of this universal Israeli humanitarian pause or ceasefire, whatever you want to call it, has been quiet. No Hamas rockets or missiles have come into Israel. We'll see what happens over the next three hours. A lot of people, a lot of diplomats are hoping that if it's a quiet four hours between now and noon Eastern maybe it could be expanded another four hours.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Cabinet, the security cabinet, is meeting at the Tel Aviv Defense Ministry right now. They've got a lot to consider as they go forward.

Overnight as you point out, it was a horrendous situation once again in Gaza. And I asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman, Mark Regev, about all the casualties that have occurred.


MARK REGEV, SPOKESMAN FOR ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We don't target refugee camps. We don't target civilians. Let's be clear about this. We only target terrorists. We only target the Hamas command and control. We only target their arsenals of rockets that they shoot at us, their tunnels and so forth.

We don't know exactly yet what happened at this U.N. school. I can say the following. We do know there was a firefight, that in the immediate vicinity of the school there was -- there was combat between our forces and the terrorists, and this is another example of a U.N. facility being turned into a combat zone by Hamas, and the other terrorists.


BLITZER: So clearly, Carol, this is a critical, critical moment. We have to see what happens actually on the ground. No statement coming in yet from Hamas but in this particular case, actions may speak louder than words. If the rockets and missiles stop coming in to Israel over the next three hours, perhaps, perhaps the Israelis will expand the ceasefire for another four hours once again. We'll see what happens down the road.

In the past, though, when Israel has declared these unilateral ceasefires, the Hamas rockets and missiles have not stopped, at which point the Israelis say, all right, you don't want to stop, we're going to go on once again. So we'll see what happens in the next three hours, but these are, as I say, very, very delicate, dicey moments as -- as the situation unfolds here in the Middle East.

COSTELLO: I know, Wolf, I was just going to say we've been down that road before sadly.

Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Jerusalem this morning.

Israel's offensive against Hamas Operation Protective Edge has overwhelming support among Israel's Jewish population. When asked if Israel should engage in a ceasefire the answer was an overwhelming no. 86 percent saying it's not yet time to end the conflict with Gaza.

For more let's bring in Sara Sidner who's live near the Israeli/Gaza border -- Sara. SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can tell you that the

ceasefire we have heard for ourselves has been violated already. We know that there was a mortar that came over just after the ceasefire was agreed upon here near where we're standing actually.

What you see over my left -- right shoulder is Gaza itself. You can't say much action going on there. I can tell you that we've been listening to artillery fire coming from the Israeli side.

Let me give you some idea of what happens when a mortar comes. We would have to, and so would anyone, for example, on the road there, would have to come and try to find a safe place.

This, as you can see, huge blast walls. We would get down behind these walls, Gaza being that way and we would just crouch down like so to try and stay away from any of the fire that's coming over from the border.

I can also tell you this. In talking to Israelis today here and in Tel Aviv, there is full support from the majority that we talked to, to keep pounding Gaza. That is how one of the people that we talked to put it, keep on pounding Gaza. We do not want this to stop. We want to end this for good -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, Sara Sidner reporting live for us this morning.

I think pretty much everybody out there thinks talk of a ceasefire is just that, talk. So let's get real and talk about what the end game really is.

Bill Richardson is a former ambassador to the United Nations, he joins us now.

Good morning, sir.


COSTELLO: Great to have you here. A poll out in Israel shows 85 percent of -- 85 percent of Israelis want its military to wipe out Hamas. So why should Netanyahu stop the fighting?

RICHARDSON: Well, he has strong public support, right, center, left. Over 90 percent of the Israeli public wants the Gaza operation to continue.

The objective I think of Netanyahu is to seriously degrade the military capability of Hamas, not necessarily wiping them out, but I do see a little glimmer of hope in that Egypt, working with Israel on that Gaza border, can exercise some leverage on Hamas, and Egypt is now including Hamas and the Palestinians in some potential peace talks in Cairo.

So I know this is probably going to go on quite a bit longer, but I see some glimmers of the conflict lessening in the next few days. COSTELLO: Going back to my original question for just a second before

we start talking about a ceasefire, it seems that Israel targeted this power plant in Gaza, although it says it really didn't, but if it did target that power plant, does that mean that this conflict is more about just getting rid of this complex tunnel system?

RICHARDSON: Well, yes, it's part of I think the Israeli military strategy to go after the tunnels, go after the rocket launchers, the command centers that Hamas has to degrade it militarily, substantially. I think what you're also seeing is a strategy by Israel to find ways that, in the future, Hamas is seriously debilitated so this can't happen again.

This power plant hit is enormous because it affects -- it's the only power plant in Gaza. It affects the electricity, the cell phones, the water. This is going to be, I think, devastating for Hamas, and what I suspect Hamas is now doing is finding ways through its allies, possibly Qatar and other entities in the region, to have these peace talks in Cairo, give them a little bit of a breather.

COSTELLO: OK. I want to talk a little bit more about that. Because I know what you said about Egypt, but so far no one has been able to broker a ceasefire, but you have said that's because we're not talking to the right people, namely the Iranians. Really? Should Iran be called in to help?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think first, Carol, you go through Egypt. I think Egypt can be an important broker. Qatar funds a lot of what Hamas does. The Saudis, many other Middle East players, but I think eventually Iran, if they want to show goodwill, and you can't trust Iran. I mean we're having trouble with them on these uranium nuclear talks but when it comes to Syria, when it comes to Hezbollah, when it comes to Hamas, when it comes to Iraq, you really can't trust them, but I think eventually if they want to show goodwill, if they want American support, congressional support for a nuclear deal, they might step in and say to Hamas, look, you got to start talking. You got to start dealing with Israel. You've got to find ways to lessen the tension there.

COSTELLO: So how does the United States do that?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think the U.S. is playing a proper role right here. We're pushing very hard. We're backing the Egyptians. We're standing behind our ally, Israel, basically saying, look, we'll support you. You have to defend yourself. We support your strategy of a ceasefire but at the same time --

COSTELLO: No, no, I mean, getting -- I mean -- I'm sorry, sir, I mean getting Iran involved. How do we -- how would we do that?

RICHARDSON: Well, I think you say to them in these talks that we're having in Vienna or you say it publicly, look, you have to step in and help with Hamas. This is something that if you want to be a responsible member of the international community.

You can't trust them, Carol, but I think what we need now is kind -- a cessation of hostilities. The U.S. has tried. Egypt has tried. The actors in the region, the U.N. has tried. You know, this bloodshed continues. There's over 1,000 Palestinians that have been killed, a lot of Israelis, a state of war.

Yes, the Israeli public supports the prime minister, as they should, but eventually they want this conflict to stop.

COSTELLO: Bill Richardson, thank you for your insight. We appreciate it.

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Carol.

COSTELLO: Still to come in the NEWSROOM, the United Nations school struck, just one of 75 sites targeted overnight in Gaza.

Why can't a ceasefire be reached? We'll talk a little bit more about that next.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

COSTELLO: I know you're expecting bad news but let's pause for just a minute, because I'm about to impart some good news.

The U.S. economy it appears to be bouncing back. New government figures this morning show a great big surprise, and it's a good one.

Chief business correspondent Christine Romans is in New York to tell us more.

Good morning.


Four percent economic growth in the second quarter, that's what the government statistics are telling us. What we see here in this economic report that shows an economy back on track, Carol, is that consumers bought cars and furniture and dishwashers, those durable goods. Consumers were investing and consumers were buying things. You could see businesses investing in new technology, in software, in equipment, and you can see other countries buying our exports to a greater degree.

So, all those things together making gross domestic product better than expected.

You can see that red bar on your chart there, that was that terrible freeze, the deep freeze in the economy in the first quarter. It wasn't as bad as first reported, down about 2.1%, so not only was it not as bad in the winter as government economists first tallied, but also the second quarter stronger than expected.

The most important thing here, Carol, we'll see this momentum carries through to the second half of the year, that businesses and consumers and other countries are confident in our products and confident to spend, that's going to be really important to make this carry through, Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Christine Romans reporting live from New York, thanks so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

COSTELLO: Back to the Middle East now.

Israel opening a humanitarian window. A cease-fire is in place for the next three hours. But not in the area where Israeli soldiers operating.

Now, this temporary cease-fire comes after Israel targeted a total of 75 sites in Gaza overnight. That includes a U.N. school where 19 people were killed, and 126 others injured. Israel says its soldiers were responding to militants firing mortars at them from the area around the school. Many people are without electricity after Gaza's only power plant came under attack.

Palestinian officials blame an Israeli airstrike. Israel says it did not target that plant.

With me now, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator and activist.

Good morning.

HANAN ASHRAWI, EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEMBER, PLO: Good morning, Carol. It's good to be here.

COSTELLO: It's good to have you here.

Why isn't Hamas responding to the latest offer of a cease-fire?

ASHRAWI: Well, first of all, it's not Hamas. We have several resistance groups, but Israel likes to target Hamas as an objective because it can label it as a terrorist and so on.

But Israel as usual wants to act unilaterally. It wants to frame the whole parameters of the discourse and public presentation. It wants to determine when to have a cease-fire and when not. John Kerry tried the cease-fire and Israel refused. Several countries tried 24-hour cease-fires. Now, the U.N. is trying 72-hour cease-fires and Israel refuses.

As usual, it wants to have its own way. It wants to have a unilateral cease-fire in had which the other side has to stop doing everything, but Israel can continue with its land operations.

This is not a cease-fire. And unilateralism doesn't work.

But everybody, we are asking everybody to accept cease-fires regardless, because we want to save lives. When you have 1,300 people killed, 82 percent of them women and children, you have 7,200 people injured, most of them really severe injuries, we cannot even cope with the human loss, let alone the total destruction of infrastructure, of homes, of whole communities.

We need to save lives. This is what this needed right now, not spin and acts of bravado and saying, we do not target civilians.

Let me tell your spokesperson, including Wolf, if the Israeli army does not target civilians, then it has the worst aim in the world, because it is destroying civilian homes. It's destroying schools, hospitals, NGOs, buildings. It's killing civilians.


COSTELLO: Well, there have been at least three instances that we know of where there were weapons hidden in schools. Those schools were empty, but how is Israel to know which schools --

ASHRAWI: That's right.

COSTELLO: -- which schools contain weapons and which don't?

ASHRAWI: Look, they have the most sophisticated surveillance. They can assassinate with an F-16. They can pinpoint, I've seen them. I've lived through F-16s and Apache gunship bombings and shellings. I know they can assassinate an individual wherever they want.

So, don't tell me that they cannot detect that the empty buildings had weapons and then the 88 -- they destroyed 91 schools. The 88 other schools, they had people in them who were taking shelters, who were told that this is a safe haven for families who were kicked out of their homes.

Look, 600 of the people killed were killed either in their homes or running out of their homes. The rest tried to get some sort of shelter in U.N. schools and so on and they were bombed. They were shelled.

COSTELLO: Then like I said, and like you said --

ASHRAWI: This is not acceptable.

COSTELLO: -- the cease-fire should be a cease-fire should be agreed on by all parties so again, why isn't Hamas not agreeing to this latest cease-fire, especially when its electrical system was taken out and people are in the dark?

ASHRAWI: It's not Hamas' electrical system. It's the Palestinians of Gaza, 1.8 million Palestinians who are badly in need of electricity.


COSTELLO: But Hamas is the controlling government.

ASHRAWI: And it wasn't Hamas that destroyed it.

No, no, it's not. We have a government of national accord. It's not Hamas is in charge at all. Hamas and other military wing resistance groups, other ones who are

engaged in an unequal, uneven warfare responding to an Israeli invasion.

Now, we're telling them, please try, we cannot communicate with all of them, but we're saying please try to have a cease-fire. We're telling Israel, you have to accept all the different cease-fires that Israel rejected by repeating the lie that they've accepted five and Hamas accepted none.

It doesn't make it true. It may gain a life of its own but ultimately the truth will come out. Israel wants to complete its military operation with its massive machine of death and destruction, against a captive civilian population. It wants to finish its job as it says, and yet it wants the Palestinian people with all their different factions to sit down quietly and accept death raining on them from the skies.

This isn't happening. We want a cease-fire, while Israel also will stop fighting, where Israel will not keep its tanks and gunships and its gunboats and so on, in Palestinian territory and keep shelling and so on, saying it needs self-defense. It's the Palestinians who need to be defended against the occupation army and then invading army.

COSTELLO: Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, thank you for being with us. I appreciate it.

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: If this is true, it is more than cruel. The Ukrainian government now says terrorists have planted land mines at the crash site. Not only that, but heavily armed terrorists are camped out around where Flight 17 went down to keep investigators from doing their job and it's working. For the fourth straight day, the teams tried and failed to reach the site.

A spokesman for the OSCE says they'll try every day to gain access so they can begin their work, they can begin that forensic investigation.

Ivan Watson is live in Kiev, Ukraine, with more on this.

Good morning.


We have to be a little bit careful here in the fog of war and in the information war that's under way, not to take one side or the other too much at face value here. Yes, the Ukrainian military claim claiming that the pro-Russian separatists have mined the sprawling debris field off Malaysian Air Flight 17. But at the same time, the rebels accused the military of Ukraine of putting its tanks on part of the debris field, of digging trenches there and carrying on battles there. What we do know is the Ukrainian military, basically, it offensive

starting Monday against a number of towns on the road to the crash site are part of what have blocked Australian and Dutch investigators of being able to reach the crash site for four straight days. Before this offensive took place from the Ukrainian military, as recently as last Thursday, I could travel freely to the crash zone when it was firmly in control of the separatists.

Since the Ukrainian military has tried to capture the crash zone as well as surrounding towns, that is what has been blocking the investigators from reaching the field. The investigators very frustrated by this. They say their number one priority is to try to recover some of the dozens of bodies of Malaysian Air flight passengers, victims from the debris field. They cannot do that because the fighting is so fierce and it's affecting civilians living in the area, at least 19 people killed in the nearby city of Donetsk in the past 24 hours.

I've talked to the operators of at least three orphanages who have evacuated their children within the last 48 to 72 hours because the fighting is so fierce, the Ukrainian government conceding that there are competing interests here -- their military campaign to win back eastern Ukraine from the hands of pro-Russian separatists, and the investigation itself into this atrocity, the shooting down of Malaysian Air Flight 17 -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right. Ivan Watson reporting live this morning.

Still to come in THE NEWSROOM, the first American death linked to the latest Ebola outbreak, and new concerns about the spread of the virus. We'll check in with CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Hi, Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey. Good morning, Carol. He actually passed away in Nigeria but his next flight was to Minnesota, has a lot of people concerned. What does it mean for all of us? We'll have that, up next.