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Hamas and Israel Call Ceasefire; Israelis Reaction To Cease- Fire Report; Obama Sends Clinton To Mideast; Shimon Peres Speaks

Aired November 20, 2012 - 12:30   ET



SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: It was just a short time ago Hamas announced an agreement to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with Israel. Israel says that there's no deal that's been reached yet, but people on both sides, of course, want the violence to end.

Scenes like this, an Israeli strike in Gaza where officials say four members of one family died. And this is a seen from Beer Sheva, Israel, houses reduced to rubble by Hamas rockets.

Joining us to talk about the latest, Nick Burns. He was the undersecretary of state for political affairs under the Bush administration. Also, you served as the America consulate general in the '80s.

Nick, good to see you. I want to make sense of all of this here. We've got late breaking news, developments here. You've got, on one side, Israel saying that they want this period of calm.

You have Hamas that says, OK, we can make this happen. Perhaps we'll announce something like that in a couple of hours.

How confident are you that this is actually going to be something that is real? That has been brokered and it will be held to?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, Suzanne, it's at least a glimmer of hope after five very, very tragic days.

And I think there's some advantages to the so-called period of calm. If in fact both sides effectively stand down for a period of 24 hours, first, it relieves the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza which has been considerable and you've seen that on CNN.

It also relieves the suffering of the Israeli population in Ashdod and Ashkelon and Beer Sheva.

Secondly, it does give the Israelis an opportunity to see if Hamas is credible, if Hamas will meet the test of a calm period and, in effect, hold to a ceasefire and not fire rockets into Israel proper, much less to a place like Jerusalem where Hamas tried to attack today. And third, it gives Secretary Clinton time to fly from Cambodia, as she's doing now, and to arrive on scene and it may be that Secretary Clinton will really be the glue that holds this all together and her presence, especially with the Israelis, might give them the confidence to proceed with a formal ceasefire.

MALVEAUX: So, Nick, how so? I mean, she's meeting with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has nothing to do with Hamas, has nothing to do with the Gaza Strip and, to some people in the West Bank, has lost a lot of credibility over the years.

BURNS: But she'll also be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, obviously, and she'll be meeting, the White House announced, with President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt.

President Morsi has become the key mediator, the person trying to bring the ceasefire together.

And, of course, the Israelis need to be convinced that, after several months of rocket fire into Israel and a very intense series of rocket attacks over the last five days, that Hamas is serious.

I think that, actually, Secretary Clinton is in a position here to provide badly needed American leadership.

MALVEAUX: What kind of leverage does she have here? I mean, we know that about $2 billion or so in aid to Egypt is very significant. Does she have more leverage than just with the purse?

BURNS: Well, I think the United States has considerable leverage in the Middle East and, particularly, towards Egypt.

Egypt's in a difficult position. You've seen the statements of President Morsi. They've been very one-sided, his public statements. They have not at all admitted that Hamas started this fight and Hamas started it.

They've been very pro-Hamas, but in the end, it's in the interest of Egypt to see a ceasefire and not to see its relationship with the United States, with Europe, with the international financial institutions to be impaired. That's leverage.

And, certainly, I think the Israeli government, I'm sure it appreciates very much the solid support of the United States, of President Obama, over the last week for the basic right of Israel to defend itself against the cynical use of power by -- air power attacks by Hamas itself.

So, I do think that the United States is in a position here to play a key role. Of course the U.N. secretary-general is there. But let's face it, in the end it's the United States that has the relationships in that part of the world to bring about this kind of ceasefire.

MALVEAUX: But, Nick, does it make it difficult this go-round because you have somebody like Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood who is aligned with Hamas. They have a closer relationship. We've seen that kind of support. You just didn't have that before with Mubarak?

BURNS: You didn't, but in an interesting, ironic sort of way, Morsi, President Morsi has influence with Hamas and there are lots of issues that need to be decided now.

Those tunnels between Gaza and Egypt's Sinai Desert need to be shut down. I think it's clearly in the interest of the Egyptians to bring this fight to a close.

So, it may be that President Mohamed Morsi formerly of the Muslim Brotherhood, will have much greater influence than President Mubarak used to have.

MALVEAUX: And, finally, Nick, what happened to the Middle East talks, the quartet?

We saw recently Tony Blair who was leading it. We saw Wolf Blitzer talking to him just yesterday, but it doesn't really seem as if this attempt to get the two sides together has really amounted to very much.

BURNS: Very little has been produced. There are fundamental divisions on each side especially, and you alluded to this, Suzanne, the division on the Palestinian side between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Unless that division is repaired in some way, it's going to be very difficult to make meaningful progress, but certainly, given what we've seen and the tragedy of the last week, it really is incumbent upon everyone to try to go back to the drawing board and see how these two party can come together at least to start talking and stop fighting.

MALVEAUX: All right, Nick Burns, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

When Hamas launches a rocket, Israeli iPhones, they start to buzz. That is right. There is a new app that could actually be saving lives.


MALVEAUX: A ceasefire might be coming, but the rockets are still flying from both sides.

For Israelis in the most vulnerable areas, just a few seconds extra warning can make a difference between life and death. Now, there's an app to actually help buy those precious seconds.

Fred Pleitgen shows us how this works.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN BERLIN CORRESPONDENT: When rockets from Gaza come flying towards Israeli towns, time is of the essence. People have to run for cover and this new app can buy them a few additional seconds. It's called Color Red and sends out an alert when a rocket alarm goes off.

Believe it or not, the idea for the Color Red app comes from a 13- year-old.

Liron Be'er lives in Beer Sheva, a town near the Gaza border that is often targeted by rockets.

There are people that need to know what is happening and the regular services don't help them enough, so I wanted to be the one who gave them the right information, he tells me. And just then, another alarm goes off.

Israel has a sophisticated warning system for impending rocket strikes with sirens alerting citizens to take cover.

But people inside their homes or in office buildings don't always hear the sirens.

We got caught up in several rocket alerts while shooting this story.

We have to get under shelter now because there's another air siren alarm here in Beer Sheva, but thanks to the new app, some people, at least, have a little bit more time to get to shelter because they get the alerts really quickly. Let's go.

The app, created by an application developer, is free. It seems to work so well, it's been downloaded more than 130,000 times since the conflict began.

How many friends have this as well?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To all. To all. The soldiers, too, and the police, too. To all.

PLEITGEN: Israel's government even sent out a notice urging news people to download the Color Red app.

The army says that any application that warns people of rocket strikes helps in the effort to keep citizens safe.

COLONEL AVITAL LEIBOVICH, SPOKESWOMAN, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: The time that people have here to run to shelters is between 15 and 50 seconds, so any mobile device that can help, I think it's a good solution.

PLEITGEN: And Liron Be'er says he thought up the application in his little room at his parents' home in Beer Sheva.

I'm very proud of myself, he says. A very small thing that I did is doing a great thing for the people in the south of the country.

Liron Be'er spends a lot of time updating the Color Red Facebook page these day. He's got plenty of time. His school is closed because of the ongoing rocket attacks.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX: So, Fred, I guess the obvious and first question is, this is something that is available to the Israelis and not necessarily the Palestinians? Is that correct?

PLEITGEN: No, you're absolutely right. Of course, not. It's only something that's available here.

But, on the other hand, you probably also don't have alerts that get sent out in the Palestinian territory. So, it's certainly only available here, but I have to tell you I also had a lot of trouble trying to download it, as well.

I didn't make that because I actually couldn't get into the Israeli iTunes store and then the other problem is, that's also only in Hebrew. So, for us, it's actually quite difficult to get our hands on this.

However, if you talk to people here, almost everyone that I've seen has it, certainly everybody who has got an iPhone, a lot of people who have Android phones as well. So, it is something that is really making a difference and that a lot of people are downloading here, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Does it actually save time? You say there's an alert system that goes off, but this is something that gives people a little bit more time before the official alerts, is that right?

PLEITGEN: Well, it's sort of happens simultaneously with that official alert, but it's something where, when an official alert goes off, there's sirens that start blaring here, but some don't hear those sirens.

For instance, if you're inside a building, if you're in a house, if you're in your car and you've got music on, as well, and some people, they just have it on vibrating so that they see that all of this is going on.

And, whenever there was a siren alarm, I've witnessed a lot of these now, every time you go into the shelter after that you just hear it going off on almost every phone.

So, there is a very elaborate and sophisticated system of warning people here. However, there are people who fall through the roster and there are people who don't get warned.

And this is certainly something that can close some of those loopholes and that's why the Israeli government says that it's such an important tool and a key in warning people to get inside as fast as possible, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Fred, you know, there's talk of a ceasefire, the potential of a calming period. You have been there in Ashkelon today. Are folks reacting to that? Do they believe that that's even possible?

PLEITGEN: Yes. Absolutely, they're reacting to that. And I was very surprised to find that most people are not very happy about the possibility of a ceasefire.

Most people here believe that the military campaign should have continued until it achieved the objectives that the Israeli military had set out and the people here certainly don't believe that at this point that is the case.

People that I've spoken to say, how do we know we're not going to get hit by rocket attacks again in a few weeks? How do we know that this is for real?

So, they certainly aren't very happy from what I'm gathering. However, of course, there is always that undertone of people saying, finally, they hope that at least for a period of time there will be calm here. That is certainly an element, as well.

But from people that I'm speaking to they don't really believe that the job has been done by the Israeli military, at least from their vantage point. Of course, this is a town, Ashkelon here, that takes rockets, even in the best of times.


PLEITGEN: It's not as many as in this time of conflict, but certainly they are very used to having rockets fired on their head, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Fred, thank you. Appreciate it.

It was a historic trip for south east Asia for the president, but it was overshadowed by the violence in the Middle East. We're going to take a look at what actually was accomplished.


MALVEAUX: President Obama is on his way back to Washington after wrapping up his visit in southeast Asia. But even as he was meeting with leaders there, he was dealing with the crisis between Israel and Gaza. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, has details on the decision to send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the region.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, White House officials say President Obama was working the phones early into the morning talking to Egypt's president, Morsi, and Israel's prime minister, Netanyahu, until 2:30 a.m.

He then woke up and powwowed with Secretary Clinton. And they decided she should make this trip to the Middle East to continue the shuttled diplomacy in person.

Her first stop, Israel, for the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Then the next day she'll visit Ramallah to talk to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The U.S., as you know, does not speak to Hamas, which it regards as a terrorist organization.

Then the next day she heads to Egypt to meet with President Morsi. The U.S. is relying on the Egyptians to work their influence with Hamas. And U.S. officials make it clear they believe the onus is on Hamas to take the first steps towards a truce.


BEN RHODES, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The bottom line still remains that Hamas has to stop this rocket fire. So, ultimately, they are the ones who are going to have to be a part of a solution that ends the type of terror that Israeli citizens have faced over so many months with this barrage of rockets coming into Israeli territory.


YELLIN: The same U.S. official said the president believes Israel has the right to choose how it will defend itself. But also made clear, he believes there are high costs to Israel with a ground invasion. The goal is a diplomatic solution. So for Clinton, the goal would be a temporary cease-fire, creating the time to find a negotiated long-term peace agreement. That would be good for the region, but also on a more personal note, for Clinton who has said she will leave at the end of a first term, it would be a nice way to wrap up her tenure as secretary of state.


MALVEAUX: Thank you.

Want to go directly to Jerusalem. This is where we see U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon also with Israel's president, Shimon Peres, who is speaking now. Let's listen in.


SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI PRESIDENT: Filed between 7:00 and 8:00 in the morning around 35 every day, 35 missiles, and their aim to the children who are on their way to the school. Then they start again between 1:00 and 2:00 in the afternoon when another 35 rockets a day are fired to the children upon their return from the school.

You know, they also must have a good (ph) in their heart. There is no member in the United Nations, no in the United Nations itself, not according to the United Nations itself, that can allow 1,300 rockets to be aimed at civilians, women, mothers, children. I believe, by the way, it leads to nowhere. It's painful, but we shall meet it bravely and completely.

The leaders of the world should insist that Hamas stop the fire. They must make clear the terror is unacceptable by any member of the United Nations. Our strength is aimed to defending just our civilian life. We did put high targets (ph) would prefer for this to happen by talking, without shooting. Otherwise, we shall have to do whatever we can to make Israel safe for everybody.

We're a nation that seeks peace and have agreed to the two-state solution. This is our policy. This was, this remains, and is our proposal to face the future-- how to face the future. Hamas, and that's the problem, they reject completely this proposal. They reject completely negotiations. And they reject completely to recognize the right of Israel to exist. And peace can attained -- can be attained only through negotiations.

Mr. Secretary-General, the Middle East is going now through a transitional period. It is up to all of us to decide whether it will end up by peace for all, by security for all, or tragedy for the many. It's inseparable. We have just differences. We should held (ph) them out lightly and peacefully.

May I also (ph) say that we appreciate the constructive effort of Egypt and the constructive effort of the president of Egypt. It was, for us, a pleasant surprise and I hope he will continue his task, which is necessary for all parts of the Middle East. I must also say, we are not surprised that Iran is pushing the other direction. They are continuing to supply long-range missiles and urge Hamas to fire them against cities and settlements in Israel.


MALVEAUX: You've been listening to the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, talking about some of the conditions of the cease-fire, saying that negotiations must continue. Also talking about the rockets that have been launched into Israel from Gaza and saying that they need to talk, they need to put their weapons down.

We also know that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, she is on her way to the region to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She then also goes on to me with the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and then finally on to Cairo, where she'll be meeting with the president of Egypt. All of them critical players in negotiating some sort of cease-fire and eventually the idea would be Middle East peace.

We're going to have more on this breaking news story after a quick break.


MALVEAUX: One reality of the conflict is its impact on children. They don't feel safe, even if they appear to be out of harm's way.

Check this out. Israel has set up safety zones. They're in an area -- you see there on the right -- that are the farthest from Gaza. They're out of reach of the rockets that are being launched by Hamas. But if you take a look at the video, family members took these children away from the bombed areas in the south, but they still feel a sense of threat. We're going to have more on this crisis after this.