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Israel-Hamas Cease-Fire To Begin Today

Aired November 21, 2012 - 13:00   ET

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


GEORGE MITCHELL (D), FORMER SENATOR, MAINE (via telephone): -- and the president clearly recognize that. To get some process going where you have a meaningful negotiation and the possibility of bringing about the kind of resolution to this conflict that has, so far for 60 years, eluded everyone who has tried but it's so important that we have to keep at it.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: And you know that process very well. George Mitchell, former U.S. envoy in the Middle East, thanks so much. Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux. We've got breaking news. A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas set to begin exactly one hour from now. The announcement came just a short time ago from Egypt's foreign minister. You see secretary of state Hillary Clinton by his side. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOHAMMAD KAMAL, FOREIGN MINISTER, EGYPT (translator): Have resulted in reaching and understanding to have -- to hold fire and bringing back the calm and end the bloodshed that had been witnessed in the last few days and the cease-fire will start at 9:00 p.m. Cairo-time, Cairo time. Today --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt's new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: I have CNN correspondents in positions across the region, across the globe really. Ben Wedeman and Arwa Damon, there are in Gaza, Wolf Blitzer is in Jerusalem. We've got Fred Pleitgen, Sara Sidner, Anderson Cooper all in Israel, plus we have Christiane Amanpour and Reza Sayah in Egypt. I want to start off, first of all, with Ben Wedeman. We saw less than an hour until now this agreed upon cease-fire is scheduled to take effect or so. Now, if it holds -- if it holds, what's this going to mean? Finally, maybe quiet after eight days of what we've been watching, rocket fires, explosions, dozens of deaths, more than 1,000 people wounded.

Ben Wedeman in Gaza City. Ben, first of all, you hear this cease fire. What's taking place on the streets where you are?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, in fact, Suzanne, the cease-fire doesn't go into effect for another. So, we just saw a few minutes ago not far from where I'm standing, four rockets being fired in the direction of Israel. We did see in the distance some of those bright lights which appear to be the anti-missile missiles that are part of the iron dome system, so they may have been intercepted. And just seconds ago, I heard what sounded like the roar of another rocket to the north of here being fired as well. This may be simply sort of getting in their last whacks on the other side before the cease-fire takes place, but it just shows you how fragile it is, because, obviously, if those rockets result in casualties on the other side, both sides may start re-doing their calculations and that cease-fire agreement might simply be scrapped before it goes into effect -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, let's talk about that, Ben, because, you know, we see this official statement clearly coming from the Egyptian foreign minister as well as well as secretary of state Hillary Clinton. So, there is some sort of fanfare around this. There does seem to be some sort of official agreement here. But we were here 24 hours ago, essentially, talking about a very optimistic picture, very, very close to a cease-fire. Is there a sense of faith? Is there a sense that this is something that is real, that is tangible, that could happen?

WEDEMAN: Well, certainly more so than yesterday. Yesterday was phone calls from -- that we had with various Hamas officials, Israeli officials, and others but nothing concrete. Now, we've seen it on live television throughout the Middle East at this press conference with the Egyptian foreign minister and the American secretary of state, so definitely this is far more official than it was last night.

But there's the wild card, the wild card as we saw just moments ago with these rockets being fired within the last hour. The last hour before the implementation of this cease-fire, so I think people are not quite celebrating yet. People -- I think there are a lot of Gazans, Palestinians here in Gaza who are breathing a sigh of relief, but as of yet, they want to see if this thing holds. As we know, there are many different militant groups Gaza in addition to Hamas, in addition to Islamic Jihad, which may see it in their interest a continuation of the hostilities -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Ben. Still very early. Too soon to know whether or not the cease-fire really is going to take effect or even take hold. And, Michael, you know, some people -- some people want to see this cease-fire, others don't. Others feel like, you know, they want to continue with the escalation with the fighting, --

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and Ben makes that --

MALVEAUX: -- that there's a point to be made.

HOLMES: -- yes, and Ben makes that very good point and you and I have discussed it, too, that Hamas isn't the only game in town in Gaza. There's Islamic Gehab, there's a wrath of all the smaller groups as well, some of whom basically are freelancing. And, you know, whether they are going to stick to the cease-fire or not remains to be seen. Whether Hamas the security ability to put a lid on them, these are questions -- there's a lot more to be discussed here, that's for sure.

MALVEAUX: Yes, and you've got the bus attack in Tel Aviv, --

HOLMES: Absolutely.

MALVEAUX: -- which at least Hamas sympathizers say, you know, Hamas blesses this, but we don't know really who did that.

HOLMES: NO, we don't.

MALVEAUX: I mean, these are freelance groups that are aligned with Hamas.

HOLMES: Could well be and that was probably likely from the west bank and which group we don't know. Let's bring in Christiane Amanpour into the discussion there in Cairo. You know, when we talk about winners or lose -- I suppose Gaza and people in the towns near Gaza on the Israeli side, they're the big winners if this thing does stop for now. But on the political side, let's talk about the winners there. I mean, Hamas has come out fairly polished. But really, the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, who had to walk that -- walk that unbelievably thin tightrope here between what his street wanted and what the west wanted and what Israel wanted. Seems to have done a pretty job by the look of it.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's just incredible, when you think about it, and I've been thinking about it for the last few minutes since this cease-fire has been sinking in. Israel has made an agreement with an Islamist government. That is a first. It's incredible. And this was really going to be the test of this new post-Arab Spring Islamist, Muslim brotherhood political reality, of which Hamas is a part.

And I think this is what's really interesting about this. Obviously, Hamas is going to have Egypt looking in at it, and Israel wanted that. It wanted to go into some kind of partnership agreement. It didn't want to just have to rely on the good faith of Hamas to solidify a cease-fire, it wanted partners as it was explained to us when I was in Jerusalem. And the U.S. will, of course, be involved and other countries, Qatar, Turkey, obviously Egypt always taking the lead. So, I think this is really very important.

But beyond that, it's going to be really interesting to know whether this cease-fire does anything other than take the parties back to the status quo ante. What will change? Will it just be another extended lull for a period of time and then they go back at it again? Or will there be significant steps? Will Hamas agree not to throw rockets into Israel, which was the main demand that Israel had? If you remember, unlike (INAUDIBLE) when they wanted to get rid of the Hamas leadership in Gaza, they never said that this time. This was not about regime change nor about getting rid of Hamas. It was about stopping those rockets.

So, if that happens, that will be good for Israel. And for Hamas, if they manage to get their leaders to be able to survive and not be able to be assassinate bid Israel, that would be good. And also., if they get the blockade lifted, that will be good too. That's what they wanted. Hamas, of course, has emerged as diplomatically triumphant only because it's failed to be isolated as everybody -- U.S., Israel, other countries have wanted in the past.

HOLMES: And as we have always said, by all parties want to walk away from this claiming victory, and we'll see if that actually occurs. Christian, we'll be back with you shortly. Thank so much.

MALVEAUX: You know, still 52 minutes before the cease-fire is expected to take hold, and we'll see -- I mean, we will see how this develops throughout the afternoon, whether or not this is something that is real. We've been in this place before and, obviously, a lot of very powerful players who are behind this, but it depends on what happens on the ground.

HOLMES: And what next? You know, what is next in terms of -- you know, it's a cease-fire, it's assassination of fire, A, will it hold? B, then what? Because everyone wants this to be a lasting thing. Then you've got to sit down and have an agreement on some pretty difficult issues when you're talking about the economic blockade on Gaza, and you're talking about the tunnels that arm Hamas from the Egyptian side. There's a lot outstanding here.

MALVEAUX: And talks that have gone nowhere.

HOLMES: Yes.

MALVEAUX: I mean, people who have been involved in these talks, these peace talks, that have gone nowhere for years.

Michael, thanks.

After eight days of rocket attacks, air strikes, we have Israel and Hamas agreeing to a cease-fire. The question is whether or not this is really going to hold. We're going to hear from Israeli government official up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: We're following breaking news now, expecting a cease-fire within the hour or so between Israelis and Hamas. Mark Regev, he's Israeli government spokesman is in Jerusalem with our own Wolf Blitzer. And, Wolf, certainly feel free to jump in here, but Mark, a quick question for you. What are you going to be looking for in about 45 minutes or so to know if, in fact, the cease-fire is something that is real on both sides and the side of Hamas as well?

MARK REGEV, SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT: We'll be hoping for and the arrangements are specific about this, total and complete quiet. I mean, we said from day one of this crisis, our goal is to bring peace and quiet to the people of southern Israel who have been on the receiving ends of these rockets from Hamas controlled Gaza for just too long, and this arrangement which was obviously an Egyptian proposal with the American sponsoring them, and we thank both the governments of Egypt and the United States for their support in this matter. We'll offer a new reality in which we'll have peace and quiet for our citizens in southern Israel who have suffered so much.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Let me follow-up, and let's talk a little bit about the specifics. What are you prepared to do as far as Hamas's demands are concerned? Are you ready to allow them to live a more normal life in Gaza right now?

REGEV: The restrictions that we imposed on Gaza were a result of the hostility from Gaza coming into Israel. I mean, if people are shooting rockets at you, it's very difficult to have a normal relationship. These arrangements say that there will be no hostile activity, no hostile fire initiated from the Gaza strip against Israel. Full stop, it's open-ended.

BLITZER: And if they stop, will you stop assassinations, targeted killings of Hamas leaders?

REGEV: I have said more than once, our whole military operation was defensive. It was designed to bring peace and quiet to Israel citizens in the south who were on the receiving end of those rockets. If there is no hostility from Gaza, there's no reason for Israel to act.

BLITZER: Do you have assurances that Hamas is now going to completely stop not only the rockets and the missiles, but the artillery or the shelling into Israeli, Israeli soldiers won't be vulnerable along the border?

REGEV: The understandings we have reached with the Egyptians with the sponsorship with the United States say clearly, a total and complete cessation of all hostile activity initiated in the Gaza strip. And that's very important, it means no rockets on Israeli cities, no shooting at Israeli farmers from across the border. Total and complete quiet. This -- these arrangements, for us, that's victory, because that's what we wanted. We wanted -- the whole operation was designed to protect our people, to free them from their constant fear of incoming rocket launched by Hamas and Gaza.

BLITZER: Is it just Hamas? What about some of these other groups that are in Gaza right now, Islamic Geha? What if they get engaged and they violate this cease-fire?

REGEV: These understandings are crystal clear. No hostile fire from Gaza, full stop.

BLITZER: So, you hold Hamas responsible for any hostile fire coming from Gaza into Israel?

REGEV: one hundred percent correct. And that's the understandings reached with the Egyptians. You can't have an attack and people will say, that's Islamic jihad or that's al Qaeda, or that's something else. Total and complete cessation of all hostile activity initiated from the Gaza Strip. Hamas controls Gaza. They are responsible for Gaza.

BLITZER: Will you ease the blockade of Gaza as a result of this agreement?

REGEV: The first thing, Wolf, is that over the last two years we've had a gradual lifting of restrictions, slow and steady, incremental, but a slow and steady process of easing restrictions. Now, here you've got to put cause and effect in the right order. We only impose restrictions because of the hostility, because of the rockets, because of the violence, because of the terrorism. If the border is quiet, that enables us to be more forthcoming and arrangements agreed with Egyptians say we'll start talking from tomorrow about a process to work on those issues.

BLITZER: Is there an agreement that the U.S. will now help Egypt prevent smuggling of weapons into Gaza from Sinai?

REGEV: Well, you saw what the White House put out, and that for us is a big issue because we don't want to see Hamas rearm. And that's one of the issues that we'll be discussing in the coming days.

BLITZER: But do you have an assurance from Egypt that they will take steps to prevent Iranian supplied or other weapons coming into Gaza?

REGEV: I think everyone understands. All the partners in these understandings understand that Hamas that has missiles is a danger not just to Israel, but a danger to regional stability. Now, what's the problem? And we know what it is. Iran will try to pump into Gaza as quickly as possible stockpiles of those dangerous rockets. The rockets that were fired here at Jerusalem, that were fired in Tel Aviv. They'll try to, once again, strengthen Hamas with a military machine and replenish the stocks that they've lost because of our very effective military campaign. We are aware of this challenge and we think all parties to this -- these understandings have to act to prevent that from happening.

BLITZER: What assurances did President Obama give Prime Minister Netanyahu about U.S. assistance to Israel as a result of this agreement?

REGEV: First of all, we heard from the United States all along, before this agreement, that the United States supports Israel's right to defend itself, and that there's no justification whatsoever for these rockets from Gaza on Israeli civilians. And, of course, that was true yesterday and that's true for tomorrow, and we thank the Americans for that position.

But we've also seen very tangible support from the United States because one of the reasons I think that we came out of this as strong as we did is because those hundreds of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, the most lethal ones were taken out by the iron dome anti- missile system. And that system, as you know, it's American support. First of all, it's a joint project. And I believe we're talking about moving forward with that missile defense. It's a crucial part of protecting the Israeli population. And we thank the United States administration and Congress for their support in this matter. BLITZER: Because hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars have already been provided to bolster iron dome, and now new anti-missile systems. Is there a number how much the president promised he would commit to try -- seeking congressional support for additional U.S. military aid for Israel?

REGEV: I'm not aware of specific sums. I only than that the president reiterated that principle. And we thank him for it. We thank the American Congress for it. We thank the American people for it.

Ultimately, though, iron dome isn't just good for Israel, because it's not just Israel that faces a threat of missiles fired by terrorists. It's a global issue. And that technology we have developed together, the United States and Israel, I think can serve all democracies across the planet.

BLITZER: And we're going to wrap it up, but you're grateful to the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, for what he has now done?

REGEV: There's no doubt the Egyptian proposal offers a future where we can have peace and quiet in the south. That's good for Israelis. It's also good for Gazans. And we've got now Egyptian sponsorship of a proposal. That's very important. In other words, these arrangements have guarantors in the region, Egypt, and internationally the United States, and we want to see this cease-fire last, we want to see it have longevity, we want the people of southern Israel to have normal lives.

BLITZER: Mark Regev is the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, who's getting ready to address the Israeli people momentarily at the bottom of the hour.

Suzanne, Michael, obviously an historic development right now, but it's going to be not that easy making sure this is implemented fully. It's obviously very complex. We'll stand by. We'll hear what the prime minister of Israel has to say. But Mark Regev giving us the first official Israeli reaction to this historic agreement, this cease-fire agreement. In effect, an agreement between Israel and Hamas to stop the fighting between Israel and Gaza.

Suzanne, Michael.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Wolf.

We also expect to hear from Hamas as well within the coming hour for their own official statement to talk a little bit about what the terms were on their side, but we're going take a quick break and then we'll assess on the other end. Yes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time in the United States. That is less than an hour from now. It's half an hour from now, in fact. And that is when the cease-fire is set to begin. A cease-fire that aims to end eight straight days of hostilities between Israeli forces and militants in Gaza. Now, the U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is in Cairo right now. She's spoke a short time ago. Let's here what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt's new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: And let's get to Sara Sidner now in Tel Aviv, where not that long ago a bus bomb wounded two dozen people. Fortunately, only I think one seriously.

Sara, tell us how -- I mean that could have -- that could have really been a game changer if it had been worse. Tell us how people in Tel Aviv where you are, and I know you interact with them there, reacted to this announcement.

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, people -- there are many people here that have differing opinions, but the general opinion is, you know, they just want to stop the rockets from coming over. They want to stop the violence from happening. They don't want to have to live with that, to think about it, to be fearful. They don't want to have to worry and have to be in their homes. They don't want to have to worry about their family members. Just like anywhere in the world. And so generally I think people just wanted to see an end to this.

But then if you talk to some of the people who were involved in, for example, one of the volunteer rescuers who saw this bus explode, saw the windows being blasted out, saw the people that were injured, and talk to some of those who were injured, some of the injured were saying, we want the government here to finish off the situation in Gaza so that never again another rocket is send over to Israel. Talking about the possibility of a ground war. So it really depends on who you talk to, but generally speaking, people do want a cessation to seeing any rockets coming over into Israel and, frankly, for the bombings that are going on there from air strikes in Gaza, they just want to see an end to this and to hear that there is potentially a cease-fire that is happening is good news to most people. It will give them at least a bit of time to come down off of that sense of having to be on high alert, that sense of being afraid.

HOLMES: Right. And, Sara, you know, you're our Jerusalem correspondent. You look back, you know, 2000 -- since 2007, when Hamas took over in Gaza, these -- it's been an ongoing state of war really. You have these flare-ups. There's a cease-fire and then it ends months later or whenever. Inevitably it ends because there's no full agreement with details enshrined in it. Is that what's needed here, isn't it, not just another cease-fire, but something a little bit more substantial.

SIDNER: Well, certainly the people we've talked to said, look, we want a permanent solution, but they do realize that that is often very hard to come by. They haven't been able to do that for the past -- since Hamas got into power. And so they realize that that might be a tall order and they'll settle right now just for the cessation of having rockets come over into Israel and then the subsequent air strikes that happen there in Gaza.

But, you know, just -- back in October, there were rockets being sent over and a reaction from Israel as well, looking at targeted strikes there in Gaza. And Egypt then came into the middle of this. They negotiated behind the scenes. They negotiated a truce. And that truce held for a while, and then, again, it started all over again just the next month.

And, you know, people get very tired of seeing that bouncing back and forth. You have a cessation and then suddenly there's a few rockets come over, then you see the air strikes, and it bounces back and forth and really people are just exhausted by all this. They just want to see an end to it for good.

Michael.

HOLMES: Right. Thanks so much. Appreciate that, Sara. Sara Sidner there in Tel Aviv.

Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Looks like about 32 minutes or so until this cease-fire is supposed to take effect. If this thing holds, it's going to mean finally some quiet after eight days of rocket fire, explosions, dozens of deaths. More than 1,000 people wounded. Our Ben Wedeman is in Gaza City right now.

Ben, I understand that you actually are hearing reports of incoming fire. That there is no sign of a cease-fire yet.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, not at all. In fact, within the last half hour, we've had three separate volleys of rockets fired out of Gaza. And we've heard some incoming as well. So definitely they're looking at their watches and they see they still have half an hour left.

Some -- two of those volleys, at least, I was able to see were intercepted by the -- Israel's iron dome system. So it appears there's not -- rockets aren't getting through. But what's clear is that this may be a message from Hamas to say it's all over, perhaps, but we still have our record -- we still have our rockets. We can still fire at Israel. And we have not been defeated despite the intensity of the Israeli air strikes and naval bombardment. So it's very much -- sort of the game is still in play for another half hour.

Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Ben, yes, you know one of the things that the Israeli government spokesperson told our Wolf Blitzer, he was saying, look, you know what, even if it's not Hamas, if it's another groups like Islamic jihad or other folks who are actually firing rockets or bombs exploding, that Hamas is going to be responsible for all those different groups. Does that sound like that is something that is possible from your vantage point when people see that area that Hamas can actually control all the other folks that might get involved here and not be a part of the cease-fire?

WEDEMAN: Well, Hamas -- Hamas, Suzanne, is definitely the biggest group here and basically runs the government. So they do have a lot of power, manpower, resources, weaponry, to try to enforce this cease- fire. But we've seen in the past, they have gotten into disagreements, sometimes even clashes with other groups here in Gaza. And there's no guarantee that that will not happen again. I think what's important for the Israelis probably is to see that they're making a serious effort, rather than simply pretending to make an effort and then leaving it at that.

Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right, Ben, we're going to be checking in with you obviously throughout the half hour, and, of course, at the top of the hour to see whether or not this cease-fire, if it really is something that is real, Michael, because you and I, we've been talking about this and we've been here before.

HOLMES: Yes.

MALVEAUX: Been in this position before and it has --

HOLMES: Many, many times.

MALVEAUX: It has not -- it has not turned into a successful story.

HOLMES: Yes. Needs to have that substance. It needs to go further than just, let's stop firing and pick it up again six months from now. That's the key issue. And hopefully that's what's going to come in the days ahead.

We've got (INAUDIBLE), a Palestinian representative to the United States, joining up on the phone from Washington, D.C.

And good to talk with you. I want to get your reaction to this too. But I also want to get your thoughts on the fact that through all of this, through the conflict, through the cease-fire discussions, the great irony is that the Palestinian Authority, the governing body, the president of the Palestinian Authority, had nothing to do with it. Is that a big problem going forward for the Palestinian people?