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Israel, Hamas Reach Cease-Fire Agreement; Interview with the Spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; New Details on Ceasefire; White House: President "Closed the Deal"; Wolf Talks with Israel's President; Clinton at Center of Mid-East Ceasefire

Aired November 21, 2012 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: historic developments in the Middle East. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and her counterpart from Egypt's new Islamist government announce a major deal between Israel and Hamas.

It's a cease-fire that's supposed to end eight days of terror and bloodshed on both sides of the Israeli-Gaza border. But the hours leading up to the big announcement are marred by violence, including a bus bombing that injured nearly two dozen people right in the heart of Tel Aviv.

We would like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting from Jerusalem. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're now two hours into a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and so far things have been relatively quiet. The Israeli military reports at least two rockets being fired into Israel after the cease-fire deadline. This is the scene right now in Gaza City. It's remarkable.

For the first time in days, people are out in the streets. They are celebrating. Traffic is bumper-to-bumper. Everyone, everyone appears to be in celebration. People waving flags and they're firing guns in the air. While our crews saw outgoing rockets and heard explosions in the hours leading up to the cease-fire deadline, they have seen little or no military activity since then only the celebrating.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egypt's foreign minister announced the deal in Cairo after the secretary spent the day in intense face-to-face talks with the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. 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.


BLITZER: We're still learning details of the agreement between the Israelis and Hamas. Egypt and the United States apparently have assumed important major roles in keeping the peace and preventing new supplies of rockets from being smuggled into Gaza.

President Obama spoke by phone today with the leaders of both Egypt and Israel.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I have agreed with the president that Israel and the United States would work together to prevent the smuggling of arms to the terror organizations, the vast majority of which comes from Iran.


BLITZER: Throughout this crisis, CNN has positioned crews throughout the region, including correspondents in Egypt and on both sides of the Israeli/Gaza border.

The celebrations in Gaza City right now apparently growing larger and larger.

Let's go right to our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon. She's on the scene for us.

Arwa, set the scene. Tell our viewers what's going on.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if you were to look at the street below us 24 hours ago, you would have seen that it was utterly deserted. We're hearing sirens right now.

And for the first time since this conflict began, it is not because they're heading out to the scene of an airstrike. There's a traffic jam down below. For some it is celebrating what they do view as being a victory for them. For others, it is celebrating the fact that they quite simply are able to finally leave their homes for the first time since this all began.

We were down there just a short while ago. Entire families have packed themselves into their vehicles for the first time not because they are fleeing violence, but quite simply because they can go outside without fear of perhaps being targeted in some sort of strike or finding themselves very close to where a strike was going to be taking place.

We spoke to one father who said that his children had begged him the minute that they heard the attacks were going to stop, that the cease- fire was going to be implemented, begging him just to take them outside because they had spent so many days cooped up indoors.

Many people though at the same time saying they are concerned because this is very much as we have been reporting just the first initial step, the cease-fire still very much in its first few hours, Wolf.

BLITZER: How confident do you think the folks in Gaza are, Arwa, that this cease-fire will actually hold and produce results? DAMON: In the short-term, there is the sense that perhaps it will hold, but when it comes to the long-term issues, of course, very few are holding onto much hope that this is going to somehow translate or turn into that long-lasting peace agreement that this region has really been struggling to establish for quite some time now, to say the least.

There is the sense amongst people that they are going to have to go through something similar at some point in time. But right now, a lot of people saying that they're really just focusing on the moment. They have been through so much fear, anguish, sorrow. There's been so much loss, so much bloodshed, Wolf, really in the last few days.

We were just at the hospital earlier today where a doctor was carrying the body of a child and it was in fact his 2-year-old son. And there have been such incredibly difficult, indescribable moments. Gaza, of course, is going to have to really invest in trying to rebuild after all of the destruction that we have been seeing here.

But again, people right now really just living this moment, living the fact that they can for the first time go out into the streets and not be fearful that they are going to end up the victims of some sort of strike.

BLITZER: It looks that among Palestinians -- and correct me if I'm wrong, Arwa -- at least in Gaza and I assume elsewhere, maybe even throughout the Arab world, Hamas' stature has gone up as a result of this agreement. But you have been covering the story for a long time. What's your sense?

DAMON: Well, I have been speaking to quite a few Palestinians, and they do say Hamas most certainly has emerged out of this to a certain degree perhaps more powerful than it has been in the past.

To compare what we're seeing right now to what took place four years ago, the last time the Israelis ended up launching a ground invasion into Gaza, the mood is really very different. Four years ago, people were not celebrating when that conflict ended. Now they are.

There is the sense among some that this time around whether they like it or not, whether it was direct or indirect, the Israeli government was forced into some sort of a negotiation with Hamas, that Hamas has been able to implement its own terms.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon on the scene for us. We will check back with you. Thank you.

Just before the cease-fire was supposed to start, CNN's team in the Southern Israeli city of Ashkelon heard air raid sirens and saw incoming rockets.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is on the scene there for us.

Fred, what are you hearing, what are you seeing about possibility violations?


Yes, we're hearing from the Israeli Defense Forces that there have been at least two minor violations of the cease-fire. They're saying that at least two rockets were fired out of Gaza. The information that we're getting is that these rockets either landed in an unpopulated area or in fact were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, of course, we have been talking about so much over the past couple of days.

By and large, however, it appears as though the cease-fire is holding. The skies over Ashkelon at this point in time are very quiet. However, Wolf, one of the things you're not going to be seeing is what you just saw in Arwa's report is people celebrating the cease-fire. In fact, we have been speaking to people here in Ashkelon and some of them say they're actually quite disappointed because they don't feel that their military has gotten the job done yet or that the leaders were giving the military enough time to get the job done.

Let's listen in to what one man had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not only myself, many people here, and many friends were talking for a couple minutes about this situation and going to be stopping the fire. We are here in Israel don't believe it's going to be stopping quiet like this. We are here no believe this. After this short time, we're sure about this, it start game. So, this only political game. I don't know who. This is what I think.


PLEITGEN: So Wolf, this is, of course, something that people here in Southern Israel call mowing the lawn when they feel that their army, when their air force goes in and bombs Gaza for a couple of weeks at some given point in time, but Hamas is still there and they think that's the root of the problem, that possibly some months down the line they will be facing the same problems again.

However, I do have to say I have also been speaking to some people here on the ground who say peace and quiet for a while is good and we are happy that the cease-fire now appears to be in place, Wolf.

BLITZER: So are you seeing people on the streets right now? They're coming out of their homes? Are they celebrating the way they are in Gaza?

PLEITGEN: Well, no, they're not. It's interesting though that you say that. There are some more people out on the streets now that we have seen though over the past couple of days and certainly than we have seen during the daytime.

One of the things we have to keep in mind that especially today was a pretty busy day here. There were a lot of rocket alarms here in Ashkelon. We were actually out today with a squad that picks up the rockets after they have landed on the ground here. It's an explosive ordnance disposal group and they had a lot to do.

We had to go into shelter with this group six times alone today. So the people here really on the last day of this conflict really had a very scary day. And the thing that we should keep in mind is that especially people with children were keeping those children inside, indoors for the better part of all of this going on.

Of course, it was very scary for the children as well. So, yes, we are indeed seeing some more people come out. We're seeing more cars on the street, especially for these late evening hours, but certainly not the kind of celebrations that you will be seeing in Gaza City right now and that we're seeing from what Arwa's reporting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred Pleitgen in Ashkelon in Southern Israel for us, thanks very much.

Let's bring in our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, CNN International anchor and also ABC News global affairs anchor.

Christiane, thanks very much.

You had an exclusive interview today with Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, in Cairo. This is before the agreement was announced. He's pretty upbeat about what's going on. He's made major commitments to Egypt about what Hamas is going to do. Explain what's going on from Hamas' perspective.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I was interviewing him as these cease-fire agreements were being finalized. And what he was saying is that what they want from their perspective is to have the blockade as they call it lifted, the siege of Gaza lifted.

And there's a possibility that some of that might happen and some new easing of restrictions around Gaza. And that will be important. They also don't want to have their leaders assassinated. So you remember that was one of the triggers for this whole back and forth that we have had over the last eight days or so.

But I think from Hamas' perspective and if you look at this situation, they certainly do come out standing quite tall. I mean, I don't think you can talk about winners or losers. A lot of people have died. Who knows whether this is anything more than cementing it back to the status quo ante, but in terms of Hamas which has -- the U.S. and Israel have tried to isolate it for all these years, over the last week or so we have seen Arab foreign ministers and leaders literally beating a path into Gaza to go and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Hamas, this at the same time that Egypt took that lead role and guaranteed and secured this cease-fire.

So it's a very important, significant moment, first time the new Islamist government of Egypt has been tested. Hamas is now a force to be at least negotiated with, rather than isolated. And we will see whether this actually leads to something more than just a lull. BLITZER: Because what Israeli officials say is that Hamas made a commitment to the government in Egypt, the president, Morsi, Mohammed Morsi, that they would stop firing into Israel. If that were to be revoked, that would be a violation. They would be breaking their word to the Egyptians and that would cause some serious repercussions, I assume, Christiane, between Egypt, the Egyptian government, which itself is a Muslim Brotherhood-led government, and Hamas.

AMANPOUR: Well, I was obviously talking about what the perspective from this side was.

But, of course, Israel's demand was that there would be no more rockets and no more of that fire going into Israel. That was something they really wanted. And, of course, Israel does not want to see Hamas resupplied through the tunnel network. And that is still to be worked out. I asked Khaled Meshaal whether or not he got weapons and whether Hamas was getting weapons from Iran, and he gave me a non- confirmation confirmation.

It's an open secret that they come through those tunnels. So that has to be taken in hand. We're not sure how that's going to happen, but obviously there is some Egyptian role in that as well. But, yes, Egypt is the guarantor of this cease-fire. Neither side trusts each other.

And both sides are going to be able to appeal to the guarantor, Egypt, the United States and other regional powers who've been helping, but the lead is Egypt. And, interestingly, you know, Wolf, this is the first time that Israel's gone into an agreement with an Islamist government, that is the new government of Egypt.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour reporting for us from Cairo. Thank you, Christiane.

We have reaction to the new cease-fire coming in from Israeli officials. That's coming up next. I will speak with the spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about a top Hamas leader's claim that Israel is now in his word bankrupt.

We're also taking a closer look at what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's precise role in all of this has been, what her role has been in helping these sides reach an agreement.

Our special coverage continues right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Today, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the past eight days of Israeli airstrikes on what he called terrorist organizations in Gaza hit top leader commanders and destroyed the control facilities of Hamas. But a short time ago, a top Hamas leader declared his organization remains strong and called Israel "bankrupt".


KHALED MESHAAL, HAMAS POLITICAL LEADER (through translator): They wanted to destroy the infrastructure of the resistance in Hamas. Today, they claimed they have done so and they have not. This is -- they are bankrupt.

I don't deny they have done so much. We can count how many buildings they have destroyed, and how many offices of the media they have destroyed, and how many children they have killed, the family of the Dalou, the family of the Bashir they have killed and how many journalists and how many photographers they have killed just like you. We can count how many offices and how many buildings they have destroyed.

This is their accomplishment. They have nothing else to show.


BLITZER: With me now is Mark Regev, the spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mark, thanks very much for coming in.

He says you are bankrupt -- Israel is bankrupt. You have nothing to show for this. They are celebrating on the streets of Gaza in wild celebration. They think this is a huge win for Hamas.

MARK REGEV, SPOKESMAN FOR ISRAELI P.M. NETANYAHU: I saw them celebrating in Gaza. And I think they're celebrating because it's over. They're celebrating because we hit the Hamas military machine hard.

We attacked their commanding control. We destroyed their weapons depots. We destroyed rockets. We destroyed launching sites. We hit their infrastructure of the Hamas military machine.

So they're, of course, relieved this is over. Now, I hope it really is over. I hope this arrangement that's been negotiated very carefully with the Egyptians and with the United States, that this will hold, that we do get a long period -- an extended period of quiet for the people of southern Israel.

But Hamas should know that if they violate this agreement, Israel reserves the right once again to protect our people, to act to protect our people.

BLITZER: And what exactly is the -- from your perspective, the Israeli government's perspective, the precise commitment that Hamas has made to Egypt as part of this cease-fire?

REGEV: Our own understanding is clear, that there has to be a total cessation of all hostile activity from Gaza against Israel. No rockets, no targeting our cities with rockets anymore. That's finished. No shooting across the border with light arms at our farmers, nor at our policeman, nor at soldiers who are posted on our side of the frontier. In other words: the total end of all hostile activity in Gaza against Israel.

BLITZER: And what is your commitment as part of this agreement to Hamas?

REGEV: If there's -- it's very simple. If there's no violence from Gaza towards Israel, we don't have to respond. But that's not a problem for us. That's not even a concession.

We've always said if it's quiet, we have no reason to act to protect ourselves.

BLITZER: Will you take steps though to improve the condition of the Palestinians in Gaza?

REGEV: Of course. You know, the people of Gaza are not our enemies. Our enemies are those people who shoot rockets at us. That's the Hamas people. That's the other terrorist groups.

The people of Gaza are in many ways victims of this terrible authoritarian Hamas regime. So we can work with aid organizations today to facilitate badly need medical and food stuffs and so forth for Gaza. And as we work with the Egyptians, we can talk also about lessening the restrictions.

BLITZER: So no more targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders?

REGEV: If they do not violate their understandings with the Egyptians. In other words, if they keep things quiet, if they do not shoot rockets at our people, we will have no reason to act.

BLITZER: This is a little more than two hours since the agreement went into effect. Have there been any serious violations so far?

REGEV: The truth is I haven't heard of any. So I don't think we could have -- I would have heard about it if there was. The proof of everything is in the eating.

And as Ronald Reagan said once famously when talking about negotiations with Gorbachev: trust but verify. And, of course, we'll be watching what Hamas is doing very, very closely.

BLITZER: This does bode well for the Israeli/Egyptian relationship which has been severely strained in recent months.

REGEV: I hope so. I mean, we've got a new government in Egypt.

BLITZER: Is Egypt sending back its ambassador to Tel Aviv?

REGEV: I'm not aware yet. I'm not sure they've announced it. I hope they would.

BLITZER: Is that part of the agreement?

REGEV: I'm not aware. But I can say the following: we've got a new government in Egypt. And we've got an old peace treaty. And we want them to go together well.

We're committed to maintaining peace with Egypt. We think it serves both sides of Cairo and Jerusalem, the strategic interest of both sides. And we want to see that peace treaty strengthened.

BLITZER: What assurances did you, the prime minister of Israel -- you're not the prime minister, but Prime Minister Netanyahu, you speak for him, get from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as far as U.S. support for Israel as part of this framework agreement?

REGEV: Look, we heard and received very strong support from the United States during this whole crisis.

The Americans were unequivocal. They said the rockets from Gaza have to stop. There's no excuse for them. No justification whatsoever.

They said in trying to defend our people, Israel was acting in legitimate self-defense. We heard that very clearly from the American side.

But it wasn't just words. That Iron Dome system, that anti-missile system -- you know, Hamas had a whole series of these long-range rockets given to them by round that could have killed many, many Israelis, but because of Iron Dome, this joint American/Israel project which America has contributed to and we thank them for it, that's made us come through this crisis with the minimum of casualties, it saved lives and we thank America for it.

BLITZER: Is there a U.S. role as far as you know that would prevent Iranian weapons being smuggled or brought into Gaza?

REGEV: You're 100 percent correct. The challenge will be now, how do you prevent Iran from sending more weapons to Hamas? Because Hamas' weapons today have been drastically depleted.

BLITZER: Is the U.S. going to get involved in that?

REGEV: Well, I believe so.

BLITZER: How will they do that?

REGEV: I think we have to work effectively with America and with other members of the national community and with regional actors as well.

BLITZER: Is Egypt on board?

REGEV: I hope so. Ultimately, it must be remembered Iran and Gaza don't have a common border. And if we can intercept weapon shipments to Gaza preventing them from arriving at Gaza into the hands of those terrorists, that's the best thing we can do.

BLITZER: So, from what I can tell, from your body language, from what we heard from the prime minister, from others, you're pretty upbeat that this might work.

REGEV: I'm upbeat that there's a cease-fire and it's quiet and that this conflict is over. But I do know the following: Hamas is a very determined enemy. And this could fall apart. I'm grateful that we now have a time-out that life can go back to normal. And I can assure you, Israel will stand by our obligations in the framework of these understanding. I have few illusions about Hamas. But I think these understandings which the Egyptians have proposed form a basis that I hope can bring a long period of peace and quiet for the people of southern Israel who deserve to live a normal life.

I saw your report from earlier today. You were with that family in the south and you saw those little children who were saved because they went into the secure room. It was that incoming rocket that destroyed the house.

Too many Israeli families had to live that way for too long now. And hopefully this understandings -- these understandings the Egyptians have put on the table, they will bring normal life to the people of southern Israel.

And, you know what, Wolf? That's the most important thing. This whole operation was fought for one goal and one goal only, to bring peace and quiet to our population in the south. And I think this can help do it.

BLITZER: One final question. Is there any indication you've seen so far that Hamas will change its longstanding position, accept Israel's right to exist, renounce terrorism, accept previous Palestinian/Israeli agreements and become a member of the international diplomatic community?

REGEV: Unfortunately, so far, there's no such indication. Unfortunately, so far, they seem to be stuck in a very extreme agenda and, you know, we saw that today.

BLITZER: But if they change their position, you would be willing to recognize them?

REGEV: If they accept the three benchmarks that the United Nations put on the table, recognize my country's right to exist, abandon terrorism, support peace -- that's a different Hamas.

But I'll tell you what made me very skeptical -- today when there was the bombing in Tel Aviv. The Hamas leadership said this is a good thing. They justified and praised the bomber. That doesn't show a reformed organization I think. That shows the opposite. They seem to be stuck in some sort of very radical extreme outlook.

BLITZER: Mark Regev, the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu -- thanks very much.

REGEV: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Let's hope this cease-fire works. Appreciate it.

Up ahead, we're going to take you live to the streets of Tel Aviv. CNN's Sara Sidner has the investigation into the bus bombing that injured dozens of people in Tel Aviv. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Before the Israeli/Hamas ceasefire was announced just a couple hours or so ago, the conflict took an ominous turn. A bomb went off aboard a regular commercial bus today in Tel Aviv injuring 24 people.

CNN's senior international correspondent Sara Sidner is in Tel Aviv. She's watching what's going on. Sara, first of all, what's the latest on the investigation?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know there are suspects being sought as we speak. We talked to the police who were looking for suspects in this case. We also know that of the people who went to the hospital, five people remain in the hospital too with very serious injuries.

One, doctors were trying to save a limb because there was so much of a blast to the arm that they weren't sure they were going to be able to save the limb of a teenager. Another teenager with extreme shrapnel to the face, they were trying to remove the shrapnel.

The doctor's very concerned both will have to live a bit of a difficult life and have these injuries that will affect the rest of their lives. As far as what is happening with the bus and with the investigation, police still do not have anyone who has claimed responsibility for that blast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You've been on the streets of Tel Aviv all day now. What are the folks saying about the ceasefire?

SIDNER: Well, I want to let you hear. You know, when we went to the scene there was a lot of chaos and people trying to figure out what was going on. We met one of the people who happened to be there and it was a volunteer first responder.

We talked to him a little bit about what the ceasefire would mean and they were in the midst of trying to get to a ceasefire. I want to let you hear what he said. And what he said some of the victims of this bombing had told him as he was helping them to the hospital.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go forward. Don't stop. Go inside Gaza and finish the job. Please, go forward.


SIDNER: So you heard there, you know, some of these victims and he himself talking about that they wanted prime minister -- he was saying Bebe, but Prime Minister Netanyahu to go forward and to finish this off meaning even if it's a ground war, they don't ever want to deal with this again.

We've been hearing from a lot of people in Tel Aviv the talk about that they really want a permanent solution. That the ceasefire is fine, it's good to stop the ratcheting up of violence, but they want to see something permanent.

There's a lot of frustration every time another rocket comes over and there's a response as well so a lot of frustration on the part of people. But I think in general there are quite a few people just happy to see that this did not go into something like a ground war and hoping that the ceasefire holds.

Just really I think people are exhausted with the stress that having to deal with some of these rockets that come over into southern Israel has on them.

BLITZER: And you've seen that stress on both sides, Sara. Spent several days in Gaza before coming back to Israel, you were in the south. You've seen Israelis who were scared frightened. You've seen Palestinians.

Sara, you've done an excellent amount of reporting for us. And we're grateful, our viewers in the United States and around the world are grateful as well. Sara Sidner is our Jerusalem correspondent.

With the Gaza ceasefire taking hold, we're going to take a closer look at what the United States and specifically the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did in particular to make all of this happen. There are also other new developments happening right now. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We have new information just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from the White House on the ceasefire negotiations that happened. CNN's Jill Dougherty is standing by over at the White House. Jill, what are you learning about the president's role in all of this?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I was talking to a senior administration official and as you might expect, they are praising the president's role.

In fact, this official said that it's fair to say that the president's two calls today -- that would be to Prime Minister Netanyahu and to Egyptian President Morsi, closed the deal as this official said.

They also praised Secretary Clinton saying that she did an exceptional job. But again going back to what they are saying as Mr. Obama was very directly involved.

One of the things also, Wolf, that they're pointing at that I think will prove to be very important is this burgeoning relationship with the Egyptian President Morsy. I mean, just think of it.

Just a short time ago he was the new man on the block, Muslim Brotherhood, lots of doubts about him. And now look at the words that the president used. There's a lot of praise for his personal role in bringing about this ceasefire.

That could go a long way. In fact, they say that he was very pragmatic. That's President Morsy, very pragmatic. They developed a relationship they say based on trust and were able to work through these issues so down the road that's going to be important -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Basically the bottom line in all of this is that the U.S. is also, Jill, provided some assurances to both the Israeli government of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Egyptian government of President Morsy.

Are you learning any specific arrangements? Any economic, financial, military, political assurances that President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton provided Israel and Egypt?

DOUGHERTY: Well, of course, let's start with Israel. Number one, that would be helping to stop weapons smuggling, which is coming into Gaza from Iran. That would be very important.

Also, more funding for the iron dome program, which has protected a lot of Israeli lives. You'd also have to say I think on Egypt there are a number of things that Egypt got out of it.

This praise actually can have some political benefit because don't forget not so long ago up on Capitol Hill there were a lot of people calling for cutting funding to the Egyptians who had held some nongovernmental organization people.

Remember not so long ago. And this praise could help maybe inoculate President Morsy from some of that anger that was up on Capitol Hill and that means money because after all, the United States provides $450 million every year for Egypt.

And then Hamas, I kept thinking what does Hamas get out of it? Hamas even though you wouldn't say there's certainly nothing like what everybody else is getting, but they do get in a PR sense they get to say to the Islamic world we took the fight to Israel.

Even if in the long run it ends in a ceasefire, symbolically they stood up. That strengthens their position vis-a-vis the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abass who is looking very, very weak in all of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty at the White House for us with some good reporting. Jill, thanks very, very much.

Anderson cooper has left Gaza. He is now here in Jerusalem. He's standing by to join me in our next hour. Anderson knows what's going on. He's seen this conflict over the past few days up close.

We're going to get his take on the ceasefire not even three hours old yet. What's going on? Anderson Cooper will be here with me.

Also, my interview with Israel's President Shimon Peres, what he makes of the many challenges facing Israel right now.


BLITZER: Just before the Israeli/Hamas ceasefire agreement took effect today, I sat down and spoke with the Israeli President Shimon Peres here in Jerusalem. We spoke about the long-range challenge to a true peace in the Middle East including the civil war that's ongoing in Syria right across the border from Israel.


PRESIDENT SHIMON PERES, ISRAEL: In Syria, there is a concentration of chemical weapons.

BLITZER: Are they secure right now?

PERES: They're under the control of Assad. I'm not sure they are secure. I wouldn't trust him very much and they get missiles from Iran. And some people say it's OK. What do they mean OK? They're collectors of missiles.

They shoot them against civilian life in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem. Look, the world must also take a clear position to say it is disproportionate Israeli reaction and shooting at Israelis proportionate. After Israel left Gaza, how long can they destroy any chance for reason and peace?

BLITZER: What's the role of Iran that is playing right now behind the scenes in Gaza?

PERES: Iran it feels competing with Egypt. They want to win -- their chance is to have the more extreme on their side. So they support not only Hamas but also the Jihad.

BLITZER: Islamic Jihad?

PERES: Islamic Jihad in Gaza. So the Islamic jihad also to be more extreme. Other problems in Gaza is there's nobody rules it. There's a competition among four or five different groups, many other groups. And they're competing and Iran is supplying arms to all of them.

BLITZER: So who do you negotiate with the ceasefire with?

PERES: Look, Hamas has to take charge otherwise they don't have a future.

BLITZER: Can they?

PERES: I think yes. They don't have a choice. The others too if Hamas will take a position, the people in Gaza will say to those others, stop it. What are you doing to us? There are people in Gaza too. And none of us want to see them suffering, doesn't give us any pleasure.


BLITZER: We're going to have much more of my interview with the Israeli President Shimon Peres a little later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Among other things, we speak about his own political future. He's approaching, get this, he's almost 90 years old, but is in amazing, amazing shape.

He's got some tips for all of our viewers how to stay alert and healthy as you get to be 89, almost 90 years old. More of the interview with Shimon Peres, more on the breaking news on the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas right after this.


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: You're looking at a live picture of Gaza City right now about 11:50 p.m. there. A night of celebrations after this ceasefire has been declared as we all watch and wait to see if it's going to hold. We'll be returning to Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem in just a few minutes.

But first joining me for today's "Strategy Session," our CNN contributor, former Bush speech writer, David Frum, he is also the author of "Why Romney Lost" and CNN political contributor, Democratic strategist and former Al Gore campaign manager, Donna Brazile.

Thanks to you both for coming in and early happy Thanksgiving to you. So we've watched all this with great interest and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her shuttle diplomacy moving between Ramallah and Cairo and Jerusalem.

And you have to ask though given the disaster in Benghazi, does she need to sort of rehabilitate her record, if you will? And is she doing that effectively with this agreement in the Middle East, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, hopefully we'll look at the totality of her record. She's been secretary of state for the last four years. She's traveled hundreds of thousands of miles over the last four years.

You know, during her first few weeks on the job, she phoned every world leader to reset relations. I think she's been a phenomenal secretary of state whether it's negotiating the cards with Turkey and Armenia, the situation in Libya before the terrible tragedy in Benghazi.

She will go down in history as one of the best secretaries of states. And I have no doubt in my mind that the role she played over the last 48 hours was crucial in getting a ceasefire.

JOHNS: David, are you surprised at the role this new Egyptian government has played in this agreement?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Their role has been crucial and they've been under a lot of pressure. I think the key switching point in this negotiation was -- occurred I guess the day before yesterday when Egypt signed with the International Monetary Fund an agreement to lend $4.8 billion to Egypt.

The Egyptian economy is a wreck. They have lost their tourist dollars. Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat. The population is growing by a million people a year. They are completely dependent on outside aid. This government took power at the beginning of the year. And since then the flow of rocket materials into Gaza has accelerated as has the firing of rockets. So it looks to what have happened is this, that the new government began by allowing Hamas more room to behave destructively.

Then they ran out of money. Then they went to the IMF and the IMF squeezed them. They said, if you want the money, the rockets stop and it looked like they got the money on Thursday, sorry, two days ago, and the rockets are stopping today.

JOHNS: Now, to talk about a long-term solution, a lot of discussion has involved the former President Bill Clinton. Wolf talked just a little while ago today in fact to Middle East peace envoy -- the former Middle East Peace Envoy George Mitchell. Here's what he had to say about the possibility of involving the former president in a long- term solution. Listen.


GEORGE MITCHELL, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO MIDDLE EAST: President Clinton is highly respected in the region and on both sides, and he certainly would be a credible choice. I don't think however it ought to be limited to him in case he weren't able to do it.

I don't think you want to create the impression that whoever the president does name if anyone is therefore sort of a second choice or doesn't enjoy the confidence of President Obama.


JOHNS: Donna, do you think Bill Clinton would be a good choice? Do you think he'd want to do it? And if he didn't, who do you think would be a good second choice?

BRAZILE: Well, Tony Blair has also played a constructive role. I mean, I believe that all hands on deck. I mean, George Mitchell, former Senator Mitchell also has been instrumental in this whole process.

We need to bring as many players to the table to get both sides. But I agree we have to get Hamas to renounce violence, to recognize Israel's existence and to follow the U.N. benchmarks.

And that's going to take time for President Morsy, Egyptian President Morsy, to ensure that Hamas live up to its agreement especially with the ceasefire.

JOHNS: David, who would you send?

FRUM: I don't think it matters. I don't think this is about personalities. This is a structural conflict. And peace will come when -- the kind of peace we're talking about will come when the Palestinians make a strategic decision for peace.

But what we can look forward to in the interim because that day is probably a long way off are a series of measures for better security, reinforcement of the wall, better separation of the Israelis from the Palestinians.

And tight policing of the flow of weaponry into Gaza and better economic conditions for the Palestinian population, who, many of whom are radicalized by unnecessary economic hardship.

JOHNS: All right, I just want to thank both of you for coming in today, once again happy Thanksgiving to you. Now we're going to go back to Wolf Blitzer who's in Jerusalem. So how is that ceasefire holding up, Wolf?

BLITZER: So far it's holding up, Joe. Let's hope for the best. If it does hold up, that would be excellent news for a lot of people in Gaza as well as in Israel. But we're watching it very closely. Don't want to get our expectations and our hopes overly, overly optimistic.

Up ahead in our next hour, so what happens to the rockets fired at Israel after they're taken out by the iron dome anti-missile system? We have the details. That's coming up in a live report from Ashkelon in Southern Israel.

Plus, the celebrations right now continuing on the streets of Gaza, they're crowded. We're going back live for the latest on the ceasefire.