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Israel: Ball in Hamas' Court; Interview with Ghazi Hamad, Hamas Official; Palestinian Authority Cease-Fire Rejected by Hamas; Interview with Mark Regev; Severe Ebola Outbreak

Aired July 29, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Palestinians in Gaza now rejecting a cease- fire proposal from the Palestinians in the West Bank.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world lead. Palestinian leaders in the West Bank offer a plan to halt this senseless death in Gaza, but those aren't the Palestinians who are launching rockets at Israel right now. That would be Hamas. And guess what? Hamas said no.

Also, as many as nine in 10 people who get it will die. And right now we're witnessing the worst outbreak of it, Ebola, in history. How long before somebody brings it to the United States?

And for many, Russia's alleged role in shooting down Flight 17 has cemented Vladimir Putin as a Bond supervillain. But not so long ago, Putin and the U.S. were pretty chummy. So what changed?

Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper. Welcome to THE LEAD.

We begin of course with the world lead. You have probably by now lost count of the number of times a cease-fire has been proposed, rejected, broken, accepted for a limited time, discarded in the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. It's been exceedingly difficult to get these parties to stop firing at each other for longer than 12 hours at a time after another bombardment in which Gaza's only power plant was hit last night.

Israel is -- quote -- "prepared" for a cease-fire, according to a senior Israeli official. But there's no agreement. A spokesman for Israel's prime minister will only say -- quote -- "The ball is in Hamas' court."

Hamas, of course, the militant Palestinian organization that controls Gaza, which has been labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. government, in addition to Israel. Today, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank announced a 24-hour cease-fire, but Hamas rejected it, saying they never agreed to it. Just to be clear, that's Palestinians rejecting other Palestinians, though an Israeli government official also dismissed the offer as one that was not serious.

There's been so much spin and grievance and willful blindness to anything that anyone from either side has ever done to the other, it could be easy to conclude that this conflict will truly never end. So Israel's relentless military assault on Gaza continues and Hamas

continues to fire rockets and try to send fighters through tunnels into Israel. And 56 Israelis have been killed as of now, almost all of them soldiers. Nearly 1,200 Palestinians have been killed. And according to the U.N., most of them have been civilians.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry came out today to defend his negotiations on the cease-fire and says talks in the Middle East need to continue.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We owe it to everybody to try to see if you can find that way. If after you get to a table, it proves that there is absolute reluctance to honor basic defensive needs of Israel to deal with the rockets, to deal with the tunnels, to deal with other things, then at least you know you have made that effort to try to spare lives and to find a legitimate way forward.


TAPPER: I'm joined now by the spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mark Regev.

Mark, the U.S./Israel relationship seems to be in a not-great-place right now. And breaking right now in Israeli media on Channel 1 in your country and then "The Times of Israel" is what is purported to be a transcript of a conversation between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama in which President Obama is pushing Israel to agree to a unilateral cease-fire.

The report says that the document, if it's authentic -- and it has been disputed, we should say, by the White House as being authentic -- the report says that it came from an American official. I'm wondering, what can you tell us? Is it true that President Obama pushed Netanyahu for a unilateral cease-fire?

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: Look, the document I learned it like you from the media. I cannot confirm its authenticity. I have got no idea. I wasn't on that conversation.

I can say the following. Since this crisis started, President Obama, Secretary Kerry have been unequivocal in condemning Hamas for its rocketing of Israeli cities. It's condemned Hamas for refusing to accept the Egyptian cease-fire and other cease-fires. And they have been behind Israel's right to defend itself.

And on these crucial issues, we're seeing America and Israel working hand in hand. And that's the most important thing.

TAPPER: Has President Obama asked Netanyahu for a unilateral cease- fire? Is that accurate?

REGEV: Well, it's clear that we all want this to end. And we want it to end in a way that it doesn't start up again in six months or a year. We want to find aid way to bring long-term stability and security both

to the Israeli people and to the people of Gaza. To have this end in a way the we just revisit this, right, a year from now, that does no one any good.

TAPPER: All right, you're not answering the question. But I will accept that you're not going to answer it.

I have to ask you about these heartbreaking scenes that we're seeing from Gaza. Now, Mark, if my calculations are right, Israel has in the last three weeks killed more Palestinian children, more than 200, than the total number of Israeli soldiers killed in military operations since 2006, which includes the second Lebanon war, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defense, and now Operation Protective Edge.

That is a lot of dead children, especially relative to the number of soldiers that have been killed in Israel in Israeli military operations in the last eight years. At what point does the Israeli government say, enough, we're killing too many innocent children?

REGEV: You know, we had a special press conference in Tel Aviv last night.

And the chief of staff of the Israeli military, the most highest Israeli official in uniform, he said it in openly, and he said it in Hebrew to the Israeli public. It wasn't something for foreign consumption. He said, every innocent victim in Gaza pains us.

And I think he was saying something very genuine, something very real that Israelis feel. We don't want to see innocent civilians caught up in the crossfire between us and Hamas. But I think the question that you raise...

TAPPER: But, Mark, it's not just the crossfire, though.

REGEV: No, it is.

The question has to be raised. More than two weeks ago, Israel unequivocally and unconditionally accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal that was supported by the United States, by the Arab League, by the United Nations. Hamas said no to that cease-fire. Now, Hamas is responsible for all deaths on their side and on our side because they were the ones that kept this conflict going.


TAPPER: Mark, but Netanyahu said no to the cease-fire draft that Kerry proposed.


REGEV: Not true. Not true. Not true.

Let's be clear here. People are fighting, people are dying because Hamas has repeatedly said no to a cease-fire. And, unfortunately, civilian casualties in Gaza are made there -- are there because Hamas has adopted a deliberate policy of endangering Gaza civilians, using them as human shields.

Just now, there's breaking news out of a Reuters correspondent. A third UNRWA school -- that's a school by the United Nations group that's supposed to give humanitarian support to Palestinians -- a third UNRWA school was discovered now with weapons being stored, missiles, Hamas rockets.


TAPPER: And, Mark, I agree with you. That's horrific. That's horrific.


REGEV: You see here not an aberration, a systematic -- a systematic pattern of behavior by Hamas.

TAPPER: That's horrific. I agree with you.

REGEV: Who abuse civilian -- civilian infrastructure.

TAPPER: But, Mark, just recently, the IDF attacked the home of a family in Gaza, the Abu Jama (ph) family. The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says the target was likely Ahmad Sulaman Samud (ph), a member of Hamas' military wing.

He was killed in the operation. He was targeted, he was killed. And guess what? So were 25 members of this family, including 18 children. So you say you're not targeting civilians. You're targeting bad guys. You're targeting Hamas militants. But civilians are being killed.

REGEV: Let's be clear here.

And let's look at the real options that exist in the real world. As you said, and you agreed with me, Hamas is shooting out of civilian infrastructure, out of homes, out of urban neighborhoods, out of mosques, out of schools. Their rockets are raining down on Israel.

I think we have had some 2,600 rocks on Israeli cities over the last three weeks. Now, what are our options as Israel, is to say, no, we can't shoot back? We can't shoot back because we might inadvertently hit a civilian?

Of course, we will make a maximum effort to avoid sitting civilians. They're not our targets; our targets are the Hamas terrorists trying to kill us.


TAPPER: I don't think that anyone is suggesting you shouldn't fire back, Mark. I think the question is, is what Israel's doing, A, is it commensurate with the attacks coming at Israel, and, B, is it actually going to be good for Israel in the long run?

And I think there are a lot of serious questions about that, especially these people, 1.8 million of them living in what has been described as an open air prison. Now they're not going to have power for another year or so because the only power plant in Gaza was bombed, probably by Israel, last night. I think the question is, is this the best course?

REGEV: You don't know that. No one knows that. No one knows that. No one knows that. No one knows who hit the power plant. And we have actually done our own investigation, and we don't know that it was Israel at all.

It could have been -- 10 percent of Hamas munitions fired at Israel fall short and they hit in Gaza. We know for a fact that's what happened yesterday at the hospital, where the Shifa Hospital was hit by an outgoing Hamas rocket that malfunctioned. And that could be the case today. We don't know.

But to blame it on Israel automatically is I think incorrect. But can I answer the larger question that you raise?


TAPPER: Please do.

REGEV: Look, Israel has to strike back against those who are shooting at us those rockets.

Now, on one hand, you can't give the terrorists immunity. You can't allow them to shoot because of the possibility of collateral damage. On the other hand, you have to be as surgical as is humanly possible in a very, very difficult combat situation.

Think of it this way. If terrorists had found a winning strategy that by shooting out of civilian neighborhoods, they have got immunity, what does that mean for terrorists around the world? They have found the winning way to win the war against the democracies. They have found, by using civilians as human shields, they can target innocent civilians with impunity.

Is that good for America? Is that good for Canada? Is that good for any democracy if terrorists finally found that winning combination? The only way to fight them is to be as pinpointed as possible in a difficult situation.

And once again -- I say it again -- Hamas is unequivocally responsible for this tragedy, first of all, by rejecting the cease-fires which would have ended it in the first place, and secondly by adopting tactics, tactics that deliberately endanger Gaza civilians and deliberately leads to their deaths.

TAPPER: We're about to lose the satellite. Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, thanks for coming on and answering my questions.

REGEV: My pleasure, sir.

TAPPER: And we should note that since I asked Regev about the authenticity of the transcript at the beginning of the interview, both the White House and Prime Minister Netanyahu's office have issued statements saying that the transcript is completely false.

Coming up on THE LEAD, we will go straight to where some of the heaviest fighting has taken place to our own reporter in Gaza who had to take cover just hours ago as a rocket came a little too close.

Plus, we will ask a representative from Hamas why Hamas rejected a Palestinian proposal to stop the bloodshed.

Plus, a body mysteriously found hidden in a U.S. Air Force plane after it lands in Germany, how did it get there?


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, continuing with our world lead.

CNN has the resources like no one else to cover account Israeli-Gaza conflict and in our commitment to bring you the story, our reporters such as Karl Penhaul can find themselves in harm's way. Watch what happened when Karl was reporting from Gaza just a few hours ago.


KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, you would have seen the same --



TAPPER: That was not the only close call for Karl and his crew in the last 24 hours.

Karl Penhaul joins us now live from Gaza City.

Karl, you're seeing F-16s flying overhead right now?

PENHAUL: Absolutely. We have seen a number of F-16s flying overhead and the reason I can tell is because as they go, they're pumping out decoy flares on either side of the plane. That is because they clearly fear that Gaza militants on the ground may have some kind of surface-to-air missile that could potentially bring them down and they're trying to avoid that. They are taking relatively low runs over the city.

We haven't heard any close quarters bombing so far but in the course of the afternoon, we saw them in action over across the eastern border. They were dropping massive 2,000-pound bunker buster bombs down there. I would guess, although we have no confirmation that they were trying to destroy some kind of tunnel complex across there, Jake.

TAPPER: Israel has been claiming that some of the strikes in Gaza are actually botched Hamas rocket launches. We're going to hold on one second. Are you OK there?

PENHAUL: Yes, just listen. Sorry, I stopped you there, but again, that was one of those F-16

fighter bombers on a pretty low run over the skies of Gaza City. Across -- here they go again.

TAPPER: Are they dropping ordnance, Karl?

PENHAUL: There were two strikes. I heard two strikes across there in the distance. It wasn't close enough to see the flare up and possibly over our small necktie microphone, you couldn't have heard it, but yes, a couple of impacts there, an F-16 coming over pretty low. Sometimes they'll swoop over low as a show of force to frighten any militant fighters on the ground.

But I have to say, generally, what they've been doing in the evening is firing off decoy flares as they go because had he clearly fear militant factions may have the SAM surface-to-air missiles. In fact, earlier in the evening when one did fly over, we did see some kind of rocket fire going out. It didn't appear to be the long-range Hamas rockets. It could have been fire from the ground to try to take those aircraft down. But, of course, you'd need a lot of technology to bring that down. We're not sure that Hamas near the factions have any of that, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Karl, I want to ask you, because the Israelis have been claiming that some of the killed and wounded in Gaza have been individuals killed by Hamas' own rockets either misfiring or the launch was botched. Have you seen any evidence one way or another?

PENHAUL: In terms of them causing casualties by rocket misfires, no. We haven't seen that even in the cases where the Israeli military says this may have been a Hamas rocket fire such as the school incident the other day. We specifically went to the school to see if we could find any debris for any particular munitions. We didn't find any tail fins or debris from rockets.

That said, we have seen misfires from Hamas and other militant rockets. Remember that although the technology may have come from outside countries such as Iran, Syria, possibly even Russia, that a lot of these rockets are home built, and so, there is a failure factor there. We have seen some of these rockets kind of implode as they head into the air. We've seen some of the rockets just kind of fizzle out and break up on the ground.

So, there are misfires. Somebody suggested are they getting to the bottom of their barrel, are they running out of an estimated arsenal of 10,000 rockets or they still seem to be firing them off regularly toward Israel. But I think something in the in-built technology sometimes and generally these rockets have been working in their terms very well, but we have seen misfires, but we haven't seen casualties caused by that with my own eyes.

So I can't tell new terms of eyes and ears on that, it would seem logical if there are misfires, the debris is going to fall somewhere. And if you have debris falling out of the sky from a height, that's going to cause some damage.

TAPPER: Of course. Karl, stay where you are. We may come back to you later in the show.

Karl Penhaul in Gaza, thank you so much.

Meanwhile, Hamas rejected a 24-hour cease-fire that was put forward earlier today by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The head of the Hamas military wing says there's no middle ground when it comes to a cease-fire. What exactly does that mean, no middle ground?

So, joining me on the phone is Ghazi Hamad. He's a senior official with Hamas.

Mr. Hamad, I want to ask you, since Hamas first rejected the first cease-fire proposal from Egypt, hundreds of Palestinians, hundreds have been killed. Israel says you could have ended the bloodshed weeks ago. Why are you convinced that rejecting that cease-fire was the better option for your people?

GHAZI HAMAD, HAMAS SENIOR OFFICIAL (via telephone): Do you think that we are happy of killing of our people, our children, our babies and our women? I know the situation is very difficult. Just before three minutes, I lost my cousin. Just 10 minutes ago, I lost my cousin. I was informed by family that my cousin was -- he is about 80 years old and the Israeli air strike, they hit his neighbor and he was killed now.

Look, we are -- we are doing the best in order (INAUDIBLE) bloodshed this war -- but and many times I can confirm and you can ask that human -- sorry, United Nations representative and the Palestinian authorities, I am in touch with them. We proposed many times in order to stop and to make push, a humanitarian push in Gaza, but we were shocked that Israel said no. Many times they said no.

Today, they proposed us in order to make a general pause from one side, but Israel said to Mr. Robert Serry, he is representative of Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and the Palestinian Authority -- no, we will not comply with this. We will not agree for this.


TAPPER: So sir, you keep saying -- you keep saying --

HAMAD: The cease-fire is gone.

TAPPER: You keep saying that, right? You keep saying no to the cease-fire.


HAMAD: In both sides, the Palestinian side, the Israeli side, we have no problem really. For 24 hours, we are ready to be committed for this agreement. But Israel want the Palestinians only to stop and they want to continue their military operation in the Palestinian territories to kill more and more people and more innocent people.

So, this is a question. And also very important that Israel, they want to keep their tanks in the Palestinian territories, and also to continue military operation. But the other side they want to stop. It is not fair.

TAPPER: Sir, you're giving a bunch of reasons why you said no to a cease-fire. In the meantime, hundreds of Palestinians were killed.

Here's an example of one of the things Israel wants to do. They want to be able to destroy the tunnels.


HAMAD: I want to give you one example. I want to give just one example. Yesterday --

TAPPER: Sir, why did you build tunnels under Israel? Why did Hamas build tunnels under Israel?

HAMAD: Pardon?

TAPPER: Why did Hamas build tunnels from Gaza into Israel? The Israeli government says those were built for only one reason, to kill Israelis. Why were they built?

HAMAD: I want to ask you the same question. Why Israel putting some precaution in the border, why they have the Iron Dome. They want to protect themselves. But I can tell you, we are the Palestinians, we are under occupation. We're under oppression for 60 years or 67 years.

We want to protect ourselves. We built the tunnels. We will try also to be more stronger in order to fight against occupation.

TAPPER: So the tunnels were built to kill Israelis.

HAMAD: Just listen to me, just listen to me.

The reason of all evil and problems in this area, this is because of the occupation. The occupation is the source of all evils and all for the bad things. You know, (INAUDIBLE) PLO, they spent about 20 years in negotiation with Israel and they're rejected. They're rejected (INAUDIBLE)

TAPPER: Now, you're talking about the occupation. Let me just pause it for the sake of this conversation that I agree with you about the occupation. OK?

Let's just -- I'm not saying I do but let's put that aside for one second. I understand it's an important part why Hamas fights, why Hamas sends rockets into Israel. I understand your motivation.

But my point is right now, hundreds of Palestinians are being killed by Israel because Hamas as recently as today, as recently as today rejected another cease-fire agreement. This one from the West Bank, from the Palestinian Authority.

HAMAD: But if you go back to the beginning of this story, Israel just started aggression and attacks against us in the West Bank, when they said that the three settlers were killed and they accused Hamas, without having one proof, and there they arrested more 500 Hamas members in the West Bank, they attacked their homes. They have stolen their money.

So, they want us to keep silent. What we did is a reaction for the aggression of Israel. And until now, the prisoners that we have an agreement between Israel and Hamas through the sponsorship of Egypt not to re-arrest these people. Israel has broken all the agreements and they did not respect any agreements with us, because of this --

TAPPER: We have to go.

HAMAD: -- this kind of reaction really, this is kind of reaction for the Israeli crimes against our people in the West Bank.

TAPPER: OK, I understand.

HAMAD: Now, really, we want to stop this, but Israel, they should have stopped their airstrike but I want to tell you something which is going to make the situation very clear. When Israel kept 1,200 people.

TAPPER: We have to go sir.

HAMAD: Ninety-nine-point-nine of these people are innocent people. They are not military men. They are not armed people.


HAMAD: -- children, women, babies.

TAPPER: Mr. Hamad, thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it. And hopefully, we'll talk to you again some other time.

We're going to take a quick break now. When we come back, two Americans fighting for their lives and another dead after being infected with this killer virus Ebola. Now, new fears the disease could be spread by travelers into the U.S. What are airlines doing to prevent it from coming here?

And later, from shirtless strongman to international outcast, how badly has Vladimir Putin image been hit as world pressure mounts?