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THE SITUATION ROOM
Gaza Under Fire; Conflict in Ukraine; Hamas Commander Rejects New Cease-Fire; U.S. Increases Sanctions on Russia
Aired July 29, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hamas fighters suffering new losses on the ground in Gaza amid new fears that they may be re-teaming up with a dangerous partner, namely Iran.
And a troubling escalation in the fighting in Ukraine. U.S. tensions with Russia are soaring as President Obama announces new sanctions. His deputy national security adviser is standing by live at the White House to join us this hour.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: You're looking at a live picture of the Gaza skyline. It's 1:00 a.m. Here in Middle East, prime time for Israeli airstrikes against Hamas targets. We have already heard explosions, spotted Israeli F-16 jet fighters.
Tonight, Hamas military commander is rejecting any cease-fire unless Israel ends its assault and lifts its blockade of Gaza. Israel insists it is up to Hamas to stop its attacks on Israel.
We have our correspondents and newsmakers standing by. We're covering all the breaking news in this Israel-Hamas conflict and in the Ukraine war.
Let's begin this hour with the latest on the fighting in Gaza.
BLITZER (voice-over): Intense attacks over the past 24 hours, powerful explosions piercing the night in Gaza. Hamas says its radio station was bombed by Israel, along with the home of one of its top political leaders. Gaza's only power plant also was hit, nearly half of the fuel supply or more up in flames. Palestinians blame Israeli airstrikes and warn of crippling blackouts.
That could make the humanitarian crisis in Gaza even worse.
PETER LERNER, SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: The power station definitely was not a target from the IDF's point of view. We're still looking into it.
BLITZER: Faced with more destruction and casualties, a new call by the Palestinian leadership for a cease-fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Palestinian people are for a cease-fire, a cease-fire that at least guarantees a chance of surviving and living after cease-fire is achieved. We want no more Israeli siege and destruction of Gaza.
BLITZER: But the new appeal for a truce was immediately rejected by Hamas' top military commander. Israel says Hamas keeps destroying any chance for a political solution.
MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON: We are willing to accept cease-fire, but Hamas has always been the spoiler. Hamas always refused to hold their firing.
BLITZER: Israel says its Iron Dome defenses were forced into action again as Hamas fires several more rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory. The IDF says it targeted more than 110 of what it calls terror sites overnight. Releasing more video of its campaign to find and destroy Hamas tunnels from Gaza into Israel.
Israel says its troops killed five Palestinian militants as they left the tunnel in Gaza today. I got a firsthand look at a Hamas tunnel with an Israeli lieutenant colonel. We went in through a narrow opening on the Israeli side.
(on camera): This is priority number one for the Israelis right now to destroy these Hamas tunnels.
(voice-over): The Israeli military says it has found more than 30 tunnels. The IDF arguing that it must stop Hamas from using the underground passages to sneak into Israel, and kill or kidnap soldiers or even civilians.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is very easy to (INAUDIBLE) to kill -- to kill and go and nobody know that we -- there are people in the tunnel.
BLITZER: That tunnel, it was a long tunnel, nearly three kilometers' long, about two miles or so, half or so inside under Gaza, the other half under Israel.
Let's go to Gaza right now. CNN's Karl Penhaul is standing by.
Sounds a little eerily quiet right now, Karl. Set the scene for us. What's the latest in Gaza?
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it depends.
You know, it's not like last night when you and I saw a period of sustained activity, first the illumination flares, then that followed by artillery fire and also bombardments by the F-16 fighter jets, but across there in eastern Gaza both throughout the course of the afternoon and also just a few moments before we came on air, F-16 fighter jets have been concentrating on a target in eastern Gaza, the Tuffah neighborhood. And what we have seen there are a series of bunker buster bombs
going in. These 2,000-pound bombs that in the daytime you can see them sending up a huge plume of smoke and dust, and by night what it looks like from here is sending up a huge fireball into the sky. Now that would be really interesting from your perspective, Wolf, to find out maybe what the targets are there because we don't know from this side with any precision what they are.
But I would guess by the amount of ordnance, by the amount of bombs they are dumping on that site, that has to be some kind of tunnel complex across there, Wolf. What we are also hearing in the air around central Gaza City are the drones once again in the air. That sound of giant lawn mowers and one or two strikes here and about, but nothing like last night. We will have to see how that develops in the course of the next few hours, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, these next few hours could be indeed very, very critical. Karl, it looks very dark behind you.
Has much of Gaza City lost power because of the destruction of that power plant? Israel blames Hamas, Hamas blames Israel. I don't know who really was responsible. But it looks very dark in Gaza City right now.
PENHAUL: Yes, in fact, let me just step out of the way just a fraction. That is a black hole, isn't it? You can see one or two lights on there. But that is because Gazans, even in normal times, got used to unusual faulty power supplies and have their own generators.
But for the most part, we understand a Gaza power plant is no longer putting out any electricity because what was hit were the fuel storage tanks, the diesel tanks. Now on the one hand, head of Gaza power company says that diesel tank was hit by an Israeli shell. Of course, we have heard from the Israeli military saying that that facility was not on their target list, but doesn't rule out that something could have happened by mistake. But they will check it out. So we will have to wait and see.
Again, this he says/she says that often goes on in any conflict, but quite honestly, the civilian population is sick of anybody and everybody's excuses. The civilian population doesn't want to go through these kind of conditions where they are now critically short of power and where that will also impact on the water supplies as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, 1.8 million Palestinians live in Gaza, a tiny strip of land. Karl, stand by. If something happens, we will come right back to you.
But for now, I want to bring in a member of the opposition in the Israeli Knesset, the Israeli Parliament.
Nachman Shai is joining us. He's a former IDF spokesman as well.
Thanks very much for joining us. Do you agree he with the -- you're in the opposition.
NACHMAN SHAI, ISRAELI KNESSET MEMBER: Yes.
BLITZER: You're in the Labor Party. You're deputy speaker of the Knesset.
Do you agree with the strategy that the current Israeli government has put forward in Gaza?
From the very beginning, we support the government. We believe that Netanyahu, the defense minister, and the chief of staff, Gantz, are taking the right steps. They operate very carefully, proportionally. And I think they defend Israel through their decisions. And we in the opposition support them and hope very much that it will end according to the very I would say measured and proportional decisions made by them.
BLITZER: Because you know some members of the current government, we heard Yuval Steinitz, minister of intelligence -- he is not ruling out the possibility that Israel might reoccupy Gaza. That's something the Labor Party in the Knesset would strongly oppose.
SHAI: Absolutely oppose it.
And, by the way, I wish the prime minister will not join them. And as far as it looks today, most of the criticism to the prime minister comes from his own party and his own coalition. The major support of the prime minister is from the opposition line.
BLITZER: What would you do differently if Labor were in power?
SHAI: I think that we would do -- we are doing more or less the same. We have to defend this country.
You should understand, it is unacceptable. When you said 1.8 million people have no power, but eight million power are under fire in Israel. And I don't know if your viewers fully understand what is going on here. This is the first time in our history that the entire country is under attack.
And every few hours, there is another barrage of rockets landing all over the country. In the area, adjusting near the border, most of the settlements were left without settlers, left without population. And we have to position soldiers just to defend them because we don't find yet any answer to those attack tunnels.
BLITZER: But Labor would take a different position than the current government on the peace process.
SHAI: Exactly. Absolutely.
BLITZER: The two-state solution. You would be much more willing to make those kinds of territorial concessions that the current government is not.
SHAI: Absolutely, yes.
BLITZER: And if you speak to Abbas, the Palestinian Authority killed, Saeb Erekat, who we just interviewed, they want two-state solution, Israel and Palestine.
BLITZER: Are you convinced that the current government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in favor of what is called that two- state solution?
SHAI: We are calling the government. The day after this battle or this military operation is over, we will turn the page and move towards the Palestinians, those who live in Judea and Samaria and even in Gaza and offer them a certain peace proposal, a peace plan to build two nation states for two people.
This is the only solution that I can see accepted by both parties, we and Palestinians and the entire world community.
BLITZER: Are you at all worried about the U.S.-Israeli relationship right now? Because the last couple of days, there's been some serious criticism of President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry here in Israel. Some members of the Israeli cabinet not necessarily on the record, but they are saying some pretty nasty things about the policy of the Obama administration.
SHAI: Some irresponsible voices from Jerusalem, some even senior officials tend to forget that the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system is paid by and financed by the United States.
This is one of the miracles happening to us through this crisis. Over 90 percent of rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome which was paid by the American taxpayer. So we have to remember that United States was, is and always will be our great friend in any economic, military and political crisis. And I'm absolutely upset about those criticism and those voices that came out of Israel.
BLITZER: What would you do, if the Labor Party, your party, were in power right now to achieve a cease-fire? How far would you be willing to do?
SHAI: We would like it stop after we accomplish the original targets set by the government.
BLITZER: What is that?
SHAI: Destruction the tunnels and causing as much as possible damage to all the military infrastructure of Hamas. That should be the end.
And if it doesn't help, we can always withdraw back to the border, which is not too far. You been there yesterday. And wait. If they continue, we will continue. If they stop, we will stop. We don't have to make any deals with them right now.
But they should understand that Israel is not going to tolerate any attack on -- it is not home front any longer, Wolf. It is the entire country. Not everyone understands that.
BLITZER: Because some of the rockets and missiles, they were almost reaching Haifa.
SHAI: Haifa, it's over 100 kilometers from the border. We always try to ask you the question we ask ourselves, what will you do? What will President Obama do if a rocket like that would be fired from Canada or from Mexico into America?
BLITZER: But you believe that Israel does have a partner for peace on the Palestinian side?
SHAI: Yes, very much so. And I think that even within the government that has been refusing so far to talk to the Abbas, now Abbas looks as part of this solution, no longer part of the problem, but part of the future solution of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship.
BLITZER: Is the Labor Party, your party, have a chance of becoming the minority party in the Knesset any time soon?
SHAI: I hope so. I hope so.
You know, history tells us that after wars, there is a political crisis and new elections and maybe new chance will be open to us in the next election. But before the time being, bear in mind, we support the government.
And we -- it is not only about us. It is the entire Israeli public now is united in the first, in the same line, to help the government, to help IDF to accomplish goals of this battle.
BLITZER: Nachman Shai, an opposition leader in the Israeli Knesset, thanks very much for joining us.
SHAI: You're most welcome.
BLITZER: Let's get a different perspective right now.
The Palestinian ambassador to the United States, Riyad Mansour, is joining us now live from New York.
Let me get your quick reaction to what you just heard, Ambassador, from Nachman Shai. He says that he believes the two-state solution, Israel and Palestine, can live together, that there is a Palestinian partner for peace. What do you say?
RIYAD MANSOUR, PERMANENT OBSERVER OF PALESTINE TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Well, this is our position all along.
We are saying that this cycle of violence and killing large number of Palestinians civilians, especially children, is not going to accomplish this objective. This will increase the hatred between the two sides and deepen the resentment.
And that is not an atmosphere conducive for peace, an atmosphere conducive for accomplishing the two-state solution. And let us remember in this connection it was the Israeli government that sabotaged the effort of Secretary of State Kerry and stopped negotiation at the end and they refused to release the fourth batch of the prisoners and led to the collapse of the effort of secretary of state, which was an effort to try to accomplish the two-state solution.
But let me also say one more thing. It was Israel, this current Israeli government that negotiated cease-fire in the year 2012 with Hamas when Hamas was in control of the Gaza Strip. For a period of time, that extended for two years, there was calm in the southern front of Israel and also with the Gaza Strip.
But as a result of what happened in the West Bank, and the kidnapping and killing of the Israelis, three settlers, the current Israeli government unleashed its anger against the Palestinian people in the West Bank for two weeks and then it moved to the Gaza Strip. And it was not our side that initiated, you know, this situation that we see in southern Israel and in the...
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador...
MANSOUR: It was the Israeli government that was determined to try to destroy the national consensus government.
And the national consensus government of President Mahmoud Abbas is trying its best to stop the fighting and also to move back to negotiation to accomplish the two-state solution.
BLITZER: I want to get to some news that's just coming in. But I want to point out those three Israeli settlers, those were teenage boys who were killed, and that whole issue sparked this current round. We don't have to get back into that right now, but those were teenagers, 15-year-old, 16-year-old boys.
MANSOUR: And also Palestinian teenager.
BLITZER: And, of course, that was awful. That was horrible, the way the Israelis then took revenge. At least some Israelis, who have now been arrested, took revenge and killed a teenage Palestinian boy.
Then there were elements of the Israeli police who beat up a young Palestinian-American boy as well. We don't have to get through all of that again. But I just want to point out, those weren't just settlers. Those were teenage boys who were brutally, brutally killed, as all of us know.
BLITZER: But the United Nations has just said, and you're the Palestinian representative to the United Nations, Mr. Ambassador -- they just said they have uncovered another cache of Hamas rockets at one of the U.N. schools in Gaza, not a current shelter, but this would be the third time the United Nations says they found Hamas weapons in a United Nations facility. How troubling is that to you?
MANSOUR: Well, it is troubling to us, you know, to attack U.N. facilities that are housing almost 100,000 Palestinians displaced in 82 schools.
And let's also not forget that it was the Israeli side that bombarded more than five schools this time, in which in one site, large number of Palestinians who were there were killed and more than 200 injured. And previously, the Israeli side bombarded a U.N. school in which 42 Palestinians were killed and the warehouses of the United Nations were destroyed by Israel.
And they were held accountable for that, and if I'm not mistaken, they paid $11 or $12 million compensation for United Nations facilities at that time. So in this kind of situation, we always say and we side with the United Nations and with the secretary-general that no harm should take place against these U.N. facilities because they are housing large number of displaced people and they should not be harmed.
BLITZER: But, Mr. Ambassador, you're not condoning Hamas putting weapons in a United Nations facility in Gaza, are you?
MANSOUR: Absolutely not. We don't want anyone to put anything in the schools. And we know the United Nations is investigating the situations and our side is cooperating fully with the United Nations.
By the same token, we want those who are bombarding the schools from the Israeli side to be held accountable for these crimes and also to face justice as well.
BLITZER: I'm sure, like you, I was pretty encouraged earlier today when I heard the spokesman for the Palestinian Authority say all the Palestinian factions, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, everyone was on board for a 24-hour cease-fire that could lead to a 72-hour cease- fire. I checked with the Israelis. They had no comment.
But then within a very little while we heard from the military commander of Hamas saying no cease-fire. How disappointing was that to you when you heard that?
MANSOUR: Well, my understanding that official position of the Palestinian leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas is standing by that unanimous decision among all Palestinian factions, including Hamas. But as you heard from the Israeli side, you know, you will hear
the differences of opinions even inside the Israeli cabinet. So we have some issues of that nature. But, nevertheless, I believe that the Palestinian leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas is holding firm to that position.
And we sincerely hope that we can begin the discussion with the Egyptian government and through them with the Israeli side to have a cease-fire in place, maybe beginning with a humanitarian cease-fire to be followed by a permanent cease-fire and to address the causes of this conflict. We cannot just only listen to the Israeli side saying, well, we can stop and then withdraw to the borders and wait if nothing happens, nothing happened in their side.
While, that is fine maybe for Israel, but for the 1.8 million Palestinians, you cannot keep them in prison. So when we stop -- when the fighting stops, and when cease-fire is holding, we need to free those people from this huge prison.
We need to open the crossings. We need to lift the blockade, the blockade which is stifling those people and also making their life miserable. In addition to that, there is no excuse whatsoever for bombing the power station, the only one, killing 1,120 Palestinian, most of them are civilian, large number of them are children.
And to injure 6,500 Palestinians, most of them are civilians. In fact, close to 80 percent of them by U.N. statistics are civilians. These things are not justifiable whatsoever. And this is not a proportionality in terms of reacting to the action from the Palestinian side. This is illegal from the point of view of international law.
BLITZER: All right. It is important to get your perspective, Mr. Ambassador. Riyad Mansour is the Palestinian ambassador at the United Nations in New York. We will check back with you in the coming days.
Thanks very for joining us.
MANSOUR: Thank you much for having me.
BLITZER: Thank you very much.
And let's hope out of this horrible, horrible situation, maybe, maybe we can all pray peace process could get off the ground and both sides could work to the two-state solution. Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace. That would be excellent news. That could emerge from the current crisis. But we will see. Thanks very much.
Still ahead, new reason to fear Hamas fighters may be getting some reinforcements from Iran and reopening a very dangerous arms pipeline.
Also coming up, first, in the Ukraine war, we have new information about a deadly weapon that is now in the mix. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: Back here live in Jerusalem.
Tonight, a top Hamas commander rejecting a new call for a cease- fire with Israel. But as the fighting goes on, Hamas may turn back to a familiar source to try to replenish its supply of weapons.
Our Brian Todd is in Washington. He's taking a closer look at this part of the story.
There's a new message coming in from Iran towards Hamas. What is going on, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A new and ominous message from Iran tonight, Wolf, calling for Muslim nations and independent groups to arm Hamas.
Despite a falling out between Iran and Hamas in recent years, Iranians now seem eager to rekindle that partnership and a lethal weapons pipeline.
TODD (voice-over): Iran's top leader shows open disdain for Israel and its tactics against Hamas, saying 'This rabid dog, this rapacious wolf has attacked innocent people."
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei then raises the stakes, calling for the reinforcement of Hamas.
AYATOLLAH ALI KHAMENEI, SUPREME LEADER OF IRAN (through translator): The whole world and especially the Islamic world have a duty to do whatever they can within their power to arm the people of Palestine.
TODD: For Iran, that could mean a bigger push to send rockets, material and training to Hamas, a pipeline from Khamenei that has existed for years.
NERI ZILBER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: He could be motivated and members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps could be motivated to up their effort.
TODD: The lethal pipeline was efficient. Rockets and other weapons often shipped from Iran to Sudan and then driven over land into the Sinai Peninsula, finally arriving in the hands of Hamas through tunnels into Gaza. A military arsenal with thousands of rockets, but the Arab spring changed the game. First, Hamas threw its support behind Sunni rebels battling against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's civil war.
ZILBER: And Iran, being the patriot of Syria, didn't quite like that. So, in recent years, but especially since the uprising in Syria began, the connection of Iran with Hamas has decreased.
TODD: But the missile pipeline may not have decreased. From one cache on a cargo ship intercepted near the start of the Arab spring.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: These weapons originated from Iran.
TODD: To another ship captured this spring, Israel says Iran's pushed through whatever it could. But now it is much more difficult to get those weapons to Hamas. That's not Iran's doing, but Egypt's.
ZILBER: This new government in Cairo has very much sealed the smuggling tunnels between Egypt and Gaza. So the resupply of weapons into Gaza is going to be an issue.
TODD: But even if he can't help Hamas the way he once could, analysts say the Gaza conflict is a political opportunity for Khamenei.
ZILBER: The desire to help Hamas and the desire to stick it to the Americans and the Israelis I think sort of blend and marry rather well. I think you never want to underestimate Khamenei's loathing of Israel and Khamenei's loathing of United States.
TODD: Even if Iranian-made rockets are choked off from entering Gaza, the damage from Iran is done. Analysts say Hamas can build its own sophisticated rockets and launch systems now and the training in how to do that came from Iran -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd in Washington, thanks very much.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now. Joining us, our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott, the Israeli military analyst and columnist Ron Ben-Yishai, and CNN's Ian Lee, who has been covering Gaza for weeks now, but he is back. Excellent reporting, Ian, from Gaza.
Ron, you're hearing that the talk of the cease-fire may not necessarily be over, that there is behind-the-scenes movement right now. Tell us what you're hearing.
RON BEN-YISHAI, ISRAELI MILITARY ANALYST: There are diplomatic movements in Cairo, in Europe, and in Israel, and Ramallah. Do not forget. In order to devise a new cease-fire that will hold, and that is why, for instance, the Israeli cabinet didn't convene last night. But they postponed their meeting...
BLITZER: They were supposed to meet a few hours ago, but they cancelled that meeting.
BEN-YISHAI: Yes. They cancelled...
BLITZER: Because something is going on. Who is leading the initiative? Is it the United States? Secretary Kerry or some other partner?
BEN-YISHAI: I don't know, but I suspect -- yes, the Americans are behind it.
BLITZER: Let me ask Elise Labott, because she's been following this closely. What are you hearing about a new initiative now to get some sort of cease-fire, Elise? What are you hearing?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke in the last 24 hours. And diplomatic sources tell me, Wolf, now the Israelis want to have a little bit longer of a cease-fire than 24 hours.
You know, they'll never say this publicly, but it doesn't seem like Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to keep going back to his security cabinet for the vote. He's having the idea of stand by for 24 hours here and there. He wants a little bit longer of a period where there -- he has sustained calm. And that's where Secretary Kerry thinks he could find an opening for those fuller, longer negotiations on a longer cease-fire and adjusting some of those underlying conflicts, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. There may be something going on behind the scenes.
Ian, you just got out of Gaza. You were there for almost three weeks. No one wants a cease-fire more than the Palestinians and Gaza right now, right?
IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. The people would like a cease-fire, but it's not at any cost. They do not want to have a return to the status quo. And this is what we're hearing from Hamas, as well, and especially their military wing, is that they're going to keep fighting until they get something out of this.
And when you talk to the civilians on the ground and talk to people on the ground, they say, we've gone too far. We've paid a heavy price. But we're still willing to continue to pay a price until we get a change to the status quo. Because that's something they don't want to go back to.
BLITZER: I'm surprised by the quiet in Gaza tonight. Last -- compared to last night when the skies were full of Israeli activity, tonight is pretty quiet. Why?
BEN-YISHAI: You must remember that the day before, the day that proceeded last night, ten Israelis -- ten Israeli soldiers were killed. And the Hamas broke three cease-fires in one day. So Israel sort of retaliated and reminded Hamas that the war is not over. And Israel is not yearning for a cease-fire if Hamas doesn't want it.
So Hamas got yesterday a reminder. Tonight, in order to enable, to -- to create this atmosphere in which Israel many not be blamed for life, for being so brutal that a cease-fire is impossible. Israel, in spite of what the Mohammad (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
BLITZER: Mohammad (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of Hamas.
BEN-YISHAI: ... the military commander, Israel shows restraint in order to enable, give away...
BLITZER: But maybe -- maybe there is some movement.
All right, guys, thanks so much. Ian, I'm glad you're out of there safe and sound. Ian Lee did some great reporting for us.
Ron Ben-Yishai, thanks to you, as well.
BEN-YISHAI: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Elise Labott in Washington, always good to have you in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Just ahead, once again, we're live from Jerusalem. The latest on the crisis here in the Middle East.
Also, the fight over Ukraine as the U.S. unveils new sanctions against Russia. President Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, he's standing by live at the White House. We'll get his take on what's going on in Ukraine as well as here in the Middle East. Ben Rhodes, standing by live.
BLITZER: We're live here in Jerusalem. We're also monitoring another breaking news story. The U.S. is hitting Russia with heavier sanctions after accusing it of providing some more weapons to the separatists in eastern Ukraine. President Obama made the announcement earlier today at the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Russia continues on its current path, the costs on Russia will continue to grow. And today is a reminder that the United States means what it says. And we will rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is standing by. She's got more information. What are you learning, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the fighting in Ukraine has taken a dramatic turn, quite close to where Flight 17 was shot down.
STARR (voice-over): CNN has learned U.S. spy satellites picked up a troubling escalation in the fighting in Ukraine. U.S. intelligence observed Ukrainian government forces, for the first time, using short-range ballistic missiles against pro-Russian rebel positions.
The missiles, with a 50-mile range and 1,000-pound warhead, are the deadliest weapon used to date. Satellites have picked up the heat signature of the missiles as they launched and landed near the rebel- held town of Shiznai (ph), close to the Russian border, landing just about 15 miles from the wreckage of MH-17.
Official Washington did not want to talk about it.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not in a position to talk about those reports.
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Without getting into the CNN about the missile launches, and we've said it -- and yes, you're right, the Ukrainian security forces have had some success in recent days against the separatists in certain areas of eastern Ukraine.
STARR: Ukraine's foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, denied it all.
PAVLO KLIMKIN, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We didn't use this sort of ballistic missiles, and we are not going to use ballistic missiles.
STARR: The U.S. believes Ukraine used ground missiles because its aircraft had been shot down by separatists. This keeps them out of that kill zone just as they are gaining ground against the rebels.
The use of the powerful missiles comes since the U.S. is looking to pressure Russia to force a de-escalation in the violence. The U.S. still pinning the blame on Moscow.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The Russians and their so- called volunteers are continuing to ship arms and funds and personnel across the border.
STARR: So far, no reaction from Russia to this latest turn in the war.
STARR: Now, we have seen plenty of satellite imagery of the Russian-backed attacks. Not likely at this point we're going to see imagery of these Ukrainian attacks. As one administration official told me, after all, these are the good guys - Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.
Let's dig deeper right now with a man who is part of those sanctions discussions inside the Oval Office. President Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, is joining us now live.
All right. So Ben, the president wrote to President Putin about the violation, first of all, of that nuclear treaty that's been in effect with Russia for so long. Has the U.S. yet received a reply from the Russian president?
BEN RHODES, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: No, Wolf. We haven't gotten a formal reply. We just delivered this notification to them. That begins the process of consultation, where we can make clear why we believe that they're in violation of the INF treaty.
This dates back to some activities that they undertook a couple of years ago. And we're going to continue to work on this. It's part of a, of course, a broader pattern of disturbing behavior from Russia that has led to us ratcheting up the pressure. Obviously, our sanctions today were about Ukraine, not about the INF treaty, but we're focused on both of those issues.
BLITZER: The president said it's not a new Cold War right now, in response to a question. Well, what is it? Those of us who lived through the Cold War, sort of feels like the beginning, at least, of a little bit of that Cold War period.
RHODES: Well, there are a couple of important differences, Wolf. First of all, Russia does not have a coalition of nations. There's no Warsaw Pact. Russia is isolated.
Secondly, there's no grand ideological struggle, as there was between communism and freedom and capitalism throughout the Cold War. What you have is a specific leader, Vladimir Putin, who's taking Russia in a certain direction, one of aggression toward its neighbors.
And so what we're focused on very specifically with these sanctions is Ukraine. Because what they've done in arming and supporting these separatists, what they've done again, in creating the climate that led to violations of Ukraine's sovereignty and the shoot- down of MH-17, that requires an international response.
And what's so important about the sanctions today is it wasn't just the United States moving. The European Union moved in a very strong way, as well. That's what we've been pressing them to do for some days now.
BLITZER: It's a tough situation right now. Ben Rhodes, I want you to stand by. We have a lot more questions for you, especially what's going on here in the Middle East. More of our conversation with Ben Rhodes, the president's deputy national security adviser. He is at the White House. We're live in Jerusalem. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
We're coming to you live from Jerusalem. There is breaking news in the crisis in the Middle East. We will discuss what is going on with the president -- President Obama's deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes is still with us from the White House.
We heard earlier from Ron Ben-Yishai, the Israeli military analyst saying, he is hearing there is backchannel, backroom developments as far as a cease-fire is concerned. That's one of the reasons why the Israeli cabinet tonight postponed their meeting.
What's going on? Can you share with us the latest on an effort to get a cease-fire, Ben?
BEN RHODES, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Wolf, I wouldn't be able to discuss what ever back channel discussions Israel might be engaged in. What I will say is what the United States has been working for and supporting is an effort to create a cease- fire in the ground of humanitarian calm that can take place for a period of time so that we can then enter into a negation on some of the broader issues, where we need to ensure that Israel's concerns are met, that rockets are not being fired and that we are also, of course, looking at the humanitarian situation in Gaza.
So, short term cease-fire that creates space for discussions on longer term issues.
BLITZER: Short term, how short term would that initial phase be?
RHODES: Well, again, what you have seen in recent day says a focus on getting a 24-hour calm in place, and then you could build on that. So, you can essentially have a series of short term cease-fires that create a space or window that can open for discussions to go forward. And Egyptians have a cease-fire proposal that they had on the table.
Again, the Israelis, Palestinian authority can come together with our support to have those discussions, but we with like that to happen in the environment when there are not rockets being fired into Israel and that there is a calm that is prevailing on the ground.
BLITZER: Is Secretary Kerry still involved in this process? Because as you know, I don't know what he did exactly, but he seemed to have irritated several members o f the Israeli cabinet.
RHODES: He's still very much involved, Wolf, and again, we believe Secretary Kerry has been as strong a supporter of Israel as there is. He continues to speak on a very regular basis with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And he's also talking with other counterparts in the region, such as the Egyptian foreign minister, who's in the middle of the cease-fire efforts. He's traveling to India right now for some very important meetings, but he'll still be working the phones in employing a lead role for the United States and pursuing a cease-fire and the end to the rocket fire into Israel.
BLITZER: What did he do that irritated the Israelis? I read a lot of accounts here in Israel, and there's a bunch of Israelis, as you well know, who are pretty upset. What exactly did he do to cause that kind of heartburn?
RHODES: Wolf, frankly we don't understand why this criticism was coming from Israel from some quarters of Secretary Kerry? Frankly, what he was pursuing is a similar type of cease-fire that we saw on the table in 2012, when we brokered a cease-fire in coordination with Israel and Egypt, very similar to the cease-fire proposal that the Egyptians put forward that Israel was working with.
Again, I think right now people in Israel, of course, are very focused on the threat from rockets and the threat from the tunnels as well, but of course what we have said is they can continue to deal with that threat of tunnels and that, of course, will have to be a part of any discussion around a long-term cease-fire.
So, that's what Secretary Kerry has been focused on, I think. Frankly, some of the criticism of him was unfounded and based on misinformation and misperceptions of what he was putting forward.
BLITZER: It wouldn't be the first time that happened, as someone who has covered U.S.-Israeli relations, the Middle East, for a long time, that stuff happens, unfortunately, all too often.
Ben Rhodes, thanks very much. Good luck. Let's see if the fighting here can stop, because too many people are dying on both sides of this border. Ben Rhodes at the White House, thank you.
RHODES: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we're live in Jerusalem with more of our breaking news coverage. Standby for the very latest.
BLITZER: We're coming to you live from Jerusalem, but we're also monitoring some other breaking news, the death toll climbing as the deadly Ebola virus claims more lives, including the chief doctor in Sierra Leone, and there are now new fears the highly infectious disease could be spreading.
Our Pamela Brown has been tracking the latest developments.
What's going on, Pamela?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, CNN is learning the CDC has sent a team over to Nigeria to track down anyone who has come into contact with the Ebola patient in Nigeria who died there just a few days ago, and right now, the CDC has other teams ready to go out the door.
Health officials telling CNN this latest Ebola outbreak is so concerning because it has reached a heavily populated city with millions of people that's also a hub for international travel.
BROWN (voice-over): U.S. health officials in West Africa scrambling to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from reaching the States.
DR. MARTY CETRON, CDC, DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL MIGRATION AND QUARANTINE: Certainly, serious diseases are only a plane ride away.
BROWN: Right now, U.S. health officials are searching for anyone who may have had contact with this U.S. citizen, Patrick Sawyer. He recently flew from Liberia to the heavily populated city of Lagos and died there from Ebola on Friday, not long before he was supposed to fly home to Minnesota, according to his wife. DECONTEE SAWYER, WIDOW: With Patrick's death, it's hit our front
door because he was well known in the community. Like everyone knew him. So, everyone feels like they've lost their best friend or their brother.
BROWN: Right now, two American aide workers in West Africa infected with Ebola are fighting for their lives, undergoing treatment at an isolation center there. Since March, it's spread across nation's borders in Africa, with more than 1,000 cases reported in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. More than 600 of those infected have died.
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta has issued an alert to health care workers in the U.S. to watch out for any patients who may have recently traveled to West Africa and could have contracted the virus.
The CDC also sent guidance to American air carriers, on how to identify and deal with American passengers displaying signs of Ebola, and how they should disinfect aircraft after an infected passenger leaves the plane.
CETRON: Airline carriers, crew members, airports can be a very important partners in that front line.
BROWN: At least one international airline has suspended all flights into Monrovia and Liberia and Freetown in Sierra Leone. Liberia is closing some of its borders and screening all outgoing and incoming passengers for Ebola at its airports. The problem is the current tests detect Ebola only after a person show symptoms and most of the early symptoms were something you see in passengers all the time -- fevers, sore throat, chills, muscle aches and nausea.
BROWN: And unlike the flu, Ebola is only spread through contact with bodily fluid, not through the air, and officials here say because of the way it's transmitted, there's very little risk for the U.S. population.
That said, Wolf, the CDC has officials working at 18 different entry points in the U.S. so they'll be on hand to help in case a passenger is exhibiting symptoms of Ebola -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What a frightening story that is. Ramifications clearly, clearly enormous.
Pamela Brown in Washington, thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. Stay with us for continuing coverage, all the breaking news, the Israel and Hamas situation very dangerous, dangerous right now.
We'll be back tomorrow.
In the meantime, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.