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THE SITUATION ROOM
U.N.: Israel & Hamas Agree to 72-Hour Cease-Fire
Aired July 31, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Important breaking news happening tonight.
The United States and the United Nations have just announced what they're calling a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon, saying in a joint statement in their words all parties have agreed to this truce, and that would be Israel and Hamas. No statement yet from Israel.
But let's go to John Vause. He's in Gaza.
I understand, John, you have just received a statement from Hamas.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.
The spokesperson for Hamas, Abu Zuhri, put out a text message saying Hamas has accepted the 72-hour cease-fire. They will honor the cease- fire. So, too, the other militant groups here in Gaza, like Islamic Jihad, who have also been firing rockets into Israel and launching those attacks as well. Doesn't sound like a cease-fire here just yet. We're still maybe seven hours away from that cease-fire coming into effect.
There's still the sounds of explosions to our east in the Shaja'ia neighborhood, an area which has been flattened by the Israelis. There was some automatic machine gun, heavy machine gun fire in that area just a short time ago. So while they have accepted the cease-fire which comes into effect six hours from now, this fighting here continues, Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, we will see what happens, but that's an encouraging development, Hamas issuing a statement. You just heard it from John Vause saying that have accepted this U.S.-U.N. proposal for a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire.
John, they say all factions. I assume that means not just the political arm of Hamas, but the military arm as well. Is that right?
VAUSE: That is correct. The military wing not just of Hamas, too. This is important because there are other factions inside Gaza which don't always follow what they're told to do by Hamas. Hamas controls the area here, but they're not always in control of these militant factions. They did in fact manage to control the other groups inside Gaza when
we had the 12-hour humanitarian window about a week or so ago. There was no rocket fire coming from Gaza during that period, an indication that Hamas can control these other groups. So it's important to note that right now these other militant groups who have launched attacks on Israeli soldiers, as well as Israelis have fired rockets as well, have signed onto this cease-fire.
Whether it holds, whether it lasts, of course, you know, at this point we just don't know, but it comes into effect in about seven hours from now. As I say, we can still hear the automatic weapons firing in the distance here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, we can. We just heard -- sirens have just been going off southeast of Tel Aviv. So clearly there's no cease-fire yet. Rockets, missiles coming in from Gaza even as we speak right now in Tel Aviv. It is just southeast, I should say, Tel Aviv.
Here's what the spokesman for the United Nations secretary-general said just moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANE DUJARRIC, SPOKESMAN, OFFICE OF THE U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian cease-fire begins and to fully abide by their commitments during the cease-fire. The cease-fire's critical to giving innocent civilians a much needed reprieve from violence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Tom Donilon still with us. He was the national security adviser to President Obama until recently.
Tom, the Israelis have made it clear, including the prime minister, that cease-fire or no cease-fire, they're going to continue to try to destroy those tunnels. Is it your understanding based on this statement that the United Nations has released that Israel will allow during the 72-hour cease-fire, A, to keep all of its troops in Gaza, and, B, to continue destroying those tunnels during that cease-fire period?
TOM DONILON, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, number one, Wolf, with respect to the forces, it indicates that the forces will remain -- on the ground will remain in place, number one. So I take it that positions taken can be positions maintained.
But secondly it's not clear with respect at least in the face of the statement -- with respect to the tunnel operations. The Israeli government has made clear it's going finish that project. Again, I don't know to what extent, what percentage of the tunnels have been dealt with at this point as you and I are speaking tonight, but that's a question I think that's not answered on the face of the statement here.
BLITZER: The commander of the Israeli forces in the south, General Sami Turgeman, said yesterday they were near completing that operation, destroying those tunnels. So maybe that explains why the cease-fire potentially could go into effect 8:00 a.m. local time here.
If, in fact, this is a real deal, 72 hours, Tom, the hope, of course, is that that 72 hours becomes another 72 hours and that it keeps on going, right?
DONILON: I think that's exactly right. With respect I think to the tunnel issue, which is a key security and threat issue to the Israelis and one which they have a legitimate right to be very concerned about and deal with, you may be right that in fact they may be at a point with respect to that operation, although you will have to talk to the Israeli IDF forces about that, whether they think they can go forward, number one.
Number two, with respect to your question on the 72-hour cease-fire, I think that's exactly right. What you would hope to do here is have 72 hours and then get extensions here if talks are productive going forward and I assume that will be the goal of the United States, the U.N., and the Egyptians.
As I said earlier, I think it's very significant that this is in Egypt. Egypt of course is actually a party that can do something about the situation in terms of the economics, in terms of the crossings. Additionally, it's interesting. Of course, Egypt is part of a broader faction in the -- or coalition essentially that's developed in the Mideast of being very concerned about Hamas.
You have Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan and the Emirates who are very much opposed to obviously the Muslim Brotherhood, its adjunct entity, Hamas. I think it's very important and interesting and significant that these talks are taking place in Egypt hosted by Egypt.
BLITZER: Very significant indeed.
Let me bring Maen Areikat into the conversation. He's the PLO representative in Washington.
Are you convinced, Maen Areikat, and I know you quite well, that not just them, but Islamic Jihad and all of the other factions involved in Gaza are on board?
MAEN AREIKAT, PALESTINIAN REPRESENTATIVE TO UNITED STATES: Wolf, this is an outcome that took quite some time to achieve.
You and I know how intense these contacts and efforts have been for the last few days. I have strong reasons to believe that it is coming out as a result of these intense efforts, and that everybody seems to be on board. I hope that the Israelis will understand that since they are the army that is into the Gaza Strip and occupying parts of the Gaza Strip right now, they will show commitment and adherence to this truce, not to take any provocative actions to invite retaliation from the Palestinian factions, so that they can use it as a pretext to breaking that. But I agree with what Mr. Donilon said. I think the idea here is to
get this truce, allow the parties to go to Egypt to meet under the auspices of the Egyptians. As I explained earlier, the PLO, President Abbas, is playing a crucial and pivotal role in sending the delegations that will go to Cairo. It will be a Palestinian delegation that will include all Palestinian factions, including the Palestinian Authority, and they will engage with the Egyptians to find the political formula to arrive at the long-term solution.
We need a long-term solution that will deal with the underlying causes, and, of course, definitely lifting that unjust blockade on the people of Gaza.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Maen Areikat, Tom Donilon.
I want to go to Sara Sidner. She's here in Israel.
I understand, Sara, really hearing artillery fire. First of all, tell our viewers where you are and what is going on.
SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're in Ashkelon.
We have heard sirens going off earlier in the day and now we're hearing very deep booms clearly outgoing fire towards Gaza. Artillery fire. We have been hearing that over and over and over again. So certainly we're listening to the sounds of firing here from Ashkelon towards Gaza.
How do we know that? Because when we hear incoming fire, when incoming fire is coming to this area, the sirens go off. We have experienced that today, run into the places where we can be safer, into safe rooms, but we're not hearing those sirens. We're still hearing the rattling of windows even on the fifth or sixth floor. You can sometimes hear your window rattling from the artillery.
Just as we got down, just before you came to us, we heard another deep boom, the sound of artillery fire outgoing -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's just after 1:00 a.m. here in Israel and in Gaza. The cease-fire is supposed to go into effect at 8:00 a.m. local time, just under seven hours or so from now. It might go into effect then. Maybe it won't. But right now it certainly is not in effect. There were sirens that just went off southeast of Tel Aviv. Sara Sidner is reporting they're hearing artillery fire in Ashkelon, southern Israel, not far from Gaza.
John Vause is reporting that there is activity there and we saw flares going out. Clearly the military activity is going on.
Sara, I want you to stand by. John Vause in Gaza, stand by as well.
We have got Maen Areikat, the PLO representative in the United States. He's in Washington. He will be there. Tom Donilon, President Obama former national security adviser.
Significantly, and this is very potentially significant, no official statement yet from the Israeli government on whether or not they have accepted this proposal. A statement from the U.S. and U.N. saying all parties on board. We shall see. Stay with us. The breaking news coverage continues right after this.
BLITZER: The breaking news we're following, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-Moon have just announced that a cease- fire will go into effect 8:00 local time. That's just under seven hours from now here in Israel and Gaza.
Statement saying that they have received assurances that all parties have agreed to an unconditional humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. It will last for a period of 72 hours.
Saeb Erekat is joining us now on the phone. He's in Doha, Qatar, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.
I know you have been meeting there with the leaders. Tell us what is going on. Is everybody on board as far as the cease-fire is concerned, Saeb Erekat?
SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Yes, Wolf, I think everybody is on board tonight after hundreds of relentless hours of Secretary Kerry's efforts, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, Mahmoud Abbas, the Egyptians, the Qataris, the Turks, the Arab League, others.
We have what was announced by Secretary Kerry and Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire that will go into effect as of 8:00 tomorrow our time. This is not the end. This is the beginning. This is the beginning. I think what we need to see now -- I think as I'm speaking to, Wolf, now, Mr. Sameh Shoukry, the foreign minister of Egypt, is speaking to my president, Mahmoud Abbas, inviting a Palestinian delegation to go to Cairo as of tomorrow.
And I'm sure they will invite the Israelis. And then there will be parallel talks led by Egypt between the Palestinians and Israelis. Our delegation will be a joint delegation composed by President Abbas, I think be headed by my colleague Mr. (INAUDIBLE) Hamas, Jihad and others.
And we hope that these 72 hours will constitute the de-escalation, deconfliction process on both sides in order to reach a permanent cease-fire. And we will see to it that during these 72 hours at least the humanitarian needs of Gaza, power station, water, medical supplies, shelter, will enable the 1.8 million Palestinians who are living without electricity, without water, without medical supplies, and we can begin a long, long, long, long process.
That's the beginning of the end. It's a difficult road. It's a bumpy road. I am hoping against hope that we can do every possible effort. I need the help of everyone out there in order to ensure that we can reach a permanent cease-fire.
BLITZER: So I understand you met today with Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas, in Doha, Qatar, where you are. He gave you assurances that Hamas is on board, is that right, Saeb Erekat?
EREKAT: That's correct.
I met with him for almost three hours. And then he was meetings with Mr. Khalid Attiyah, the foreign minister of Qatar, for many, many hours. Nothing could have been announced by Secretary Kerry or Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon without the full -- without Meshaal and Hamas being on board. Yes, he did.
BLITZER: What about the military? What about the military arm of Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Are they on board?
EREKAT: I think everybody is on board. All factions are on board.
I think from our side as Palestinians tonight, everybody is on board of the 72-hour cease-fire that will go into effect as of 8:00 tomorrow morning. And I hope that people will exercise the ultimate amount of self-restraint, people will be patient, people will look at the bigger picture.
What we need to do is make is to make a sustainable cease-fire, a permanent cease-fire, and then what we need to do after that is to reveal the human suffering of Gaza. Gaza is a disaster zone, a total disaster zone.
It's a catastrophic area. It needs everything humanly possible in terms of medical supplies, food supplies, electricity supplies, water supplies. And then we need to sustain the cease-fire. Now, things could go wrong. I don't know about the communication lines. I don't know about who want to sabotage thing. I don't know many, many, many things, many factors.
But the effort exerted by all the parties I mentioned to you and more have led to this and I think we need to make it succeed. It's up to us. It's up to all of us.
BLITZER: Is it your understanding, Saeb Erekat, that Israeli troops who are in Gaza right now during this initial 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire, they will remain in place? I think that's part of the agreement. But the more sensitive issue is, will they be allowed to continue to destroy those Hamas tunnels going from Gaza into Israel during that 72-hour period?
EREKAT: Well, a cease-fire means a cease-fire, Wolf.
And what we need is to sustain a cease-fire. Of course, if somebody wants to act, the other party will have a right to self-defense and then we can see the whole thing collapse. I hope that every side, all sides will, you know, just honor the cease-fire. It's 72 hours. It's so essential. I don't think we can solve the problem by military means.
I don't think we can solve the problems by gunships and guns. You know it requires a political solution. We need a major political solution for the whole situation in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. And that can only be done through a political process, which we need very badly.
And I hope that Secretary Kerry and President Obama and the Europeans and Russians and other members of the quartet, Arabs, will focus on the real need to end this conflict and to once and for all and to establish a two-state solution.
But for the time being, OK, 72 hours can translate into human lives, both Israelis and Palestinians. We need it. We need to sustain it. And we need to begin an immediate de-escalation and deconfliction process, which we can do.
And I urge all sides tonight to really honor the cease-fire, to really fully honor the cease-fire.
BLITZER: And I understand that almost immediately, Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian delegation will go to Cairo, an Israeli delegation will go to Cairo and everyone will start talking about some of the longer-term issues according to this plan. When will those talks in Cairo begin?
EREKAT: I hope they begin tomorrow. I really do because I think, as I told you, the foreign minister of Egypt is now -- he just called me two minutes before you spoke to me and he is speaking now to President Abbas to invite a Palestinian delegation.
We managed to form a Palestinian delegation today with all factions, including Meshaal, Hamas, and (INAUDIBLE) and others. And Abu Mazen is forming the delegation. And then I'm sure that the Egyptians will also call the Israelis to invite a delegation. So I except the delegations to be in Cairo tomorrow, tomorrow, Friday.
BLITZER: Well, that sounds very, very encouraging. And your understanding is, you know what -- the Israelis have not made an official statement yet, Saeb Erekat. But your understanding -- and you understand the situation as well as anyone -- that Israel is on board? Because we're waiting for an official statement from the Israeli government. So far we have got silence.
EREKAT: Well, you know, I don't think that Secretary Kerry and Mr. Ban Ki-Moon or myself will announce what we're announcing without Israel being involved. I know that they are involved.
BLITZER: Because you know there is a split within the Israeli cabinet on whether or not Israel should accept a cease-fire. I suspect that Prime Minister Netanyahu is on board and he does have a majority in his Knesset -- in his cabinet, but I'm sure there will be some in his cabinet -- you know who I'm referring to, Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, Naftali Bennett, another top minister. They probably won't be on board based on what we have heard them say over these past several days.
EREKAT: Well, I understand the complexities.
I don't think the Palestinians and Israelis see with one eye or speak with one tongue. You know the complexities in both sides. But all I can tell you tonight, Secretary Kerry and Mr. Ban Ki-Moon would not have announced a 72-hour cease-fire without getting a commitment from all sides, including Palestinians, Israel, that they accept 72 hours of humanitarian cease-fire.
Let's make it work. It's in the interest of everyone that we make the cease-fire work. There will never be a military solution to our problems.
BLITZER: Will you, Saeb Erekat, will you be going to Cairo as well?
EREKAT: No. I'm in Doha. I'm here.
And I think my colleague Mr. Azzam al-Ahmad, who is a member of Fatah Central Committee, will head the delegation, along with capable Palestinians from all sides, who are going there with the one intention of saving lives.
BLITZER: Let's hope it succeeds.
Saeb Erekat, I know you have been very, very involved in this. Thank you so much for that, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator. He's been meeting with Khaled Meshaal in Doha, Qatar, the head -- the political leader of Hamas.
And he says all Palestinian factions are on board going along with the U.S. and the U.N. on the 72-hour cease-fire.
Let's take a quick break. Much more right after this.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, a significant development.
The United Nations and the United States, a joint statement from Secretary of State John Kerry, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, saying that all parties have agreed to an unconditional 72-hour cease- fire beginning 8:00 a.m. local time tomorrow morning.
During this period, the statement says the forces on the ground will remain in place, meaning Israeli troops who are now in Gaza will remain in place, according to the statement.
Jeffrey Feltman is joining us right now. He's the undersecretary- general at the United Nations for political affairs. He's a veteran American diplomat.
Ambassador Feltman, tell us what's going on right now. Do you have everyone on board, including Hamas, all factions of Hamas, as well as the Israelis?
JEFFREY FELTMAN, UNITED NATIONS UNDERSECRETARY-GENERAL FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Wolf, we have received assurances.
In fact, Robert Serry, the secretary-general's guy in Jerusalem, has personally received assurances from all parties that everybody is on board for the 72-hour unconditional cease-fire that we hope, of course, will lead to something more durable.
But, yes, we believe that everyone is on board.
BLITZER: And the Israeli government has told you this, because the silence so far is deafening. We've been trying for the last half hour, 45 minutes to get a statement from Israeli officials, and so far we got nothing, Ambassador. Why aren't they confirming that they are on board?
FELTMAN: I can't answer for the Israelis, Wolf. But what I can say is that we have received assurances from all parties. I'm sure the Americans would say the same thing because -- because of the fact that we went forward with this joint statement. Secretary-general is pleased and is calling on our parties now to exercise restraint until the cease-fire goes into effect tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. local time. And then he looks forward to the parties gathering at invitation of the government of Egypt in Cairo to try to turn this into something more durable.
BLITZER: so a Palestinian delegation will go to Cairo as early as Friday. An Israeli delegation will go to Cairo as early Friday, and Egypt will take the lead in putting together some longer term initiatives to deal with the crisis in Gaza. Is that right?
FELTMAN: That's basically right. Because all parties have issues they want to raise. All issues can be raised in Cairo.
But I want to also pay credit to others in the region who have played such an important role. Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, in trying to help get to the point we are now, which is the promise of seeing a pause in what's been terrible violence over the past 24 days.
BLITZER: Earlier today the prime minister of Israel, Ambassador Feltman, said that Israel will continue destroying those Hamas tunnels that go from Gaza into Israel. And he used the phrase "cease-fire or no cease-fire."
Is it your understanding that during the 72-hour period, Israel will be allowed to destroy those tunnels going from Gaza into Israel? Or will they have to cease all military activity?
FELTMAN: It's my understanding that the Israel forces will basically stay where they are and, according to what we've heard, we've heard the Israeli statements about ongoing defensive operations, which I -- which I interpret the same way as you interpret.
What we want to see happen, though, Wolf, is for the -- the offensive fighting between the two sides to end. We want to see humanitarian deliveries start with the -- with the Palestinians. We want to see people being able to try to recover the wounded, bury the dead. We want to see Israelis who no longer have to worry about rockets being fired and taking shelter with their families.
We want to see the violence end and the parties start to talk about the issues they need to resolve for more durable cease-fire in Cairo.
BLITZER: And you think this is obviously a very, very important step. All of us think it's a very, very significant step, but take us a little bit behind the scenes if you don't mind, Ambassador. How did John Kerry and Ban Ki-moon do this?
FELTMAN: This was very active efforts on both -- on both their parts. There was a lot of diplomacy.
The two leaders, of course, were in the region, I think planted the seeds for the type of engagement that they needed to draw on to get to the point we are now. But there with a lot of others involved, as well, beyond the very active diplomacy of John Kerry Ban Ki-moon.
The -- as I mentioned, the Egyptians played an important role. The Qataris played an essential role in helping bring the parties on board. The Turks were in touch with all sides. This was a collective effort, a recognition by the international community that the parties themselves needed some help, needed some -- needed some work from outside in order to get to the point we are now.
We're not there yet. The cease-fire doesn't start until 8 a.m. tomorrow morning. A lot could happen between now and then. But we see this as a promising development and want to see restraint tonight in advance of that cease-fire coming into effect tomorrow morning.
BLITZER: Ambassador Feltman, I want you do stick around. Stay with us for a moment.
Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, you probably know her. She's got some more information she is picking up, as well. I want to get your reaction on the other side.
Elise, what are you learning?
ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I've been speaking to Egyptian diplomats in the region, and indeed, the foreign minister of Egypt, Sami Shoukry (ph), just spoke with President Abbas, he's been speaking with Israeli officials and those invitations for the delegates to come out to Cairo are being extended as we speak.
And what the Egyptians are trying to do is, Wolf, they're going to facilitate the discussions between the Israelis and Palestinians. If you remember in 2012 when Egypt under President Morsi brokered a cease-fire along with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Egyptians guaranteed the cease-fire.
This time the Egyptians are saying, "No, we're not going to guarantee this cease-fire. We've leaving it up to the parties." They want the parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians to demonstrate their commitment. They want the parties to take the lead in presenting solutions, and the Egyptians also can help bridge the gap.
So that's very different than what Secretary of State Kerry has been doing. He's been shuttling back between the two sides. Those two sides have not really sat down together in a long time, Wolf. I mean, meetings here and there, but really, the Egyptians want the Israelis and Palestinians to show a commitment to have a better -- better future for their people. Some of things that they're going to be discussing on the Israeli
side, obviously, those tunnels and those rockets, and eventually the demilitarization of Hamas on the.
On the Palestinian side, we've been discussing a lot of the things that the Palestinians are looking for. They're looking for an easing of the blockade from Gaza, getting some more humanitarian supplies. They're looking to have the salaries of the workers in Gaza paid. They're looking for maritime rights, as Jim Sciutto was saying earlier, to have more fishing in those waters surrounding Gaza. and also the release of Palestinian prisoners. A lot of those prisoners were released during that negotiation with Gilead Shalit. They've been rearrested in this recent crackdown, and they want some of them to be released.
I think, Wolf, the main thing to take away here is that, as Saeb Erakat has said, President Abbas is really going to be -- while he won't be in Cairo, he is in charge now of this Palestinian delegation, bringing Hamas, Palestinian, Islamic jihad and other groups to the table.
What is thegoal? The goal is to empower, ultimately, President Abbas so that the Palestinian Authority ultimately can retake control of Gaza. That will give more comfort to the Israelis and to the Egyptians in terms of easing some of those blockades and empowers the -- empowering a moderate Palestinian government, Wolf.
BLITZER: That would be encouraging if that were to take place.
Let me go back to Jeffrey Feltman. He's the undersecretary at the United Nations for political affairs. What do you make of that? That's an optimistic scenario, if it can take place. Is it realistic, Ambassador?
FELTMAN: Well, I think we're looking at it step by step, Wolf. The first step is to end the violence, to allow the humanitarian assistance and to allow people to work on the daily needs that they have.
The second stage is, as Elise pointed out, for the delegations to show up in Cairo and start talking about these core issues that both sides have.
There has been a cycle of fear and a cycle of suffering. Both sides have felt fear over recent weeks and months. The -- we've seen this fighting erupt between Gaza and Israel periodically, every couple -- every couple of years.
The goal now is to find ways that you can address the core demands of each side in a way that we can break that cycle of fear, break that cycle of suffering, and have a durable sustainable cease-fire in which the -- in which the Palestinians in Gaza can move on with their lives under a unified Palestinian Authority.
There is already a Palestinian national coalition government that was set up a few weeks before this started. President Abbas heads that, so I think that what Elise is describing is ambitious. But it's not exactly impossible. It's just several steps beyond where we are now.
First we need -- we need to get to the cease-fire, consolidate that cease-fire. Start a viable process that both sides feel are -- put their confidence in that can send this cycle of fear and cycle of suffering to go in the direction that Elise was describing.
BLITZER: All right. Ambassador, I want you to stand by. I want to go to John Vause in Gaza, because there's activity going on right now. John, what are you seeing?
VAUSE: Well, it's more what we're hearing right now, Wolf. Drone activity in the skies and just a few moments ago there's been some very loud explosions, especially in the east, in the Shanjayah (ph) neighborhood. That's an area which is being flattened by Israeli forces over the last 24 days or so.
But we've also put that question to the Hamas spokesperson, Abu Zuri (ph), about the question about will Israel still be allowed to continue to look for and destroy those tunnels, which has been a key demand of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Not a direct answer coming from the Hamas spokesperson. Only saying that this cease-fire is a mutual agreement. Hamas has committed to it, providing the other party is committed to it. So that still seems to me kind of like an open question.
BLITZER: Yes. And what worries me, and I hope I'm wrong, what worries me is there's still silence coming from the Israeli government. No official statement yet, even though it's been an hour or so since the secretary-general of the United Nations, the Secretary of State of the United States issued a joint statement, saying that all parties have agreed to an unconditional humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza, starting a little bit more than six hours or so from now, 8 a.m. local time here in Israel and Gaza.
John Vause, stand by. Ambassador Feltman, if you can stand by with us, as well. Elise, Jim Sciutto, everyone stand by. We've got a lot more on the breaking news coverage. Let's take a quick break, resume the coverage right after this.
BLITZER: The breaking news here in the Middle East. The United States and the United Nations have announced that all parties, they say, have agreed to a humanitarian cease-fire that will take place for 72 hours, beginning at 8 a.m. local time. That's a little bit more than six hours or so from now.
We do have a statement from Hamas saying Hamas is on board. We still are waiting for an official statement from the Israeli government. No statement yet, although the U.S. officials say that they have received assurances from Israel that Israel is on board.
Sara Sidner is in southern Israel in Ashkelon, not far from the Gaza border.
There may be a cease-fire in about six hours or so, going into effect, Sara, but clearly, it's not in effect right now.
SIDNER: You got that right, Wolf. We were hearing, as I told you, artillery fire coming from here, and there were some alerts. About 20 minutes, we just got word that the sirens going off where there is a prison. It's famous for the prison that is there, and which is just south of Ben Gurion International Airport. Those rockets, two of them according to the IDF landed into the Mediterranean, but one of them had to be taken out by the Iron Dome. As you know, those are populated areas.
That is what the Iron Dome is for. But you're talking about a cease- fire that's supposed to be in effect seven hours, six and half hours from now. Certainly, the pounding is continuing before the cease- fire. And we've seen this before Every time we see it, usually the heaviest pounding comes before a cease-fire on either side, more rockets coming for, usually more air strikes and artillery going into Gaza just before things calm down.
However, with the IDF being able to stay and take out the tunnels still, we'll have to wait and see, because that's been the line in the last cease-fire and the rockets still came over and the activity still went on in Gaza itself where the IDF is trying to take out those tunnels where Hamas said they didn't see that as a cease-fire. I'm very curious to see if this will actually hold and for how long. The longest we've seen a cease-fire hold for is 12 hours. Again, there were rockets and mortars coming over the border, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, there's obviously no cease-fire yet.
Jeffrey Feltman is still with us. He's the undersecretary for political affairs at the United Nations. He's joining us from New York right now.
The statement is very precise on this issue. It's a sensitive issue, the statement from Ban Ki-moon and John Kerry. During that time, the 72-hour cease-fire, Ambassador, the forces on the ground will remain in place. What that means is Israeli troops are now in Gaza. They will remain there during those 72 hours, right?
FELTMAN: I think the statement's pretty clear in what it says, wolf. Obviously this is why this is a 72-hour cease-fire because this isn't -- this was designed both to allow humanitarian relief and to create some political space by which the parties could accept the Egyptian government's invitation, go to Cairo, and start looking for a more durable solution because this isn't a durable solution. This is really a 72-hour unconditional humanitarian cease-fire that we also hope provides political space to address the broader issues including the disposition of the Israeli troops, the crossing issues, the rockets, the smuggling, everything.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment.
Jim Sciutto is our chief national security correspondent.
Jim, the statement says that the special U.N. Middle East envoy Robert Serry received assurances that all parties have agreed to an unconditional humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. We have a statement from Hamas saying they've agreed. You heard Saeb Erakat saying he had a meeting with Khaled Meshaal, the political leader of Hamas in Doha, Qatar. He's on board. The Palestinian Authority is on board.
But I'm worried because we still don't have a statement from the Israeli government. Do you have any clue and I'll ask Ambassador Feltman this as well, who would the Israeli government gave the assurances to Robert Serry that Israel is on board? Do you have any clue about that first of all, Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, I don't know who from the Israeli government. But I reached out as well to the Israeli ambassador here in the U.S. for a statement. They're not prepared to make a comment yet. But on the question of how quiet will the cease-fire be, one thing that is clear and I know you've been speaking with Jeffrey Feltman about this, Israeli operations will continue during the cease-fire against the tunnels.
State Department officials saying that while the parties will freeze in place, Israel can act in the words of the State Department, defensively on the tunnels that are behind its borders. So, in other words, as far as the troops that have advanced to this point, they can continue the anti-tunnel ops that we're seeing some pictures of right now on the right-hand side of the screen.
And this jells, Wolf, with Prime Minister Netanyahu's statement from earlier today when he said, we're determined to complete this mission, in his words, with or without a cease-fire. And therefore, again, in his words, I will not agree to any proposal that will not allow the IDF to complete the work, which is important for the security of Israel citizens.
So, it's a 72-hour cease-fire for most operations but not all operations. You're still going to see activity against these tunnels which you know is a defense goal for Israeli defense forces in this operation.
BLITZER: Let me go to Elise Labott. She's getting some more information as well.
What are you picking up, Elise?
LABOTT: Well, Wolf, the Egyptians are saying they have received direct assurances from the Israelis and Palestinians which prompted them to be putting out their own statement about this shortly extending those invitations to the Israelis and Palestinians, and think that that's key. That Egypt is really kind of putting itself out there as a mediator, but at the same time wants to see that commitment from the Israelis and Palestinians that they're willing to come to Cairo and do the hard work of negotiating a more durable cease-fire for the future of their people, that they don't want to see a halt to fighting on the ground for a few hours and then come back.
And that's why Egypt is not guaranteeing the cease-fire itself. It's saying to the parties, you need to negotiate the cease-fire. You need to guarantee that you're willing to do this and that's why they'll be coming here.
Wolf, this is exactly the proposal, give or take, that the Egyptians presented a couple of weeks ago and that Israel initially accepted, Hamas rejected it. And then, we've been going back and forth. And what Egyptian officials tell me is that they wish that now they're coming for the 72 hour ceasefire, it could have saved a lot of lives if they had done this before.
And so, what they're hoping to do is come, negotiate and be able to keep extending this cease-fire, build a little trust, so that they can keep this going, Wolf.
BLITZER: You're right, the initial Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire was accepted by Prime Minister Netanyahu's cabinet. It was rejected by Hamas and we've seen what has happened the past couple of weeks since then.
Everyone, stand by. One more quick break. Much more right after this.
BLITZER: Secretary of State John Kerry just made a statement announcing the 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We get to this point. And everyone knows that it will not be easy to get beyond this point, but it is imperative that people make the best effort to try to find common ground and do so. A lot of folks have been working hard at this effort. I want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu, I know wants to see the people of Israel live in security, free from rockets, free from attacks from tunnels.
And I know he's worked hard at this. We have had many phone calls, sometimes in the middle of the night. And I'm pleased that he thought this moment was an appropriate one to embrace this effort, this cease- fire.
I want to thank U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Special Coordinator Serry for their efforts to try to help create a framework as well as the call for a cease-fire in helping to galvanize the international community. I'm grateful also to President al Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri who has been consistently on the phone working this. Egypt will host these talks.
And this effort is built on the original Egyptian initiative that began the talk of a cease-fire. So, Palestinian President Abbas has been consistently working behind the scenes, sending emissaries to various places to work effectively. I appreciate his leadership in this effort. Now, I want to re-emphasize this is not a time for congratulations and joy or anything except a serious determination, a focus by everybody to try to figure out the road ahead.
This is a respite. It's a moment of opportunity, not an end. It's not a solution. It is the opportunity to find the solution and President Obama hopes that all the parties will work diligently to do so from the moment the president asked me to travel some 12 days or so ago, the president has been consistently on the phone tracking this, talking with the prime minister and others in an effort to help to move us to this place.
But we have to understand. Both parties have -- all the people involved in this have strong demands and strong visions about what the future should look like. Israel has to be able to live in peace and security without terror attacks, without rockets, without tunnels, without sirens going off in the day. And Palestinians need to be able to live with the opportunity to educate their children and move freely, and share in the rest of the world and to lead a life that is different from the one they have long suffered.
So we hope that this moment of opportunity will be grabbed by the parties. But no one can force them to do that, obviously. So, we come at it with sober reflection about the lives lost and the violence suffered, the soldiers killed, the individuals killed. The three kids who were kidnapped and murdered in the beginning of this and then a retribution killing. There's been too much for most people's judgment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So, there he is, the Secretary of State making the announcement of the 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire that goes into effect six hours from now. We'll continue to watch all the breaking news.
In the meantime, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem.
The news continues next on CNN.