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Israel Says Hamas Attacks Troops, Fires Rockets

Aired August 1, 2014 - 06:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, "THE SITUATION ROOM": It was intercepted, seven of those rockets they say had open areas, but Israeli officials tell me, Kate and Chris, that they are now accusing Hamas of a grave violation of these cease-fire terms. They say that Hamas has broken the commitment that they made to the United Nations and the United States, the Egyptians and others who worked to arrange this cease-fire including Turkey and Qatar and the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli officials say that there have been attacks from Hamas on Israeli forces inside Gaza, that rockets have been fired from Gaza into Southern Israel, mortar shells as well. It does not look good. That's what one Israeli official just said to me.

Now, Hamas, on the other hand, they accuse Israel of breaking the cease-fire. They say that Israeli troops fired on Palestinians in Rafa, the southern part of Gaza and that 40 people were killed, so they are accusing the Israelis of breaking the cease-fire. Israel is accusing Hamas of breaking the cease-fire.

The cease-fire has supposedly been in business for a few hours, but it does not look like a cease-fire right now. I assume diplomats and U.S. officials and Secretary of State Kerry, Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. secretary-general, they were the ones who announced this cease-fire.

I assume they are working feverishly to see what they can do, but as of now, Chris and Kate, it does not look very good.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: A couple of follow-ups. When you have Israel and Hamas going back and forth, does that give a little bit of a distorted picture of how many different entities are in play here?

Could it be that you don't know who is firing on the ground if it isn't Israel because there are different factions firing and creating violence on the ground, at least in Gaza, could that be part of the equation, that you don't know who agreed to the cease-fire and who did not?

BLITZER: Well, the Israelis have always said and many Middle East analysts have agreed that there could be a split between the political arm of Hamas, the political leader of Hamas who is in Doha, Qatar, he may have agreed to all of this saying that all the Palestinian factions were on board.

But the military arm of Hamas may not necessarily have been on board. Remember it's not only Hamas, but Islamic jihad, there are other factions there as well. Last night, when we spoke to representatives of the Palestinian Authority including the chief Palestinian negotiator he spent all day yesterday with the leader of Hamas saying all the Palestinian factions were on board.

They were getting ready to send a joint delegation to Cairo today to meet with the Egyptian officials. The Israelis are sending an Israeli delegation to Cairo today to meet with Egyptian officials and work out some of the longer issues if this 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire would be extended they have to start dealing with some of the other issues there.

I don't know what the impact of the immediate fighting is going to be, but clearly with rockets and mortars coming into Israel, Hamas accusing Israel of killing 40 Palestinians in Rafa, that southern border crossing with Egypt, it does not look very promising right now.

CUOMO: Now it leads us to the second point. We know that almost certainly in my lifetime there's always been a need for an intermediary to bridge any kind of peace between Israel and Palestine, but what does it mean that it was the U.N. and the U.S. that announced this in the middle of the night? From your perspective, does that give confidence to the situation, or is it conspicuous that you didn't have Israel and Hamas announcing it themselves?

BLITZER: They didn't announce it themselves. Hamas quickly put out a statement saying they accepted the Israelis, took them about an hour or so before they put out a statement saying they accepted. There's a lot of controversy as you know, Chris, here in Israel about accepting a cease-fire without Israel supposedly finishing what their military objectives were.

Dealing with those tunnels, dealing with rocket launchers and missile launchers and the other military equipment that Hamas has so there's controversy here in Israel, but, you know, look, you've got the U.S. and U.N., Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey and Qatar, a lot of others who are involved working with Hamas and Israel trying to put this 72-hour very modest initial humanitarian pause in place.

One of the issues that presumably could be a problem and I suspect, Chris, we're going to be hearing more about this in the course of the day, next hour or two, murky nature of what Israeli military forces in Gaza could do and what they can't do.

For example, Secretary of State Kerry made it clear that Israeli troops of the U.N. agreed can stay in place, that Israeli troops would be able to engage what they called defensive action, action to protect themselves, but not offensive action.

So the definition of defensive and offensive, as soon as I heard that from Secretary Kerry in New Delhi, India last night, when he made his announcement I immediately said to myself, you know what, they are going to have a tough time defining what is defensive and what is offensive.

And therein could lie the rupture in this cease-fire because already there's some intense military action going on as we speak. CUOMO: Right. I think you're even being optimistic about getting to the definitional stage because when they call on the Hamas side is no occupation, you know, it seems like it doesn't really matter what that define is. Let's take a look though on the other side from -- Wolf, we'll be back to you in a second.

But let's go to the other side of the war now to Gaza, we have Karl Penhaul on the ground there. Karl, you're on the phone. Can you hear us and what are you picking up there?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, I can hear you. We are out on the street now in Gaza. About two hours into the cease-fire, we headed out to the eastern border of Gaza with Israel. While we were on the ground there, we got to a location about 700 yards from the border, and from that position we could clearly see Israeli tanks maneuvering in the border area, inside Gaza.

The Israeli tanks were maneuvering and then sporadically they began to fire tank rounds into buildings and to our location. After a few minutes on the ground there, we withdrew back into the suburbs of Eastern Gaza. We were still about two miles from the border at that stage as we tried again to set up for a live transmission.

We heard two warning shots, two warning shots ringing out from a nearby building. That we understand were Hamas fighters warning us to pull out from that area. Typically they will fire two warning shots. It is clear that Hamas militants are also still in place.

We saw, however, no signs of them maneuvering. They appeared to be in static positions. Then as we made our way back towards Gaza City, we began to get news that the cease-fire may be falling apart and about four hours after the cease-fire started we observed three rockets being fired out from what appear to be Central Gaza off towards Israel.

Earlier in the day anecdotally, I heard from a Palestinian friend who has home near the border crossing with Egypt. His wife had found him urgently and her words she said the Israelis were shelling in that area around Rafa. That is what we're also hearing now from the Palestinian Health Authority.

They say the shelling in Southern Gaza this morning after the supposed start of cease-fire. At least four Palestinians were killed and 15 others were wounded in that shelling.

CUOMO: All right. So, Karl, let's just reset for a second. You're safe where you are, I assume, so I'll keep you on the phone. The video we're showing you is footage from Palestinian television during a period that there was supposed to be a cease-fire.

Karl, just to make sure we understand what you are saying, after the cease-fire was supposed to begin, you saw tanks from Israel maneuvering and saw them firing, is that accurate?

PENHAUL: That is absolutely correct. We were in a position approximately 700 yards from the border. We observed Israeli tanks static initially. We then observed the Israeli tanks starting to move, kicking up dust clouds, and there was sporadic gunfire from the tanks. In a space of about 20 minutes, we heard at least four Israeli tank rounds going into buildings approximately 300 yards from our position.

CUOMO: Karl, were you able to hear or observe fire on the tanks that precipitated their movements and their use of artillery?

PENHAUL: No, we heard absolutely nothing to that effect.

CUOMO: OK.

PENHAUL: We were on the ground before the fire started. As I said, we saw the tanks static. We were probably on the ground in that location initially for 20 minutes before the tank shelling started. We heard no fire. When later, because that position for our TV crew was unsafe, we moved back to a position about two miles from the border.

That is when we heard from a building two single shots were fired into the air as we tried to approach a location to film. That we understand was warning shots from Hamas militants. It was not sustained gunfire, and in that second position, that was more than 2 miles from where we had seen the Israeli tanks.

But at the time that the Israeli tanks opened fire, we heard no sounds of small arm fire or missile fire being directed at those positions.

CUOMO: OK. Karl, thank you for the report. We're going to stay with you, but please, be safe, put your guys in the right position and let us know what happens while you are there.

And again, what we were showing you while Karl was talking was video from Palestine television as what has been seen in Gaza this morning. Obviously, people still getting injured. You heard Karl Penhaul report that there was Israeli tank fire.

He also heard warning shots that there was about to be violence on the side of Hamas or what he believed to be Hamas fighters and militants. He heard phone reports from other people anecdotally that there was violence going on in Rafa near the Egypt border.

So it's still very much an active situation despite what's supposed to be a cease-fire. Let's bring in Bobby Ghosh. She is the managing editor of a web site focused on the new global economy. You can visit at qz.com.

Bobby, first thing you said to me this morning when I asked how you are, you said I'm depressed.

BOBBY GHOSH, MANAGING EDITOR, "QUARTZ": It's been an especially depressing week in Gaza, one of the things going on. We've all been focusing on Gaza, but as you know there's been violence, unprecedented levels of violence across the world this week in places as far flung as China and Cameroon and, of course, some of the more familiar places, Iraq, Libya. In my entire career as someone covering conflict I have never -- never -- I can't recall a week in which there's been so much violence, whether it's war or terrorist attacks in so many different places around the world. It's been incredibly depressing.

CUOMO: It is and gives us a lot to have to handle also in this business. Dealing with the immediate in front of us, probably not surprised the cease-fire didn't hold. There are clear objectives on each side that haven't been met. What do you make of it?

GHOSH: Objectives as they have defined them, as they have stated them, both states cannot be met, so that's just impossible. It is distressing that the cease-fire ended so quickly. We were hoping that 12 hours, 24, just enough breathing space for some conversations.

Just as I came on, I was watching my Twitter feed, and there are reports both from Israeli as well as Lebanese news sources saying Egypt has disinvited some of the Hamas folks that were supposed to go over and begin negotiations. If the negotiations don't even begin, then, unfortunately, this violence, this cycle is going to continue.

CUOMO: And part of that is the aspect is Hamas real divided and whom did they disinvite and which side are they on which gets into the complicated political nature of what's going on, but Wolf, the situation on the ground is also complicated.

You heard Karl Penhaul saying he didn't see anybody fire on the tanks first and he was there in advance and then he watched tanks fire, but you're hearing something different from Israel, yes?

BLITZER: The Israelis are very, very firm right now, Chris. They are saying it was Hamas that violated the terms of the cease-fire. That Israel has been reacting to the violation by Hamas. Now Hamas says exactly the opposite. Israel violated the cease-fire and they are in turn reacting.

So observers will be able to go back and take a look and see what's going on, and as I said it's a little murky what the Israelis are allowed to do during the course of the 72-hour three-day cease-fire, what they are not allowed to do. They are allowed to continue destroying the tunnels.

Secretary of State John Kerry made that clear, that even during these three days they can take what they call defensive action including destroying the tunnels. The Israeli military commander in the south, he has said the Israelis are close to finishing that military mission, but they haven't finished it yet.

So as part of -- I'm just speculating. Maybe the Israelis were going at destroying more tunnels and Hamas saw that and they responded to that. The Israelis are not allowed to engage in what the secretary of state and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have said is offensive military action, but they can engage in defensive military action.

They don't have to withdraw their troops from Gaza, but they have to keep their troops in place. All of that was worked out in extensive discussions over the past several days led by the secretary of state and the U.N. secretary-general. It didn't last only a few hours.

It was supposed to go into effect 8:00 a.m. local time. That's what, five hours or so ago, and we see what's going on right now. Sirens are going off in Southern Israel. Rockets are coming in. The Israelis are attacking various targets inside Gaza.

So if the diplomats want to say this humanitarian cease-fire is technically still in place. They can say that, but it certainly doesn't look like it's in place on the ground.

CUOMO: All right. Thank you very much, Wolf. We'll stay with you. I want to bring in Osama Hamdan, the spokesman for the group Hamas and we want his perspective of what's going on right now. Can you hear us, Osama?

OSAMA HAMDAN, HAMAS SPOKESMAN (via telephone): Yes, I hear you well.

CUOMO: All right. We have reports from the ground of Israeli tank fire going on after the cease-fire. Wolf Blitzer reports that Israel says that those tanks were fired upon and that your group, Hamas, started rocket fire during the cease-fire and precipitated this defensive action.

What is your response?

HAMDAN: First of all, I have to say that the cease-fire agreement was that all the troops will stay where there are now and there will be no offensive or even defensive attack. In fact, this is the first time I hear that there's a differentiation between offensive and defensive attack because it was clear there will be no firing, there will be no action from both sides, and this is what we have agreed on.

The Israelis started by bombing and destroying some houses in Rafah. Because there was no answer, no clarification why the Israelis are bombing the houses, so there was a shooting against the tanks which move, because the agreement was no one will move. So, no one will move. So there was shooting against the tanks.

I want just to say --

CUOMO: Please?

HAMDAN: -- when they bombed the houses, there was more than 20 Palestinians who were killed so they did not attack militants. They attacked civilians and there was a reaction. As we informed the United Nations, they violated the cease-fire. We are still committed, but we will defend our people if they continue that.

CUOMO: Osama, just to be clear with what you're saying -- one, you're saying that you were not aware that this cease-fire allowed defensive continued actions by Israel, is that correct?

HAMDAN: No, excuse me. I want to clarify that more. We were informed clearly, in clear words, there will be no action on both side, no action.

CUOMO: Including defensive action where Israel is allowed to continue taking out tunnels, for example?

HAMDAN: No, no action. The Israelis -- we were not informed that they will continue doing this or that. It was clear that they would stop all their offensive action and they will stop all of the moving, just the troops will stay where it is. That was very clear.

CUOMO: And to be clear again, did Hamas fire more rockets at Israel after the cease-fire was announced?

HAMDAN: Until now we did not fire any rockets from Hamas side. We don't know if someone else fired rockets but from Hamas, up to this moment, there was no rockets from 8:00 up until now.

CUOMO: That's part of the problem. We don't know if someone else. How many different folks --

HAMDAN: No, no. I'm saying I don't know if someone else because the Israelis are claiming that there were rockets.

CUOMO: Right.

HAMDAN: From our side, we are sure that there was no rockets. I can assure you that we are still committed to the cease-fire.

Just in the place where the Israelis acted, we were in the defensive position. If they stop, everything will stop. For example, they acted in Rafah, there was no reaction in Beit Hanoun or in Shujaia or in Jabalya from Hamas. If we decided that it was a failure for the ceasefire, we would act everywhere. So, there was no action for Hamas than now. Just to prevent the Israelis from action in Rafah, that's the reaction to them bombing and killing 20 civilians, 15 civilians killed while they were checking on their houses in Rafah believing that there was a cease-fire respected by Israel.

CUOMO: Obviously, that is -- that is heartbreaking to hear that there's been more loss of innocent life on the ground there.

And just to be clear about everything that you're saying to the American audience, one, you didn't know that the cease-fire included allowing Israel to take defensive action and to continue maneuvering and taking out tunnels and Hamas has not fired rockets but you don't know if other groups in Gaza have been firing rockets that made Israel respond. Is that all accurate?

HAMDAN: Yes, that's correct.

CUOMO: And what do you want to say in terms of continuing the cease- fire, you say Hamas is still committed so that there will be no return fire on the ground there?

HAMDAN: Yes, we are still committed to the cease-fire and waiting for some clarifications from Mr. Serry, the United Nations representative about the Israeli position, because if the Israelis decide as we hear in the media, decide to consider that there is no cease-fire, this will change the whole situation.

CUOMO: All right. Osama Hamdan, I just want to be clear again because there's an issue of what Hamas controls and what it does not control and what I have been asking you is, when you say someone else may have fired rocks, you have, of course, Islamic jihad on groups and other militant groups. Are you in contact with them and do you know how they are conducting themselves in the cease-fire?

HAMDAN: We are talking to everyone on the ground now to respect the cease-fire, waiting the clarifications from the United Nations. But I want to tell you that until now, we don't know if really someone launched rockets. Israelis are declaring that, but from our side, we are sure 100 percent that nothing happened from Hamas side. Until we receive clarification from other groups, I can't be sure.

CUOMO: OK.

HAMDAN: So it may be 100 percent no rockets and Israelis are claiming that just to make an excuse for what they have done.

To be more clear: Hamas is still committed. We did not launch any rockets. We acted against the tanks, which violated the houses, killed 50 (ph) Palestinians who were checking on their houses, believing that there was a cease-fire, or there is a cease-fire.

CUOMO: Right.

HAMDAN: If any Palestinian organization launched rockets, we will talk to them to stop that if that is true.

CUOMO: OK. We're going to give you a break here to be able to go conduct that most important work because obviously maintaining the peace is of utmost importance, especially with the news that Egypt is now disinviting parts of your organization from the peace negotiation because of what's happening in violation of the cease-fire. Please, allow us --

HAMDAN: I have to clarify that, if you don't mind.

CUOMO: Please? Please do clarify.

HAMDAN: This is not true. We are still on the schedule at the Palestinian delegation.

CUOMO: You have not been disinvited?

HAMDAN: By some other, some organization. Let's wait to know if there was a cease-fire or not before going to Cairo. But until now, the situation is -- the agenda is working as it is supposed to be. The members of the delegation are preparing themselves to move to Cairo maybe tonight or early morning tomorrow.

CUOMO: Well, that's good to hearings but obviously there's a lot of mixed information in this situation. So, do what you have to do to find out what's going on on the ground with all the different groups and hopefully continuing process of negotiation during this cease-fire which seems fragile to say the least.

I would also ask that you allow us to call you back because it's been difficult to get in contact with you and get the perspective of Hamas on these ongoing hostilities so can I check in with you a little bit later on?

HAMDAN: OK. You can check from this mobile and I will talk to your colleagues, a new number which can be more easier to contact me.

CUOMO: Great. Don't say it over the air because we don't want you to give the number out, but we will get the phone number from you and we'll be in contact.

HAMDAN: OK. Thank you very much.

CUOMO: Thank you, Mr. Hamdan. That was Osama Hamdan. He's a spokesman for Hamas.

And again, what he's saying is Hamas has not violated the cease-fire.

Karl Penhaul on the ground in Gaza said he saw near the border Israeli tanks maneuvering and firing artillery at positions there.

Osama Hamdan says homes were hit, civilians were killed, as many as 50 he had said.

Wolf Blitzer says from Israeli side, they say there were attacks on those tanks. That's what precipitated the violence.

Osama Hamdan says it wasn't them. He doesn't know if it came from other groups, or if those were false reports. He also says Hamas was still invited to peace talks in Egypt. There had been reports that parts of Hamas have been disinvited.

Just a look, a window into the complex situation. Let's get the latest now from Wolf Blitzer obviously in Jerusalem.

Wolf, is there more information for us?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we've got the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu -- Mark Regev. He's here with us.

We just heard from Hamas and they explained their accusations against Israel. Let's get the latest from the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Mark Regev.

What is going on? Here's the bottom line question. Is there a cease- fire or is there not a cease-fire?

MARK REGEV, SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: A cease-fire, Wolf, means both sides cease fire. We've been there where Israel holds fire and Hamas continues to fire. We've been through this repeatedly.

Now, we've accepted last night, the secretary of state of the United States, John Kerry, and the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put on the table a three-day cease-fire for humanitarian reasons. We accepted it and we gave orders to our forces from 8:00 this morning local time to cease all offensive operations against the terrorist targets in Gaza, and there were clear guidelines as articulated by Secretary Kerry what was allowed and what was not allowed.

Let's be clear, the statement says Israeli forces on ground in Gaza can stay there within the framework of the humanitarian cease-fire and as Secretary Kerry said and you reported, we can continue defensive operations against the terror tunnels during the framework of the cease-fire. Now, this morning, our forces on the ground in Gaza were attacked. Unfortunately, they were attacked brutally with deadly force. At the same time, rockets were fired into southern Israel, mortar shells were fired on the border areas. We've had a whole series of violations of the cease-fire.

And once again, Hamas has broken commitment it made both to the United Nations and through intermediaries to the United States government.

BLITZER: Did Israeli soldiers die in the course of this supposed cease-fire?

REGEV: I'm not going to go into details yet. I can tell you there was an incident, a brutal incident, a deadly incident.

BLITZER: Where was that?

REGEV: It was inside the Gaza Strip, in the Rafah area. I can say the following. Our forces returned fire which is allowed when attacked because they are in a life-threatening situation, but up until now, the Israeli forces have only used their weapons for self- protection.

But it's clear this can't go on. A cease-fire means both sides cease fire. And we have, as I've said, we've had attacks on our troops inside Gaza. We've had mortars on the border and we've had rockets into southern Israel. This clearly is Hamas violating the U.N. sponsored cease-fire.

BLITZER: You heard Osama Hamdan, the spokesman for Hamas, and Al Aqsa TV, the Hamas TV station in Gaza, saying at least 40, maybe 50 Palestinians were killed by Israelis in this Rafah area in southern Gaza. That's a pretty significant number.

REGEV: First of all, we don't know it's true. I do know there was a fire fight, another was a deadly firefight. I know that they opened fire on our forces, who according to the agreement could be there and shouldn't have been fired upon.

Now, if Hamas has violated the cease-fire yet again because, unfortunately, this is repeated by Hamas. You know, this cease-fire, seeing it on CNN and everywhere and we're aware of it. There's a very difficult humanitarian situation for the people in Gaza, and the goal of this cease-fire was to give a time-out for three days to allow the people of Gaza to get the humanitarian support that they need. Hamas has once again through its extremism, through its violence, torpedoed the chance for humanitarian cease-fire.

BLITZER: Here's the question that raised some alarm bells when I heard it last night. In the official statement that was put out by the United Nations and the secretary of state of the United States, they said Israeli troops could remain in place.

In the subsequent statement that John Kerry made in New Delhi, it was on camera. We have the audio and we have the video. We'll play it for our viewers. He then elaborated in describing what Israel is allowed to do as far as the tunnels are concerned, as far as defensive action, he used that, and offensive action. He said no offensive action, but Israel was allow to continue defensive action.

So -- but the question that raised in my mind what is offensive and what is defensive? Do you understand the difference?

REGEV: I understand the difference totally, and I don't think there's any room for confusion.

BLITZER: Why did had say that and that wasn't in the U.N. statement that was released?

REGEV: It was understood that Israel can, of course, protect itself if attacked. That's obvious in any cease-fire situation. If you're being shot on, you can protect yourself and shoot back.

And, of course, the issue of the tunnels we made perfectly clear. Prime Minister Netanyahu said so publicly tomorrow morning, he said we will continue to work to dismantle the network of tunnels in a cease- fire or without a cease-fire.

BLITZER: But why was that not spelled out in the U.S.-U.N. declaration. It was left to John Kerry in a statement that he met that Israel could continue actions against the tunnels. Because you heard Osama Hamdan, he said he didn't know anything -- he didn't know anything about the defensive versus offense, and he didn't know Israel could still go ahead and destroy tunnels.

REGEV: He doesn't know a lot of things. He didn't know that rockets had been fired this morning on Israeli cities from Gaza.

BLITZER: He says Hamas didn't do it. That leaves open the possibility that Islamic jihad or some other Palestinian faction could have done it. Is that realistic in your mind?

REGEV: Let's be clear, when I hear him on the show in the past he denies Hamas targets innocent citizens. He denies Hamas is guilty of terrible war crimes. Unfortunately, there's a lot of spin there.

The facts are Israel abided by the cease-fire proposal, and it was violated this morning by Hamas on three fronts, on three fronts. They fired at our forces inside Gaza. They fired mortar shells on frontier and they fired rockets into Israel at our cities.

Now, it's clear that this is unfortunately repeated behavior. Wolf, I was with you, what was it, more than two weeks ago, the morning of the first cease-fire, the Egyptian proposal. We held our fire for some six hours and Hamas just kept shooting those rockets into Israel. In the end, the cease-fire fell apart because of that.

Since then, there were three or four occasions when we agreed to U.N. and Red Cross ceasefires.