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Interview with Mark Regev, Spokesman for the Prime Minister of Israel; Violence Restarts Amid Cease-Fire; Rumors about a Unique Operation; Israeli Soldier May Have Been Abducted

Aired August 1, 2014 - 06:30   ET


MARK REGEV, SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: 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. In every case, Hamas either violated or rejected the cease-fire up front.

Hamas clearly wants to conflict to continue and Hamas doesn't want to allow a time-out so the people of Gaza can get humanitarian assistance, it's clear.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Is an Israeli delegation either already in Cairo (AUDIO GAP) Cairo to begin what's supposed to be the follow-on negotiations of how to expand the sees fair and go more than three days and more than 72 hours, bring in some other issues as well? Are those negotiations still either going to begin or planned?

REGEV: Wolf, how can one talk about expanding a cease-fire when the cease-fire now is destroyed by Hamas? I mean, let's be clear.

BLITZER: So, is the cease-fire over?

REGEV: You can't have a cease-fire that is one way. Once again, Israel held its fire this morning from 8:00 in the morning and yet we've been attacked on three fronts.

BLITZER: So, Israel no longer sees the need to adhere to this cease- fire?

REGEV: You cannot have a one-way cease-fire. Cease-fire means not just Israel holds fire as we have been doing. Cease-fire means that Hamas and the terrorists in Gaza cease their fire and, unfortunately, that's the situation.

They refuse to do so. They continue to shoot and continue deadly fire on our cities, on the border and in our troops in direct violation of a cease-fire understandings negotiated. And in that case, one cannot say that there's a cease-fire.

BLITZER: Is the Israeli delegation already in Cairo or on their way?

REGEV: I think at the moment, with this grave violation by Hamas of the cease-fire, that question today is irrelevant.

BLITZER: Well, it's not irrelevant. I mean, there could be other elements within the Palestinian community that Israel could be talking to. Maybe there's a split between the military arm of Hamas and political arm of Hamas.

REGEV: The Palestinian government on the West Bank, we have communications with regularly but they are not shooting rockets at us. Who is -- who is shooting rockets at our cities? Who is attacking our forces on ground? Who is shooting mortars at the borders trying to kill our people?

They are the people who have to do a cease-fire. We don't need a cease-fire with President Abbas on the West Bank. We're not fighting with him.

BLITZER: I guess the bottom line is, are Israeli military operations now resuming the way they were before the cease-fire was supposed to go into effect?

REGEV: I can only say that you cannot have, as I said, a one-way cease-fire.

BLITZER: Is that a yes?

REGEV: You cannot have a situation where Israel holds its fire hour after hour, and Hamas continues to shoot at us. It's just not -- it's just not doable.

BLITZER: Is the secretary of state, he's in India right now, and the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, are they working behind the scenes to see if they can fix this?

REGEV: I don't have that information for you yet. I do know the following: once again, Hamas has destroyed the possibility of a humanitarian cease-fire.

BLITZER: So it's over?

REGEV: Once again, you can't have a situation where they are shooting at us and we just take a time-out. It can't be done. A cease-fire means both sides hold their fire.

BLITZER: So it's over?

REGEV: Both sides hold their fire. Otherwise you don't have a cease- fire.

BLITZER: Can it be revived?

REGEV: I don't know.

BLITZER: From Israel's perspective, it's over?

REGEV: Once again, you cannot have a situation where they are shooting at you, violating the cease-fire and then claim cease-fire. It doesn't work that way.

BLITZER: Mark Regev, we'll stay in close touch with you. Mark Regev is the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Chris, we heard earlier your interview with Osama Hamdan, the spokesman for Hamas. Now, we've got the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, obviously two very, very different scenarios on what happened to that cease-fire.

I think it's fair to say based on what we heard just now from the spokesman from Prime Minister Netanyahu, that cease-fire looks like it's over.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: See if there's any room in their wording that allows for it to be revived as you asked Mark Regev right there.

Wolf, stick with us. We're going to get right back to you.

But let's go down to Gaza right now where our Karl Penhaul has been there.

Karl, I want to get you to tell us once again what you are seeing on the ground there, because even Mark Regev, the spokesman for the prime minister of Israel, says there's a deadly brutal incident in the Rafah area. What are -- what did you see?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Kate. And I want to try to be precise as well as to what we saw, what we've heard in relation to the hours after these incidents occurred after the start of the cease-fire.

At 9:30, that is one and a half hours after the cease-fire started, a Palestinian journalist colleague of mine said that his wife had just telephoned him from the Rafah area where they live and told him that the area was being shelled. That one and a half hours into the cease- fire.

We are now getting reports from Palestinian media that there has been a major incident down at Rafah. That is close to the border crossing with Egypt in the south of the Gaza Strip. Palestinian media are saying that Israeli artillery was aimed and landed on an open-air market in Rafah and also artillery rounds fell at the gates of the Abu Yousef hospital in Rafah. That is the reporting we're getting from the Palestinian media. They are reporting deaths and injuries.

We're working hard to get an official source at Palestinian health authority to give us an update on numbers there.

In about two and a half hours after, and can I just bring that you update now. My producer has stood in front of me and says we have official sourcing from the Palestinian health ministry now. They say that 35 people were killed in that shelling incident or in multiple shelling incidents down at border crossing.

Let me see if I can get you a figure for the number of wounded. Do we have that figure for the number of wounded down at Rafah? We're still work on getting a figure of number of wounded for Rafah. I give you that. OK, we're getting a figure of 100 people wounded in that Rafah shelling incident and 35 dead. Our source on that, the Palestinian health ministry.

Now, after that we were on the ground in Eastern Gaza, and we got into a position in the Tufa area, about 700 yards from the Israeli border, we were there two and a half hours after the cease-fire start.

At that point, we answered Israeli tanks maneuvering. We heard no instances of fire from the Gaza side and about 20 minutes after we first observed the Israeli tanks, Israeli tanks opened fire and fired at least four rounds into buildings close to our positions, approximately 300 yards away.

As we then withdrew about two miles from the border, this is now about three hours into the cease-fire, we were setting up for a live transmission and heard two warning shots. We understand that those were two warning shots from a militant position in buildings warning us to leave the area. It was clear that militant fighters were still in place there, but we saw no sign of them maneuvering.

Then, about three and a half hours into the cease-fire, we heard three rockets soar -- the vapor trail from three rockets being fired out from central Gaza towards Israel.

BOLDUAN: Now, Karl --

PENHAUL: That is what I can tell you that we've seen so far and we're also still getting more information from the Rafah area.

BOLDUAN: Karl, let me ask you really quickly because it's unclear -- both sides blaming the other for restarting the violence. Both seem to maybe be leaving themselves an opening that the cease-fire, the talks could be started and could be revived.

But here's the key question. What do the people on the ground know? When you were moving about, do people think that this cease-fire is still in place?

PENHAUL: I think there are a couple of additional points that I'd like to bring up to speed with, Kate, which might give you a clearer idea.

About half an hour ago, now some of our Palestinian colleagues received automatic calls, what's so-called robocalls from an automatic voice recording purporting to be the Israeli military. That recording said that this is to all Gaza residents. Stay inside. This is your last warning, and the robocall signed off saying, this is a call from the Israeli military.

We're also hearing on Gaza TV, an early report from the Al Qassam Brigade, that's the military wing of Hamas and in their words, they are reporting that they carried out a unique operation in the area of Haram al-Salam (ph) border crossing between Gaza and Israel. We don't know the nature of that so-called unique operation, but we are going to bring you that as soon as we can. It is first time during this confrontation that Al Qassam has used that wording, a unique operation.

I think it's fair to say, as far as ordinary citizens are concerned, they have no confidence about anything, about any sign of peace. We were briefly outside a mosque that had been destroyed a few days ago, but people went there to worship at Friday prayers. The mosque at the prayer session was cut very short. They were there for about 10 minutes and broke up that prayer session saying it is not safe for us to gather here in Gaza City even and so they also left very quickly.

People are right now bunkering down, going home and they are going to wait and see, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And just one really quick and important point. Are you hearing any shelling now?

PENHAUL: Absolutely. From our position now, and let me turn around, I can see smoke plumes across in eastern Gaza between the Shaja'ia and Tufa areas. Those are the areas that we've just come from. There are more rounds, artillery rounds going off right now as we speak and, again, from eastern Gaza.

This fight is certainly on in eastern Gaza. At least we can see that. That is the area that we came from. It was consistent with what we saw on the ground. Israeli tanks maneuvering at that stage and we can hear some kind of artillery fire now.

We don't have in vision right down to the south of the Gaza Strip, but that, of course, is where Palestinian media and now the Palestinian health ministry has told us that there was a shelling incident in their words and their balance of casualties so far, according to the ministry, is 35 people dead and more than 100 wounded. They say that the shelling occurred in a public market and at the gates of the hospital. We're working also to get our own reporting on that -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Karl Penhaul on ground for us in Gaza -- Karl, we're going to get right back to you. We're going to take a quick break and come right back and continue this breaking news coverage out of the Middle East. A cease-fire in its early, early hours, is it completely over already?

We'll be right back.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to NEW DAY, we're following breaking news. It may not be surprising but its certainly disappointing. It seems the cease-fire is over in the Middle East. Let's get right to Wolf Blitzer. He just got official word from the Israeli side, he's in Jerusalem. Wolf, what is the reality?

BLITZER: The reality is a senior Israeli official has just told CNN, Chris, the cease-fire is over, from Israel's perspective it is now over. Forget about the 72-hour humanitarian pause, as the Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon announced last night. From Israel's perspective the cease-fire is over. We are also hearing from a senior Israeli official, there is now deep concern in Israel that an Israeli soldier may have been abducted over the past few hours by Hamas in Gaza. If in fact if that is true that would explain what is going on right now, massive firepower going on by the Israelis, going on by Hamas. Rockets coming into Israel from Gaza. Israeli troops are on the go in the Rafa area, specifically in the southern part. The southern part of Gaza right now.

If in fact an Israeli soldier has been abducted, and there's serious concern right now about that, all bets are off. Here's the statement that the IDF, Israeli Defense Forces has just released and I'll read it to our viewers. The IDF implemented the government directive and commenced the 72-hour cease-fire, as of today, August 1st, 8:00 a.m., that would be local time here in Israel. At approximately 9:30 a.m., this is from the IDF statement, an attack was executed against IDF forces operating to decommission a tunnel. Initial indications suggest an IDF soldier has been abducted by terrorists during the incident.

The occurrences are ongoing. The IDF is currently conducting intelligence efforts and extensive searches and in order to locate the missing soldier. The soldier's family has been notified. So this is obviously, Chris and Kate, a major development. The cease-fire, according to the Israelis, is over and an Israeli soldier may have been abducted. If you think it was bad before, get ready because whenever these kinds of things happen in Gaza the Israelis react very, very powerfully. I assume Hamas and its fighters are going to react powerfully as well so as great as the hope may have been only a few hours ago when Secretary Kerry and Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. Secretary- general, put together some sort of cease-fire leading to negotiations, a delegation from the Palestinian factions going to Cairo, an Israeli delegation going to Cairo. As encouraging as all that sounded only a few hours ago, all that now seems to be up in smoke as these new developments are occurring. These are very, very worrisome developments. Chris and Kate.

BOLDUAN: Alright, Wolf, stick with us. Wolf, do you have a guest with you? I want to make sure before we go to ours. I want to make sure where we're going to go here.

BLITZER: Yes, we have a special guest who is with US, Gershon Baskin, he's played a unique role. Gershon, you were the intermediary, the back channel between Israel and Hamas in getting another Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, he served as a captive of Hamas for five years in Gaza. You got him out, there was an enormous prisoner exchange. Israel released about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for that one Israeli soldier. So when you hear an IDF statement now saying there's initial indication suggest that IDF soldier has been abducted by terrorists during the incident, what's your reaction?

GERSHON BASKIN, FOUNDER AND CO-CHAIRMAN OF IPCRI: It's a tragedy, first of all, and I think it's very important that Hamas understands that although they got 1, 027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit who was held in captivity for 5 years and 4 months, this is not going to happen again. The Israelis are not going to negotiate another deal, there's not going to be a Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange. Particularly with Israel being in Gaza, I would assure the Hamas people that Israel will not leave Gaza without that soldier, dead or alive. And this is a sad reality for that soldier and I feel terrible saying it, but Israel is not going to back itself into a situation where it's being held hostage, where the whole country is being held hostage by the Hamas holding an Israeli soldier. It's not going to happen again.

BLITZER: You remember what happened the last time an Israeli soldier was abducted by Hamas. Hamas infiltrators went through a tunnel, the got into Israel, they grabbed Gilad Shalid, they brought him through the tunnel back to Gaza. Just remind our viewers what the Israeli military reaction was when they learned that Hamas had one Israeli soldier.

BASKIN: Right, well, it took about an hour before they knew they were missing a soldier. Once they did, a massive raid went into Gaza. They bombed the electrical plant which has never recovered from that bombing on June 25 th.

BLITZER: And the IDF publicly said they were going after that electrical power plant because one Israeli soldier had been abducted.

BASKIN: Right, they went after infrastructure, roads and bridges, they wanted to make sure that Hamas didn't take Gilad Shalid out of Gaza. They figured if he was in Gaza they would be able to find him, something that they were not able to do. Or at least reports were that they knew where he was until the (inaudible) operation at the end of December 2008, but after that they lost track of him. There was a full military operation called Summer Rains that was passed by the Israeli government two or three days after Shalid was captured. It was a major attack and over 100 Palestinians were killed in those few days of attack. And then of course Israel withdrew because they didn't find Shalid, and Shalid was held captive all those years.

BLITZER: Gershon, I'd like you to hold on for a moment. Karl Penhaul is in Gaza City for us. Are you getting information, Karl, on this apparent abduction of one Israeli soldier in Gaza?

PENHAUL: Well, Wolf, first of all, I prefer to use the word captured or taken prisoner. After all, these are two warring sides, abduction would tend to indicate some kind of kidnapping which would generally be applied to a civilian. We understand that this was an Israeli soldier. This may also be reflected in the wording of a statement that we've just heard from the al-Qassam Brigades broadcast on Hamas TV. What the al-Qassam Brigades have said is that stand by for a report. We will update you on a unique operation were the words of the al- Qassam Brigade. That is the first time I've heard the al-Qassam Brigades use that phrasing, unique operation. They are saying that that unique operation took place in the southern border crossing between Israel and Gaza, the Kareme al Shalom border crossing.

Now normally, as you know, that is used for bringing humanitarian aid across, goods and services across, but that is the area that the al- Qassam Brigades say that they carried out a unique operation. We're also hearing rumors. We have been hearing them for the last couple of hours or so, unconfirmed reports, I should describe those as, that the al-Qassam Brigades have taken prisoner an Israeli soldier, but to get confirmed word about that operation we're still standing by for that statement from the al-Qassam Brigades on their TV stations. Now we don't know exactly the timing of when that may have occurred, but certainly the area that is now come under heavy shelling is also in the south of the Gaza Strip. Fairly close by the town of Rafa, and from the Palestinian health authority and also from the coordination center at the Shifa Medical Hospital, that's Gaza's main hospital. We're hearing that 40 people have now been killed and more than 200 wounded in what those same sources have described as shelling on a public market and also close to the hospital. We don't have our own reporting on that, but the sourcing on that is from hospital staff at Gaza's main hospital. Wolf?

BLITZER: And very quickly, Karl. If in fact an Israeli soldier was taken by Hamas in that area around Rafa in Southern Gaza, presumably the Israelis would react very, very harshly militarily right away. That's probably what's going on right now in that area that you described in that marketplace and elsewhere, is that right?

PENHAUL: We could join the dots on there, and as soon as can I get confirmation on that we will bring you that Wolf, but we do know from past experience that the Israeli military has a very strong tradition of not leaving any soldier behind. Now we hear that from other militaries in the world, but we have seen and know that the Israeli military really walks the walk on that point. They will not leave any soldier alive on the battlefield. They will not leave the remains of any soldier dead on battlefield. In the past we know they have launched military actions to ensure that that doesn't happen, and in the past we know that they have also been drawn into negotiations with militant groups like Hamas for the release of its captured soldiers.

Let's remember as well that a couple of weeks ago al-Qassam Brigades were also saying they had captured another Israeli soldier. They gave his name and serial number of what then an Israeli military investigation appeared to indicate was that that soldier may have in fact died, that Hamas may have his remains or simply his dogtags. The Israeli military qualified that soldier as dead, whereabouts or burial ground unknown, but on this occasion from what you're explaining, the Israeli military believe that this soldier has in fact been captured and that may fall in line now with why the al-Qassam Brigades are using the word unique operation.

We're standing by for more information on that, and as you say you we do know that the Israeli military have a strong tradition of getting their men back alive or dead and possibly, I can certainly say, that our information is that both these incidents are in the same area of Gaza. Whether they are directly connected or not we'll try to bring you information on that as soon as possible, but again, Hamas would definitely have been aware that if they carried out this operation during cease-fire hours then that would have been certainly a great provocation to the Israeli military.

I must say though in other hours in a different part of the Gaza Strip we did see Israeli tanks maneuvering inside the Gaza Strip, close to the area of Eastern Gaza and they opened fire with at least four tank rounds onto buildings in an Eastern Gaza neighborhood. We saw nothing that protected that. Let me just -- yes, okay. I was just getting some additional information from our producer here. What I was saying earlier on, we had seen, in a different part of Gaza Israeli tanks maneuvering and opening fire. We didn't hear any provocation, but, again, one doesn't have from a single vantage point full vision on the battlefield, so, again, we will try to get some confirmation as to why those tanks may have opened fire at that particular point as well, Wolf.

Just to reiterate, we're standing by now for what the al-Qassam Brigades say will be an announcement very shortly on a unique operation they carried out near the southern border crossing between Gaza and Israel, and that could coincide with the information you are now getting that an Israeli soldier has been taken prisoner. Wolf?

BLITZER: And if in fact the -- the al-Qassam Brigade, the military arm of Hamas, issues a statement, shows proof of life of this Israeli soldier, I would venture to say all bets are off as far as what is going to happen next between the Israelis and Hamas elements in Gaza. Stand by because Gershon Baskin is still with us. He's the CEO and founder of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information. You were the back channel you got that other Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalid, freed after five years. He was held by Hamas in Gaza. The Israelis released more than 1,000 Palestinians. You say, Gershon, right now that that's not going to happen.

BASKIN: Its not going to happen, no

BLITZER: The Israelis are determined to bring all of their troops home.

BASKIN: Right.

BLITZER: If their remains, they could bring them home. If Hamas has an Israeli soldier, why wouldn't Israel do now what it did then through your good offices?

BASKIN: For a lot of reasons. The main reason is that they are in Gaza now and have the ability to attack Hamas from within Gaza. I would suspect that the very next step after they finish this operation that they are shelling in Rafa is that they will go up after the Hamas leadership. And they will capture them or kill them one by one until they get their soldier back, again, dead or alive.

The Israelis are in no mood now to negotiate with Hamas. Not about political issues and certainly not about a soldier. There was so much anger in Israel from the prisoner release that was associated with the negotiations through the carry (ph) mission with Abumas and with (inaudible), there's no sentiment in Israel today that would allow any government of Israel to negotiate a prisoner exchange for an Israeli soldier there.

The sentiment in Israel that we're going to hear more and more tonight from ministers in the government and the Cabinet is going to be to finish the job, to finish off Hamas. This is a very dangerous situation. Hamas doesn't understand the extent of the anger in Israel right now if there was in fact a soldier abducted and the wrath of Israel is going to come down on Hamas.

This is not going to end the game. Israel can defeat Hamas militarily, but you can't defeat an idea and you can't defeat the will of the Palestinian people in Gaza to change the essence of their life there from the prison they have been living in into a life of freedom. This is a just cause on their side. As they see it, Hamas are the ones who are standing up for them. I'm sure that right now all over Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Arab world, people are out in the streets cheering and giving out candies and sweets because Hamas has apparently abducted an Israeli soldier.

BLITZER: And you know though over the years of Israel's existence, what 66 years, there's often been these lopsided exchanges, not just for a soldier who may be alive, but even for the remains of an Israeli soldier, 10-1, 50-1 and 100-1, in the case of Gilad Shalid 1,000-1. Every time that happens, some voices in Israel say, you know what, you're only encouraging the taking of more Israeli soldiers by doing this because it makes them seem so valuable. And last time Prime Minister Netanyahu made this exchange he was criticized. And you say the country now has changed.

BASKIN: He was criticized, but he had 26 members of his cabinet supported, the head of the Mossad, the head of the Shin Bet, the chief of the Army supported, 80 percent of the people supported it then. It was a different situation and we're in the midst of a war right now when no one is going to tolerate, no one is going to call for Netanyahu to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Certainly not with Hamas after the tunnels that we've seen, after the rockets that we've seen, Hamas is perceived as the ultimate threat to Israel's existence. We shouldn't be talking to them at all is what the people of Israel say, what the government of Israel says. So I think that it's not a similar situation.