Return to Transcripts main page


Cease-Fire Over; Soldier Possibly Captured; Game Changer in Gaza

Aired August 1, 2014 - 08:30   ET


JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: A humanitarian cease-fire agreement that is clearly in the humanitarian interests of innocent civilians on both sides in order to carry out an attack is a terrible thing, is worthy of the strongest condemnation from the United States, and it certainly deserves the strong condemnation of the international community.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yesterday, the day before, too, you were very concerned that Israel is not doing enough right now to protect innocent civilians. They could be doing more. And yesterday you also said that U.N. shelter was clearly destroyed by an Israeli artillery shell or missile or whatever it was. Are you still concerned that Israel might not be doing enough to protect innocent Palestinian civilians?

EARNEST: Well, Wolf, the Israeli government and the Israeli military has set a high standard for themselves in terms of their commitment to carrying out military operations that show concern and respect and take precautions to avoid civilian casualties. We encourage -- we certainly have steadfastly defended Israel's right to defend themselves and we would defend Israel's right to respond to this barbaric violation of the cease-fire agreement. But that does not absolve Israel and their military of taking -- of living up to their own standards of protecting innocent -- the lives of innocent civilians. And that our urging that Israel continue to meet those standards, to do everything possible to live up to those high standards remains.

BLITZER: Josh, thanks very much. Josh Earnest is the White House press secretary.

Chris, I don't know if you have another question for Josh, but if you do, go ahead.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thank you very much, Wolf.

Josh, we'll let you get to the important work the White House has in front of it. Please stay in touch with us, let us know if there's any progress at all, if there's any resumption of the cease-fire.

EARNEST: We'll do.

CUOMO: Thanks for joining us on NEW DAY.

EARNEST: Thank you, gentlemen. CUOMO: So you just got all three sides of it covered there. Israel

saying, we were allowed to be in the tunnels. This is how Hamas responded. Now we have to continue doing what we do. There cannot be a cease-fire if Hamas seems to be divided and not coordinated in terms of what they understood about the terms of the cease-fire or what happened even with the soldier.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The ambassador - and then - and the ambassador is saying that it might matter what side of the line that the Israeli soldiers were on, which you asked Josh about as well. But one thing is clear through all of us, is the next few hours are going to be very important and that what's going to happen on the ground is very uncertain at this moment though. We could see a huge escalation in the violence.

We're going to be following this. We're going to be right back. We're going to take a quick break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

More on our breaking news in the Middle East. The possible capture of an Israeli soldier apparently put an end to what was supposed to be a weekend of calm in the Middle East. The Israeli military says a suicide bomber targeted a group of Israeli soldiers who were trying to clear one of these tunnels we keep hearing about. The bomber allegedly emerged from the tunnel in southern Gaza before detonating and it's believed other militants took the soldier captive at that point.

BOLDUAN: And Israel responded with a deadly shelling in southern Gaza. For their part, a Hamas spokesman says that he could not -- earlier this morning he said he could not confirm whether a soldier was captured. Various Palestinian officials that we've spoken with today say peace talks are still possible, but you have to believe that Israel is in no mood, is in no position to even be open to negotiating peace while one of its own soldiers is possibly still missing.

Let's bring in Karl Penhaul, who's been on the ground for us in Gaza.

Karl, give us an update. What did you see on the ground?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, we're getting reports from the ground because right now access to southern Gaza is extremely complicated. But around 9:30, that is one and a half hours into the cease-fire, a Palestinian colleague told me he had just received a call from his wife and that the Israelis were shelling areas of Rafa City (ph). That is in southern Gaza on the border crossing with Egypt.

Now it seems, according to statements from the Israeli military, that this incident involving the capture of an Israeli soldier took place around the same time. I'm not sure whether the shelling of Rafa -- areas of Rafa was in response to that, but that is what looks likely right now from our reporting. Now, what the Palestinian health authority is telling us is that in

that shelling incident in Rafa, that Israeli artillery shells fell on a public market and those shells also fell close to the entrance of the hospital where the first wave of wounded were being taken to. The Palestinian health authority tells us there are at least 35 people dead in hospital morgues, more than 200 wounded, already being tended to in hospitals. But they say quite clearly there may be more dead and wounded out there in the combat zone, they simply can't get to them.

Now, when I say combat zone, the Palestinian health ministry is very careful to say that they believe that this shelling took place in a public market and at the hospital entrance. It is not clear, and I have not yet heard from the Israeli military, if they did target that area deliberately and also if they did target that area, is that where perhaps they believe the militants had retreated to after the earlier fire fight at the Kettm Shahlom (ph) border crossing, which is where we understand the fire fight between Hamas militants and the Israeli military occurred. That is about two -- locations about one mile apart, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Karl, so let's talk about what's happening there behind you. Do civilians, do they understand that the cease-fire, for all intents and purposes, is completely over? That violence is picking back up, because they might have gone to sleep and woken up thinking that the 72-hour cease-fire was put in place.

PENHAUL: No, I don't think that is happening. Palestinians here have been waking up very early these last few days. They were aware that a cease-fire had begun around 8:00 local time. We saw several people heading back -- when we went towards eastern Gaza, people heading back to try and salvage some possessions from their homes. And then, when we were in eastern Gaza, we saw Israeli tanks opening fire. We heard at least three or four tank shells being fired at buildings in eastern Gaza. That was about two-and-a-half hours into the cease-fire, and so already this incident further south in Gaza was already under way.

It was also interesting to hear one of your earlier guests, Ambassador Mansour (ph), talking about what exactly happened here. Of course, we know that the cease-fire was due to be a cease-fire in place. We don't know, though, in fact where the location of the Israeli soldier was relative to the Hamas militants in this tunnel. That's something we're trying to get from Hamas and from authorities on the ground, Kate.

BOLDUAN: That would be an important detail because, as you said, when I was speaking with the ambassador, that was an important point that he thought should be figured out as things continue to be weeded through.

Karl Penhaul on the ground for us in Gaza. Karl, we'll get back to you. Thanks so much.


CUOMO: All right, let's pick up that point because it seems to be the key right now in understanding what may have just happened. We have Peter Beinart, CNN political commentator and contributing editor for "Atlantic Media," as well as a senior columnist for the Israeli newspaper "Hirets" (ph), and Bobby Ghosh, the managing editor of "Quartz."

Let's pick up on this important point. You just heard Karl Penhaul. Things were going on underground while he was aboveground seeing what now we believe was a response by Israeli military to what had happened in a tunnel. This is the terms of the cease-fire according to Secretary Kerry. This is the important clause. "Israel will be able to continue its defensive operations for tunnels behind its lines." What does that mean to you, Peter Beinart?

PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's possible -- I mean there are two interpretations here. One of them is that - is that this message -- there was ambiguity and that on the ground this ambiguity led to this conflict between Hamas militants and Israeli soldiers. The other interpretation is that Hamas was just not abiding by the cease-fire. Hamas is acting in a reckless way. I think Hamas' behavior throughout this conflict has been somewhat reckless. They have their back against the wall. The Palestinian people are not pressuring them it appears to force them to stop this escalation. And they may have felt that they were not going to get anything out of the negotiations that were coming up in Egypt and so they might as well take this very, very reckless and very, very dangerous action.

CUOMO: But isn't this something, Bobby, that would have been well parsed/negotiated by the parties at the table, what this means, what is a defensive operation, what does this mean behind the lines, or do you think this is something that wasn't understood or was left to interpretation?

BOBBY GHOSH, MANAGING EDITOR, "QUARTZ": I would be very surprised that if it was not understood. Now, the parties who are at the table are not the fighters. The parties at the table -- first of all is not even Hamas directly. It's proxies like Qatar and Turkey, and that has always given Hamas a certain plausible deniability. They've always been in a position to say, well, we didn't agree to that, it was Turkey that agreed and there was some miscommunication. That gives them a lot of sort of plausible deniability.

But the fact is, the moment John Kerry goes on - and he said this on television -- that that tunnel clearance would be allowed whether it's behind or in front of the current Israeli lines, everybody in Gaza would have heard those - would have heard that sentence and would have understood what that means. Because no one - obviously, no one's paying closer attention to every word, no one's parsing every word more closely than the people of Gaza. This is an existential problem for them. So they would have known it.

CUOMO: So if that's true - so if that's true, if they would have known it, let's go on Bobby's assumption, that means that Hamas fighters or whoever was in that tunnel, if the reports are to be believed, did the one thing that they knew would take peace off the table as far as Israel is concerned, taking one of their soldiers. And they knew this because of what happened with Shalib (ph) in the past. They knew what the response would be. Fair point? BEINART: Right, this -- whoever decided to do this, whether it was

people on the ground or people higher up, it was a terrible crime against their own people. Their people are suffering catastrophically already and now it's going to get so dramatically worse. And there is no way in which you can argue, I think, plausibly, that this move is going to have any positive outcome for the Palestinian people. That's what makes this so, so awful.

CUOMO: And we also see clear indications this morning that even looking at Mahmoud Abbas' representative to the U.N., and the spokesperson for Hamas that we had on, they're giving different versions what they thought was supposed to happen and what they think should happen going forward. How do you negotiate peace when one side of the table doesn't seem to understand itself very well, where does that leave the U.S.? Very pressing questions. We'll take them on.

Bobby, Peter, stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be back in a second.


BOLDUAN: Following breaking news of course throughout the morning coming out of the Middle East, but first lets bring you some other breaking news here at home because this is something everyone cares about every month. The July jobs report has just come out, the U.S. economy added 209,000 jobs in the month of July, and the unemployment rate rose to 6.2 percent. That's up from 6.1 percent in the month of June. The monthly job numbers just coming out. Wanted to make sure we got that to you.

But let's head back to our major story of the morning that we've been following, the breaking news out of the Middle East. Lets bring Wolf Blitzer right back in for us on the ground in Israel. Wolf, you've been speaking with all, really all, getting the side from Israel throughout the morning, the Israeli government, and you've really seen it as what's happened this morning in Gaza as a game changer. Remind our viewers why what is going on right now is such a game changer.

BLITZER: Well, the Israelis say it was a tough decision for them to accept the U.S. U.N. proposal for the 72-hour cease-fire. There were a lot of members of the prime minister's cabinet who didn't want a cease-fire. They wanted to continue the military operations, not only going after tunnels but Hamas rockets and missiles, other weapons. They didn't want to stop. They thought they had a good opportunity, you know, to deal with this issue militarily, and in the end the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, the defense minister, Moshe Ya'alon, they greed, the Security Cabinet agreed.

They accepted the cease-fire, it was supposed to go into effect 8:00 a.m. this morning and did go into effect for about an hour, hour and a half. If you believe the Israeli version of what happened after that, 8:00 am local time, by 9:30 there was this incident inside one of those tunnels and two Israeli soldiers were killed, one Israeli soldier was captured, a lieutenant was captured and the Israelis immediately stepped up their military action in the area around Rafa. Palestinians say 40 or 50 people were killed in a marketplace there, rockets started coming into Southern Israel, at least eight or nine from Hamas launchers in Gaza. That cease-fire is gone.

If they have an Israeli soldier, and the Israelis believe they do have an Israeli soldier, they've actually identified the soldier's name, the Israelis are going to do, they're going to really go through that whole area and look for that soldier. They're going to try to capture and find that Israeli soldier and bring him back to Israel. It's going to be a tough military campaign. They tried that once before years ago when Hamas had another Israeli soldier who was captured, taken through a tunnel into Israel, Gilad Shalid. Gilad Shalid was held by the Hamas militants for five years. Eventually he was freed as part of a intricate exchange. More than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners released for Gilad Shalid. Gilad Shalid's now back in Israel. It's a sensitive issue for the Israelis and I'm sure in the next several hours there is going to be intense fighting going on.

BOLDUAN: That's why it was surprising to hear when we had the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour on, he said that they are ready to work towards another cease-fire. They're ready for their part, they're ready to continue these talks, to go to Cairo, to have these negotiations even though I made very clear to him it doesn't seem like it's possible at all for a cease-fire to be in place at this point. Does that surprise you or does that just show how complex and difficult those situation is developing?

BLITZER: I'm sure Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations and other Palestinian authority leaders, Saeb Erekat the chief Palestinian negotiator, and others, they really do want a cease-fire. And I think if it were up to them that cease-fire would be honored and probably there are political elements of Hamas who really do want a cease-fire as well.

The question is, and it's worthy of consideration, the armed wing of Hamas, are they ready for a cease-fire? Are they ready to live up to the terms that were carefully negotiated by the U.N. secretary- general, the secretary of state, working with Egypt, working with Turkey, working with Qatar, working with other interested parties. Is that armed wing ready to honor a cease-fire? The Israelis say absolutely not and they're going to continue their military operations as a result. So whereas the political leadership may be ready for it, maybe the military leadership if you listen to the Israelis, they're not.

BOLDUAN: Wolf, do you think it matters? I mean, we might be parsing into this, but Secretary Kerry had said in his statement in announcing this cease-fire and kind of the elements of it, that Israel could continue its defensive operations in destroying these tunnels behind its lines. Do you think the line matters? Do you think that matters at all in how things played out and who instigated this escalation?

BLITZER: I think it's a very sensitive issue. The secretary of state did in his public comments yesterday while he was in India, he's in New Delhi, he did spell out what Israel is allowed to do defensively, as opposed to what it's not allowed to do offensively. What was worrisome to me, Kate, is that none of that was included in the public written statement carefully drafted and released by the United Nations. They said Israel could keep its troops in place, they didn't have to

withdraw its troops, but they didn't go through the offensive versus defensive and there could have been some miscommunications, some misunderstandings, if you will. I was worried at the time when I heard the secretary elaborate on what wasn't in the official document, and it raised questions in my mind, is this thing really going to work?

BOLDUAN: That's an important point, especially from your perspective as you've covered this so many times before. Wolf, thank you so much. Wolf Blitzer continuing coverage for us on the ground in Israel. Wolf, we'll get right back to you. We're going to take another break, we're going to be right back to our breaking news coverage out of the Middle East. Cease-fire, 72-hour cease-fire between Israel and Gaza over.



JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: While we are grateful that the violence and the bloodshed has the opportunity to stop for more than 24 hours, it is up to the parties, all of them, to take advantage of this moment. There are no guarantees.


CUOMO: Certainly pressing words by Secretary Kerry. Not about the fact that a cease-fire would last 72 hours, but that there were no guarantees.

BOLDUAN: And it was just such a short time ago that he made this announcement in the overnight hours here on the east coast, that he made this announcement much more optimistic, though he was very cautious as he should be in announcing the 72-hour cease-fire and we well know at this point it is all over.

CUOMO: As we give you to Carol Costello on "NEWSROOM" remember this one line from the provisions of the cease-fire from Secretary Kerry. Israel will be able to continue its defensive operations for tunnels behind its lines. What was that supposed to mean? How was it interpreted?

BOLDUAN: And what does it mean now? Let's continue our breaking news coverage, let's get you right over to "NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello. Hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks a lot. Hello, have a great day. NEWSROOM starts now

Good morning, I'm Carol Costello. I'd like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

COSTELLO: We begin this hour in the Middle East at a potential game changer unfolding as we speak. A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas lasts only minutes and the violence threatens to surge to a whole new level. Gaza says dozens of people are killed when massive airstrike pulverized this residential area and a market. Hamas says the attack was unprovoked and Israel shattered the truce just 90 minutes into a 72 hour agreement that Washington helped broker.