Return to Transcripts main page


Israel Approves New 24-Hour Ceasefire; U.S. Embassy Personnel Flee Violence in Libyan Capital

Aired July 26, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a SITUATION ROOM Special Report.

Breaking news, cease-fire extension. Israel just approved another 24- hour truce after a day of relative calm that exposed wide spread devastation from its assault on Gaza. Hamas targets there. We are waiting for Hamas to decide whether it will agree to the 24-hour extension just to prove, fire Israel.

Plus, Americans evacuated. U.S. embassy personnel flee raging violence at the capital of Libya. We are going to go live update of the danger right now on what is going on there.

And grim return, more coffins arrived in the Netherlands from Ukraine as flight 17, the investigation is paralyzed right now by violence.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. You are in the SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Let's get to the breaking news.

Tonight, the Israeli security cabinet has agreed to extend a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza for another 24 hours even after Hamas fired rockets within the past few hours into Israel. A Hamas spokesman tells CNN his group needs clarification before deciding whether to agree to the extension. We are awaiting official word from Hamas. The spokesman said he will tell us here in the SITUATION ROOM as soon as they make a final decision. They expect that to happen soon.

Israel, meanwhile, says the new truce is conditional on being able to continue operations like this.


BLITZER: Israeli military wants to press ahead with locating and destroying those Hamas tunnels from Gaza into Israel during a new 24- hour cease-fire period. This new move by the Israelis comes after a break in the fighting that lasted much of the day allowing Palestinians to assess the damage and bring in medical and other supplies.

Our correspondents are covering breaking news here in the Middle East and around the world.

First, let's go to Atika Shubert. She is joining us from Ashkelon in Israel. That's right near the Gaza border. She has the latest from there.

Atika, what's going on?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are still getting rocket attacks coming in from Gaza. Bershebo (ph) was the latest. Just a few hours ago, we also saw two rockets intercepted above the skies in Ashkelon here. But the Israeli military so far has held its fire and it does seem that 24-hour cease-fire is going ahead as per the Israeli security cabinet.

But on the condition, as you pointed out, that the IDF, the Israel Defense Force is still is able to look for tunnels inside Gaza and dismantle the tunnel network. What they have been doing is putting explosives inside the tunnels and collapsing them. And they say they are going to continue to do that even as the cease-fire goes on, that it is part of the primary objective of dismantling and disarming Hamas, Wolf.

BLITZER: So Atika, if you take a look over this, there was 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire, Israel extended it for another four hours. Now, there is a 24-hour extension by the Israelis. So, it has gone on at least another hour. But you say since the four-hour extension went into effect, there have been a number of Hamas rockets and missiles, mortar coming into Israel and they continue even as we speak right now. Is that what I'm hearing?

SHUBERT: Yes. In fact, just a few minutes ago we heard another boom, another explosion, we presume perhaps possibly a rocket attack. And it looks like there have been the rockets still coming over.

Now, Israel so far has held its fire. But the big question is if we continue to see more of these rocket and mortar attacks, if Hamas does not respond to the 24-hour cease-fire is the Israeli military still going to hold back or respond with possibly more force?

BLITZER: We're going to find out right now.

Atika Shubert on the scene for us near the Gaza border. Thanks very much.

Let's bring in the spokesman for the IDF, Israel Defense Forces lieutenant colonel Peter Lerner. Thanks very much for joining us.

What is the answer to Atika's question? You have extended the cease- fire, your cabinet, for another 24 hours. But rockets, missiles, mortar still comes in. What is going to happen?

LT. COL. PETER LERNER, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESMAN: Well, our focus now is currently on the issue of tunnels. I can tell you yesterday I visited a tunnel coming into Israel. It is a three kilometer long tunnel. It must have cost about a million dollars, 26,000 elements of prefabricated cement in the tunnel for terrorism just for one purpose, for terrorism. We are cutting those off. That is what our mission is focused on at this time. And indeed, there has been a decision to prolong the cease-fire on the ground. Of course, we have reserve the right to defend ourselves, if required.

BLITZER: So during this 24-hour extension you are going to continue to try to a, locate and b, destroy as many of those tunnels as possible, is that correct?

LERNER: Well, absolutely. We have found about 31 or 32 tunnels that some extend into Israel. We are going to sever those tunnels. We are not going to let that be a threat. You know, I have spoken to the people today. I met with the commanders down in the field. I spent most of the day down there. They have this huge passion to get this behind us.

All they are worried about is not themselves in the field. They are constantly thinking about the communities in the surrounding communities of the Gaza Strip and that is the message that they spoke to me today. They said, Peter, this is something we are worried about. We will do what it takes in order to stop the threat, to take it off of the table and keep the civilians home safe.

BLITZER: Because your fear is if those tunnels aren't destroyed, it will enable Hamas militants, if you will, to go through those tunnels enter Israel and kill Israelis is that -- or capture Israelis, kidnap Israelis and that you are determined to stop that?

LERNER: Well, these tunnels, they serve only one purpose. They serve a purpose of easy infiltration for 10, 12, 13 terrorists at a time that can come in, carry out attacks, shoot at Israelis, at the doc (ph) perhaps, take them back into Gaza and, you know, really put the area in a spin that we are not willing to just let happen. So we are operating against that threat. We are determined to take it off of the table. And that is what we are doing on the ground as we speak.

BLITZER: How many tunnels are there based on your intelligence? And the Israeli military usually has pretty good intelligence?

LERNER: Well, our assessment is that we have in our hands as we speak around 31 of these tunnels. We do expect that this is more than half of what has been exposed. It's something that takes time.

Also, the detonation when we are demolishing and decommissioning them, it also takes time. We have to do it carefully, we have to do it in a way -- we have seen the length of the tunnels is anything between three kilometers heading into Israel, multiple access points, all enabling the terrorists to come in. And if we destroy a part of it then they can easily circumvent that and perhaps continue building into Israel. So that is why we have to demolish them completely. We have to take this threat off of the table. It cannot be permitted.

BLITZER: How long is that going to take? What is your estimate? LERNER: It could take, the assessment, up to a week. But we could do

it shorter depending on the amount of leeway we have from the government and how the government decides that we can operate. But to be complete and to be all inclusive, it could probably take another week.

BLITZER: Another week and then it is over with the tunnels, is that what you are saying?

LERNER: Well, I hope so. I mean, we know what we know. We don't know what we don't know. And there could be more tunnels that we will find along the way. Indeed, we are using everything at hand in order to locate those tunnels.

BLITZER: Your priority is the tunnels and not necessarily destroying the rockets and missiles and storage facilities that have them? Is that right?

LERNER: This mission and this operation began with two main goals, first of all, the tunnels and second of all the rocket capabilities. Indeed now, depleted. We have seen some ten rockets this evening since 8:00 launched at Israel despite our prolongation of the cease- fire, unfortunately. We will reserve our right to defend ourselves. And indeed, the rockets are a component that are threatening today, three quarters of the state of Israel. Another unbearable reality.

BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, thanks very much for joining us.

LERNER: Thank you. Good evening.

All right, let's get a little deeper perspective right now. Joining us on the phone is the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat. He is joining us from Jericho on the west bank.

Saeb Erekat, give me your reaction to what we just heard from the spokesman for the IDF.

SAEN EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR (via phone): I'm really very worried, Wolf. Because their best end game, if that is the game plan that means we are witnessing the gradual reoccupation of Gaza. Meanwhile, we have on the West Bank (INAUDIBLE) that I told you yesterday. Tonight, there are demonstrations and uprisings all over the place. Soon enough, the Palestinians, sooner or later may collapse under. And what do you have? You are hitting the (INAUDIBLE) from the start. You have a total invasion of the west bank and Gaza. And you have the resumption of enlarging the (INAUDIBLE) violence and that's the situation.

You know, you are trying to get solutions. You rejected Mr. Kerry's offer of seven-days of cease-fire so we can sit down and work out all these things and see what can be done with Gaza, what can be done in the whole and bigger picture. (INAUDIBLE) the peace process is concern. And you know, the spokesperson just spoke before me, you know, as very clear in announcing that an end game of the Israeli government going at it the extra mile, anything that new -- the occupation fully occupying Gaza. And if Israeli will be running off the Palestinian children, controlling 1.8 million people in Gaza. And doing what? What would this produce? Would this produce more security? Would this produce more peace? Would this produce more stability and more economic prosperity and more democracy? It has been years since this occupation began and 47 years delayed. Not ending this occupation establishing with respect to Israel (ph). It is a very dangerous situation.

BLITZER: But Saeb Erekat, what is Israel supposed to do if Hamas builds these tunnels and they are plotting to send their militants through the tunnels to capture Israelis or kill Israelis? Are they supposed to just allow the tunnels to stay there?

EREKAT: No. Wolf, that is presented by the Americans and the European and the Egyptians and (INAUDIBLE) and the Qataris today entirely. It's not, you know, just to keep things the way they are now.

There is a cease-fire for seven days. Both parties will meet. An international element will be introduced to Gaza. And then, you know, the bigger picture of ending this occupation and then Palestinians taking into their hands one authority, on gun, the rule of law, going to annexation and so on. It is not just a cease-fire for seven days and then that is it.

It is a cease-fire for seven days and then a whole process that will ensure the (INAUDIBLE) in some of these situations that will insure that we learn the lessons from the past. There was, you know, so many battle, so many wars, so many killing fields. And every time we get in the same argument about defending and not defending and self- defense. A world war has been setting to west bank, (INAUDIBLE) defense as they claimed (INAUDIBLE) No. The only thing evident for both Palestinians and Israelis is meaningful solution. It doesn't happen this year --

BLITZER: Here is the question. Sorry for interrupting Saeb. But I just want to clarify one point that you made earlier. It's a sensitive point. Your top adviser to the Palestinian authority president Mahmoud Abbas said suggested that the whole Palestinian authority could be in danger right now because of the angry mood that is developing on the West Bank, it could get angrier with the end of Ramadan in the next day or two. Just explain what you mean by that.

EREKAT: Well, what I mean by that is we are the authority. And many authority on earth. There has said government is supposed to protect Americans and Britain government supposed to protect the British, Israel must protect the Israelis and so on. (INAUDIBLE), Wolf.

How do we look? How do you look under this? We have a total occupation in the West Bank, total cancellation of agreement fine. Israeli is making (INAUDIBLE) army, is making in every single Palestinian town, village, (INAUDIBLE). In bombarding Gaza, my information tonight, Wolf, is that the destruction of funding has been 100,000 totally damaged or partially damaged.

So I don't think that status quo can be sustained anyhow. It is going to suspend. The authority was born by a contract with Israel to deliver Palestinians from occupation, through independence through Tripoli. It has been 20 years. And I don't think we can steer the cycle. I'm afraid things get out of hand if we have a total eruption of an uprising in the West Bank, I don't think we can (INAUDIBLE). I don't think even (INAUDIBLE). So what would be that they after? West bank and Gaza and Jerusalem. What will be the day after?

BLITZER: It's a depressing picture you are painting, Saeb Erekat. Let's hope that it doesn't necessarily turn out. That would be a disaster. I was there. You were there in 1993 when Israel and the Palestinians signed that agreement on the south lawn of the White House when the prime minister (INAUDIBLE) were I believe there in the Palestinian move that they were there with Bill Clinton.

I was the White House correspondent for CNN. To think these years later the situation is as bad as it is right now. It is a very depressing sight for all of us who have watched the situation unfolds.

Saeb Erekat, we'll check back with you tomorrow. Let's hope the situation improves by then and gets even better the day after. We can only hope cooler heads will prevail.

Saeb, thanks very much for joining us. Thank you.

CNN's Ian Lee got a first-hand look at the devastation in Gaza during the day light hours of the cease-fire and he filed this report.


IAN LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When the clouds of war cleared, this is the devastation that was left behind. We have a child's mattress. We have clothes, we have pots and pans. This area completely destroyed. And it is not just this house, as you can see, there are other buildings down here that have been damaged, devastated. We've seen some people come through here and try to pick at little things they can take back with them to their shelters.

This crater just highlights the massive amount of fire power that being used in this area. This hole has to be at least ten meters deep. And if you look, there are slabs of concrete. It looks like the building was here. And what we're hearing is that this was likely the result of a 500-pound bomb.

Neighborhood after neighborhood, house after house has been reduced to rubble like this. And really without any permanent cease-fire. This sort of devastation is likely to continue.

Ian Lee, CNN, Gaza.


BLITZER: More breaking news. The U.S. embassy in Libya now been evacuated as the deadly militant fighting closes in. We are learning new details of the dramatic rush to safety.

Plus, an important milestone in Malaysia airlines flight 17 investigation. We are going live to Ukraine.

We are live here in Jerusalem. This is the SITUATION ROOM Special Report.


BLITZER: We're back live here in Jerusalem.

There is another breaking story we are following here in the Middle East, the dramatic evacuation of the United States embassy in Libya. Heavy militia fighting has been reported in and around the Tripoli area, the vicinity of the U.S. embassy and the international airport these.

We have more from our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, by all accounts the evacuation of 150 U.S. personnel from the embassy went smoothie. It included 80 marines that had been there for security. The evacuation plan had Americans driven out of Tripoli heading west across the border into Tunisia.

But there was plenty of American fire power nearby to rescue if they got into trouble on that long drive. We now know there were two f-16s overhead, a drone, following the convoy all the way to the border. A U.S. Navy warship in the Mediterranean nearby and actually several dozen additional heavily armed marines flying overhead in their v-22 aircraft ready to move in if the convoy had come under attack to get the Americans out.

The decision to evacuate the embassy clearly came after growing violence for the last several weeks. In recent days the nearby triply airport had been destroyed, shut down by rifle militia shelling. There was shelling in the neighborhood where the embassy was located. Once the airport has shut down, there was no way for Americans to get out by commercial air which is usually what happens. They simply get own a commercial airliner. The violence grew and the state department and the White House and the Pentagon made the decision it was time for the Americans to go -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara, thank you.

Let's get some more on the situation in Libya and the evacuation of the United States embassy. We are joined by our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

What else, Elise, are you learning about this?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well, Wolf, the state department is saying that this is not a closing of the embassy, but you know, a kind of temporary suspending of operations. But as you know, Wolf, when the U.S. decides to leave a country and pull out all of its staff it needs to destroy equipment and destroy documents. It needs to really kind of close up shop at least temporarily. And it doesn't look like the U.S. is really going to be going to be going back anytime soon. And that raises the question about what the U.S. can really do from afar to help the Libyan government really kind of effect the political change that will stop this violence.

And that is one of the complaints that you have heard throughout this process in Libya, Wolf. That even though the United States or ironically that the United States helped liberate the Libyan people from Moammar Gadhafi with those air strikes, they were not able to follow it up with the hands on political engagement. And now that the state department has essentially left the country, I think there are a lot of questions about the message it sends about the U.S. commitment to Libya, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And as I pointed out earlier, the U.S. spent $1.65 billion on those air strikes, other military operations to get rid of Moammar Gadhafi. Gadhafi, thanks to U.S. NATO forces is gone, but look what is going on there right now. What an awful, awful situation.

Elise, a quick question on the cease-fire potential here in the Middle East. What are you hearing from your sources? The Israeli cabinet has approved the 24-hour extension. They rejected Kerry's seven-day proposes. But are you hearing?

LABOTT: Well, obviously, everyone waiting to see whether Hamas is going to extend. You know, officials that I am talking to think that that will probably happen. That Hamas will set. And then what I am told secretary Kerry wants to do, Wolf, is just keep extending, a day, 24 hours, 12 hours, keep extending. You have the holiday coming up, the end of the holy month of Ramadan on Monday really be horrible throughout the Arab world to see pictures of Palestinians being killed, of more violence during this holiday.

What secretary Kerry is hoping is that if he could keep this extension going even if it is a piecemeal that it will create a momentum and an opening for those larger negotiations for both sides.

Take a listen to what secretary Kerry said earlier today after he was in Paris after meeting with the foreign ministers.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I understand that Palestinians need to live with dignity. They need a life that is free from the current restraints that they feel on a daily basis and obviously free from violence. But at the same time Israelis need to live free from rockets and tunnels that threaten them.


LABOTT: And that's secretary Kerry says every discussion that he has, Wolf, is about those larger, really extra potential goals that the Israelis and Palestinians fell that everyone agrees that the fighting has to stop first and then you can talk about the needs on both sides. You can't do that while the fighting is going on, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we are waiting for the decision by Hamas whether they are going to extend, as well. We hope to get that soon. Elise, thanks very much.

Just ahead, a key player in the efforts and the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Qatar, why is Qatar so critical in brokering a cease-fire.

Plus, an important first step in the Malaysia flight 17 investigation. We will go live to Ukraine for the very latest.

This is a SITUATION ROOM Special Report live from Jerusalem.


BLITZER: We're back live from Jerusalem.

We're waiting for word from Hamas on whether it will abide by a new cease fire approved by the Israeli security cabinet. This new move comes as the U.S. is pushing for a broader cease-fire agreement, one lasting seven days. One of the key players in the effort, of course, is the nation state of Qatar, which has considerable influence with Hamas.

Brian Todd is taking a specific look at the role of Qatar.

Brian, what did you see?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that connection with Hamas makes Qatar a key player here, but it's also a big problem for the U.S. Qatar is a country with a close and lucrative relationship with America. At the same time, it supports what the U.S. considers a terrorist group.


TODD (voice-over): A sophisticated lethal web of tunnels, used by Hamas to attack Israel. Israeli forces now in a bloody fight to destroy those tunnels. Where did Hamas get the money to build the underground network?

JONATHAN SCHANZER, FOUNDATION FOR DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACIES: The bulk of the financing that goes to Hamas comes from Qatar.

TODD: Qatar, a top American ally in the Middle East, housing a massive U.S. air base, a country which reportedly just spent $11 billion to buy American Patriot missile batteries and Apache attack helicopters.

Jonathan Schanzer, a former terror finance tracker with the Treasury Department, says Qatar, with a tiny population but loads of wealth from oil and natural gas, has become the principal financier of Hamas, which America and its allies consider a terrorist group.

That's not all. Qatar is home to Khaled Meshaal, Hamas' chief political leader.

How generous is Qatar with Hamas? SCHANZER: In 2012, the emir of Qatar traveled to Gaza. It was the

first foreign leader to do so since Hamas had taken over the territory and pledged $400 million.

TODD: It's worth noting that Hamas doesn't just consist of a military wing. It runs schools, hospitals and other civil programs. Qatar also underwrites Al-Jazeera, the TV network also critical of the U.S.

SCHANZER: They basically use their money to extract influence around the region.

TODD: But Schanzer believes it is time for the U.S. to get tough with the emirs of Qatar.

SCHANZER: What we're seeing right now is a Washington that is not punishing Qatar for its behavior. In many ways, it looks as if we're rewarding them by allowing them to purchase this advanced weaponry.

TODD: Why does the America still do business with Qatar?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: We have had issues, you know, over the last decade with Qatar and frequently reevaluate that relationship. But on balance, believed engagement with them, because of their relationship with people we are often adversarial with, Hamas, the Taliban and Iran, that it is a useful dialogue for the United States to maintain.


TODD: Contacted by CNN, a senior administration official said U.S. officials have made it clear with Qatar that they consider Hamas a terrorist organization. This official said Qatar assured the administration that the $400 million it gave to Gaza would not go to Hamas. We tried several times to get response from Qatari officials to the criticism of their support for Hamas, they did not respond.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that report. Let's bring in three really smart Middle East analysts who know the subject very, very well.

Joining us from Washington is Shelby Telhami, Khaled Elgindy, along with CNN Middle East analyst, the former ambassador of Israel to the United States, Michael Oren.

Ambassador Oren, why do the Israelis not trust Qatar?

MICHAEL OREN, CNN MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: Can you imagine why not? They give $400 billion to Hamas and ends up going to building underground tunnels that are reinforced with concrete and steel. They purchase or smuggle 12,000 rockets into Gaza Strip, 2,600 of them have been fired at Israel over the past two and a half weeks. Those rockets can carry between 100 and 300 pounds of TNT. I think there are pretty good reasons not to trust the Qataris.

BLITZER: Shibley, I've been to Doha, Qatar. I spent some time there. It is a very weird situation because you go there and there is basically a U.S. military base right outside of Doha. U.S. military central command has a lot of troops there.

Explain what this unique relationship is. You have U.S. military personnel there, and on the other hand they're dealing with Hamas.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, AUTHOR: All right. First of all, Wolf, I didn't realize I was going to come here to talk about Qatar. I thought we were talking about Gaza.

But since you asked, I think as you look at the relationship back to the 1990s when the previous emir overtook his father and took power, actually they were under criticism for being too pro Israel and improving the relationship with Israel. They received a lot of criticism from Egypt and Saudi Arabia for doing so. That remains through the 1990s and al Jazeera itself seemed to be friendly, the first Arab station to air out Israeli views and maintain a relationship with Israel, including a trade mission with Israel under pressure.

So, the relationship hasn't been like that all the time. It was a function of a lot of changes that have happened in the region itself. But when you look at what they are doing with Hamas and Gaza, ask them where the money goes.

But we know how they do business. They do business by using their influence with both sides of every conflict. They have done that in the past. They try to keep relations with Islamists and everyone else in the past. Look at the deal they made to release American prisoner from Taliban, in large part because they kept in connection with them.

But they also use the money for good. I mean, let's look at the devastation happening in Gaza now. There is going to be hundreds of millions dollars just to rebuild, to get people, forget about Hamas and forget about the military issue and look at the humanitarian issue. Who's going to be able to contribute the hundreds of millions? Whether or not there have been guidelines, the U.S. is going to be asking people to contribute. They have been in the forefront of people who said we are going to do it.

BLITZER: Colin, where is this cease fire negotiation right now? Where is it heading? Is it going to really work? Is Secretary of State Kerry going to work out a deal together with Qatar, together with Turkey, Egypt, the Palestinian authority, or are we going to see more bloodshed?

KHALED ELGINDY, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, let me try to answer that by going back to the issue you touched on which is the role that Qatar plays. And just try to imagine that if we had punished, to use the words of one of the earlier guests, if we had punished Qatar for having a relationship with Hamas and prevented anyone from having a relationship with Hamas, who would serve as the interlocutor for anyone to talk with Hamas in order to obtain a cease fire in the first place?

It's certainly not possible for the United States to broker a deal directly with Hamas. So someone has to be able to talk to them. And that's why it is actually in our interest and in the interest of everybody on the ground that Qatar plays the role that it does. One of the reasons the previous conflict was able to be ended after only eight or nine days two years ago was the fact that Egypt played that role of interlocutor.

BLITZER: Egypt doesn't do that anymore because it doesn't have that really great relationship with Hamas as a former Muslim Brotherhood- led government had.

One quick question, Michael Oren, before I let you go, Turkey is also playing a significant role. Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States but they have good relations with Hamas, as well.

OREN: Well, you know, you go on Israeli television as I do, Wolf, and you are asked the same question over and over again. Why are international actors such as the United States trying to bring Qatar and Turks into the conflict? The Qataris are the element who basically funded Hamas, who funded this war. The Turks now have an anti-Semitic government. And what possible good could they bring?

This entire discussion is about trying to induce Hamas to accept cease-fire. And I think maybe that my distinguish guests were not quite in the same page. Israel is not about trying to induce Hamas to accept cease-fire. It was the cease-fire that created this situation. Ceasefire agreement reached in 2012 created a situation where Israel's hands were tied and Hamas could build its rocket arsenal, bring in bigger rockets, longer range rockets, and choose the time when it could fire the rockets.

Nobody here is thinking about going back to that. And whether the Qataris can talk nice to Hamas, the Turks can talk nice to Hamas, it's not about that. It's about defeating Hamas and creating a new situation where neither Israelis nor Palestinians will be victims of Hamas again. This is a vicious terrorist organization. This is not a rational partner in an equal moral game.

BLITZER: We're going to continue this conversation in the coming days. I'm going to have all three of you back with us, because there's a lot more I want to go in depth on.

Guys, thanks very much for joining us today.

Just ahead, we have other breaking news we are following involving the Malaysia Airlines crash investigation. As the last of the coffins arrive from the Ukraine, experts now identify the first of the bodies.

And former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tells Fareed Zakaria about what she calls the biggest complaint that she has with the Israeli government.


BLITZER: We'll continue to monitor the situation here in the Middle East, which is extremely dangerous right now. But there's some breaking news involving the investigation of the Malaysia Airlines crash. Today, specialist of the Netherlands identified the first of the

bodies returned from Ukraine, fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels made it too dangerous for investigators to visit the crash site today.

But as CNN's Kyung Lah reports, some passengers' relatives aren't taking no for an answer.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Nothing could keep these parents from Flight 17's wreckage, not a bloody conflict or a break away republic.

ANGELA DYCZYNSKI, PASSENGER'S MOTHER: Of course I cry. We thought how do we survive this? We couldn't believe it.

LAH: Being this close they still don't want to believe that their only child Fatima is gone. The 25-year-old aerospace engineer aimed to be an astronaut one day and hoped space exploration could bring peace on earth.

ANGELA DYCZYNSKI: She would challenge me if I would give up. She has a training of not giving up.

LAH: And neither will her parents. The Australians flew to Ukraine armed only with shock, grief and hope to find their daughter alive.


LAH: We met them on the Ukrainian side of the conflict as they fought to get to Donetsk.

Local Ukrainian government officials urged them not to go, warning them the fighting was getting worse. Embassy workers on the phone begged them to stay.

ANGELA DYCZYNSKI: You have not sorted this out. Please do not contact me anymore.

So the risk, we know. No worries.

LAH: Refusing to listen, they left in a private car, crossing rebel blockades to their daughter's plane that the U.S. says the rebels shot down. They are the first of the families to come here seeing is not believing.

ANGELA DYCZYNSKI: I really want no condolences. I say this the -- no condolences.

LAH: Denial is powerful. A parent's grief unyielding.


LAH: Tonight, that family remains in rebel territory. They say that they haven't decided what their next step is going to be but they decided to stay there for the time being. There is still no control of the crash scene. There is a group of Australian police officers who is now in country here in Ukraine. More police want to arrive as well as Dutch officers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story that is. Kyung Lah, thank you very much for that report.

Just ahead much more on the breaking news here in the Middle East: Israel's approval of a new 24-hour cease-fire. We are awaiting official word from Hamas on whether or not it will go along with the new truce.


BLITZER: Following the breaking news here in Jerusalem. The Israeli cabinet approved a 24-hour extension of the humanitarian cease-fire.

Let's discuss what's going on.

CNN correspondent Sara Sidner -- you just literally, Sara, arrived here in Jerusalem today. Spent a year here. I remember we both covered at the end of 2012, the first -- the other battle between Israel and Hamas. What is different between now and then based on your impression? You spent a year here covering the story.

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think two things are very different. The biggest thing is there was a ground invasion, a ground incursion from the Israeli side into Gaza, which as you've seen has ratcheted up the conflict in ways that didn't happen in 2008. In 2008, it lasted eight days. Excuse me, in 2012, it lasted eight days.

Now we are seeing this go on for almost three weeks. So you are seeing the number of people dying and you're seeing the destruction all over Gaza in particular but far, far more rockets, as well. There were some 200 or 300 back then and now we are talking in the thousands.

So, I think that's what really changed, that you're seeing this kind of ratchet up in a much bigger way. But it was the incursion by the Israeli military that created some of this after getting so many rockets over the border.

BLITZER: You left here after serving here did you think you would be back covering basically the same story?

SIDNER: You know, it's terrible to say, but yes. You cover the story forever and the bottom line is this keeps happening. The last time was 2012 and the time before that was 2008. I think what you will see is we call it short wars/long conflict, right, because the wars usually don't last months and months and months. They're usually contained. The root cause of what is happening continues and that is the most difficult thing to change.

BLITZER: You're back now. I want you to be really careful in the coming days and weeks as you cover the story for all of our viewers. Thanks for doing this. We're grateful to you. SIDNER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Sidner, she's back in Jerusalem. She's going to be covering the story for CNN.

Just ahead, what Hillary Clinton calls her biggest complaint about the Israeli government.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Bright blue eyes because he wants something from you.


BLITZER: We're live here in Jerusalem with breaking news the Israeli security cabinet approved a new 24-hour cease-fire with Hamas.

Back in the United States, there is plenty discussion about Israel and conflict.

Hillary Clinton is offering new criticism of Israel in a brand new interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria. He asked her about setbacks in the peace process.


FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: Martin Indyk has just resigned as the kind of Sherpa of the peace process and he says that the immediate trigger in his view, there were many was the fact that the Palestinians looked at the Israeli continued settlement activity and said these guys are not serious. We're never going to be able to get a state. Look at what they are doing.

CLINTON: This is my biggest complaint with the Israeli government. I am a strong supporter of Israel, strong supporter of their right to defend themselves. But the continuing settlements which have been denounced by successive American administrations on both sides of the aisle are clearly a terrible signal to send if at the same time you claim you are looking for a two state solution.


BLITZER: You can see the entire interview with Hillary Clinton on "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS". That's tomorrow, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" tomorrow. That's at 9:00 and Noon Eastern. Benjamin Netanyahu, Candy Crowley's guest on "STATE OF THE UNION."

By the way, we reached out to Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan to get his final official response on whether Hamas accepts the new 24-hour extension of the Israeli propose cease-fire. We'll let you know as soon as he gets back to us. He has not yet done so.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. Be sure to join us again in THE SITUATION Monday.

Meanwhile, the news continues next on CNN.