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Troops Amassing in Gaza Border; Interview With Israel Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon; Interview with Palestinian Legislative Council Member Abdullah Abdullah

Aired November 17, 2012 - 09:00   ET


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Randi Kaye. Victor Blackwell is on assignment. It is 9:00 on the East Coast, 6:00 a.m. out West.

Thanks so much for starting your morning with us.

We start in Israel where troops are massing on the border with Gaza this morning. Around 30,000 troops are being moved into place. That includes armored vehicles, tanks and bulldozers. Israeli officials say rocket attacks from Gaza are the reason they may launch a ground invasion.

Israel has launched dozens of air strikes over the past few days, taking out government buildings and a police station, in an attempt to target those rocket launchers.

CNN senior international correspondent Sara Sidner is in Gaza City.

Sara, have the air strikes slowed the launching of rockets from Gaza?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't think so. I mean, just judging from what we've see though. Usually, in the morning, we see the telltale signs of the rockets that have been fired, the sky crisscrossed with smoke.

But we've also seen a lot of air strikes today. You're now hearing the sound of some cars going very fast down the road. Very few people out in the streets today, but we have seen rockets still going over to Israel as well as many, many air strikes that have rained down on this city.

We're in Gaza City in the middle of Gaza City, and last night we saw a massive explosion. My photographer, Dan Morgan, was standing there. He happened to be rolling live, and what he saw was a blast and then a ball of fire.

When we were looking out as to where that was, it was very, very dark, but then realize that it actually turned out to be the Hamas police headquarters. Half of that building this morning you can see is destroyed. It's all rubble, smoking. The other half is still standing, but certainly nobody inside right now.

We also know that Israel managed to hit another Hamas headquarters as well, knocking that building down. This has been a day filled with the sounds of blasts and booms and rockets going into Israel -- Randi.

KAYE: And it was 2008-2009, right, the last time there were troops on the ground in Gaza?

SIDNER: That's right. It was called Operation Cast Led. Israel came in here after a similar scene. Rockets coming over into Israel.

We know, there, in Israel now, there are at least three people who have been killed and several people injured, including soldiers.

Now the soldiers are amassing on the border. The concern here is mostly we're hearing it from civilians who are worried about that's going to mean because during the Operation Cast Led hundreds of people were killed, that including militants here but also civilians.

Civilians are also paying a heavy price for this. We know there are at least 250 people who have been injured and 42 people now, according to the Health Ministry, have been killed since this new battle with Israel began.

KAYE: And how tense is it there, Sara? We saw a story from you earlier this morning where you actually had to leave the area where you had met with a man who had lost his son in one of these attacks. What is the feeling there on the street?

SIDNER: It's eerie, to be honest. This is one of the most densely populated cities in the entire world. We're talking about 1.6 million, 1.7 million people all crammed together on a small strip on the Mediterranean. Normally, you see a lot of people on the streets, cars on the streets. It's a bustling place, and it's eerily quiet in the streets generally. You don't see many people out. Maybe one or two stores that are open, but they are half shuttered. The rest of them are shuttered. People staying inside worried about their families, worried about their children and worried that they might be in the wrong place at the wrong time -- Randi.

KAYE: Such a difficult time right now. Sara Sidner, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

And coming up later this hour I'll talk with Israel's deputy foreign minister and a member of the Palestinian government in Gaza to get their take on this conflict.

Back here at home, the federal government faces one of its greatest challenges. Unless the runaway federal deficit is brought under control a series of Draconian measures kick in on January 1st, the so- called fiscal cliff. Already the White House and Congress are trying to hammer out an agreement.

CNN political editor Paul Steinhauser breaks it all down for us.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Good morning, Randi. The clock is ticking on any deal to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we're all aware that we have some urgent business to do.


STEINHAUSER: The president as he sat down at the White House on Friday with top congressional leaders from both parties. And Americans agree. More than eight in 10 questioned in a "USA Today"/Gallup poll say it's extremely or very important for the president and Congress to reach a deal.


OBAMA: Our challenge is to make sure that, you know, we are able to cooperate together.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-oh), HOUSE SPEAKER: I believe that we can do this and avert the fiscal cliff that's right in front of us today.


STEINHAUSER: And that's what most people want. Nearly seven in 10 say democrats and republicans should both equally compromise to prevent massive spending cuts and tax hikes from starting to kick in at the beginning of the year.

So what do they want in any deal? Well, 45 percent say it should be about half spending cuts and half tax increases with about four in 10 saying it should be mostly or only spending cuts, and according to exit polls from election night, nearly half of voters said raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans was OK. Taxes may be the biggest sticking point in reaching a deal.


OBAMA: What I'm not going to do is to extend Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest two percent that we can't afford and according to economists will have the least positive impact on our economy.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: We're in the dilemma we're in not because we tax too little but because we spend too much.


STEINHAUSER: And that maybe why half those questioned in a Pew poll say Congress will fail to hammer out an agreement.

And if there's no deal, who gets the blame? Well according to that Pew poll, more than half say fingers will be pointed at congressional Republicans with about one in three saying it will be the president's fault -- Randi.

KAYE: CNN's Paul Steinhauser. Paul, thank you very much.

And right now President Obama is in the air, on his way to Asia for his first overseas trip since winning the election. He departed from Joint Base Andrews last hour and is scheduled to land in Thailand overnight. He'll also visit Myanmar and Cambodia where he'll attend an Asian summit. His stop in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, by the way, this will be a first for a U.S. president.

Ikea said some of its furniture was made by political prisoners during the 1980s. The Swedish company says the furniture was made by a supplier in the former communist country of East Germany and said some Ikea officials may have known political prisoners were used and the company didn't do enough to prevent it. Ikea says it deeply regret it happened and reiterates the use of political prisoners has never been acceptable.

A brand of small children's tents have been branded as a possible suffocation hazard. The peapod comes with a built-in air mattress. At least one infant is suspected of being suffocated. Nine other incidents report children trapped under the mattresses. Parents are urged to stop using these and contact Kidco, Inc. in Libertyville, Illinois.

Israeli insists it is a reluctant warrior in a showdown with Hamas. So why is it risking an all-out war in the volatile Middle East? Israel's deputy foreign minister joins me next.


KAYE: One day after rockets hit near Israel's two most crowded cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Palestinian militants have fired more rockets at Israel. Israeli tanks and troops meanwhile is taking up positions near Israel's border with Gaza and air strikes have taken out the Palestinian cabinet headquarters and other Hamas buildings.

There are growing fears that the rapidly escalating showdown will turn into all-out war in the Middle East.

I want to bring in the Israeli deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, in New York. Thank you so much for joining us, sir.

You have said that Israel is, "a reluctant warrior" in this battle, so what prompted these air strikes by Israel?

DANNY AYALON, ISRAELI DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, absolutely, Randi. We do not like to get into Gaza. We do not like to escalate or engage ourselves with any warfare, not with the Gazans, not with anyone else, but after millions of our citizens have been under fire for so long.

And just think, Randi, that people cannot go to work. They cannot send their children to school or kindergartens. They cannot go to restaurants. They all have to be confined in shelters with all the devastation for also the psychological warfare of kids.

This is unacceptable, and I don't think any country would have accepted terrorizing millions of their citizens, and here Hamas is committing a double crime against humanity.

First they target only civilian population and at the same time they embed themselves in and among populated areas in Gaza so they use the Gazans as human shield which makes it much tougher for us because we are trying to avoid any collateral damage, so this is why it takes so long. We still would not like to get with ground troops to Gaza, but the only way to do it is for Hamas to stop firing at us.

KAYE: But on the flip side of that, of course, Hamas says that their people are being targeted as well. They are losing their children. Pregnant women are being hit. Israeli troops now we see massing near the Gaza border; 75,000 reservists have been called up.

How likely do you think a ground invasion is? I mean, what exactly would it take to trigger it?

AYALON: Well, Randi, I believe it all depends in the next 24 hours or so if we'll see peace and quiet from Hamas. Stop the firing at us. I think we can still avoid it, and we do not like to see any Gazans, innocent people being hurt, but as I mentioned, you know, Hamas fire their missiles at our population from tops of buildings, apartment buildings, mosques, hospitals, schools. It's just very, very outrageous.

Now, to add insult to injury, five or seven years ago we have given Gaza all together, to the last inch, to the Palestinians, in hope that it will change their attitude towards reconciliation and peace and co- existence, but it emboldened the terrorists of Hamas and the Palestinians, and they used this territory that we gave them as platform to keep attacking us.

KAYE: Are you looking for any action or any specific response when it comes to this from the U.S. or other nations?

AYALON: Well, we are very grateful to the administration, to the American people for the solidarity, for the support, for understanding that what we do is exercising our right for self-defense.

We would like more in the international community to put the pressure not only on Hamas, which is a terror organization, but especially on Iran which keeps supplying the Hamas with longer range missiles, more accurate. And they are the ones actually responsible for this latest escalation.

KAYE: Now, Israel has parliamentary elections scheduled for January. Is there any political calculation here to the timing of the Israeli government's military action in Gaza?

AYALON: Well, not from our part, and we have just been responding to the escalation, the Hamas organization started about two, two and a half weeks ago. So far all electioneering and election campaign has stopped, and all the Israeli parties and Israeli people are gathering together in solidarity behind our people and our government.

KAYE: Let me ask you about the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel because Egypt's president has condemned what he calls aggression by Israel in Gaza. Are you at all concerned that this treaty could be in danger?

AYALON: I don't think this treaty will be in danger because it's not within the interest of anyone, least of all the Egyptians. Of course we're very concerned and disappointed that the response from Egypt, they should know that the Hamas triggered all this terror and the Hamas organization is not just threatening Israel. It's also threatening security and peace in Egypt and the Egyptian territory.

We have to remember just about two months ago in the high holiday of Ramadan, the Muslim holiday, terrorists murdered cold blooded 16 Egyptian soldiers so the terror from Hamas in Gaza easily spills over into Sinai and Egyptian territory.

KAYE: Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, thank you very much.

And I do want to reference here. Take a look at your screen, these are live pictures, by the way, that we're looking at. You can see explosion there in Gaza City just after 4:00 in the afternoon there.

We've been speaking to our Sara Sidner in Gaza. She was telling us earlier that Hamas Police headquarters had been hit and showing us the damage there. She said the explosions continue, the streets are pretty well deserted except for a few cars here and there. Certainly, some drones in the sky as well. The death toll, she told us, was now up, about an hour ago, is now up to about 39 in Gaza.

So once again here you can see smoke filling the air in Gaza City just after 4:00 in the afternoon. Some live pictures we'll keep an eye on for you.

And next up, I'll get the other side of the story from a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.


KAYE: Let's get back now to the growing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Take a look at your screen there. That's a live picture from Gaza City. You can see in the distance there, some smoke from a recent explosion that we just saw here watching these live pictures on CNN.

The death toll in Gaza now 39, according to our Sara Sidner, as people are running for cover there. The streets are deserted. The police headquarters was hit in Gaza this morning. So we'll continue to take about this this morning and follow this story.

Before the break, I talked with Israel's deputy foreign minister. He basically said that there is a 24-hour window before the launch of a ground offensive. That is one day for Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel.

Joining me now on the phone from Gaza is Abdullah Abdullah, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

What is your reaction to what was basically a warning, sir?

ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, MEMBER, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL (via telephone): Well, I think Israel has made a great mistake, and the other (INAUDIBLE) of the United States of America in supporting the Israeli aggression on the Palestinians (INAUDIBLE).

There's a deep fear because of reaction. They know they are provoking the Palestinian side in Gaza to return the fire after they assassinated several Palestinians, the last of which was Ahmed al- Jabari, the known leader of the resistance movement. And all the calls for truce, for cease-fire, for working towards achieving a solution, peaceful solution, were ignored by the Israelis and we are as well disregarded by the American administration.

Therefore, if we really want to have real progress towards ending this violence today and tomorrow and forever, then peace is the order of the day, and the United States of America must be pressing Israel and taking a grave and courageous stand in pushing for a peaceful solution based on the road map that the United States itself has drafted five years ago.

KAYE: Given the sense, sir, we know that there are Israeli troops gathering on the border.


KAYE: Give us a sense of what a ground war would mean to those in Gaza.

ABDULLAH: Listen, Gaza is 360 square kilometers. The Israelis are calling 76,000 troops for their armors, with their tanks and with their cannons and with their air force and the sea force as well. Gaza can be destroyed by the Israeli military power, but Israel cannot have peace by destroying Gaza. It only deepens the rift between the Palestinian, the future of Israel will be in doubt, giving the (INAUDIBLE) the region.

And therefore, the offensive Israel must push Israel to come to its senses and follow the advice of former Secretary of State Kissinger who said if the policies of Netanyahu continue to lead Israel in 30 years there will be no Israel.

That is what the United States and all friends of Israel should take into account and work, follow the work of our president, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, who was working hard to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict, but, unfortunately, all his efforts were disregarded by the Americans and it took from the statements of Susan Rice of the U.N. or Victoria Nuland at the State Department.

KAYE: Sir, thank you very much.


ABDULLAH: -- (INAUDIBLE) to carry out its attack against the Palestinians. We're victims, children and women are, more than 50 people deaths now.

KAYE: Sir, thank you very much. I understand how passionate you are about this, both sides, certainly a lot of passion.

Meanwhile we talk about peace, and here we see it in Gaza City, another explosion and more smoke in the air surrounding Gaza City, so certainly no -- no progress being made in terms of stopping the firing of rockets here on either side.

President Obama met with some members of the U.S. Olympics gymnastics team this week and just look at his face. You can tell he is not impressed.


KAYE: Escalating violence in the Middle East dominating our news this morning. We have live pictures here, more live pictures from Gaza City. That was a beautiful picture of the sun coming up, but certainly the rocket fire continues.

We've been watching large explosions there taking place in Gaza City in the last few minutes here. You can see the smoke in the sky. We know there are 39 dead. The Hamas police headquarters had been hit as well.

CNN correspondents are in the thick of it; our Sara Sidner is right in Gaza, we also have folks on the ground in Israel and all along the border. You can join us at the top of the hour for the very latest on this.

We'll continue to follow this story and the live pictures. Thanks for watching this morning.

A special "SMART IS THE NEW RICH" edition of "YOUR BOTTOM LINE" starts right now.