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Tensions Continue Rise Between Israel and Hamas; Israel Launches Airstrikes at Gaza in Response to Rocket Attacks; Pundits Assess Political Consequences of Benghazi Attacks; General Petraeus Testifies Before Congress; Mitt Romney Makes Controversial Assessment of Presidential Loss; Jill Kelley Profiled; Hostess Announces Company Shutdown

Aired November 17, 2012 - 10:00   ET


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: From CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, this is CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

Battling over Benghazi, lawmakers are furious. The president is standing his ground and there is still no one in custody. All morning, we're putting the conflict and the players in focus.

On the brink of war as fighting escalates between Israel and Hamas, experts say there will likely be a lot more bloodshed before the violence stops.

And it's the gaffe that has some Republicans shaking their heads. Why Mitt Romney says Obama won because of the gifts he gave.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Randi Kaye. It is 10:00 on the east coast, 7:00 a.m. on the west. We start in Gaza this hour, as people there have to fear death from above. Israeli war planes have been relentless in their attacks on targets in Gaza. They are hunting rocket launchers, but dozens of civilians have been killed as a result. The latest round of this conflict started Wednesday, and there is no end in sight.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Sara Sidner is in Gaza City for us. Sara What are you seeing at this hour? Are you hearing or seeing any air strikes?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're hearing drones above, but just five minutes before we started this show we saw rockets coming out of central Gaza, literally a few hundred yards away from us. We could see the rockets going up into the air, and they were sort of white, and then they would disappear and they were pointed, of course, towards Israel.

Usually when that happens, you see that happening and then you hear the sound of planes above shortly after, and then usually that area is pounded in air strikes. We have been hearing air strikes all day long that have not stopped. There has been a lull maybe for the past 30 or so minutes.

But it has just been relentless here over the past couple of days. We know that the hospitals have been overwhelmed with people. We're hearing from hospital officials that the death toll has gone to 40- plus people so far. I think we're at 42 now, and we're talking about more than 250 people injured.

KAYE: And as we've been talking, we've been watching some of these live explosions here taking place now just after 5:00 p.m. in Gaza. Talk to me a little bit about the mood there. Are people taking cover?

SIDNER: Yes. There's almost no one in the streets. There are a few places that are open. One of the grocery stores, we went there today to pick up supplies for ourselves, and as we opened the store you could see there were a few people milling about, a few people in the streets trying to get supplies. But generally speaking, in the most densely populated city in the world, there's almost no one outside on the streets.

What I can tell you is that we are seeing and hearing the sounds and the rest of the civilians are seeing and hearing the sounds of these air strikes. It's scary. They don't want to be out. They know better than to be out. They're trying to hunker down, and all of the businesses are generally closed.

KAYE: Sara Sidner, thank you very much and do stay safe. Some of our reporters there that you will only see that access on CNN.

Let's go to the Israeli side of the border. Israeli tanks and troops have been taking up positions. We're joined now live from the border there by Fred Pleitgen. Fred what are you seeing in terms of military activity?

All right, we lost Fred there on the border, on the Israeli side. We will try and get back to him.

In the meantime, Nick Valencia is live at our Middle East news desk monitoring all the news that's coming in about Gaza and Israel and what's happening there. Nick, good morning. Fill us in on what's happening.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Randi. This is the hub for our international news gathering division. We're next to a very special desk that we created today to monitor all the feeds and signals that are coming in out of Gaza and Israel. These are two Middle East experts. I want to bring in Ali. Ali, you've been monitoring several feeds going on. Tell us a little bit about what you're doing at the desk.

ALI YOUNES, INTERNATIONAL DESK EDITOR: As this conflict is unfolding at an exponential rate, we are monitoring the Arab channels as well as the Israeli channels and Hebrew language and Arabic language live. At the desk, we try to digest all this flood of information to bring to the audience in the U.S., to put them in perspective of what's going on here.

VALENCIA: And you see it is a very fluid situation. We're dealing with correspondents in the field. This is exactly where everything is funneled to. The Arab League is convening in Cairo to discuss the situation in Gaza. This desk will be live all throughout the morning and afternoon to bring you the latest information, so when we have breaking news, we'll toss it back up to you.

KAYE: We appreciate that, Nick. Thank you.

And let's take you back to the Israeli side of the border. Israeli tanks and troops certainly taking up positions there, trying to get us back to Frederik Pleitgen. Fred, what are you seeing there in terms of military activity?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Randi. There's a lot of military activity on this side of the border. On the one hand, you have the air strikes that the Israeli air force is conducting there over Gaza. Sara was talking about it just a little bit. As she was talking, there was actually a bomb being dropped on Gaza that we could see here from our position. I'd say we're about four, maybe five kilometers away from the Gaza border, but we do see it right behind us.

We also saw those rockets that Sara was talking about that were being fired out of Gaza. Those were actually fired in the direction of where we are right now. Some of those appear to have been intercepted by an interceptor system that the Israelis have called the "Iron Dome."

The other thing that's going on is that there is a massive military buildup going on by the Israeli military on this side of the border. We're seeing a lot of trucks passing by on the road here with tanks on them with armored personnel carriers on them, also with armored bulldozers as well. It's something that we've seen throughout the entire day really, and keep in mind that the Israelis have now said that they're calling up tens of thousands of reserves as well, as they say the ground defensive going into Gaza with ground troops is something that is a very real possibility, Randi.

KAYE: Things have escalated rapidly in the past few days. But would you say -- are we hitting sort of a stalemate right now of air strikes versus rockets?

PLEITGEN: Well, the air strikes are ongoing. I'm not sure whether or not I call it a stalemate. What I can say is the Israelis are probably stepping up their air strikes. However, they've not been able to suppress the fire coming out of Gaza. There was an alarm in Tel Aviv, the largest city here in Israel. Apparently that rocket was intercepted also by an iron dome system. However, it shows that those who are firing rockets in Gaza are still very much capable of reaching towns like Tel Aviv. Yesterday, a rocket fell close to Jerusalem. So in that sense, yes, at this point in time it does not appear either side is gaining the upper hand, at least from taking the objectives that they want to reach.

On the one hand, you have the Israelis who want to suppress the fire coming out of Gaza, and what Hamas and others want to do is keep firing into Gaza. And one of the things that can really change the game would be a ground defensive launched by the Israeli military. It's really unclear whether or not that is imminent at this point.

KAYE: I know you'll be watching that for us. Do keep us posted on any activity that you see. Fred Pleitgen in southern Israel, thank you. The politics behind Benghazi, closed door hearings this week haven't ended the partisan bickering. Plus, Mitt Romney explains his loss. But his reasons aren't sitting so well with fellow Republicans. Maria Cardona and Amy Holmes standing by, so get ready.


KAYE: It is the battle over Benghazi. It is also our focus this morning. Congress has spent the week trying to get to the bottom of the Benghazi attack on September 11th. Four Americans were killed, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Now it seems to have boiled down to a war of words between Republicans and Democrats.

Joining me now as they do every week are CNN contributor Maria Cardona and Amy Holmes, anchor for "Real News" on "The Blaze." Good morning to both of you.


KAYE: Maria, is the actual search for answers being turned into more of a search, do you think, for a scapegoat?

CARDONA: It sounds like that, Randi. And it's really unfortunate, because what was one of the mandates that came out of this election from the American people is for their leaders to work together to find solutions. I think that from the very beginning, both Democrats and Republicans have said that the whole Benghazi incident needs to be something that we work together to find out what happened. Unfortunately, a lot of Republicans are politicizing it, trying to politicize it before the election I think for political gain, and are continuing to do so.

And what we're finding out now is that the intelligence that was handed to the White House by the intelligence community was exactly the one that was used in the days after the Benghazi attack to tell the American people what had happened and what was known up to that point. And so I don't think that it's a good move for the Republicans to continue to try to politicize that. Let's find out what happened. That's what needs to be done.

KAYE: There was some question about the wording, using the word "extremist." If they really thought it was a terrorist, why wasn't there an interagency decision, as we found out yesterday, to not use "Al Qaeda" in the unclassified talking points that Susan Rice was using on the morning shows. But Amy, do you believe at all that the election results are playing a part in this Washington drama?

AMY HOLMES, ANCHOR, "REAL NEWS" ON "THE BLAZE": I don't think so. I think Benghazi is such a serious scandal and debacle in terms of American foreign policy that everyone wants to get to the answer, including, for example, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat from California.

As far as those talking points go, it is not at all clear where they were edited. What we do know apparently is that the original determination that Al Qaeda was involved, or Al Qaeda affiliated groups, was sent out the front door to the CIA and went through some sort of editing process, perhaps interagency, perhaps at the White House, that still hasn't been answered.

What we do know is if the White House wanted to provide the answers, they could have done it before the election and chose not to. Let's not forget, of course, General Petraeus and his whole personal scandal, debacle, that could also be professional. We still don't know the answers to that. Again, the administration knew of the Petraeus investigation. The president claims that he didn't before the election, now we're only learning of it after.

KAYE: Let's talk a little bit more about Susan Rice and that whole situation with the talking points, because she is the ambassador to the U.N. she has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Republican senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham, they have already said no way, they will hold up her confirmation because of Benghazi and comments made days afterwards explaining the attacks.

At the time, she said it could have been because of this anti-Muslim movie, as we said, but now that's sort of been disproved. I guess the question is -- well, first, listen to this, and then I want to ask you. Listen to some of the sound that we have from Obama and McCain this week.


BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If Senator McCain and senator graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I'm happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: That statement is really remarkable in that if the president thinks that we are picking on people he really does not have any idea of how serious this issue is.


KAYE: So Maria, to you on this, is this a fair attack, do you think, on ambassador rice? She did use the talking points that were given to her after this interagency decision.

CARDONA: No, absolutely it's not fair, Randi. And the president was spot-on in his defense of her. Let's remember that these were talking points that were given to her by the intelligence community.

And I do agree with Amy that we need to figure out what happened in terms of the words that were used. I don't agree that it had anything to do with the White House. I think it had to do with classified versus unclassified use of the word, term "extremist" and "Al Qaeda."

So Republicans need to tread a very careful line, because let's remember their full embrace and defense of another Rice, Condoleezza Rice, when she was clearly using faulty intelligence to take us into war that killed thousands of troops. So that is something that they need to be careful about. They're heading into a place where they're going to be seen as being incredibly hypocritical and very political. And that's not what the American people are looking for from their leaders right now.

KAYE: Amy, our Dana Bash did some great reporting. She is the one who got it confirmed by a senior U.S. official telling CNN that it was an interagency decision to take the word "Al Qaeda" out of the original unclassified talking points. So who do you think is going to win this round? Will it be McCain or Obama?

HOLMES: Well, there's no reason why the president of the United States and the commander in chief would not be told that it was Al Qaeda, and he is privy to all classified information and can personally declassify information if he chooses.

As far as Susan Rice is concerned, she's a cabinet member. She went on the Sunday shows and repeated over and over and over what we knew at the time could not possibly be the full story, and I was on this show with you two ladies before she went on those Sunday shows and I said if you think this is about a YouTube video, then get in line for your burqas and a female procedure, which I will not again repeat. It was clear to reporting, to anyone who picked up the newspaper who read -- even read foreign papers that what Susan Rice was pedaling on those Sunday shows was not the full story even though she insisted over and over and over again that this was a spontaneous mob action, which as we have now learned did not even take place. She has to be held accountable as well as the people who -- President Obama himself who said they put her out there to carry this water. Why?

KAYE: All right, we're going to leave it there on this discussion. But I want you both to stick around because I want to ask you about Mitt Romney's post-election assessment and why he says the president was reelected. His reasoning next, so sit tight.


KAYE: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Randi Kaye. We're talking politics now, and a frank assessment from Mitt Romney on his election loss. In a call with donors he said President Obama won because he gave, quote, "gifts to African-Americans, Hispanics and young voters." What gifts? In particular, health care. Romney said "with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus." Plus, with regards to young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift. And free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women.

There was instant backlash from Republicans.


GOV. BOBBY JINDAL, (R) LOUISIANA: This is not where the Republican party needs to go. Look, we want -- if you want voters to like you, the first thing you've got to do is to like them first. And it's certainly not helpful to tell voters that you think their votes were bought. That's not a way to show them that you respect them, you like them. We need to stop talking down to voters. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KAYE: Maria Cardona and Amy Holmes are back with me now. Amy, you heard that there. Sour grapes or does Mitt Romney have a point?

HOLMES: Well, you know, the president did campaign on those issues, but whether or not he won because of them is a separate question. And Republicans are supposed to be the party of personal responsibility. So I can understand why Governor Jindal was none too pleased with Mitt Romney's assessment.

KAYE: And Maria, what about you? Mitt Romney, he got in trouble after the tape that was leaked of him talking to the donors last spring about the 47 percent who were in the bag for Obama. He apologized for saying that, but then you have something like this. What do you think?

CARDONA: Exactly. And this is exactly why he lost, Randi. These comments are absolutely pathetic, and they demonstrate Mitt Romney's lack of an understanding of who we are as a country, of the demographics of this country, of the contributions that all of these demographics make to this country, and frankly, of his disdain for probably 47 percent or more of the country.

And so I'm glad that Republicans are standing up to him, because I think Republicans understand that they are standing on the cliff of political oblivion if they don't do what's necessary to reach out to the demographics that look like America today. And whether that is Latinos, whether that's African-Americans, they need to be talking about policies that help them economically, whether that's women. Since Amy likes to talk about female procedures, Republicans were talking about invasive female procedures across the country in order to get an abortion. That is not the way to win elections. Republicans understand that. And I think they just want Mitt Romney to go away.

KAYE: But if you look at the names out there blasting him, you have Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, all bashing Romney for his comments. But all of them have also been mentioned as possible 2016 presidential candidates. So is this a way to get out there in front of this now?

HOLMES: Well, and also Susanna Martinez, the Latina governor of New Mexico. I don't think it is entirely political, but you named the stars of the GOP at the moment, and certainly they're some of the most quotable and well-known. I would say the grumbling over those remarks also filters down through GOP ranks, those House members, senators who are saying this doesn't make the Republican task any easier when Mitt Romney seems to be casting aspersions on these voting blocs. But I don't think we're going to be hearing from Mitt Romney much more.


KAYE: I don't know, we'll see. Amy Holmes, Maria Cardona. Thank you both very much.

CARDONA: Thank you, Randi. KAYE: Jill Kelley, you know that name by now, she is certainly known to most Americans as the Tampa socialite with an affinity for military brass. But what exactly is the appeal of all those shiny stars on the uniform? A psychologist explains how the attraction is both real and strong.


KAYE: Welcome back, everyone. I'm Randi Kaye. Here are five stories that we're watching this morning. One of them includes what's happening in the Middle East. Nick Valencia is live at our Middle East news desk with some new information coming in. Nick, what do you know?

VALENCIA: Good morning, Randi. We've been monitoring this situation closely out of Gaza and Israel. This is the hub of our international news gathering division here. We have two editors who are experts in the Middle East. I wonder if you could bring in Yousef Basil. Yousef, we're hearing that a rocket was fired into Israel. What do we know about what happened and who is taking responsibility?

YOUSEF BASIL, CNN INTERNATIONAL DESK EDITOR: The military wing for Hamas has claimed responsibility for that. They are claiming responsibility on their TV station that we are monitoring always. They claimed responsibility for the rocket that attacked on Tel Aviv.

VALENCIA: So not only are we monitoring social media, we're also monitoring these signals what. Are these live signals here? What are you watching?

BASIL: I have the Hamas TV, which is a TV station based in Gaza and funded by Hamas. We monitor them for videos and for information, telling their side of story. We also have live signal from our camera, of course. Any information that comes from one side of the story, we have to verify it with our team on the ground.

VALENCIA: These signals are actually where our correspondents are coming up. This is a very real-time, fluid situation. We're getting breaking news as it develops. We heard just a short time ago that the Arab League is convening in Cairo to discuss the ongoing situation in Gaza. The head of Hamas we do know is meeting with the prime minister of Turkey. Once news develops out of that, we'll come back to you with the latest.

KAYE: Thank you, Nick, we'll check back with you.

VALENCIA: Thank you.

KAYE: As we've been reporting all morning, former CIA director David Petraeus briefed lawmakers on Friday about the attack in Benghazi, Libya. Holding the sensitive hearings behind closed doors was not unusual, but getting Petraeus in and out of the capitol without anyone seeing him, that was extraordinary.

CNN's Senior Congressional correspondent Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lawmakers say David Petraeus testified he now believes what happened to the U.S. consulate in Libya earlier this year was, in fact, a terrorist attack and he may not be the director of the CIA anymore, but he proved that he still knows how to operate under the radar.


BASH: Cameras up and ready before dawn hoping to catch a glimpse of David Petraeus coming to brief lawmakers about the deadly attack in Benghazi one week after resigning in disgrace. Petraeus came, but no one saw him.

He went behind those doors, which is where he is right now, without anybody seeing him. In fact, the committee for some reason decided to protect him, and they really had to go to great lengths to effectively sneak him in.

BASH: Lawmakers say they protected Petraeus because he agreed to come voluntarily with the hope of clearing up confusion about intelligence in the days after September's deadly attack. Petraeus concluded it was an act of terror.

REP. PETER KING, (R) NEW YORK: They now clearly believe it did not arise out of a demonstration. It was not spontaneous, and it was clear terrorist involvement.

BASH: He said that straight out?

KING: Yes.

BASH: Meanwhile the most politically charged controversy is over U.N. ambassador Susan Rice's comments five days after the attack, why she pointed to Benghazi demonstrations, which officials now say didn't even happen, and why Rice did not talk about terrorist forces, which intelligence officials now believe actually targeted the U.S. consulate there.

CNN is told Petraeus told lawmakers Rice was using these unclassified CIA talking points, which omitted mention of terrorist elements because it was still classified and could have compromised intelligence sources.

SEN. KENT CONRAD, (D) NORTH DAKOTA: She used the unclassified talking points that were signed off on by the entire intelligence community. So criticisms of her are completely unwarranted.

BASH: Republicans like Peter King still suggested those talking points were changed.

KING: The original talking points prepared by the CIA were different from the ones that were finally put out.

BASH: In fact, CNN has learned King is right. An original draft did suggest the attack had links to Al Qaeda, but a senior U.S. official tells CNN it was an interagency decision to change that to, quote, "extremists" in order to protect classified sources.

Democrats accuse Republicans of unnecessarily assassinating rice's character.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: You don't pillory a person, and to select Ambassador Rice because she used an unclassified talking point to say that she is unqualified to be secretary of state I think is a mistake.


BASH: Now, as for David Petraeus, after about five hours of trying to find him, TV crews, including CNN's, caught up with what appeared to be Petraeus' car leaving the capitol. Now, as for that testimony, we are told that he briefly touched on the elephant in the room, and that, of course, is the affair that led to his resignation as CIA director. We're told that he made clear that that had nothing to do with the attack in Benghazi. We're also told by a lawmaker the scene was awkward. Randi?

KAYE: CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash, thank you.

Take an ordinary guy and put on a military uniform, in a flash he goes from average to quite special. That mystique holds an allure to a selective group known as military groupies, especially when the uniform is decorated with stars.


KAYE: Was it a sense of belonging to a tight knit community, access to one of the most renowned bases in the world, or was it simply the uniform that sent Jill Kelley spiraling toward anyone with stars on his shoulder?

JENNIFER LAURENCE, PSYCHOLOGIST: It's a small select group who gets to wear that uniform, and if you put all the medals, these are little shiny objects where people are attracted.

KAYE: Psychologist Janice Laurence says the attraction is real for so called military groupies. A uniform, even a salute can be see seductive. Remember "An Officer and a Gentleman"? If that's why Jill Kelley aligned herself with two generals, she says she was likely hoping some fame and glory would rub off.

Jill Kelley immersed herself in volunteer life at McDill Air Force base, and it paid off. U.S. central command named Jill Kelley an honorary ambassador, and her presence at CentCom got her the title South Korean honorary consul for the city of Tampa. But listen to this 911 call she made to complain about reporters on her property. You get a sense of the inflated importance.

JILL KELLY: You know, I don't know if by any chance -- because I'm an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability. So they should not be able to cross my property. I don't know if you want to get diplomatic protection as well.

KAYE: Kelley's social life revolved around McDill. She had full access to the base. As recently as Friday she was throwing a party at her home, and among the guests, Vice Admiral Robert Harwood, deputy commander of U.S. central command.

LAURENCE: It's a military town, and to know the military is like somebody in perhaps Los Angeles knowing somebody who, you know, knows a star. So in that town, rubbing elbows with generals is pretty impressive.

KAYE: Kelley stayed close to both General David Petraeus and General John Allen through her growing social network. She threw lavish parties at her Tampa mansion -- champagne, cigars, and gourmet buffets. As the publisher of "Tampa Bay" magazine put it, "She worked it."

"The Tampa Bay Times" reported in February 2010 that Petraeus and his wife arrived for a pirate-themed party at Kelley's home, escorted by 28 police officers on motorcycles. There waiters served lamb chops and crab cakes. Last year, General Petraeus returned the favor. He and his wife hosted the Kelleys and Jill Kelley's twin sister for Christmas dinner.

LAURENCE: She's looking for power. She's looking for glory. She's looking for money. She's looking for something to complete herself, to make her more than she is, or something that she is not.

KAYE: But powerful connections haven't kept the Kelleys out of trouble. Their bank has filed to foreclose on the Kelleys' home, saying couple hasn't played the mortgage since September 2009. Records obtained by CNN show the Kelleys owe the bank at least $250,000. And Florida records show at least nine other lawsuits involving money are pending against the Kelleys, including $320,000 in unpaid credit card bills. Not even a four-star general can fix that.


KAYE: And this little tidbit. We've also learned that Jill Kelley visited the White House three times since September 28th, including two meals in the cafeteria with a White House staffer.

In Idaho, some fourth graders had their faces scribbled on after failing to achieve reading goals. Some parents are furious, with the teachers, saying she's teaching them how to bully. That report is next.


KAYE: Welcome back. It's 42 minutes past the hour now. We send our kids to school for education, not how to bully. Teachers are trusted to take care of our most valuable possessions, our children. That's why parents in Declo, Idaho, are furious. An elementary school allowed students that had met their reading goal to write on the faces in paint of the ones who did not.


GAYLEN SMYER, COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT: Those who met their goal would be able to paint the face of those kids who didn't meet their goal, or those children who didn't meet their goal could also miss a recess.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not only was my son punished with bullying, but the other students were rewarded with bullying. They are being taught that bullying is OK, and there's nothing wrong with this.


KAYE: However, some parents see nothing at all wrong with the lesson and even support the teacher's tactics.


CARLA CHRISTENSEN, SUPPORTIVE PARENT: I'm just one of many parents who stand totally behind Summer Larson and her teaching methods and what she does. We think she's a wonderful teacher and we want to see her stay at Declo for many years.


KAYE: That teacher was placed on disciplinary leave while authorities investigate the case. But she was back in the classroom last week.

If you'd like to sound off on stories about bullying, feel free to tweet me now or any time. You can find me on Twitter @RandiKayeCNN. I'd love to hear from you.

Israeli warplanes have been relentless in their attacks on targets in Gaza all morning. The latest from our CNN Middle East news desk coming up.

But first, if you're an avid skier or trying it for the first time, now is the time to get the best deals for snow season vacations. Holly Firfer has this week's "On the Go."



GABE SAGLIE, TRAVELZOO: If you're looking to get a bargain on that ski vacation, look at very early in the season or toward the tail end of ski season. The more expensive months will definitely be mid-December into late February, very early March.

FIRFER: When choosing a place to stay, it's all about the location.

SAGLIE: If you travel early enough in the season, you can even stay at the high-end four or five-star hotels. After that, if you're traveling during peak travel seasons, and the further away you stay from the mountain, the less expensive your hotel stay is going to be.

FIRFER: And skip the rental car.

SAGLIE: You're really there just to enjoy the ski conditions. You could actually take advantage of free shuttle service that gets you to the slope and back.

FIRFER: Also consider leaving your ski equipment at home.

SAGLIE: Because of the potential of having to pay more on these checked baggage fees because you're bringing your favorite equipment along, it is worth considering renting the equipment on the other side of your trip.


KAYE: Let's update our top story in the Middle East now. There have been more explosions and thick smoke in Gaza while air raid sirens have been ring out in Tel Aviv, Israel. Israel tanks and troops are massing along the Israeli-Gaza border as Hamas's military wing claims responsibility for firing a rocket at Tel Aviv today. Israeli police say it was intercepted in midair.

Israel's deputy foreign minister tells CNN that Palestinian militants in Gaza have 24 hours to stop rocket attacks on Israel. In Gaza people are fearing for their lives as we speak. Israeli warplanes have been relentless in their attacks on targets. They are hunting rocket launchers. But dozens of civilians have been killed as a result. These are some live pictures of Gaza and Gaza City. The latest round of this conflict started Wednesday, and there really is no end in sight at this point as we continue to watch the explosions in and around Gaza City.

Nick Valencia is live at our Middle East news desk. He's watching everything unfold. Nick, what's the latest?

VALENCIA: Randi, we've been seeing a lot of video of these air raids. We want to take you on to the ground. Here's one of our Middle Eastern correspondents, Ali. This is a special desk we created today at the hub of our international news gathering situation. Tell me about what you're monitoring. What's going on here?

YOUNES: This is a Hamas funded TV based in Gaza. But they are carrying live pictures, where there's a huge rally conducted by the Muslim Brotherhood. We know Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, and this rally is to support Hamas and to support the people of Gaza, and this conflict. And the Muslim Brotherhood leadership is speaking now to their supporters, and of course, to the wider audience and specifically to the audience in Gaza.

VALENCIA: Is this coming in live what we're seeing on that lower bottom screen? That looks like fresh video coming in from air raids.

YOUNES: This is Palestinian TV. It shows how the conflict is unfolding in Gaza, how they injured Palestinians being carried by balances out of the conflict zone. And they just want to show that the influx of Israeli missiles that have been hitting Gaza and the impact on the populations of Gaza.

VALENCIA: Ali, we've been seeing a lot of video of the Palestinian territories in Gaza. What are we hearing from the Israeli side?

YOUNES: Both sides of the conflict are projecting their side of the story, their arguments on Gaza. For Hamas, for example, says we've launched, we hit Tel Aviv, we hit southern Jerusalem. To counter that, the Israeli media are saying we have intercepted all these incoming missiles on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

VALENCIA: And those rockets are claiming responsibility as the Al- Qasam brigade.

YOUNES: Yes. Al Qasam brigade is claiming responsibility for firing the rockets, and they say they have hit their targets. And the Israelis are saying we intercepted that. So two conflicting messages right here.

VALENCIA: So this is our international desk again, the hub for our international news gathering operation. We just got an update a short time ago, new video. We're trying to turn that around for you. We told you last hour a little while ago that a rocket was fired from Gaza into Tel Aviv, intercepted by the Israeli defense forces, according to them. We're trying to get that video turned around for you. That's the latest from our international desk with our two Middle East experts, Randi.

KAYE: And with all the possibility out there, a possible ground invasion by Israel into Gaza. Those guys will be very busy on that desk. Nick Valencia, thank you very much.

On a much lighter note, Twinkies have been in movies, television, commercials and politician. Now they are disappearing and there's no telling when or if they'll be back.


KAYE: Funny guy Stephen Colbert received a presidential honor Friday in Washington, taking his place in wax form at Madame Toussaud's wax museum. More than 250 measurements were taken of "The Colbert Report" host to make sure the figure was as precise as possible. Colbert even donated his own suit, shoes, and socks to dress the other guy.

And in one Texas, one family almost donated, well, a little more than they planned this week. Forgetting they stuffed away something very valuable in a pair of shoes, they donated to a Good Will store. Listen to this.


RICHARD LOPEZ, GOODWILL STORE MANAGER: Upon looking at them, I discovered quite a large wad of 100 dollar bills, ended up being about $3,300.


KAYE: And in case you missed it, here's President Obama with Olympic gymnast Micayla Maroney in the Oval Office. He mimicked her famous "not impressed" facial expression, which became a hit online, jokingly, of course.

On Thursday, he met members of the team before letting to New York to tour damage from super-storm Sandy. You can see gold medalist Gabby Douglas in the red dress there. They signed leotards to give to the president's daughters as a gift.

And since Hostess announced it's shutting, people are stockpiling Twinkies, cupcakes, and even Wonder Bread. Twinkie sales are up 31,000 percent on Amazon yesterday, but it's not just because of the sugar high. It also has a whole lot to do with nostalgia. Alison Kosik explains.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Following a nasty labor dispute and almost a year in bankruptcy, Hostess brand is closing its 33 bakeries, more than 500 distribution centers, and selling off its assets, putting the future of the 82-year-old Twinkie in question. It's been a long road for the cream-filled pastry, now part of the American lexicon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Twinkie the kid! Wow!

KOSIK: The Twinkie was born in 1930 in Illinois. Inventor James doer was trying to figure out how to come up with an orange cupcake filled with banana cream. But during World War II banana rations forced the company to change to vanilla cream filling. The replacement was so popular it never changed back. Over the years, the Twinkie became a part of American popular culture in. The 1950s, the "Howdy Doody Show" host Buffalo Bob gave it an endorsement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we have? Hostess Twinkies.

In the 1980s, the "Ghostbusters" movie used a Twinkie to describe the level of ghostly activity in New York's area. In the 1990s, there was a presidential endorsement as President Bill Clinton included a Twinkie in the millennium time capsule. And in the YouTube age, we've seen the Twinkie put to the test for shelf life.

But now the Twinkie needs someone to come to its rescue or we'll have to say goodbye to the Twinkie for good.


KAYE: I once remember having a deep-fried Twinkie at the Minnesota state fair. That's a good memory.

We have much more ahead in the next hour of CNN SATURDAY MORNING, which starts right now.