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Palestinian Leaders Denounce Attacks; "Iron Dome" Intercepts Missiles; Hamas Aims Rockets at Israel; Southern Israel on Edge; President: We're Working with All Parties; Battered in Sandy, But Helping Others; America's Favorite Cities

Aired November 18, 2012 - 14:30   ET


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Gary Tuchman in for Fredricka Whitfield today.

An escalating conflict with no end in sight that's the frightening reality millions of people in Israel and the Gaza strip are facing right now.

The fourth straight day of fighting between Israel and Hamas and this is how is looked and sounded.

That was a target Israeli strike on a media center in Gaza. There were other hits, a government buildings and homes of Hamas officials.

My colleague, Ben Wedeman is live in Gaza City. Just after midnight there right now. Ben, thanks for joining us. Israel is claiming to have killed one of Hamas' chief rocket experts. What do you know about that?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the Israeli Defense Forces are claiming that they killed in that strike, which left 11 people dead, including women and children, that they killed a man who they say is one of the senior commanders of Hamas' rocket unit.

However, we have been speaking to our sources here. We spoke to people in the neighborhood, and frankly, they've never heard of this man. So it's not altogether clear whether this man had anything to do with or who he is, even, at all. So it's all rather confusing at the moment.

What does seem to be clear is that Israel is starting to focus on after assassinated Ahmed Jabari, who is the leader of Hamas' military wing. It now seems that they are focusing on his subordinates around the Gaza strip.

Another senior commander in Hamas' military wing was killed in central Gaza today, so that may be an indication that Israel is starting to focus not so much on the infrastructure, the buildings, but also the leaders of Hamas -- Gary.

TUCHMAN: Ben, I just mentioned this air strike against the media center in Gaza. There was a bit of a controversy involved with the timing of the attack. What do you know about it? WEDEMAN: Well, there were actually two attacks, but one of them occurred at about 6:30 in the morning when a lot of these journalists were getting ready for live shots on the roof of the building.

And we know -- you can hear -- you know from the drones that are buzzing overhead all the time here in Gaza that the Israelis have a very good eye on what's going on everywhere in the Gaza strip.

And so they must have known that there were journalists very much exposed in the building at the time when it was hit. And it's against international law also to target journalists. Journalists are considered civilians, not combatant even journalists who happened to be working, for instance, for television.

That's a television station affiliated with Islamic-Jihad, similar movement to the Hamas movement. But the journalists who work in that television station don't carry weapons. We've seen them in operation and action. These are journalists.

TUCHMAN: Ben, how are Palestinian officials responding to those attacks in the media center?

WEDEMAN: Well, they've condemned these attacks on the journalists. We've had protests by Palestinian journalists in the West Bank as well as Gaza following these attacks. But Palestinian officials aren't just focusing on that.

I mean, we did hear, for instance, Abass, the Palestinian president today saying that underscoring the fact that the Palestinians need to end their divisions. The big rift is between the Fattah movement, which rules the West Bank and Gaza here in Hamas.

This is what the Palestinian president had to say about the need to restore Palestinian unity.


MAHMOUD ABBAS, PRESIDENT, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY (through translator): It's a naked aversion against our people in Gaza. They also want to create unity between two parts of the homeland. They want to end the Palestinian divergence and to restore unification.


WEDEMAN: And meanwhile, the Palestinians here are awaiting high- profile visits by the secretary general of the Arab League and a delegation of four Arab foreign ministers. Many people here in Gaza hoping the diplomacy will start to eclipse war -- Gary.

TUCHMAN: Ben Wedeman, thank you for joining us on the program. Ben Redeman reporting from the Gaza Strip.

Now let's go to Ashkalon in the southern Israel near the Gaza border. Fred Pleitgen is there. Fred, what's happening near the border right now and how active have the Israeli iron dome missiles been? FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN BERLIN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the iron dome missile system has really played a prominent role here in the Ashkalon area, but generally around the whole area around Gaza today.

I was actually at one of the iron dome missile batteries near Ashkalon and what it did is it was in operation the entire time. There were a lot of rockets that were being fired off. Really the whole day there have been rocket alarms from rockets being fired out of Gaza into Israeli territory.

I remember one specific time where we got a rocket siren alert and we hit the deck. And then I would say about eight or nine rockets coming out of Gaza were intercepted by this iron dome system right over our heads about 200 yards over us.

One of the rockets was actually not intercepted and came through and landed about 200 yards from where we were. So this thing is definitely very efficient, from what we could see, but it's also not a 100 percent solution.

And the Israelis, they will acknowledge that as well. So it has been a very, very active day here in this area. The Israeli military saying that there were about 120 rockets fired out of Gaza into Israeli territory today.

And certainly from what we could see, there were air sirens going off pretty much the entire time -- Gary.

TUCHMAN: Fred, people who live in Israel, near the Gaza Strip are used to the threat of rocket attacks. There have been an estimated 750 of them according to the Israeli government from January until last week. But now there is a constant threat of rocket attacks and lots of attacks are coming. How are the people there coping with that?

PLEITGEN: Well, it's very difficult. I mean, you're absolutely right. The people here have sort of an eerie routine, if you will. They take these sirens very seriously. They do seek shelter every time they hear them, but of course, right now it's an especially bad situation.

I can tell you there are a lot of people that I've been speaking to who say that they are really suffering from this. On the one hand, you obviously have the psychological level where you're trying to travel through your town, trying to go through your day lives, but you're constantly waiting for the sirens to go off again.

Of course, it is something that traumatizes especially children, and most families in this area will try to keep their children inside for most of the time. The schools here in the area are closed. The kids are inside most of the day. They obviously get bored or they're scared because the sirens are going off.

It's something that is having a huge impact and also an economic impact as well. Like last weekend, we were in the marina area here in Ashkalon. It's usually an area that is absolutely packed with people, people who are outside having their beers, and it was just totally abandoned.

There were about three people there. So in many cases, commercial life, public life is almost screeching to a halt, although you see these people trying to deal with it, and for instance, I was at one rocket strike today here in Ashkalon.

And what happened was the rocket came down and destroyed a carport, it destroyed a car as well, and it left a crater on the ground. And you could see within minutes, there was a tractor in the area and they closed that crater down just to make sure that normal life can set in as fast as possible.

And that's one of the ways they're trying to deal with it. But of course, it is very difficult, especially in these times like now -- Gary.

TUCHMAN: That's such vivid reporting. Fred Pleitgen from Ashkalon, Israel, thank you very much.

Anderson Cooper is in Gaza City, Wolf Blitzer is in Jerusalem covering all the breaking developments on this crisis, they both join me live with the latest details at 5:00 Eastern.

President Obama is monitoring the conflict in the Middle East as he travels through Asia. Today, he met with Thailand's king and Thailand's prime minister.

Trade and the economy are the main issues at these meetings, but today, the president did address the fighting between Israel and Hamas and delivered a warning about the consequences of continued violence.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Those who champion the cause of the Palestinians should recognize that if we see a further escalation of the situation in Gaza, then the likelihood of us getting back on any kind of peace track that leads to a two-state solution is going to be pushed off way into the future.


TUCHMAN: Thailand is just the first stop of the president's three- nation tour of Asia. Later today, he visits Myanmar, something no president of the United States has ever done. Mr. Obama wraps up his tour in Cambodia where he'll attend the East Asia Summit.

We are getting some new details about what may have happened in the moments before a train collided with a truck during a parade. Four military vets died in the accident.

And a neighborhood bar damaged by Sandy becomes the lifeline the community now needs.


TUCHMAN: Now an update on the horrifying crash that killed four veterans at a Texas parade last week. Federal officials say video footage shows the truck carrying the veterans tried to cross the rail tracks while the warning lights were, indeed, on.

A vigil was held last night for those killed when the train slammed into that truck. Many witnesses to the crash are still in shock.


MICHAEL CONN, VETERAN: It made me cry. I mean, I know what they went through, and it just -- like I said, I was at a loss for words. I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to do.

MERRELL SCHOENHOFF, VOLUNTEER FOR "HUNT FOR HEROES": Anybody that has any kind of decency should be feeling sombre about this, because it was a very bad tragedy. They went over there, fought or four country, dodged bullets and this. Something that was supposed to be something really good for them and it turned horrible.


TUCHMAN: Investigators are trying to determine who is responsible for the crash.

Rescue crews have found a man's body in the Gulf of Mexico. They believe he is one of the two crew members missing after an explosion on an oil platform. At least 11 people were injured in the blast. The body has not been identified yet.

Well, a New York bar struggling to survive after being damaged by Hurricane Sandy is putting its troubles aside and helping out neighbors.


TUCHMAN: Many communities have really pulled together since Sandy. In New York, an Irish pub damaged in the storm is setting its troubles aside and focusing on neighbors. CNN national correspondent Susan Candiotti has the story.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a today's only donation only.



SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's right, after Sandy, it's donation only at Shines Irish Pub in Long Beach, New York. Megan Casey and her husband own the bar and rode out the storm in their apartment upstairs.

(on camera): When you saw the water gushing down the street, what did you think?

MEGAN CASEY, SHINES IRISH PUB: Well, I thought the car was going to be gone, I thought the business was going to be gone, and then I thought the business is going to be washed away, and we'd be gone. Yes. It was very scary.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): When the storm hit, Shines was getting ready to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the day Eugene Shine bought the bar. It sat up from the ocean and survived prohibition.

(on camera): If the water had gone up, all of this would have been --

CASEY: I don't even want to think about it.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): The water hole remains a neighborhood fixture.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time the phone rang, they would say, I'm not here. Exactly, true story.

CANDIOTTI: But big changes are coming. Damaged by floodwaters, the bar needs to be gutted and Casey says financially the place is already in the red.

CASEY: I can't imagine there will be enough money to fix this.

CANDIOTTI: worse is the prospect of ripping out the bar's familiar surroundings.

CASEY: The old timers will be really stressed about that because this is something they rely on. The widowers, the guys who were never married who come here to hang out with their friends. It's really going to stress them out when everything gets taken down.

CANDIOTTI: For now the focus is on helping its neighbors.

(on camera): Look at all this free hot food out for people who live around here. These are the folks that helped out with cleanup after Sandy. Over here you have a table full of free food.

A sign says, please take what you need. You got everything lined up, lollipops for the kids, baby food, bread and no space is put to waste. Look, it's a pay phone and all around it, canned food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I only got electricity on Monday, still don't have a boiler.

CANDIOTTI: After the storm, Casey found some frozen food and heated it up for anyone who needed it. Then donations came pouring in.

CASEY: Because this place as a community fixture supercedes us. It's huge, 100 years huge.

CANDIOTTI: And facing its toughest challenge yet. Susan Candiotti, CNN, Long Beach, New York.


TUCHMAN: So which city came out tops on our best cities list? I'll give you a hint. It has streetcars, a resurgent NFL team and some awesome seafood.


TUCHMAN: What is your favorite city in the United States? The editors of "Travel and Leisure" magazine asked readers that question, and here is the top five list, number one, New Orleans, Louisiana, number two, San Francisco, tie at three between Nashville, Tennessee and New York, New York, and rounding up the top five the twin cities in Minneapolis, St. Paul.

Fredricka Whitfield talked with "Travel And Leisure" features editor, Nilou Motamed, about why certain cities made the list.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Break it down by individual categories, beginning with the top city for intelligent people. I think most people might think New York City, Washington, D.C., but instead they need to point their eyes on Minneapolis?

NILOU MOTAMED, FEATURES EDITOR, TRAVEL AND LEISURE: Yes, the Midwest does well in intelligence. In fact, visitors rated Minneapolis number one on the most intelligent people. Interestingly, residents of Minneapolis, St. Paul rated themselves number 5.

So I'm not sure what that says, but also interesting is visitors they felt the tech saviness of this Midwestern city was really top notch. So I wonder if there is some correlation between tech savvy and intelligence.

WHITFIELD: OK, and then you have to take an ice cream break every now and then, so why not go to the city that ranks the highest in ice cream, and that would be Savannah.

MOTAMED: This is a surprise to me, certainly. I love Savannah. It's a place dripping with culture and history. I had no idea it was also dripping ice cream cones. Leopold's is a place I would recommend. It dates back to the 1990s.

They have a lot of great flavors just for the holidays from everything from sugar plum fairy to a cheesecake flavor with some pumpkin spice. What I love about this place is it feels authentically and that's exactly what you want to do when you go to savannah.

WHITFIELD: They have licked the competition.

MOTAMED: You didn't!

WHITFIELD: Had to. And another thing is the microbreweries out there, and apparently Portland, Oregon is known for the best.

MOTAMED: Portland, Oregan has been having a boomlet when it comes to restaurants, when it comes to coffee and in terms of craft beer, this is the epicenter. There are more than 45 breweries in the city proper. In fact there's a brand new book that's out that's called, "Hop in the Saddle" and the premise of it is you do a tour of breweries by bicycle. Apparently bicycle riding is very popular in Portland, Oregon.

I don't know if I would recommend -- it sounds to me like I would be a menace on the road, but luckily, I don't live in Portland.

WHITFIELD: That sounds like a lot of fun, though. I like that. Then of all the places for the girlfriends to get together and get away, we're not talking about Vegas, L.A., Santa Monica, no, New Orleans.

MOTAMED: You know, this is a great testament to the power of New Orleans. I love it so much and I love fact that the ladies are thinking out of the box. Not only do you get to go vintage shopping on Magazine Street, go to the quarter, go to great restaurants wherever you turn.

There are really great value and luxury hotels available, so whether you stay at the Saint or the Rintz-Carlton, you get the high and low. I love that it's not just for the dudes. I love that it's for the ladies as well.

It has a lot of what all those cities you mentioned offer. It has great food, great ambience, great night life, which I guess for girlfriend getaways, it has that. It doesn't have great beaches, but that's OK.

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much. Great to see you.

MOTAMED: Thanks for having me.


TUCHMAN: You can read much more about this in this month's "Travel and Leisure" magazine.

Coming up next, we will explain a very unique picture to you. Stay with us.


TUCHMAN: We want to show you something that's trending on the web right now. It's this White House photo showing President Obama and Olympic gymnast Mikala Maroney looking not impressed.

The president was having a little fun with Maroney who had that same face when she placed second on the vault during the games. That look went viral on the web back then.

I'll be back one hour from now and I'll tell you why the Twinkie might end up as Mexico's iconic snack cake. That's right, Mexico. Stay with CNN. "YOUR MONEY" starts right now.