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Fighting Escalates; Obama Tours Asia

Aired November 18, 2012 - 08:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): From CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, this is CNN SUNDAY MORNING.

Air raid sirens as people run for cover in the Middle East. As fighting escalates between Israel and Hamas, world leaders urge peace. But could we see a ground war in Gaza before it's all over?

Asia tour. President Obama arrives overseas to strengthen economic and political ties in Asia, including a visit to Myanmar, the first U.S. president to do so.

J-date. Jewish singles using their faith and the web to find the perfect love match. It's our "Faces of Faith".

And, end of an icon. The maker of Twinkies, Wonder Bread and Ding Dongs says good-bye.


BLACKWELL: Good morning, everyone. I'm Victor Blackwell, in for Randi Kaye. It's 8:00 here on the East Coast. Thank you for starting your morning with us.

I want to start this hour with something we heard from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this morning. "We are prepared for a significant expansion of the operation." He is talking about the possibility of ground troops going in behind the air strikes on Gaza.

Israeli warplanes have been hammering Gaza City for the past few days. Hamas militants inside Gaza have been firing back, matching Israel bomb for bomb with their rockets. That has sent civilians scrambling for cover.

Our Frederik Pleitgen is live in southern Israel.

And I can see that you are standing there with something over your shoulder, a part of Israel's Iron Dome missile defense batteries. How active has that been today?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, it's been very active. It's actually right over there. What this system consists of, it's obviously got a battery of rockets, and I also got a very sophisticated radar system. What that radar system does is it constantly scans the horizons and constantly scans the skies. And when it sees something come up like a rocket, within a fraction of a second, it makes a decision whether or not to launch a kill.

I can tell you, the Iron Dome that's been in the field behind us has been very active since we've gotten here a couple of hours ago. We have seen several missiles launched. Just less than an hour ago, we actually had a big barrage of rockets launched out of Gaza and a lot of those were intercepted. One of them actually landed only about 300 yards next to our position, so that was quite a close call.

But especially today, the Iron Dome has been in action a lot simply because there have been so many rockets launched out of Gaza. Not just in this area, but -- this is also very significant, into the area of Tel Aviv, which, of course, is the largest city. A rocket was intercepted there by an Iron Dome battery, but that shows that the people that are launching in Gaza still have the capabilities to reach very, very far and to reach very large Israeli population centers -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: We're going to go to Gaza City in a moment to check on that side of the story. But, Fred, how are the Israelis coping with this constant threat of the rocket attacks?

PLEITGEN: Well, it's obviously very difficult. I mean, it takes a big toll on your regular life. What the people here do is they try to stay inside most of the time. It's interesting -- you know, places that are around the Gaza strip, they have somewhat of a routine of dealing with all this. They take these alarms very seriously when they come. They get hit by rockets even m best of times, so they certainly do take this very seriously.

They go inside, and every time they go outside they really plan their route in a way that they are always very close to a hardened shelter somewhere where they can take cover. And if they're not, then they stop their cars and get out and hit the deck just in preparation for an impact that could come.

So, right now, yes, it is taking a big toll -- taking a big toll also on commercial life, and this always needs to be said, it is taking a very big toll on the children here in the towns outside of Gaza and the Israeli towns. A lot of the kids very traumatized.

We went to a family the other day, and the children there have been to be inside for such a long period of time. Of course, that gets on their nerves. At the same time, of course, they are very afraid of hearing these sirens constantly throughout the day really, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Fred Pleitgen, live in southern Israel for us.

Again, we will check -- go to Gaza City in a moment. But let's check in now with our Middle East news desk, monitoring the latest developments between Israel and Gaza.

Nick Valencia joining us. He's been with us all morning.

We're seeing some Palestinian groups are ready now for a cease- fire. What are you hearing on that front, Nick?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there are efforts underway right now -- good morning, Victor -- for that cease-fire, whether or not it's realistic and being flagged as realistic on both sides, that's another story.

But I want to show you something here. We're at the international desk. This is the hub for the international news gathering operation.

And we just got some new video in. Earlier, we heard from Sara Sidner who is in Gaza. She was telling us about Al-Aqsa TV building and office -- building that houses some of their offices was hit by an IDF air strike.

This is Ali Younes. She's one of our international desk editors.

Ali, I want to just play that video here.

New video coming in from the IDF. Now, they're saying they surgically targeted a Hamas communications facility in Gaza, Palestinian militants seeing it a little differently. They're saying the IDF is deliberately targeting journalists.

Now, as CNN Sara Sidner reported earlier, there were some journalists injured in this attack, in this air strike. So just fresh video coming in.

And that's exactly what we're monitoring here. We get the latest information, the latest editorial information, the latest video.

We also heard a little while ago that the French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, is on his way to Israel. He will meet later on today with Israeli leaders, including the president, the prime minister, and the foreign minister. He might meet with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as well.

Again, a cease-fire -- he's going to try to push that forward, but right now we don't know whether or not that's being flagged as realistic by both sides. Once we get the latest information, we will bring it to you.

That's the latest from the newsroom here at the international desk.

BLACKWELL: And, Nick, we're hearing from some of these people. I understand you had some sound come in this morning that you want to share with us. Tell us about that.

VALENCIA: Yes. Earlier, the U.K., British foreign secretary William Hague, he spoke to Sky News about the potential for a ground invasion and actually how catastrophic it could be. Take a listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM HAGUE, BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY: The prime minister and I have both stressed to our Israeli counterparts that a ground invasion of Gaza would lose Israel a lot of the international support and sympathy that they have in this situation. But, of course, it's much more difficult to restrict and avoid civilian casualties during a ground invasion, and a large ground operation would threaten to prolong the conflict.


VALENCIA: That was a U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague speaking to Sky News earlier.

Now, casualties, Victor, have mounted on both sides, not just in Israel, but also in Gaza, with more than 50 dead in Gaza. At least three killed in Israel. Hundreds of rockets finding their way from Gaza into Israel.

This is an ongoing situation, and the war between -- the warring situation between Israel and Palestinian militants is definitely taking its toll. We're keeping an eye on it, Victor.

BLACKWELL: All right. Nick Valencia covering the international desk for us.

There's a lot going on in the world. We're going to go now from the Middle East to the Far East now, and that's where President Obama spoke about the Middle East just a few moments ago and the conflict there while holding a news conference in Thailand.

Our White House correspondent Dan Lothian is in Bangkok.

What are we hearing from the president? When we had it live, he talked more about Burma and Thailand and the trade there. What are we hearing his views as it relates to what's happening in Israel with Gaza?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, are you so right. I mean, the main purpose of the president's trip here is to focus on this region and what this means for future expansion, for U.S. in terms of business, for military cooperation.

But while advisors had been telling us about the sentiments within the White House, about the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis, and we've gotten statements from the president -- this is the first time we've heard the president weigh many -- when he was asked a question about the violence there at the press conference. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians.


LOTHIAN: So the president said that the administration is working to find a way to prevent those missiles from raining down, to keep this violence from escalating. The president pointing out that he has been speaking by phone with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also the president of Egypt, Morsi, and the president of Turkey, Erdogan.

This is all part of an ongoing effort to, as I pointed out, keep the violence escalating. There are positive indications of some movement there, but still, this violence ongoing there, Victor.

BLACKWELL: And there's a lot, Dan, to discuss about the trip and this Asia summit. It was really telling, and I truly sent it out through a tweet when someone asked about Burma, and the president said this is not an endorsement of the Burmese. It's an acknowledgment of a process of reform.

Tell us more about the message for this trip.

LOTHIAN: And that's right. And I think, you know, the president is responding to some criticism coming from some corners that this visit is to soon. The administration did send Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last year. They have an ambassador there, and many believe that that's enough because it is the beginning of a long journey, the administration says, essentially the first few miles of a long journey.

What the president -- the point the president was trying to make and others inside the administration is that if you were to sit back and wait for there to be a perfect democracy in that country before you actively start engaging with them, then you would be sitting around waiting for a long time. So, the president pointing out that he's not going there to sort of celebrate that they have finally achieved great democracy there, but, rather, that they're on this long road. They have taken some actions, and now the United States is responding with some action as well, and that's a presidential visit.

BLACKWELL: Dan Lothian live, traveling with the president in Bangkok.

We're going to go to Sara Sidner in just a moment. Live to Gaza City. We showed you this side of the conflict from southern Israel with Fred Pleitgen. We're now going to go across that border and show you what's happening in Gaza.

Stay with us.


BLACKWELL: Israel's warplanes and navy ships have been pounding targets in Gaza. Those attacks have killed dozens of people so far.

CNN senior international correspondent Sara Sidner is live in Gaza City.

Sara, we heard those sirens, and we know that that's the warning that something is coming. What's the frequency that we're hearing those now, that those warnings to civilian that is the airstrikes are coming?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, here in Gaza they don't have sirens. What they have are the sounds of planes above, and that usually means people know that usually means that there will likely be an air strike coming sometime after that.

You're also hearing the buzzing sounds of drones above, usually throughout the day yesterday. We heard them the entire 24-hour period that we were up and listening to the sounds of what's going on here in Gaza. I can tell you this -- usually here what you are seeing in the streets are a few more people and there have been over the past few days. We've seen a few neighborhoods where buildings have been leveled by airstrikes.

We also talked to people who lived in some of those apartments there and lived many the homes nearby, and they were told that there was going to be an airstrike. They were given some warning to evacuate, and they did.

In one particular building, it was three stories high. Flattened like a pancake. However, there are 15 people injured. No one killed, surprisingly. When you look at the pictures, it seems impossible. But many of the families have left because they were given warning.

We also know that just behind me, there is a building there that is Al-Aqsa TV, which is basically Hamas's official television station, and that building was hit. They were also warned, the journalists inside, that there was going to be a streak at some point. Many of the journalists evacuated, but the strike didn't happen for several hours, so some of the journalists returned, as one of the journalists told us when we were outside the building looking at the damage. Those who returned, some of those were injured.

So, it's one of those situations. There aren't the sirens here. The sirens are in Israel when the rockets are coming from here and going over the border to Israel, but here, it's really the sound of planes in the sky that makes everybody worried -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Well, the rocket launching sites, we know that Israel has targeted those. You talked about Al Aqsa behind you. What else are they targeting?

Sara, I don't know if you're able to hear me. I asked you about what else they're targeting in Gaza City.

Do we still have Sara?

It seems like we've lost Sara Sidner, reporting live before us in Gaza City. We'll check back, of course.

Millions of Syrians -- let's now go to that crisis -- homeless because of the ongoing civil war there. A "New York Times" columnist shares their plight and the growing humanitarian crisis after seeing it firsthand.


BLACKWELL: Syria's opposition is getting more organized. They've named an official coalition ambassador to France. It's a move seen as critical to garnering more international support for their battle against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Now, the opposition groups say that more than 250 people have been killed and fighting in Syria over just the past couple of days.

"New York Times" columnist Nicholas Kristof just returned from an assignment in Syria and CNN's Randi Kaye spoke with him about his visit and asked him how Syria civil war is affecting the people and the region and neighboring countries.


NICHOLAS KRISTOF, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: The humanitarian situation is getting worse. You already have 2.5 million people who have been kicked out of their homes, and, you know, winter is coming, and just the stories are just so heartbreaking, Randi.

I talked to one woman who -- you know, a middle class woman until a week ago was living in his nice normal middle class existence. And then, first, her home was destroyed by a bomb, and then her husband disappeared, maybe shot by a sniper or arrested. Nobody knows.

So, now, she's gone from, you know, this nice, normal, middle class existence -- like you or me -- to living in a tent with her kids as presumptive widow. And you just see that over and over and over.

RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: It sounds heartbreaking. Why were you there?

KRISTOF: I was trying to figure out the situation in Syria, and what we can do about it, and, you know, it does seem to me that we've kind of dropped the ball on this, and that we were reluctant to get engaged.

KAYE: We meaning the U.S. and the administration?

KRISTOF: We meaning the U.S. and really the whole Western world. I mean, I think there are some really good reasons to be cautious about getting involved in Syria. But I think that the very reasons that we were cautious that those consequences have come to pass in a sense because of our passivity that radical elements have been strengthened, the whole region has been destabilized, and there is a risk at this point that Syria is just going to turn into another Somalia right in the heart of the Middle East in ways that could haunt the region for many, many years to come.

KAYE: I know you've been critical of the Obama administration's policy towards Syria. You're not suggesting boots on the ground, though, right? I mean, what do you think the administration should be doing differently?

KRISTOF: That would be a disaster all around. It would be -- it would certainly never happen.

I think, though, that things we can do would include a no fly zone imposed by NATO from Turkey. Turkey suggested putting Patriot missile batteries along the border and those missiles because they couldn't shoot down Syrian planes, hopefully, would have the affect of just keeping Syrian planes out of northern Syria, which would give the rebel forces maybe a chance to break the stalemate.

It's going to include providing more intelligence and training to some of the Syrian rebels, and also I think providing arms to those rebels, although I would have to say not anti-aircraft weapons for fear that they would end up in the wrong hands. But these modest steps we can take that might break the stalemate and end the civil war there. And the faster it ends, the better for Syrians and also the better for the world.

KAYE: We like to think of you as a rock star, so I was impressed to see you hanging out with Bono from U2. He asked you if you have ever been accused of crossing the line from journalist to activist or both. What was your answer?

KRISTOF: I do get accused of that periodically. And when you are out many the field and you see people, you know, being slaughtered in Darfur or you see young teenage girls being imprisoned in brothels in Cambodia, it's really hard to say -- oh, I'm going to be neutral in this situation.

At the end of the day, we're humans first and journalists second, and, you know, particularly as a columnist, I'd rather come out against some of the mass slaughter, mass atrocities and be pretty clear about that.

KAYE: Thank you for your firsthand account from Syria. We appreciate that.

KRISTOF: Thanks a lot, Randi. Take care.


BLACKWELL: Israel and Hamas battling it out. A former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Syria weighs in on the potential for peace.

Plus, Jewish dating. Singles using her faith to find love on- line. Does it work? A couple joins me live to share their story.


BLACKWELL: Welcome back to CNN SUNDAY MORNING. I'm Victor Blackwell, in for Randi Kaye.

Bottom of the hour now. Here are some of the stories we're watching this hour: Air raid sirens and explosions have been cutting through the air as violence in Israel and Gaza intensifies. Israeli anti-missile defense batteries have been working overtime, trying to shoot down Hamas rockets. Many of those rockets are being intercepted near the border, but others are being shot down close to Tel Aviv, far inside Israel.

Now, in just a moment, I'll be talking with a former U.S. ambassador to Israel to get his take on what's going on there right now.

Divers found the body of a man believed to have been one of two crew members missing after an oil platform exploded Friday in the Gulf of Mexico. At least one other person is still missing, and 11 others were injured in that blast.

We have a baby in the studio. You'll meet her in a moment.

Its cause is still under investigation.

And in Arizona, Democrats will keep the U.S. House seat once held by former congressman -- Congresswoman, rather, Gabrielle Giffords. Representative Ron Barber narrowly defeated Republican Martha McSally to serve his first full term in Arizona second district. In June, he won Gifford's seat in a special election after she stepped down to focus on her recovery after being shot last year.

Parts of the Northeast still need help after superstorm Sandy that destroyed their homes, shattered their lives. It happened three weeks ago. Vice President Joe Biden is in New Jersey this morning to tour the recovery efforts and thank first responders many some of the hardest hit areas of Hoboken and Sea Side Heights.

Back to the Middle East where violence is ramping up. Israel's prime minister says he is prepared to escalate attacks on Gaza, and France is sending their foreign minister to help broker a cease-fire deal, while Egypt is standing up for Gaza.

Joining me now on the phone from Houston, Texas, is a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Syria, Edward Djerejian, rather.

Ambassador, Britain's former prime minister or the Prime Minister currently Secretary former -- let's try that again. The foreign secretary and Israeli ground invasion of Gaza would cost Israel a lot of international support. Do you agree with that?

EDWARD DJEREJIAN, FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL AND SYRIA (via telephone): Yes, I do, because in 2008-2009 Israel conducted a ground invasion of Gaza. There were many, many casualties. Over 1,400 on the Palestinian side I believe 300 on the Israeli side. It was a major military movement that was very disruptive to the stability of the region and basically the end result was that Israel conducts these operations very necessarily to protect its population, especially in the south of Israel from rocket attacks from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic jihad. But at the end of the day as someone said, it is just mowing the grass. Every time it goes in and then goes out, it goes in the interim the Hamas and these other groups rebuild their rocket arsenals and then after a hiatus of a year or two we're back in the same place as we're seeing today.


BLACKWELL: We saw something -- we saw something like this -- and I hate to interrupt. We saw something like this a few years ago back in 2008, beginning of 2009. The difference then was that Mubarak was in control in Egypt and we knew where Mubarak stood. The question now is where does Mohammed Morsi stand and how important of a role does he play in ending this before it gets too far?

DJEREJIAN: I think President Morsi of Egypt plays a critical role. He and his government are -- as we speak, are trying to broker a cease-fire. He is being aided and supported in these efforts by important Arab players such as the Prime Minister of Turkey, the Crown Prince of Qatar and Cairo. Even the Tunisian Foreign Minister has visited Gaza.

And this is a Muslim Brotherhood President who has very close ties to Hamas and therefore he is a valid interlocutor. I don't believe Egypt or any of these countries obviously want to see a ground war or an extension of this conflict because it will destabilize an already destabilized region, especially given what's happening in Syria.

BLACKWELL: Ambassador let's talk about Israeli politics as former Ambassador to Israel you know the political system there well. We just finished our election. There's an election coming up in January. How much of this could possibly be the Prime Minister showing the strength of his administration as he stands there at the border?

DJEREJIAN: I think there's an element of that. I think the first cause of course is the fact that these rockets, especially the Al Hashar (ph) rockets that have a range of about 45 mile to 46 miles and that can come close to even Tel Aviv, that -- that is the immediate catalyst for this operation, but there's no doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu see some political utility in showing a hard line to protect Israel's national security interests and especially since he has been advocating military action against Iran for a long time now and that doesn't seem to be immediately the on horizon.

This sort of bolsters his credentials as a -- a strong defender of Israel's population.

BLACKWELL: Ambassador Edward Djerejian, also the director for the Baker Institute at Rice University, former ambassador to Israel, former ambassador to Syria. Thank you very much for your thoughts this morning.

All right. For "Faces of Faith" this morning we're talking about people who use their faith to find a date and love. It's become so popular there's an entire industry based on the concept. It makes sense. If you're Mormon, you may have trouble finding another Mormon date, so there's For Christians the majority religion in the U.S., there's Christian Mingle. You probably have seen the commercials. Even Muslims are on the hunt for a date. is one of the more popular sites.

But finding a partner of the same faith is particularly important to many Jewish-Americans, so they use J Date and the site talks about its results.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Different sides of the country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And here we are madly in love with two kids later and if it wasn't for J Date, we never would have met.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Going on J-Date led to this amazing life that I have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I knew by the second date.


BLACKWELL: So I know you heard a baby. But you thought is that baby somewhere? Yes, her name is Willa. She's here with her parents, Jason and Melissa Cofar. They met on J-Date, married last year, had the baby, Willa. Hello, Willa. Thank you for joining us this morning. Both of you thank you.


BLACKWELL: Tell us about the importance of finding a date -- good morning -- about finding love and the importance of religion in finding that.

M. COFAR: Well I grew up in a very traditional Jewish household and it was very important to me to pass that on -- and my family that I would be making, you know, in my life, so it was always important to me to marry somebody Jewish and when I moved to Atlanta, it was kind of my excuse to -- to sign up for J Date, that I was new in town and it was -- it was an easy transition to make when I moved here.

BLACKWELL: Yes and we were talking during a break that my question was are you the rule or the exception to the rule and you actually know other people who've met on J Date and now are married.



J. COFAR: I hang out with some couples yesterday that I met on J Date that are married. My best friend met his wife.

M. COFAR: My best friend. J. COFAR: They have kids.


M. COFAR: Yes, it's very popular. I think in large cities with a large Jewish population it's very popular.

BLACKWELL: So tell us your story. You went on and found Melissa's picture, right?

J. COFAR: Well yes I originally saw Melissa's picture. She had blonde highlights. Not to sound shallow. I just wasn't into blondes.

BLACKWELL: That's the point of the picture, right?

J. COFAR: Right, you're going to know --

M. COFAR: It's the most important thing.

J. COFAR: Right, you don't get to talk to the person, so you're making the determination 15 to 30 seconds from the picture.


J. COFAR: I passed on her. I'm sorry. One of my friends -- one of my fraternity brothers had dated her, told me that he dated her and I said do you mind? He wasn't dating her anymore I felt that I should ask him. He said sure. I went back online and saw her picture, I went to J-Date, pursued it and had a date with her, and here we are.

BLACKWELL: All right.

M. COFAR: And we've been married for four years.

BLACKWELL: Four years.

M. COFAR: We just celebrated our four-year anniversary.

BLACKWELL: You just had the baby last year. Ok.

M. COFAR: Yes, yes, she's 10 months.

BLACKWELL: And active this morning. It's good to have you with us.

J. COFAR: Yes.

M. COFAR: She is very excited.

BLACKWELL: So there are some people who say you should just find love when it comes to you and be open to other possibilities. What do you say to people who may be critical of the idea of a Web site that is so limited, in their opinion?

M. COFAR: Well, I think people that sign up for J Date are obviously looking for -- for somebody Jewish just like Christian Mingle or other sites, so you're going there to meet somebody of that respective religion.


M. COFAR: But like in our story, you've to keep an open mind. I mean, there might have been things about his profile that I didn't like, but you know, I thought he was really good-looking, so I went out with him. And four years later we have a beautiful daughter and you know we have this amazing marriage. So if you keep an open mind then it's cliche but it's true.

BLACKWELL: Yes -- go ahead.

J. COFAR: I think that if you know what you're looking for, if you want to date Jewish, you go there. I mean you can go to other Web sites that offer up all different nationalities, races, but if you are looking for Jewish, if you are looking for Christian, if you're looking for Muslim.


J. COFAR: You're going to go to a specific Web site.

BLACKWELL: And that's one thing I wanted to ask. Because I know that on other Web sites there are people who they say the Web site is marketed towards a specific group. There are other people outside of that group. We have a producer coming in to get Willa. Thank you, Lauren. There are people from outside of that group who may be looking for someone in that group, like someone who is a Christian who may be looking for a Jewish date. Are there non-Jewish on J Date?

M. COFAR: Yes.


M. COFAR: We've -- I mean, I remember seeing them on there.

BLACKWELL: Now is that offensive? If you're going to J Date and you think why are all of these non-Jews here?

M. COFAR: I mean, I personally would not have gone out with somebody non-Jewish.


M. COFAR: But everybody has their -- their reasons. I mean, if you're on J Date because you want to meet a Jew, then obviously you are going to continue that in your relationship and what could be further, so if -- if you're Christian and you're looking for a Jewish person, then obviously, you know, you would be open to going to synagogues, raising your family Jewish, celebrating the holidays.


M. COFAR: They're on there for a reason.

BLACKWELL: And you -- you see this as the future? This is something that's growing?

J. COFAR: Oh why not? And it's -- I used it six years ago, seven years ago, eight years ago. Why not? I mean, it's -- I met her. We have a great baby. We have a great life.


J COFAR: So why -- I would definitely endorse it. I would say don't be embarrassed about the Internet. There's no reason to be embarrassed. Check it out. And go to these Web sites. Why not?

BLACKWELL: All right.

M. COFAR: Like -- like he's saying, you know, that was six years ago, so it's even more accepted now and it's such a wide range. Anybody from -- from our age to people like his mother's age.

BLACKWELL: And still growing.

M. COFAR: Yes.

BLACKWELL: Jason, Melissa Cofar, Willa, thank you so much. For more stories on faith, be sure to check out our widely popular belief blog at

When we come back a live report from Nick Valencia who is monitoring the Israeli-Gaza conflict from the CNN Mideast Desk, and he has new information.


BLACKWELL: Let's check in with our Middle East News Desk monitoring the situation between Israel and Gaza. Nick Valencia is standing there. Nick, what's the latest?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes we've been here all morning, Victor. This is the CNN International Desk. This is the hub of our international news gathering division. Behind me you see editors working with our correspondents in the field in Gaza, in Israel and other parts of the world. But over the last couple of days we created a very specialized desk here to monitor all the nuances coming in out of Gaza and the Middle East.

This is one of our international news desk editors Ali Younes. Ali you've been watching a lot of feeds coming in not just Arabic language TV but also Israeli television. What are you learning today? What are you seeing?

ALI YOUNES, CNN INTERNATIONAL NEWS DESK EDITOR: Well, we monitor both sides of the conflict. We watch, for example, the Alquds channel or Jerusalem channel, which is a Hamas-funded based in Gaza. They're telling us about what's going on the development from their side of their conflict and where basically the rockets are falling and how many families were injured as a result of that bombing.

At the same time we are watching the Israeli channels in which they cover their side of the conflict and they talk about where the -- how many missiles they have intercepted for metropolitan Tel Aviv. At the same time we also monitor the print media. For example --

VALENCIA: What you have up here, one of the newspapers from -- from the region?

YOUNES: Yes. This is a West Bank-based newspaper Alquds of Jerusalem. It covers the Palestinian as a whole perspective. In the meantime, we also monitor the social media. We cover the IDF operations as far as their Twitter account and they update their Twitter account with developments and their statements, official statements on the conflict.

VALENCIA: Really? Thanks for that Ali. So Victor, that's just a snap shot to let you see how we're getting what we're getting. And just new information in just a little while ago at the CNN International Desk -- we're hearing from Nabila el-Said, he's a spokesperson for the Arab League. He confirms to CNN, Victor that a delegation from the Arab League will head to Gaza on Tuesday.

If you remember, foreign ministers from the Arab League met yesterday in an emergency meeting in Cairo, Egypt to discuss the conflict in Gaza and Israel. So, the latest information now: an Arab League delegation on its way to Gaza on Tuesday. That's the latest from the International Desk. Victor -- we'll send it back to you.

BLACKWELL: Nick Valencia, staying on top of all of it. Nick, thanks.

Congress has spent the week trying to get to the bottom of the Benghazi attack on September 11th. We'll talk about it with Candy Crowley and ask what's next.


BLACKWELL: Let's turn our attention to Washington where lawmakers are trying to figure out what the Obama administration knew about the deadly attack on Benghazi. CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" host Candy Crowley is live in Washington. Candy, good morning.


BLACKWELL: What are lawmakers expecting in this investigation?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, what's interesting is this investigation -- and there are many of them going on, not just on Capitol Hill, there's you know, there's an outside one as well -- has to do with the run-up to what happened in Benghazi. Was more security asked for by the ambassador himself prior to this horrific event in Benghazi? Were they aware of any kind of increased security because it was 9/11?

Then there was the attack itself. What the heck happened? How was it that we lost four Americans in that attack that went on for hours and hours? Why didn't help come? There's many questions with that. And then there's the aftermath, and that is, wait a second, when did the administration know it was not about a videotape, it was not about a riot outside the Benghazi consulate? It was, in fact, a terrorist attack. Was it a planned terrorist attack? Who were the terrorists? Do we have them in custody? So, it really kind of runs the gambit from before the attack to after the attack.

BLACKWELL: And, of course, the big story we're following this morning is what's happening at the boarder of Israel and Gaza. A rocket and the bombing back and forth across that border, and what the role will be of the new president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi and what, if any, U.S. role will be in ending this before it gets to a ground offensive.

CROLWEY: Right. One of the things, obviously, is just -- it's we've seen these sorts of things, high tensions before over decades and decades, but the Middle East has changed. As you point out, President Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, what sort of role is he going to play? We know he has talked to the President. We know that there have been some people in Israel that have said we need to see more American involvement.

Right now what is very clear is that this administration, the Obama administration, would like President Morsi of Egypt to play a constructive role in getting the rockets to stop coming from Hamas over into Israel. They have gone as far as the Tel Aviv area. He has urged President Morsi to try to get Hamas to back off, and he has also urged Prime Minister Netanyahu not to go in to Gaza.

So, at this point that's what we know that's been said in private. That's also been out there in public. So it is a dicey situation. Not just because it always is in the Middle East, but because the Middle East has changed so much over the Arab Spring, has new leadership that can you no longer go to Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt and say you need to stop this in Gaza. It just doesn't work like that anymore, and it makes what's already a tinderbox even more toxic and scarier, if that's possible.

BLACKWELL: We'll see the results of the Arab Spring as it relates to Israel and to Gaza. Candy Crowley, thank you. Be sure, everyone, to keep it here. "STATE OF THE UNION with Candy Crowley starts in about, let's say, seven and a half minutes at 9:00 a.m. Eastern, 6:00 a.m. Pacific right here on CNN.

Time to stock up. Dean Obeidallah is here with the zingers.

And the Twinkies are going away too. Other famous treats are now on the endangered list. I'll tell you why after this.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a box of Twinkies in that grocery store. Not just any box of Twinkies -- the last box of Twinkies that anyone will enjoy in the whole universe. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: The last box of Twinkies. That's a scene from the Columbia Pictures apocalyptic comedy "Zombie Land". People have been tweeting about that all morning. But soon the world will be out of Twinkies. Who knew? That's because Hostess announced it's shutting down, and people have been hoarding Twinkies ever since -- seriously.

Boxes of normal Twinkies -- just the ones you'd go to the supermarket and buy -- are on sale on eBay for more than $50 a box.

It's been a long road for the cream-filled pastry, which became a part of the American lexicon. The Twinkie was born in 1930, but following a nasty labor dispute and almost a year in bankruptcy, Hostess Brands is closing its 33 bakeries.

Comedian Dean Obeidallah joins me now, and this is unbelievable. Not only that the Twinkie that is going away, but that people are really upset about this.

DEAN OBEIDALLAH, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: It's a snack apocalypse. There are articles in the "New York Times", the "Washington Post", Forbes -- people eulogizing the Twinkie. And they're talking about how it was in the movies or they grew up. It's like we're taking their childhood away.

People talking about loving the fact that eating deep fried Twinkies, which I think you should only eat in an emergency room or in front of a cardiologist because I cannot think it's good for you in any way. But people for some reason it holds a place in people's heart. I don't understand. You know, I ate it as a kid -- I don't miss it.

BLACKWELL: Do you know I have never had one. I have never in my life had a Twinkie, so maybe that's why I don't get it. Maybe that's why. Do you think people are going too far?

OBEIDALLAH: I think I have never seen people overreact to a snack food in my life. Obviously we're really getting to the point that it is iconic. It's in pop culture. It represents something in people's childhood, which I don't understand. It's just a snack cake, folk. There's tons of other ones.

BLACKWELL: Ok. So you say that there are tons of other ones. If -- ok. Maybe for you it's not Twinkies. What would it be for you that if the company went out of business and it went away, you would be heartbroken?

OBEIDALLAH: Well, Snapple Iced Tea. I love Snapple Iced Tea.


OBEIDALLAH: I'm not kidding. I'm a comic, when I tour, and one of the fist things when I get to a city is look for Snapple. We all have our comfort food. That's my comfort drink which I like to drink.

BLACKWELL: When you are on stage, instead of having a gin and tonic on stage, you have a Snapple Iced Tea.

OBEIDALLAH: I drink actually water on stage usually, but I'll try to have one or two Snapples a day. I know it's not good for you, and I guess the same idea of Twinkie, but it doesn't represent my childhood. It's just something I enjoy. This snack getting Armageddon coming up on the horizon to me -- I have never seen a reaction to a snack food ever like this.

BLACKWELL: And you know what -- you know who I feel bad for? Zingers. I feel bad for Zingers because it quite almost literally is the red-headed step child of the Hostess Brand. Nobody is sad to see Zingers go.

OBEIDALLAH: And right inside it looks like a Twinkie. Right there folks. If you can buy -- I went to store after store. There are no Twinkies around Atlanta before I came on. You can't get it. These you can get Zingers. No one cares.

BLACKWELL: Zingers -- yes, who wants Zingers?

OBEIDALLAH: It's going to be -- I'm sure we can find replacement smacks for people if that's a problem.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Now, there are some people who are happy to see Twinkies go, though?

OBEIDALLAH: Well, it has 150 calories in each little cake. It's got high fructose corn syrup. It has 37 ingredients, some I have never heard of. I don't think they're found naturally in the world.

BLACKWELL: No eggs and butter.

OBEIDALLAH: They're created in some kind of bizarre laboratory, like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type of thing. But people enjoy the flavor knowing it's a guilty pleasure. We all know when you eat that, it's not good for you, but it tastes good.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Now Twinkies are going away, but look, there's always Pop Tarts.

OBEIDALLAH: You got this.

BLACKWELL: Chocolate donuts.

OBEIDALLAH: You got this stuff.

BLACKWELL: Who can forget about Big Texas?

Dean I don't even know what these are. They are generic products that should just be called sugar in the store, and people enjoy it. There's plenty of stuff out there. You know, Twinkies might come back. Someone might buy the product line. The company is going away, but they might -- still there might be a Twinkie in the future.

BLACKWELL: All right Dean. Thank you very much.


BLACKWELL: Thanks for watching this morning. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley starts right now.