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Ceasefire Far Off in Middle East; Obama Visits Myanmar; Will Diplomacy Work?; Hearing Results: the CIA was in the Know

Aired November 19, 2012 - 11:00   ET


NATALIE ALLEN, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": And, hello, everyone. I'm Natalie Allen in for Ashleigh Banfield.

It is 11:00 on the East Coast, 8:00 on the West. It is 6:00 p.m. in Gaza where a ceasefire that the outside world is demanding still seems far out of reach.

This is day six of a cross-border onslaught that has killed 100 people, but just look at Myanmar, decades of repression give way to unimagined reforms and today a historic visit.

And New York marks another post-Sandy milestone. The longest under- river car tunnel in North America reopens.

But we begin this very busy hour with the rockets still flying out of Hamas-controlled Gaza and the Israeli missiles, jets and bombs flying into it. Within the past couple of hours, Israeli forces hit a media complex in Gaza City for the second time in two days.

Over six days of the conflict, all too reminiscent of the ground war in 2008. At least 97 Palestinians and 3 Israelis have been killed.

Neither side knows when, where or how the other will strike and that leads to heart-stopping moments like this one live on CNN last hour with our Frederik Pleitgen.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN BERLIN CORRESPONDENT: This town here is actually a very interesting one because it is directly in the line of fire, especially from those very short-range rockets and only yesterday what happened was that there a direct -- oh, Carol, we have an alarm going off right now.

I'm going to have to seek cover. We're going to go over here. Let's take the camera off the tripod, though. We're going to have get into safety here, Carol..

CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": You go. You go. You go, go, go.

This always makes me so nervous. PLEITGEN: There's no place to go here, really. What you have to do is you have to get down on the ground and wait for it to pass. Just hope it doesn't hit anywhere here.

They're telling us to go inside the shop. Now, we'll stay here. All right. Seems like something impacted in the distance, not sure how far away.

OK, the alarm stopped. Yeah, it was over there? OK. All right. I think we can get up again.

All right, are you guys still there, Carol?

COSTELLO: We are still there and we're nervous, Fred. You're sure -- you're not even wearing any protection. Are you OK?

PLEITGEN: Well, yeah, we're fine. We're fine.

Yes, so it seems as though the impact was quite a ways in the distance. I would say a couple miles in the distance.

There over in the sky -- you probably won't be able to see it here -- there's an interceptor missile taking off right now.

That is the "Iron Dome" interceptor, right there.. If you just saw the flash in the sky, that was a rocket coming out of Gaza that was just intercepted right now.

So, it appears as though at this point in time there is another barrage being fired from Gaza into this part of Israel close to the Israeli border.

And as I was telling you, this town here on the border is one that does take a lot of fire very frequently. So, this is really something that is very commonplace for the people here.


ALLEN: Frederik Pleitgen and our crew there hitting the ground just there on the border.

New Israeli attacks also carried out in the past couple hours on targets in Gaza. CNN's Ben Wedeman is monitoring events this hour in Gaza City. He joins us from there.

And, Ben, we just saw Fred Pleitgen hit the ground and I know it's just as tense there in Gaza City. What can you tell us about what's happening right now?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, it's relatively quiet. We can hear the Israeli drones overhead as we hear all day long.

But, of course, just a few hours ago -- in fact, two-and-a-half hours ago, we heard three large explosions and, this building behind me which you can't see because the electricity is caught off, it got hit three times.

In that building, there are several things. There were the offices of Al-Aqsa television, which is a television station affiliated with the Hamas movement.

But one of those missiles, we saw it sort of a plume of orange fire bursting out from the front from about the second floor and we rushed to the scene.

What we saw is the ambulance personnel were bringing out the body, a very charred body, of a man who appeared to be quite lifeless, in other words dead, and he, we're told, may be a member of Islamic jihad's military media office. He may have been the target of that attack.

That attack left the building on fire and it took the Palestinian fire department quite some time to put it out.

And, in fact, while there are a lot of journalists in that building, just about 150 to 200 meters up the road another strike came in hitting an empty field.

So, it's by no means been a quiet afternoon here in Gaza.

In fact, referring to Fred's report from just over the border in Israel, we did see the outgoing missiles. We saw five streaks of white smoke coming out from an area not far from here, heading, of course, toward Israel.


ALLEN: And Ben -- so, Ben, what will it take for Hamas to stop launching rockets at this point, 97 Palestinians dead, that death you just described, so horrific.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for an immediate ceasefire, headed for the region, what kind of reception can he expect?

WEDEMAN: Well, just to update you on those, the fatalities, according to Palestinian medical sources, the number has now reached 100 dead, more than 800 wounded.

Now, regarding Hamas' position on a possible ceasefire, they have a list of demands. They want the so-called "siege of Gaza" to be lifted. Those are the controls over the borders of Gaza with Egypt and with Israel.

They want an end to targeted assassinations, an end to Israeli military operations within Gaza.

Whether these -- and I spoke with one official from Hamas today who told me that, you know, there are contacts with Egypt. They are passing messages back and forth, but at this point he says he sees no imminent ceasefire popping up anytime soon.

Obviously, the Palestinians, Hamas and Fatah, as well, will pay proper deference to Ban Ki-moon and any other official who wants to discuss this situation here, but really fundamentally, the problem is between Gaza and Israel and all those who come and try to help, if they're just coming to visit, express sympathy as some are doing, that's not going to change the situation on the ground.


ALLEN: Yes, and, as you just said, 800 wounded. How are the civilians overall holding up there?

WEDEMAN: Well, to a certain extent, they're accustomed to this. Gaza in one form or another has been a place where there's been fighting, clashes, protests, occupation going back decades.

So, people are accustomed to life taking some very unexpected and violent turns, you know, and I spent a lot of time going around Gaza City and some of its suburbs today and, on the one hand, obviously, the situation, as they call it, is something everybody is talking about.

But there are some stores that are open. You see people out in the streets, certainly not compared to what you would see under normal circumstances when the roads behind me would be lit and there would be full of cars and people out and about.

People are staying very close to home. Schools are closed. Almost all businesses are closed. People are hoarding as much food as possible. The price of petrol has gone up very much.

Basic supplies are still out there. They're available, but, of course, the worry is that, if Israel launches a ground offensive, people will be stuck in their homes possibly for days. So, they're getting ready for that should that happen.


ALLEN: Ben Wedeman for us live there in Gaza City. Ben, thanks so much.

Stay with CNN for more reports from Gaza City and Jerusalem. Anderson Cooper is live tonight on "AC 360," 8:00 Eastern.


ALLEN: And welcome back. Throughout this morning, we have watched live here on CNN Hamas launch rockets into Israel while Israel continues its assault on Hamas in Gaza.

With no ceasefire in sight, there are concerns Israeli troops may soon enter Gaza widening this conflict.

We're going to talk about that with CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour in Jerusalem, joins us now.

Christiane, while Israelis seem to be very supportive of these air strikes so far, would the Israeli people support their troops moving into Gaza?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, interestingly a poll done by the newspaper, Haaretz, which is pretty much a liberal-moderate newspaper, says that while something like 84 percent of Israelis -- and I must say everyone we talk to and all the politicians do support the current air offensive on Gaza, that number drops sharply if they're talking about a ground war. That drops to about 30 percent.

And I think, you know, that's something significant to consider.

But more than that, I have spoken to Israeli government officials who tell me today and wanted to emphasize to me today that Israel is hoping that the diplomatic track proves successful.

They, of course, always say if this doesn't, then they are ready, that they've gathered their military. We've watched them call up reserves. We've seen them station tanks and other armor outside Gaza and that they would be ready to, quote, "pull the trigger."

Their aim, as they keep telling us, is to stop these rockets coming from Gaza into Israel. And a military person, a military official has told me that they feel as far as Israel is concerned that they have made a dent in the amount of rocket-fire coming out of Gaza.

Ceasefire talks continue. We have not yet seen the result yet.

ALLEN: Well, let's talk about the diplomatic track then, though. Talk to us about the prospects that Egypt negotiating with Hamas to at least stop the rocket attacks for now.

AMANPOUR: Well, look, it's a very interesting situation because as we've been reporting and as we've said, this is obviously the first time that there's been an Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the post- Arab Spring world.

And I think everybody, including the United States, was wondering what role Egypt would play. Before, it could safely rely on Egypt under President Mubarak to really pressure Hamas and the Palestinians in situations like this to come up with a ceasefire and to cease and desist and also work with Israel. There was a very close security relationship between Israel and Egypt.

Now, we're seeing that Egypt is continuing to play that role. Obviously in public, Israel has a much different stance than President -- I'm sorry, Egypt has a much different stance under the new Islamist government. Officials have come to Gaza. They have publicly said they're standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Hamas, with the Palestinian people. They've called Israel's action acts of aggression. They've called on it to stop.

But they are also playing a very significant role and they are the key brokers now with Israel and, as far as we know, they've been sitting face to face with an Israeli envoy to hammer out a ceasefire which includes Khaled Mashal of Hamas and all the other players in this region. So, the U.S. appears to be quite satisfied with what Egypt is doing. U.S. has said that they don't want to see a ground war while constantly saying that they obviously support Israel's right to self- defense.

ALLEN: And, Christiane, what about the Palestinians on the West Bank not aligned with Hamas. What is the Palestinian government saying there?

AMANPOUR: Well, you know, again, this whole situation is such an almighty mess that there -- it's a very good question. You know, the Palestinians are divided. You've got the Palestinian Authority that rules basically on the West Bank not far from where I am which is separated from Israel by that wall and then you've got Hamas that rules Gaza. So, it's really sort of a division.

However, in cases like this, the Palestinians at least in public stand shoulder-to-shoulder and the Palestinian Authority has said that, look, we have to stop what they call the Israeli aggression.

At the same time, senior members of the Palestinian Authority have gone to Gaza to talk to Hamas. I have spoken to one of them and he tells me that he believes Hamas is serious about trying to achieve a ceasefire.

Of course, both sides, Israel and Hamas, have their bottom lines or at least their demands, and the question right now is has both inflicted enough pain? Do they feel like they have at least shown to inflict enough pain to claim some kind of victory and to be able to get off? Is there an exit ramp they can get off now or do both want to inflict more pain?

Both certainly don't want to call -- you know, cry uncle, or say that they're surrendering. So, this is the very tricky part of the negotiations to try to figure out a way that satisfies both sides and, hopefully, I know most people in this region don't want to see it expand into a ground offensive.

ALLEN: Absolutely. Christian Amanpour for us live in Jerusalem. Christiane, thank you.

And stay with CNN throughout the day and evening as we follow the violence in the Middle East. Israeli President Shimon Peres will join "Piers Morgan tonight" at 9:00 Eastern.



SENATOR ROY BLUNT (R), MISSOURI: It's clear from the surveillance film there was never a protest.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You basically think it was put out there because they didn't want to have the direct conversation about this being a terrorist attack? You think ...

BLUNT: I think until you hear a better explanation, that's the only conclusion you can reach.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R), RANKING MEMBER, SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Yeah, on September 25th at the United Nations, the president said a crude and disgusting video sparked outrage throughout the Muslim world.

I mean, even on the 25th after it was well-known this was an al Qaeda- affiliated attack and not a spontaneous demonstration, there still was this obfuscating.

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CHAIRWOMAN, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: What has concerned me is really the politicization of a public statement that was put out by the entire intelligence committee which Susan Rice on the 16th, who was asked to go before the people and use that statement, did.


ALLEN: Lawmakers still with plenty to say about the September 11th attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi and the Obama administration's response.

Well, now that the Senate and House intelligence members have heard from former CIA Director David Petraeus, albeit behind closed doors, we know this indisputable fact. The CIA knew the attack was planned and launched by terrorists affiliated with al Qaeda.

That's according to Petraeus' testimony on Friday, but two months after the attack, so many questions still remain.

The answers to which have a lot of implications to U.S. security which is why we want to bring in Congressman Adam Schiff who serves on the House intelligence committee. Congressman Schiff, thank you for joining us.


ALLEN: You were there for Petraeus' testimony. What did we learn from that hearing? What did you learn from that hearing?

SCHIFF: Well, we learned a few things. His testimony and the testimony the prior day of the acting director set out a minute-by- minute, hour-by-hour chronology of what happened at our diplomatic post.

We also learned from General Petraeus that, in the putting together of these talking points, there was no effort to politicize them, no effort to spin them, no interference from the White House.

And you would think that that would have ended the conspiracy theories that continue to be propagated, but, unfortunately, it hasn't and my concern is, frankly, we're taking our eyes off the ball which really ought to be the hunt for those who were responsible, tracking them down, and bringing them to justice.

But I think we had a pretty clear presentation about exactly what happened. We also got good information about why they got it wrong in the beginning and, while there's been a lot of focus on the fact that General Petraeus said that it was terrorism at the time in the early aftermath of the attacks, the general and the intelligence community also said that there was a protest at the diplomatic post and there wasn't.

So, they got that wrong and we can't ignore that, but at the same time, I don't think we should attribute some kind of malice to that either.

ALLEN: Well, a lot has been made of the Obama administration's talking points, of course, especially from U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice who has gotten a lot of heat since then in the days after the attack. Let's listen.


SUSAN RICE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Our current best assessment based on the information that we have at present is that, in fact, what this began as was a spontaneous, not a premeditated response to what had transpired in Cairo.


ALLEN: So how did that happen? How was that accurate at the time? If we know that this was in fact a premeditated, not spontaneous occurrence?

SCHIFF: Well, we don't know the degree that it was premeditated. That's still something, frankly, that's under investigation. How much advance planning was there or was this planned, essentially, within 24 hours or the same day?

So, that is a question we still have to the get to the bottom of, but the important point in terms of the ambassador's statement on that Sunday talk program is that she was using the intelligence community's best estimate.

That -- at that time when she appeared on the Sunday talk shows, the intelligence community still believed that that began as a protest, that, yes, there were terrorists and extremists involved, but that it began as a protest.

So, I don't see how we can fault the ambassador for using what the intelligence community said was their best assessment. In fact, in my view if she had deviated from that, if she had departed from what the intelligence community said they thought took place, then she would have been subject for criticism for ignoring what the intelligence community was saying, but as it was, they got it wrong.

It took time for them to get it right, and, in fact, I think they really didn't get it right until we got some of the video evidence from the scene.

ALLEN: Right. Do we know who removed references of terrorism from the talking points? SCHIFF: Well, we know that during the inter-agency process when it was circulated among a dozen or so different agencies, that rather than disclose al Qaeda links to some of the extremists who were present, they used the more generic term of "extremist."

General Petraeus made it clear that that change was made to protect classified sources of information, not to spin it, not to politicize it and it wasn't done at the direction of the White House.

That really ought to be the end of it, but it isn't. So we have to continue to go around this merry-go-round, but at a certain point when all the facts point in a certain direction, we're going to have to accept them as they are and move on.

ALLEN: Congressman Adam Schiff, we thank you.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

ALLEN: Well, Ambassador Susan Rice is seen as a possible successor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Several top Republicans, including Senator John McCain, have said they would block Rice's nomination because of her initial comments on the Benghazi attacks.

Well, like David Petraeus, his biographer and mistress, Paula Broadwell, has kept a low profile since their affair was exposed, but Broadwell and her family are now back home in Charlotte, North Carolina, returning last night.

This is their first day home in 10 days. Until now we've only seen FBI agents carrying large boxes of classified documents from Broadwell's home.

Her husband, Scott, told our affiliate WSOC he had no comment, but would be making a statement sometime soon.


ALLEN: President Obama is in Cambodia this hour, the last stop on a visit to Southeast Asia. He's holding talks with the Cambodian prime minister and the leaders of Japan and China, as well as attending two summits with regional leaders.

Mr. Obama flew to Cambodia from Myanmar, the first U.S. president to visit the country also known as Burma.

Among his events, a meeting with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, like President Obama, a Nobel peace prize laureate. Suu Kyi was held under house arrest for 15 years for leading the struggle against Burma's military dictatorship.

But the violence in the Middle East has also demanded Mr. Obama's attention.

Jessica Yellin is traveling with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JESSICA YELLIN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was in Thailand the president gave his first public remarks on the violence in Israel and Gaza, standing by Israel.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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.

YELLIN: And he put the onus on Hamas to make peace possible.

OBAMA: It starts with no more missiles being fired into Israel's territory.