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THE SITUATION ROOM

Crisis in Israel; Interview with Saeb Erekat; Interview with Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, Israel Defense Forces; No Warning Before Airstrike Hits; "No Good That Comes With War"; State Department: U.S. "Working Hard"; President Pays Visit To Asia; President Talks To Leaders Of Israel, Egypt; Israel Protected By "Iron Dome"

Aired November 19, 2012 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: It's Joe Johns in Washington, D.C., taking over. We will be coming to Wolf momentarily.

Happening now: running for cover and an Israeli city under fire. Across the border in Gaza, wails of grief and cries for revenge. And from afar, the president of the United States works the phone, pushing everyone to find a way to stop the killing.

Wolf Blitzer is in Jerusalem. I'm Joe Johns. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're here. We're live in Jerusalem right now at the end of a sixth day of intense rocket fire directed at Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza and a determined Israeli air assault on those rocket launching sites, as well as militants and their supplies.

Israeli officials say three people are dead, 68 people have been wounded since the flare-up started. Palestinian health officials put the Gaza death toll at 104 with 860 people wounded. All the while, world diplomats constantly are looking for some way to broker a cease- fire.

In a little bit, you're going to hear my conversation with one of top negotiators attempting to achieve a cease-fire, the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He's here in Jerusalem. I spoke with him today. You're going to hear the interview. That's coming up later.

We will also hear from our CNN correspondents across Israel, as well as in Gaza right now.

Earlier in the day, I went to Ashkelon, where I saw what was going on firsthand on the Israeli side of the border. As soon as we got to Ashkelon, the sirens actually started going on. You could see people running towards shelters. I started running after Israeli soldiers demanded that all of us, our CNN crew, myself, we get to a shelter.

Usually, they have about 30 seconds once the sirens go off before there actually is a rocket or missile that reaches the ground. In this particular case, when we were running, we got to a shelter. It was packed with soldiers, with civilians. And then we finally heard that thud. In this particular case, that Iron Dome, the Israeli anti-missile defense shield, which has been financed at least in some measure by the United States, it worked. And the incoming rockets and missiles were destroyed in the air. Later, we walked outside and we saw that plume of smoke showing those missiles, the rockets had been destroyed.

Earlier in the day, by the way, at that same school where we had been, the Iron Dome didn't work successfully. And that rocket hit the ground. There was some damage there. No casualties on that particular road. We spent some quality time in Ashkelon watching what was going on. And it was a significant situation.

On both sides of the border, people are living and dying. There is intense, intense pain in Gaza as well, as in Israel.

Joining us now on the phone is Saeb Erekat, a chief Palestinian negotiator. He's joining us from the West Bank.

Saeb, thanks very much for joining us. I know you're watching very closely what's going on. Is there -- you sense that the parties are any closer to a cease-fire?

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Well, I hope so. I think there's an interest for all parties to have a cease-fire.

Actually, we were last Monday in Cairo. President Abbas spoke to President Morsi. They agreed on a cease-fire, what we call (INAUDIBLE) and the Israeli government surprised us after Wednesday to assassinate Jabari. and then hell broke loose over our heads.

Now, I hope this will be an eye-opener for Mr. Netanyahu. We are negotiating. And he was speaking the needs to keep his army for Israel's security for 40 years in the Jordan Valley. Now, I hope that he will get one lesson. The lesson is that security will only be achieved through peace, security will only be achieved through peace through the two-state solution. Security will not be achieved through bombardment and killings and wars and (INAUDIBLE) wars and war- mongering.

We need to reach this conclusion. And we need now to support every opportunity presented by the Egyptians in order to get a comprehensive cease-fire. That's what we're working on. President Abbas is fully, fully engaged with President Morsi on this. He's fully engaged with all Palestinian factions, including Hamas, and we're fully, fully on board to achieve a blanket comprehensive cease-fire, because that's what will serve the interests of all parties concerned, Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, and others.

BLITZER: I know that one of the issues the Israelis are demanding -- and the Israeli cabinet, I'm told, is meeting right now, even as we speak, the so-called international security cabinet, the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

One of the things they want to make sure is that even if there's a cease-fire, the shelling into Israel, some of these rockets and missiles don't resume two weeks from now or four weeks from now or whatever. How do you ensure that once there's a cease-fire, it holds?

EREKAT: Well, I think, Wolf, number one is we have to focus now in achieving a cease-fire.

Now the Egyptians are on board. The Europeans are on board. The Americans are on board. The Turks are on board. Everyone is on board. Now, if Israel commits to have a cease-fire, comprehensive, not to assassinate, not to attack, then there will be guarantees from all parties that are involved in this.

But I think we have a fire now. We have a fire. The first thing we should do is bring the children outside the building, extinguish the fire. And once we extinguish the fire, we can look at it the day after. At this moment, I think every possible effort should be exerted in order to reach a comprehensive cease-fire. We heard Meshaal today saying Hamas is willing to engage in a full comprehensive cease-fire.

The Egyptians are exerting every possible effort through their good offices. I think there's a good chance to achieve this and then all demands from all parties, everybody who has demands will brought the day after.

BLITZER: I know that the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with President Mahmoud Abbas, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, today. I spoke with Tony Blair later.

Here's the question. It's a fundamental question. Does Hamas control all of Gaza? Because there's some speculation that there's Islamic Jihad, other even more radical groups that wouldn't necessarily honor a cease-fire.

EREKAT: You know, President Abbas spoke to Meshaal, spoke to the (INAUDIBLE) he spoke for factions for Gaza. He spoke to Mr. Tony Blair. He talked to -- he saw Mr. Fabius, the French foreign minister. Tomorrow, he seeing the British and German foreign ministers. The day after, he's seeing Ban Ki-Moon.

He is in touch with President Morsi. What we're seeking to achieve now is a total cease-fire. Look, there are 107 people killed in Gaza in the last six days. Gaza is the most densely populated area on Earth, sevens persons per square meter, more than 750 wounded.

And I think if the Israeli government is thinking about a land invasion, that will mean human disaster. And that will not ensure anybody's security and safety. It will just -- we all know that this will just push the whole region, not only us and the Israelis, the whole region, in the path of conflict, bloodshed and a larger cycle of violence and extremism.

Now I think there is (INAUDIBLE) in all Palestinians, in Gaza, through the good offices of the Egyptians. We will guarantee it. The most important thing is that Israel commits to stop the assassinations, to stop attacks. And then everyone in Gaza will be committed because Egypt is brokering this. And Egypt can guarantee this.

And I know that the Egyptians can do that. And they're the only ones who can do that, actually.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What is your assessment, Saeb, of the U.S. role in all of this? Do you believe the president, President Obama, is doing enough to try to achieve a cease-fire?

EREKAT: I'm sure he is. I'm sure he's engaged with the Egyptians, engaged with the Turks, engaged with Qataris, engaged with the Europeans, engaged with us.

I'm sure he's doing everything humanly possible. But the gate here, the key here is in Egypt's hands. And I think the Egyptians, I spoke to some of their officials this afternoon and yesterday in President Morsi's office. They are exerting every possible effort there is in order to reach a comprehensive cease-fire.

We should all help them and I think they can achieve it. And they can provide the guarantees for all sides.

BLITZER: Is the Palestinian Authority -- and what I'm hearing, I think the answer is yes. But you tell me. Is the Palestinian Authority -- and you're associated obviously with the president, Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen, as he's called -- on the same page right now with Hamas in Gaza?

EREKAT: Look, today, we are not Hamas. We're not (INAUDIBLE) authority. We are all Palestinians, Wolf.

It is our people. It is -- we know. We know we have (AUDIO GAP) every possible avenue in order to reach peace and to reach the two-state solution. And that's our ticket, Israelis and Palestinians, to security and peace.

Unfortunately, we have been unable for 20 years to achieve this goal. Today, what we need to focus on is to reach a cease-fire. What we need to focus on is to stop this fire from deteriorating. We have to begin -- we began this de-escalation (INAUDIBLE) program. And now we should succeed.

Failure should not be an option. And I think, yes, we can do it tonight. The Egyptians are determined. And they can do it and they can deliver. And let's focus on one thing now, to have a cease-fire.

BLITZER: Saeb Erekat is the chief Palestinian peace negotiator. There haven't been many peace negotiations lately. Let's hope there will be peace negotiations soon.

EREKAT: Unfortunately. I hope so in the future.

BLITZER: Saeb, thanks very much for joining us.

EREKAT: Thank you.

BLITZER: I hope so too.

All right, Saeb Erekat joining us from the West Bank, the Palestinian peace negotiator.

On both sides of the border, people are living and dying amid the constant terror of explosions, uncertainty.

Our senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, is in Gaza. And she's joining us now.

Arwa, tell our viewers what you have seen today.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, throughout the day, we were seeing on different occasions rockets being fired from here towards Israel.

There were also a number of airstrikes and other attacks that did in fact take place. There's a building behind me -- it's a bit too dark for you to see it right now -- that's about 15 stories tall. We saw it being hit by three missiles. It would seem that the target was the head of the media office of the military wing of Islamic Jihad.

He was killed, we're later told, by Palestinian sources. Another man also killed in that attack as well as well, seemingly he died of a heart attack. He was a Christian. And also in that attack, two children were wounded, Wolf. And we do keep seeing, again, the civilians bearing the brunt of this conflict.

A lot of women and children have, of course, been killed, been wounded as well. So far on this side of the border, more than 100 people have been killed. And right now, the streets are completely deserted, as they have been from the moment that darkness fell. People are just too afraid to go outside. And there's the constant buzz of drones overhead.

And just a short while ago, we also heard another explosion, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there any sense that from your vantage point, Arwa, in Gaza, speaking to people associated with Hamas, that we're any closer to a cease-fire?

DAMON: They say that negotiations are under way. They do have a list of demands that they do want to see materialized. And obviously at the top of that list is an end to the violence and having the siege on Gaza to be lifted.

It is hard to fathom a scenario where that would actually happen. And that is, of course, the great crux of this conflict, is that both sides are so polarized, so hardened in their demands. It's hard to see which side is going to budge first.

When it comes to the population, a lot of them do say on the one hand, especially when you speak to people at funerals on the sites after these attacks have taken place, they say that they do want revenge. But at the same time when you speak to them in the market, in their homes, where people are really huddling together, trying to stay safe, they say that they really want peace.

For decades, people here in Gaza have been going through this ongoing cycle of violence, of fear, living a life that has really very little dignity to it. Many of them say that they feel as if they live in a massive prison. And all they really want to see is an end to all of this, they do want to see a long-lasting agreement that would result in peace, that would result in them and their children being able to have even the semblance of a normal life, Wolf.

BLITZER: And, finally, do they say that as a result of a cease-fire they will flatly stop shelling Israel, stop sending rockets, missiles into Israel and won't allow additional weapons to start coming in or are they leaving that open?

DAMON: Well, that's another of the sticking points, of course.

The Israelis are wanting to set up something of a buffer zone inside Gaza. They do want to see the weapons stop coming in. They do not want to create a scenario where Hamas is somehow going to be able to regain the capability to rearm itself or even further arm itself at this stage.

But, again, as we have heard every single time, the conflict between these two populations escalates to the point where it's at, there are pledges, there are statements that are made. And then invariably one side ends up breaking the cease-fire, end up recreating the kind of situation we have right now. And invariably every single time, each side continues to blame the other.

And that's why it is so critical to try to have the sort of solution in place that can in fact be long-lasting. But again that's something that both of these sides, the international community has struggled to make a reality, again, for decades now.

BLITZER: Decades, indeed.

Arwa, we will check back with you. Arwa Damon is in Gaza for us. Anderson Cooper is in Gaza as well. We will check in him. So is Ben Wedeman.

We're standing by. The Israeli cabinet, by the way, is now meeting, considering a cease-fire proposal. As soon as that cabinet meeting breaks up here in Jerusalem, we'll have the latest on what the decision is. Stand by for that.

We're also about to get the Israeli military's response to the civilian deaths in Gaza. Latest efforts to stop the rocket attacks coming into Israel from Gaza. I'll be joined by a spokeswoman from the Israeli army. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're continuing our coverage here in Jerusalem. I'm joined now by Avital Leibovich. She's a lieutenant colonel, spokeswoman, for the Israeli Defense Forces.

Lieutenant Colonel, thanks very much for coming in.

How serious is the possibility of a ground invasion by the IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, into Gaza?

LT. COL. AVITAL LEIBOVICH, SPOKESWOMAN, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: Well, currently, a ground operation is still an option. Although we haven't decided to go with this option, the forces are ready outside of Gaza. And should the order be given, we are ready to go inside.

BLITZER: And you would go in with tanks, armored personnel carriers, heavy weaponry in a densely populated area like Gaza?

LEIBOVICH: Various types of units. We are very familiar with the type of -- the densely populated areas with the urban warfare. Therefore, we've been busy by developing different kinds of methods, of precise munitions in order to stay away and refrain from targeting civilians, of course.

BLITZER: And you don't think you could achieve your military objectives through air power or sea power? You think, ultimately, you might have to go in on the ground?

LEIBOVICH: Let's look at today. Today, 160 rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel. That was not a quiet day. And although the arsenal of the rockets is going down and has suffered a very severe blow, still we're still getting rockets. Therefore, the goal of the operation is still to continue and defend the people of Israel and also to target those terror organizations.

BLITZER: The Israeli cabinet is meeting right now, supposedly considering a ceasefire proposal that's come via the Egyptians. What can you tell us about that?

LEIBOVICH: Nothing right now. We are waiting for the orders from the political echelon. But the operation is still continuing, as far as we are concerned. For example, we targeted a couple of hours ago a stadium. It was an open soccer stadium. But also one that hosted launchers, launchers of Fajr-5 underground and these long --

BLITZER: Fajr-5 are these Iranian longer range --

LEIBOVICH: Right, manufactured.

BLITZER: Of about 75-kilometer range.

LEIBOVICH: Right.

BLITZER: These are the ones that threaten Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. But I was under the impression almost all of them had been destroyed already?

LEIBOVICH: It's true. But still they have some rockets of this type. We see that they have difficulties to launch them nowadays and therefore they still use the Grads, which was approximately 40 kilometers. The city of Be'er Sheva, for example, which has something like 200,000 people, was heavily targeted today.

BLITZER: What is your estimate? How many more of these missiles and rockets do they have in Gaza? LEIBOVICH: They probably have thousands, even more.

BLITZER: Thousands?

LEIBOVICH: There are 400 smuggling tunnels between Gaza and the Egyptian Rafah. And these tunnels conveyed all sorts of munition, 24/7. The money for using those tunnels go to Hamas.

In addition, Gaza has become the back yard of many African countries the past two years. The smuggling routes in the deserts are very convenient, and therefore, there's really no limit to the types of rockets that can enter Gaza.

BLITZER: So this could go on for a long time, if it was a ground invasion. Israel occupied Gaza once before, did not have necessarily a wonderful experience. This could be a disaster if you go back in there.

LEIBOVICH: Nobody's looking for occupation. Once again, we're just looking to practice the basic right that Israel has like any other country in the world. This is -- we want -- we want to have a rocket- free country. We want to have 3 million Israelis, which is approximately 50 percent of the population, sleep quietly in their own beds rather than in shelters.

BLITZER: You know, we in the United States, whenever there's a military operation because there have been some bad experiences, when troops go in, they want to know what the exit strategy is. What would be Israel's exit strategy from Gaza if you send in tens of thousands of ground forces?

LEIBOVICH: Well, when we organize such an operation, we usually have an assessment a few times a day. Then we plan our next steps. So, it's going to be hard for me to predict an end result.

Of course, our hope is the rockets fire will stop. The terror organizations will lose a large portion of their arsenal. But this is currently the situation now. I mean, I cannot predict for --

BLITZER: But if Israel withdraws quickly, they could rebuild that arsenal, Hamas, pretty quickly if you go in, clean it out and then leave, which I hear is what you want to do, what's to stop them from doing it all over again?

LEIBOVICH: Well, of course, we all prefer diplomacy than military action. And hopefully, the diplomatic moves that are happening now maybe will change something.

BLITZER: Are there rockets coming into Israel from Sinai, Egypt, as well?

LEIBOVICH: Currently no. But it is an option still. We had --

BLITZER: There have been a few.

LEIBOVICH: There have been a few incidents lately in which some Salafi groups maybe in the Sinai, in the desert, tried to target Israeli targets. They were remote. But still we're concerned about this phenomenon.

BLITZER: What about Egypt's -- Israel's relationship with Egypt right now? There's still a formal relationship but I take it it's not that good.

LEIBOVICH: Well, you know what? Egypt is not our enemy. Gaza and -- Hamas inside Gaza, rather, is our enemy. We tend to keep the peace treaty with Egypt and respect that peace treaty.

BLITZER: What about Golan Heights with Syria? There have been some incidents of fire coming into the Israeli part of the Golan Heights from Syria. What's the latest on that?

LEIBOVICH: Our estimation is all the remotes events have to do with stray bullets or stray mortars, nothing more than that. It's an internal conflict inside Syria. And that's the way we treat it.

BLITZER: Is it a serious situation on the Golan Heights right now with Syria or is it a temporary thing?

LEIBOVICH: It's a temporary thing. The borders are quiet, except the stray bullets or stray mortar here or there. We see it as an internal Syrian conflict which has nothing to do with us.

BLITZER: And you're on the Lebanese border with Hezbollah, that's quiet as well?

LEIBOVICH: It's quiet but tense. Hezbollah has acquired a huge arsenal of over 60,000 rockets and tried to think how many other militaries in the world even hold these amount of rockets. Nasrallah just gave a speech was given today urging all the Arab countries to smuggle rockets into Gaza so Hamas can use them.

BLITZER: One final question, Iran -- what if any role do -- are they playing in all of this?

LEIBOVICH: Iran is, I would say, pulling the strings in many of the terror organizations in the region. Hezbollah is one of them, Hamas is another. You mentioned the Fajr-5. But the directives, the ideology all go way back to Iran.

BLITZER: Lieutenant colonel Avital Leibovich, thanks very much for coming in.

LEIBOVICH: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're going to continue to watch what's going on. You have a direct stake in this latest conflict in the Middle East as well. We'll prepare you for what you'll see the next time you pull up to the gas pump. Stand by for that.

And our crews also have dramatic new video of the devastation caused by Israeli air strikes in Gaza. Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf Blitzer is in Jerusalem and we'll get back to him live in just a moment.

But, first, violence in the Middle East is pushing oil prices up. Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what do you have?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. A lot of people are interested in this story.

Oil prices rose another $2 a barrel today to $89 a barrel. Crude prices are up about 4 percent since fighting erupted between the Israelis and Hamas last week. Neither Israel nor Gaza is a major producer of oil but investors are worried tensions could spill over into other parts of the Middle East.

And Colombia's top rebel group has announced a cease-fire against government forces. The FARC or revolutionary armed forces of Colombia say they will halt their attacks. It's meant as a goodwill gesture amid peace talks with the Colombian government. But it's unlikely the government will reciprocate. FARC has been at war with the government since the 1960s.

And Intel CEO will retire in May after 38 years with the world's largest chip maker. Paul Otellini has been CEO for eight years. He says it's time to move on and hand leadership over to a new generation. No successor has been named yet. But Intel's board called Otellini a very strong leader who's led the company through challenging times and market transitions -- Joe.

JOHNS: All right. Thanks so much for that, Lisa.

Now, we're going to throw it back to Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe, thanks very much.

We're watching what's going on here in Jerusalem as I've been pointing out, the Israeli cabinet is meeting right now. We're expecting them to wrap up whatever they're deciding.

We're told they're considering a ceasefire proposal that's come to them from the Egyptians. As soon as we know what's going on, we'll of course share the breaking news with our viewers. We have a lot more to show you on both sides.

They're suffering on the ground and behind the scenes. There are urgent talks to stop the shooting and the killing. Much more of the breaking news from Jerusalem when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The former British prime minister is working behind the scenes. He's trying to help broker a ceasefire between the Israelis and Hamas in Gaza. I spoke with Tony Blair here in Jerusalem a little while ago, that interview coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

These are bleak days for Palestinians in Gaza, to be sure. Every air strike brings potential death with little or no warning, all of this in a place where life was a struggle to begin with.

CNN's Arwa Damon is once again joining us with more on what the Gazans are enduring. It's pretty painful from what you're seeing, Arwa and what from I'm hearing from you.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It most certainly is, Wolf. So far, more than 100 people have been killed on this side of the conflict and tragically we have seen a lot of women and children among the casualties as well.

And here on this side of the border, there are no sirens. Oftentimes, these strikes come with little warning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (voice-over): The large slap of concrete and mangled metal finally gives way, buried beneath it, another lifeless body. It's the second child we've seen. There was also a baby.

Others in the neighborhood say the blast killed all 10 people who lived here. Israel says it was targeting the head of a Hamas rocket launching unit. People we spoke with said they never heard of him. This was a family home.

(on camera): People here are telling us so far people who have been killed in this strike have been women and children. They have not been able to find any survivors. Just moments ago from that back corner, they pulled out the body of a tiny child. Over here, there's another frantic effort under way.

(voice-over): Tempers easily flare as frustration and anger mount. She's my uncle's wife, this young man shouts. Rage, coupled with sorrow, etched across his face. This is where she lived.

Her elderly body finally dug up and carried away. There are no air raid sirens or bunkers in Gaza. This strike came with no warning. The rescue efforts are not always so hopeless. Not far from here, just the day before, this 11-month-old and his 4-year-old sister both survived a multiple missile strike on their home.

When the roof collapsed it somehow formed a protective arch over us, the children's mother says. For about 45 minutes, I thought I was going to suffocate. My leg was stuck. People could hear me screaming, but they couldn't do anything, she tells us.

In between her cries, fears that her children were dead. This is what the building looks like now, the rubble that was cleared to save the family of 10 piled back into the lot that was their home.

I will never forget what happened, she says. I will die imaging it. I can't believe it. I can't believe these are my children. I tell myself, they are not my children. I can't imagine how they survived. I feel like I'm not myself.

I can't believe that I am alive, talking to you, breathing. She tells us she wants revenge, but more than that, she wants peace. She says, there is no good that comes with war.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON: And, Wolf, that is really the sentiment that we are hearing from so many people that they have been speaking to. However, that being said, when the funeral took place for that family that had been killed in the air strike at the beginning of that story, we did see rockets while the funeral was taking place.

It would seem being fired from Gaza towards Israel. Our colleague, Ben Wedeman, was at the funeral and he said that when that happened, people began chanting "revenge, revenge." And once again, we see the scenario where the longer the killing goes on, the more hardened these two sides become towards one another.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Gaza for us, we're going to get back to you shortly. Stand by.

Meanwhile, things got testy over at the State Department in Washington today when reporters pressed for details on how the U.S. is trying to stop the fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Let's bring in our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, she's in Washington. Jill, exactly what is the Obama administration doing right now?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're on the phone, Wolf. The president, of course, is in Asia. He is making telephone calls and practically every senior administration person is doing the same thing.

President Obama calling Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu, and Egypt three times to President Morsy. And Also Secretary Clinton calling the Egyptians three times. I looked at the list, Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, the French, Ban Ki-moon, the entire list.

And the whole idea, Wolf, is to press any country that has any influence on either side, but especially with the Palestinians with Gaza to put the pressure on them to stop the fighting.

BLITZER: Egypt is clearly a key player. They have influence with Hamas. What's the U.S. doing in its talks with the Egyptian government?

DOUGHERTY: Again, they're putting as much pressure on them as they can. And there is some pressure because after all, the United States gives Egypt about $450 million every year. So here's one expert that we talked to. His name is Haim Malka. This is how he explained how the Egyptians can use their influence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAIM MALKA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Egypt is the key to brokering a ceasefire. It's brokered ceasefires between Hamas and Israel in the past. And it will be the key to brokering the current ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas to end this round of fighting. Egypt doesn't want chaos on its borders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGHERTY: Yes, but they have a balancing act, Wolf, and you know that. Of course, they don't want any economic problems and that means they need the help of the United States and the international community. But people in Egypt have a lot of sympathy for Hamas.

BLITZER: They certainly do and elsewhere in the Arab world as well. Thanks very much, Jill Dougherty, in Washington.

Right now, here in Israel, you can look up in the sky. You can see what's going on. You see a new defense system literally knocking out incoming rockets. We have a closer look at what they call the iron dome.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: President Obama is keeping tabs on the crisis in the Middle East while he's on an historic trip. The president is in Cambodia but made a stop earlier in Myanmar. It's a nation that emerged from bloody dictatorship and is now finding its way forward in the modern world.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is traveling with the president.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Joe, according to the White House, Secretary of State Clinton and the president's top national security adviser, both of whom are on this trip, are in regular contact with their counterparts in the Middle East, trying to deescalate tensions in the region.

Meanwhile, the president is focused on his work here on this trip in Asia, strengthening and building U.S. alliances in the pacific.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): It was in Thailand, the president gave his first public remarks on the violence in Israel and Gaza, standing by Israel.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: 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.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It starts with no more missiles being fired into Israel's territory. YELLIN: But that's not the focus of this trip. Less than two weeks after his re-election, he jetted halfway around the world to Southeast Asia. President Obama says --

PRESIDENT OBAMA: This is no accident.

YELLIN: The trip is meant to strengthen trade and security alliances and counterbalance China's growing influence. The dramatic highlight, a visit to Myanmar, a country long under military rule, now undergoing a democratic transition.

In a speech encouraging the nation's reforms, he used his own identity as proof it takes time for full democracy to take hold.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I stand before you today as president of the most powerful nation on earth, but recognizing that once the color of my skin would have denied me the right to vote and so that should give you some sense that if our country can transcend its differences, then yours can, too.

YELLIN: And the president made a symbolic visit to the home of former political prisoner and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like to say how happy I am to receive President Obama in my country and in my house.

YELLIN: With him, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He said, this is their last official trip together as she plans to leave the State Department.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I could not be more grateful, not only for your service, Hillary, but also for the powerful message that you and an Aung San Suu Kyi send.

YELLIN: The president spending the balance of his day, Monday, in Cambodia, there for two summits with the focus of trade in the region.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: To the Israel-Gaza conflict, very early Tuesday morning, Cambodia Time, President Obama spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and got an update on the situation.

He also called Egypt's President Morsy and according to the White House in that call, the president discussed with Morsy the importance of getting Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel.

The president has publicly said he believes this is essential for stability and to get a piece in process. From here, the president will have a partial day of summits in Cambodia, mostly focused on trade issues, before flying home in time for Thanksgiving -- Joe.

JOHNS: That's Jessica Yellin reporting. Now we're going to continue the special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer who is in Jerusalem -- Wolf. BLITZER: Joe, thanks very much. Thank Jessica as well. I know the president has his hands full on all the Asia-related issues. He has also got a major crisis here in the Middle East with huge ramifications for the United States, indeed for the entire world.

We're watching an Israeli cabinet meeting that's continuing even as we speak. Right now, the prime minister of Israel meeting with his national security advisers, considering a ceasefire proposal forwarded by Egypt. We're watching what's going on. The stakes right now clearly enormous.

When we come back, our own Fred Pleitgen is on the ground, in Israel near the Gaza border. We'll check in with him when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Even as the diplomats are trying to achieve a ceasefire, the Israelis and Hamas in Gaza, they are still continuing their battle. Israel has a major advantage right now, an advantage called iron dome.

That's a missile defense system capable of knocking out militant rockets coming out of the sky before they get anything on the ground. CNN's Fred Pleitgen explains how iron dome works.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN BERLIN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A kill that possibly saved lives on the ground. This video shows an iron dome missile intercepting a rocket fired from Gaza at Tel Aviv on Sunday.

The defense system had just been installed in Israel's largest city a few hours earlier. Several days into the conflict, it's already clear the iron dome is having a big impact picking off hundreds of rockets.

I got a tour of the Israel Aircraft Industries' plant that assembles the air defense system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Deploying them is a matter of minutes.

PLEITGEN: Dr. Israel Oznovich is one of those in charge. One key element is an advance radar.

ISRAEL OZNOVICH, ISRAEL AIRCRAFT INDUSTRIES: The radar searches, locates, tracks, intercepts and guides the intercepting missiles within several seconds, few seconds within the launching time.

PLEITGEN: It's extremely hard to shoot down short-distance rockets like the ones coming out of Gaza, in part because they're not in the air long enough for older radar systems to lock onto them.

OZNOVICH: The target is moving extremely fast. When you want to intercept it, you have to work -- you have to move faster, with more agility, with more maneuvering power relative to your target.

PLEITGEN: The iron dome was only put into service in 2011. With breakthroughs in technology, it can detect and shoot down multiple targets in midair, but it isn't a perfect solution. This is the aftermath of a rocket strike in the town of Ashkelon.

(on camera): One of the rocket that hit Ashkelon actually came here and hit this carport and as you can see did substantial damage to the car as well.

The iron dome system has been built as a game changer in this conflict, but as hits like this one show, it cannot intercept all the rockets that are coming at Israel from Gaza.

(voice-over): Still Israel's military says it's very happy with the performance of the interceptor system.

MAJOR ARYE SHALICAR, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCER: Rockets we want to down, we usually down. Usually these rockets, exactly the ones sent, launched from the terrorist factions towards bigger cities where you have more people living, we usually down them. But it's not a 100 percent solution, unfortunately.

PLEITGEN: And so the engineers at the assembly plant are working extra hours to assemble more iron dome batteries for immediate deployment. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Ashkelon, Israel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: At the top of the hour, our own Anderson Cooper will join us live from Gaza with more on ordinary people's lives amid the growing destruction.

Also coming up, my interview with the top Middle East negotiator, the former British prime minister, Tony Blair.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots." In Kazakhstan, Russian astronauts are greeted by a fleet of helicopters after the landing of a spacecraft. In Cambodia, President Obama and Hillary Clinton are greeted after landing at the international airport.

In India, dance students from Mexico performed during an international cultural exchange program. And also in India, Hindu debutes stand in chest-high water and pray during a religious ceremony. "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.