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Egypt's President: Truce Is Imminent; Man Attacks U.S. Embassy Guard; Plot To Attack U.S. Troops; Obama On His Way Home From Asia; Possible Peace Deal; Hamas Shares Its View Of Conflict; Missile Lands Near Rafah Crossing; Talking Points Changed In Libya Attack; Representative Allen West Concedes; New Home Sales At Four-Year High; No December For Google; Fighting For Charity Deductions; Americans Give $7.7M To Cut National Debt; Obama Meets China's Premier; Mystery Blast Now Homicide Probe; Invasion Option For Israel

Aired November 20, 2012 - 10:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. Thank you so much for being with us. I'm Carol Costello. The reality and the terror of living in a war zone.

An Israeli woman is running for cover amid warnings of another incoming rocket, this hour, though, optimism that the Israel/Gaza conflict could soon be over, at least temporarily.

Egypt's president, who has been trying to broker a peace deal, says Israel will halt its attack at any time now, but his words don't exactly sound like a peacemaker.

Here is what Mohamed Morsy had to say earlier today. He said, quote, "The travesty of the Israeli aggression on Gaza will end in a few hours." Still, we hear there's word of a ceasefire.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer was seeking shelter from Gaza's rocket fire earlier this morning. We just lost Wolf. Anyway, he was seeking shelter with a family in the southern area of Israel, Beersheba, just about 30 miles from the Gaza border.

When Wolf was inside that house, a shell landed on a house very nearby. As you might imagine, everybody panicked. Wolf is OK. When we get Wolf back on the phone, we'll bring his story to you live.

Police say a man attacked a security guard at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. The guard was only slightly injured. According to the witnesses, the attacker was wielding an ax, but he also had a knife. That man now under arrest.

Four Los Angeles area men have been charged in a plot to kill or capture American soldiers and to bomb public places. Federal officials say the men were planning on going to Afghanistan to train with al Qaeda.

One of the men was already there. Two of them are U.S. citizens. The other two have permanent resident status. They've been detailing their plans to each other on Facebook. President Obama is wheels up in Air Force One on his way home from the Far East. He wrapped up his three-country swing in Cambodia. He's the first U.S. president to make an official visit there. At the East Asia Summit, he met with China's premier and talked about the economic ties between the two countries.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As the two largest economies in the world, we have a special responsibility to lead the way in ensuring sustained and balanced growth, not only here in Asia, but globally. And it is very important that as two of the largest economies in the world that we work to establish a clear rules of the road internationally for trade and investment which can increase prosperity and global growth.


COSTELLO: The President expected to arrive back at the White House late tonight.

In the last hour of NEWSROOM, I had the chance to talk to a Hamas spokesman, Osama Hamdan, on the phone. I asked him about the prospects for that ceasefire supposedly negotiated by Egypt.


COSTELLO: Egypt is talking about a ceasefire, but there's been no word from Israel or Hamas. How real is this?

OSAMA HAMDAN, HAMAS SPOKESMAN (via telephone): Well, it's clear that there is an Egyptian delegation and their work on the issue for the last 24 hours and it's in the hands now of the Israelis. I think the Egyptians are waiting for some support from the United States in order to make an end for that. So we expect to have an outcome of this issue today.

COSTELLO: So do you think it's possible that the violence will stop by later today?

HAMDAN: Well, I think it's possible to stop the Israeli attack against Gaza, and I hope that will be a good lesson for the Israeli government. It's not good to attack the Palestinians expecting that they will not react against the attack.

COSTELLO: If Israel has agreed to stop firing rockets into Gaza, will Hamas do the same and agree to stop firing rockets into Israel?

HAMDAN: Well, from our side we are clear, the head of Hamas has said this clearly. There's an agreement, a ceasefire agreement and clear conditions, we are ready to accept that, but the Israelis are not accepting that.

I think the Israelis have done that -- I mean, that attack against Gaza. They are expecting the Palestinians will take it without any response. Now they want to go without the political enterprise for that.

It's not ordinary to do that. So they have to pay the political price for this. Otherwise, if they continue the attack maybe Netanyahu loses political future in the upcoming elections.


COSTELLO: He was very critical of the role of the United States, too, saying it needed to take a hard line on Israel, but the United States does consider Hamas a terrorist organization and won't open discussions with the group because Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist.

Now to the Israeli side of the conflict, Avital Leibovich is a spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Forces. She joins me live. Welcome. It's been about 90 minutes or so since Egypt's president made this claim of a ceasefire. What's your government telling you?

AVITAL LEIBOVICH, SPOKESWOMAN, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: Well, currently we have no new orders. The operation is still ongoing as planned. In fact, today it was a bit slower day, but nevertheless more than 85 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel. And we continued our targeting different terrorist sites inside Gaza.

COSTELLO: So Israel supposedly has agreed to postpone a ground war if Hamas stops firing into Israel. So again since this news came out this morning, you say the rockets have kept coming. In your mind, do you expect this word of a ceasefire is real?

LEIBOVICH: Well, currently we are proceeding as planned. We are not aware of any signed ceasefire. Therefore, we are continuing. As a matter of fact in the past hour, we targeted more than a dozen different targets. Some of them were people about to launch rockets into Israel. So on our side we're still continuing to defend this country.

COSTELLO: Do you have any new casualties to report within Israel?

LEIBOVICH: Eighty eight rockets, many of them hit residential areas, buildings, playgrounds even schools. We have 10 people that were wounded as a result of this heavy barrage today.

COSTELLO: Yes. Because our Wolf Blitzer is Beersheba and he heard rocket fire there. He saw damage happening to buildings. Can you give us an update on what happened in that area of Israel?

LEIBOVICH: Well, Beersheba is one of the biggest cities in Southern Israel, and, therefore, it's being often targeted. We're talking about a city of over 200,000 people. The last three or four days it is heavily bombarded.

Now the people that live in Beersheba have approximately 40 seconds to run into shelters. This is relatively a short time, especially when we're talking about families with kids, maybe elderly.

Many places were attacked in Beersheba today including a supermarket, open roads. A few cars went on fire as the result of a direct hit, a public bus exploded as the result of a direct hit. Overall, Beersheba City itself seemed like it was part of a war zone.

COSTELLO: And just a final question about this possible ceasefire, if there is a ceasefire it most likely will be temporary. How long do you think it might last?

LEIBOICH: You know, if one thing I learned in my job as a spokesperson, you cannot predict anything in the Middle East.

COSTELLO: That's probably sadly true. Thank you so much for being with us. Avital Leibovich is a spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Forces. Thank you so much.

LEIBOVICH: Thank you.

COSTELLO: All the debates and arguments over the national debt have paid off sort of. Americans pitched in millions of their hard-earned dollars to help out the government. Yes, it's true. We'll tell you exactly how much after this.


COSTELLO: Yet more breaking news out of the Middle East. The CNN team near the Gaza/Egypt border says a missile landed close to what's called the Rafah Crossing. That's an area used to transport humanitarian supplies into Gaza from Egypt.

CNN Reza Sayah is there. Reza, what did you see?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Carol, it happened about 25 minutes ago, a huge explosion right across the Rafah Crossing where Gaza is. I'd say about two to three miles from where we are standing, a huge blast.

The ground shook. We saw a black flume of smoke going into the air. It's impossible for us to verify exactly what caused the explosion, but we have been speaking to Egyptian officials over the past couple days.

And they say these explosions are being caused by Israeli drones flying up above and they could be going after the underground tunnels at the Rafah Crossing. In listening up to in the sky, we are hearing what sounds like the buzz of drones, Carol.

There's been a lot of talk about a possible ceasefire in the coming hours, this explosion a reminder that we don't have a ceasefire at this minute.

COSTELLO: I was just going to ask you that. All this talk about a ceasefire being negotiated by the Egyptian president, it's late in the afternoon in Israel. There's not much time left in the day.

SAYAH: Yes. The clock is ticking. Throughout the day if you listen to Egyptian officials, they were optimistic. They're convinced that today sometime there's going to be a ceasefire. The latest sign was a statement made by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy according to state TV in Egypt.

Mohammed Morsy saying, quote, "He expects the Israeli aggression to stop on Tuesday, that's today." We called up his office, one of his staff members said, yes, he said that. And that's along the lines of what we heard since last night.

A senior Egyptian intelligence official telling us that they expect a ceasefire today. A Hamas official has been more specific with us. Today, this Hamas official telling us suggesting that Israel has actually agreed to general terms.

Hamas' conditions are for Israel to stop the air assaults and open up the ground blockade immediately and simultaneously according to this Hamas official, Israel has agreed to stop the air assaults, but they have blocked.

They have rejected the timing of opening up the blockade. They say they want to see that happen gradually. This is optimism from Egypt's side based on what we're hearing out of Tel Aviv. There being more quiet and cautious when it comes to the possibility of reaching a ceasefire -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Reza Sayah reporting live from the Egyptian border this morning.

It's 14 minutes past the hour, time to check our top stories. New information shows it was the intelligence community and not the White House, State Department or Justice Department that changed those talking points delivered by the Obama administration by Susan Rice days after the deadly attack in Benghazi.

That's according to the spokesman for the National Intelligence Director. Originally the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans was blamed on extremists before later being linked to terrorists.

Florida Republican Allen West now officially a lame duck congressman. Actually he's not a congressman at all. Two weeks after Election Day the first-term representative has posted his concession on his Facebook page. He had demanded recounts and said the vote tally was flawed, but in the end he was around 20,000 votes short. Democrat Patrick Murphy is the winner.

The pace of new home construction rose to a four-year high last month. Those are the best numbers since the housing bubble burst and the U.S. economy collapsed in 2008. The housing market has been showing numerous signs of recovery in recent months. Demands for homes have been helped by mortgage rates at record lows.

The end of the year may be closer than you think. Google's popular mobile operating system left out the month of December. That means users can't add anything to calendars for the final month of the year. Google is reportedly looking into the problem.

In money news this morning, the fight to fix our nation's economy could have unintended victims, an unintended victim rather, charities. Charities and nonprofits worry tax breaks for donations could go away as lawmakers work to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. President Obama wants to limit the amount of charity deductions for the wealthiest Americans to 28 percent.


COSTELLO: OK, so here is the good news. Americans have given nearly $8 million of their own hard earned dollars to help cut the debt. The bad news, well, let's just say it's barely a drop in the bucket of a $1.1 trillion deficit the U.S. ran in the latest fiscal year alone.

Alison Kosik joins me now from the New York Stock Exchange. Americans really didn't send their money directly into the government to help cut the debt. Come on.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I know. I had to do a double take with this, too. They really did, but here is the sad part. They had all that hard earned money, but of any money they gave to the government, it's really not going to make a big difference.

I mean, look, the government accumulated more than $1 trillion with a "t," $1 trillion in debt with year. The less than $8 million that people donated to the national debt to bring it down, that's just a tiny, tiny fraction.

But you know what? The $8 million isn't jump change because, look, until now people donated about $3 million a year so there's a huge jump and it shows how big the fiscal cliff is and that people are actually paying attention.

A chief economist at Concord Coalition, that's a grassroots organization, says that people who donate are saying they can pay more in taxes so they're putting their money where their mouth is -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Who are these people?

KOSIK: Well, there isn't one type just to keep in mind. It's not just the really rich or anything like that. I want to give you a little background on this. So the government actually began accepting donations like this back in 1961.

It began when an anonymous state left $20 million to the Bureau of Public Debt. Would you believe that the Congress actually had to pass a law to legally accept the money?

Now, people have continued to dough that. There are estates, living taxpayers, even kids have donated, Carol. The Bureau of Public Debt said one time they got a big bag of coins from a classroom.

So, you know, in this debate about the fiscal cliff we often hear about the uber rich saying they can pay more in taxes. Go ahead, Warren Buffett, you have said that too. Go ahead, write a check. I bet you can make a huge debt in the public debt, in the national debt.

COSTELLO: I didn't know that. I like to learn stuff. Thank you. Alison Kosik at the New York Stock Exchange. Talks of a possible ceasefire, but for now still more air strikes and rocket attacks coming from Israel and Gaza. We're live on both sides of the border.


COSTELLO: It's 24 minutes past the hour. Checking our top stories now. President Obama heading back to the United States after meeting earlier today with the Chinese premier at the East Asia Summit in Cambodia.

This was the first high level meeting between the two countries since the U.S. presidential election and the recent transition of power in China.

Cambodia was the final stop of the President's Asia trip. The President hopes to foster deeper political and economic ties in the region.

In Florida, Allen West, the Republican Congressman running for re- election, conceded to Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy this morning two weeks after the election. On his Facebook page, West wrote, quote, "I will not ask my generous supporters to help fund a drawn out, expensive legal effort with little chance of success."

An explosion in Indiana that killed two people is now being investigated as a homicide. Police are looking for information about a white van seen in the neighborhood just before the blast levelled several homes. The couple killed in the explosion were buried yesterday.

We've been telling you about the possible of a ceasefire in the latest round of the Israeli/Hamas conflict, but if that falls through, Israel could fall back on plan "B," a ground attack.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence takes a look at what a ground war would look like.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If Israel Defense Forces invade Gaza, they would likely go under the cover of darkness.

HAIM MALKA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Where they have an advantage, a tactical advantage on the battlefield through night vision, equipment and the ability to operate in the dark.

LAWRENCE: But they would likely find Hamas better armed than it was four years ago.

JEFFREY WHITE, THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: They have better tank weapons, for sure, and might be more capable in inflicting damage on Israeli forces. LAWRENCE: Analyst Jeff White says Hamas' first line of defense will be a kilometer or two inside the border fence. They would try to draw the IDF into kill zones of IEDs, snipers and preset border fire. But the Israelis beat that tactic with better intel four years ago and now have new capabilities.

WHITE: They've developed cameras that they can actually roll or throw into a house that shows what's going on inside the house.

LAWRENCE: Geography works for and against Hamas. Gaza is densely populated, difficult for Israel to fight in without causing some civilian casualties. But Gaza is also long and narrow, which is terrible when you're trying to defend it.

Artillery station in Israel can reach all points of Gaza because it's so narrow. Israeli forces can move in from multiple entry points because it's so long.

WHITE: They can compartmentalize the fighting inside Gaza, isolate the one Hamas unit from another and operate it, you know, selectively against pieces of the Gaza strip.

LAWRENCE: A former Israeli general says Israel is running out of targets outside of population centers. Hamas leaders have holed up inside mosques or among civilians. A ground war could lead to a situation similar to 2009, when a U.N. report accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza.

MALKA: That is weighing on the minds of Israeli policy makers now, as they consider whether to go into Gaza on the ground.

LAWRENCE (on camera): And there's also the smaller risk of Israeli casualties. If IDF troops are kidnapped or killed, that could cause a domestic backlash against Prime Minister Netanyahu, something he has to consider heading into an election. Chris Lawrence, CNN, the Pentagon.


COSTELLO: So let's take a look at that map one more time. Chris Lawrence was talking about how Israeli troops have a lot of entry points because of the shape of Gaza. You see it there.

But, remember, there's also the Mediterranean Coast. Israeli ships have been firing on Gaza from there already, but it could also be an entry point for a land invasion.

Egypt says Israel will soon halt its air strikes in Gaza, but for now people are still taking cover as sirens in Jerusalem signal more rockets coming from the direction of Gaza. Israeli military officials say a rocket missed the city this morning, but it hit an open area in a Palestinian village.

In Gaza, Israeli air strikes have reduced some areas to rubble as negotiators are still trying to work out that truce. We have crews covering the conflict from both sides of the border. Anderson Cooper is in Gaza City. Good morning, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "AC 360": Good morning, Carol. Yes, we've seen a number of strikes by Israel over the course of today and a few rockets, actually two rockets we saw being launched, rather large ones, from Gaza city probably within the last 10 minutes or so.

Also within the last hour very disturbing scene I want to warn our viewers we will show you a picture of it, a still photo, very disturbing, men on motorcycles driving down a main street in Gaza city dragging the body of a man who is tied to one of the motorcycles.

The man was dead obviously. Unclear if he was dead before he was dragged through the streets, but they were dragging him through the streets yelling God is great and also saying that he'd been a collaborator for Israel, a spy for Israel.

There's a lot of suspicion here about people who may be working for Israel sending out information about potential targets, but a very disturbing scene and one that really brings -- gives you a sense of the tenseness and the gravity of the situation here and the hard feelings on the ground here.

COSTELLO: Can you give us a sense of the damage in Gaza City?