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CNN NEWSROOM

Hamas Agreement For Calm In Possibly Three Hours; Hamas And Israel Work On Cease-Fire; Israel Intercepts Gaza Rockets

Aired November 20, 2012 - 13:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Here's what's happening now. The deadly attacks between Israel and Hamas apparently about to stop, at least for now, that's the hope. The two sides, they do not have a cease-fire agreement, but a Hamas official tells CNN they have agreed to what is being described as a calming down period. It is going to happen one hour from now, at least that announcement we understand. Anderson Cooper, he is joining us live from Jerusalem. Anderson, what do we know about this deal?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you say, all we know is that a senior Hamas official is telling CNN that there will be an announcement of a calming down in one hour from now, exactly what that means, though, is unclear. We're also hearing from Israel that they have not agreed to any cease-fire at this point but have expressed a desire to have some sort of period of calm for 24 hours before any kind of an agreement is actually made. I can tell you, we just saw rockets being launched from Gaza City a short time ago, probably within the last 10 minutes or so, and you hear an explosion right now, also in Gaza City.

So, while there's still this talk of announcement being made one hour from now, we're still seeing this back and forth. We've also gotten word, our Sara Sidner, well, we're still trying to work on exactly what this information on this deal will mean. And, again, this is supposed to be one hour from now, but, as I said, the back and forth seems to be continuing here.

Earlier in the day, we also saw a very disturbing scene, and we have a picture of it. We saw a couple of men on motorcycles dragging the body of a man through a main street in Gaza City, yelling god is great and also yelling that he was a collaborator spy working for Israel. There had been a report from local media six people have actually been executed alleged to be collaborators for Israel. We assume that the body we saw was one of those people. This is just a sign of how hardened positions are here and how high tensions are right now.

MALVEAUX: Anderson, we just saw that very disturbing picture, that photo there. Can you give us a sense of how people are reacting to this potential cease-fire? And I know as we are on air you turn around and you keep hearing these kind of explosions. What is taking place there? COOPER: Yes, they're continuing to be -- we just heard two more explosions off in the distance. It sounded like incoming. Usually, it has a distinctive sound, much different than outgoing rockets. You know, I think people are hopeful that some sort of cease-fire could be announced. But I think, you know, the devil's in details and I think people are waiting to see what exactly this announcement does entail. You know, there's often a lot of rumors and a lot of speculation about something like this. And, as I said, CNN is being told by a senior Hamas official that there will be a cooling down period announced but, again, the parameters of it and how it actually plays out on the ground is critical.

MALVEAUX: Anderson, when people see that kind of scene that you saw on street there, that man being dragged through, that body being dragged through, how do they -- how do they cope with that? How do they deal? What are they experiencing? I think we lost Anderson. Can you hear me? Well, we lost Anderson. We're going to try to get him back. The announcement of the attacks between Hamas and Israel to stop, it comes as secretary of state Hillary Clinton is heading to the region. She is due to arrive in Jerusalem in just a couple of hours. And later, she's going to Ramallah and then on to Cairo.

I want to bring in Jill Dougherty of the state department. Jill, you just got out of a briefing. You have some news?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, the briefing is still going on. But I can tell you, I was asking Victoria Nuland, who's the spokesperson for the state department. What realistically can the secretary do? What can she accomplish? And essentially, Nuland is laying out a two-step formula. One would be simply, as she said, start with the de-escalation. That, of course, is what U.S. officials have been saying all along. The firing from -- of rockets from Gaza has to stop by Hamas and then, also, everyone stops firing.

And -- but, also, then, she said, that creates a space for broader issues, and those, as we know, could be the blockade on Gaza and others, because, after all, it's almost like a catch-22. You can see that, certainly on the part of Hamas, they say they don't want to lay down any type of weapons until some other questions are addressed. And then, also, I asked Victoria Nuland why did the secretary really have to go? How -- why was it so important? I don't know whether we have that sound, maybe somebody can tell me. If not, I can say what she said.

MALVEAUX: We --

DOUGHERTY: OK. So, --

MALVEAUX: We don't have it, Jill. But go ahead.

DOUGHERTY: OK. So, what she said was, it is important, as secretary Clinton often says, to show up, to be there in person, to sit down with people, and that is what President Obama believed, according to Victoria Nuland, that is was important simply there had been a lot of phone calls back and forth, both by the president and by secretary Clinton. But to be there in person, they thought, was very important. So we'll see whether that presence will shift something or not.

MALVEAUX: So, it makes sense to me, Jill, that she's meeting with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and she's also meeting with the presidents of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi. But what is perplexing is that she's meeting with the president of the Palestinian authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who really doesn't have anything to do with Hamas and has very little negotiating power here. Is that just a symbolic gesture?

DOUGHERTY: Well, he is the head of the Palestinians, even though Gaza de facto controls, of course -- I'm sorry, Hamas controls Gaza and you can say, in this case, he's been almost not playing any role particularly at all but he is the person that the United States -- the Palestinian authority, that the United States has relations with and so they really have to talk with him. But Egypt is the key part and she'll be going to Cairo, as you mentioned in dealing with Hamas. They are the people who have -- hopefully, have some type of influence with Hamas and can bring some type of cease-fire, quiet, calm, whatever, about.

MALVEAUX: All right. Jill Dougherty at the State Department. Thank you, Jill.

Here is what we're working on for this hour.

(voice-over): Warplanes, drones, and air strikes. It's day seven of the conflict between Hamas and Israel. Is secretary of state Hillary Clinton key to diffusing the situation? A closer look at the region.

And thousands of people could be out of work if Hostess closes up shop. But in the 11th hour, a judge tells the maker of Twinkies and the union to try again to reach a deal that could save those jobs.

And speaking of getting along, will the president and Congress find common ground to avoid going off the fiscal cliff? What you need to know about expiring tax breaks. This is CNN NEWSROOM and it's happening now.

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MAL VEAUX: As we've mentioned, according to a Hamas official, an agreement for calm will be declared within an hour or so. And then it's posed to take effect three hours after that. It's going to give secretary of state Hillary Clinton time to arrive in the region. She is due to arrive in Jerusalem about two hours from now. Later, she's going on to Ramallah and then on to Cairo for these critical talks.

I want to bring in Fawaz Gerges. He is author of "Obama and the Middle East, The End of America's Moment," also professor as well. Fawaz, what kind of leverage, first of all, do you think secretary Clinton has in not only negotiating and brokering some sort of cease- fire but something that's going to be more long term, permanent?

FAWAZ GERGES, PROFESSOR OF MIDDLE EASTERN POLITICS AND INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE: Well, I think she has -- she has a great -- tremendous potential and in particular, vis-a-vis I mean Israeli prime minister Netanyahu. I think her arrival is a clear sign that the United States is trying to prevent escalation, to prevent a ground invasion of Gaza. Remember, Suzanne, an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza would have severe consequences, not just on Israeli Palestinian relations but also on Israel's relations with its neighbors, particularly Egypt and Turkey and also Americans' interests in the wider Middle East. That's why I believe that president Barack Obama has asked the secretary to go to the Middle East and try to broker or finalize a cease-fire between the Palestinians and Israelis using Egypt as a conduit. Egypt is most pivotal state in the particular game of diplomacy now.

MALVEAUX: Explain the role of Egypt, if you will, because what we know the new president there, Morsi, has a good relationship and there is some alignment with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and that is a different kind of political situation than you had before when you -- under Mubarak.

Well, you know, Suzanne, Egypt is a new country, is a different country, is a particular different world to view. Even though Egypt has very close relations with the United States, Egypt now has a new vision, a new foreign policy. Mohamed Morsi, the president of Egypt, is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is a cousin of the Islamist familiar life the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas listens to Mohamed Morsi. Hassam -- Hamas looks up to Egypt now at this particular stage and that's why Egypt has emerged as the most important state --

MALVEAUX: Yes.

GERGES: -- vis-a-vis Hamas and Gaza. And also keep in mind, Suzanne, that Egypt also was the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel in the late 1970s, the Camp David Peace Agreement, and Mohamed Morsi has warned that if Israel invades Gaza, this would have serious repercussions on Egyptian, Israeli relations and that's why the important role of Egypt.

MALVEAUX: Could he -- could he take it a step further -- could the president of Egypt, Morsi, could he take it a step further and his influence with Hamas and actually convince them to recognize Israel, to put down the weapons, so that they could become an organization that the United States would deal with directly and not be labeled as a terrorist group?

GERGES: Suzanne, you asked me earlier about the visit of secretary of state Hillary Clinton. I think we need to go on the cease-fire. The cease-fire should not just postpone basically the evitable, an all-out clash. It should not just be pave the way for end of the round. You need to deal with the political, the structural conditions. First of all, Hamas must stop firing rockets against Israeli towns and cities. Israel must lift the siege of Gaza. You have 1.7 million --

MALVEAUX: Right.

GERGES: -- Palestinians while collectively being punished. You need a political horizon. This is why secretary Clinton and the Egyptian president, of course, the leadership president, Barack Obama. The challenge is, will the Obama administration, along with Egypt and Israel, revive the peace process, provide a political vision whereby -- yes?

MALVEAUX: Let me just interrupt here. Are you suggesting that secretary or the United States deal with Hamas directly, that there is some sort of opening where they should be speaking with Hamas?

GERGES: You know, Suzanne, let's me be blunt. I have always been blunt. There is no going around Hamas. Hamas is here to stay. Hamas is the power to be reckoned with. President Mahmoud Abbas put all his eggs in the American basket. The United States has failed to deliver.

Hamas has come a long way. Still has a longer way to travel in terms of accepting the political vision for the peace process. But the reality is, Hamas, today, is entirely different than the Hamas that existed in the 1990s and early 2000. It has traveled a long way. It has come almost very close to accepting the political rules of the game (ph). The United States and the European community should begin the process of engagement with Hamas. This is the way to go.

MALVEAUX: That would be a very significant game changer there. Fawaz Gerges, thank you very much. We appreciate your perspective.

Want to go back to the United States, where the country is now nearing what we are calling, and many call it, the fiscal cliff. Roughly 40 days away. Taxes going to go up on 90 percent of us and the president and Congress, it they don't make a deal. So, what's going to happen if this actually takes place? We're going to find out after a quick break.

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MALVEAUX: Want to bring in our Fred Pleitgen. He has news out of Ashkelon, Israel, near the Gaza border.

Fred, what do you got?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne -- (INAUDIBLE). Suzanne, we just had an air alarm right now. It's going off right now. We're going to get into a safer place.

MALVEAUX: Please --

PLEITGEN: It literally just went off as we got on the air. Come on, let's get this thing unplugged. Let's get -- let's get these (INAUDIBLE). Come on, let's go.

MALVEAUX: OK. Well, please be safe. We're going to --

PLEITGEN: OK, Suzanne, so this is the air alarm going off. Just want to -- we're going to move to a safer area. You still with me, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: I am, Fred. Please do move to a safe area. If you have to disconnect, please do.

PLEITGEN: Yes, we're moving inside now. Come on, guys, let's go. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

PLEITGEN: Come on. All right, we're almost inside. Let's go.

So we're moving to a safer place. It's basically just inside this house where we can continue. So this has been going off a lot in the past couple of hours really that we've seen a lot of barrages of rockets fired out of Gaza. A couple of minutes before we began our broadcast, we had some that were fired towards the area of Ashtel (ph) that we saw intercepted in mid air by that iron dome missile interception system and now has been really the first strike that we've witnessed here since we've gotten back to Ashkelon. But we know that there have been a few throughout this day. So this was another one of those.

But I can also say that I was on a hill earlier and we saw a lot of rockets being fired out of Gaza, a lot of them being intercepted. We know that Beersheba's been hit. The outskirts of Tel Aviv have been hit. And so this is another one of those strikes. And there's some people here on the ground who say they believe that if there's a possible cease-fire -- you can see over there people are sort of up in arms here about all of this -- people here believe or some people believe that this might be militants in Gaza firing off rockets before a possible cease-fire or period of calm sets in that they want to really hit the gas before that sets in. There's a --

MALVEAUX: Just lost Fred Pleitgen. We're going to try to get him back. Obviously, a lot of commotion there as the sirens go off and our crews and reporters are actually seeking safety.

We're going to take a quick break, see if we can't get back to him.

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MALVEAUX: Want to go back to Fred Pleitgen. He is out of Ashkelon, Israel. This is near the Gaza border.

Fred, can you hear us?

PLEITGEN: Yes, I can hear you, Suzanne.

And actually the alarm, the rocket alarm, is now over. So we can go back outside. We've been given the all-clear. But it seems as though several rockets were aiming towards the Ashkelon area. We believe that they've probably been picked off by a missile interceptor system because we didn't actually hear any impact. And that's usually a sign that they've been picked off.

But I can tell you that over the past couple of days of reporting on this story, we've gotten smart and now what we do is every time we do our live shots, we always do them next to some sort of hardened building that you can go into, because you really don't have much reaction time. I mean the Israeli government says that usually when rockets fall you have a reaction timing of maybe 15 to up to 50 seconds, depending on how far away it is. But we're not far from Gaza. So those rockets don't travel very far. And so the reaction time isn't very much either. But, yes, so that was a little bit of a scare. So --

MALVEAUX: Yes, we --

PLEITGEN: But this is what people here go through all the time.

MALVEAUX: We saw that bit. And can you walk us through that because, for those of us who are not there, we have no idea what you're experiencing and what that's like. But, literally, an alarm goes off you have a certain amount of time to get to safety. What actually happened?

PLEITGEN: Well, I mean, you're absolutely right. And people here know that it's not very much time that you have to get to safety, especially the people here in Ashkelon, because, keep in mind that this is only about eight or nine miles away from the Gaza border. So if a rocket is fired from there, it does not travel very long before it impacts here. So people know they have to get to shelter quickly. What happens is, the alarms go off and then you'll see most of the cars on the street will stop immediately.

People who are far away from any sort of build, they'll just lay flat on the ground. So if a rocket hits in their area, at least they have a chance of not getting hit by any shrapnel. You have to get down low because otherwise you're in a real danger of taking shrapnel from the rocket. Close to a building, you go into the building and you try not to stay near any windows. You go as deep into the building as possible. Best thing is in the cellar room.

Now we just -- we're hearing several booms here. That might be rocket interceptions. That might be strikes in Gaza. But there's certainly action going on here.

MALVEAUX: And, Fred, how --

PLEITGEN: Missile intercepts, but there's a lot of action going on right now.

Yes, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: How do you know what to do? I mean it was very, very precise what you said about people hitting the ground and that kind of thing. Are people trained, actually, to react to this in this way, or is this something that people just have learned over their experience when these -- when they hear these and sound these alarms?

PLEITGEN: Well, certainly. I mean it's certainly something where people, obviously, they've been trained to do this. They get service announcement where they know what they have to do. And also keep in mind that this is a system that's evolved over many, many years. I mean places like Ashkelon, for instance, has been taking hits for a very long time. So people here know, first of all, to absolutely take these alarms seriously.

MALVEAUX: And, Fred --

PLEITGEN: There was a strike in a town a couple miles away from here, and there are people who believe that perhaps the folks who heard that didn't really take it seriously because they don't usually get rockets.

Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Fred, I want to play a bit of the video here of you earlier and have you walk us through what actually took place because this is when we first went to you and it was very clear that you needed to move and move quickly after you heard that alarm. Can you describe for us what that moment was like?

PLEITGEN: Yes. I mean basically what happened is that the alarm went off. The alarm literally went off as you were introducing me to the show. So the alarm went off. And for us it was clear that we obviously had to get out of there as fast as possible. So we, before the live report began, had already identified the place that we would go to if something like that happened.

So what we did is we took the camera off the tripod. We then made our way inside as fast as possible. And we also knew that we couldn't be near any windows. So we went as deep into the building as possible. Best thing to do is actually get into any cellar room. A lot of the buildings, actually, here in the area, especially ones that are new, they have hardened rooms in them that you can actually go into.

But the thing to do is drop everything you're doing, leave your stuff there, don't worry about your phone, don't worry about your bag, just get inside as fast as possible because that's the safest place.

Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And how often has this been happening, Fred? I mean we've seen it a couple of times live on air. But, I mean, I imagine that you've been experiencing this over the last couple of days.

PLEITGEN: Yes. I mean, in the past couple of days, I would say that I've had something like this happen during a live report on our air about six times and that we've witnessed it while not on air I would say at least 10, 12, maybe 15 times. I mean we've had times where we've gotten hit by -- well, we haven't gotten hit. We've gotten in the direction of mortars. There was rocket fire going on. There were rockets over us that were being intercepted by the iron dome. There's been many instances where we've just had to hit the deck.

So, yes, I mean, over the past couple of days, it's been pretty tough. There's been a lot of this going on. You can just imagine how it is, for instance, if you're a family with a child and you have to deal with this constantly. So, certainly, yes, I mean, it is something that's very real. It's not something out of the ordinary for the people here and it's certainly something that they have to find some sort of routine to try and live with.

Suzanne. MALVEAUX: I can only imagine how difficult that must be.

Fred, please be safe. Please take care of yourself, as well as the crew there. And thank you, as always, for the excellent reporting that you do.

We're going to have more after the break.

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