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Conflicting Reports on Calm Period; The Help Desk

Aired November 20, 2012 - 14:00   ET


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN ANCHOR: Standing down on attacks that have bloodied the region for the last six days. The latest death toll, 118 people, 114 of them Palestinian, have been killed as rockets and missiles crisscrossed the skies over Hamas-controlled Gaza. Amidst the shelling today, the sound everyone wanted to hear, Egypt's President, Mohamed Morsi, suggesting progress in attempts at brokering a cease- fire. And backing Hamas, he released this statement saying, quote, "the travesty of the Israel aggression on Gaza will end in a few hours." We're going to get to the details of all of this and the apparent pause in fighting in just a moment.

But first, we want to take a look at the United States role and all the various players that are involved in this. In about an hour, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to meet with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Tomorrow she is scheduled to meet with the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas. He is in the West Bank. That is on the opposite side of Israel from Gaza. And he's going to be talking -- in talking to the Palestinian Authority, it's a way really to communicate with Hamas.

Now, Clinton cannot speak with Hamas directly because the United States considers it a terrorist group. So by talking to Palestinians, she can reach Hamas. Talking to Egypt's President is going to be her last stop. As we see here. So by talking to Egypt, that's another way for her to communicate with Hamas.

The region is watching her every step. Not only for a cease-fire, but perhaps also for a long-term resolution. A member of Hamas told CNN by phone today how his organization is looking to see what the U.S. does.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the Egyptians are waiting for some support -- (INAUDIBLE) support from the United States in order to make an (INAUDIBLE). So we expect to have an outcome of this issue today.


FEYERICK: Now, you've got so many moving parts in all of this. In fact, there's a discrepancy. Hamas initially saying that this was a cease-fire. But Israel is calling it a calm down period. And here's Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, just moments before word came.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: No country would tolerate rocket attacks against its cities and against its civilians. Israel cannot tolerate such attacks. If a long-term solution can be put in place through diplomatic means, then Israel would be a willing partner to such a solution. But if stronger military action proves necessary to stop the constant barrage of rockets, Israel will not hesitate to do what is necessary to defend our people.



OSAMA HAMDAN, HAMAS SPOKESMAN (voice-over): The most frustrating thing for the Palestinians is always talking about the Israeli needs, about Israeli security, about Israel's acceptance (ph), without talking about the Palestinian needs, about the Palestinian security, about the Palestinian lives. Israel has the most powerful equipped army in the region. Israel is more powerful than (INAUDIBLE). Then they are claiming, at the same time, that they are afraid of the Palestinians.


FEYERICK: Now, let's get to the details of what could be a possible and imminent time-out for (ph) the rocket and missile attacks. CNN's Ben Wedeman is live for us in Gaza City.

And, Ben, what are you hearing from both sides as to whether this time-out, this quiet period, will actually happen?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that certainly seems to be what's on the plans, on the drawing board, so to speak. That this would be sort of an experimental period where they have 24 hours to try to see if the cease-fire holds. Now, we're getting conflicting messages. I spoke to one senior Hamas official who said that at 9:00 p.m. Cairo time, 10:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, that there would be an announcement in Cairo by an official from the Egyptian government and from Hamas, announcing some sort of agreement for at least a temporary cease-fire. However, we're hearing from other Hamas officials that Israel has yet to agree to this proposed cease- fire and the Israelis are saying there's nothing as of yet.

But the idea is rather than set out broad guidelines for a period of peace and calm, they just want to see if both sides can keep the peace. Now, one of the concerns here is that it's not just Hamas who's operating in Gaza. There are other groups, like Islamic jihad, which is affiliated with Iran. Even smaller splinter groups out there that Hamas doesn't necessarily control completely. And therefore that's why they want to give this -- this initial period to see if the peace can indeed -- or the quiet or the calm can hold.


FEYERICK: And, Ben, in terms of the entire region, and we're standing sort of by a map, which I want to show our viewers, and that is of Israel. You've got the West Bank on one side. Hillary Clinton is going to be looking -- is going to be meeting with the President of the Palestinian Authority, not with Hamas. Can Hamas even make any sort of an agreement that really would bring both of the factions together?

WEDEMAN: Well, the question of the divisions between the Fattah movement on the West Bank and Gaza on the other sort of secondary to what we're discussing now. Secretary Clinton is going to go to Ramallah to meet with the members of the Palestinian Authority. But more than anything, that's sort of a face-saving exercise.

What really matters are the Egyptians. The Egyptians have very close ties with the Hamas movement. The Hamas movement, after all, is an off chute of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which is the ruling group in Egypt at the moment. And so the Egyptians really are calling the shots in this case. And they will be able to pass those messages directly to Hamas. Hamas trusts the Egyptians. They don't, however, trust the Fattah movement on the West Bank to be an intermediary because you have to remember that just five years ago there was a shooting war here in Gaza between Hamas and Fattah.


FEYERICK: All right, Ben Wedeman for us there, thanks, in Gaza City. We appreciate your reporting.

Well, as we hear more about a possible suspension of fighting, another rocket today targets Jerusalem. The missile didn't actually strike the city, but it is the second time Jerusalem has been targeted since the conflict began. Our senior international correspondent Sara Sidner is in Jerusalem.

And, Sara, has there been any letup in the attacks as we approach this sort of calming down, this time-out period?

SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The answer to that is unfortunately no. We ourselves, just a half an hour ago, saw at least four rockets. We can see it from our vantage point here. We're on the Mount of Olives looking down on the old city. You can see the dome of the Rathialaska (ph) mosque right behind me and we saw those rockets coming from Gaza towards southern Israel, probably landing somewhere over Ashtod (ph) and Ashkelon. Places that have been hit repeatedly.

We know the sirens went off not too long ago there and that some of those rockets were intercepted by the iron dome. We also know that there was a hit just about an hour ago in Gaza. The Israeli military saying they were targeting a militant area where there were rockets being fired.

So the thing is, if there's going to be a quieting down, and that's got to happen before they get into these peace talks, before they try and come up with some sort of a cease-fire, or truce. And we're not seeing that so far. We've seen some of the damage in some of the neighborhoods on both sides of the fight and it is just one of those things where people here are ready for this to end. They want not only a cease-fire now, but they want a real permanent solution and there's a feeling that that permanent solution needs to happen now, and it's not likely they're going to get it. First, they've got to come up with a quiet period, than a cease-fire, and then hopefully, at some point in time, they'll be able to work through something more permanent for the future.


FEYERICK: Absolutely. And, Sara, the interested thing, obviously, they're working with the cease-fire and the truce with Hamas right now. Any sort of longer term resolution, if Washington is involved, would have to come through the different -- the Palestinian Authority, which is not getting along very well with Hamas right now.

All right, Sara Sidner, thank you so much. We appreciate your reporting.

And just a short time from now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to arrive in the region and one of the leaders she will meet with, Egypt's new President, Mohamed Morsi. There's a lot riding on this. And we'll have what their meeting means for the United States coming up next.


FEYERICK: Well, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is en route to the Middle East. This as Israelis and Hamas could be on the verge of agreeing to 24 hours of calm. Not a cease-fire, not a truce, but a time-out in military activity. Secretary Clinton is due to arrive in Jerusalem an hour from now, before heading to Ramallah, and them on to what many say could be the most important stop, Cairo. It's there that she'll meet with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. He predicted earlier today that the aggression on Gaza would end in a few hours.

And I want to bring in CNN's Jill Dougherty, who's at the State Department.

And, Jill, the U.S. does not talk to Hamas. Both talk to Egypt. Egypt, right now, is the middle man. Is Clinton -- what is Secretary Clinton hoping to achieve in her talks with Morsi? Because, right now, we're only dealing with a cease-fire. Really no long-term solution.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And that's a very good point. So what we're told here at the State Department is, she has the most immediate objective, which is to try to facilitate and help, in some fashion, to bring about what the State Department is calling de- escalation. And that is the fighting stops, the firing stops, the rockets stop. And, of course, there's no invasion or anything like that. So that's number one.

But, number two, is the State Department explains that it gives space, theoretically at least, for some of those longer, maybe medium-term to longer issues, like the blockade of Gaza, which the -- Hamas definitely wants to stop. Those issues might be able to be addressed. So there's kind of, you know, short term, medium term and then long term, of course, would be peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but that's very far away. But those are the immediate things.

FEYERICK: And what's interesting also is Hamas is right now struggling for some sort of political legitimacy. They have gained political legitimacy in the sense that Egypt is now really working with them as sort of a member of the Muslim Brotherhood to broker the cease-fire. But I want to ask, I was reading an editorial in "The Wall Street Journal" today and it revises sort of the position on Gaza. It says Israel's withdrawal from Gaza yielded less security, greater diplomatic isolation for Israel and a Palestinian regime even more radical and emboldened than it had before. Can peace happen with the Palestinian Authority, which is really the only authority that Washington right now recognizes?

DOUGHERTY: Well, the problem is, you know, you have kind of, by law, and then you have de facto. What's happening realistically. And theoretically, or actually according to the law, the representative of the Palestinian people is the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Mahmoud Abbas, the person that Secretary Clinton will be dealing with and meeting with. They are the people that the U.S. recognizes.

But you also have Hamas, which controls Gaza. And actually you could argue, and it's -- many people would accept -- that the Palestinian Authority really doesn't have any control, or very little control, over Gaza. So, in effect, you could say there are almost two governments for the Palestinians. One, more radicalized, and the other you'd have to say a government that the U.S. can certainly deal with. That's the problem. So the only people who have real influence on Gaza are the Egyptians, maybe some other people, but certainly the Egyptians. And that's what they're trying to do.

FEYERICK: All right. A major player clearly in talks for the cease- fire.

There is some breaking news. We're going to be hoping to get Ben Wedeman back on the phone as more rockets fall in Gaza City.

Now, as we get word of a calming period, many residents in one Israeli town are not happy about the possibility of a cease-fire. We're going to be going to Ashkelon next.


FEYERICK: Well, we are waiting for what is carefully being termed a calming down period between Israel and Hamas. Important to emphasize that neither side is actually calling this a cease-fire. I want to bring in CNN's Frederik Pleitgen. He's in Ashkelon, Israel.

And, Fred, this calming down period, how is it being viewed there?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, people here are reacting quite cautiously to the announcement of a possible cease-fire. That's also possibly, Deborah, due to the fact that there was a heavy barrage of rocket fire coming over this place just a couple of minutes ago. It was really in the period, I would say, in about the last hour, that you had a lot of rockets that were fired over the town of Ashkelon toward a town that's actually behind it. A lot of those were intercepted by the iron dome missile interceptor system, but some of them, they actually were threatening to come down here.

We had a rocket alarm in Ashkelon where we actually had to clear our position a little less than an hour ago. And also we're hearing that other Israeli towns have been shelled as well.

Now, there's some people believe that possibly these are militants in Gaza who are firing off barrages before the calming down period, or cease-fire, or whatever it's going to be called, is going to be set in place. But there's others who believe that possibly this could be them trying to work against the cease-fire. But certainly there was a lot of rockets that were being fired out of Gaza just a short time ago.

Right now, however, everything seems to have calmed down. So we're waiting to see what that possible announcement could bring.


FEYERICK: You know, when we talk about a calming down period, are people disappointed that it's not a truce, that it's not a cease-fire, but it's almost a time-out of sorts where both sides are re-evaluating perhaps what their next strategy, their next move is?

PLEITGEN: Well, you know it interesting that you ask that, because I asked that of people here as well. And it's interesting that you use the word time-out because it's actually one that some people here have used as well, but in sort of a different context. Many people that we've been speaking to here feel that the military operation should have gone on for longer if indeed it is halted and that the Israeli military should have hit harder against militants in Gaza.

I spoke to some people who said that they believe they've not achieved their objectives. They believe that in several months or several years they might have to conduct the exact same military action once again. People are telling me here at Ashkelon, quite frankly, they're sick of living in this situation where they have to deal with rocket attacks. This town doesn't only deal with rocket attacks in bad times like this, but even in the best of times they do that as well.


FEYERICK: And I guess one quick question, just playing off of that, and that is, still they continue to live in Ashkelon with all the threats and all the danger and all the risks. Has anyone thought about not staying?

PLEITGEN: Oh, sure. I mean people think about that all the time. But there's many people who say they simply want to live here. I mean other people have to work here. But there's people who say they are not going to let militants, they're not going to let rocket attacks drive them out of this town. I mean certainly there are people who have tried to move to other places, who will move to other places in Israel. In fact, now there's sort of a -- I wouldn't say a migration, but there are people who are, for instance, moving their children to the north of Israel at this point in time, at least for the period of this conflict. And, of course, there's other people who say that they're not going to be willing to deal with these rocket attacks and move away from towns like this.

However, that's not the majority of people. The majority of people stay here, they have a sort of daily routine on how they deal with this. And they're certainly saying that they're not going to be leaving these places, even if these rocket attacks continue. However, of course, they do hope that those rocket attacks don't continue, Deb.

FEYERICK: OK, Fred Pleitgen, thanks so much. We appreciate it. Stay safe out there.

And more breaking news. New reports of explosions in Gaza. CNN's Ben Wedeman is there live.

And just as Fred heard, rockets in Ashkelon, you also heard explosions, Ben. What do you know?

WEDEMAN: Yes, well, there's a building just across the street, and a little bit towards the sea, that got hit by what appears to be an Israeli air strike. A very, very loud blast that really shook the building. We could feel the concussion and I heard some glass shattering and some of the floors below. So it's ironic that the evening, when we're speaking so much about a cease-fire, there seems to be more fire than anything else.


FEYERICK: Is it that -- it's fascinating that both sides seem to be least continuing launching rockets. Does that suggest that they're going to go up until the alleged sort of quiet period begins?

WEDEMAN: Well, this is really -- that was the case when there was a cease-fire announced at the end of the last major Israeli operation here in Gaza. And when these hostilities are about to end, oftentimes both sides have a point to make. Hamas, for its point, wants to show that it's still standing, it still has rockets, it can still fire them into Israel and it has not been defeated. Israel wants to show perhaps that it also has the resolve to carry on to the last minute. Israel perhaps has a few targets left on its list that it wants to sort of, so to speak, check off before the operation ends. So in a sense they're working against the clock, both sides, to achieve their own unique ends.


FEYERICK: All right, Ben Wedeman there, thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

And, of course, we'll continue to check on -- to see how this develops.

We'll talk live with the Israeli defense forces spokesman right after the break.


ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there. Here on "The Help Desk" we're talking about saving for college. With me this hour are Greg Olsen and Carmen Wong Ulrich.

Carmen, this question's for you. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a four-year-old and a six-month-old. I'm wondering what long-term and short-term investments I should make for college funds.


KOSIK: Oh, yes, we can all relate to this. How do we start saving early?

CARMEN WONG ULRICH, PRESIDENT & CO-FOUNDER, ALTA WEALTH MANAGEMENT: Oh, yes, we can. Listen, you've got to save early. And key here is where are you saving? What are you putting it in? You want the tax advantages of a 529. What's great is, he's got two kids. So if one kid doesn't use it all up for education, the other one can use it as well. Grandparents, other family members, the holidays are coming, put that money in there.

But also, too, where is that going? When you shop for 529, you can go to for free and shop around. Don't just look at fees. You want to be fee sensitive, but you want to -- also want to have lots of different assets that you can choose because you're going to have to make changes as your children get closer to school. You want to be much more conservative when they're in high school. But right now, his kids are young enough that he can really take a little bit of risk.

KOSIK: Any other funds or any other way to save for college besides the 529?

GREG OLSEN, PARTNER, LENOX ADVISORS: 529 is absolutely the best way. And just be systematic with the savings. The 529 is really going to be your best bet.

KOSIK: Really keep up with it. Don't sort of have a lag of time where you're not contributing to it.

OLSEN: Yes, it's the old dollar cost averaging strategy there.


KOSIK: OK. It sounds like good advice. And if you have an issue you want our experts to tackle, upload a 30 second video with your Help Desk question to