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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Hillary Clinton to Middle East; Israel Ready to Launch Ground Invasion; Rubio Claims He's "Not a Scientist"; David Beckham's Last Days in MLs

Aired November 20, 2012 - 05:00   ET

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


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Stalemate. With the rockets flying and bombs falling, are hopes of a cease-fire slipping away?

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Also, ready for war? Israel says it is prepared for a ground offensive in Gaza if its demands are not met soon.

BERMAN: And breaking overnight, Hillary Clinton into the fray. The Secretary of State on her way to Israel right now.

Good morning and welcome to EARLY START, everyone. A lot going on this morning. I'm John Berman.

BALDWIN: Good morning, I'm Brooke Baldwin, sitting in today for Zoraida Sambolin. It is bright and early, 5:00 in the morning for you on the East Coast.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BERMAN: And we begin with breaking news out of the conflict zone, an attack at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv in Israel. Details just coming in right now, but here is what we know. An Israeli police spokesman says a security guard at the embassy was attacked with an ax. The attacker reportedly also had a knife on him. We know the attacker has been arrested. When we get more information, we will bring that to you.

Of course, this is all happening as Israel and Hamas at the tipping point of all-out war. The Israelis carrying out 80 airstrikes overnight with Hamas fighters launching 95 rockets into Israel. Thirty-eight more Palestinians killed, bringing the death toll since last week to 111.

CNN has confirmed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to Israel in the air at this very moment. Tomorrow, she will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She'll also visit Egypt and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

And while the two sides are trading ceasefire proposals, Israel's ambassador to the U.S. tells Erin Burnett his country is now ready to launch a full-scale ground invasion.

We're going to get right to CNN's Jessica Yellin right now who is in Phnom Penh in Cambodia. She's been following the President and the Secretary of State who have been over there. The Secretary of State departed just a few minutes ago, headed to the Middle East.

Good morning, Jessica. What can you tell us about the Secretary of State's mission?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Good morning.

The Secretary of State is headed now to Israel, Ramallah and Egypt to see if she can work with those three partners to try -- well, not partners -- but those three interests to see if she can help fashion some sort of a ceasefire. Her trip was announced here in Cambodia by a White House official, Ben Rhodes, with the National Security Council. And he made it very clear that in the White House's view, the primary onus is on Hamas to take the first step in starting this truce by stopping their rocket fire into Israel.

Listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BEN RHODES, DEPUTY NATL. SECURITY ADVISER: The bottom line still remains that Hamas has to stop this rocket fire. So, ultimately, they're the ones who are going to have to be a part of a solution that ends the type of terror that Israeli citizens have faced over so many months with this barrage of rockets coming into Israeli territory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YELLIN: Now, as you mentioned, the Secretary has left Cambodia. She left in the last hour. She's headed first to Israel where she will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Then, she'll go to Ramallah where she will meet with the Palestinian Authority.

She will not meet with Hamas leadership because the U.S. does not speak to Hamas. We see them as a terrorist organization. This presents some problems because the U.S. will not speak directly with the other side of the conflict.

Instead, the U.S. uses Egypt as an intermediary. So that is the Secretary's next stop. Not announcing with whom she will speak there, but Egypt is relied on heavily here to convey the U.S.'s wishes and pressed heavily to represent the interests of the world's and its own, perhaps, desires to get some sort of peace done. And we'll see what comes of that -- President Morsi there obviously very new in that role and unclear if he'll be able to or actually wants this to stop.

So, Secretary Clinton now on a very important mission. We'll see if she can fashion any kind of a peace or even a temporary truce -- John.

BERMAN: So, Jess, this trip to Asia for the President was supposed to be this big diplomatic extravaganza, a pivot to Asia, but it seems to have been overtaken by events like so many foreign trips are.

What has he been doing while he's been on this trip with the Middle East crisis?

YELLIN: Last night, his aides made it clear that he was up after he did a day of events both here in Cambodia. He was also in Myanmar all day.

And then he took phone calls last night. He called first President Morsi of Egypt. Then he called Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel. And then had another call with Egypt's Morsi up until 2:30 in the morning. So doing his own work on the Middle East after focusing on Asia.

The President, obviously, trying to find out what needs to be done, what steps both sides are willing to take in order to create some sort of a peace. And the final conclusion was it's best to send Secretary of State Clinton to do this in person. So, this trip has been overshadowed by this crisis overseas, John.

BERMAN: All right. Jessica Yellin in Cambodia this morning -- thanks very much.

We want to take you from Asia this morning to the conflict zone now. We have Arwa Damon. She's live for us in Gaza City.

And, Arwa, set the scene for me. What are you seeing? What are you hearing today?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just a few moments ago, we heard some explosions in the distance. Unclear at this point exactly what they were caused by.

The streets behind me, the streets of Gaza City, still remain to be as deserted as they have been since this conflict began. There are very few people out and about. The vast majority of the shops are closed.

Walking through there, one does get the sense that this is a war zone, and one would assume that perhaps the residents had fled seeking safer ground. Only the reality for those living here is that they have nowhere to go. The Israelis will not let them in, and it is incredibly difficult to get a permit to be able to cross into Egypt.

So, a lot of people cowering, crowded inside their homes, hoping that that cease-fire will somehow be accomplished to at least provide them with a brief respite from the bombing. But they're really at this point in time is not a whole lot of optimism, especially if we take the situation in the streets as a barometer of something to go by, given just how empty they are. The Palestinian Authorities here are saying that up until now, 110 Palestinians have been killed. A fair number of them women and children as well, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We know that these negotiations, these talks are under way in Egypt. We're now reporting that the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is right now en route to Israel. In talking to people in Gaza City, what are they telling you as they look forward here?

DAMON: Well, Brooke, they've been through this before. They've actually been going through this for decades now. And many people have grown accustomed to the violence escalating to the point where it has and in some cases like we saw four years ago, that then led to a full-on invasion by the Israeli forces. In other instances, these temporary cease-fires are achieved.

The vast majority of people we are talking to do continue to say that they want some sort of long-term peace settlement. But that is something that as we know only too well has been elusive when it comes to these two communities for decades now. Along the diplomacy route, we're also expecting U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to be traveling. He'll also be meeting with the Israeli prime minister, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

We do not know if he'll be meeting with any Hamas officials. He most certainly is not expected to be making a trip to Gaza. And another explosion again in the distance and we're hearing sirens from the streets below.

While all of this is happening, we are also expecting a trip from the 16 foreign ministers, the members of the Arab League, as well as the Turkish foreign minister. So, most certainly a lot of movement on the diplomatic front, but we're still continuing to hear explosions in Gaza, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We hear that ambulance silence right behind you. I'm sure people very accustomed to noises like that. Arwa Damon, thank you.

Israeli President Shimon Peres says he is concerned about stopping the Iranians from sending long-range missiles to Hamas. Peres telling CNN's Piers Morgan he sees two distinct story lines here developing in this Gaza conflict -- one positive, one negative.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI PRESIDENT: The positive is the constructive role that the Egyptian president is playing right now, and we appreciate very much his efforts. The other is the Iranians. They are trying again to encourage the Hamas to continue the shooting, the bombing. They are trying to send them arms. They are out of their mind.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Peres went on to tell Piers that Iran is the world's problem, and because of its nuclear ambitions and also because it is, quote-unquote, "a center of world terror".

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair playing a key role here in this Gaza ceasefire talks. Blair has been meeting closely, we're told, with Israeli President Shimon Peres. He tells CNN if a truce is reached, there is still so much more to be done here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: If we can get a cease-fire in place, then you're going to have to work on the two longer-term questions, which are: how do you stop fresh armaments coming into Gaza from the Israeli point of view? And for Gazans, how do you get their life back to some sort of normality where they can, you know, have the prospect of their economy moving and their society changing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Blair is part of an international quartet that's trying to broker a truce in Gaza. That includes the U.N., Russia, the E.U. and the United States.

And this story here developing every minute. Stay with CNN, of course, and CNN.com for updates throughout the morning and throughout the day here on CNN.

BERMAN: Now to the latest on the investigation into Benghazi. Who knew what and when?

The spokesman for the director of national intelligence says the intelligence community, not the White House, State Department or the Justice Department made substantive changes to talking points given to government officials. The Obama administration especially U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice has taken a lot of heat over those talking points. Rice used them as a basis for comments she made on Sunday talk shows five days after the deadly attack.

BALDWIN: Indianapolis detectives say recent explosion at an area subdivision was no accident. This homicide investigation now is under way. Two people were killed. Seven others injured.

Back on November 10th in this blast that just leveled -- look at these pictures -- leveled several homes, damaged more than 30 others. Investigators now are searching for a white van that was spotted in front of one of the homes shortly before the explosion. Funeral services were held Monday for the couple that was killed in the blast.

BERMAN: The NTSB will recreate that deadly collision between a parade float and a train today, in an effort to understand how and why it happened. They'll stage a train and truck at the railroad crossing in Midland, Texas, to try to find out what could be seen when and where.

Investigators say the track's warning system of bell, lights and a gate worked as designed last week, giving a 20-second warning as that train was coming. Four veterans were killed during the parade which was meant to honor them and their military service.

President Obama may be a world in Asia today, but he's keeping a close eye on the situation in Gaza. His message involved, coming up.

Plus, we have breaking news overnight. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton en route to the Middle East at this very moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: All right. At this very moment, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on her way to Israel to join the effort to broker a Mideast ceasefire. From more on U.S. response to this conflict, we turn to foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty right now. Jill, what do we know about the Secretary's travel plans?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is pretty dramatic, John, because after all, remember, Secretary Clinton is on a big Asia trip with the President of the United States. He is just abruptly sends her to the Middle East. She jumps on a plane and heads off from Cambodia to the region.

Now, she's going to be meeting, of course, with the Israelis, with Benjamin Netanyahu, we believe. And then she'll also be going to the Palestinian Authority to Ramallah. That is kind of a question mark because actually Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, really has been sidelined in all of this. There's not a lot that he can really do because after all, Gaza is controlled by Hamas. And that is considered by the United States a terrorist organization.

And then finally, you have Egypt, and that's really the key. She'll go to Cairo. Egypt is playing the crucial role in this. That new government of Mohamed Morsi who himself is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

There's a lot of sympathy in Egypt for Hamas. But on the other hand, Egypt does want to play a constructive role because they know that they need the help of the United States, the help of the E.U., the help of the international community for their economy.

So it's a very delicate type of balance. Hillary Clinton knows the players. She's met several times with Benjamin Netanyahu. She's met with Mahmoud Abbas, and she really knows the issues, so she's the perfect person to do it.

BERMAN: Jill, it is speculation, but it seems to me that the Secretary of State would not be on her way to the Middle East at this moment if a ground invasion were imminent. That is not a split-screen picture that the U.S. would like to see, no doubt.

But as you said, a lot of what she'll be doing is working the allies. That's what the President's been doing, on the phone with Turkey, with Egypt, with countries in the region trying to stabilize the overall area.

Why is that?

DOUGHERTY: Well, absolutely. In fact, Secretary Clinton has been making even more phone calls than the President, as you can understand. The President has a lot of things that he was trying to do on this Asia trip which has been overshadowed by all of this.

But she has been on the phone to all of the key players multiple times. I mean, I counted at least three times she's been talking with the Egyptians. The President, too, talked about three times with the Egyptians.

So, she -- this is really a continuation of that diplomacy, trying to, at this point, bring some type of diplomatic solution. They feel they have a little bit of a breathing space, but I think you're right, there's not a lot of time here. She has to move fast.

BERMAN: All right. Jill Dougherty in Washington, thanks so much.

BALDWIN: Eighteen minutes past the hour here. You're watching EARLY START.

Let's go to Christine Romans with the day's top stories. And with everything happening in the Middle East, we were just talking oil prices. Are they --

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I watched oil prices. They were up almost 3 percent yesterday. They were down a little bit this morning.

We'll continue to watch the markets and their reaction to what's happening in the Middle East.

Meantime, a new poll from the Pew Research Center finds that more Americans are concerned about the fiscal cliff than the scandal involving former CIA Director David Petraeus -- 36 percent of Republicans, 35 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of independents say they are following the debate on the fiscal cliff very closely.

How does that compare with the Petraeus affair? Well, only 28 percent of Republicans, 21 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of independents are following the investigation, quote, "very closely".

Florida Senator Marco Rubio didn't give an answer when asked by "GQ" magazine how old the earth is. His response? "I'm not a scientist, man."

Scientists estimated the Earth to be more than 4 .5 million years old. Rubio tells "GQ" there are, quote, "multiple theories out there on how the university is created and I think this is a country where people should have the opportunity to teach them all."

Conservation experts are teaming up with federal agents to investigate the violent deaths of bottlenose dolphins along the northeast -- of northern Gulf Coast, rather. One of the dolphins was shot. Another was stabbed with a screwdriver.

The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies says at least six dolphins have died from foul play since January.

After spending six years in Los Angeles, soccer superstar David Beckham will be leaving the L.A. Galaxy after the MLS Cup Game on December 1st. Monday's announcement comes just 10 months after Beckham signed a new two-year contract with the team. Beckham says he wants to, quote, "experience one last challenge before the end of my playing career."

BERMAN: What is the challenge?

ROMANS: Mystery.

BERMAN: It's money. It's China. It's Dubai. There are rumors of Brazil. You know, his best days, David Beckham does a lot of things well and represents a lot of things well, but his best playing days are behind him. He's looking for one last big payday.

ROMANS: But how much longer will he look like this?

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: That's what we want to know.

Thank you, Christine Romans.

Question for you: is the value here of your home, is it finally going up? We do have some good news for you this morning here on the housing market. We're going to tell you all about that coming up next.

Twenty minutes past the hour. You're watching EARLY START on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: We're minding your business this morning.

For a change, stocks saw a solid rally yesterday. We got some good news on the housing market, too.

BALDWIN: We like a little good news, Christine Romans. Huge day yesterday.

ROMANS: It was a good day. Look, yesterday, the Dow was up more than 1.5 percent. And the reason why -- I mean, looking at the tea leaves, everyone in the markets were saying they're going to figure out the fiscal cliff, and they think they're going to get it done maybe by Christmas.

So, that's the hope at least in market, and there's some confidence there that -- look, your policymakers have this down. They know what they have to do and they're going to have to fix it. So don't mess it up, Washington. That's my one plea this morning because you finally have some optimism about it.

You also had some great housing news. And that's something that really fed into this rally. I had -- you know, I saw the Dow up, you know, at 9:30 yesterday, it was up like 130 points and then came this existing home sales report, and it went up 200 points.

You know, average home -- median home prices are up 11 percent from a year ago. That number is shocking to me. In one year, you've seen the value of the home go up 10 percent. Now, remember, it's been a horrible, horrible five or six years in housing, but you're seeing that there is some momentum here -- 31 percent of buyers were first- time homebuyers. They're looking at super-low mortgage rates, and they've been out of the market so long.

BALDWIN: Good for them.

ROMANS: About a third of them are coming in and they are buying for the first time. Twenty-nine percent of all home sales in October were cash. Cash!

BERMAN: What does that mean, though? There's something going on.

ROMANS: It means investors. It means people with a lot of money are looking into -- it means, a lot of these are investors. It's money from Brazil. It's money from Latin America. It's money from China who are going into literally buy American property because it's safe.

BALDWIN: But then are they turning around and renting those homes?

ROMANS: They are renting those homes. They're renting homes. Or their own -- if you look especially in the Florida market, a lot of those are second homes, they are seconds. Or first homes for people. So that's really interesting.

BALDWIN: Cash.

ROMANS: Again, record low mortgage rates. That's what's really important here for people who are the other two-thirds who are not paying cash.

So, that -- look, the 178,600 number up 11 percent from a year ago. Sales were up in October but prices are up, too. It looks like that recovery is real.

BALDWIN: Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BALDWIN: Good news. We like it. We like it.

ROMANS: Don't mess it up, Washington.

BERMAN: All right. Back to the big news of the day.

You know, we've seen a ground war in Gaza before. But this one, if it happens, it could be very, very different. Up next, we'll look at some of the scenarios.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BALDWIN: War of words. The leaders on both sides of the fighting in Gaza refuse to bend. Now, Israel says it's ready to invade.

BERMAN: Ground war. What an Israeli assault would look like, and who has the upper hand this time around.