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Gaza: Under Attack & In Hiding; Clinton En Route To Israel; Hostess and Union In Mediation; Super Jupiter Discovery; Temporary Halt on Israel's Ground Offensive to Gaza

Aired November 20, 2012 - 05:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Now, Israel says it's ready to invade.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Ground war. What an Israeli assault would look like and who has the upper hand this time around?

BALDWIN: Also, the Benghazi blame game. The intelligence community says they're the ones responsible for changing the original talking points and not the White House.


BERMAN (on-camera): Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

BALDWIN (on-camera): Good morning. I'm Brooke Baldwin sitting in for Zoraida here. Half past the hour here on a Tuesday morning beginning with breaking news.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BERMAN: And that breaking news out of the conflict zone. An attack at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv in Israel. Details are just coming in, but here's what we know. An Israeli police spokesman says a security guard at the embassy was stabbed with an ax or a pitchfork. The attacker reportedly also had a knife on him.

We know the attacker has been arrested. We don't know what the motive was at this point. When we get more information, we will bring it to you.

BALDWIN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the air right this very moment. She is en route to the Middle East To help broker a ceasefire in Gaza as the Israelis and Hamas are edging closer and closer here to full-scale war. Israel launching 80 more air strikes. This happening just overnight with Hamas fighters lobbing 95 rockets back across the border.

Thirty-eight more Palestinians are dead this morning, bringing the death toll to 111 since last week. And now, again, the big news, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joining the global diplomatic effort here to end the violence. She will be meeting tomorrow with the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. She will also visit Egypt and the west bank city of Ramallah.

Frederik Pleitgen is live for us this morning in Ashkelon, Israel, this morning here. And Fred, last time we spoke, you were dashing away from the cameras. There were, you know, sirens going off after a mortar attack that was right around this time yesterday. Today quieter, not so much.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I would say not so much. The city of Ashkelon, Brooke, was a little more quiet. However, earlier this morning, there was a barrage of rockets that were fired at this place as well. I would say it was four or five rockets, some of them actually impacted. We don't have any figures yet on whether or not anybody was injured in that attack.

However, further down south in the town of (INAUDIBLE), and I was there yesterday, and there were alarms there as well. They had a barrage of 16 rockets fired at that town. Now, 13 of those were intercepted by the iron dome missile defense system. Of course, the one that we've been talking about so much over the past couple of days that picks off those rockets in midair.

However, three of those rockets did impact. And we also know that in one attack at least, an Israeli soldier was fairly severely wounded. He was a reservist. He was then flown to a hospital. So, certainly, there is no letup in the conflict at least in this part. However, it seems as though it might be a little more quiet than in the past days. However, it is still going at a pretty high intensity here, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We know Israel has authorized that the calling up of some 75,000 reservists there, getting ready for a potential ground offensive. How realistic is that?

PLEITGEN: Well, I mean, certainly, it is something that is still in the cards. And if you listen to what Israeli officials are saying, they are saying that at this point in time, no decision has been made. They're saying at this point in time there are obviously diplomatic efforts going on. There's negotiations going on.

They want to give those negotiations some time, but the ground offensive is something that is still a very real possibility. Now, they also say that, so far, the buildup to the ground offensive seems to be all but ready. So, they could be ready to go any time if they got the order. Also, of those 75,000 reserves that have been authorized that you mentioned, 68,000 of those have already been mobilized.

So, there is a gigantic mobilization going on here. And if you just go to the area around Gaza, then you'll see tanks there at the ready. You'll see additional tanks being brought in, trucks ferrying in and out armor into that area. So, really, that is all in full swing. The Israelis saying at this point in time, they would be ready to strike at any point if they get the orders.

However, right now, they're also saying they feel that the negotiations that are going on should be given a little more time, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much for us this morning in Israel.

BERMAN: The vast majority of people who call Gaza home, they haven't fled. They're in hiding right now. It's not because they don't want to leave, it's because they can't. Senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon, explains why.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is one of the few markets open in Gaza. Most do their shopping in the morning. Not so much for the fresher produce but because it's safer. Mansoud Alaridi (ph), one of the grocers here, says that when the strikes began, prices immediately skyrocketed.

People were expecting a repeat of Israel's 2008-2009 invasion. "People were buying out of fear. It lasted for two days," Alaridi (ph) tells us. And then the market stabilized and prices went back down. Gazans only too accustomed to war have mastered the art of adjusting their daily lives. (INAUDIBLE) lives in an area close to the Israeli border.

"There are no cars around," she tells us, saying that residents were warned not to leave their homes. So, she hitched a ride with an ambulance to come here and shop for her 11 children.

(on-camera) On the one hand, Gaza feels like just about any other area at war. The streets are largely deserted, the shops mostly closed. One would assume that the residents here had fled for safer ground, only they haven't. The 1.5 million plus people who call this home are simply hiding indoors. The vast majority of them are literally not allowed to leave.

(voice-over) They can't cross into Israel. And getting into Egypt requires a hard-to-obtain permit. Once darkness falls, the streets are even more eerily silent, but overhead drones buzz incessantly.


DAMON: In an almost surreal contrast, a nursery rhyme, and 10-year- old Abid leads the children in a game they invented. As in many other homes, the power is out. And there was no diesel at the pump for fuel for the generator. Normally, seven members of the Ashia (ph) family live here. Now, their numbers have swelled to over 30.

Abid tells us, the roof of her house is a sheet of metal, not concrete. "We're afraid it would collapse on us," she says. And even here, there is no guarantee of safety. Sadika, the family matriarch, tells us one of the explosions was so close, the building trembled. "I grabbed all of the kids that were sleeping in my bed. I grabbed them all like this and pulled them close," she says.

Seven-year-old Roa (ph) has started wetting her bed. "We're in a prison, a big prison," Sadika sighs. It's all she knows. All she wants for the sake of the children is something better.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Gaza City.


BALDWIN: Well, we now know that the U.S. is dispatching some major diplomatic leaders to try and resolve the crisis in Gaza. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is traveling at this moment en route to the Middle East. Her first stop will be Israel. She'll be talking to the prime minister of that country, Benjamin Netanyahu. She will also head to Ramallah, west bank, and also to Egypt.

Officials say Clinton will not meet with Hamas. The U.S. does not speak with Hamas. Instead, she'll be holding talks with the Palestinian Authority. The Secretary of State has been traveling with the President during the swing through Southeast Asia.

BERMAN: Now to the latest on Benghazi investigation. The intelligence community says it made significant changes to talking points given to government officials. That's according to the spokesman for the director of national intelligence. The Obama administration, especially Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, has taken a lot of heat over those talking points. Rice used them as the basis for those comments she made on Sunday talk shows five days after the deadly attack.

BALDWIN: A Pakistani court has dismissed blasphemy charges against a Christian teenager whose case prompted this international outcry. Rimsha Masih's attorney says the high court in Islamabad found that the accusations against her were legally unsound. Rimsha was arrested back in August over allegations that she had burned pages of the Koran for cooking fuel, a charge the girl denies.

BERMAN: So, we did see four years ago, an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, but, things have changed since then, and some say Hamas is now stronger. Up next, some scenarios of what a ground war might look like this time around.



PLEITGEN: There over in the sky, you probably won't be able to see it here, there's an interceptor missile taking off right now. That is the iron dome interceptor right there. If you just saw the flash in the sky, that was a rocket coming out of Gaza that was just intercepted right now.


BALDWIN: That was CNN's Fred Pleitgen who is in Israel for us right now, covering this conflict where people are living in fear because of all this rocket fire. Forty-two minutes past the hour here on a Tuesday and welcome back to EARLY START.

Tensions along the Israel/Gaza border, they are building along with fears of a possible Israeli ground invasion. You have tens of thousands of these Israeli troops, they're being massed now near the Gaza border, and the world, of course, watching all of these moments very, very closely. The question is, what would a ground offensive look like?

Let's go to the Pentagon and talk to correspondent there, Chris Lawrence, about this. And Chris, run through some possible scenarios. What would a ground invasion look like?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, it could be anywhere from a full-scale ground assault like four years ago or even bigger in which you've got tanks, planes, large numbers of Israeli troops all the way down to smaller incursions by special operations forces and small numbers of infantry going after very specific targets such as taking out rocket-launching sites that the air assault hasn't been able to get to.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): If Israel defense forces invade Gaza, they'd 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'd likely find Hamas better armed than it was four years ago.

JEFFREY WHITE, THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: We have better anti-tank weapons, for sure, and they might be more capable of 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. They can actually roll or throw into a house that shows them 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 stationed 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 one Hamas from another, and operate selectively against pieces of the Gaza Strip.

LAWRENCE: A former Israeli general says Israel is running out of targets outside of population centers while Hamas leaders have holed up inside mosque 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: And that is weighing on the minds of Israeli policymakers now as they consider whether to go into Gaza on the ground.


LAWRENCE (on-camera): And there's also the issue of the smaller risk of there being Israeli casualties. If IDF troops are kidnapped or even killed, that could lead to public backlash against Prime Minister Netanyahu, and that's something he has to consider just a couple months away from an election, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So then, you know, in terms of objective from Israel, what is it? Do they want to destroy Hamas? What does a victory look like for them?

LAWRENCE: Well, remember, at the end of the day, Hamas is still in Gaza is still going to be Israel's neighbor. And that's something to consider. From what we've been hearing, Israel does not want to stop too soon and end up in the same situation, you know, four, five, six months down the road in which Hamas has sort of reorganized and reconstituted.

They want some sort of end of these rockets being lobbed into Israel. Now, whether that means to continue the air assault or go in on the ground remains to be seen. But they are hesitant to stop too soon before getting some sort of resolution on Hamas' rocket capability.

BALDWIN: OK. Chris, thank you. Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon for us this morning.

BERMAN: It is 46 minutes after the hour right now. And coming up, we'll have a check of the morning headlines, including a very big announcement from NASA. Big literally.


BERMAN: Fifty minutes after the hour right now. We want to get you up to speed with all the headlines. Here's Christine Romans for that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again you two this Tuesday morning.


ROMANS (voice-over): Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, headed to the Middle East and hopes to helping to bring an end to violence along the Israeli border with Gaza. Clinton's itinerary will include meetings with leaders in Israel, Ramallah, and Egypt. Diplomats hoping to avoid a repeat of what happened, remember back in 2008, when at least 1,400 people died as Israeli troops invaded Gaza in response to rocket attacks.

President Obama met 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 a recent transition of power in China. The trip to Cambodia is the third leg of Mr. Obama's Asian tour. The President is hoping to foster deeper political and economic ties in the region.

Vice President Joe Biden and wife, Jill Biden, welcomed some wounded warriors to the naval observatory in Washington Monday for an early Thanksgiving celebration. Twenty-six guests, patients at the nearby Walter Reed National Military Medical Center were selected because they won't be able to get home for Thanksgiving with their families this year.

And reports of the Twinkies demise may have been a little premature. Hostess and its striking union have now agreed to a mediation session today to avoid immediate liquidation of the company and avoid cutting more than 18,000 jobs. If today's session isn't successful, Hostess, though, will go back to court tomorrow to move forward and finish its liquidation.

BERMAN (voice-over): Save the Twinkie!

ROMANS: They're not making any money making those Twinkies. They've got to figure out how to make some money.

BERMAN: They're making me happy, though.


ROMANS: When was the last time you bought a Twinkie, John, really?

BERMAN: I get them free.

ROMANS: See, that's exactly the problem.

All right. NASA scientists say they found what could be a huge planet outside of our solar system. They're calling it a Super Jupiter. Say that ten times fast. They say it orbits a star 170 light years away, and it's about 13 times the mass of Jupiter. NASA says there's also the possibility this Super Jupiter could actually be a brown dwarf star if it can generate energy by fusion.

BALDWIN (voice-over): Brown dwarf is a fallen star. And so, Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and the fact that this could be 13 times that size and the fact they were able to get this picture looking directly into the light versus just being discovered is kind of cool.


ROMANS (on-camera): It is cool.

BERMAN (on-camera): Professor Baldwin. Meanwhile --

BALDWIN (on-camera): Nerd alert.

BERMAN: I'm thinking Super Jupiter sounds like an ABBA song.


BALDWIN: Thanks, Christine.

BERMAN: We have a packed show straight ahead coming up on EARLY START, including the showdown we're all talking about between Israel and Hamas. Neither side willing to bend to stop the bombing right now. We're going to take you live to the ground in the region coming up.

BALDWIN: Also ahead, Israel says we are ready for war. The question is, is a ground invasion a matter of days away and what would that look like? We're going to show you that.

BERMAN: And more on the breaking news that really came out overnight. Hillary Clinton en route to Israel at this very moment. She's in the air. Can she help slow down the escalation?

BALDWIN: But first, some record-breaking rain in the southwest wreaking havoc on holiday travel. We will check in with Rob Marciano talking weather next.


BALDWIN: Record-breaking rain for you in the northwest definitely complicating things potentially here this holiday week. Rob Marciano is live for us this morning. Tell me about this rain. How bad?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It's a big storm, Brooke. And it's got several punches to it. I'll show you how bad. Look at this video. This is a mudslide that came down just north of Seattle, blocked the train there -- the commuter train that runs from Seattle to Everett, Washington.

It's right near the Puget Sound. Obviously, some hills just to the right of the track, and those hills and the vegetation with it came tumbling down across the tracks so that stopped service. Tremendous amount of rain coming in with this storm. And, it is not really stopping. So, we expect more in the way of flooding today, potentially more in the way of landslides.

Here's a look at some of the numbers as far as the rainfall that came down with this storm so far. Nehalem, almost eight inches of rainfall there, Cedar Creek seems just over seven inches, Astoria, just over four, and Seattle setting a record at 2.6 inches of rainfall in that 24-hour period.

Plus, the winds haven't really mentioned this. Look at these astounding wind gusts. Well up and over hurricane-force strength. The Naselle Ridge recording station 114-mile-an-hour gusts there. Abernathy Mountain, 111, Megler Tower, and Astoria, Oregon 92-mile-an- hour. So, numerous trees down and power lines.

There's been spotty power outages across the Puget Sound area and across the (INAUDIBLE) Valley and more wind expects, although, not as bad as it was yesterday. So, several punches to the system, but certainly, the heaviest wind was yesterday. Here's the rainfall, some of it in the form of snow. I-5 seeing some rain.

So, if you are traveling on the west coast or have plans to get there, just be aware, it's going to be a bit of a mess here for the next several days. Slightly cooler air coming behind this that will bring in a little bit of snow and drop the snow levels. Elsewhere, Brooke --


MARCIANO: -- we're all right. Not too shabby.

BALDWIN: All right. All right.

MARCIANO: If that is so, you go east of the Rocky Mountains and travel for your holiday not looking too bad.

BALDWIN: Good deal. Rob Marciano, thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right. EARLY START continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BERMAN: And we do have breaking news out of the Middle East. A rather big development just in from us from Christiane Amanpour who confirmed this. I'm going to read this to you because I want to get it exactly right.

Israeli government officials close to the negotiations confirmed to Christiane after a meeting late into the night with prime minister and his cabinet that a decision has been taken to hold off for now on a military ground offensive into Gaza to give limited time for a diplomatic solution. This solution, they say, must result in no more rocket fires from Hamas into Israel.

As we said, a temporary halt and the idea of planning or implementing a ground invasion from the Israelis into Gaza, that development just now from Christiane Amanpour confirming that for us. Some big news in the region.

Meanwhile, there is other news coming out of the region right now. An attack at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv in Israel. Details just coming in right now, but here's what we know. An Israeli police spokesman says a security guard at the embassy was stabbed with an ax or a pitchfork.

The attacker reportedly also had a knife on him at the time. The witness told Reuters the attacker ran toward the guards and ignored their calls to get on the ground.