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Israel Ground Offensive on Hold; Evaluating Chances of a Diplomatic Solution; Heavy Rains Forecast for Northwest

Aired November 20, 2012 - 06:30   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone.

We do have breaking news out of the Middle East this morning where Christiane Amanpour confirms to us that Israel has put a temporary hold on a ground invasion into Gaza to let diplomacy work its course for now. One of their conditions for this diplomacy is that Hamas must agree to stop firing rockets into Israel.

But as of now the big news is, is no ground invasion happening right now -- a temporary hold on that.

Meanwhile, there is other breaking news out of the conflict zone -- an attack at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. That's in Israel.

Details are 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. A witness told "Reuters" the attacker ran toward the guard, and ignored their calls to get on the ground. The guard jumped him and they took him down.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is about to broker a ceasefire in Gaza, as the Israelis and Hamas edge closer and closer to an all-out ground war, as a possibility -- again, a temporary hold put on that ground offensive. Israel, though, launching 80 more airstrikes overnight with Hamas fighters lobbing 95 rockets back across the border.

In the total here, 38 more Palestinians were killed, bringing the death toll to 111 since last week. And, again, now, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, entering this fray. She will be arriving in Israel first. First meeting with the prime minister there, Benjamin Netanyahu. She will also visit leaders in Egypt and the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Fred Pleitgen is live for us in Ashkelon, Israel, this morning. Fred, what's the latest from you?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke. What's going on here is that there are still rocket attacks on towns like Ashkelon. We had one earlier this morning where a barrage of rockets came towards here. Several of those were intercepted. However, some of those actually did manage to come through and they did hit the ground.

The biggest rocket fire actually happened south of here in a town called Beersheba, which quite frequently is a target of rocket attacks. Some 16 rockets were fired at that place from Gaza, 13 were intercepted. Three did come through and impacted on the ground there.

In one rocket attack, an Israeli reserve soldier was severely wounded. He's been brought to hospital so far. Other than that, there are rocket attacks going on across the board. I would say, however, Brooke, that the intensity is somewhat lower than in the past couple of days.

And another very interesting development that we're sort of monitoring on the ground here is that in the past day and a half we haven't seen any various long range rocket attacks. If you'll recall a couple of days ago, Hamas rockets were fired towards targets in Tel Aviv, as well as even Jerusalem.

Of course, those are very far-receiving rockets, the Iranian rockets called the Fajr-5. Those have not been fired in the past day and a half. That could point to possibly the weapons arsenal being somewhat depleted there in Gaza, or maybe the Israeli military having taken out most of those longer-range rockets. That, of course, one of the goals of the Israeli military had was to first of all take out the longer and medium-range rockets.

Not sure whether or not that's the case. However, it seems as though developments here on the ground might be pointing in that direction, Brooke.

BALDWIN: OK, it's a good point. Thank you for bringing it up. Fred Pleitgen for us in Israel.

BERMAN: We were talking about the diplomacy that is happening right now in the region. We want to bring in a guest here.

Diana Buttu is a former PLO adviser and former Palestinian peace negotiator. Diana is now a political analyst at the Institute for Middle East Understanding.

And, Diana, as we've been reporting over the last few minutes here, we have news out of the region, which is that Israel has said they will put a temporary hold on a ground assault to let diplomacy take hold. And, of course, one of their conditions for diplomacy is that Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel.

Talk to me about this diplomacy. Is there a chance in your mind that it can work, that it can become more permanent?

DIANA BUTTU, FORMER PALESTINIAN PEACE NEGOTIATOR: The question is whether this was actually an option in the first place and I think that the option of a ground offensive was simply a red herring that the Israelis were putting forward, but that they were never really serious about it. It's important to keep in mind that this is being done first and foremost for election reasons. We're coming up on an election here.

And as we've seen in the past, what Israeli officials do when they're trying to seek re-election is attack Gaza. So I don't think this prime minister is going to do anything to put any soldiers in harm's way just on the eve of an election. So, I don't think this is an issue to begin with.

But moving forward, in terms of talking about a ceasefire, I think we have to start looking at why this issue keeps recurring and it's because of the fact that there is a 45-year military occupation over the Gaza Strip. People denied their freedoms, and the fact that this blockade has continued for six years.

It's time to begin to address these issues rather than simply looking at calm. We have to get to the root of why there is no peace.

BALDWIN: You know, Diana, you talk about the history here of this conflict. You know, we've talked to multiple guests here and they talk about short-term solutions, long-term solutions. Obviously, short-term that being the ceasing of the rocket fire back and forth between Gaza and Israel. Long-term, this has been going on for years and years.

How do you see this playing out in the future? How does this conflict end?

BUTTU: The conflict ends by actually beginning to hold Israel to account under international law. Under international law, Israel cannot continue to maintain this occupation. The world has indicated as such. And if it continues to do so, not just in the Gaza strip, but in the West Bank, we're going to continue to see this type of activity.

People denied their freedom will only take this for a certain period of time before they revolt. And I think if we want to move forward we have to stop looking at short-term solutions, demand that Israel completely withdraw from the West Bank, and from the Gaza Strip, allow all Palestinians to live in freedom, and that will be a solution that will -- that will, at least, be able to change the status quo rather than keep it.

BERMAN: There are a lot of complicated relationships at play in the region and one of the ones that people are talking about this morning is the relationship between Hamas in Gaza, and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on her way to the region right now. She'll meet with members of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, but not Hamas.

Does the Palestinian Authority even have any sway, any power anymore about what goes on in Gaza? BUTTU: Look, I think that she's actually making a very big mistake and I think the world is making a very big mistake by somehow willing or thinking that Hamas is going to go away. Just in the same way that they've established relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. I think we also have to recognize that the reality is that Hamas is elected and may be elected again if we have elections in the future, and we can't just simply will them away, somehow ignore that they exist. They do exist.

And I think that in terms of Secretary of State Clinton moving forward, she's got to be able to reach out to both sides. Right now in terms of the Palestinians, there is now a call for unity. And I'm hoping that these calls will be picked up by booth Hamas and Fatah. But I also think that because there is -- just because there is division doesn't mean that the international community should be shunning Hamas or should not be talking to them.

BALDWIN: Diana, as a former Palestinian peace negotiator, take us inside this delicate dance. What -- what is priority number one? And, and what do you not do, as well?

BUTTU: Well, priority number one is to really outline and underline what the root causes of this are, because if we don't do that, we're going to face the same situation over and over again. You'll recall that just four years ago, Israel carried out a very brutal assault on the Gaza Strip which left 1,400 Palestinians dead, and what we've seen is that if -- and four years later, we're facing the same situation.

I think that if we want to be serious, the first thing we have to do is recognize what are the problems that need to be addressed. And the problems are not just a question of violence but what the root causes are. That's the first thing.

We have to put on the table the question of the blockade, and the ongoing siege in the Gaza Strip and its 20-year isolation. We have to put on the table, as well, how we're going to rebuild the Gaza Strip.

And we have to also put on the table that this cannot be a short-term solution but needs to be a long-term comprehensive solution that deals both with the Gaza Strip as well as Israel's colonization in the West Bank. This is the only way I see things moving forward.

In the past where we've dealt with just piecemeal issues or one issue at a time, we've seen what the outcome and the consequences have been and that is where we're at right now. It's simply not tenable any longer.

BERMAN: Diana Buttu, difficult obviously. Israel says as a condition to even have any of these discussions, the rockets have to stop coming from Gaza -- obviously a complicated, tense situation. Thanks for being with us, Diana Buttu.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

Coming up next, talking weather. A couple days from, what, turkey day? So, we want to talk about a travel forecast. Look at this water breaking rain -- record breaking rain in the southwest wreaking havoc on possible travel for you this week. We're going to talk with Rob Marciano about what you can expect here coming up.


BERMAN: The news is breaking fast and furious this morning. Soledad O'Brien now with a look at what's ahead on "Starting Point."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, "STARTING POINT": Yes. Lots to talk about. Israel putting a ground offensive on hold this morning to give diplomacy a bit of a chance. Right now, secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, is heading to the Middle East, going to try to broker peace between Gaza and Israel. We're going to cover all the latest developments.

We're also talking to Mark Regev, he's a spokesman for the Israeli government. We're talking to South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn. Robin Wright with Woodrow Wilson Center will join us as well and (INAUDIBLE).

And how are the markets reacting to the unrest overseas after a major rally yesterday? Could we see another upswing today? We'll take a look at what's going on with stocks, oil prices, tell you what it means for you.

And he's quite of a political dynasty. We're talking to Jeb Bush Jr. about changes to the Republican Party. You know he is a big proponent of focusing on Hispanic voters. We'll sort of analyze the GOP results of past election, what they need to do if they actually want to win next time around. That's all ahead.

BALDWIN: And your long weekend was nice?

O'BRIEN: My long weekend was excellent. Yes. Excellent. Miami. Warm.


O'BRIEN: Heat.

BALDWIN: Good for you, Soledad O'Brien.


BALDWIN: I know. Welcome back. We'll see you at the top of the hour.

We do want to talk not necessarily about the great weather in Miami but about the record-breaking rain in the northwest. Definitely complicating holiday travel for a lot of you this week. Rob Marciano is live at the CNN Weather Center with more on the rain. Good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And good morning. You know, it's not all bed of roses down there in Miami. We actually have, you know, a heavy surf this week. BALDWIN: Soledad is looking at you like you're crazy.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I was looking.

MARCIANO: I'm glad that Soledad got out of the water because the rip currents are going to be an issue. Welcome back, Soledad. If you are going to the beach in the Pacific Northwest, not a good idea. I mean, this is just awful, awful weather here. We've seen a string of impulses riding along a strong jet stream. Heavy, heavy rain when you get that.

Even in the Pacific Northwest, this is what can happen. Check out the video coming in to us from out of Seattle where heavy rain caused a mudslide there just north of Seattle between Seattle and Everett. That's the more or less commuter line. The southern train track, you see, covered up with mud and debris.

There are another -- a number of other smaller mudslides across the state, not only that, the power outages. So, in some cases, record- setting rainfall. For 24 hours, Seattle and Sea-Tac also has rains over 2 1/2 inches in some cases. That was a record. And these are some of the storm totals over a couple of day period. Nehalem, Oregon, 7-3/4 inches of rain, and some of the coastal rivers are in flood stage.

And the Naselle Ridge area, 114, that is a category 3 hurricane strength wind gust there. So, a lot of power outages because of this, as well. And the rains just keep on coming. Some of this is beginning to push inland. It will turn to snow at some of the highest elevations, but more or less a rain event. The rest of the country looking pretty good.

Weak front here is kind of dying off and much of the east coast looks good. Not yet (ph) cold for tomorrow as well. Right now, no travel delays at the airports. That's your check on weather. EARLY START is coming right back.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. And we do have breaking news this morning, reporting just a short while ago that Israel has decided to put a temporary hold on a ground invasion into Gaza right now while they let diplomacy take hold. As part of the conditions for that diplomacy, Israel continues to say that rockets must stop coming out of Gaza into Israel.

BALDWIN: This was news that was broken by our own CNN's Christiane Amanpour. We spoke with her minutes ago. Here's what she was learning.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I have just spoken to a senior Israeli government official who is very much in the loop and close to the negotiations and he has further clarified to me what we've been reporting for the last many hours, and that is that after the latest meeting of the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, along with his inner security cabinet, which went into the early morning hours our time here in Israel, the decision has been made, quote, "to hold off on a military ground offensive to give time, limited time," this in the words of that government official," time to let the diplomatic solution work."

According to Israel, their non-negotiable demand is that any diplomatic solution means an end to Hamas rocket fire into Israel. So, that is what is happening now. Consistent with what we've been reporting over the last many hours, that they do prefer to see a diplomatic solution succeed, and they're giving time for it, but not endless time.

They confirm that the military is prepared and ready should order for a ground offensive into Gaza be given. Now, it does make sense that there would be more time given for diplomacy, because, as we know, Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, is being dispatched here by President Obama. She's broken off from that meeting in Asia, and she's coming here to the region.

She'll land here in Israel late tonight our time. Her first meeting will be with the prime minister of Israel, then she goes on to meet with the Palestinians on the west bank. Now, these are not Hamas Palestinians. This is the Palestinian authority that's recognized by the U.S. and Israel. And then, she will then go to Egypt and talk with Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsi.

And Egypt is taking the lead in this negotiation with Hamas. So, U.S. believes that Egypt is playing a very concrete and positive role. And so, it looks like all sides are prepared to give some more time for diplomacy to be worked out.


BALDWIN: Christiane Amanpour speaking with us a little earlier this hour.

Meantime, another story that's breaking overnight. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow in hopes of putting an end to all this violence along the Israeli border with Gaza. Secretary Clinton will then go on to meet with Egyptian and Palestinian leaders. Thirty-eight Palestinians were killed overnight by Israeli air strikes in Gaza.

And much more for you here on CNN's EARLY START. Fifty-four minutes past the hour on this Tuesday. Back in a moment.


BALDWIN: "Minding Your Business" this morning. Stocks, huge, huge day yesterday. Got some news on the holiday market front. Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: So, let's look at stocks yesterday. A big day. Dow is up more than 200 points. You have the NASDAQ up two percent. I mean, all around the best day in months for stocks yesterday. So, will that filter in today? Well, probably not. Yesterday was all optimism about the fiscal cliff that Congress was going to somehow grow a brain and get its act together and figure it out.

That's what Wall Street thought yesterday. Today, we're talking about Europe again because there was a downgrade of France by Moody's that lost it's AAA credit rating. And as you know, when France was put on negative outlook on the watch for being downgraded, there were other countries that had that same outlook, negative outlook, too, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.

And now, markets today are a little worried about what's happening in Europe. Not to say, though, that what you're feeling in your money in the housing market hasn't been good. We're going to get more housing data at 8:30 and I'm going to be looking very closely to see if yesterday's optimism in existing home sales is repeated again today.

Home prices are up 11 percent over the past year. Let me say that again. Home prices are up more than 11 percent. And that's for existing home sales. That's the bulk of the housing market. That's what, when you buy a house and you buy a house, and I buy a house, it's most likely an existing home. Those home prices are up. We're going to get more home data at 8:30 today to see if that's true.

BALDWIN: And you were saying more people are paying cash?


ROMANS: -- almost a third of these are cash. That's right.

BALDWIN: I have no idea.

ROMANS: I know.

BERMAN: Imagine being one of those people.

BALDWIN: Are you one of those people?


BERMAN: That is all for EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

BALDWIN: And I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks so much for being with us. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien begins right now.