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Bomb on Bus Kills 10 in Israel; Security Director of Benghazi Assassinated; Iowa Governor Calls Straw Poll a Relic

Aired November 21, 2012 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It is Wednesday, November 21st, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

And welcome back, everybody. We start with breaking news this morning in Libya first where the temporary security director of Benghazi is now reported assassinated. Investigators there say three gunmen drove up in a civilian vehicle outside the home of Col. Farage Al Dursi (ph), shot him several times.

Al Dursi died on the way to the hospital. The gunmen escaped. We're going to bring you more information on this story as we get it.

We're also following breaking news just awhile ago, more carnage in the battle between Israel and Gaza. A bomb exploded on a bus in Tel Aviv, injured at least 10 people, happened right in front of Israel's national defense headquarters. A spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says this is a terrorist act. This as 100 Israeli air strikes have killed more than 27 Palestinians, the death toll in eight days there up to 137.

The Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is finishing up those direct talks this morning with the Palestinian authority president Mahmoud Abbas. That's happening in Ramallah on the West Bank, and Netanyahu, the prime minister, in Jerusalem, another conversation she's having. Now she goes to Cairo where she's meeting with the Egyptian President Morsi. Mrs. Clinton making it clear that she is not interested in a quick fix in Gaza.


HILLARY CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The goal must be a durable outcome that promotes regional stability, and advances the security and legitimate aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians alike.


O'BRIEN: CNN reporters flanking the Middle East today to bring you the most comprehensive coverage of the crisis in Gaza and in Jerusalem and in Israel. Ben Wedeman is in Gaza City for us. Frederik Pleitgen is in Ashkelon city. Reza Sayah is in Cairo. We begin with Sara Sidner. She is at the scene of that bus explosion that happened just a little while ago in Tel Aviv. Sara first of all, describe for me how that looks right now. SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What has happened right now is the cleanup is under way. There is still tape up around the scene. We're very close to the defense department building, and the military headquarters, this is a bus that the number 61 bus, we know that it exploded, glass all around the bus was blown out. However the blast was not strong enough to knock out the ability for the bus to operate. And so we saw literally the bus -- someone in the bus drive the bus away just about 15, 20 minutes ago. We know that there are several people injured. They were taken to a hospital. That is very, very nearby where this bus exploded.

Right now, police are telling us that they are still looking for potential suspects. We see a helicopter in the sky. There's been a lot of confusion, a lot of rumors, as to who may have done this, even rumors about an arrest. There was apparently an arrest made but they're not saying whether that arrest has anything to do with this particular incident.

But police said we did not have any indication that there was going to happen in Tel Aviv. They're always on alert for looking for potential suspects. So far the city after the blast has been quiet. The police are combing the area, looking for who might be responsible. Now, as far as whether or not this was a suicide bomber, or a package left, we have confirmed that they do believe it was a package, some sort of a device or package left on the bus. They just don't know how it got on, if someone got on the bus and left it or whether it was sitting there for some time. They're still trying to find out those details. There are people hurt, three of them who are hurt moderately. We talked to a witness on the scene who said that there are people screaming and crying, and there was a couple of women that had blood all over them.

O'BRIEN: Sara, a couple of things. I'm seeing reports that two people who were talking on Israeli radio said that they witnessed the attack and they saw a man throw a bag onto the bus, and then run. Are you able to confirm that at this time from the folks that you're talking to?

SIDNER: No. The police are saying look they're still looking into it. They really don't know if it was thrown onto the bus or whether it was sitting on the bus already. They are trying to figure out just exactly how this happened, and exactly who is behind this.

In talking to people here in Tel Aviv who have unfortunately been through these blasts before, especially in the '90s when some of these blasts went off quite often in places like cafes and buses, this blast was not as strong as the ones that were seen back then. This looked like a smaller blast, which did not completely destroy the bus, for example. It did not kill people immediately, for example. This is a smaller kind of a blast.

So they're really trying to figure out who might be behind this, if it has anything to do with the conflict going on right now between Hamas and some of the militants in Gaza and Israel. But the investigation is under way and they're watching right now the police tape still very tightly wound around the scene. And the sweepers are actually out trying to get rid of all the glass that was blasted out of this bus.

O'BRIEN: We know Hamas has praised the attack but is not at this point claiming responsibility for this attack. Sara Sidner in Tel Aviv, right where that bus explosion has taken place. Appreciate it.

Let's get right to the Gaza Israel border. Fred Pleitgen is reporting for us live from Ashkelon in Israel. What's the latest where you are?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Soledad. What's going on here is that throughout the course of the day we've had a lot of rocket attacks going on here in the Ashkelon area. There were six instances where our crew had to go into a hardened shelter because there were rockets flying overhead. I can show you right behind me, there's some rockets right here that have been raining down on the Ashkelon area in the past couple of days. Most of these are Qasam rockets collected by explosive ordnance disposal crews which are doing their work 24 hours a day.

Needless to say that, because all this is going on in Ashkelon, a lot of the people we're talking to are not really thrilled about the prospect of this conflict coming to an end very soon. We asked them about what they would think about a possible cease-fire. They say at this point they don't believe that their military has gotten the job done yet they were sent out to do. They believe if the military stops now they might have to deal with something like this again maybe in the next couple of months, maybe in the next couple of years. But certainly they say they don't want to continue living in a situation where rockets are raining down on their heads. It doesn't just happen during the conflict. It happens in the best of times, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Frederick Pleitgen, thank you.

Other stories making news, Brooke Baldwin is in for John Berman. That's going to happen in just a few moments. First we want to recap our breaking news stories. First out of Libya we know from the state news agency there that the gunman, an unknown, unidentified at this point gunman has assassinated Colonel Faraj al Dursi, the temporary security director of Benghazi. That happened on Tuesday night according to security officials there shot dead by three unidentified gunman who were in a civilian car. He was outside of his home when he was assassinated there.

And then of course we're continuing to follow this bus explosion story happening in Tel Aviv. The bus exploded around noon, Israel time, of course, as it passed by the army headquarters there, as we mentioned Hamas is praising the attack has not yet claimed responsibility not claiming responsibility at least at this point. And there have been some reports from a couple of eyewitnesses we heard on Israeli radio who said they saw somebody throw a bag onto that bus but as Sara Sidner reported for us she said police have not confirmed that yet exactly what kind of an explosive device was used and how exactly it made its way on the bus. We're continuing to monitor those breaking news stories for you.

I want to get to some of the other stories that are making news. Hi, Brooke. BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Soledad, good morning.

Let's talk about what's happening here at home. This is the day to get away. Millions of Americans are hitting the road, the rails, packing in airports en route to your Thanksgiving destination. Here's what we're hearing from AAA here. They estimate more than 43 million people will be traveling at least 50 miles or more this long holiday weekend. So let's check in at one of those airports. Ted Rowlands is live at busy, busy Chicago O'Hare. How busy is it?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Brooke. Not too bad so far. There aren't a lot of early morning flights here. We have seen some departures already. You can see it out in the distance here. It was white knuckling driving here this morning to the airport. The whole Midwest is really covered with fog. That is possibly going to be a major problem today. What looked like a great weather day may be hampered by this fog. I was just talking to a pilot. He says the real issue isn't those initial flights because the planes were all here overnight. They're able to take off. It's going to be coming up in the next few hours, when the sun rises, visibility will drop because of this fog.

And it's not just Chicago. It's Milwaukee, St. Louis, and other Midwestern cities, what they expect is there will be some delays and of course, Chicago is a major hub, specifically O'Hare, and the delays here happen it will have a ripple effect across the country. As they say every time, every day, this is -- this time of year, bring your patience with you to the airport no matter where you are because there could be some delays. But right now so far so good in Chicago.

BALDWIN: It is so calm and quiet there. What a rarity so far. Ted Rowlands, thank you for us this morning in Chicago.

Also this morning, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spelling out the future against Al Qaeda, while speaking about the September 11th attacks at a Washington-based think tank. He praised what's being done but he says there's still a lot of work left to do.


LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We know we're going to be smaller. We're going to be leaner. It's a reality of coming out of these wars. But we have to be agile. We have to be deployable. We have to be flexible. And we have to be on the cutting edge of technology.


BALDWIN: Panetta also talked about investing in cyberspace, unmanned systems for the future. Also, former boxing champ Hector "Macho" Camacho is recovering this morning, after being shot in his face in his native Puerto Rico. Police say Camacho and another man were just sitting in a car when someone opened fire. The second man was killed. The bullet caused damage to two vertebrae in Camacho's neck. He is in serious condition but expected to survive.

A near-riot caught on camera at a city council meeting in Newark, New Jersey last night. Take a look.




BALDWIN: Listen to this. People there storming the stage after Mayor Corey Booker cast the deciding vote to fill a vacant council seat. Police had to use pepper spray to sort of palm the crowd. Police arrested at least one man. That's it so far.

O'BRIEN: That doesn't even compare to some of the city council --

BALDWIN: That was nothing?

O'BRIEN: Remember the ones we've seen, sometimes I think they come to us from South Korea, where you see people throwing chairs. Parliamentary fights we've seen.

BALDWIN: You're saying that was nothing?

O'BRIEN: That was like, come on man. I thought the run-up we're going to see real craziness.

Christine Romans has a look at the business report for us.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, you guys. Stock futures are trading flat right now. Fighting in the Middle East helping to fuel volatility in stocks and also oil markets. Of course, the fear is, the fear is if this were to expand in the region that could disrupt oil supplies. It's really a psychological factor. The price for light, sweet crude up this morning.

The Hostess story, it's looking more like Hostess will shut down after mediation talks with union workers failed yesterday. The bankruptcy court hearing scheduled for later today that could determine the future of this company. You know at risk are more than 18,000 jobs. The company then could sell its iconic brand and its recipes to pay off creditors. Wonder Bread, Ho-Hoes, Ding Dongs, and Twinkies are all hostess brands. It would close 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, 5500 delivery routes, and 570 bakery stores throughout the U.S. this is a story, you know, people make light of it, you're going to get your Twinkies. This is a story about people and their jobs, 18,000 people. For some of those towns where the hostess factory for the Wonder Bread factory and bakery are really an important part of the economy. So we wish everybody the best.

O'BRIEN: Hopeful they'll be able -- the people want their jobs. This looks like the people who own the company really wanted to continue to make this iconic brand.

ROMANS: If investors could buy it maybe they could keep some of those factories running. But some of those factories quite frankly are pretty old and inefficient. So we'll see.

O'BRIEN: Christine, thank you for the update.

Still ahead we continue to follow the breaking news out of Tel Aviv the bomb blast on that bus this morning may ruin any chances for a de- escalation which is what they've been talking about. We're going to be chatting with the Ambassador Stuart Holliday ahead.

Then the Republican tradition the Iowa straw poll, why is the state's governor saying, eh, kind of useless. We'll talk about that straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. We're following breaking news out of Israel this morning. A bomb explosion on a bus in Tel Aviv has injured at least 10 people. The bus was passing army headquarters. Thought Hamas is not claiming responsibility at this point, has praised the attack, though. This as secretary of state Hillary Clinton is in the region. She's been attempting to broker some peace, or at least de-escalation.

Joining us this morning is Stuart Holliday, the president and CEO of the Meridian International Center, which is a public diplomacy organization that works with the State Department. He is formerly the U.S. Ambassador for special political affairs to the United Nations. It's nice to have you with us, sir.


O'BRIEN: So yesterday we were reporting at this hour that there were reports that the aggression would stop within hours. Then there reports that there would be a 24-hour calm period that came from a senior Hamas official. Then we know that Hillary Clinton was in the region, going from meeting to meeting with Netanyahu, and heading eventually to meet with Mohamed Morsi. Now we have this violence with a bus. Has the window of opportunity, which it seemed like the secretary was trying to exploit, or leverage, has that closed, do you think, with this explosion?

HOLLIDAY: First of all, this was a reprehensible terrorist attack. But I don't think it closes the window. You've got these very serious talks ongoing about a long-term solution to things like, you know, border security, the rocket attacks, and a lot of international pressure brought to bear by both Arab countries, the United States, and the U.N. So, no, I think that this represents an escalation, but I don't think it closes the window to getting some sort of agreement.

The real issue will be what happens the day after a cease-fire, whether it can be enforced. And I think we're continually reminded about how hard it is to actually keep these various more radical factions from destabilizing the process.

O'BRIEN: So if you're calling it an escalation and we know Hillary Clinton, one of the words that she keeps reiterating is the word de- escalation, which is pretty significant. She's not calling for a ceasefire, not calling for people to put their weapons down, she's saying "de-escalation." Here's what she said after her first meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu.


CLINTON: President Obama asked me to come to Israel with a very clear message. America's commitment to Israel's security is rock solid, and unwavering. That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza.


O'BRIEN: So in your estimation, what is specifically de-escalation?

HOLLIDAY: Well, de-escalation is creating time and space, again, to get the civilian populations on both sides to feel, again, some sort of confidence that there could be a secure environment, in the short term, while these political talks go on.

O'BRIEN: No rockets, they have to stop firing rockets, no bombs on buses?

HOLLIDAY: Absolutely. And of course, originally, before this bomb on the bus, which, again, has been, you know, tactic that's been used in the past but hasn't really been seen for a while, we were really talking about these rocket attacks and the escalation of more sophisticated rockets, which Israel views as a real threat to the civilian population.

O'BRIEN: So then, how do you get to the rocket stopping and the bombs stopping when you, you hear from, for example, a Hamas spokesperson who was talking to Wolf Blitzer, here's what he told Wolf. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have this, it can happen, although it is bombing at this time exactly. And let me say we are also for diplomatic to make an end for this crisis but we are also prepared to do what we are supposed to do in order to protect our people and the future of --


O'BRIEN: So he's saying listen we're open to anything but on the other hand, we're going to we're going to strike if we feel like we need to strike which is not exactly a first step toward anybody on either side putting down their weapons. We've heard similar things on the Israeli side as you know. Who stops firing first?

HOLLIDAY: Well, I mean the Israelis are not going to stop defending their civilian population. The issue would be whether the, the Arabs and President Morsi in Egypt can appoint some sort of horizon for the people of Gaza that would allow them to kind of climb down. This is about humanitarian quarters. The people -- government and Hamas government in Gaza is feeling a little bit more emboldened because of these sort of these visits by these high level delegations from places like Qatar and turkey and of course Egypt. So this is about pointing the queue to a future where there's a political process in place. And I think Secretary Clinton's going to be looking very hard at how do you talk about what happens after this? Because the only way people are going to stop, again, if they can stop, there are a lot of people in Gaza with rockets and there's going to have to be a real concerted effort to, you know, weed those out, but also to create a political horizon.

O'BRIEN: Ambassador Stuart Holliday joining us this morning. Thank you, sir, appreciate your time.

HOLLIDAY: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Ahead on STARTING POINT., this morning, it's considered a key indicator for the Republican Party, but Iowa's governor think it's kind of a relic. Is the state's straw poll even relevant? We'll take a look at that straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Our team this morning, we start with Will Cain, columnist for, CNN contributor, Dana Bash is with us, CNN senior congressional correspondent. Richard socarides is former senior adviser to President Clinton, writer for Nice to have you all with us. Brooke Baldwin sticks around. She's helping us with the news this morning. Christine Romans helping us with business.

Let's talk about the Iowa straw poll. Heated debate among Republicans, and actually not just Republicans in Iowa, but really everybody. Terry Branstad, governor there, says the end may be near for the straw poll. He thinks it should be near for the straw poll. The poll which happens in late August is an early test of viability for presidential campaigns. Branstad says the poll discourages top tier candidates from attending, threatens their participation in the Iowa caucuses.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Let's illustrate exactly what you're talking about, right? Tim Pawlenty performed very poorly in the Iowa straw poll, dropped out and many said months later might have been a real challenger to Mitt Romney. And who won the Iowa straw poll?

O'BRIEN: Michele Bachmann won.


O'BRIEN: She's an Iowa native though so she had an edge this time around.

RICHARD SOCARIDES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The Iowa straw poll is great.


SOCARIDES: I work for senator Tom Harkin from Iowa and Democrats in Iowa love the straw poll. It's a good burst of energy in Iowa. Iowa is a great political town.

O'BRIEN: Give me a good reason.

SOCARIDES: It gives everybody an early look at what's out there and gives us something to talk about. It gives political reporters something to report on.

O'BRIEN: Every single --

SOCARIDES: It's a very positive thing.

BASH: Initially, of course, it was all about the idea of the straw poll was it was an early indicator of how much organizational strength you have, right? But I do feel like today, in today's day and age, not so much. It really --

O'BRIEN: Why is it no longer an indicator?

BASH: Look at Michele Bachmann, a perfect example. She did very well at the beginning and she got people in and then she dropped out the day after the Iowa caucuses because she simply couldn't hack it. I mean she couldn't even get people to the caucuses. So I think that that's -- I think it's so early in the process that it's more of a popularity contest/beauty contest than an actual organizational contest.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question, I would imagine, you know, why is Branstad sort of saying this. I have to imagine the straw poll brings money, brings reporters, brings hotel rooms that are booked and restaurants that are filled with people and TV coverage all to the state. Why, why do you think, what would be his motivation? Will Cain?

CAIN: You've got me. I don't know. You're absolutely right. I mean, the rest of the nation should be, you know, up in arms that Iowa had so much power in our political process.

SOCARIDES: They do this, though, because Iowa is a microcosm of the country, right? It's not exactly representative of the country, and as the country changes it's probably a little bit less representative. But historically it's been a microcosm of the country, and it's been a good indicator of what people across the country --


BASH: You think one thing about the governor, he's been governor twice. He is really a veteran. He was governor once and now he's the governor again so he's really a veteran. And the big buzz in Iowa is Marco Rubio coming a couple days ago. Coincidence?

O'BRIEN: Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, we're following some breaking news out of Israel, a bomb explosion on a bus that's hurt at least 10 people. What can be done to stop the bloodshed in Gaza on the ground? We've got that report live next.