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Bakeries Attacked in Syria; Afghan Cop Kills U.S. Contractor; Hagel Confirmation Could be Tough; U.S. Inches Toward Fiscal Cliff; Winter Weather for Christmas; Last Minute Shoppers Find Bargains; Armed Guards in Schools

Aired December 24, 2012 - 12:00   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Alina Cho. NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL with my friend Suzanne Malveaux starts right now.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Suzanne Malveaux. This is a Christmas Eve edition of CNN NEWSROOM. We know that for a lot of you, today is last minute shopping, preparing Christmas dinner or just taking the time to be with your families, reflect on the holiday. Well, while you're getting busy or ready for your celebrations, we're going to keep you updated on the news of the day and, of course, the holiday happening here and around the world.

Want to get right to it. First of all, some sad news. Two firefighters are dead, two others injured after responding to a fire in upstate New York. That happened early this morning. Not because of the fire they were trying to put out, but police in Webster, New York, say they were shot. Three homes burned. Police say for hours gunshots stopped the firefighters from putting out the fires. It forced SWAT teams, police SWAT teams to evacuate the homes in the area. And just in, police say the shooter, who killed the two firefighters, is also dead. They say he set a trap for those firefighters.

Well, the NRA is standing tough on its opposition to new gun laws in the aftermath of the killings in Newtown, Connecticut. The NRA's CEO went on "Meet the Press" to defend his call for armed guards in every American school. But here's what a couple of front pages said about Wayne LaPierre. One called him a "gun nut." Another headlined with LaPierre as the "craziest man on earth." LaPierre not backing down. Watch.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION: If it's crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our school to protect our children, then call me crazy. I'll tell you what the American people -- I think the American people think it's crazy not to do it.


MALVEAUX: There are several lawmakers who are promising to introduce new gun control legislation. And the president, he has formed a new team to try to come up with some ways to limit assault weapons. An Idaho senator is now apologizing after he was charged with driving under the influence. Police in Alexandria, Virginia, say they arrested Senator Michael Crapo early yesterday after he ran a red light. Well, police say Crapo failed several field sobriety tests. They say his blood alcohol level was .110, well above the legal limit. Now, Crapo was released on $1,000 bond. He is due in court January 4th.

Just check out the scene there. This is across the world. This is in India. Officials are trying to call for calm here. This is after a weekend of violent demonstrations over the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus. Police fired water cannons and tear gas to break up these crowds. This is all in New Delhi. Now, protesters, they want quick justice. Some want the death penalty for the six men arrested in that attack. Others want better police protection for Indians, especially women.

Now to a pair of startling and devastating attacks in Syria. It was just a couple of hours ago, nine people, six of them children, were killed. This was in a raid on a bakery. That is according to an opposition group. The attack comes a day after more than 100 folks died at another bakery. This is when planes dropped bombs as they were simply waiting in line for bread. Our Mohammed Jamjoom, he has the story. And we want to warn you that some of these pictures are graphic.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A voice filled with horror. A scene full of carnage. "A massacre in Hemphalia (ph)," screams the man. They targeted the bakery. A bakery where hungry civilians had been standing in line to get bread. One eyewitness reached via Skype described the grizzly aftermath.

HASSAN AL RAJB, ACTIVIST (through translator): From 200 meters away, I could see corpses as I walked towards the bakery. The people cannot be described. Bodies piled on top of each other. It was an impossible scene. There was no word to describe it.

JAMJOOM: Al Rajb, who says he was one of the first on the scene, filmed this video. The wounded are carried away as rebels and civilians dig up mangled corpses from the rubble. Shock and grief quickly turn to anger. "Where are you world?," asks this man pointing to the destruction. "Come see the bodies. They were waiting for bread." Activists tell CNN this town is Hama province is full of anti- regime sentiment.

AL RAJB: Halfia (ph) was liberated a week ago, but the regime surrounded it completely, cutting us off from the world. Nothing was allowed in and out. Even water and bread were cut off. Today we were able to reach an aid organization and we were able to obtain dough.

JAMJOOM: He says they were able to open one of the town's bakeries around 1:00 p.m., and that the rockets struck just hours later. As nearby hospitals quickly filled up, activists began pleading for help.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MALVEAUX: We are joined by Mohammed Jamjoom from Beirut.

Mohammed, this sounds -- it looks crazy. It just looks crazy to me. Do we know who's even responsible for this?

JAMJOOM: Well, Suzanne, it is absolutely horrific. And just so many grizzly details started emerging in the hours after the attack. Now, the residents in that town that we spoke with said that they believed they were targeted because that town had been liberated by the Free Syrian Army because there's a lot of anti-regime sentiment there. So they say they believe they were targeted deliberately by the Syrian regime.

Syria's government, however, today posted a statement on their Syrian news agency website in which they blamed this on the actions of terrorists. That's the terminology they use for rebel fighters, for opposition fighters in Syria. They say that that town was targeted by terrorists. That because of that, residents in that town called for the military, for the Syrian military to intervene to help them to try to bring safety and restore security in that area. But, again, the residents we speak with clearly blaming the regime.

And it's just one day later and we're hearing of an attack on another bakery. This time in Telvisa (ph), which is in Homs -- this is just in the last few hours. You mentioned it a few minutes ago. We heard at least 15 people killed, several of them children. Again, very gruesome video. You see the corpse of a woman being pulled from the rubble there. The rage of the residents there about this happening is just almost indescribable.


MALVEAUX: And, Mohammed, finally, is there any way of finding out -- I mean you've got these two very different stories. Any way of finding out whether it's an international -- through an international body or people on the ground who was responsible for bombing this bakery?

JAMJOOM: You know, it's two very district and different narratives that we're hearing so far. One from the government and one from the opposition. It's interesting that this is happening with a backdrop of more diplomacy happening. Lakhdar Brahimi is the joint U.N. Arab League envoy to Syria. He was in Damascus today. He met with the Syrian president. He said they're trying to forge some sort of path towards peace. But time and again we've see these efforts just be completely deadlocked and end in failure. No concrete steps have been taken that we've heard of since he was there.

This is not the first bakery that's been targeted. We've heard of several in the past few months. And the residents that we talk to fear that the conflict there, this unabating, unceasing conflict where over 40,000 people have been killed it nearly two years of fighting that is only going to go on and spiral more and more out of control.


MALVEAUX: All right, Mohammed Jamjoom, that's an absolutely tragic situation. As you had mentioned, 40,000 people killed in the 20 months since the civil war broke out in Syria. And that continues.

There's a new CNN poll out that shows 80 percent of Americans, of course, are concerned about the situation. But when it comes to American intervention, more than half say the U.S. and other countries should not send military planes and missiles to help the opposition fighters set up a safety zone.

In Kabul, earlier today, an Afghan police officer shot and killed an American contractor. This was inside police headquarters. Now, this attack comes just a day after five Afghan police, they were killed by their commander who police say was a Taliban infiltrator. More than 50 people have been killed in these so-called insider attacks in Afghanistan this year.

I want to bring in Barbara Starr from the Pentagon.

And, Barbara, this is one of the main concerns, as you know, of those -- the police, of the forces, the international forces inside of Afghanistan, that you've got these kind of rogue actors that infiltrate and are a part of killing what they -- these inside killings. The green on blue, the blue on blue. Tell us what happened.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's very little information available so far, Suzanne. As you said, someone in an Afghan police uniform. Perhaps what is so interesting about this tragic incident is it was a woman in an Afghan police uniform. Now, whether she was actually a member of the Afghan police or perhaps an infiltrator, stole the uniform somehow, I think still remains to be determined. All of these incidents are very closely investigated by NATO to try and determine what happened, how it all came to pass so they can try and prevent them in the future.

As you said, there have been about 50 of these so far this year. And certainly the Taliban feel they've achieved a propaganda victory with them. The U.S., the NATO alliance has been really pushing back against this problem, trying to do whatever they can to stop more of these from happening. Sad news today. It was a U.S. contractor who was killed.


MALVEAUX: And I want to switch gears here because I know we're also covering -- we're looking at the potential for someone to succeed the defense secretary. You've got former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel really being talked about as a possible replacement as defense secretary. But I understand there's a lot of complications here and even controversy. Can you tell us what's happening in terms of the background discussion of Chuck Hagel taking that job?

STARR: Well, you know, his name has been out there for a few weeks now as the sort of so-called front-runner. Maybe it's a bit of an administration trial balloon at this point. We really don't know. Officially the White House hasn't made a decision on who it wants to be the next secretary of defense, but they certainly have let Hagel's name be out there. That has given time for the opposition to form. Republicans, even Democrats on Capitol Hill, his former allies, coming out, being concerned about some of his positions that he took as a U.S. senator. Alleging that he was not strong enough on countering Iran, did not vote for Iran sanctions and especially critical of his stance on Israel. That he was perhaps not as supportive of Israel as he should have been.

Chuck Hagel is a pretty independent-minded guy. Everyone who knows him will tell you that. But they also say that he is a supporter of Israel and there's been a sort of second wave, if you will, of support emerging for him. I think the question now is, will the administration move and nominate him? Will they let this all sit out there during the holiday period and give the opposition perhaps more time to mount and have to go look for another candidate?


MALVEAUX: Yes, interesting. It's actually Republicans who are coming out against Chuck Hagel. A lot of criticism coming from those who you would think would be aligned with him, but he's really kind of split and become more of a moderate, if you will.

Thank you, Barbara. Appreciate it.

Both sides on the fiscal cliff debate finally agree on something. Unfortunately, they agree that going over the fiscal cliff is now a real possibility. You got the Democrats, the White House, Republicans, they all say it is possible they're not going to reach a deal to avoid the massive tax increases, the spending cuts that are going to take place in just eight days.

Brianna Keilar, she's in Honolulu. That is where the president is spending his Christmas holiday.

And, Brianna, I'm not going to tease you about Hawaii being a junket, because I know it's hard work. I've been there. I know you're actually doing something.


MALVEAUX: Yes, absolutely. Although I'm a little jealous of the water, the backdrop, the sands. But, never mind, I'm not going to hate here. Tell us, are there any conversations that are going on between the president, the Republicans, the Democrats, anybody to avoid the fiscal cliff?

KEILAR: Well, this is what may be alarming to learn, Suzanne. I mean, obviously, the White House is always in concert with Senate Democrats. There's always an open line of communication there. But there are really no substantive discussions going on between -- with the White House and Senate Democrats with Republicans, both in the House and the Senate. That may seem troubling at this point because, obviously, eyes are turning towards the Senate as it is going to reconvene on Thursday. And if this fiscal cliff is to be averted, it's going to be something that has to get through both the Senate and the House with some Republican support. So you're hearing pessimism now on both sides. Take a listen to a Democratic and a Republican senator and how they see the prospects of maybe going over the fiscal cliff.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I feel that it's more likely that we will go over the cliff than not. And that -- if we allow that to happen, it will be the most colossal consequential act of congressional irresponsibility in a long time, maybe ever in American history.

SEN. JOHN BARRASSO (R), WYOMING: When I listen to the president, I think the president is eager to go over the cliff for political purposes. I think he sees a political victory at the bottom of the cliff. He gets all this additional tax revenue for new programs, he gets to cut the military, which Democrats have been calling for, for years, and he gets to blame Republicans for it.


KEILAR: So all of this blame, Suzanne, that's obviously partly public posturing. But when you're hearing this pessimism about maybe going over the fiscal cliff, you're hearing that publicly and we're also hearing that privately from sources.

But again, the ball is now in the court of the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has to figure out a way to cobble together something that would get support from some Republicans in the Senate, and also from the House, in order to avert this fiscal cliff. The White House, right now, is still saying they want the threshold for those income tax rates to be at a quarter of a million dollars. You can see that may be really difficult to get some Republican support on that. So we'll see if perhaps that changes, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Brianna, do we expect that the president is going to come back early from his Hawaii vacation if anything happens on the Senate side? I mean clearly he could get things done from Hawaii as well, but it could be at least symbolically very important for him to return to Washington.

KEILAR: Definitely. We expect that he will be heading back to Washington, D.C. He was supposed to be here through the new year. I will tell you nothing is official on the schedule that he is definitely going back to D.C., but the sense you're getting right now from the White House is that it's more an issue of when and not if. If there is a bill that goes through the Senate, the president will have to be there in order to perhaps twist some arms. And certainly the optics are also important. If we were to go over the fiscal cliff, Suzanne, you've covered the White House, you know that the president wouldn't be in Hawaii while that happens.

MALVEAUX: But hopefully, Brianna, you'd be able to stay in Hawaii, but you might have to go back with him. We'll see. KEILAR: I don't think so. I think I would be coming back.

MALVEAUX: That's a shame. All right, Brianna. Good to see you. We'll see how it goes.

It's going to be a white Christmas for some; in some places it might be a problem. We're going to check the holiday forecast up next.


MALVEAUX: It's going to be a white and in some places pretty wild Christmas. Want you to take a look.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): This is Stevens Pass, Washington. A stretch of Highway 2 was impassable because of heavy snow and wind. Some of the worst conditions in 30 years, causing major detours for holiday travelers.

Take a look at this. This is San Francisco. Rough surf and wind- driven rain making for some lousy Christmas Eve weather thanks to a second storm system that is hitting northern California, causing major flight delays as well.


MALVEAUX: Millions, of course, are traveling today. How is the weather going to impact your travel? Want to bring in Alexandra Steele in the Weather Center.

Alexandra, I'm happy to say I'm here in D.C. I made it without any holiday mess, but the mess is on its way, it's coming (inaudible)?


ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is coming and it's coming right just to the west of you guys.

So, hi everyone. Good morning. Well, you know, what we're seeing is just an incredible storm developing. This is a look at the current radar. This is just the opening band. The main act is to the west.

So look at this. This is where we're seeing delays in Atlanta's airport and all the way up through the mid-Atlantic, Suzanne just getting there in time. You can see all this wet weather headed your way, and all the snow already on the backside. But, again, that's not the big storm. That's not our big Christmas storm. Here it is. It is farther to the west.

All right. So we're going to put this in motion and show you where it is and where it's going and who will be impacted with really some really interesting and quite extreme weather.

All right. Today it's the Wasatch through the Colorado Rockies. Every ski resort going to get some banner snow. All right. As we look towards it, we're going to see Christmas and look at this. A bull's eye. This is kind of a snow sweet spot; this is Oklahoma City, 5 to 8 inches of snow. That is extremely rare. In the last 122 years in Oklahoma City they've only had snow on Christmas six times, and that was about an inch. So this really will be dramatic.

Here in the southeast something really quite dramatic of a different sort, severe weather. We could see a tornado outbreak tomorrow in the Deep South all the way from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia. So certainly that is rare, too, in the southeast in Florida and Georgia, but it really does look likely.

And then the day after Christmas on Wednesday it all moves to the northeast, and then moves into New England for the day on Thursday.

So, Suzanne, not a lot of people will be spared. We're going to see some type of weather across the country, and all of it kind of rare and very significant.

MALVEAUX: Yes, it looks like it's going to be a wild weather Christmas. Alexandra, thank you. I guess we should hunker down. Appreciate it.

STEELE: Yes, get cozy and stay in.

MALVEAUX: That's nice. Thank you. Have a good holiday.

Weather could be an issue for millions as you head out for your last- minimum shopping, right? According to a poll by Consumer Reports, as many as 17 million of us going to crowd into the malls today and many just might find some really good bargains. I guess procrastination might work to your advantage at some point.

Alison Kosik joining us from New York.

And, hey, Alison, I was out shopping last night. I did all of my shopping last minute. I think it works. I mean, I found some pretty good deals.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You always procrastinate. Every year we seem to have the same conversation, Suzanne, you know --


MALVEAUX: That is so true.

KOSIK: If you're a bargain hunter, this really could be the time because, you know, retailers are really pushing all that stuff off their shelves. They want it off their shelves by January, especially toys. I remember reporting earlier this month that toys are among the worst thing that you can buy on Black Friday because you wind up getting a better price later in the season.

Well, now we are later in the season. So if you're looking for toys, you'll probably find some bargains. Same with clothing, but, you know, the people hitting the stores today, believe it or not, they're not necessarily bargain hunting. They're really procrastinators like you, Suzanne.

And well over half of the shoppers Consumer Reports surveyed said, you know what? We'll just grab a gift card as a last-minute gift. Wine and liquor are also popular last-minute choices; 27 percent say they'll give out cash, and 4 percent say an IOU will have to be given this year, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: I'm not that bad giving out IOUs, but pretty close.


MALVEAUX: Alexandra was saying the weather might actually impact how folks are moving around. Is it going to have an effect on the deliveries as well?

KOSIK: It's going to have a little impact. So it's not a huge concern, but there may be some delays for packages making it in time for Christmas. FedEx issued a service advisory over the weekend saying it expects some delivery issues in seven states, including Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska. But also FedEx is saying it's got contingency plans in place.

No service advisories, though, on UPS or Postal Service websites. Now keep in mind, though, a big part of this is that shippers have had a huge increase in volume this holiday season, and that's mostly because of a huge surge in online shopping.

So, you know, all of these online sites are reporting some of their biggest single days ever, and so that means the shipping places are also feeling the effects. UPS says it made 28 million deliveries last Thursday. FedEx moved 19 million packages on its busiest day. So it's a busy time if you're in the shipping business, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Alison, have a great holiday.

KOSIK: You, too.

MALVEAUX: So the raging debate is should we put armed guards in every American school? Well, in some countries it happens already. We're going to go live to Israel to see how they are keeping their kids safe in school.


MALVEAUX: It got little attention during the 2012 campaign, but after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, the gun control debate now front and center again.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Images like these have struck at the heart of many Americans. Now lawmakers are promising new regulations, including laws to ban assault weapons. But the National Rifle Association is doubling down on its stance against any new regulations. Listen.


DAVID KEENE, NRA PRESIDENT: If we're willing to debate the whole question of these semi-automatic so-called assault weapons, we debated it before. They've been -- we had an assault weapons -- so-called assault weapons ban for 10 years.

We had what Senator Feinstein is suggesting. It was allowed to expire. The FBI, the Justice Department and others have studied and said it made no difference.

WAYNE LAPIERRE, CEO, NRA: If it's crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.


MALVEAUX: While the thought of having an armed guard in every school may sound foreign, it is actually normal in some countries.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): One of those places is Israel, which has strict gun laws. Our Sara Sidner, she's joining us from Jerusalem.

And, Sara, talk a little bit about what this is about here. Israel is not necessarily arming the teachers, but there is an armed guard -- guards in these schools. How does it work?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, generally the armed guards are outside of schools trying to protect the schools, trying to make sure that no one gets in and out that shouldn't be in the schools or that may pose a danger.

We should talk about some of the misinformation, because I know there was a U.S. lawmaker who had said that Israel arms its teachers, and that simply is not true.

In fact, the gun laws here are much stricter than the United States. We need to keep in mind that here it is not a right to own a gun. That's not written into the constitution. It's a privilege to own a gun.

And I want to give you some idea about numbers and how all of that looks in comparison with the U.S. You have, what, somewhere of more than 300 million people in the U.S., right, and about 300 million guns.

In Israel you have somewhere around 8 million; it's getting up to 8 million; 170,000 private individuals are allowed to carry guns. They have to take a test. They have to get a note from a doctor saying that they're both psychologically and physically fit. They have to be trained.

And no one, no private citizen can get an assault rifle. So there's a combination of things that people say work here, including strict gun laws and security that's tighter than many places in the world. You have to keep in mind this is a place that has dealt with terrorist attacks for many, many years now.

MALVEAUX: Sure. One of the things, Sara, that struck me when I was in Jerusalem and I think it strikes a lot of people is that you have got uniformed soldiers essentially walking the streets with weapons in their hands. And it really is kind of commonplace. How does that make people feel in Israel? Do they feel safer when you have so many guns just in open, plain sight?

SIDNER: Yes, I think there's less of a fascination with guns, if you will, because people do see them in the streets. They see the soldiers; they take them home. All of soldiers take their guns home. They see groups of soldiers who are being trained in different places, even when times are very, very calm.

And so it isn't necessarily what people think, because they come here and they think, wow, Israel has a huge gun culture. In fact, it seems that the opposite is indeed true.

However, when it comes to the military, you know, you also have to remember that generally everyone goes to the military; men and women are expected to serve, men three years, women two years. They are trained. They are physically checked, mentally checked. So there are a lot of checks in place, checks and balances here, that differ from the United States, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: All right. Very interesting, Sara. Thank you. Really appreciate it.

It's going to be kind of a blue Christmas across much of Europe. We are talking about the government's cutback on spending. But instead of helping, we're going to tell you how it actually spread the recession there.