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CNN NEWSROOM

Blagojevich Names Obama's Senate Replacement; Hundreds Dead in Israel/Hamas Battles

Aired December 30, 2008 - 15:00   ET

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


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: But, on the other side of things, you know, if Roland Burris -- everybody that seems to know him, this former Illinois attorney general, he seems to have a great reputation, a great background. He's made huge inroads as an African-American leader.
It is sort of a shame if indeed he remains completely unscathed in all of this, that he is kind of being brought through the wringer here for Blagojevich to play these political games.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Yes.

The point we're -- here is what we're going to do. We're going to be checking into Burris, obviously, because it is a little early in the game. But you make a remarkably important point. And that is that the credibility of this governor is now shared by Mr. Burris.

Let's see. We have got some movement going on there. Let's see if in fact this is the two-minute warning. It is not him. I think we did receive the two-minute warning just a little while ago.

I want to bring somebody in, Kyra. Let me bring in -- I understand Kendall Coffey is ready to go.

Kendall, if you are a prosecutor, you are a prosecutor, and you basically come out saying someone has done what he alleges this governor has done, how would you react if the guy calls a news conference to do exactly what you said you told him not to do.

Hold on. He's coming now. We will wait for your answer on the other side. Here is Rod Blagojevich.

GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you very much.

Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. Happy new year. Feliz navidad y prospero ano nuevo.

The people of Illinois are entitled to have two United States senators represent them in Washington, D.C.

As governor, I am required to make this appointment. If I don't make this appointment, then the people of Illinois will be deprived of their appropriate voice and vote in the United States Senate.

Therefore, I am here to announce my intention to appoint an individual who has unquestioned integrity, extensive experience, and is a wise and distinguished senior statesman of Illinois. This man actually once was an opponent of mine for governor.

(LAUGHTER)

So I'm here today to announce that I am appointing Roland Burris as the next United States senator from the Illinois.

Roland Burris is no stranger to the people of our state. Between 1979 and 1992 he served the people of Illinois as the state's comptroller and the state's attorney general. He has had a long and distinguished career serving the people of Illinois. He will be a great United States senator.

And now I would like to ask everyone to do one last thing. Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man.

Ladies and gentlemen, Roland Burris.

ROLAND BURRIS, FORMER ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL: I will have a brief formal statement, and I will respond to a few questions.

Thank you, Governor.

As a nation, we face a convergence of unparalleled crises. Our nation is locked in an economic crisis not felt since the Great Depression three-quarters of a century ago.

BURRIS: Our nation stared down the triple-barreled threat of war in the Middle East, festering conflict in Iraq, and continued threats of terrorist breeding grounds in Afghanistan.

As the greatest nation in the history of the world, the United States is confronted with a crisis of faith in our own leadership capability and in our ability to bring understanding to nations who look to us for peace and prosperity.

And the people of our great nation have told us, in no uncertain terms, that we are at a crossroads of confidence in our ability to return the ideals that make the United States the greatest nation in the world.

Faced with these challenges, and challenged with these crises, it is incomprehensible that the people of the great state of Illinois will enter the 111th Congress short-handed.

To fight a choking recession and return our economy to a level of vitality and strength, we need leadership in Washington. Illinois is blessed to have an intelligent and dedicated congressional caucus led by our senior United States senator Dick Durbin.

Moreover, President-elect Barack Obama has (INAUDIBLE) and ready to hit the ground running on January 20th. If ever there is a man with the talent to succeed against the long odds, it is he.

I welcome the challenges that await us in the 111th Congress, I have faith in the record that I have forged over the past four decades, and I am proud of my accomplishments as a public servant.

I accept this appointment to fill the unexpired term of President-elect Barack Obama. I ask the people of Illinois to place the same faith and trust in me that they have in the past when they elected me three times as their state controller, and one term as their attorney general.

I am humbled to have the opportunity, and promise the citizens that I will dedicate my utmost effort as their United States senator, and I will uphold the integrity of the office and ask for their continued confidence in me.

Thank you all very much, and I will respond to a few questions.

QUESTION: Why do you believe -- why do you believe that your appointment will not be tainted by the prevalent charges that are now hanging over the governor?

BURRIS: This is an appointment done by the governor of the state. And based on that, I have no relationship with that situation. I'm accepting an appointment by the governor to go to the United States Senate.

That's it.

QUESTION: The House -- the Senate Democratic leadership (INAUDIBLE) they won't (INAUDIBLE) -- won't certify the appointment. Why do you think they'll ever (INAUDIBLE)?

BURRIS: That's the process that we must look forward to, and this is one process, I'm honored, that I have been appointed. And we will deal with the next step in the process.

QUESTION: How long have you been in discussions about this Senate seat? Was it before or after the charges came down?

BURRIS: Well, I had talked with the governor on Sunday night, when he asked if he were to appoint me, would I accept, and my answer was yes.

QUESTION: Mr. Burris, up until now, virtually every elected official in the state of Illinois has weighed in on the problems of the last few weeks. Do you believe Governor Blagojevich should continue in office, or would you feel that he should resign?

BURRIS: I have no comment on what the governor's circumstance is. And as a former attorney general of this state, I know and I think most of you all know, that in this legal process, you're innocent until you're proven guilty.

QUESTION: Mr. Burris, your law firm, your lobbying firm, you, yourself, personally have contributed well over, I believe, it's $14,000 to Governor Blagojevich.

BURRIS: Is it that much?

QUESTION: Yes.

BURRIS: Wow, that's a lot of money.

QUESTION: Did that play a role in your appointment? And should we -- should we suspect that it might?

BURRIS: How much did you say -- $14,000?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

BURRIS: Well, I have got to check my records because I didn't think it was that much. We didn't have that much money to give to the governor.

QUESTION: How much have you received in business from the state of Illinois -- your law firm, your businesses, your colleagues, your affiliates in the last six years? And (INAUDIBLE) state of Illinois or any (OFF-MIKE) business that you received (OFF-MIKE)

BURRIS: Well, sure. We had a -- that is the consulting firm had a small contract. We had a contract with IDOT where we certified minority businesses, and we did a good job. And I think the law firm, of which I'm of counsel -- that was my son's law firm -- and we received some bond business and we were co-bond counsel as a minority firm, and they did a tremendous job.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Give us a number.

BURRIS: I don't have the numbers. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Tell us why you guess why he did certify your appointment, and why you think the Senate will do what they said they won't do?

BURRIS: Well...

BLAGOJEVICH: You want to do it?

BURRIS: No, I mean. Look...

BLAGOJEVICH: You're the senator.

QUESTION: Governor? To the governor, please.

BURRIS: Oh, this is for the governor. You want to answer that?

BLAGOJEVICH: You know, let me say a couple things.

I have enjoyed the limelight I have had over the last couple of weeks. I think it's been -- I don't want to hog the limelight. This is Roland Burris' day. So I don't think it's appropriate for me to really get involved in answering any questions.

Let me say again that the law requires that the governor make an appointment of a United States senator in the absence of any other law that would have given the people of Illinois a chance to be able to elect the successor to the United States Senate.

And when the legislature didn't act on this legislation they said they were considering, which I supported, which would have given the people the right to be able to elect the next senator, failing that, then it's the governor's responsibility to fill the vacancy.

And to not fill the vacancy would be to deprive the people of Illinois of two United States senators, to deprive the people of Illinois of their appropriate voice and votes in the United States Senate.

And with regard to my duty and responsibility as governor to follow the law, I would imagine that same responsibility and that same duty is one that trickles down to the other officeholders as well.

(CROSSTALK)

BURRIS: Congressman Rush. We got Congressman Bobby Rush here.

Congressman...

(CROSSTALK)

BURRIS: How you doing, Congressman? All righty.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: What are you prepared to do if the U.S. Senate refuses to seat your appointment? What are you prepared to do in that case?

BURRIS: We'll have to take that under advisement. I'm pretty sure the legal team will look at that.

QUESTION: Do you want to run again?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Will you run again if you get the seat?

BURRIS: Well, we'll have to determine that when we get to that point.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... address Mary's question? If they do not seat...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... if the secretary of state of refuses to certify the appointment of Mr. Burris, will you challenge that in court? What action would you take? Governor?

BLAGOJEVICH: Well, let me...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BLAGOJEVICH: Let me -- I'm absolutely confident and certain that the United States Senate is going to seat a man of Roland Burris's unquestioned integrity, extensive experience, and his long history of public service.

This is about Roland Burris as a United States senator, not about the governor who makes the appointment.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Governor, because of the criminal charges against you...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman Rush is coming through.

QUESTION: Governor, because of the criminal charges against you, they are not going to seat anybody you appoint. Why are you still making the appointment?

Governor? Governor, can you hear me?

BLAGOJEVICH: Bobby, do you want to say something?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bobby, no, no, just come on up to the...

QUESTION: Governor, your lawyer said, two weeks ago, you weren't going to make an appointment.

QUESTION: Why (INAUDIBLE) make the appointment now?

BLAGOJEVICH: Bobby, do you want to say something?

REP. BOBBY L. RUSH (D), ILLINOIS: Yes, I will say something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman Rush?

RUSH: Good afternoon. And let me, first of all, thank God for this decision by Governor Blagojevich. This is a good decision. Roland Burris is worthy. He has not, in 40 years of public service, had one iota of taint on his record as a public servant.

He's an esteemed member of this state and of this community. I -- my prayers have been answered because I prayed fervently that the governor would continue the legacy established by President-elect Obama and that the governor would appoint an African-American to complete the term of President Obama.

Let me just remind you that there presently is no African- American in the U.S. Senate. Let me remind you that the state of Illinois and the people in the state of Illinois and their collective wisdom, have sent two African-Americans to the U.S. Senate. That makes a difference. This is just not a state of Illinois matter, although it's (INAUDIBLE) to appoint and (INAUDIBLE) -- which is in the state of Illinois, but it (INAUDIBLE) -- it has tremendous national importance -- national importance. We need to have not just one African-American in the U.S. Senate. We need to have many African-Americans in the U.S. Senate.

So I applaud the governor for his decision. And I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer. Separate, if you will, the appointee from the appointed. Ronald Burris is worthy. He is the only one, I believe, that could stand in the gap (INAUDIBLE) time, and gather the confidence -- reestablish the confidence of the people of the state of Illinois.

As far as certification is concerned, I think that the secretary of state acted prematurely in issuing the statement.

RUSH: I'm not sure whether or not he has any authority to actually certify or not. That's up to the lawyers. I'm not a lawyer. But I do know that he should be concerned about how the people in the state of Illinois will react to him not certifying this particular individual, Roland Burris, who replaced the president-elect.

As far as my colleagues in the Congress, then I intend -- or we intend to persuade them, or to challenge them, or to do whatever -- beg them -- whatever makes haste -- to get them to reverse their decision. Roland Burris stands heads and shoulders above most elected officials in this nation. And so, there is no rhyme nor reason that he should not be seated in the U.S. Senate.

This is a matter of national importance. There are no African- Americans in the Senate, and I don't think that anyone -- any U.S. senator, who's sitting in the Senate, right now, wants to go on record to deny one African-American for being seated in the U.S. Senate. I don't think they want to go on record doing that. And so, I intend to take that argument to the Congressional Black Caucus. I intend to take that argument to the senators. I intend to start with our own senator, Durbin, who's a friend of mine, and I'm sure that he will stand ready to be reasoned with.

Thank you.

BURRIS: Thank you very much.

SANCHEZ: What a fascinating event we have just watched, ending with what at least one of our viewers watching this -- take that tweet, if you can.

It is almost salient to read this to you as you watch these gentlemen walk out of the room.

"Wow. Rush has just made this into a racial issue. You block Burris, and you are a racist is what I take from this." Actually it is difficult not to take that, but I will tell you, despite what he said, here is what we have learned. There are two sides weighing in on this already. One comes from the federal government. And that is Harry Reid. I think we have got that pilot. Let's put that up, because this is extremely important to what you just saw.

Here is what he Harry Reid said just moments before the news conference. We received this from him.

He's telling us -- and I will read it to you off the screen -- "Anyone appointed by Governor Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois, and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus."

That is interesting, because you heard Blagojevich actually refer to Burris as your senator, not with a question mark at the end.

I have more. This is important, also. Listen to this. This is what the Illinois secretary of state said moments ago, also before this news conference, when we reached out to him: "I will not certify, and I will reject anything that Blagojevich issues on this matter."

So, you have got the very state saying that they won't go along with anything that this governor signs. And then you have got a standing member of the U.S. Senate saying the same thing.

Let's bring in -- we have got so many to bring in.

Rick Pearson with "The Chicago Tribune," let's get your local perspective on this first. What it is?

RICK PEARSON, POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, this is why I cover Illinois politics. This is the full circus that you are seeing right now.

(LAUGHTER)

PEARSON: I mean, certainly, you have got Roland Burris, who has had a long political history in Illinois, but has always been aggressive of trying to be politically opportunistic and climb the ladder.

And so after Rod Blagojevich gets arrested on December 9 on corruption charges and everyone who was looking to be appointed by Blagojevich stands away from this governor, there is Roland Burris as the only one waving his hand in the air and saying, pick me, pick me.

(LAUGHTER)

SANCHEZ: Well, there was something almost sophomoric about this news conference. We weren't sure who was in control, who was talking. Then he starts calling people out of the audience. Then Rush comes up and just starts speaking impromptu. What are we to take from that?

PEARSON: Well, it is -- we -- I certainly didn't expect that Rod Blagojevich would take any questions. Certainly, with the criminal charges that are facing him...

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Did you expect this at all? Were you shocked, as we were, there locally that he would even do something like this without any kind of warning?

PEARSON: Absolutely.

I mean, this truly did come out of nowhere. But then again, this is Rod Blagojevich. And, you know, this is a man who, you know, talks about his virility as a political guy. And here you have Harry Reid and the Senate Democratic leadership saying we are not going to seat anybody you pick. They even met right before the news conference because they wanted to get that word out before the news conference.

You have got Jesse White, the secretary of state of Illinois, an African-American, one of the state's most popular politicians, saying, I am not going to certify this guy.

It is was very interesting about Bobby Rush making that race issue, because I think Blagojevich also is trying to make one as well.

SANCHEZ: There was something that just didn't smell right about that whole thing.

It's interesting. This thing begins with Blagojevich almost sounding like he's stealing a line from the movie "Dave." Remember when Kevin Kline was in that movie? And I will quote Blagojevich.

Blagojevich says, "Don't allow allegations against me to taint this good and honest man," referring to Burris.

Look, on the question of Burris, I want to bring somebody in now. This is Mark Sawyer. He's professor of political science at UCLA. He is also a friend of Burris.

To be fair, there is nothing against Burris in this issue. He read a fine prepared statement, may be a good lawmaker, may be good representative.

Do you hear me, Mr. Sawyer? Can you hear me?

I see him shaking his head. All right, we have lost him.

Let's bring in Kendall Coffey.

Kendall Coffey, standing by, you are a U.S. prosecutor. You were a U.S. prosecutors, but let's suppose you are one now. You come out with this five-page indictment against this guy, and he does exactly what it seemed that you were trying to get him not to do. What is your reaction?

KENDALL COFFEY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, my question is, is he crazy, or is he crazy like a fox? Rick, consider the fact that everything Rod Blagojevich does at this point is with reference to his concern about spending a lot of prison time. So, what does this appointment do for him? Maybe a couple things. First of all, he was accused of trying to sell the Senate position. Now he has basically given it to a perfectly honorable, legitimate guy.

He will arguably use that in his defense. But let's get to what may be the even more conniving strategy of Rod Blagojevich. He has now put an extremely prominent African-American in play, he says, to replace the ultimate respected African-American in politics right now, Barack Obama.

SANCHEZ: Yes.

COFFEY: And he is going to say, no matter what the Senate does, I did what I could. Those guys in the Senate blocked it. That secretary of state blocked it, but I did the right thing.

And how will that play if at all to African-American jurors on the Rod Blagojevich jury panel trial someday? He may be trying to get a few points down the road, because he is surely going to need all the points he can get.

SANCHEZ: Well, I have got to tell you, if we are use as any judge of this the reaction that I have been getting here so far here at CNN -- and, you know, we put the news out and get immediate reaction on Twitter. We got almost 40,000 people there, another 10,000.

So, there's a lot of people looking at this. And the reaction I'm getting so far, many of them from African-Americans, is, this smells, don't like it, aren't -- and we are not going to support this thing, which is interesting enough.

In fact, let's bring in a MySpace comment real quick. And I am going to get back to you in just a minute.

I understand that we have got Mark Sawyer ready to go out in Los Angeles as well.

This is MySpace. "Blagojevich, could he embarrassment -- his state, our country any more than he has? African-American or not, this appointment is tainted and should not stand."

This is what is a consensus that we have been getting on Twitter, on MySpace, and Facebook so far.

Let me get back to Mark Sawyer, professor at UCLA, friend of Burris.

I imagine that you can vouch for this guy, but has he put himself in a no-win situation?

MARK SAWYER, PROFESSOR, UCLA: He has taken on a tough mantle. We are going to have a big stimulus package that needs to be passed. The economy is going in the toilet and we need Democrats in the Senate to get something passed.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Yes, yes, but that is not the question I am asking you. You know this guy. Why is he doing this?

SAWYER: He is doing it because he has been a lifelong servant of the people of Illinois and he wants to continue. And they need someone. And he is kind of the only person around in statewide Illinois Democratic politics who has absolutely no taint whatsoever who could step up. And no one actually questions his integrity at all...

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: You are right. You're right. And that is an important and a fair point that you raise. We have been looking at -- granted, we have been looking into him in the past half-hour. It's not like we have been looking at a lot, but there's nothing that we see on his record that seems to in any way taint him.

However, after hearing Harry Reid and the secretary of state say, if the governor names you, we are not going to certify you, we are not going to accept you, we're going to reject you, why would you go through with this? It almost looks to some people out there, I'm sure, like this is a charade.

SAWYER: Those are really unfortunate statements.

He was the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee at one point. He served the national Democratic Party with distinction, as well as the people of Illinois. And there's no reason to think -- just because Blagojevich may be a bad guy, it doesn't mean that Burris is...

SANCHEZ: Good point.

SAWYER: ... and that he has not done a good thing by appointing a statesman to the role.

SANCHEZ: And your point is very fair.

Let me take to Rick Pearson.

This is going to be part of the discussion in Chicago, I imagine, Rick. If this guy is good enough to serve, why should he not serve? What does it matter who appoints him?

PEARSON: Well, for one thing, with Roland Burris, this is, as I mentioned earlier, is someone who has had a history of political opportunism, that he ran unsuccessfully for United States Senate, ran unsuccessfully for governor three times. He ran unsuccessfully for Chicago mayor. (CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: But opportunism is OK, right?

PEARSON: He has already kind of tried to distanced himself even in that little press conference by saying he was not aware that he or his businesses have given $14,000 to Blagojevich.

In fact, our number is more like $20,000.

SANCHEZ: Oh, really?

PEARSON: Indeed, he was a co-host of a fund-raiser for the Blagojevich in 2006 that was a major dollar fund-raiser.

SANCHEZ: Say that last part again. I think viewers might be interested in that dollar figure more than the opportunism part.

PEARSON: Well, Burris said that he was not aware -- I think the question in the press conference was that he didn't think that he or his firm had given Blagojevich $14,000.

Our number shows that it is more like $20,000. And, indeed, Burris was listed as a co-host of a major fund-raising event at the Field Museum in Chicago in 2006 for Blagojevich.

SANCHEZ: That is interesting.

Kendall Coffey coming back at us on this.

Do we go through the record now and find out if there is anything in the evidence that would show a connection between these two men? Because obviously I have not heard the tapes. You have not heard the tapes. Would you be curious to see that if you were a standing prosecutor in this case?

COFFEY: I would be stunned to see it.

My guess is that Blagojevich picked him exactly because there was none of that and that the defense may try to use this -- they are using in effect Burris as -- to create a defense and a defense witness to say, hey, this money was not being stolen. And if money was being taken in a car somewhere by Rod Blagojevich, he ended up in effect delivering it to the United Way at the end of the day, because rather than sell this position to the highest bidder, he basically attempted to name someone who is eminently respected with a law enforcement background, in effect trying to create proof that he committed no crime.

SANCHEZ: This is fascinating story.

My thanks to you, Kendall Coffey, Rick Pearson with "The Trib" there, and of course Mark Sawyer out of Los Angeles.

We are going to be shifting gears now and talking about what is going on, a developing story out of Israel, new reaction coming from both sides and a standing proposal now that is being considered by the Israelis.

Also, for those of you who missed it, we are going to try and get a quick clip of Blagojevich's beginning of that news conference. And we will play it again, so you can see it, on the other side.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: These two gentleman and you see them - let's take that wide shot once again. Obviously, Jim Clancy from CNN International who is going to be taking us through part of this conversation, the esteemed General Honore who is also going to be taking us through this, because we're on the verge now of a possibility of an actual ground assault. At least that's what's being threatened it seems by the Israelis. They're primed. They're on the border. The troops are there. The tanks are there and we're going to be taking you through that. That's where we begin this discussion. This is the beginning of the discussion.

Let's go through the video first. This is the border I was talking about. This is the Makada (ph) tanks that they use now. Interesting, Hamas said today that they can take out some of those tanks with new weaponry that they have acquired, not exactly sure what they are talking about, but we're going to go to Honore with that in just a minute. Also, let's switch the picture now, if we can Dan. I want to show you a police station. This is the police station that was hit by mortar fire by Israeli firing. It was also, we understand this is in Gaza city. They've also hit a university and a mosque. All right.

Now, look at the next picture. This is obviously part of the public relations story that's going to come out of this. These are the people taking to the streets. That's a child, a dead child you see that's being carried right there in the middle of this. By the way, at last we checked just before going on the air, about 2:59, 360 reported dead. Obviously, that number's going to be changing from time to time.

But, there is the other side of the story, too and this is important, because if you're going to cover this story fairly, you got to tell both sides of this. Show me now this house, show me now this house in southern Israel. This was hit by a rocket being fired from Gaza. This happened within the past 24 hours. This is not old video. It is the deepest rocket strike to ever hit. It is in a city of Ashdad (ph) did I get that right, Ashdad. It's about 25 miles south of Tel Aviv so now that is important, because what it means is -- and this is what the Israelis have been saying that their capability to injure and threaten Israeli citizens has actually expanded. That is where we are now with this one thing.

Let me add this caveat, all right, gentlemen. It is now being considered by the Knesset that they will come up with a 48-hour truce if it's accepted by the other side as well, Hamas, to see if they can come up with some kind of plan where nothing happens. I think they refer to it as a 48-hour stoppage for Hamas, but as I said, they are still primed at the border and threatening to go inside. Let's start with Jim Clancy, situation with these attacks. How important is that and does that actually escalate the situation? I'm talking about the attacks in southern Lebanon, I mean southern Israel.

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The point is, the missiles are still flying. The point is that up until this point, Israel has not been successful. Do they stop now? Only if they want to invite the criticism of the public that are fed up with these attacks.

SANCHEZ: As a matter of fact, I'm being told by Chris, our producer right now that Ben Wedeman is now at the scene of one of the rocket attacks. They are getting ready o set him up. He's going to be ready to go momentarily.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A record flight for missiles.

SANCHEZ: So was that Wedeman? We are looking at him. Put him up again. We got Ben Wedeman. Apparently there have been some more attacks in the past 24 hours. He's going to get the audio ready and he's going to bring us to the scene to let us know what is going on. General Honore, as you look at this situation, do you believe that this is a (INAUDIBLE) threat or that Israel has both the intent and the capability of going in there and moving in with a ground assault?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, US ARMY (RET): The capability is there. The responsibility of that Army commander is to give the boss options and what he's done now is positioned that army where he's given the boss the option to go in. Now the downside of that is you can win this battle and still lose this war. Because the capability it takes to go do a ground assault to root Hamas out from the doorsteps and ceilings and tunnels it's in, would be a ground assault. That would be devastating to the population of people living in a very densely populated area.

SANCHEZ: As a matter of fact 1.5 million people. It's an awful lot of people in a very small area. We're going to show you that in just a little bit, but I am told now Ben Wedeman is ready to go. Ben, I understand you are in Ashkelon, is that right?

WEDEMAN: Yes, we in Ashkelon which is seven miles to the north of the Gaza strip. Now about 40 minutes ago we heard the alarm that means that there are incoming rockets. You heard two very large explosions and after the ambulance - come on, let's move a little closer if we can. OK. This is what the actual rocket impact is right here. Now, Israeli staffers came and inspected it (INAUDIBLE) rockets, but let me just give you an idea.

The light is low, because our camera (INAUDIBLE) isn't working, but this gives you an idea of what happens when a rocket hits. You can see these spots here where shrapnel hit this wall and of course on the other side of the wall is somebody's garden and an apartment building where people are living. So obviously, this was an area where clearly, there could have been high casualties, but by and large, people have been staying inside. Schools are closed. Most shops are closed as well. So what we saw when we came here was that there are several people who are being put into ambulances and being treated for shock, but in this particular instance, there were no casualties or fatalities and the material damage though somewhat dramatic was much less than it could have been.

SANCHEZ: Well, but, but, Ben, can you hear me, Ben?

WEDEMAN: Yes, I can hear you.

SANCHEZ: Here is part of the conversation that many people are having around the world. It's that question of proportionality, what Israel does in Gaza as opposed to what Gaza or what I should say Hamas is doing with these weapons that they are shooting out of there, the Kassams (ph) and the Katyushas (ph). It is not really a question of how many people are being killed, because at last count, I think it was only something like 17 in the last year if that. It's really more a question of terrorizing the people living in Israel itself, the very definition of the word terrorism, right?

WEDEMAN: Yeah, obviously, this is a very complicated question. You know, we know that almost 370 Palestinians have been killed since the offensive began on Saturday and that is a high standard by any standards. More than 60 of those were civilians. The death toll in Israel from the rockets over the years is obviously much less. I have seen figures as high as 20. But obviously, these rockets for at least the Israeli communities around Gaza have been completely disrupted. And this community for years has simply been unable to live a normal existence. On the other hand however, obviously in Gaza, a normal existence at this point is a distant memory since September 2000, when the Palestinian uprising broke up (ph).

SANCHEZ: Hey, Ben? Ben?

WEDEMAN: (INAUDIBLE) operation that if you were to compare the population of Gaza with the population of the United States, it is the equivalent of 60,000 Americans being killed since last Saturday, so the whole question of proportionality is a very complicated one.

SANCHEZ: Ben, Ben, I'm going to step - Ben I got to interrupt you. I'm going to step away for just a minute. I am being told by Chris now, that there are explosions being heard in Gaza, in Gaza city. "New York Times" reporter is Taghreed El-Khodary is standing by for us there to bring us up to date. What are you hearing? What are you seeing? What can you report?

TAGHREED EL-KHODARY, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, yes. Israel has just launched more air strikes against Hamas targets that are (INAUDIBLE) and the most densely populated areas, neighborhoods in Gaza city for the fourth day now. So far, according to medical sources, 380 killed, 1,700 are injured, many civilians, many houses, apartment buildings that have to be locate around these areas have been affected severely.

Luckily, some people managed to escape. Others they could not. The houses are completely destroyed. They tried to evacuate, but no place for them to go if they don't have relatives living in a places away from governmental compounds. People are terrorized. They don't know, they don't know what to expect in one hour, in half an hour. I am talking to you right now and I am opening all of the windows where I am, because I fear that there will be an explosion anywhere nearby.

Yesterday, last night they bombed a place near where I live, 100 meter away and I didn't know, because I have been working in the street for many years. I didn't know that one of the ones that had an office there. You don't know who is wanted by Israel at this time.

SANCHEZ: Well, that is my point -- Taghreed, let me just stop you for a minute, because I think the question that a lot of people want answered for them, if you can and you may not even be in a position to answer this watching this without maybe military expertise or some other kind of expertise, but is this indiscriminate shooting or is this discriminate shooting that is being done by the IDF in this case? And can you answer that question? Because it is extremely important to this story.

EL-KHODARY: Listen, this is what the world must know. Hamas has been in control of Gaza for now a year and a half. Meaning, they are in control of the whole Gaza strip for all of that time. They are everywhere. They happen to be everywhere in Gaza city, in every neighborhood, but you don't know. You are lost. Israel is using massive power to launch attacks against these targets, but many civilians are traumatized and terrorized. You talk to mothers who express -- I talked to many people today and they express how they feel terrorized inside and they are trying to hide this from their kids who are afraid and they don't understand. Many kids don't understand who is shooting? Who is bombing?

SANCHEZ: Here is what we are going to do. Taghreed, we'll try and get back to you. Stay safe, please. Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government is going to be joining us in just a little bit. I think we've got his picture up. He's going to be coming to us now. He's been hearing this report that was filed by a "New York Times" reporter, Taghreed El-Khodary and obviously, he knows he's got some tough questions being asked by people all over the world. He is going to be asking - I should say he is going to be answering some of our questions in just a little bit. Stay tuned. We're going to take a quick break, going to come back with a spokesman for the Israeli government answering the charges about what you are seeing right now. It is an important story and we want to be as fair to them as possible on both sides. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We want to be as fair as possible as we report this story and we just showed you moments ago some of the attacks that were taking place inside Gaza and it is difficult for the Israelis to have to answer for this, because it is tough to watch and you heard the reporter almost sensing that there was a certain imminent danger in the area and reporting what people were saying and doing as they were reacting to these attacks.

There is another side of the story as well and we told you there was also breaking news before we went to that and we went to our own Ben Wedeman. We showed that there was an attack that had just happened and Ben brought it to you live here on CNN and that was in Askhelon, how far was that general? How far was that?

HONORE: That's about 11.5 kilometers.

SANCHEZ: So we're talking about the possibility that these things are now reaching a little bit further than what we were looking at before. We've got a map that we can show you this with. Let's go ahead and put that up. Can you give me that map again? There it is. Look at that map right there. This shows what these rockets can actually do. I mean, there is mortars. Can you see that first area outside of Gaza, see that the green area. That how far mortars can fire. Now, you see the light green area there, that is the Kassan and now you see the brown area, that is the Katyusha. Did I get that right, Katyusha?

CLANCY: You get an idea of the range that it's getting. It is going further and further out.

SANCHEZ: So with that said, let's bring in Mark Regev. He's a spokesman for the Israeli government as we bring you this breaking news. Look, it's got to be tough for you to speak for your government and your military as people all over the world look at pictures of your military striking an area that is extremely densely populated and where civilians are essentially cowering and running for their lives. Your comment?

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI GOVT SPOKESMAN: I'd say what is obvious, Israel does not want to see any harm happen to the independent, to the people of the Gaza strip. They are not our enemy. Our enemy is Hamas as you broadly pointed out shooting rockets, trying to kill our people. The people in Gaza in many ways are victims of the Hamas, Taliban-type regime just as the people living in southern Israel are victims of that regime there on the receiving end of these rockets. We have to try to be as Israelis as surgical as is humanly possible targeting the Hamas military machine and making every possible effort we can to make sure that we are exact, that we are surgical to avoid any people, innocent people getting caught up in the fighting. I can tell you we spent a lot of time using leaflets, phone calls, speakers, all asking people to leave areas where there are known Hamas military installations.

SANCHEZ: Mark, Mark, I'm going to interrupt you, Mark, Mark, Mark, I'm going to interrupt you for just a moment. We've got more breaking news that's coming into us now. Gentlemen, listen to this. CNN can now report that a group of students has stormed inside the British embassy in Tehran, this according to a (INAUDIBLE) news agency there, which is a state-run news organization, so they're confirming it there, the Persian news organization in Tehran. Te students hoisted a Palestinian flag inside the embassy in protest of the policies of the British government including the savage crimes of the Zionist regime in Gaza.

So as a result of what's going in Gaza, there is now a protest where they have stormed the embassy. We've got reaction coming in out of Tehran that will confirm that story and Mark, before we go to him, your comment on this story that I just reported as a reaction to what is going on in the Gaza, sir?

REGEV: Well, first of all I have heard it for the first time from you, but what we do know is that the strongest allies of the Hamas regime in Gaza have is that Iranian regime. Most of the Arab world, most of the Muslim world has been extremely critical of Hamas. They've been critical of Hamas (IIN the cease-fire, ripped it up. They're critical of Hamas because Hamas initiated this crisis. Only the Iranians have been interested in this violence and in this turmoil.

SANCHEZ: Well, the question I guess becomes one of, is there a possibility that this thing can be amplified somewhat? Shirzad Bozorgmehr, pardon me, a student there in Tehran joining us now to fill us in on this story that we just gave you the headlines of moments ago. The students have take over part of the British embassy there. Shirzad, can you hear me?

SHIRZAD BOZORGMEHR, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: My name is Shirzad Bozorgmehr. I work for CNN. And this is the news that news agencies here are now putting on. A group of about 40 or 50 Iranian students had entered the British embassy compound summer residence, not the actual embassy in downtown Tehran, but in northern Tehran they're in a compound that the British use in their summer, for their summers and they have entered that and hoisted a Palestinian flag in protest to what they call the role of Britain's policy played in the Gaza massacre and also to protest what they call the Egyptian collusion in this whole massacre of the Palestinians in Gaza.

SANCHEZ: But Shirzad, let me stop you for just a moment, are they in control of the building at this time?

BOZORGMEHR: No, apparently they left about an hour ago, because the last I heard from (INAUDIBLE) news agency said that they had gathered on their way out of the compound to go back to - they're holding a (INAUDIBLE) protest in front of the Egyptian (INAUDIBLE) in Tehran in protest to President Mubarak's policies towards what's going on in Gaza.

SANCHEZ: So is it fair to say that the incident occurred but it's over now?

BOZORGMEHR: It seems that way, yes. It seems to be over now. They have taken position again in front -- in front of the Egyptian agency. They just apparently wanted to hoist the flag of the Palestinians and show their disdain for what's going on.

SANCHEZ: Shirzad, my thanks for bringing us up to date on that. My apologies for rushing your name there. It was just being given to me in my ear by my producer as I was reporting to you.

Let's go back to Mark Regev if we can. I guess the question is, the possibility that this situation in the Gaza could end up actually amplifying the problem, making it worse, even perhaps as some have said today in some newspapers in the United States, among those "The Washington Post," give even more strength to Hamas. Do you worry about that? REGEV: Of course. And whenever we have conflict with one of our neighbors, unfortunately, you always see this natural closing of ranks in the Arab world, everyone sort of ganging up on Israel. But the truth is, this time there's been also a corresponding not less significant factor. You see many people in the Arab world and Palestinians themselves say what is Hamas doing? How is what Hamas is doing helping Palestinians, and there aren't clear answers. If the Egyptian leadership, the Saudi leadership, the Jordanian leadership, their elected Palestinian leadership all are pointing fingers at Hamas and saying why did you rip up the cease-fire? Why did you escalate the violence leading to this terrible situation? Clearly, I mean, if you're a Palestinian living in Gaza, how can you say that what this Hamas government is doing is in any way serving your interests?

SANCHEZ: Let me do this. You're asking a question, sir, that certainly should be answered, deserves an answer. So I want to bring in now a spokesman for the Palestinians, Mustafa Barghouthi is good enough to join us, Palestinian legislator. How do you answer that question, why continue the attacks into Israel?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATOR: Mr. Mark Regev keeps telling the same lies and the first lie is that this truce was broken by Palestinians. It was Israel which broke this truce two months ago and it started and initiated attacks on Gaza. All the Palestinians want the truce now. Who is it that broke the truce? Who is it that broke the cease-fire? It's Israel. Imagine the situation in Gaza, 1.5 million people stuck in less than 220 square miles, almost 7,000 people per one mile and Israel is bombarding that with F-16 jet fighters, one to two-ton bombs. That's why so many innocent people are dying. That's why a girl by the name of (INAUDIBLE) four years old, again by the name of (INAUDIBLE) and yesterday five sisters, four years old, 12-years old, 14- years old, 17-years old were all killed by the Israeli army. This is not an attack on Hamas. This is an attack on the civilian population of the Palestinian people and it should be stopped immediately.

SANCHEZ: Just to underscore your point, just to underscore your point, we're looking now at a satellite photo that shows exactly how dense. Everything on that yellow line to the top, that is part of the Gaza strip. Everything below is Egypt. Look at the difference in the population density. What do you say, though -- what do you say, though, Mustafa, to the charge that these rockets are reaching further into Israel and it's like terrorizing the people of that country?

BARGHOUTHI: Of course these rockets should be stopped. That's what I'm advocating all the time. We're advocating nonviolence. We're advocating stopping all form of military attacks. But you cannot even compare between the two sides. Since this Israeli aggression started, since this war started, there's not a single Israelis was killed by these rockets. But I don't want civilians to be shot. The question is what about the 1.5 million people who are deprived of food, deprived of bread now in Palestinian areas in Gaza, deprived of fuel. They have been under siege for two years, two years without an education. SANCHEZ: There's an incident I maybe want to get your reaction to. I also have Karl Penhaul standing by. Karl Penhaul was aboard a ship that was trying to bring humanitarian goods to that area in Hamas -- pardon me, that area there in the Gaza strip. He was there with several other people, including a former congresswoman from the United States and as you describe it, the ship was rammed by the Israeli military. Go on and tell us about this if you would, Karl.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The ship was certainly rammed. It came about two hours before dawn and that at least two Israeli patrol boats had been shattering the dignities (ph) movement as it set course for Gaza. Now at the point where the ramming took place and where those boats were shattering the dignity (ph) was still in international waters. I personally was sitting in the wheel house a minute before the ramming incident, which seemed in watching the spotlight circle around on one of those patrol boats for about half an hour. But just minutes before the ramming incident, I was personally sitting in the wheel house, just a few seats away from the (INAUDIBLE) and I certainly heard no radio messages, no radio traffic at all and also the ship's captain confirms there was no radio traffic and then on the left side, one of those patrol boats with no light on comes ramming into the ship.

SANCHEZ: Let me just ask you the question to be as fair as we possibly can on this. The Israeli government is saying this was an accident and it happened as the ships were maneuvering. To your eye, was the ship that you were on, the boat you were on, was it moving at the time and could it be a possibility that it was in fact an accident?

PENHAUL: The Dignity was moving at about 12 knots an hour in heavy seas. It maintained a fixed course. The two Israeli patrol boats had been maneuvering around the Dignity for the previous half hour. These appeared to be very experienced sailors. Those patrol boats are very fast patrol boats. The Dignity was in the words of the ship's captain lit up like a Christmas tree. One of those Israeli patrol boats had a spotlight focused on the Dignity at all times. It seems very strange having successfully and very efficiently maneuvered around the boat for half an hour, why, one, with no lights on at all would suddenly come and ram the Dignity if that was an accident given that the Dignity was fully lit.

SANCHEZ: Karl Penhaul actually reporting. He was on the vessel giving a first person account of what he saw there. Once again, we remind you reports out of Israel are that it was according to their military officials an accident when that boat was rammed. The Dignity as you saw, has substantial damage to it. Bring our two guests back in. General Honore, first with you, the possibility that this thing could happen, as a military man, how do you see this conflict?

HONORE: Well, right now, you know, war is a result of failure of diplomacy and of politics and this has been going on for 60 years now.

SANCHEZ: Does it worry you, as a U.S. military, former U.S. military official, thinking that this thing could ramp up and actually cause the United States to get involved as well?

HONORE: I think (INAUDIBLE) something happened there we'll be involved, whether it's from a diplomatic perspective to try and help Israel, to support it or to try to help contain it.

SANCHEZ: Let's talk about where this goes now. Jim, Barack Obama has said there's only one president at a time, but it doesn't seem that this president right now, certain a lame-duck president, is going to do anything. It's not like he's not exactly relevant though we understand Condi Rice has made phone calls.

CLANCY: The U.S. is not displeased that Israel is trying to take down Hamas. They're cognizant however...

SANCHEZ: So where do we stand? What is the U.S. role in all of this?

CLANCY: Standing by. The U.S. is choosing not to take a role. It's very clear. They called on the Europeans.

SANCHEZ: So there is none?

CLANCY: There is none. The U.S. doesn't want to take a role at this point. They want Israel to have free hand to do what it wants to carry this out as far as it wants to take it.

SANCHEZ: Where does that put Barack Obama?

CLANCY: Relieved that he's not the commander in chief today and hoping this will be over in three weeks.

SANCHEZ: But he could be challenged just as well with a situation like this?

CLANCY: He very well will be in the coming years.

SANCHEZ: Are they testing to find out, do you see are or are you reading or are you hearing that this is essentially a pre-Obama test to find out how he will deal with this and send him a message?

CLANCY: No, I don't think it's that at all. You've got to see it in the context, what's going to happen next. There's a war that's going on inside the Arab world right now. Iran, you saw the attack on the embassy. What that's about, they're trying to rally support around the world. (INAUDIBLE) Hezbollah attacking Egypt because Egypt won't open their border because they don't want Hamas to be in charge of it. And all of this pressure is coming to bear. Who is Hamas? They come from the Islamic brotherhood. Where is the Islamic brotherhood?

SANCHEZ: Egypt.

CLANCY: Egypt, exactly. It's all playing here together.

SANCHEZ: Thirty seconds, your gut as a general, do you think they will go in with an assault?

HONORE: I think they're prepared but let's not leave any doubt, the president is the president until the 20th of January and there is a line. If it can be negotiated to stop this, but let no one misunderstand that the president is the commander in chief and he will do what he has to do to protect Israel.

SANCHEZ: Well said. My thanks to both of you. All of this going on as it happens. Our pleasure to bring it to you. We will stay on top of it.

Meanwhile, we take you to Washington, DC and "The Situation Room" and Suzanne Malveaux.