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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
John Travolta's Son Dies; Interview with Israeli Ambassador to U.S.
Aired January 2, 2009 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, breaking news -- Israeli troops and tanks are ready to roll into Gaza.
Is the go-ahead for a ground strike coming at any minute now?
Hamas threatens doom if it happens and continues its rocket launches, while Israel pounds away with punishing air attacks.
Plus, Travolta family tragedy -- the teenage son of the famed actor and his wife, Kelly Preston, has died suddenly and unexpectedly. The loss of 16-year-old Jett has devastated the father, calling this the worst day of his life.
The very latest from those who know right now on LARRY KING LIVE.
The 16-year-old son of John Travolta and Kelly Preston died this morning after suffering a seizure in the Bahamas. The cause of death is not known. An autopsy will be conducted on Monday. The body of Jett Travolta will ultimately be transferred to Ocala, Florida for burial.
Joining us in Los Angeles is Harvey Levin, executive producer of TMZ.
Flavia Colgan the correspondent for "Extra" TV.
And on the phone from the Bahamas, Obie Wilchcombe. He's the former minister of tourism for the Bahamas and he was with the Travoltas today at the hospital.
Obie, how did you come to be with them?
OBIE WILCHCOMBE, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, BAHAMAS
Larry, several years ago, I met Mr. Travolta when he came to Grand Bahama and the West End, where he purchased property. He's become part of the family of the West End community.
Today, when I received the call at around 11:00 that there was a difficulty facing his son and then the subsequent call at about 10 minutes of 1:00 that he had passed, I went to the Rand Memorial Hospital. And I spent the rest of the afternoon with the Travoltas, going through a very difficult period that you rightfully said he described as the worst day of his life.
KING: What can you possibly say to them?
WILCHCOMBE: It's very difficult to say anything to someone who's going through what they went through today and what they're going through now. But I can tell you, we in West End had admired Mr. Travolta and his wife Kelly.
But Mr. Travolta spent a tremendous amount of time with his son Jett. He never left him at home. He always brought him with him. And once you saw John Travolta, you saw his son Jett. They were very close, very affectionate, lots of love you'd see at all times.
And the people of the community in West End, particularly those who work at Old Bahama Bay certainly today were in such shock. And they felt the tragedy, because they had become a part of the community.
KING: Obie, did he have...
KING: Did he have any thoughts as to what caused it?
WILCHCOMBE: According to the lawyer, there was a seizure. And the lawyer confirmed today that there had been seizures before. Of course, you said that there's an autopsy and the autopsy is being performed. And then we'll know the cause of death.
KING: Harvey, did we know what was wrong with the young man?
HARVEY LEVIN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, TMZ: Well, Travolta has said, Larry, that he had Kawasaki Syndrome, which is an autoimmune deficiency disorder that can cause heart problems, can cause seizures. There have been a lot of reports that Jett suffered from autism. Travolta says that is not the case. And there is a controversy over, you know, whether was he getting medicine for autism that could prevent seizures.
So people are talking about that right now. But that is all speculation until they do an autopsy.
KING: Flavia, autism is not a killer though, is it?
It's life hampering, but it's not a death sentence.
FLAVIA COLGAN, CORRESPONDENT, "EXTRA": Well, I'm not a physician. And, you know, I think it's one out of four people with autism have seizures.
But again, John Travolta has said that his son did not suffer from autism. You know, you have to take the family's word on something like that.
At this point, I just feel like that's not what we should be focusing on. You know, today when I was at the newsroom, I was pulling a lot of the interviews that "Extra" has done with him. And it was just so striking that in all of them, he and Kelly just talked about their children so much, referring to Jett as their little prince, their heart, saying that they would race each other in the middle of the night when he cried to who could get to him first.
So I think this is so heartbreaking. But for such a strong family -- 17 years of marriage. Obviously, family is so important to them. I just think this -- this must be just so devastating. And to do it in the spotlight, also, and to have all these questions swirling around while you're trying to mourn. I mean my heart really just goes out to them.
KING: In 2001, John talked to us about Jett, his health and Jett's near death experience when he was two-and-a-half.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM 2001)
KING: You nearly lost your son?
JOHN TRAVOLTA: Nearly lost my son.
KING: What happened?
TRAVOLTA: With my son it was -- again, it was about seven years ago. And I was obsessive about cleaning -- his space being clean. So we constantly had the carpets cleaned. And I think between him -- the fumes and walking around maybe picking up pieces or something, he got what is rarely a thing to deal with, but it's called Kawasaki Syndrome. And it's very easily handled if you identify it. And we did. And it was handled within 48 hours, but that 48 hours was not to be believed.
KING: What happens to him?
Did he -- was he knocked out?
TRAVOLTA: No, he wasn't knocked out. It was the immune system overreacts because they have almost the equivalent of metallics chemical and their body is responding to it.
KING: You knew that right away?
TRAVOLTA: No, no. The doctor knew that right away. We didn't know what was wrong.
KING: Oh. You got him.
And he was, what?
How old? TRAVOLTA: He was -- he's nine now, so he was probably two or two- and-a-half.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: My son Chance was there that day, too, who was then two. And he is now nine.
Do you think Scientology's going to come up in all of this, Harvey?
LEVIN: Well, I mean it could.
Do I think it will?
Yes, because it just -- it's kind of set -- teeing up right now for a controversy. I mean you can feel it. You listen to talk radio and people are talking about it.
The only thing people know right now for sure, Larry -- we made a lot of calls this morning before we put it up. He went into the bathroom. And apparently it was last night. And the caretaker found him at around 10:00 this morning. He fell and it appears from the police that he fell in a tub. And it's unclear whether falling triggered a seizure or the seizure triggered the fall. And they're not going to know any of that until the autopsy.
Whether this will all become this big conspiracy thing about whether Travolta gave him the drug, do I think that people are going to end up talking about that?
Yes, because that's what happens these days. But I think it's just premature.
KING: Obie, Flavia and Harvey will be right back with us.
More on the death of John Travolta and Kelly Preston's 16-year- old boy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They've been together in a relationship in Hollywood for so long.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh, so much honesty, communication, being in love.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Children help, too.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: On the phone with us, the former minister of tourism for the Bahamas.
Was the 8-year-old daughter there today, this morning?
WILCHCOMBE: She was not at the hospital, but she is certainly in Grand Bahama. And tonight she's with the father and mother at the hotel. But she was not at the hospital this afternoon, no.
KING: How is Kelly Preston dealing with it?
WILCHCOMBE: Very, very tough. They are grieving. They are mourning immensely. You can appreciate what they're going through. And today was very tough for them. They spoke to family members.
You know, Larry, what happens to be, I think, fortunate for them is that they had planned a weekend for friends. They'd invited some 60 friends to come to West End for the weekend to enjoy what they enjoyed so much. And so throughout the day, friends were flying in -- their lawyers, their doctors, their close friends, their associates were coming in today.
And it just so happens that these friends are needed today more than ever before. They just happened to be here. And they're at the residence. And I was at the hotel a little while ago. They were having dinner. But the Travoltas were in their room -- the wife, the husband, and, of course, the daughter.
KING: Flavia, for your kind of show, is this the toughest of stories?
COLGAN: I think so. I mean, this morning there were a lot of rumors swirling around. And we wanted to get confirmation. And we didn't at first, then we found out that his plane was in Georgia.
And when you're talking about a tragic event like this, first of all, you want to really make sure you double and triple check everything. But then, I think, for John Travolta, in particular, it's so difficult, because people were so devastated in the newsroom. I mean here is a guy who is so authentic, talks to paparazzi the same way he talks to famous people like you when he does interviews. And, you know, your heart just really goes out to a family like this.
They live in Florida. They try to stay out of the limelight. They're certainly very protective of their children, always putting their family first.
So I think it is. It's a very delicate difficult thing. And, you know, he's had a longstanding relationship with a lot of people in Hollywood, including "Extra." And so, you know, you really have -- there's a personal feeling toward it.
KING: How does TMZ, as a gossip kind of channel, Harvey, deal with this?
LEVIN: Well, I mean we're fact based, ultimately. And, you know, we broke the story. And I had a really -- we got a tip and then we start the making phone calls and we put... KING: Did someone call you from the hospital?
LEVIN: No, no, no. We got -- we got three phone calls, actually. And we started making a bunch of calls. And we confirmed it with the hospital and one other place. And we knew it was right. And we put it up on the site.
And then what you do is, it was a weird situation. I mean I remember I was sitting there and then you want to -- it's one of these weird things where you hope you're wrong. It was a weird reaction. We put it up and then waited to see what others were going to do. And then you see their following. And it was weird.
I mean, because especially just, you know, when you think about it, Larry, this is a new year. And this is the way they're bringing in the new year, to deal with something like this. It is -- it's unbelievable.
KING: Obie, I guess you will expect the flock -- the press to come on down to the Bahamas, don't you?
WILCHCOMBE: Yes, we do. You know, when the story broke today and TMZ carried the story, I think Mr. Travolta was very concerned that family members had not been told yet. And so they worked the telephones to ensure that the family members were being told before the media got full hold of the story. And so they were very concerned about that, because they wanted their family members to know.
But he very quickly allowed the attorney that was here to speak with the media -- the local media -- to ensure them that they were going to, as much as they can, reveal what they know. And they spoke very clearly about what had happened.
KING: Yes. That's...
WILCHCOMBE: And I think what you're seeing in Grand Bahama right now in West End, yes, you're going to see a lot of media here. But here in the West end area, where we are right now, they've given the Travoltas their privacy -- their respect and their privacy.
You know, he's well loved down here, as you heard one of your guests say just a while ago.
WILCHCOMBE: People like him very much. KING: One of the -- the attorney did say today that Jett's death was completely out of the blue, John and Kelly are happy when their children are happy and this is the worst day of John's life.
Another thing you have to be careful about in reporting, Flavia, is there are relatives that don't know. That's the worst way to discover it.
COLGAN: Right. "Splash" had some cameras down there, speaking of the family. And they caught up with Kelly Preston's mother. And it was just heartbreaking to watch. She was inconsolable. I mean, she was just crying so much.
And it's very difficult because, on the one hand, you know, when you're Harvey Levin or you're "Extra" and you get something you know is confirmed, you know is a fact you need to share it. I mean a lot of the American public want to know about these things. But you also want to be respectful of the family.
So I really think that that balance so far has been struck, as far as we know. And really just prayers go out to the family in dealing with this in a spotlight. It's very difficult.
KING: I'm going to hold you another panel.
But I'm going to bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta so that we understand what we're talking about, right after this.
KING: Harvey Levin, Flavia Colgan and Obie Wilchcombe, the former minister of tourism for the Bahamas, remain with us for another segment.
Joining with us in Atlanta is Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent.
What is this condition we're talking about?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's called Kawasaki Syndrome. And it's a -- it's sort of a febrile -- a syndrome characterized by fevers and inflammation in blood vessels. It typically occurs in young children.
And as John Travolta mentioned, sometimes there can be some sort of inciting cause. He was talking about those cleaning products. Sometimes it can be a virus, a bacteria, some sort of infection can sometimes cause it. You get pretty sick after a few days. In the worst case scenario, sometimes it can affect the blood vessels of the heart, called the coronary arteries. And sometimes those blood vessels can become inflamed. Sometimes they can develop aneurysms in it. That's probably the most dangerous thing.
But again, this is typically a disease associated with young children. It's typically in Japan. And it's pretty rare, as well, Larry.
KING: So not common in a 16-year-old?
GUPTA: Not common in a 16-year-old. In fact, most of the patients are usually between two and five years old. Sometimes they get up to the age eight. But it's very rare, in fact, for someone to be in their teens and still have symptoms of Kawasaki. They may have had it earlier in life, but to still have any manifestations of it is unusual.
KING: Harvey, it could have been the fall that killed him, right?
LEVIN: They don't know. He fell and there was a seizure.
LEVIN: So we don't know which order it came. And that's what they're saying the autopsy is going to, you know, hopefully reveal.
And, Larry, you know, remember with Anna Nicole that there was a protracted thing there, where it took them a long time for them to deal with it.
So, you know, hopefully, there's going to be a quick resolution so they're not in limbo for too long before they determine it.
KING: Good point.
Obie. Do you expect a quick resolution?
WILCHCOMBE: Yes, I do. We -- John Travolta today spoke with the minister of health, Dr. Hubert Minnis. And the autopsy will take place during the course of the weekend and the results will be known. It's not going to be protracted. They're moving very quickly. In the hospital, the police and everyone are working very quickly to make sure this matter can move on as quickly as possible.
KING: Is "Extra" going to send someone there, Flavia?
COLGAN: Yes. There will be cameras there. You know, I think we'll have to see, you know, as Harvey was saying, how this all plays out. The body is eventually going to end up in Florida. I think the autopsy is on Monday.
It would be -- it is very rare -- with this disease, about 1 percent of the people who have it die. So it will be -- you know, it might have been a combination with the fall or with this disease. We'll have to see.
KING: Sanjay, do autopsies -- autopsies always clear things up?
GUPTA: Not always, Larry. In fact, it may be difficult to tell.
I think as Harvey was pointing out, was it the seizure first or the fall first?
That's a tough question to answer sometimes, because it's hard to tell, in retrospect, you know, was there a seizure and at exactly what time or what sequence did it occur.
Also, you know, there's lots of different causes of seizures. While Kawasaki Syndrome is sometimes associated with seizures, that's much more unlikely. There's a lot of other things that can cause seizures. Something simple like a low blood sugar; certain medications can cause seizures; the fall, as we mentioned; an infection of the brain; lots of different things.
Some of those questions may be answered. But, you know, you may come back with answer after a few days saying we're not exactly sure what happened here.
KING: Sixteen-year-olds are not supposed to die, Harvey.
LEVIN: I mean, clearly. Clearly. And, you know, people have been saying, well, what's their reaction to this?
And it's just -- it's almost an absurd question...
KING: Of course.
LEVIN: ...because we've been getting that all day. You know, it's...
KING: What do you say?
LEVIN: What do you say?
KING: All right, thank you all very much.
Harvey, see you on better times. Flavia.
Thank you, Obie.
Sanjay Gupta remains.
And one of the Backstreet Boys is here, too. His son has Kawasaki Syndrome. We'll talk to Brian Littrell and his family right after this.
KING: The tragedy of the death of John Travolta's son.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta remains with us in Atlanta.
Also, in Atlanta now is Brian and Leanne Littrell, along with their son, Bailey. Brian is one of the Backstreet Boys. And they recently found out that 6-year-old Bailey has Kawasaki disease.
How did you find it out, Brian?
BRIAN LITTRELL, MEMBER BACKSTREET BOYS, SON HAS KAWASAKI SYNDROME: Well, we -- we started with swollen lymph nodes. We went to the doctor. It was strep throat. And then we started some antibiotics. And as the doctor was referring to earlier, everything escalated. And we found out a week before Christmas that he was diagnosed with atypical Kawasaki's disease.
So they were about to let us go. The scary thing, they were about to let us go from the hospital. And the infectious disease doctor came in and said everything looks great. They thought it was a disease called Erythema multiformae, which is a Herpes virus. They were about to let us go from the hospital.
And we asked for an echocardiogram. And they found his coronary artery was a 3.3 on the scale for his size. And that's extremely large.
B. LITTRELL: At a one, it's the biggest so.
KING: So, what, Leighanne, is the treatment?
LEIGHANNE LITTRELL, SON HAS KAWASAKI SYNDROME: They do an IVIG through the I.V. And it takes 12 hours. So you can have a reaction to it during (INAUDIBLE). You can have a reaction to it during, but Bailey, again, didn't have a reaction during. He had it after.
So everything he did was atypical.
And what -- I want to just stress to every mom and every parent and to everybody, that trust your instincts because, like Brian said, they were going to send us home twice. And our symptoms didn't follow any of the symptoms that you read anywhere.
KING: Does this tragedy today, Brian, give you some pause?
B. LITTRELL: It does. I mean our thoughts and our prayers go out to the Travolta family. It's a tragedy. I mean any parent all over the world that watches, you know, the entertainment shows and finds out the news that's happening, it is tragic. And our thoughts and prayers go out to them.
But we're also, you know, a miracle in the making right here, with being able to find what it was and to be able to address the situation. We went to the cardiologist the day after Christmas and his coronary artery is starting to shrink down back to size. And we're very fortunate. And thanks for all the prayers and all the fans out there that support us.
KING: Dr. Sanjay, he doesn't appear any the worse for it, young Bailey.
GUPTA: Yes. He looks pretty good. He's making a lot of cute faces at the camera there, I see, as well.
GUPTA: You know, that's pretty typical. Once you -- once you sort of suppress the immune system -- the immune system's sort of in overdrive, Larry. And that's what's causing all the problems. It's causing the inflammation in the blood vessels. Brian was describing that coronary artery, which is the artery on top of the heart that supplies the heart.
That starts to get big. And it's just the inflammation. You the medication to suppress the inflammation and the artery starts to come back down to size.
He's going to need to be monitored to make sure this doesn't come back again. But as you point out, he looks pretty good right now.
B. LITTRELL: He does.
KING: Would it be doubtful, Sanjay, if Jett -- if John Travolta's son died of this disease at age 16?
GUPTA: I think so, Larry. It's one of those things where, you know, you can only go by the data. And I certainly have never met Jett and never examined him.
But it's very unusual for someone to have these symptoms after the age of eight or so. And also, the -- you know, the heart problems. If there's a problem that causes death, there's a lethal issue, it's usually related to the heart, not so much to the brain, as we're hearing from John Travolta's lawyers and some of the other reporters down there.
So it doesn't all seem to fit together as being related to Kawasaki disease.
KING: Leighanne, is Bailey always this up?
L. LITTRELL: Always. Always. Even more so. You hit him at a calm moment.
KING: Bailey, how are you feeling?
BAILEY LITTRELL: Good.
How old are you Bailey?
B. LITTRELL: Six.
KING: So you're in first grade?
Are you in first grade?
L. LITTRELL: Not yet. Say I'm pre -- I'm still preschool.
B. LITTRELL: I'm still...
L. LITTRELL: He had a late birthday.
B. LITTRELL: Kindergarten.
B. LITTRELL: Yes, kindergarten.
L. LITTRELL: I'm sorry. Kindergarten.
KING: Yes, kindergarten.
He shows no ill effects, Brian.
B. LITTRELL: No, he doesn't. He doesn't. He's been a little tired. But again, we're -- we're dealing with this about 10 days to two weeks later. We got a great report from the cardiologist. But if you saw him two weeks ago, you would not recognize him. I have pictures on my cell phone that I've showed the family and -- and it's pretty scary. It's pretty scary.
KING: Oh, really?
L. LITTRELL: It was six days in the hospital.
KING: Well, I know all of our wishes go out to the Travoltas. And thank you for joining us. Brian and Leighanne Littrell and young Bailey.
L. LITTRELL: Thanks.
B. LITTRELL: Thank you.
KING: And thank you, Dr. Gupta, as always.
GUPTA: Thanks, Larry.
KING: I don't think anybody does it better.
GUPTA: Thank you.
KING: Israel and Hamas -- they are poised for a showdown after a week of attacks against each other. We will have the latest on this tense situation in Gaza right after this.
KING: Joining us now in Washington is Ambassador Sallai Meridor.
He is Israel's ambassador to the United States.
Thank you for joining us, Mr. Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR SALLAI MERIDOR, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: Thank you for having me.
KING: How imminent is this -- we keep hearing all day about this massive, at the border, tanks about to go in?
How close are we to the ground forces going into Gaza?
MERIDOR: Well, what -- what's really imminent is the continuous attacks on Israeli citizens. And as you know and as you've watched, we are taking defensive measures that we have to take and we will continue to take in order to create a better situation for our people and for our neighbors. And we have done things so far from the air. We will take any measure that we have to take in order to give protection to our people.
KING: Would you say you are close to sending the ground forces in?
MERIDOR: Well, I wouldn't like to say here and I am sure decisions are being made in Jerusalem as you know. What I do know is that we must continue to take actions to make sure that our people are not under terrorist threat today nor that this threat is continuing to grow for tomorrow and that the Palestinians living in Gaza can enjoy better lives.
KING: All right. What would stop you from going in?
MERIDOR: If they were stopping to fire and they were stopping to build an Iranian-backed terror base on our borders. The situation is like living in an apartment where your next-door neighbor is Osama bin Laden. And this Osama bin Laden is not only a potential threat, they are firing. And they're having now 700,000 Israelis, young children, elderly, parents who are constantly under not only this potential threat, as all of us are from bin Laden, but under active threats, and they are launching rockets, and people are living in conditions where they have 15 seconds, 30 seconds to rush into a safe room and these are conditions where none of us can allow ourselves to live under. So we take these measures to protect our people, as I believe any of us would have done.
KING: Some suggest that your desire is to destroy Hamas completely. Is that true?
MERIDOR: Well, we want to do what we are doing now not in our initiation. They have announced that they were putting an end, terminating an arrangement of calm and quiet we had. We wanted to keep it. They started intensifying the rocket fire on Israel in a crazy way. They launched some 400 rockets and mortars in less than a week.
So we are there acting to defend ourselves. We have no other plans. What we want is to create a situation where children can live quietly and hopefully, hopefully have a day where we and our neighbors have peace.
As much as we have to defend ourselves and have to use one of our hands, unfortunately, constantly for defense, the other hand is always, always extended for peace and not only extended but active, vigorously to advance peace.
KING: Are you talking to President Abbas, the Palestinian president? Can he be involved in some solution here?
MERIDOR: Well, I'm sure like us he's watching the situation with sadness because all of us do not want to see suffering, neither for Palestinians nor for Israelis. We have been engaging with President Abbas for the last, more than a year, in a very, very positive process which I hope shows the Palestinian people that there is a way that is peaceful, that there is a way that is decent, that there is a way where people can have respect for each other, talk to each other, and build for a better future for each other.
And there is a clear choice here for the Palestinian people between a regime of terror supported by Iran that is promoting hatred and incitement and terror or an opportunity to live in peace and dignity and security as good neighbors of the State of Israel. KING: Late this afternoon President Bush in his radio address expressed complete support for you and condemnation of Hamas. Do you expect the same from President-Elect Obama?
MERIDOR: We certainly hope that this support will be from all corners of the American society. We are together in it. You have been under threat of terror. We are under threat of terror. This is not particular for Israel. You see it in Mumbai. You see it in Europe. You saw it, unfortunately, in New York City.
And we see it now in the south of Israel. And this is a challenge that is very difficult. This is a challenge that in order to be able to confront and be successful in dealing with we must be determined, we must be patient, and most importantly we must stand together.
KING: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. We'll be calling on you again. Ambassador Sallai Meridor, the Israeli ambassador to the United States.
MERIDOR: Thank you.
KING: The Palestinian point of view is coming up. But next, our man on the scene, the best in the business, Nic Robertson, will join us live right after the break. Stay with us.
KING: Joining us now from Ashkelon, Israel, that's a southern Israeli city, the target of Hamas rocket attacks recently, is Nic Robertson, CNN's senior international correspondent. Well, the ambassador was just on, and he said -- he refused to comment about anything further happening with regard to Israeli attacks into Gaza on the ground. What are you hearing, Nic?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're hearing that the Israeli Defense Forces say that they're ready to go in. We know they've got a lot of troops around there. We're hearing from people along the border, very, very close to where the troops are saying they think that it's going to come soon. There's a level of this where you've got to look at this and say is this more just psychological pressure being put on Hamas?
Let's not forget those Hamas leaders are getting phone calls before their houses are bombed from the Israeli Defense Forces, telling them that they're going to bomb them. So there's a lot of psychological sort of war play going on here as well. But there's no doubt about it. The government says if they get the order -- the troops say if they get the order from the government then they will go in.
And that's very, very clear. It's just a matter of when. There's a real psychological build-up, Larry.
KING: I saw things happening to you today. Is Hamas continuing to bomb where you are? ROBERTSON: Absolutely. That house right behind me just there, Larry, was hit by one of Hamas' biggest, most devastating rockets, the Grad rocket. This rocket has a range of about 30 miles. Hamas has only just started using it. When it hit this building here, the family inside had an incredibly narrow escape. The sirens went off in the town. They headed to the -- their shelter room at the bottom of their house. And the rocket went through the roof of the house, blew the upstairs apart. We were in there earlier on. And it's devastated. But the family told us, look, we know we're lucky, we're happy we're all alive, it doesn't matter about the damage.
They're shocked because nobody on this street really expected this here. But they say they're not going to move out, they're going to continue to live here. But this is the kind of fear that people around here are living with. And this is why the government here is saying we have to stop -- it has to stop the Hamas rockets and this is why the government has the support of the people here, because they're living in fear right now right along these streets here, Larry.
KING: Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal threatens major bloodshed if those israeli troops go into Gaza, and he's also criticizing Barack Obama. Take a look, Nic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KHALED MESHAAL, HAMAS LEADER (through translator): Mr. Obama, your beginning is not good. You got involved, and you had a statement regarding the issue of Mumbai. But you would not get involved and say anything about the enemy's crime against Gaza. Enough of your double standards, oh, Western nations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Is this going to get worse, Nic, before it gets any better?
ROBERTSON: I think so, Larry. I mean, both sides, the Israeli government and Hamas, have two very opposing positions. And people here, when you talk to them, they say we know this can't get better without blood being spilt, we know if our troops go in on the ground then blood is going to be spilt, and that is how it looks at the moment.
Khaled Meshaal is very hard line in his position. I talked to him last year. He said if there's a new U.S. government when the next president comes in we don't think anything will be any different, Hamas thinks it has the right to power over the government, over President Mahmoud Abbas, who's seen as a much more moderate figure. Hamas thinks it is much more popular among the Palestinians, and that's the position that they're fighting for, and that's what Khaled Meshaal stalking about.
This whole threat of a bloodbath and kidnapping Israeli troops when they go in is something that the troops will take very, very seriously. But it's not going to stop the government ordering them in if that's what they deem is required, Larry. KING: If they go in, is this all out war?
ROBERTSON: I think that it would be limited. Look, why would I say that? Because of what happened two and a half years ago in Lebanon. When the Israeli government sent troops in there, they had a lot of casualties, and they didn't achieve their objective. And that played against the government. It had a negative political impact for them.
If they put a lot of troops into Gaza, it's a heavily urbanized environment with a large civilian population, a million and a half people. It would be very, very hard to fight Hamas and get to the launch sites and take out the Hamas leadership and change their political will about firing these rockets.
So I suspect, and this is what analysts are saying, that if there is an incursion it will be of a more limited nature. But again, any incursion has got to achieve the goals the government set out, which is stopping the rockets. And it's not going to be easy.
KING: Nic Robertson, CNN's senior international correspondent on the front lines in Israel. Thank you, Nic. What's the Palestinian viewpoint? We'll find out next. And we'll hear what you think, too. Go to cnn.com/larryking, click on blog, and share your thoughts. We'll air a couple of them later in the show.
KING: Joining us now from her home in the West Bank is Hanan Ashrawi. She's the Palestinian legislator, human rights advocate. What do you make of what's going on in Gaza, Hanan?
HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATOR (on phone): I think it's absolutely tragic, Larry. This situation is one where you have a captive civilian population being bombarded relentlessly by the strongest army in the region, the fourth strongest army in the world, claiming self-defense against its own victims, and at the same time the people who are dying are all - about 434 people killed, 75 of them children, 26 women. Over 2,400 wounded. Many of them permanently. Many of them with permanent injuries. And yet Israel is claiming that it is defending itself. While Gaza has been under siege for months now and they've been deprived of their most basic needs, whether it's food, medical supplies, fuel, electricity, energy, and it's these people precisely who are suffering. Not Hamas, not one single military or political ...
KING: But Hanan, didn't Hamas start this? Why are they bombing Israel?
ASHRAWI: Hamas doesn't bomb Israel. Hamas has a few makeshift rockets, yes, missiles, pipes, whatever they are.
KING: Whatever you're hit by, it's a bomb.
ASHRAWI: Don't you think this is disproportionate? First of all, let's deal with the facts rather than the spin I heard earlier. Israel is an occupying power. Israel is in control of Gaza. It says it withdrew, but actually it maintained total control. By land, by sea, by air. And gave itself the right to continue bombing, shelling, abducting people, carrying out incursions.
And they're the ones who broke the cease-fire repeatedly during the last six months. Now, Hamas said -- and as you know, I'm not a Hamas member nor a supporter of Hamas. But they very clearly said that they're willing to renew the cease-fire if Israel would lift the siege. You cannot starve a people into submission.
And at the same time now Israel is crying foul after it had maintained the siege and after it had broken the cease-fire. This is -- the problem is people are not getting the facts, are not getting the truth ...
KING: What ...
ASHRAWI: ... and the situation is tragic here.
KING: What do you think will happen if Israeli troops come in on the ground in Gaza?
ASHRAWI: I think once again the Gazan people, the Palestinians will pay the price. Once again, a huge army entering a densely populated area after having shelled it relentlessly from the sky, bombed it into utter destruction. I mean, look, they destroyed universities. They destroyed the PLC, the parliament buildings. They destroyed the ministries, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Justice. All the ministries. These are public institutions that belong to the Palestinian people. And they're systematically destroying every single aspect of Palestinian life.
So if the Army comes in, it's not going to be easy because there are going to be many, many, many civilian casualties again and of course they are going to incur casualties, the Army is going to incur casualties because you cannot -- no matter how strong you are, there are limits to power. You cannot defeat a nation, you cannot defeat a people under occupation. You cannot defeat irregular forces. And therefore, no matter how strong you are, you still are going to have to incur casualties. It's going to be another spiral in violence.
KING: What do you think the United States position should be? The Bush statement today was very strongly favoring Israel.
ASHRAWI: Certainly. Bush has always favored Israel no matter what. And this has been detrimental to peace. And it has been detrimental to the standing of the U.S. and its credibility throughout the world. It has actually served to increase extremism and undermine voices of moderation. They talk about negotiating with Mahmoud Abbas. They've actually undermined the moderates and Mahmoud Abbas by not delivering in any way on the requirements of peace. But anyway.
No, I think that this administration has been certainly I would say lacking in its support of peace and has supported Israel blindly and therefore given not just the green light but active encouragement and collusion to these violations and has added to the instability and violence and extremism in our region. I think what we need is a really candid look at where American foreign policy has gone wrong, and to understand that blind support of Israel is not in the interests of Israel or peace.
They have to understand that peace has requirements, Israel has to be a country held accountable by law, by international law, and the Palestinians deserve the protection of the law. That's the only way in which the U.S. can regain some of its credibility. We need positive intervention. We need engagement and negotiations that would produce results. But immediately we need a cessation of the Israeli assault on Gaza ...
KING: Thank you.
ASHRAWI: ... and we need a cease-fire that will hold, and possibly, Larry, if I may say so, and I know that neither Hamas or Israel would want this, I think it's about time that we have international troops on the ground in order to serve the interests of peace.
KING: We thank you very much. Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian legislator, human rights advocate, from her home on the West Bank. We'll check in with your comments when LARRY KING LIVE continues.
KING: Anderson Cooper has sufficiently recovered from New Year's Eve and he will host AC360 at the top of the hour. Now we've got a war going.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Yeah. It's incredible, Larry. We're following the breaking news out of the Middle East, that is our lead. Air strikes continue in Gaza as Israel amasses troops and artillery at the border. A ground assault could begin at any moment. We're going to have a live report from Nic Robertson in Israel as well as others.
Also tragedy strikes John Travolta, Larry. You've been talking about it, and his family. His 16-year-old son dying unexpectedly reportedly after a seizure while the family was on vacation. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to join us for the latest tonight.
And Michelle Obama in her own words preparing to move her family to Washington this weekend and talking candidly about how having kids brought her tough new challenges to her marriage. All those stories and more Larry tonight on 360.
KING: That's AC 360, 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific. You know, you can blog at cnn.com/larryking. Let's check in with David Theall and see what you're saying tonight. David, what's everybody talking about.
DAVID THEALL, PRODUCER: Larry, we have of course been tracking this very important story on the blog. And this is one of those stories that people definitely bring their passions to whenever they comment on the blog. We'll go through a couple of the comments right now. Kir is one of them who stopped by the blog and he says, "Israel has the right to defend itself from any attacks coming from the Palestinian side."
Maria on the other hand says, "It is a shame that Israel is getting away with so much violence."
And we're hearing a lot of that on the blog tonight.
Benjamin is one of those people I told you brings a bit of passion to it. He says, "I seems sad to me that too few people 'condemn the violence,'" quote, "before Israel begins defending itself."
And we also heard from Terry tonight on the blog, Larry, who asks a question that frankly we haven't heard addressed today. Terry asks, "Why hasn't Jordan and Egypt been more active in any peace talks about this situation?"
We, of course, are going to continue the conversation throughout the night on the blog. It's at cnn.com/larryking. Of course being as always, look for the live blog link, click it, come on in and join the conversation.
And we are also tracking the tragic story out of the Bahamas tonight, the death of the son of actors John Travolta and Kelly Preston. That's also an important story on the blog tonight and one that we're hearing from a lot of people about, Larry.
KING: Thanks, David. David Theall on the scene.
You know, some people were allowed to leave Gaza today. One of them who now safely is in Jordan will be here with her firsthand account of the crisis. Pretty harrowing. Right after this.
Joining us now on the phone in Amman, Jordan is Karen Koning Abuzayd, she is the commissioner for UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East. You got out of Gaza this morning. How did you get out, Karen?
KAREN KONING ABUZAYD, UNRWA, ON PHONE: Well, we just drove out. It's possible to get out if you're willing to take the chance. We usually listen to the advice of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces when it's safe enough to go. It hadn't been safe enough to go until this morning when they let a lot of international people out.
KING: You've said that Gaza's 1.5 million residents are facing an alarming humanitarian situation. Explain.
ABUZAYD: Well, you have 1.5 million people, about 650,000 of them without any electricity, which means no water, no heat, sitting in houses many of them with windows broken so very cold. Rainy. Queuing for bread when there is some to get. It's just an unbelievable situation for all of those people in a very small territory.
KING: What's the situation with medical care, medical supplies?
ABUZAYD: Well, we're beginning to get some it in, but they're pretty basic so far. Our problem in getting materials in is we're only using one small military crossing. So although it's working very well, we're getting a lot of cooperation on that one crossing. It still is nowhere near enough to get in the things people need.
KING: You walk a difficult line, I guess, as a UN relief specialist. Do you give any pause to the Israeli position?
ABUZAYD: Well, we certainly do because we condemn the violence on all sides. We just are worried about the disproportionality of what's going on in Gaza now. I mean, people have nothing and have nowhere to go. I've been working for refugees for years. And these are people that don't have the right to flee, to get away from the conflict.
KING: Were you in a bunker during the air strikes?
ABUZAYD: Well, we don't have a bunker, but I was in our office on the ground floor, and we also - the IDF, again they respect our installations as we call them. They know our GPS coordinates, and they try not to hit them. But of course, you may have heard that we lost eight students from our vocational training center, which is part of our compound. They were just outside the compound getting on the buses.
So you can't avoid in a tiny little place like Gaza what they call collateral damage because everything is on top of everything else.
KING: Do you have any optimism?
ABUZAYD: Not a whole lot. I'm very, very worried, like everyone else, that it's going to get worse, that there might be this ground invasion when things will just -- there's just nothing to say about what will happen then.
KING: Be safe and stay in Amman for a while. Karen Koning Abuzayd, thank you so much.
ABUZAYD: Thank you.
KING: Woo. What a night. You can keep up with what's happening at cnn.com/larryking. And if you want a transcript of this show or any other show, you'll find them along with ringtones and our latest podcast and of course the LARRY KING LIVE blog. By the way, we read everything you post so let us know what you think. Time now for my friend, buddy, co-compatriot - co compatriot?
Anderson Cooper and AC 360.