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Bill Richardson Withdraws from Cabinet; Roland Burris Interview

Aired January 4, 2009 - 18:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: A political shocker. A big-time player in the Obama transition team drops out.
All this as President-Elect Barack Obama moves to his new home, Washington, DC, he's arriving live this hour. And the man who could replace Barack Obama in the Illinois Senate (sic) if senators want him: Roland Burris talks to us live this hour. The news starts right now.

Good evening, everyone, I'm Don Lemon. We begin tonight with President-Elect Barack Obama. He is due back in Washington about 30 minutes from now. One new piece of business that's going to be waiting for him, finding another choice for commerce secretary. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson bowed out today citing a federal probe into his ties to a company that's done business in his state.

Just minutes ago, the president-elect boarded Air Force One, a 757 at Chicago's Midway Airport. This marks his first flight in a military aircraft that's part of the official presidential fleet. Michelle Obama, his wife, and their daughters flew to DC yesterday to get the girls ready for school tomorrow. Mr. Obama admitted to reporters on the plane that leaving his Chicago home made him a little, quote, "choked up."

Well, this promises to be an extremely busy two weeks for the Obama team leading up to the inauguration. And our Brianna Keilar joins us now in Washington. Brianna, losing Bill Richardson to head the Commerce Department has got to be a big disappointment for the president-elect. Tell us about that.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, and Bill Richardson citing a federal investigation in his decision and two Democratic officials telling CNN that this investigation involves a California company that was awarded municipal bond business in New Mexico after it contributed money to a number of Richardson's causes. Richardson released a statement in coordination with the president-elect this afternoon. Richardson's statement says, "I've asked the president-elect not to move forward at this time. I do so with great sorrow, but a pending investigation of a company that's done business with New Mexico state government promises to extend for several weeks or perhaps months."

Now Richardson goes on to say the investigation will show he has not acted improperly, but he says it would also force an untenable delay in his confirmation process. Now, President-Elect Obama, for his part, saying in a statement, "Governor Richardson is an outstanding public servant and would have brought to the job of commerce secretary and our economic team great insights accumulated through an extraordinary career in federal and state office. It is a measure of his willingness to put the nation first that he has removed himself as a candidate for the Cabinet in order to avoid any delay in filling this important economic post at this critical time."

And remember, Don, Richardson's endorsement of Obama, this was a very big deal for the then junior senator from Illinois during the primaries. Richardson, of course, had served in Bill Clinton's administration, and both Hillary Clinton and Obama lobbied for Richardson's endorsement. It was pretty noteworthy when Richardson ended up throwing his weight behind Obama despite his close ties to the Clinton. So who will Obama's new pick for commerce secretary be?

That's an open question at this point because the president-elect did not elaborate, only saying it is a decision that will be made quickly. And of course, the clocking is ticking down to his inauguration, Don.

LEMON: And that endorsement, Brianna, was very controversial, especially among Democrats and Clinton loyalists. He was criticized roundly for supporting Barack Obama instead of Hillary Clinton. So we shall we.

Thank you, Brianna Keilar in Washington with our breaking news story tonight.

Bill Richardson was the first high-profile Latino nominated to Barack Obama's Cabinet. He has a long and distinguished career in public service. Richardson was re-elected as New Mexico's governor in 2006. He was energy secretary during the Clinton administration.

Richardson was also UN ambassador during the Clinton presidency. And he served in the White House -- in the House, I should say, of Representatives from 1983 to 1997. After his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bill Richardson endorsed Mr. Obama in March.

Let's go now to our other breaking news, to the Mid-East. And CNN's continuing coverage of Israel's ground attack in Gaza. Palestinian security sources say Israeli troops now control parts of northern Gaza, just 24 hours after crossing over into Palestinian territory. Thousands of Israeli troops are advancing into Gaza with support from air strikes against Hamas targets.

Now, Hamas sources say three senior members of their military wing were killed today in two separate attacks. More than 500 people have been killed since Israel launched its first air strikes last week, according to Palestinian sources.

And the Israeli military says at least one Israeli soldier has been killed. The Israeli military describes a ground assault as phase two of a drawn-out operation designed to halt the near daily rocket attacks on southern Israel.

CNN analysts and correspondents are fully deployed to cover the Israeli assault. Our Christiane Amanpour is in Jerusalem, Nic Robertson on the Israeli-Gazan border, Karl Penhaul is in Egypt at the Rafah border crossing and here in the U.S., our military analyst and retired General David Grange is standing by to talk strategy with us. Let's start on the border as close as reporters can get to what is happening there right now.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joins me with the very latest from there. Nic, when I saw you last night, this morning for you, the assault was increasing. We could see the firepower, what was happening over Gaza. What are you seeing now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, it still continues but with the intensity has dropped off somewhat. There are still heavy explosions, there are still exchanges of gunfire. We can still hear the occasional helicopter go overhead, and we can still hear those surveillance drone aircraft flying overhead.

Much of the Gaza Strip behind me is now without electricity. According to Palestinian medical officials during this first 24 hours- plus of the ground offensive, more than 37 Palestinians have been killed and a Norwegian doctor working at the main hospital in Gaza City says that so far he is seeing a tripling of the casualties coming in compared to the air strikes earlier in the week.

And he said those casualties coming in, more than 30 percent women and children. We've heard from people in Gaza City saying that they have food but not enough water. And also saying that they're living in fear because of the bombing. What Israeli forces have been able to do is to penetrate well into the Gaza Strip. Indeed effectively cut it in half just south of Gaza City.

They have effectively punched through that narrow strip to the sea and are controlling it, dividing Gaza, the Gaza Strip into a north section and a south section. That, they hope, will effectively make it much harder for Hamas to control the area, it also makes it harder for ambulance services and such humanitarian workers to get around the Gaza Strip.

But what we're hearing from Israeli Defense Forces, they say that Hamas is using tactics that other troops see in Iraq, roadside bombs planted where the troops are passing. Hamas, they say, are also using mortars. They've got snipers positioned, and they've come into close combat with them on a number of occasions. Israeli Defense Forces say they have wounded dozens of Hamas fighters, more than 30 Israeli soldiers injured, plus one Israeli soldier killed.

But despite all of that offensive, Hamas has fired 40 rockets out of Gaza since the ground operations began. Some of those rockets we saw earlier today were fired right out of the area where the main ground offensive was going on, the rockets came from within the built-up area, the civilian area within the Gaza Strip, and those rockets have injured two Israelis today, one in a nearby town of Sderot, another one landing north of here in Ashdod injuring other Israeli civilian, Don.

LEMON: All right. CNN's Nic Robertson reporting for us. Nic, we appreciate it. Palestinian officials including those from Hamas's rival Fatah Party are demanding an immediate cease-fire. Earlier today the chief Palestinian negotiator told our Wolf Blitzer that the Israeli assault is a human tragedy.


SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: ... immediate cessation of attacks on Gaza. That's the most important thing. People should know that we have 1.5 million people in Gaza, six persons a square meter. We have a human catastrophe there. People are without running water, without medical supplies, without food supplies. It is enormous disproportionate use of force, and imagine 3,000 people out of the 1.5 million have been killed or wounded in the last nine days. If the nation is 300 million people, that would mean 600,000 people have been killed and wounded.


LEMON: Israeli officials say it is Hamas, not Israel, that is to blame. Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu is former Israeli prime minister. He told our Wolf Blitzer today that Hamas created its own crisis.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI P.M.: This humanitarian crisis is a directly result of the Hamas tactic of firing at our civilians and hiding behind their civilians. And it's something that we cannot tolerate. No nation would tolerate 6,000 rockets fired on its cities, and Israel finally decided to take action. We have to make sure that the -- we don't just have a cease-fire, but that this criminal rocketing of our cities is not resumed a few months from now because that's what happened a few ago. They were firing rockets at us, the Hamas. We had a cease-fire. They used the cease-fire to get further range, longer-range rockets which they've now fired at Beersheva and Ashdod and into the southern suburbs of Tel Aviv. Obviously, we have to remove the threat, not just stop the firing.


LEMON: And coming up, CNN's exclusive interview with the Israeli foreign minister. Our Christiane Amanpour spoke with Tzipi Livni and asked some very tough questions to her. That interview is coming up in about 30 minutes.

Well, the U.S. is keeping a close watch on events in the Mid-East. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today canceled a planned trip to China so she can remain focused on Gaza. Vice President Cheney, meantime, says any potential cease-fire must include an end to Hamas rocket attacks.


DICK CHENEY, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: We think if there's to be a cease- fire, you can't simply go back to the status quo ante, what it was a few weeks ago where you had a cease-fire recognized by one side but not adhered to by the other. It's got to be a sustainable, durable proposition, and Hamas has to stop rocketing Israel. And I don't think you're going to have a viable cease-fire until they're prepared to do that.


LEMON: Israel's prime minister says he's, quote, greatly encouraged by the support Israel has received from the U.S. and President Bush.

New violence in Iraq today. A female suicide bomber blew herself up in Baghdad, killing at least 40 people and wounding 70. Many of them women. The victims include Iranians who were taking part in a Muslim pilgrimage. The bombing is the most recent in a series of deadly attacks. They come as the U.S. tries to transfer security responsibility to Iraqi forces.

Mr. Burris is going to Washington, and even though Washington doesn't want him. The drama plays out over the man picked to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat. Can Roland Burris cut a deal? We'll talk to him live straight ahead.


LEMON: You know what? It's got to be the hottest seat in the Senate, the one being vacated by Barack Obama. As you know, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is accused of trying to peddle the sight to the highest bidder. Now in the ensuing controversy, conventional wisdom was that Blagojevich would not be able to appoint anyone. Well, so much for conventional wisdom.

Blagojevich defied almost everyone and tapped his longtime friend and confidante Roland Burris to fill the seat. And that's not sitting well with sitting senators. Roland Burris joins us by phone now. Thank you for joining us today.


LEMON: The big question, you are going to Washington. What do you plan to accomplish on Tuesday when you meet with people in Washington?

BURRIS: Don, I am the duly appointed, legally appointed United States senator from the state of Illinois, and I certainly expect that the senators will recognize that and do not deny Illinois its equal representation as we get under way in this 111th Congress. It is my hope and prayer that they will certainly have gotten the message that what the governor has done regarding his problems, they're not my problems, there's no taint on me, he has carried out his constitutional duty and found a person who was qualified to fill that vacancy, and that's what he's done.

I spent 20 years in the Illinois government. I know this state, I know the people and I know the problems. I am ready, willing and able to learn by process in the Senate, to certainly hit the ground running in representing the 13 million people of this great state. LEMON: Well, you know, living in Chicago and Illinois, I know your track record. And as a political player and a major political force not only in Chicago, but in Illinois. Now, you are aware of Illinois politics. And oftentimes there is guilt by association. You know that. And you don't think that by the governor appointing you, that there would be some guilt or some taint on you simply because of the controversy that he has found himself in?

BURRIS: Don, is there a such thing as taint in the law? I am a former attorney general. I have never read anywhere in the statute that if a governor is having some type of serious legal problems that he cannot carry out his constitutional duties. When someone shows me that, then I might be convinced that there might be something that would impact my ability to serve and to be effective for the people of Illinois. I don't think that that's possible.

LEMON: When I spoke with -- when this news broke, you were going to -- that he was going to appoint you, I spoke with president of Illinois Senate Emil Jones, and he said he had a conversation with you earlier, I believe it was earlier in December, and you expressed interest in this job, and then you called him that day and said that you were going to -- in fact, the governor was going to appoint you.

He supports you. There are many Illinoisans who support you, but you've also found yourself in a position where many people, many of them African American as well, political leaders, who are not supporting you. Do you understand their positions?

BURRIS: I respect their positions but I don't agree. What is there to understand? I will ask anyone if the governor of this state has the legal authority to make the appointment. And the answer to that is yes. Secondly, am I qualified? Do I meet the constitutional requirements to serve in the United States Senate? I do. There is no such other criteria other than people got their own private agendas that they may be, in turn, seeking to foster or bring forth.

LEMON: Mm-hmm. You know the law very well. Very well, sir. How far do you plan to take this, and do you see any -- is there any point or anywhere in the law that you see that you cannot be appointed? Do you plan to take this to the very end, and do you see that this is legally possible for you to, in fact, become the senator of Illinois?

BURRIS: Don, I am the senator. I am the senator.


BURRIS: And the next step is for the United States Senate to do its constitutional duty and not disenfranchise the 13 million people of Illinois and have us be shorthanded with all these crises that are coming down around our state and around our nation, and Illinois would not be fully represented in the Senate. That's the reason why I took this seat is because I wanted our people in this state to have a voice there, speaking on their behalf as we try to tackle some of the major crises that are confronting Illinois and America.

LEMON: So you're up for the challenge? BURRIS: I am definitely -- can you hear in my voice, Don? I don't want to get too emotional here, but I'm ready. You know, I'm ready.

LEMON: OK. And one last question because I have to run here, Mr. Burris.


LEMON: What kind of reception do you think you're going to get?

BURRIS: In terms of -- well, if I'm not seated, then we'll have to take the next step.

LEMON: OK. Roland Burris, thank you very much, sir. He says he is the senator of Illinois. We'll see what happens on Tuesday when he goes to Washington. Thank you very much for joining us.

We want to move on and talk about a major development, the drawn-out Senate race in Minnesota. We go from Illinois now to Minnesota. The state's top election official tells CNN a special board will announce Democrat Al Franken as the winner tomorrow, defeating Republican incumbent Norm Coleman. After a final recount, secretary of state Mark Ritchie says Franken won by 225 votes. The Coleman campaign has indicated they will go to court to challenge those results.

We're keeping a close eye on the ever-growing crisis in Gaza. Israeli soldiers going street to street, perhaps door to door, digging in for a very long fight. We'll talk strategy coming up.


LEMON: Updating for you now, the growing crisis in Gaza. Thousands of Israeli troops are advancing through the territory. Israeli forces now control parts of northern Gaza just a day after launching a ground assault backed by tanks and aerial attacks. Palestinian medical sources say more than 500 Palestinians have died since last week's start of Israel's military campaign.

And the Israelis say one soldier has died in the ground attack. CNN military analyst former Brigadier General David Grange is with us now, he is the president and CEO of McCormick foundation, one of the country's largest public charities.

And General Grange, it's just a day or two in Israel's ground assault into Gaza. What does it look like where you sit? Is this a situation that can be won, do you think militarily, or is this something that's going to have to be negotiated by possibly NATO?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, U.S. ARMY (RET): Well, the military is only one aspect of the final solution. Let me comment on the military aspects, not the political.

One thing about the Israeli troops are trained for this type of combat. It's integrated fighting from the sea, the air and on the ground. The commanders involved here, you have the southern front commander who is a special operations, Special Forces officer, well trained in fighting Hamas and Hezbollah. The division commander's a parachute infantryman, are well trained for this type of fight, and the brigade commander, the key brigade commander in the Gaza City area is a reconnaissance officer who's worked in this area and also qualified engineer, key for urban warfare.

They're fighting some very tough resistance because of the type of weapons that an irregular force uses, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, snipers and roadside bombs. So it is a tough fight but I think that they're going to do the military aspects for their civilian leadership.

LEMON: Let's talk about we have heard that Hamas is continuing to fire rockets into Israel, and that appears to be ramping up. The question is, does Hamas have the military power -- again, we've been saying that this is David and Goliath -- does Hamas have the military power to continue to fight Israel, and if they do, how long can they continue on this path?

GRANGE: Yeah, there are equalizers, and equalizers of an irregular force like the Hamas militants involved here is that, again, used in human shields, embedding themselves for cover and concealment within a civilian population or in areas like hospitals, schools, mosques, those type of things and very crowded, very tight operating areas in the buildings in these neighborhoods.

So it is an equalizer for well trained Israeli force. But what they're going to do is isolate certain pockets within Gaza City and other areas. They'll isolate them by cutting Gaza Strip in half, which they've already done, by sealing off other areas from the north and from the other ground approaches as well as the sea, isolate that and then start tightening the noose, possibly with limited raids, going in, coming back out, holding only areas they have to hold to be successful.

LEMON: OK. Here's what I want to ask you. You know, I would imagine that one of the techniques here would be to knock out infrastructure. And by knocking out infrastructure in Gaza, that not only, obviously, it does hurt Hamas, but doesn't that hurt -- and this is something that happens in war -- but doesn't that hurt the people of Gaza as well?

GRANGE: It sure does. And regrettably, the civilians like in any battle, any war, suffer more than their soldiers do. It's a terrible second, third order effect. And yes, the electricity is cut off. The communications has been degraded. Let's say that ambulances are trying to get through. Those will obviously be searched because some types -- some ambulances may have weapons in them.

But I cannot see where those would not be allowed to go through once they are searched at these checkpoints. But yes, the humanitarian effort is a tough part of this operation and the people are going to suffer.

LEMON: General David Grange, thank you very much for that.

GRANGE: My pleasure. LEMON: Israel versus Hamas.

We know the fighters in is this battle, but what about the thousands of Israeli and Palestinian civilians caught in the middle of this? You heard David Grange talk about that just a little bit ago. We'll hear their stories in their words.

Plus, we want to know what's on your mind tonight. Make sure you log on to twitter, to facebook, MySpace, or Tell us what you're thinking. We've got lots of responses about this uprising in Gaza, and we'd like to get some of them on the air for you.


LEMON: President-Elect Barack Obama is on his way to Washington right now. This is Mr. Obama's motorcade a short time ago on the way to Chicago's Midway Airport. The air force 757, 757, he boarded as part of the military's presidential fleet marking the first time the president-elect has used one of those planes.

One new piece of business waiting for the Obama team in Washington, finding another choice for commerce secretary. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson bowed out today citing a federal probe into his ties to a company that's done business with his state.

Let's talk more now on the growing crisis in the Middle East and the latest on Israel's ground attack in Gaza. Palestinian security sources say Israeli troops now control parts of northern Gaza just 24 hours after crossing over into Palestinian territory. Thousands of Israeli troops are advancing into the territory with support from air strikes against Hamas targets. Hamas sources say three senior members of their military wing were killed today in two separate attacks.

Air bleeders are expected to press the United Nations tomorrow for a cease-fire resolution. An emergency meeting by the Security Council last night failed to yield a new statement on Gaza.


JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT, UN SECURITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT: We had extensive talks, consultation about the current situation on the ground in Gaza and in the south of Israel. I must tell you that there was no formal agreement.


LEMON: Well, diplomats say the U.S. objected to a Libyan-sponsored call for a cease-fire. U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolf (ph) defended the move. He says Hamas didn't abide by the last call from the Council, so it's doubtful they would heed another.

A convoy of trucks loaded with relief supplies for Gazans are assembled at Egypt's Rafah border crossing. But those supplies are going nowhere fast. Our Karl Penhaul is there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm here at the Rafah Border crossing in Egypt, and right now there's about 20 trucks and containers piled high with medical supplies trying to get through the border crossing and head on into Gaza to the hospitals that are running out of supplies to treat the wounded and dying. But it's not getting through.

I want to take you for a walk around here and show you just how absurd the situation is. At best this border crossing only open for a few hours a day. Today is one of those days. Over the past few days when medical supplies have arrived, they've been cross-loaded onto Palestinian trucks and taken through the Gaza border. But right now we're told there's no authorities on the Gazan side, leaving all the responsibility to the Egyptians.

That said, having talked to some of these drivers and some of these aid workers, they say that they'd be more than happy to drive right through to Gaza City, if need be, to ensure that those supplies get through. But the Egyptians are simply saying that they can't -- they can't do that.

Not only do you have these tons of medical supplies, but you also have be Palestinians like this man, Anta Mahmoud (ph). Now, in his bags here, he's saying that he's taking food and also these gallons of oil, and he says he's taking that through to his family because he had a phone call last night. He was in Egypt, but he got the phone call last night saying his brother's house had been bombed. And his own son is now in hospital. He's been wounded to the leg after an Israeli air strike.

But not even he can go through.

It's about two hours till nightfall. And though the Egyptians say they will allow these truck to go through the first checkpoint, there seems very little prospects of any of this vital medical aid getting into Gaza before dark.

And after that, it's anybody's guess as to what the situation will be again tomorrow. Karl Penhaul, CNN, at the Rafah Border crossing, Egypt.


LEMON: Let's get reaction to the latest developments in Gaza from Ziad Asali, he is the president and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine. He joins us now from Washington. Listening to that report from our Karl Penhaul, what do you think of what's going on at the border there?

ZIAD ASALI, AMERICAN TASK FORCE ON PALESTINE: Well, this is a center problem now that is not dealt with sufficiently, it's talked about often, the humanitarian situation in Gaza. It's abysmal, it's disparate and it's getting worse. This has to receive a higher priority, the whole issue by everyone including the Israeli decision- makers even within the military apparatus. This will have consequences. Israel will live in that neighborhood for a very long time. And it has to understand that what is happening to the Palestinian people in Gaza is completely unacceptable, and it has to do everything that it can to alleviate this.

LEMON: Mr. Asali, your reaction to the UN emergency meeting last night, not able to come up with an agreement and some saying that the cease-fire, the U.S. was not -- did not call for a cease-fire. Your concerns about that? Do you have any?

ASALI: Yeah. There are no surprises here. I think the interpretation that Israelis have on this has a lot of support in Washington, that they would have to stabilize the situation and improve their strategic position in Gaza some more. And ground operations unfolding, and it seems to me that Israel has achieved enough strategic advantage in what it has already achieved in Gaza that it should be much more receptive to a cease-fire if it is structured properly. We understand that Israel needs to have protection from missiles coming from Gaza.

But it is also very necessary to put this thing to bed and put suffering of the Gaza people to bed. And there has to be a situation where the borders are open, but they have to be open under the authority of the Palestinian Authorities, not the authority of Hamas. All this can be put in some kind of a package that the United States and Israel have to find a way to live with.

LEMON: I think -- I want to go back to something -- I want to comment on more of something very important that you said. You said that Israel must be protected, missiles coming from Gaza.


LEMON: Talk to me about that. Because, you know, everyone's been talking about a cease-fire with Israel. What about Hamas?

ASALI: Yeah, I'm talking about Hamas missiles going into Israel. It's very clear that this has to come to an end. This has to be part of the cease-fire and the United Nations resolution where the Security Council anticipates a resolution. Hamas cannot go on throwing rockets. And Israel cannot go on laying siege to the Gaza people and using the incredible force that it has.

LEMON: Israel has said that their problem is with Hamas. Not the Palestinian people.


LEMON: But you can see that the Palestinian people are being caught up in this.

ASALI: Exactly.

LEMON: Distinguish for us -- and how does -- how does Israel make a distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people when Hamas is in the territory and clearly firing rockets into Israel? How do you separate one from the other in times of war like this? ASALI: Yeah. Well, it's not easy, obviously. The decision-making was by Hamas and its leadership, but the suffering was done by the people, the innocent people who have nothing to do with this. People say that they elected them. My goodness, the people of Illinois elected Blago. What does that mean? Look what happened to them.

You know, people have to be protected. And Israel, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say the Israeli officials say that they have used excessive force because they want to teach Hamas a lesson. Well, I would rather have them teach Hamas a lesson without teaching the Palestinians who live in Gaza such a drastic lesson, paying with her lives and their misery.

LEMON: Let's talk about end game here. How do you see this playing out? If you had any influence, if you could influence the United Nations or Israeli allies or U.S. allies, what would you say to them in order to help the situation come to a peaceful end?

ASALI: I think we have to keep the big picture in focus as we deal with the present issue. The big picture says the state of Palestine alongside Israel. And a deal has to be made between Israel and the Palestinian Authority headed by Abbas. That has to be the guiding principle.

What this present predicament calls for is a United Nations Security Council resolution, which would have to have the following ingredients. An immediate cessation of hostilities. Hamas cannot shoot neither now or in the future, and Israel will not have any more ambitions on Gaza or its people.

The crossings have to be open, but open under the Palestinian Authority. This is back to the 2005 agreement that guided it. This is very important because it asserts the authority of the president and does not to award Hamas politically. And we need monitors also for this.

LEMON: Ziad Asali, thank you very much, sir.

ASALI: Thank you.

One on one, tough questions for Israel's foreign minister from our very own Christiane Amanpour. She has an exclusive interview you don't want to miss.

Plus dramatic and emotional coverage of the Mid-East crisis. Can the Arab media possibly stay objective?


LEMON: Let's update you now on the growing crisis in Gaza. Thousands of Israeli troops are advancing through the territory. Israeli forces now control parts of northern Gaza just a day after launching a ground assault backed by tanks and aerial attacks. Palestinian medical sources say more than 500 Palestinians have died since last week's start of Israel's military campaign. And the Israelis say one soldier has died in the ground attack. CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour spoke earlier today with the Israeli foreign minister. In this exclusive interview, Tzipi Livni says her country is fighting to defend itself.


TZIPI LIVNI, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: They targeted last week a school in Beersheva, in Israel. Do we think the proportionate action is to target a school? we are not going to do this. They are targeting civilians. We are not going to do this. So the only measure that we are taking is to help them understand that this needs to be stopped. This is the expression of the right of self-defense of a state. And we tried a truce. We decided not to target at all. We decide not to retaliate at all. It didn't work.

So this time we needed to say that yes, maybe it is not according to -- we are not answering one to one coming from Israel. This needs to be stopped. So the question of proportionality, I think, is being misused against Israel.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You say proportionality is being misused against Israel, but you yourself know that it is a player in this game. Because the street is going to dictate how long you can keep this up.

LIVNI: Yes, I agree. I agree. The streets especially in the Arab world and also in Europe and elsewhere can affect the possibility of leaders who understand, the international leaders would understand what we are doing. There are other parts in this world in which other states are fighting terror as we are doing now in Gaza Strip. So to answer your direct question, yes.

Clearly some of the international leadership is going to be affected by the public opinion, maybe by the press, and the pressure on Israel is going to become stronger in the next few days, I believe.

AMANPOUR: Many people are calling for a cease-fire. Will you accept a cease-fire?

LIVNI: There is one thing that it frustrates me, the idea of saying something like Israel and Hamas need to stop, a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, it's not the same. I'm not willing to put Israel and Hamas in the same package or even use the same wording because, as I said before, we are expressing our right of self-defense. Israel is a state which is a member of the international community while Hamas is a terrorist organization. Israel acts against Hamas because it targets Israel. So they know what to do in order to stop it.

AMANPOUR: So you're going to continue until they stop?

LIVNI: They need to stop.

AMANPOUR: And if they don't?

LIVNI: So Israel takes the necessary steps, it can be during this operation, it can be done later. At the end of the day, they need to understand that we are determined this time to change reality for our citizens. The idea is not to act against the population in Gaza Strip. It's not about who controls Gaza Strip. As long as we can live in peace and quiet in Israel.


LEMON: As you can well imagine, the plight of Palestinians in Gaza leads the news in the Arab media, right? Octavia Nasr. She joins us now. She is a senior editor for Arab affairs, and she has been monitoring their coverage. This has been going on, obviously, nonstop in Arab media. And tell us what the coverage has been like as we've been watching it here as well.

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Round-the-clock coverage, very interesting, very emotional, and very much in support of the victims in this case, the innocent people who are suffering in Gaza as a result. Let's take a look.


NASR (voice-over): On this Lebanese TV station, a tribute to Hamas' rhetoric and actions. Such as this Katyusha attack against Israel. "Gaza equals dignity", says the video, a display for support of Hamas and what the station calls, quote, "its resistance of the occupying enemy," unquote.

On al Jazeera and other Arab networks, the coverage of Gaza remains emotional with a focus on what's happening inside Gaza, in its hospitals and on its streets.

Graphic images side by side with animated guests and reporters in helmets and flak jackets in addition to reports of various protests around the world in condemnation of Israel's incursion and a wide use of technology to explain step by step details of the ground operations, their significance and progress.

And an unusual sight both on TV and online, campaigns in support of Gaza interwoven with news coverage.

Here on al Arabiya, an invitation to donate to the United Nations relief organization for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. And while a few Arab leaders made scattered comments in support of the Palestinians in Gaza, in the view of a political cartoonist, Wifarshap al Asad (ph) it's all lip service that leads nowhere. The words "We support Gaza until the last Palestinian standing" don't leave much for Arab leaders to hope for.

Really interesting Arab media, any time you have a crisis in the Middle East such as this incursion on Gaza, the emotions run very high on Arab media and makes viewing them very interesting.

LEMON: Yeah. It's also very interesting because I've been looking at -- obviously, we can get a lot of them here at CNN. And I spoke to a member of the Arab media last night and says that they are being criticized for showing what they say is -- you can't cover a war and have it be sanitized, and it is unsanitized. They are showing bodies and bloodshed. Why the difference?

NASR: They show things that we would never show here, just out of respect for viewers' emotions, you know. We use -- we use disclaimers saying -- we warn viewers that some of the images are going to be graphic. On Arab media, it's really open. Sometimes they roll video as they get it from the field, bloody faces, dead bodies. Sometimes they sit on the shot for a long, long time. It's a totally different standard. To them, that is war, and that's what happens in wars. As a matter of fact, they look at how we cover stories, and they think we sanitize a lot.

LEMON: Yeah. It's very interesting. And just from our viewers here in the U.S., because you get one e-mail that says you're biased towards Israel. Then you get one e-mail saying you're biased towards the Palestinians, and hopefully you're somewhere in the middle. You have to ask the tough questions on both sides. What I want to ask you -- I started out by saying can the Arab media be unbiased or, you know, the point is, can they be neutral in all of this?

NASR: It's hard to be neutral in all this. I mean, look at these images. You're looking at reporters. This is al Jazeera, and the reporters are in Gaza. They're not just reporting on Gaza. They're residents of Gaza. Basically they have families there. They are suffering just like everybody else because of the siege first and now because of the incursion.

So when they report the story they're reporting it with a lot of emotions. It's hard for them to step out of it and report it because they're residents, they're there and they're citizens and reporters at the same time. Now very important to say also, Don, is they're encouraged to do this. Understand there's a difference there, for example, I was listening to the report talking about the Israeli occupation. To him, no big deal. That's the language he uses. Then his executives are not telling him to change the language.

LEMON: It's interesting because it is personal for them and probably one of the only things in recent history we can sort of relate to is 9/11, an attack here where Americans felt so emotional about it as well. Octavia Nasr, thank you so much. Always appreciate your insight.

NASR: Thank you.

LEMON: Israeli soldiers hitting the streets of Gaza, protesters hitting streets around the globe.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.


LEMON: We'll take you worldwide as the explosive crisis in the middle east sparks explosive protests.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: You know what? We all wish we could be two places at once. Well, the reality of that is closer than you think. Kyung Lah is seeing double on tonight's "Edge of Discovery."


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You are not seeing double. Well, sort of. This is a Geminoid, an android version of this inventor, Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor of robotics at Osaka University.

Blinks like you.

HIROSHI ISHIGURO, OSAKA UNIVERSITY ROBOTICS PROFESSOR: And the hair is also mine. This is (inaudible) twins.

LAH: But not quite. An operator using multiple camera and infrared detectors for lip movement runs the Geminoid from another room. Dr. Ishiguro steps behind our curtain and we continue our talk from here.

ISHIGURO: I can have another personality or another presence. I control this robot from anywhere.

LAH: The ability to be in two places at once, say roboting into the office while you work from home. After a few minutes, I even forget that the Geminoid is separate from Dr. Ishiguro. Did that feel like I was touching you?

ISHIGURO: I can feel something.

LAH: Professor, are you studying humans or androids?

ISHIGURO: Both. By developing androids, I'm studying humans.

LAH: Dr. Ishiguro has been developing robots like this for years, but they didn't look human. He believes this machine that looks so much like a man it can be used to study human behavior.

ISHIGURO: If we replace all human functions with the technology, then we can study the human.

LAH: Trying to understand the human soul by building from the outside in. Kyung Lah, CNN, Kyoto, Japan.



LEMON: Breaking news here at home and overseas. In the Mid-East, the death toll climbs on both sides as Israeli troops move farther into Gaza. And here in the U.S., a political shocker. A big-time play in the Obama transition team drops out, all of this as President-Elect Barack Obama arrives in his new hometown in Washington, DC. Live pictures from Andrews Air Force Base. That's his plane just landing. We'll have continuing coverage throughout the newscast. The man who could replace Barack Obama in the Illinois Senate (sic) if the Senate wants him, Roland Burris speaks out. The news starts right now.

And as we look tonight at these live pictures from Andrews Air Force Base, that is Barack Obama arriving in Washington, leaving Chicago a short time ago. He is back in Washington tonight, his plane touched down just a few minutes ago. One new piece of business waiting for the president-elect, finding another choice for commerce secretary.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson bowed out today, citing a federal probe into his ties to a company that has done business with his state. The Air Force 757 that brought Mr. Obama to Washington is part of the official presidential fleet.