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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

U.S. Sends 2nd Aircraft Carrier Strike Group To Region; Pentagon Deploys 2nd Aircraft Carrier Strike Group To Region; Deadly Blast Hits Gaza Civilians On Evacuation Route. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired October 14, 2023 - 21:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I'm Anderson Cooper in Tel Aviv with John Berman in New York. You're watching CNN Special Coverage of Israel at War. Israel is promising that a new phase in its war on Hamas is coming just not clear when exactly that will be.

Troops have been amassing for days now near the border with Gaza getting ready for unexpected ground operation. Israel pounded the territory again today with airstrikes. Officials say Hamas commander who played a key part in last Saturday's attack was killed. Meantime, while Israel prepares to go into Gaza, hundreds of 1000s of civilians tried to heed the IDF warning to get out. UN officials warned such a large scale evacuation during a siege could lead to a humanitarian disaster.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So Anderson there is an important development tonight from the Pentagon as well. We learned that a second U.S. carrier strike group, led by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is sailing to the Middle East, sailing to the Mediterranean. It is designed to show support for Israel and send a message to Iran and its proxies including Hezbollah in Lebanon, not to get involved.

The Eisenhower group will join the USS Gerald Ford that reached the Israeli coast earlier this week. Also tonight, the State Department said the number of U.S. citizens killed in last week's attack, the number has climbed to 29 dead, 15 Americans are still unaccounted for, Anderson.

COOPER: And as John mentioned, the new U.S. warships are supposed to send a signal to groups like Hezbollah not to get involved with Israel's war with Hamas. Today Israeli forces exchange fire with a Lebanese terror group near the border. CNN's Matthew Chance is in northern Israel for us. So what sort of hostilities have been going on there?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's been -- there's been some exchanges of fire. You mentioned mortar attacks coming from Hezbollah oppositions in southern Lebanon, over here across the border to Northern Israel with just a short distance from the Lebanese border, now. There was artillery fired by the Israeli forces that are concentrated here now, in preparation for a possible second front opening up.

There was also a missile fired or two missiles in fact, according to local Israeli force commanders fired from Syria into northern Israel. And there was an Israeli response to that as well. But -- but none of those exchanges, according to Israeli officials, have reached the point of escalation yet, because what everybody is bracing for is a potential barrage of missiles from the Iranian backed militia Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

Of the sort of kind of situation that we saw you and I and we were back here in 2006, when there was a huge unleashing of Hezbollah rockets into Israeli territory here in the north of the country. The situation is even more precarious now because it's believed that Hezbollah has much more -- much more powerful arsenal than it did.

I mean, Israel has new technology as well. It's got the Iron Dome, antimissile system that's enforced up here in northern Israel. It didn't have that in 2006. But nevertheless, it has said Israel, that if the Hezbollah militia does take that step, it will possibly lead to the destruction of Lebanon. So they're sort of being very overt about what -- what their response will be.

Add to that, the U.S. carrier group that's off the coast of Israel in the eastern Mediterranean, there's another carrier group heading that way as well. The United States really doubling down on its deterrent, but also doubling down on its firepower, if it is called upon to help Israel to back Israel in a broader sort of regional campaign.

We're not there yet. But it's definitely a threat and Israeli forces here in in some considerable numbers in northern Israel, bracing for that threat, Anderson.

COOPER: Matthew do -- do people you talk to there think that the U.S. precedents in the Mediterranean would be a deterrent?

CHANCE: I think they do. Yes. And that coupled with the deterrent that Israel itself has, it has an extremely capable Air Force and its own sort of missile systems that it has said essentially that it will bring to bear but I think everybody also knows that that deterrent may not be enough.

If it is decided, for instance, in Iran, to activate the Hezbollah militia for them to fire rockets into northern Israel, even though that may end in massive bloodshed and destruction across the border. Of course, it's still possible, which is why the Israelis say they're taking every precaution they can up here in northern Israel.

They acknowledge they were caught off guard in the south in Gaza last weekend with nearly 1300 Israelis killed.


And they have vowed that that's not going to happen, this time. It's not going to happen in the north of the country. They said, look, you know, we may not have been ready down in the south, but we're ready now. And so as I say, a very tense situation. There's not a second front opened up yet, but it is a possibility and Israel and the region is bracing for it.

COOPER: Matthew Chance, thank you. Israel appears on the verge of responding to Hamas terror attacks on Saturday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited troops at the border today telling them, "The next stage is coming." I want to bring a Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli Defense Forces."

Colonel, appreciate you being with us. Obviously, I'm not going to ask you what that actually means in terms of what the next phase is going to be. But has Israel called up the number of people it planned to call up or that it needs to call up? Are there plans to call up more people?

LT. COLONEL JONATHAN CONRICUS, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESPERSON: Yes, hi, thank you. Thank you for having me, again. It is -- the situation around the Gaza Strip is that -- around the Gaza Strip is that it is quite densely packed with hundreds of 1000s of Israeli reserve units that are preparing for various missions. I am not aware of any other plans to call up more reservists.

There are additional Israelis that are of course ready and trained to join the combat service. But at this stage, I am not aware of any need for additional personnel. Now actually, the challenge or the focal mission is to have all of those more than 360,000 reservists both in the South and in the north, get their mission ready, equipped, prepared, task forced and ready for whatever the assignments they will have in the future.

The IDF dropped leaflets in northern Gaza, telling people to leave the North to go to the zones, zones in the south closer to the Rafah border, to get out of harm's way to the extent that that is possible. I'm wondering if you have monitored movements. And do you have any sense of how many people have actually heeded those warnings? Because as you know, Hamas has told people not to leave Gaza City and elsewhere?

CONRICUS: Yes, we are aware of that extremely cynical activity by Hamas not only statements, but actually erecting roadblocks and using force in order to stop Gaza civilians from going south into safety or relative safety, which is -- that should be condemned by all of those so called humanitarian organizations, of which many have been quoted in the media lately for that war crime and that cynical use.

Now we do -- we have monitored that motion of people, we've seen many, and I think the last estimate that I saw was at least 400,000. But that's not an Israeli number. That's what I read in -- in one of the reports. The important thing here to focus on is that we will commence significant Military operations only once we see that the area has -- that civilians have left the area.

But it's really important that people in Gaza know, we've been very, very generous. So to say with the time we have given ample warning, more than 25 hours -- 24 hours have passed. And really, I cannot stress more than enough to say now is the time for Gazans to leave. Take your belongings, go south, preserve your life and do not fall into the trap that Hamas is setting up for you. I want to ask and I want to warn people that there's some graphic video that they may see. CNN has been able to geo locate a number of sites. Sorry, I just want to -- I want to make sure I'm getting this correctly here. Yes, five separate videos of large explosions along an evacuation route for civilians to get out of Gaza. The explosions occurred on (inaudible) Street. Do you have any information about these explosions, was it an Israeli airstrike?

I've seen videos and we are investigating the matter not only from a perspective of did Israel attack which I can say categorically that we definitely did not intentionally strike anything there. There was no target on that road. There -- a mistake may have happened. We're looking into it.

[21:10:00] But I think it is at this hour of the war, when the whole world has seen very clearly what Hamas is and their level, their morality or the lack thereof, I think that every piece of information coming out of the Gaza Strip, especially if it serves Hamas propaganda purposes, should be treated with extreme caution. And we've started to analyze footage coming out of Gaza. I have doubts that these are aerial drone strikes.

And I think that people who have experience and knowledge in forensics and visual analysis would be good to look at those pictures and to understand if these were really aerial attacks or perhaps IEDs that were planted. And I'm not yet saying or claiming that they were. that I think that questions should be asked.

COOPER: The Rafah border crossing into -- into Egypt remains closed, both by Hamas and -- and by Egypt. I assume you are supportive of Egypt, opening up that that border to try to get as many civilians out as possible, and certainly U.S. citizens, as well, who are in in Gaza? Do you have any sense of if there's been any progress on trying to get Egypt to agree to do that?

CONRICUS: To the best of the information that I have, there was an attempt today to allow Americans and I think a few other nationalities out, it was not successful. I understand that it was because the gate was locked on the Gazan side. And it wouldn't surprise me that Hamas isn't letting people out, because that's exactly the same behavior that they're displaying in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, which we just spoke about.

So it's the same pattern. Our intentions are, of course, to not strike civilians and to minimize the effect on others. I think that we were trying to facilitate this crossing, which unfortunately, didn't succeed. And those talks are ongoing.

I think the triangle of Israel, U.S. and Egypt and perhaps a few other countries, the U.N., perhaps are involved. Hopefully that will bring the possibility to take internationals out of Gaza and to safety. The problem with everything related to the Gaza Strip is that Hamas uses every humanitarian gesture and activity for their military purposes.

And I do want to remind everybody, that we are in a hostage situation. Hamas is holding more than 120 confirmed Israeli hostages. And we know that anything humanitarian will also, can also be used by Hamas for sinister purposes. And unfortunately, to bear the consequent -- consequences of that sorry, is the civilian population in Gaza.

COOPER: Jonathan Conricus, thank you for your time tonight.

CONRICUS: Thank you.

COOPER: Pentagon is sending a second aircraft carrier and strike group to the eastern Mediterranean. This as Israel's military readies for what it calls the next stage of wars. We've just been talking about. We'll have a live report next.




COOPER: Tonight we're learning a second carrier strike group led by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is on its way to the Middle East. We're told it's deployment to the eastern Mediterranean is meant to show support for Israel and send a message to countries like Iran to stay out of the conflict. CNN's Oren Liebermann joins me now so what have you learned about the Pentagon's plans?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: So Anderson, this was a carrier strike group that deployed yesterday from Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, it was originally supposed to go to European Command, and that trip takes about two weeks. So there was some time here, but you get a sense of the urgency with which the Pentagon and the Biden Administration view this because just one day after leaving that carrier and the destroyers and cruisers going with it, will head to the eastern Mediterranean to join the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group that arrived earlier this week.

Again, the administration has made clear these aren't supposed to take part in the fighting in any way. And Israel has made it clear, it doesn't want the US involved in this fight. But the Biden Administration, Israel, and in fact, many other countries are watching this play out and trying to make sure it doesn't spill over into any other countries and escalate into a regional conflict. And that's the point of these carrier strike groups being in the eastern Med.

As a message of deterrence to Iran to Iran's proxies -- proxies, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as Iranian backed groups in Syria. That's who this message is pointed at as a warning to stay out of this conflict. And you don't see two carriers in the same area very often. That gives you a sense of how important and significant this is.

COOPER: What about other U.S. military assets in the region?

LIEBERMANN: Of course, there are some other options here. We reported just a few days ago, that the USS baton, an amphibious landing ship and an amphibious Readiness Group with the Marines could also deploy to the region. They're already in that region. They are south of Sinai around the Arabian Peninsula in the Gulf of Oman there and have been moving slowly, making their way towards sort of south and east as of the latest check.

So that could also be ordered to the region with a Marine Expeditionary Unit. That's a rapid response force that specializes in humanitarian assistance, hostage rescue and a number of other missions, as well as the Air Force plussing up a number of fighter squadrons in the region. It is Iran that this whole message is aimed at.

COOPER: Oren Lieberman, thanks so much. Retired Army Brigadier General Peter Zwack joins us now with more. General, I'm wondering what do you think went into the Pentagon's thinking when it sent this second carrier strike group to the region?

BRIG. GEN. PETER ZWACK, U.S. ARMY (RET): Good to see you again, Anderson. Yes, it's a significant move. Two carrier strike groups bring enormous capability in certainly projecting airpower. They come with helicopters. They are there, I think, as Oren said to provide if you will deterrence, but it gives them options. If -- if this thing were to get worse, you -- you have the ability to support an evacuation.

And, again, if it somehow spreads to other powers, for example, Iran or gets into something that's really, really dicey involving Syria, then we are there with very, very significant capability.


I don't think the plan is to get them involved in that. That would be an extreme case but they give options and that's the key.

COOPER: What are your expectations for what a ground operation will -- will look like? Assuming that's what Israel is planned with 360,000 some odd reservists on the border now.

ZWACK: OK. Well, that's a, that's a hard question. I will -- I will make a guess here. I think that it would start with their going in, going in hard, especially up toward the north. You'd lead with special operations, you try to get in there and try to get key Hamas nodes in and, and command and control points.

Perhaps one hopes that they have a line on where the hostages are, Anderson, and they would go for them, because that's a nightmare. The fact that you have over 100 hostages mixed in there probably in several different locations, you'd want to get in there fast. Then -- then you have the -- the -- the more -- the more blunt force of large, put together mobile forces with a lot of infantry tech, now I've got to go in, as we've learned in a number of places in Iraq and elsewhere, you got to go into a city fight.

Hamas is going to be waiting for them. And in the absolute cynical way, they are using the civilians that they purport to protect as their cover and shield. So they will first of all, try to bloody the Israeli forces. A number of them are reservists and draftees, so not a lot of recent experience in heavy, heavy urban fighting. And then there -- there could be airstrikes and artillery that get a lot of you know, that -- that -- that kill a lot of and wound a lot of Palestinians in that area. And it becomes a real, real, even bigger drum humanitarian nightmare -- nightmare. They're hoping for the press to go, to put pressure on Israel. But I think that were -- Israel after what happened last week, exactly a week ago is hardened.

They -- they are -- they're done with Hamas. And that's -- that's part of I think that will lead to a pretty, pretty ferocious fight going in there. They would lose a lot of people in any way, because some loss isn't leaving. And as we've heard, they're not going to let as best they can the Palestinian population out. And I would surmise that those explosions you reported, may very well be Hamas' ways to disrupt the withdrawal, if you will, or evacuation of 2 -- can you believe it or you know half a million or million Palestinians. Where do they go?

COOPER: It is clearly though, in setting aside humanitarian desires to not injure civilians, it is clearly in Israel's military interest to not have civilians around in Gaza City and elsewhere in northern Israel, where they plan to fight Hamas. I mean, it just from a military -- purely Military standpoint, I -- correct me if I'm wrong, they would want as many civilians out of the picture as possible.

ZWACK: You're absolutely right. You know that awful term, collateral damage. There will be 1000s -- 10s of 1000s civilians that wouldn't be probably killed or wounded in such a densely populated area. If a major, major operation goes and -- and the Israelis don't want to have to do the care and feeding of all those civilians in the midst of a fight. And -- and you get into an urban area. And I know you've reported from Iraq in our time there. You then you don't you know, the streets, the underground the -- the -- the tunnels are.

You want to have a clear, clear field or clear area so you can fight and -- and not worry that every other target is a civilian. Yes, your point is well taken.

COOPER: Brigadier General Peters Zwack, thank you. Appreciate it. President Biden speaking out today, tonight on the war, calling for an end to hate in all forms. A live report from the White House ahead.



COOPER: We heard from President Biden tonight speaking at the Human Rights Campaign national dinner in Washington DC. The President addressed the terror attacks on Israel and antisemitism. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is at the White House, what did the President say?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he talks about ending hate in all forms. That was a through line in the course of his remarks when he took a moment to reflect on those attacks in Israel and also the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We could go we saw hate manifested another way in the worst massacre of Jewish people since the Holocaust. More than 1300 innocent live last in Israel, including at least 27 Americans, children and grandparents alike kidnapped, held hostage by Hamas.


ALVAREZ: He later went on to talk about the "innocent Palestinians" who have nothing to do with Hamas, as he reflected also on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. And those themes from those remarks. Anderson also came up in calls that the President had today, both with Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as the President of the Palestinian Authority, Abbas.

In both of those calls, he also talked about protecting civilians. The call with Netanyahu was the fifth since last Saturday. And he there also talks about the military support that the U.S. was providing and getting humanitarian supplies to Gaza.


But also Anderson, the resounding message from both of those calls was not widening the conflict and avoiding this from escalating any further.

COOPER: The U.S. to start evacuating Americans from Israel. What do you learn about that? And what's the plan for trying to get Americans out of Gaza?

ALVAREZ: This is an effort that's been led by the State Department. They have been coordinating behind the scenes with regional partners as well as airlines to try to get those US citizens in Israel, out of Israel when there are limited flights going in and out of the country. So the first charter flight left just yesterday from Israel, and it landed in Athens. This is something that's going to be ongoing in the coming days to destinations in Europe.

And again, this -- the idea here is to help you as citizens get out of Israel to other locations in Europe, and then U.S. based carriers can ferry them back home. Now, National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby talked about this over the course of the week. The idea here is potentially expanding capacity by land or sea. But it's clear that there is a need.

We also learned from the State Department that since last Saturday, more than 20,000 U.S. citizens have reached out to the department. Now not all of them are looking for transportation assistance. But what is very clear here, Anderson is there is need and there is demand and national security officials saying here that while that exists, they will try to charter these flights.

When it comes to Gaza, it is ongoing talks to try to get that humanitarian corridor open so that Palestinian Americans, or any Americans in Gaza can also find a way out into Egypt. Of course, those talks are still ongoing. COOPER: And do you know what the holdup in those talks are -- is because I mean, obviously it's Hamas controls that border and Egypt controls that border. We heard from leaders in Egypt today in an interview with Wolf Blitzer and the resounding message from him was that the holdup was on the Gaza end. But of course, these are talks that are ongoing.

We're seeing the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken make the rounds in the region and that all of that diplomacy goes to show that there is intense talk behind the scenes to make sure that this becomes a possibility but in the interim Anderson, it's a wait and see.

COOPER: All right, Priscilla Alvarez, thank you. Still to come, excuse me on our special coverage, more from the region. Concerns about the conflict increasing antisemitism across Europe. We'll be right back.




BERMAN: There are clear fears that the Israel Hamas conflict could spread beyond the Middle East. Protests have erupted in cities around the globe. Today, in Paris, the Louvre closed its doors unexpectedly due to what they called security reasons. Friday, France raises security alert level to the highest one possible.

It is home to Europe's largest Jewish population and also has the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. CNN's Melissa Bell is in Paris. Melissa, why don't you describe what you've been seeing there?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you mentioned the Louvre being closed temporarily took. So too was Versailles for similar bomb threat, a measure really of some of the tension that we've been seeing across Europe, John, over the course of the last week now.

Europe has really had an antisemitism problem for about 20 years. And when you look at the figures in the rises here in Europe. They've always correlated very closely with rises in tensions in the Middle East and this particular week of tension has proven no exception.

Far from the frontlines of the Israel Hamas war. Many European Jews say they're not just feeling the pain of what's happening there. But also fearing the potential ramifications much closer to home. In France at the Great Synagogue in Marseille, a prayer is held for the people of Israel. It's a fervent prayer, after reports of antisemitic incidents in parts of Europe, after Hamas launched its assault on Israel more than a week ago, and Israel's subsequent bombardment of Gaza.


MARC MEIMOUN, WORSHIPPER (through translator): First of all, it's important to be present whenever the Jewish people are in danger. Unfortunately, we're used to this kind of gathering, this kind of prayer. We're tired of it all. Nevertheless, we have to respond in unity.


BELL: France is home to Europe's largest Jewish population, as well as the largest Muslim population in Western Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron has urged his citizens to remain united, though French Police used water cannon and tear gas to break up a recent rally in support of the Palestinian people, which had been banned by French officials citing concerns about public order.

But there are fears of further unrest in France. 10,000 police officers have been deployed to protect synagogues and Jewish schools. And on Friday, France raised its security alert to the highest level. After a knife attack at a school the French Interior Minister says was linked to the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The UK is also stepping up security after reports of increased antisemitic incidents. The community security trust, a British nonprofit organization that monitors antisemitism says the number of incidents reported to them in past week has increased by more than 300 percent compared to the same period last year.

Tensions at times spilling out onto the streets of London where flyers of Israelis reportedly kidnapped by Hamas were torn down.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is for Palestine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're not mutually exclusive. It's children. It's children, it's innocent people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, well, what about the children in Palestine?


BELL: Germany, meanwhile, says it has a zero tolerance policy towards antisemitic acts and will ban all activities supporting Hamas, which is on the EU's list of terror groups. German officials say they can do no less.


FRANK-WALTER STEINMEIER, GERMAN PRESIDENT: Protecting Jewish life in Germany is part of the identity of our democracy. The security of Jews in Germany is our democracy at its core. Only if our Jewish citizens live in peace and security can our country as a whole do so.



BELL: Now I mentioned a moment ago, John that those rallies in favor of the Palestinian cause had been banned here in France. That ban remains in place. And yet, there was another gathering this afternoon, 19 people were arrested a reminder really, that that desire to get out on the streets and protests and make their voices heard in favor of the Palestinian cause, shows no sign of abating here in Europe, either John.

BERMAN: Melissa Bell in Paris. Melissa, thank you very much. The United Nations is criticizing Israel's order for more than 1 million people to evacuate northern Gaza, saying it's impossible for that many people to move in such a short period of time. Egypt has not yet opened its border with Gaza because it reportedly wants Israel to first send humanitarian aid in for any incoming refugees.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer spoke with the Egyptian Foreign Minister by phone to clarify why the border remains closed and what concerns he has about the flow of humanitarian aid.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: As of right now, what you're saying and I just want to be precise, Foreign Minister, you're saying the border, the crossing is open as far as Egypt is concerned, you're willing to accept these U.S. citizens and these other citizens if they can get there. But you're saying that near that border crossing in Rafah, because of bombing that's going on, presumably by the Israelis, they can't get there? Is that what you're saying?

SAMEH SHOUKRY, EGYPTIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I'm saying that the border crossing on the Gaza side is inoperable because of the damage that has been afflicted and the procedure for those managing the border on the Gaza side to verify the documents and the list of third nationals that have been provided, has not been fulfilled.

So as far as we're concerned, we have indicated once and again, that we will facilitate, we are in coordination with the embassies in Cairo to receive their list of nationals. And certainly as they come out, and as it is fulfilled, the entry of assistance and humanitarian supplies will be very happy to continue to facilitate their return to their countries of origin.

BLITZER: Are humanitarian supplies that are that are in Egypt right now able to get through the Rafah border crossing into Gaza to help those Palestinians who are there?

SHOUKRY: No, unfortunately not. We are coordinating with the United Nations, with the UNRWA to applying for permission to have the supplies transit through the Rafah crossing, and be deposited with the United Nations for disbursement. But we have not received authorization to do so.

So we are in a, I think, a very dire circumstance with -- with the -- I was just speaking to the director of the UNRWA who tells you that there is no water, there is no electricity, there are no supplies, and there are no dwellings for the multitudes of Palestinians, those who have been displaced from the north of Gaza, with this very critical situation.

And we would very much like to disperse all the supplies that have arrived to our reach as soon as possible to meet the needs of those vulnerable Palestinians who are in these very difficult circumstances.

BLITZER: Foreign Minister in your conversations with your U.S. counterpart, the U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken, what's your bottom line, Egypt's bottom line message to the U.S. right now?

SHOUKRY: We need greater protection for civilians not to come under fire and certainly the numbers of rising casualties and injuries with more than 500 children who have perished during this conflict. We need to contain this and hopefully see a way out of this quagmire and returned to dealing with the issue of resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the end of the occupation.


BERMAN: Again, Israel instructed people in northern Gaza to move south. It's the most densely populated part of Gaza, the North is. We're talking about well over a million people there. With me now is Rick Brennan, Regional Emergency Director for the World Health Organization. Rick, thank you so much for being with us.

When you heard Israel dropping those flyers telling a million people basically to move, what went through your head.

RICK BRENNAN, REGIONAL EMERGENCY DIRECTOR, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Well, our concern always from the World Health Organization is the health and humanitarian dimension of that so it's very clear there are huge health implications, huge humanitarian implications.


As you mentioned, the -- the area is already incredibly densely populated. There are major gaps in food, water, shelter, sanitation. So people now are being forced into these unsanitary, overcrowded settings, risks of disease outbreaks, the directive from the authorities has also been to evacuate hospitals in northern Gaza. And that has huge and complex and high risk consequences associated with it.

It's all, you know, we have probably over 100 patients that are critically ill, and -- and trying to forcibly move them under the current circumstances would certainly result in the deaths of many patients. So we're asking the -- the Israeli authorities to actually rescind that that directive.

BERMAN: What happens if they stay? What happens if they do stay in the hospitals, though, and there is a ground operation?

BRENNAN: Well, that's, you know, the risks of the military offensive that involves the hospital facility, we would hope, we would certainly hope that the offensive would respect the neutrality of hospitals, respect, frankly, the sanctity of health care. But, you know, our conversations with the health care providers there is that they really don't have much of a choice.

It's -- you know, with patients, on ventilators, babies in incubators, patients requiring hemodialysis, unstable patients, it's a very high risk exercise to move them, and they don't have the resources to do so. They don't have the vehicles, they don't have the equipment, they don't have the trained staff. And then you can imagine the logistics dimension of this as well. Longer roads, damaged roads.

And then when -- where do these patients go in the south? The hospitals are already overwhelmed. And so the doctors and nurses in northern Gaza have made the determination that it's too high risk, patients will die if they're moved. So that made the determined -- determination to stay. Therefore, we're asking for that directive to be rescinded.

BERMAN: For the Israelis, the IDF, what they say is, look, we have issued this order, because they say they have to go in to get Hamas. And by telling people to leave, they're actually moving them out of harm's way. What's your reaction to that?

BRENNAN: Well, they -- they'll be forced into another type of harm. Again, if -- if you're trying to forcibly vacate a hospital, as I've mentioned, there are clear consequences of that. Then, as well, you know, the health system itself has -- is under enormous strain, right across Gaza, and increasingly in southern Gaza.

People will be again, congregating in these massively overcrowded, unsanitary settings, lacking water, lacking fuel and so on. So there will -- there's big risks of disease outbreaks. Either way, the major, major health consequences.

BERMAN: Understood. What do you see as the responsibility of Hamas, now to alleviate the suffering of the people who might be in the hospitals?

BRENNAN: So you know, belligerents on any side of a conflict have responsibilities, and under what we call international humanitarian law, the Geneva Conventions, so they have to respect the health facilities and make sure that they are not attacked, make sure that patients have access to those health facilities, and that there's no interference with the delivery of health care, and the movement of patients, the movement of health workers in and out.

So both sides of the conflict have very, very serious responsibilities in that regard, including under international humanitarian law.

BERMAN: Rick Brennan, an incredibly tense, difficult situation, and the people in the hospital stuck in the middle of it. Thank you for being with us tonight.

BRENNAN: Thank you. Thanks very much.

BERMAN: All right. There has been activity in Israel's northern border. Back and forth exchanges between Israeli forces and Hezbollah. Mourners gathered today for the funeral of a journalist killed covering the clashes in southern Lebanon. Our breaking news coverage continues next.



BERMAN: New clashes erupted today between Hezbollah militants and Israeli forces along the volatile southern Lebanese border. The fighting was the most prolonged exchange of fire between the forces in the last week. It erupted just hours after the funeral of a South Lebanese journalist for Reuters who was killed while covering the clashes.

Here's CNN's Senior International Correspondent Ben Wedeman.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: South Lebanon remains in a state of high tension as fire continues to be exchanged between Israel and militants in Lebanon. Saturday afternoon Artillery Rocket and small arms fire echoed across the mountains in the disputed Shebaa farms area between Lebanon and Israel in the most prolonged exchange yet.

The Israeli Military said 30 mortar rounds were fired from Lebanon into Israel. While Hezbollah put out a statement claiming its fighters had used precision weapons to target five Israeli positions, including an Israeli surveillance post. Late Saturday, the group's media wing put out video showing precise hits on communications and surveillance equipment at those positions.


The official Lebanese News Agency reported that an elderly couple was killed when an Israeli round struck their house in the Lebanese town of Shebaa. Hezbollah said one of its fighters was killed in confrontations with Israeli forces. Earlier in the day, residents of the Southern Lebanese town of Al Khiyam came out to mourn the killing of Reuters cameraman Issam Abdallah, well known in the Middle East press corps for his work in conflict zones around the region. Friday afternoon, Abdallah was filming an exchange of fire between Israel and Hezbollah when their position was struck with rockets fired, witnesses told CNN from the Israeli side of the border.

Six other journalists were injured all were wearing protective gear with press markings. An Israeli spokesman described Abdallah's death is tragic, but didn't concede it was caused by an Israeli strike. Now also Saturday evening, the head of Israel's national security council, in a televised briefing with journalists said Israel hopes to avoid a two-front war involving Lebanon.

He said the current level of clashes between Israel and Hezbollah is in his words below the escalation threshold. He also said we hope Hezbollah won't bring about the destruction of Lebanon. Now in the past, Israeli leaders have warned among other things, that if Hezbollah goes to war with Israel again, Israel will send Lebanon back to the Stone Age. I'm Ben Wedeman, CNN reporting from southern Lebanon.

BERMAN: Well, thanks to Ben for that. So Israel says it is getting ready for the next stages of the war, our special coverage continues ahead.