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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Israel Confirms Airstrike Hit Gaza's Largest Refugee Camp; Egyptian Official: Rafah Crossing To Open Wednesday For 81 Palestinian Patients To Be Treated In Egypt; Top U.S. Officials Testify On Capitol Hill As Israel War Rages; Iran-Backed Groups Attempt To Attack Israel From North & South; Medics Describe Atrocities Committed By Hamas On October 7; Blinken: U.S. Trying To Get 100 Aid Trucks A Day Into Gaza. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired October 31, 2023 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

I'm standing on a rooftop looking out over Tel Aviv. It is just after 10:00 p.m. here, and it has been 24 days since the horrific terrorist attacks by Hamas caught this country, and frankly much of the world, by surprise.

We start tonight with breaking news. Israel says it is behind an enormous explosion at a refugee camp on the Gaza Strip. This was the aftermath of the blast at the Jabalia Camp, which the United Nations says is the largest refugee camp in Gaza.

Israel's military says it killed a top Hamas commander in its airstrike. A man they say who was one of the leaders of the October 7th attack, and was hiding amongst civilians inside the refugee camp. Israel also claims to have killed around 50 Hamas terrorists in that strike.

It is not clear how many people were killed, or injured, but the director of a hospital in the Hamas-controlled area says he has seen hundreds of dead bodies and wounded patients. He describes it as a, quote, scene no one can imagine.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer pressed a spokesman for the IDF on why is real would carry out a strike with so many civilians in the area.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: Do you know that there are a lot of refugees, a lot of innocent civilians, men, women, and children in that refugee camp as well, right?

LT. COL. RICHARD HECHT, IDF INTERNATIONAL SPOKESMAN: This is the tragedy of war, Wolf. I mean, we -- as you know, we've been saying for days, move south (ph).


TAPPER: In a few minutes, we're going to hear from the head of a U.N. agency in Gaza about what his colleagues on the ground in Gaza are saying.

And as all of this is unfolding in the Middle East, top U.S. officials on Capitol Hill are warning about the dangerous consequences of this war, both at home in the United States and abroad. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressing the importance of funding for both Israel and Ukraine's war efforts, saying that failing to do so would embolden America's enemies. And FBI Director Chris Wray and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas were warning about elevated threat levels in the U.S. since the world began. We're going to have more on that in a moment.

But let's get back to the blast at the Jabalia refugee camp, the largest such camp in Gaza.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in southern Lebanon, and then, the Israel Defense Forces are confirming that it is responsible for the airstrike and the damage.

What more do we know about what and who they were targeting?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Israeli military, Wolf -- Jake, says that Ibrahim al-Biyari was the target. He was the commander of the central Jabalia battalion, which the Israelis say he was responsible for sending elite operatives into Israel, on the 7th of October, for that surprise attack. And then he was also responsible for Hamas forces in northern Gaza, as Israel continues with its ground incursion. They say he was also responsible for a variety of attacks inside Israel, going back decades.

But we also know, as a result of this attack in this very, very crowded refugee camp, that according to the head of the Indonesian hospital, there are somewhere between -- there are somewhere around 400 dead and wounded as a result of that strike.

And, of course, that strike has sparked sharp condemnation from Egypt, Jordan, and elsewhere -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ben, you have been to the Jabalia refugee camp before. Tell us about it.

WEDEMAN: Yeah, I've been there many times over the last 30 years. It's the largest of the eight refugee camps in Gaza. According to the U.N., it has a population, as of 2023, of around 116,000.

You know, it's always been known among journalists that go to Gaza that when you go to the Jabalia refugee camp, you're going to encounter more children than anywhere else.


They're curious. They want to know what you're doing. The place is teeming with kids. We don't know how many of them were killed in that strike.

But I can tell you that that is the thing that stays with you when you go there. It is crammed. It is busy, it is bustling. And it's a place that was founded back in 1948, of -- by Palestinian refugees who either fled or were expelled from Israel. They've been there ever since, and certainly I've been there in the aftermath of the Israeli strikes. During the Israeli incursions, but the level of destruction we are seeing as a result of today's strike is something I've just never seen before -- Jake.

TAPPER: Ben Wedeman -- Ben Wedeman in southern Lebanon, thank you so much.

CNN's Nic Robertson is live for us in Sderot, Israel, just outside the Gaza Strip.

And, Nic, you've been watching Israeli tanks and troops heading towards Gaza. How does this strike fit into this expanded offensive that we've been seeing from Israel?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: The IDF have been saying that the way that the ground forces are operating is that when they identify a location where there is a Hamas stronghold, they call in airstrikes. So this fits it exactly, because the IDF is saying high value Hamas targets with other Hamas fighters in a tunnel, and that's a target. And the ground forces are calling it a target, and we know because we're standing here and we witness and hear the explosions all through the night and all through the day. That there are some bunker bustling munitions being dropped in Gaza, to target these tunnel networks. So, it fits it precisely.

I am hearing heavy machine gun fire over my shoulder here, which is the direction of the Jabalia refugee, and Gaza City. But until last night, I was hearing that gunfire over this shoulder, which tells me that troops are actually advancing.

But we don't know precisely how far they are getting, and we don't know what it looks like on the ground. Is it phalanxes of tanks and armored fighting vehicles? Is it troops moving house to house? We don't -- we just don't know. But we do know when they find big groups of Hamas, they're calling it airstrikes, despite the fact that there's a very high civilian presence there.

TAPPER: Nic Robertson, in Sderot, thank you so much.

Just into CNN, an Egyptian border official is saying that the Rafah crossing will open tomorrow for 81 Palestinian patients stuck in Gaza. They will be treated in Egyptian hospitals they say. It is not clear what this means for the tens and thousands of other civilians trapped in Gaza, that includes hundreds of Americans, one of whom did manage to send as an update today.

You might recall, Haneen Okal. We've been following her for weeks now, she's from New Jersey. She is in Gaza with her three children, the youngest just two months old. She and her brother, Abood Okal, who have also been following and keeping in touch with, they were visiting family when they got caught in this war. They've managed to find shelter at a house near Gaza's southern Rafah border crossing. Some 40 people are packed in there.

We have been talking to them. We've been trying to get them out. They say finding food and water is getting harder by the day. Haneen sent us this new voice memo earlier today, noting the constant explosions they hear at night. Take a listen.


HANEEN OKAL, AMERICAN TRAPPED IN GAZA: My son, who is two months, wakes up every night from the sounds of bombing. He cries more than he used to. I still feed him, but I'm so worried that the stress and fear of this war is going to cause my milk to dry up, which could pose a huge problem because there's no milk in Gaza. We are worried that we will become a casualty in this war. We're all Americans in here and it has been a 25 days since we have asked the State Department to bring us back to New Jersey where my husband is waiting for us anxiously.


TAPPER: Haneen and Abood and your families, we are praying for you. We are calling everyone we can to help get you out of Gaza.

And let me say again, President Biden, get these Americans out of Gaza.

As Israel looks for international help funding its war, today on Capitol Hill, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told senators there is a clear link between aid to Israel and to Ukraine.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Since we cut off Russia's traditional means of supplying its military, it has turned more and more to Iran for assistance. In return, Moscow has supplied Iran with increasingly advanced military technology, which poses a threat to Israel security. Allowing Russia to prevail, with Iran's support, will simply embolden both Moscow and Iran.



TAPPER: Blinken's testimony comes as House Republicans, under the new leadership of new Speaker Mike Johnson, have proposed a bill to give aid to Israel, but not to offer any aid to Ukraine.

I want to go now to CNN's Evan Perez.

Evan, FBI Director Chris Wray also testified before a Senate committee today. He warned about the war here in the Middle East, impacting U.S. security. Tell us about that.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. This was a warning from the FBI Director Chris Wray, as well as Alejandro Mayorkas, who is the secretary of the Homeland Security Department. And both of them were talking about the threat that they've seen since the Hamas attacks on Israel. The last 24 days, the FBI director said that they've seen threats rise to a level not seen since the rise of ISIS several years ago, and a lot of those threats, Jake, are being directed not only at Jewish communities, but also Muslim and Arab American communities.

But Chris Wray, the FBI director, spoke particularly about the level of antisemitic threats, which he said are reaching historic levels. Listen.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: When you look at a group that makes up 2.4 percent, roughly, of the American population, it should be jarring to everyone that that same population accounts for something like 60 percent of all religious-based hate crimes. And so they need our help.


PEREZ: And, Jake, he says that the threats are coming from domestic extremists, obviously groups of all kinds of flavors. And really one of the things that the FBI and the Homeland Security Department are concerned about is that people might take the urgings of some of these extremist groups overseas, some of the terrorist groups, to try to conduct attacks here in the United States. That's one thing that they're focusing on, looking at people who are associated with Hamas and some of the other groups who might be doing things beyond just fundraising, and might be inclined to do more than that here in the United States, Jake.

TAPPER: Yeah, I think the point that Wray was making was the threats to the Jewish community come from across the spectrum, not just from the right, but from the left as well, from Islamic groups, from white nationalist groups, from everyone.

Evan Perez, thank you so much.

On top of the strikes in Gaza, the Israeli military is also saying that its warplanes went north, destroying infrastructure belonging to the Hezbollah terror group. That exchange, next as tensions mount across this region.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back live from Tel Aviv.

Tonight, Israel is a country encircled by conflict. On its western border, Israel's military is bombarding Gaza in retaliation for Hamas's terrorist attack earlier this month. As Hamas attempts to fire rockets into Israeli territory, to the north, the Iran-backed group Hezbollah is exchanging fire with Israeli troops. And on Israel's southern border, Israel says it thwarted a drone and missile attack by Iran-backed Houthi militants near the Red Sea.

CNN's Jim Sciutto is live in northern Israel.

And, Jim, let's start with the loud day along the Israel-Lebanon border, where you were and you witnessed this exchange of fire between Israel and Hezbollah.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yeah. Jake, I'll tell you, traveling along the length of that border the last several days, we find cross border fire virtually at every village, every road we go to up there, from the eastern and, all the way to the western and along the Mediterranean Sea. And today was no exception.

And that's firing in both directions. You have Hezbollah militants firing rockets, artillery, they've been floating IEDs across the border on small parachutes. They've also been attempting to breakthrough the concrete barrier that extends most of the length of the border, and Israel firing back, howitzers, tanks, air strikes going after Hezbollah infrastructure.

They say they've killed close to 50 Hezbollah fighters in the last several days since October 7th, and as a result of that, what we've seen as well is that a lot of those towns right along the border, all of them along the border have been mandatory, under mandatory evacuations. And many others that aren't quite close, they've emptied out anyway because families don't feel safe.

And I understand it. We drive there, we look into the hills, we see another explosion. That's the nature of low grade conflict up here, but a conflict nonetheless.

TAPPER: Jim, tell us more about what Israel says is a thwarted attack by Iran-backed Houthis down south near the Red Sea.

SCIUTTO: You know, this is the second time that missiles have come from Houthi -backed rebels in Yemen. You may remember just over a week ago, there were missiles fired and drones. They were intercepted by a U.S. destroyer just off the coast of Yemen, before they could get this far.

In this instance, it was Israel's arrow missile defense system. There's a lot of talk about the Iron Dome, that primarily for rockets coming across from Gaza and the north and southern Lebanon here. Arrow is for higher altitude threats, surface to surface missiles like this one that was fired today. In fact, the IDF says it was the first time today that the arrow missile defense system has been engaged since October 7th. So the first time one of those missiles coming from the Houthi-backed rebels in Yemen made it this close to Israel.

And the worry, Jake, is that Yemen has a lot of missiles, Hezbollah has many thousands of missiles. The worry is that those Iran-backed proxies will use the same strategy that Hamas used, which was to try to overwhelm those missile defenses, and many missiles at once, in which case some undoubtedly would get through.

[16:20:07] TAPPER: Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, these right-wing Israeli extremists, these settlers, are killing Palestinians while at the same time Israel is also trying to deal with terrorists in the West Bank as well.

SCIUTTO: That's right. The IDF says it carried out the demolition of the home of a Hamas leader in a village just outside of Ramallah, one of the main towns on the West Bank. Vehicles were seen going in the direction of the house, and then a large explosion.

This is a tactic Israel has used many times before to go after the homes of leaders, after attacks like we saw on October 7th. But the sad fact is there was violence, and by the way, this violence preceded the attacks of October 7th. Violence by right wing extremists, Israeli settlers, against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, and we saw it again today, and decide fact is that many of those settlers feel like they have the backing of elements of the Israeli government, some of the right-wing members of Benjamin Netanyahu's government.

And it's a facet of this conflict we have to understand. Hamas, of course, a brutal extremist terrorist organization, responsible, proudly, for those October 7th attacks. There are extremists in the West Bank, they also target civilians, and we saw that today.

TAPPER: Absolutely. Jim Sciutto in northern Israel, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Hamas circulated a video this week showing three of its many hostages, 240 or something, alive. One of them, Danielle Aloni. I'm going to speak to her brother, next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, live from Tel Aviv.

Moments ago, cameras captured flares lighting up the sky over Gaza. You'll see them there on the left side of your screen, as Israel continues to target the area with strikes aimed at Hamas.

Israel estimates there were some 240 hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza. Only four hostages have been released since their capture by Hamas on October 7th. One was rescued.

This, of course, prolongs the brutal and agonizing wait for families that just want their loved ones home. Yesterday, Hamas released a short video of three women who are believed to be hostages, kidnapped, Danielle Aloni, Rimon Kirsht and Yelena Trupanob.

CNN is not showing the video.

With me now is Moran Aloni. He is Danielle Aloni's little brother. She is one of the hostages who appears in that hostage video released by Hamas. Moran, thank you so much for being here with us today, on what must be

a very difficult day.

Have you seen the video? Did you watch the video, and what was your reaction?

MORAN ALONI, RELATIVE OF SIX HOSTAGES: I have seen at. It's clear that she is in distress. To hear her, you know, scream to get free, to be free, but she's also alive. This is something that we didn't knew two days ago, and now we know it. But obviously she is in distress.

TAPPER: Right, right. But -- what passes for good news in this crisis situation, that she is alive.

ALONI: It is, it is.


ALONI: Yeah.

TAPPER: Until -- until the release of the video, did you know anything about her condition? My impression is that you didn't know if she was going to make it.

ALONI: We didn't know anything since two weeks ago. We've known a bit more since they told us that officially she was recognized as kidnapped, we don't know anything about any members of the family.

This includes her daughter Nelia. It includes my other sister, Sharon, and her husband. Her daughters, they're all kidnapped.

TAPPER: Remind everybody where they were kidnapped from.

ALONI: They were kidnapped from Nir Oz, in the early morning. We were texting. They told us that there are terrorists in the kibbutz. After a while they said that the terrorists were at our neighbor's house, after half an hour in their house. After an hour, she wrote that they're burning the house, that's the last message that we got from her, then were, help, we're dying.

After a couple of days we understand that they couldn't find anything in the safe room, and we assumed that they were kidnapped. And then we got the message that they were actually kidnapped.

TAPPER: What do you want people watching to know about your sister?

ALONI: I want them to know that what we saw in the video is her in a very, very big distress.


ALONI: My sister is a calm person. Seeing her like that, hearing her, means that she's not well. The fact that she's speaking doesn't mean that she is well.

TAPPER: Right. ALONI: And the fact that people are now saying, okay, they look good. That's exactly what they want us to think. Everyone is okay, keep in mind that there are three hostages that we saw.


TAPPER: Right.

ALONI: There are more than 230 there.


ALONI: And I think that this is -- again, we don't know the situation of the other hostages, my other sister and her family. We don't have -- the Red Cross is not allowed there. Why? Why can't we understand the situation of all the hostages?

TAPPER: Right.

ALONI: And, you know, that's what I see there, a very big silent distress.

TAPPER: Right, and obviously, not speaking willingly, not speaking her mind, not saying what you would actually say if she were able to speak freely.

ALONI: I can tell you that my sister is not a political person.

TAPPER: Right.

ALONI: It's obvious that this is part of the psychological warfare that we are having during this war. Whatever she said, I don't even want to go into that, because it doesn't matter.

TAPPER: And it's not her.

ALONI: Exactly, exactly. This is the message that they want to bring here.

TAPPER: Your father has said we have been left as a family of four, from a family of ten. I can't imagine what you're going through. I cannot imagine it.

The endless nights, the sleepless nights, you probably can't eat, you probably can't sleep. You probably can't think about anything else. What do you want people out there around the world to understand about what it is like to have your family members kidnapped by Hamas? What should people understand?

ALONI: I don't think that there's -- I don't think telling my story would make them understand. I think only imagining their family, their helplessness in protecting their family, being relief when someone says that six of your family members are kidnapped, that's a relief?

TAPPER: Right, for having that the good news, in a warped world. ALONI: Exactly, imagine, just imagine. Close your eyes and imagine

that you are unable to protect your family, and that you are unable to know if they are alive or dead. That you don't know if the next hour you will hear that they got free, or that three officers will come and say that they're all gone.

Just close your eyes and think about that for a second. That's my story. It's 240 people's story, and if it happened here, and we don't stop it here, it will happen everywhere.

TAPPER: I can imagine that there are times when your body just shuts down from exhaustion, just because your body has to, and you wake up and you've forgotten, and then you remember.

ALONI: I still wake up every day, trying to wake up out of this dream.

TAPPER: Right, yeah.

ALONI: You know, the moment that you wake up, and you're not sure if you're dreaming, or your -- or this is reality -- this is every morning, this is once an hour.

TAPPER: Moran, I hope to see you again with a family of ten, with all ten, not four, with all ten.

Thank you for being with us. Be strong, I am so sorry are going through this. It is not fair. It is not fair. It's not. Thank you for being with us.

ALONI: Thank you very much.

TAPPER: We'll be right back.



TAPPER: After more than three weeks of dealing with the trauma of October 7th, and alarmed by so many in the international community denying the horrors committed by Hamas, many first responders are starting to talk publicly about their stories, about the atrocities they witnessed with their own eyes. A warning now that some of the images and descriptions that you are about to hear and see are quite disturbing.


TAPPER (voice-over): As the deputy director of international emergency operations for Hatzalah, Israel's emergency volunteer emergency rescue service, Linor Attias has seen many gruesome and haunting scenes. But nothing could have prepared her for October 7th, when she came to the site of death and destruction that is kibbutz Be'eri, where bullets and RPGs were still flying, because Hamas still controlled some of it and would for days.

After being warned of a grenade, she entered a house where she tended to a wounded soldier.

LINOR ATTIAS, UNITED HATZALAH DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF DISASTER MANAGEMENT: And then I remember that I turned my head, and I saw the family. They tied up the kids, and the parents were tied up in front of their kids. And they shot them. So much blood, and I didn't have the time to feel anything in that moment. I just --

TAPPER: How many -- how many people?

ATTIAS: There were four. Two kids, around -- the girl, the same as my girl age of around 11. And a boy, maybe six years old. Honestly, that moment, my feelings were blocked. I understood now that I am a soldier, a robotic soldier, if I want to survive that and just to help as many people as we can.


It was a little girl, around eight or nine years old. And they cut her hand, over here.

TAPPER: Cut it? Or cut it off?

ATTIAS: They just cut it off, no hands. She was still breathing, she was just like shaking. And I gave her a tourniquet, but it was her last breathing. Her last breathing.

I wasn't there earlier to save her. She just lost so much blood for hours. All by herself, no one was near her even. She was so afraid. Her eyes, all by herself.

TAPPER: How old was she?

ATTIAS: Ten. Around ten or 12, I don't know.

Everything just -- I don't know how to explain that. I don't know how to explain that. I don't know what kind of evil, demon can create that kind of operation because they thought about everything. It was well- organized, and the world needs to know that right now.

TAPPER: There are going to be people that hear your story and say how come we didn't hear about it until three weeks later? It's just because you didn't want to talk about it.

ATTIAS: After three weeks, that I understand the importance to speak about it.

TAPPER: There are people out there who don't believe these firsthand accounts.

ATTIAS: I don't blame them. I don't want to believe it also. I want to sleep at night, and I don't sleep. I don't sleep. And I don't blame them.

TAPPER: As we were leaving, she introduced us to another rescue volunteer, he went to other parts of Israel that day. David Bader, his first stop was Sderot. What I saw there, people strewn, dead bodies. Dozens.

At the Sha'ar HaNegev junction I counted, there were 24 bodies. There's also the body of a boy that was thrown, the stroller of the baby. Why? Why would you kill him?

He tells us that Kfar Aza was like a destroyed cemetery. Dead, injured, blood everywhere in the houses, in the yards, on the street. You can't understand what I saw there, he says. It's impossible to understand.

He remembers a family that had been driving a car, and were until terrorists killed them. The children were charred, just charred, he says. What could a child due to an adult he asks? He was a baby, strapped into his car seat inside the car.

He guessed that the terrorist took a firearm, shot and killed the members of the family, and then with a knife, cut their throats.

David response like this to skeptics.

It's a shame that those people didn't come there to see what happened on that Black Saturday. Get it out of my stomach, out of my head, everything that happened. Why do we deserve this? Dozens dead, the smell. Even now, it's still with me.

I want the entire world to know, the entire world to know what Hamas did, he says. Children were killed, small children, kids that didn't even know how to say dada or mama. He didn't even know how to say it.


TAPPER: And none of this is in relation to anything that the Israeli government or military is doing. But these actions, they provide the context as to why the Israeli government has decided, with overwhelming Israeli public support, that they cannot allow Hamas to be able to carry out any future attacks on the Israeli people.

The U.N. says one aid group alone has lost 64 workers, more than any other team in any other world conflict in such a short period of time. The dangerous work of groups such as it is. That's next.



TAPPER: We're back live from Tel Aviv.

Today, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. is trying to get 100 trucks carrying aid into Gaza. Each day, to help the Palestinian individuals there who need help. That is nothing, of course, compared to the 500 to 800 trucks that used to enter daily before the war began, before Hamas invaded and killed so many innocence here in Israel.

Trucks not likely have little, if any fuel desperately needed to power hospitals and you disseminate water.

Joining us now is Thomas White. He is the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza.

Thomas, thank you for joining us.


There was a huge blast at the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, that's north of Gaza City today. The IDF, the Israel Defense Forces, they say it was an Israeli airstrike, as they claim to be going after a senior Hamas commander.

Your agency describes this as the largest refugee camp in all of Gaza. What more can you tell us about the strike?

THOMAS WHITE, DIRECTOR OF UNRWA AFFAIRS IN GAZA: Jake, we're very concerned about what's occurring in Jabalia right now. Reports are coming in that there are well over 100 casualties. We understand that there were six airstrikes in the area. The reality is that this is very densely packed, urban area. In that area alone, we have 21 schools with shelters.

Before October the 12th, we had 87,000 people sheltering in those schools. Our best estimates now are there are at least 30,000 people still living in those schools in Jabalia camp. So the events of tonight are tragic, and we are very concerned about civilians sheltering under the U.N. flag in Jabalia.

TAPPER: You have previously mentioned there being a breakdown of civil order in Gaza, especially now that aid is slowly trickling in. Describe what you mean when you say people are in survival mode, and they're stealing flower from warehouses.

Help us understand the severity of this humanitarian crisis right now.

WHITE: Just to give you an example, one of the camps, what we know as the middle area of Gaza, the population effectively doubled overnight in that camp. People are seeking shelter wherever they can. Water and food are in very short supply

And under these conditions, you start to see society unravel, and that's what we saw in the last 48 hours with the losing of a number of our distribution centers particularly in the middle areas of Gaza. You know, the community are under enormous pressure, people are desperate now to find water and food. There is a breakdown of all public services and the private sector.

I'm concerned that this dynamic is going to be increasingly prevalent across the remainder of southern Gaza.

TAPPER: And just yesterday, the UNWRA commissioner said that 64 aid workers, your colleagues, have been killed since October 7th by Israeli airstrikes. That's the highest number of aid workers killed in a conflict anywhere in the world, in such a short period of time.

How have you've been able to work under these conditions, while trying to keep yourself and others alive?

WHITE: Jake, it's been incredibly difficult. All of our staff are grieving, the whole community of Gaza is grieving for lost loved ones. Or, they're worried about loved ones who are still in the north.

The reality is, wherever you are in Gaza, it's not safe. There have been airstrikes in the south over the last few days, so it's been exceptionally tough on our teams, as they grieve the lost colleagues. But what is really remarkable is the UNRWA staff are really the heroes of Gaza at the present time.

Many of them have displaced themselves. In fact, I'd say the majority of this of the several thousand staff that are working, currently are living in internally displaced centers. They're coming from those centers, working exceptionally long hours. And what's really tough is that they know what they need to do for the community, in terms of food, water, and other essential supplies. But they just don't have them in their hands.

I met with a large group of our staff in a training center yesterday, and I continue to be overwhelmed by their sense of can do attitude, despite the difficulties and the circumstances. They're getting out there every day to try and serve their community.

TAPPER: Thomas White, thank you so much and thank you for what you do, sir. Really appreciate it.

WHITE: I appreciate the time, Jake.

TAPPER: A moment of panic here today, one that people here in Tel Aviv experience quite frequently.

Stay with us.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

I'm standing on the roof top, looking out over Tel Aviv. It's just about 11:00 p.m. here, in Israel and a few miles away in Gaza. It has been 24 days since the horrific terrorist attacks by Hamas caught this country, and frankly, much of the world by surprise.

Tonight, a massive explosion rocking a Gaza refugee camp, killing many people. The cause, an Israeli attack. Israeli Defense Forces say they killed a very senior Hamas commander in the area, who was reportedly hiding behind civilians, as Hamas does.