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Today: Biden Departs for High-Stakes Visit to Israel; Hamas Releases New Video of 21-Year-Old French-Israeli Hostages; U.S. Sending Marine Rapid Response Force Toward Israel. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2023 - 09:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And in just a number of hours, President Biden is expected to make his trip to Tel Aviv, the second leg of that trip will also in Amman, Jordan. It is a very day, very critical moment for this administration.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Very critical trip. Obviously, we'll continue to follow all of it all day. And we'll see the president tomorrow morning landing in Tel Aviv.

Thank you for joining us.

CNN NEWS CENTRAL starts now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone.

President Biden getting ready to head off to Israel, and in doing so, giving an extraordinary show of support. Biden is expected to arrive in Israel tomorrow.

And the move, of course, does not come without risk on multiple fronts. We are seeing new rocket attacks happening now on Israeli soil. The IDF also continuing to carry out strikes in Gaza, targeting the Hamas commanders who planned and pull off that terror attack on Israel, and with it, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is only getting worse.

A warning, some of the new images coming in, they are disturbing. This new video that we will show you is a fresh view of the crisis. You can see very clearly what it is. It is a massive burial of Gazans killed. Body backs placed in rose, as you can see, row after row after row.

Also this morning, we are hearing a new urgent plea from the mother of one of the hostages that Hamas is holding. This mother -- and this is Mia Shem. We're going to bring you what this mother is now saying. This is after the terrorist released a video of her daughter, the first hostage video to be put out by the terror group.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, Kate. You just mentioned, new Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. Those were targeting Ashkelon right here, which is what, five to ten miles from the Gaza border. There, you can see how close that is. This morning, we're also getting new information about U.S. military

deployments. As we know, there will be two U.S. carrier groups in the Mediterranean. The USS Gerald Ford is there, the Dwight D. Eisenhower is headed there.

And we're also learning this morning that some 2,000 marines are headed to the region, possibly the Red Sea. They are part of the Marine Expeditionary Unit. Some 2,000 marines will be moving through the Red Sea perhaps very soon, and an additional sign of support.

We are on the ground at the White House and in Israel.

Let's right to our colleague Sara Sidner in Tel Aviv -- Sarah.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, we begin this morning with the French Israeli hostage, 21-year-old Mia Schem. Mia was kidnapped from that music festival on the Gaza border earlier this month where at least 260 bodies were found in the aftermath of the Hamas attack there. I attended the press conference earlier today, just an hour or two ago where her mother spoke about her daughter.

Let's go ahead and listen to what we heard, and then being in that room, you could feel the devastation of her entire family who is there. Keren Schem spoke while holding a picture of her daughter because she wants the world to see who Hamas kidnapped.


KEREM SCHARF SCHEM, DAUGHTER MIA SCHEM BEING HELD HOSTAGE IN GAZA: I did not know if she was dead or alive until yesterday. All I knew is that she might be kidnapped. I am begging the world to bring my baby back home. She only went to a party, to a festival party to have some fun, and now she is in Gaza.


SIDNER: And, by the way, when the world saw this video that Hamas put out, and Hamas days ago said it was going to put out videos of hostages and threatened to kill them until Israel relents, but at this point in time, all we saw was a video that came out.

It showed Schem. She looks scared. She has a bandage around her arm. She has clearly been injured, and there has been it looks like surgery that has been done on her arm. There are bandages on her arm in a video sent out via social media from Hamas.

But when we all saw it, worldwide, the parents also got it at the same time and learned of this video, and it was the first time that they learned that their daughter, Mia Schem, was still alive.


At that point in time, they believe she was, they hope she was, but they had no proof.

Now they have proof. The only issue was that we don't know exactly when that video was taken by Hamas, whether it was days ago, hours ago, no idea. But we know that the world saw it just overnight here in Israel.

All right. I want to take you now to Ashkelon, which is much closer to the Gaza border then I am here in Tel Aviv. That is where we find our chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward at this hour.

Clarissa, you know, you were there when there were explosions happening, there were rockets coming over, and huge barrage a few days ago. What can you tell us about what the situation is there now and along the Gaza border?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it has been quieter this morning up until just a few hours ago, Sarah, when Hamas released a barrage of rockets again towards Ashkelon. They say it was in revenge for the current situation in Gaza. But I just want to play some video that we have managed to capture of the moments as those rockets fell into Ashkelon.


WARD: You can hear some intercepts there, Sara, but you can also hear at least two from our count that made landfall. One just behind me in that direction but it's important to emphasize that Israel does have the Iron Dome. It is incredibly effective. These rockets do have a paralyzing effect on the community, but there are very few casualties as a result of them, which is a very stark contrast to what we have been seeing in Gaza this morning, reports of at least six airstrikes in southern Gaza.

You might remember, this is the area that Israel's defense forces have told people to evacuate from their homes in northern Gaza and move into. Gaza's health ministry saying at least 60 people killed in those six airstrikes. They took very close to the Rafah Border crossing in the south and along the border with Egypt.

This is the border crossing that there have been furious negotiations and diplomatic efforts to try to open that up to provide some respite, some relief to people inside of Gaza and also to get some of the most severely injured out of Gaza as well as foreign nationals. Again, that border crossing has not opened today. The U.N. warning that the situation is dramatically deteriorating, spiraling, in fact quite out of control. Six hundred thousand people Sara have moved from their homes in northern Gaza to southern Gaza in the hopes of finding some respite in some refuge.

They've done that with airstrikes, and they still do not have water, they do not have electricity, and they are running out of food. So, the situation clearly untenable and all eyes on diplomats who continue to make efforts to somehow open that border crossing, Sara.

SIDNER: Yeah, I know. You and I have both been in Gaza, we know densely populated it is and how tight and close everything is, and so the thought of 600,000 people moving into another part of this area that is already completely crowded is really, really a difficult thing to imagine when you don't have water and you have very little food and you are facing these airstrikes. It is dangerous for every civilian who was there.

Clarissa Ward, thank you so much for giving us all of the details there from the border to where you are in Ashkelon.


BOLDUAN: Sara, thank you so much.

Let's go over to the White House now where President Biden is preparing to leave today for Israel.

CNN's Arlette Saenz is standing by at the White House for us.

Arlette, the announcement came last night. What are you hearing from the White House today about this visit and what's at stake?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, President Biden is set to depart for Israel later this evening as he's looking to prevent this crisis in Israel from broadening into a wider conflict in Middle East. Now, the president will be landing in Israel 11 days after Hamas launched its attack against the country, really highlighting what a dramatic and significance show of support the president's visit will be.

And officials say that in addition to showing that support for Israel, the president's trip will also send a message to those actors in the region such as Iran, and Hezbollah, warning them from taking advantage of the situation.

Now, in addition to traveling to Israel, the president will also be in Jordan, where he will meet with Arab leaders, and the top spokesperson at the National Security Council today, John Kirby, said that the president's focus in this discussion will not just be ascertaining Israel's next steps, but also addressing the humanitarian issues at play in Gaza as well as keeping those American hostages top of mind. Take a listen.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: The president believes that this is exactly the right time to go to Israel and to go to Jordan to speak to other leaders in the region about the humanitarian assistance that we want to make sure gets into Gaza, about Israeli plans and intentions going forward, and how this is unfolding on the ground. And absolutely to continue to talk with regional partners about those hostages and getting -- and see if we can get them home back to the places that they belong.


SAENZ: And this trip goes beyond just that symbolism. The president is also hoping to leave there and offer some deliverables while he is on the ground there. One of the challenges facing this president is that issue of the humanitarian crisis. The president and his team have increasingly started to express their concerns about civilian life in Gaza. The president is also hoping to discuss this with Arab leaders as well.

Of course, there are huge security concerns. Just think back to yesterday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken had to shelter due to air sirens going off as he was meeting with Netanyahu. That White House ultimately determines that it was a safe time for the president to travel, that the proper security protocols will be put in place as he is set to make this high stakes diplomatic test in trip to Israel.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, trying to send a strong showing of deterrence as he's heading over there.

Arlette, thank you so much. A lot is going to be happening at the White House today.


BERMAN: All right. With me now is retired U.S. Army Major Mike Lyons.

Major, we've talked about what the U.S. is doing in terms of military deployments. There will be two carrier groups in the Mediterranean and we're just living this morning that a Marine Expeditionary Unit will head to the area at least passing through the Red Sea, some 2,000 marines there.

What I do want to talk about now though is the Israeli deployment along the border with Gaza. Obviously, you have these troops in this exclusionary zone. Infantry troops stationed all around in there as well as all kinds of armored units, tanks, and whatnot.

And what are they doing right now? How are they preparing?

MAJ. MIKE LYONS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): So, the numbers likely classified, but this probably 68,000 troops there, and it's a significant logistical challenge to get the money for the offensive operation that are going to take place. And there are in D schedule, D minus to the day that the battle take place.

Let's say they're going to go ten days from now. So it's D minus ten today. And D minus ten, they have to do X amount of tasks in order to be accomplished to be ready. D minus nine, d minus eight.

So it counts down to when the day happens when they're going to actually launch into the combat.

BERMAN: How important is intelligence right now in terms of what they know the situation is on the ground? I put this map up here. This is the dividing line between the north and south. Israel has told people to move south here. These are hospitals in the region.

LYONS: Yeah, the complexity because of the urban combat that are going in. It makes the intelligence that important. The hostages create a layer of uncertainty that make this important. So, again, they're not going to launch this offensive operation until they are confident that they are going to be successful at it. And because, again, they don't have the kind of human intelligence inside of Gaza that they have had in the past. BERMAN: So who in terms of Israeli troops will be going and, and what

kind of training do they have?

LYONS: Yeah, you look at the Kippah (ph) brigade is one.

A newly formed brigade passed 15, 20 years there. They have to kind of experience that will fight the urban fight. They've trained in an area that's close to Gaza there or before. They are good at counter- insurgency. They've done this before.

BERMAN: This is actually a mini-Gaza City that they built here to train in.

LYONS: Yeah. And this -- the fight will be led by the active duty forces. I know they recalled 300,000, but the fight will be led by the 170,000 active duty forces. They're going to bear the brunt of what's happening.

BERMAN: So, when they do get in here, and you can see how densely evidence populated it is. When the troops to roll over the border, what is it that they can do?

LYONS: So, it will be piece by piece, or street by street. And given what the objectives are from the military commanders, I think one of the things that they're going to be able to accomplish right now and start destroying tunnels. I believe that from a military objective, that is something that they can accomplish, right?

War is an extension of your foreign policy. This is something the military can do. And I think as they move through Gaza, as they take block by block, it will be destroying these kinds of tunnels and destroying these facilities to take away Hamas's capability to wage war.

BERMAN: This is what they may be after. More than occupying, President Biden says he does not believe in occupation, would be a good idea, but you could go in there, Israel theoretically, and destroy the tunnels. I want to talk a little bit about what we have seen over the last several hours.

LYONS: Yeah.

BERMAN: Yes, we've seen Hamas rocket attacks on Ashkelon which is right there, but you've also seen Israeli airstrikes on some of this area here where Israel has told the people in Gaza to move to.


What are the possible targets here for Israel given that this is where they told civilians to go?

LYONS: I think that's coming from intelligence sources that show that Hamas troops are retreating as well. I think that's only reason why they would shoot in that area. They left the supply route. They've left this area for civilians to go. They're doing their thing they can to make sure civilians can find a way out. But if they do find military targets in that location, they're going

to go after them.

BERMAN: Because if you are the Hamas military wing, you know that civilians are being told to move there. What is it that you were trying to do during this period?

LYONS: Yeah, you're trying to stay alive at this point, trying to figure out -- we know we expect that Hamas has got defensive positions in these locations that are known crossing points that the Israeli IDF has to take, because again, it's a hard border there.

They can't destroy a border to kind of cross, to get any element of surprise. There's known locations they have to cross.

BERMAN: All right. Retired Major Mike Lyons, great to have you here. Thank you for understanding what we're seeing. Again, this is the sort of no go zone right now. This is where the Israeli troops amassing, preparing for an invasion that could happen within days. Thank you.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, we also have new video into CNN overnight of IDF airstrikes in Gaza, and also a new view from the ground. What that looks like from the civilians there.

Plus, we're also staying close to Capitol Hill today. Republicans are taking the speakers fight to the House floor it looks like. So, does Jim Jordan finally have enough votes, or at the very least, the momentum. And how many rounds could they go today?

And former President Donald Trump, he's headed back to court, and expected to arrive at the Manhattan courthouse this hour for his civil fraud trial. An update from the courthouse is ahead.



SIDNER: Right now, the World Health Organization is warning Gaza faces a imminent public health crisis as Israel's war against Hamas intensifies. Overnight and this morning, Israeli airstrikes are continuing to pummel Gaza, snatching human life as Israeli troops continue to amass at the border for the next phase of the war.

This is video just one of dozens of strikes that the IDF has carried out since Hamas's massacre in Israel on Saturday. We also want to show you what it looks like on the ground. A warning, what you are about to see and the reality of war is extremely disturbing.

After one strike in Rafah, you can see terrified civilians, men, women, and children scrambling for safety. People quickly grab what belongings they can escape with. Some of them are injured in the blast and still trying to get away.

Another horrifying image shows a grieving Palestinian man carrying the body of a child after a strike in southern Gaza.

And then there is this. We have been looking at these mass graves for people because they are just too many bodies killed so quickly all at once. There is no time to do any kind of proper burial.

For those who have survived, the vital humanitarian aid that they need is piling up across the border in Egypt, but the crossing there into Gaza is still closed.

Let's bring in CNN's Salma Abdelaziz.

The World Health Organization, Salma, and I know you know this, is now warning that water is running out for thousands. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

What are you hearing from those and seeing from those on the ground there?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not just water, Sara, but water, food, fuel, basically the essentials of life are running out. In fact, rights groups are warning that some of these basics, you only have about 24 hours of stocks left before you look at people really in terrible desperation.

I want to bring you a image that begins to explain to you the complications around this crisis. This is the Rafah border crossing this morning. What you are going to see is the aftermath of multiple airstrikes on or near rather the Rafah border crossing.

This is the one and only viable way for aid to get in and for people to get out, and it has been closed. There have been intense diplomatic efforts underway by the United States, by the U.N., by others to try to resolve this between the Egyptians and the Israeli government. No resolution there yet.

And what is important to remember here, when we're talking about the basics running out, it is not just about this humanitarian crisis unfolding moment by moment. It is being added to, Sarah, because those bombs continue to rain it down on Gaza, meaning more deaths, meaning more injuries, meaning more people flooding into a overwhelmed hospital system, and there is no safe place to go. That's what rights groups are saying.

People have moved south desperate for that safety, but you just showed those dramatic images, and I know that we're showing some of them on the air in parts of the south where families try to run only to find that they were caught up in airstrikes there. Absolute fears over the next 24 hours, and all of this is coming Sarah before a ground incursion, a potential ground incursion has even started. Two million people trapped in a war zone.

SIDNER: Yeah, it's really, really, really difficult to look at these images into see that absolute terror on the face, especially of children, as they are running away, and they are trapped at this point in time. They can't get out from any border, not even the one Rafah with Egypt.

Thank you so much, Salma Abdelaziz.


I appreciate your reporting.

And I'll send it back to you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Sara, thank you.

And clearly, security is also a top priority around the decision for President Biden to be visiting Israel as Hamas continues to launch attacks on Israel and Israel is preparing a ground incursion of Gaza. The White House saying that it carefully weighed the complex risks ahead of the visit.

The risks associated with such a trip were evident just last night when Secretary of State Tony Blinken, his meetings in Israel were briefly disrupted by sirens warning of incoming rocket fire. Blinken, other top officials, and also the reporters following the secretary of state were rushed to bunkers.


BOLDUAN: Joining us now a CNN national security analyst and former director of national intelligence, James Clapper.

It's good to see you, Director. Thanks for coming in.

This visit by Biden, it sends a powerful message. It also clearly comes with risk.

What are the key considerations when planning something like this, especially on short notice?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there's a number -- well, first of all there is the matter of the personal security of the president. That's, you know -- and good on him for taking on this mission. To me at least, there's a lot of messages that he's conveying here. Some support for the Israelis, but I also surmised that he has counseling moderation as much as possible after seeing these graphic scenes of the effects of the airstrikes in Gaza.

And a message to the region, particularly engaging other nations to get them involved perhaps as interlocutors with Hamas for negotiating with the release of the hostages. So, it is a very important trip, but you have to wonder what is going to be the long term effect.

I have to wonder as I watch those graphics what exactly is driving the targeting of these airstrikes. What is Israel using as a basis for deciding what targets to strike? So this is almost, in my mind, Kate, a perfect storm of dreadful terrible humanitarian crises in Gaza made all the worse by these airstrikes, frankly. And as you've graphically shown with Sara's reporting. So whether the president can have a calming influence here and make

some progress remains to be seen, but certainly applied his giving it a try.

BOLDUAN: Yeah, I want to play for you, with that idea in mind, some of what we heard from Secretary Blinken last night when he was announcing that Biden was going to be heading there. Listen to this.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: The United States and Israel have agreed to develop a plan that will enable the humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organizations to reach civilians in Gaza, and them alone, including the possibility of creating areas to help keep civilians out of harm's way. It is critical that aid began flowing into Gaza as soon as possible.

We share is concerned that Hamas may seize or destroy aid entering Gaza or otherwise prevent it from reaching the people who need it.


BOLDUAN: You know, just this morning, Director, the king of Jordan said that no refugees are going to be allowed into Jordan. He called it a red line. Also no refugees would be going into Egypt.

How hard is it to do all of this then at the same time?

CLAPPER: That is a great question, Kate, and something I've been wondering about. To me, humanitarian corridors and attacking and bombing are kind of in conflict with one another.

So, I don't -- I mean, I applaud Secretary Tony Blinken for what he's trying to do here, but I have trouble figuring out just how this is going to be orchestrated or conducted where you are trying to afford relief to the hostages, give them -- or to the populace of Gaza, and at the same time bomb them.

And I don't -- I guess they discussed all this, but I have trouble reconciling it, too, frankly.

BOLDUAN: You know, clearly, the goal we've heard over and over again of Biden going over is deterrence as one goal. How far do you see this visit going along with marines being prepped, two carrier strike groups heading in, to convincing Iran to not take this further?

CLAPPER: Well, that's -- that's the obvious message here, deterrence with carrier.