Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Palestinian Govt: 200-300 Dead In Strike On Gaza Hospital; Hundreds Protest In West Bank After Hospital Hit In Gaza; Jordan Fails To Win Speakership In First Round; Rep. Mark Alford (R-MO) Discusses About The Votes To Speakership By Republicans For Jim Jordan. Aired 3- 3:30 ET

Aired October 17, 2023 - 15:00   ET





BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Good afternoon. You're watching CNN NEWS CENTRAL. I'm Boris Sanchez alongside Brianna Keilar live in Washington.

With dysfunction on full display in the House of Representatives as President Biden is preparing for a wartime visit to Israel. His trip, partly a show of support, part deterrence for Israel's enemies and part diplomatic push to get roughly 200 hostages, many of them American, out of Gaza as they also attempt to get humanitarian relief in.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And right now, Gaza is very much at a breaking point. A Palestinian health official says hospitals there are in actual collapse, and that was before the latest devastation. These are images that are disturbing that you're seeing right here. They are showing a hospital that was hit in Gaza a short time ago.

The Palestinian Health Ministry says at least 200 people were killed by an Israeli airstrike. Israel is not confirming that this was a strike by its military. It says that it is looking into this.

Let's get you on the ground now with CNN's Clarissa Ward, who is in Ashkelon, Israel, which is about 10 miles north of Gaza.

Jeremy Diamond is in Jerusalem for us. Clarissa, what can you tell us about what happened at this hospital?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So this hospital is in Gaza City in the northern part of Gaza. It is Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital. Thousands of people were using it as a place of refuge, as a place that they thought would be safe. This is very common in times when there is intensive bombardment in Gaza.

People go to hotels. They go to hospitals. They go to any place they can where they believe they will not face heavy bombardment. We are hearing, as you mentioned, from Palestinian health officials, that at least 200 to 300 people have been killed as a result of this strike. We are also hearing outrage and condemnation from all around the region. The Secretary General of the Arab League saying, "A mind from hell is the one who deliberately bombs a hospital with its defenseless patients and calling upon the West to actively put an end to the mayhem."

Well over 3,000 Palestinians now dead. The Palestinian authority in the West Bank calling for three days of mourning and just a sense of tremendous pain, horror and anguish from people inside Gaza, many of whom have had to flee their homes, some 600,000 according to the UN, who have pushed out of their homes in northern Gaza into the southern part of Gaza. And I should add there were strikes there too today.

Earlier this morning strikes in Khan Yunis, also near the Rafah Border Crossing. It's becoming increasingly clear that there is absolutely no safe space inside Gaza where people can find some form of refuge, not to mention the fact that the humanitarian situation has become completely untenable, with the U.N. calling it an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe and all the while diplomatic efforts to try to open up that Rafah Border Crossing remain hamstrung. Boris, Brianna?

SANCHEZ: And Clarissa, we have some live images to share with our viewers. I believe this is from the West Bank. This is a protest. Live images from Ramallah. This is in response to the strike at the hospital. What can you tell us about the reaction that is going around in Gaza and the West Bank now to this strike?


I mean the reaction is going to be fierce and it is going to be angry and I dare say it will be bloody. We have already heard many red alerts and sirens here in Ashkelon, several barrages of rockets, Hamas calling this a genocide and that language is being used by many Palestinians, both in Gaza and the West Bank and all around the diaspora as well.

There is a sense that even by the standards of the ferocious bombardment that we have seen over the course of the last 10 days, this is a new level in terms of the fact that it was a hospital and the fact that so many people were killed. We're being told that the death toll may be even higher than that initial estimate of 200 to 300 people. Obviously, it is incredibly difficult to get a full picture when it's late at night and it's dark and there's no electricity and the internet is spotty.

But certainly, I think this could mark an inflection point in this crisis and certainly it will put a lot of pressure on President Biden ahead of his visit to Israel tomorrow and also raise the specter of an increasingly heightened security situation that he will be entering into here.

KEILAR: And Jeremy, talk to us a little bit about this because you have officials there in Gaza saying that this was an Israeli strike. Israel is not confirming that. Presumably, Israeli strikes are pinpoint. Presumably, they know where hospitals are. Shed some light on how they pick targets, whether this could have been an Israeli target or some kind of accident and what you're learning.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the picture is very uncertain at this time. I was able to speak briefly with an IDF spokesman who simply did not have any information one way or the other saying that they are looking into this and that this is certainly something that they take very, very seriously. We will see. But certainly, striking a hospital directly like that, causing hundreds of casualties is something that would be a very, very dark mark on the Israeli military if indeed that is the case.

But as of yet, we are still waiting to confirm exactly the circumstances behind the strike and how exactly this came to be. But if it was carried out by the Israeli military, that is certainly not something that President Biden is going to want to see before he is set to arrive here tomorrow.

SANCHEZ: And Jeremy, walk us through the schedule for President Biden, because obviously the fact that this is happening hours before he's set to land and visit Jordan and then Israel, it will no doubt come up in discussions with Middle East leaders.

DIAMOND: Yes, undoubtedly. I mean, President Biden is coming here tomorrow with two main goals in mind. One - on the one hand, the symbolic aspect of showing U.S. support for Israel, showing that there is no daylight between Israel and the United States, a deterrent factor there as he tries to prevent this conflict between Israel and Hamas from becoming a wider regional war. But then, of course, there are the practical impacts.

And our White House team is reporting that the president received an explicit commitment from the Israeli prime minister that he would allow humanitarian aid to flow through before the President indeed agreed to make this pretty dramatic wartime visit to Israel. And so it's very clear that as President Biden comes here, he doesn't just want to come here for that symbolic aspect. He wants to actually be able to leave with something concrete having been accomplished. And it appears that at least one of those things will be some kind of plan, some kind of agreement by the Israelis to allow humanitarian aid to begin flowing back into the Gaza Strip.

We know that U.S. officials have also been very focused on trying to get American citizens out of the Gaza Strip and into Egypt via that Rafah Crossing. It has been now four days since American citizens were told to head south to that Rafah Crossing, telling them, U.S. officials telling them that they believe that crossing would open. And yet it has been four days that that crossing has not opened.

So you can expect that those will be some of the agenda items as the President comes to Tel Aviv tomorrow, but then as he also then goes to Jordan to meet with the Palestinian, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders there as well, the humanitarian situation in Gaza, very much a focus there, as well as the broader regional dynamics.

KEILAR: Yes, certainly. Jeremy and Clarissa, thank you to both of you.

Now joining us, we have - from Jerusalem is Avi Mayer.


He's the editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

Avi, what can you tell us about what you are learning about this strike that appears to have killed hundreds, according to the Palestinian health ministry?

AVI MAYER: EDITOR IN CHIEF, JERUSALEM POST: Well, I'm hearing the same sort of things that your correspondents are hearing, which is that there's a great deal of lack of clarity on exactly what transpired. I can tell you that it took place in the midst of a barrage of rockets from Gaza into Israel. And it is certainly not unusual for those rockets to misfire.

Roughly 10- to 30 percent of the rockets fired by Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza towards Israel actually land in Gaza, often killing Palestinians. It is certainly possible that that happened here. It is also certainly possible that this was indeed an Israeli airstrike that inadvertently hit this hospital.

I can tell you as someone who is somewhat familiar with the mechanics of how this works internally, Israel does not target hospitals. So if this happened, it was obviously an accident. That, of course, doesn't at all diminish the very real human tragedy that we see unfolding. If it's true that several hundred people have been killed, that is obviously horrifically tragic and I'm sure that that's something that all Israelis share.

KEILAR: They know where - Israel knows where the hospitals are, though, right? Can you explain to us sort of the process? I mean, I imagine these are precision strikes.

MAYER: Generally speaking, yes. I mean, there is - an essentially a list of targets in Gaza generally involving Hamas infrastructure, military installations, weapons depots, rocket-launching sites and so on and so forth. They are scattered throughout the Gaza Strip, often, in fact, in residential areas. But even though they are there and that makes them legitimate targets, Israel will often refrain from hitting those targets because it knows that it will draw civilian casualties.

So, again, I would view it as extremely unlikely. I would say, in fact, virtually impossible that the hospital itself was indeed a target. Whether there was a military installation nearby and the hospital was inadvertently hit, I think that remains to be seen.

KEILAR: Yes. Well, a lot of details that we're still awaiting here. We heard from Israel's national security minister, Ben-Gvir, who said this afternoon, "As long as Hamas does not release the hostages in its hands, the only thing that needs to enter Gaza are hundreds of tons of explosives from the air force, not an ounce of humanitarian aid." Is that fair to Palestinian civilians? MAYER: Well, Itamar Ben-Gvir does not speak for the new unity government, which, of course, is one that was created specifically to deal with the crisis that unfolded following the Hamas massacre of last weekend. I don't think many Israelis will agree with that statement. I think there's a recognition that Palestinian civilians do not and should not be held responsible for the actions of Hamas.

At the same time, there's a great deal of determination in Israel to ensure that Hamas is dealt a devastating blow and it never ever has the capacity to carry out a massacre like it did last weekend, killing 1,400 Israelis, including men, women, children, the elderly and babies.

KEILAR: I do want to just note to our viewers as they are looking at some live - these are live pictures coming into us from Ramallah, where there are hundreds of people protesting after this hospital has been hit in Gaza. We've been talking about this, a lot of details that we are still awaiting to figure out exactly what happened there.

But Avi, the President - President Biden will be arriving in Israel tomorrow morning. What are Israelis looking for from this visit from him?

MAYER: Well, look, I think the President has been tremendously supportive of Israel over the past week in the wake of this horrific tragedy. He, his administration, including Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin have repeatedly expressed their solidarity and support for the people of Israel. Israelis will want to hear more of that, but they'll also want to hear how America is going to play a constructive role, A, in bringing the hostages home, and B, in ensuring that this conflict doesn't grow any wider.

The United States has already sent two carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean to deter Hezbollah and its patron in Iran from engaging in Israel's northern border and expanding this conflict any further. We're going to look forward to hearing more of that and also how the United States can help Israel ensure that it has the means to protect itself by itself, as it always has.

KEILAR: Avi, we really appreciate your time, thank you so much for being with us.

MAYER: Thank you for having me.

SANCHEZ: We want to get some reaction from the White House now.

So let's go there with CNN's Kayla Tausche.

Kayla, yesterday President Biden had been deliberating a visit to Israel. He's now decided to go and obviously it happens amid this breaking news of a horrible attack on a hospital in Gaza. Talk to us about whether there's been any reaction from the White House to this latest news.

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, it's an extraordinary and high-stakes trip, and it's one that came with several careful considerations behind the scenes that CNN has brand- new reporting on.


We know that President Biden was inclined to accept the invitation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to visit Israel when the country found itself at war with Hamas. He considers Netanyahu a longtime friend and ally.

But before signing off on the trip, he wanted some very explicit commitments from Israel that humanitarian aid would be allowed to flow into Gaza. And it wasn't until Secretary of State Antony Blinken secured some of those commitments directly from Netanyahu and his top aides during a marathon meeting on the ground yesterday that the president and his team gave the green light for this trip, which has a few objectives, some of which Jeremy and your previous guests have already mentioned.

First, to lay the groundwork for that aid to flow and for humanitarian passage out of Gaza. There's an understanding between U.S. and Israeli officials that that process would begin before a ground invasion would begin. And that was something that has been discussed behind the scenes.

Number two, the U.S. also wants to secure the release of the American hostages that are still being held by Hamas. The president also wants to prevent this conflict from spilling over in the region. That's why he's going to be meeting with several other leaders. But it's a trip that carries tremendous physical and political risk that he comes away without achieving some of these objectives and physical risk just from being on the ground in wartime Israel with that strike on the Gaza hospital case in point for those very risks that are present there.

SANCHEZ: Yes, no question about that. We'll see how this news out of the hospital in Gaza plays into his visit.

Kayla Tausche, thank you so much.

Just a moment ago, we were watching --

KEILAR: Yes, if we can pull those back up, those pictures that we were seeing out of Ramallah.

SANCHEZ: Yes, live images ...

KEILAR: Unbelievable.

SANCHEZ: ... from the West Bank. These are protests that sprung about as a reaction to that strike in Gaza. And we saw a large crowd gather, throwing what appeared to be rocks and then a vehicle heading straight for that crowd to try to disperse them.

KEILAR: We've seen what appears to be tear gas and flash bangs going off, and everyone went running after that. But this protest coming in the wake of this terrible event, which, quite frankly, we are still awaiting details on. The Palestinians are insisting that this was an Israeli strike on a hospital in Gaza that has killed hundreds of people. Israel says it's looking into it, and it hasn't confirmed it.

SANCHEZ: Yes. The IDF - a spokesperson for the IDF, essentially, put out - or rather a spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, just put out a statement saying the IDF does not target hospitals. We only target Hamas strongholds, armed depots and terror targets. Obviously, tensions already high in the region, escalating even further just hours before President Biden is set to arrive in the region.

KEILAR: Yes, that's right. And we'll be talking more about that. Stay with CNN for our live breaking coverage just ahead.



SANCHEZ: We are continuing to follow the latest developments out of the Mideast, but we want to focus on Capitol Hill for a moment where Congressman Jim Jordan is still trying to sway some 20 Republicans who voted against him in the first round of votes for the speakership. He's been meeting with holdouts behind closed doors since his first attempt faltered.

Let's discuss with Missouri congressman, Mark Alford, who voted for Jordan. He was originally a McCarthy supporter, though. Congressman, thanks so much for sharing some of your afternoon with us.

It appears that Jim Jordan is going to try for another vote on the floor today. Were you part of any of his private conversations with holdouts? Do you think he swayed any of them?

REP. MARK ALFORD (R-MO): Well, look, that's between Jim Jordan and these 20 holdouts. I do think that some of the holdouts, this was an initial vote of protest, whether against Jim Jordan or more possibly for Steve Scalise and the people they voted for, and perhaps maybe a vote against what's been going on in our conference, this disarray, this disunity, if you will.

We've got to restore that unity. I firmly believe that Jim Jordan is a person to do that. This is a football game, and we had the first down just an hour or so ago. We've got three more downs to go, and we've got to make sure that our coach and our quarterback has the votes he needs to get us across the goal line and I think by the end of maybe not today, maybe tomorrow, that we will have those votes.

SANCHEZ: Congressman, continuing your football analogy, if it's a three and out and you go three rounds of voting and he's still not getting to 217, should he punt? Should your conference consider another potential speaker?

ALFORD: Well, that will be up to our designate, Jim Jordan. Of course, we've had a couple of members now. Our speaker emeritus, Kevin McCarthy, did that for the good of our country, for the good of our body to withdraw his name. Steve Scalise did that, even though he won the majority of votes in our conference.

That will be up to Jim Jordan, whether he decides to, after realizing if that happens, that he cannot secure ...


ALFORD: ... the 217. I don't think that will happen. I think he'll be able to convince people that he is the person who can unify our party.

SANCHEZ: Are you concerned at all about concessions he might have to make or promises he might have to make? After all, in order to become speaker, Kevin McCarthy had to do that and ultimately some of those promises cost him the speakership.

ALFORD: Look, I think the grave mistake that Kevin McCarthy made was giving this single person to vacate the chair. I think that was an anvil hanging over Kevin McCarthy since January and it finally came down on his head.

It's going to be hanging over the future speaker, whoever that might be. But I do believe that Jim Jordan is going to be able to work, not necessarily give people committee memberships or seats or chairs or gavels in certain committees.


But to reassure them that we can work together as a party to secure our border, to get these eight remaining appropriation bills passed, to give the aid to Israel that it so desperately needs right now.

SANCHEZ: Sure. Congressman, I did have a question for you on Israel, but first I want to zero in on the question of who the next speaker will be. What's your message to colleagues of yours like Carlos Gimenez, who voted for Kevin McCarthy or Diaz-Balart who voted for Scalise? Lee Zeldin also got some votes. What would you say to those folks who are hard-nos on Jim Jordan?

ALFORD: Well, look, I made it a point to do two things when I came to Congress, to always tell the truth and, number two, to never judge another member's vote. The way they voted, trying to question why they voted a certain way, that's between them and their district. And Mr. Gimenez feels very strongly. There are other members. Mr. Rutherford feels very strongly.

That's between them and their district. I do not judge their votes. I hope they will not judge mine.

SANCHEZ: So, ultimately, what message do you think this sends to the world, that your conference cannot get together and come up with a speaker?

ALFORD: Well, it does not send a good message, to tell you the truth. I'm disappointed in what has happened over the last two weeks. I wanted Kevin McCarthy to stay in office. I did not want him to give up the fight. He did. The eight people who sided with the Democrats to vote him out have to live with that. We are where we are. The chapter has now turned to a new chapter for the U.S. House of Representatives and we must move forward. We cannot look back. Too much is at stake. The world is on fire and we are a ship basically without a rudder. We've got to get that rudder into place so we can start sailing forward and do the things we need to do to lead, not just as a party, but the United States of America.

SANCHEZ: Congressman, to your point about the world being on fire, I know you've been busy this afternoon, so I'm not sure if you've seen the news, but I did want to give you an opportunity to react to news that a hospital in Gaza has apparently been the target of a missile strike. Hundreds of people are dead there, ostensibly many of them civilians, that had nothing to do with the attack by Hamas, the atrocities that we saw committed by Hamas in Israel.

Your reaction to hearing the news of that strike on a hospital?

ALFORD: Well, look, in the fog of war, I do not want to lay any blame. I do not want to make any statements that might inflame a situation. The loss of life is tragic. And I know that these Hamas terrorists who butchered Israelis to - well, Saturday a week ago, they are to blame for this. We need to stand by Israel as they eradicate Hamas from the face of the earth, not the Palestinian people, but Hamas.

That sort of terrorism should not stand and we need to stand with them and behind them to give them the support. We can't do that as a Congress right now, though. We have a possible aid package coming from the Senate just a few doors down here, possibly Thursday or Friday. And if we don't have a speaker, we can't pass that on to get the Iron Dome replenished so that Israel can defend itself.

SANCHEZ: Congressman Mark Alford, thank you so much for your time and your perspective.

ALFORD: Thank you, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

Back to our other breaking news this hour, protests erupting after Hamas says a strike on Gaza - on a Gaza hospital killed hundreds of people. The Israeli prime minister's office saying the IDF does not target hospitals: "We only target Hamas strongholds, arms depots and terror targets."

President Biden is heading to Israel tomorrow, we should note. Many Americans remain trapped in Gaza. We're going to speak to a lawyer for a Massachusetts family that is now in the region struggling to get out. Stay with us.