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Palestinian Authority President Abbas Cancels Meeting With Biden After Gaza Hospital Strike; U.S. Family In Gaza, Unable To Escape To Egypt; Jordan Fails To Win Speakership In First Round; Palestinian Health Ministry: 200-300 Dead In Strike On Gaza Hospital. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired October 17, 2023 - 15:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And this is just in, the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has cancelled his meeting with President Biden after this attack on the hospital in Gaza. We have CNN's Rafael Romo in Tel Aviv. And look, Rafael, to the limited extent that the Palestinian Authority is a political player -- we should be very clear about that when it comes to the Palestinians -- this was a meeting that was very important and it clearly has now gone from fraught for Mahmoud Abbas, to untenable and he has pulled out of it as he is heading back to the West Bank.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, and then we don't really know at this point where the missile came from. The big question right now is who is responsible for the attack? The Palestinian Government is already blaming Israel. They're calling the bombing, quote, a new war crime against this crowded hospital committed by what they call the occupation. Palestinian officials, also said that the hospital housed hundreds of patients as well as wounded and forcibly displaced people from their homes due to the air strikes.

What's Israel's reaction to these serious accusations?


Well, Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson Daniel Hagari has said, the idea of his looking into the reported strike on the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City. Hagari said that since the strike is fairly recent, the IDF is still unclear whether the hospital was hit by an Israeli Air Force strike or -- and this is key, Brianna -- a failed Hamas launch. Now we have to clarify that this hospital is known by many different names. CNN is calling it the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital to avoid any confusion. Preliminary estimates indicate that, as you mentioned before, between 200 to 300 people have been killed in the strike. But there are still many people under the hospital rubble -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, and we are awaiting many details. We have to be clear about that. Different stories obviously coming from different camps here. Rafael, thank you for that report from Tel Aviv.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: For many people on the ground in Gaza, this is a nightmare scenario. Friends and loved ones cut off from the rest of the world. Hundreds of thousands are still trying to flee that war zone.

KEILAR: And that includes. U.S. citizens like Wafaa Abuzayda, Abood Okal and their one year old son Yousef, who you see here in these photos, they were planning to travel back to their home in Massachusetts after they were just there visiting family in the Gaza Strip. Then though, this horrific attack on Israel happened. And now, like so many families, they're trapped. They're unable to escape. Then they're facing a dire humanitarian crisis.

SANCHEZ: And joining us now is the attorney representing the family, Sammy Nabulsi. Sammy, thanks so much for being with us. How recently have you spoken to Wafaa and Abboud? Have they shared with you what they're dealing with right now?

SAMMY NABULSI, ATTORNEY FOR MASSACHUSETTS FAMILY TRAPPED IN GAZA: Yes, they have. They spoke to Abood, we communicate over WhatsApp about an hour ago and the situation frankly is extremely dire for them. A couple of days ago they ran out of drinking water. I'm not sure exactly what they're doing to get water supply. Food supply is limited. Abood is tell me about a story about going to the bakeries there to get some bread and they're limiting the amount of bread that any. Individual or family can buy. And this morning and yesterday there were air strikes in Rafah near where they are. He sent me a photograph of an air strike, probably less than a kilometer from where they're staying. So the situation is extremely dangerous for them and the other 500 to 600 American citizens right now trapped in Gaza.

KEILAR: What kind of help, Sammy, are you asking for? Are you trying to get from the U.S. government? Have you been in touch with the State Department? What are they telling you?

NABULSI: Yes, I've been in touch with contacts at the White House, the State Department. I've been in touch with most of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, New Hampshire delegation, Vermont delegation, anyone that I can speak to. And the punch line so far is that there is no confirmed departure option for a single American citizen and Rafah. And on top of that, there's no timeline at the moment for when there will be one.

And in fact, I heard from Abood yesterday that the US Embassy in Cairo had to call him and ask the family whether things at the Rafah crossing had been progressing. So at the moment, neither myself or the family are receiving any information about a departure option for a single American citizen at the Rafah crossing.

SANCHEZ: It sounds like they're trying to get information from the families on the ground as to whether the Rafah crossing is even tenable as a route of departure. I do want to point out, the families travelling with the Abood's sister and her three kids are also American citizens. So if the Rafah crossing remains impassable, how are they going to get out? What might they do next?

NABULSI: I don't know. I don't think there's a way out other than resolving the ability for American citizens to cross at Rafah. We're not aware of any other options in the United States government, I'm not aware is working on any other option. This is a unfortunately becoming a do or die moment for every American citizen a Rafah. I'm not sure exactly what they'll do. You mentioned Abood's sister, and their three kids, Abood and Wafaa are there with their one-year-old son, Yousef. And Abood tells me, as of yesterday, their son has started spiking a fever. It's becoming extremely dangerous, not just from the physical violence that is in Rafah and around southern Gaza, but also just their own health is becoming a problem for them and every other family there.

KEILAR: Clearly they may be needing some medical attention and obviously we understand the hospitals are overrun and there are tremendous problems there. President Biden visiting tomorrow. Sammy, are you hopeful that this visit could have any impact on the situation or getting Egypt to open this crossing.


NABULSI: The visit absolutely has to have an impact on this on this situation. And in fact, President Biden should not be getting on a plane coming back to the United States until he secured the safe and immediate departure of every American citizen in Gaza, period.

SANCHEZ: Sammy Nabulsi, we appreciate you getting the word out about the difficult situation that your friends are in. Please keep us posted on what you're hearing from them.

NABULSI: We will, thank you for telling their story.

SANCHEZ: Of course. Still to come on NEWS CENTRAL, much worse than expected. That's an ally of Jim Jordan talking to CNN's Dana Bash after 20 Republicans voted against the Ohio Congressman's bid to become the next House Speaker. But he says he's not backing out. It could be up for a vote very soon. We're live on Capitol Hill in just moments.



KEILAR: It is an uphill battle that honestly, it seems to be getting steeper by the second. Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, scrambling to turn the 20 Republicans who just voted against him in the first speaker vote today.

SANCHEZ: And we have some new reporting that indicates he just met with his main challenger from last round, Congressman Steve Scalise. Jordan apparently asking him for help. Scalise thought, refusing to commit to help the Ohio congressman in his bid to become the 56th Speaker of the House. Congressional correspondent Lauren Fox is live for us on Capitol Hill. Lauren, not a great look that Steve Scalise doesn't appear to want to help Jordan.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, let's just rewind the tape though. Last week, Boris, if you remember it was Steve Scalise who actually bested Jim Jordan in a closed door conference vote to become the next speaker. And then it became very clear because of a number of Jordan allies that Steve Scalise was not going to be able to clinch the required 217 votes to get there. So Steve Scalise actually bowed out.

Now on the floor of the House of Representatives, Scalise voted for Jim Jordan. But you know, there has been talk that if Jim Jordan could not get support on the first ballot to win this race, there becomes a question of how long are people going to be backing him and how hard are people who supported Steve Scalise or Kevin McCarthy going to be fighting for Jim Jordan?

Now he is meeting right now behind closed doors with members on the floor just right below where I'm standing right now, and the question remains, you know, is he going to be able to pick up more support in a subsequent vote on the floor of the House? And I think that that remains to be seen right now.

Jim Jordan is someone who you either love or you may not like very much in the House of Representatives. And I think you saw that on the floor with a number of House appropriators actually voting against him. These are the people who time after time, saw Jim Jordan vote against a series of spending bills over this last decade or so in Congress. And you saw Kay Granger the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, voting against Jim Jordan. That was quite a moment.

So the question right now is, Jim Jordan is expected to get another vote on the floor. That is the current plan, according to his spokesman. But the question becomes once he gets to the floor, is he able to pick up support or does he start to hemorrhage support? Because that is the risk you take if you go back onto the floor, you have to show that you are actually picking up support. Right now, I think that is the question of the day -- Boris.

KEILAR: Yes, it could be a roll of the dice. Lauren Fox live for us on The Hill. Thank you so much.

Hamas is banned on most social media apps, however, it's following has actually skyrocketed on one particular channel here in the past few days. Why the terror group is not banned on telegram? Next.



SANCHEZ: We want to go now to Jonathan Conricus, a spokesperson for the IDF. Jonathan, are you there? Can you hear us?


SANCHEZ: So we want to get your response to the news of this hospital in Gaza, reportedly some 200 to 300 people being killed there by an apparent missile strike. Hamas is saying that this was the Israeli Defense Force. What is your response? CONRICUS: The first response is that anything said by Hamas should be

taken with extreme caution and skepticism, and I urge all journalists to be very careful when they report what Hamas says and when they base reporting on those events.

What I can say is that we have analyzed various sources of intelligence and systems and the information that we have, which has been confirmed by the highest levels in the IDF, is the following. We are aware of a barrage of rockets that was fired by terrorists from Gaza towards Israel and that passed in close proximity to that hospital in Gaza at the time that it was hit. The intelligence that we have from multiple sources is it indicates that the Islamic Jihad and other terrorist organization in Gaza is responsible for a failed rocket launch that struck the hospital in Gaza.

KEILAR: So you're saying that there were two things happening here, a Hamas -- a series of Hamas rockets that were passing by, but then also this is an Islamic Jihad failed rocket launch.

CONRICUS: Yes, the bottom line is that according to our intelligence analysis and the various systems that we have of air control etcetera, indicate that this was a failed launch and not in general, but specifically by the Islamic Jihad.


SANCHEZ: And Jonathan, obviously there is going to be enormous scrutiny from around the world on exactly what led up to this missile strike on the hospital. And I just want to share their viewers looking at new video.

CONRICUS: Rocket strike. Misfired rocket strike. Not a missile strike. We did not strike that hospital.

SANCHEZ: So a missile strike. Pardon me, but I just want to share with our viewers that his new video we're getting of the strike. Nevertheless, hundreds of people were killed. There is going to be enormous scrutiny on who was behind this strike. Are you willing to share the intelligence, the actual raw data with the world that indicates what you're saying, that this was Islamic Jihad and not the IDF?

CONRICUS: We're in the progress of declassifying. I cannot promise yet that we will, but maybe because of the importance and because of what is at stake here, that may happen. But the important fact that I can say now for the first time on CNN is that we did not strike that and that the intelligence that we have suggests that it was a failed rocket launch by the Islamic Jihad. And I want to add categorically that we do not intentionally strike any sensitive facilities. Any sensitive facilities and definitely not hospitals. We are very much aware of the presence of civilians and we are all too aware of the cynical manipulation that Hamas seeks to do by using civilians exactly for these purposes. And we've seen that all over the many years of conflict we've had with Hamas. And more so during this war. They have no boundaries. They bombed their own civilians. They attacked them. They use violence. And in this case, what happened is that they are trying to leverage this sad incident of a misfire of an Islamic Jihad rocket, in order to leverage pressure on Israel.

KEILAR: Are you saying that with 100 percent certainty you can say this was not an IDF missile strike?

CONRICUS: As certain as anybody in war can be with million pieces of information flying around. But after a very serious review, I can say that this is the information that we have now. We are confident and the information that we have says that this was a failed launch by the Islamic Jihad.

KEILAR: Was the IDF operating? Were there IDF missile strikes in this area at the time?

CONRICUS: There's continuous military operations by the IDF in various locations all across the Gaza Strip, and there is also continuous rocket fire. And the alarms sounded in Israel just about the time of the reported strike or the reported explosion at the hospital. I myself was on the way, and there were rockets coming in towards Tel Aviv and alarms going off in northern Israel.

KEILAR: Yes, but I do just -- I do just want to be very, very clear on this to get your level of certainty, Jonathan. Because you're saying that there were IDF missile strikes all across the northern part of Gaza and sort of this area at the time in particular near this hospital.

CONRICUS: No, I didn't say that.

KEILAR: You said in the region.

CONRICUS: Yes, right. So let me please be clear. I want to be clear.

KEILAR: But let me let me ask my question. Let me ask my question of you, Jonathan. Were there missile strikes in the vicinity of this hospital within, you know, blocks of this hospital in the neighborhood of this hospital?

CONRICUS: Not as far as I'm aware. Our investigation has been focused on first, making sure that there was no intentional targeting. That has been established totally. And a further review of the intelligence systems that we have, radars and others, they indicate that this was a failed launch by the Islamic Jihad. That is the information that I have. I stand by it. It has been approved by the highest levels in the IDF, and that is the information that we stand by.

SANCHEZ: Jonathan, obviously there is going to be, as you noted, skepticism from around the world because of claims made by Hamas and other groups about the way that the IDF has conducted its business historically in Gaza. What do you say to those that don't believe what you're saying?

CONRICUS: Listen, if it's believing the IDF or believing Hamas, I think it should be clear for anybody involved that they should believe the IDF. We don't claim to be perfect. We definitely make mistakes, but we always aspire to tell the truth and to be transparent. And when there have been mistakes, we have owned our mistakes and they come out clear about it. This time what I'm saying is that this -- according to the information we have -- was a failed rocket launch not by Hamas. And I'm saying specifically the name of the organization because that indicates the level of intel that has gone into it.


This was the Islamic Jihad that fired a long range rocket towards a long range target. It failed and exploded and that is what happened at the hospital.

KEILAR: So you're saying they missed -- they missed their target essentially.

CONRICUS: Yes, listen, this has been going on in every conflict. And anybody who has been following our fighting with Hamas knows that in every time that there's rocket fire towards Israel, let's say they fire a few thousand rockets. There are hundreds of misfires. In this conflict alone, there has been more than 400 misfires in this conflict alone, and in the last conflict in May 21, we had the same amount, roughly the same amount of rockets fired and rockets that landed short inside the Gaza Strip.

I remember clearly an event that was reported live on Fox by Trey Yinsk, where he was standing inside Gaza. The reports that came out was of an Israeli strike, which is the knee jerk response around the world. But then he reported that he saw with his own eyes a strike that landed a rocket that misfired and landed in northern Gaza. I think it was Jabalia, and caused casualties and the death of the Palestinian family.

So this is not unprecedented. It has happened many times in the past. It is documented. And for those willing to listen and not to automatically blame Israel for it, there is ample proof of the fact that this has happened many times before. Granted not to a hospital and not so many casualties, but the fact of the matter is that rockets misfire and land in Gaza and they have been doing so for years.

KEILAR: We have been careful about our reporting and certainly what we know and what we do not know and we wanted to have you on to talk about what you know, Lieutenant Colonel, we appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

CONRICUS: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Of course. Stay with CNN. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.