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CNN Crews Witness Heavy Bombardment of Gaza; U.S. Forces Have Been Targeted in 4 More Attacks Since U.S. Strikes in Syria on Wednesday; Biden at Fundraiser: Trump "Hasn't Stopped Losing"; Feds Probe Suspicious Letters Sent to Election Offices. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 10, 2023 - 15:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: One of the most direct condemnations yet of the increasing death toll in Gaza from a U.S. official, the Secretary of State saying today far too many Palestinians have been killed, while Israel announces another evacuation corridor to get civilians out. We'll take you live near the Israel-Gaza border in just moments.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Plus, stark warnings from American diplomats in the Middle East. A diplomatic cable to the White House highlighting the growing anger from the Arab world for America's strong support of Israel's military offensive and the humanitarian crisis it is creating in Gaza.

And federal law enforcement officials investigating after more than a dozen suspicious letters were sent to election offices across the U.S. At least one is believed to contain fentanyl. We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

SANCHEZ: As night falls on Gaza, we're seeing more fiery explosions rock the enclave. Moments ago, CNN crews witnessed a heavy barrage there. Israeli forces intensifying their attacks against Hamas with many civilians caught in the crossfire. We have new footage to share with you, but we must warn you it is graphic.

The new video obtained by CNN shows a young girl being pulled from the rubble at the collapsed Al-Buraq school in northern Gaza. At this point, it's unclear what caused the blast, but sadly, it is just one of several incidents involving civilians today. There are reports of Israeli airstrikes damaging several hospitals as well.

Now, the IDF maintains that it is exclusively targeting areas with ties to Hamas and that any civilian losses are unintended. The head of the al-Nasr hospital says that Israeli tanks are currently completely surrounding his facilities, cutting off patients and doctors from power, water and critical medical supplies.

Now, a short time ago, we learned that President Biden spoke with the leader of Oman as unrest builds across the Middle East between the U.S. and Iranian proxies in the region. There are also growing international demands to further address the dire humanitarian crisis that is currently unfolding in Gaza.

Speaking today after meetings in India, the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, gave one of his most direct condemnations yet of the mounting death toll. Listen.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Much more needs to be done to protect civilians and to make sure that humanitarian assistance reaches them. Far too many Palestinians have been killed. Far too many have suffered these past weeks.


SANCHEZ: Meantime, thousands more of Gaza's citizens escaped south today as Israeli forces opened a six-hour evacuation corridor for more pauses in the future.

Let's take you now live to the region with CNN's Nic Robertson. He's live for us in Sderot at this hour.

Nic, just moments ago, you saw the sky light up. What is it looking like now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, the sky is dark, but I can just hear this rolling thunder of explosions and detonations coming from that same area in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. We think it's the Jabalia refugee camp. We can't know for sure.

What we were witnessing a short time ago were those illumination flares, the ground smoke and the airstrikes coming in on a confined location there within that camp area. And it seems to indicate, from what we've seen before, it would mean that probably IDF ground troops were going into a certain area having specific information about Hamas targets and operatives there.

I think what's striking about this incident right now, two weeks into their ground offensive they've been operating in this particular area for two weeks that they are still, it appears, finding elements of Hamas that are still there, still fighting on the ground because that's why you would need the flares and the smoke screen for the troops - the IDF troops - to move in behind and the strikes called in. And these ongoing detonations seem to indicate that the fight there is far from over.

Now, IDF forces are south of here, south of Jabalia refugee camp inside Gaza City. The humanitarian corridor, 10s of thousands of people have managed to evacuate from the north to the south today.


But so many questions being raised now, particularly about the health care system. The international committee for the Red Cross saying that the health care in Gaza has now reached the point of no return. The Hamas-led Palestinian ministry of health says 193 health care workers killed. More than 60 ambulances have been damaged by strikes. They say 21 of 35 hospitals are out of action, 53 of 72 health care clinics are now out of action.

So the picture that emerges is that while the IDF is continuing to fight Hamas is helping some civilians as well avoid the worst of the battlefield traumas. People, and as you saw that child being pulled from the rubble from a school that appeared to have been hit or there was an explosion there a short time ago today. Civilians are still getting caught up in this, 11,000 - more than 11,000 have been killed.

And I think this is the reason that we're seeing this growing international diplomatic pressure that the United States is feeling, that Secretary Blinken was expressing and that is arriving on the doorstep of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

SANCHEZ: Nic Robertson, thank you so much for keeping us updated. Brianna?

KEILAR: At the same time, CNN is learning that American diplomats in the Middle East are warning the Biden administration of growing fury in the Arab world against the U.S. for its strong support of Israel's deadly military campaign in Gaza.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand is here with more on this.

And Natasha, CNN has obtained a diplomatic cable that shows this. Tell us what it says.

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: This is a cable that was written by the second highest U.S. official at the U.S. Embassy in Oman. Interestingly, the President spoke to the Sultan of Oman just today. But what this official was warning the White House, the FBI, the CIA in this cable is that with all of this images coming out that we've been seeing in Gaza of the Palestinian civilians being buried under the rubble of all of the thousands and thousands of civilians being killed, it is sparking a real uproar and backlash in the Arab world against the United States because the U.S., it appears, to the Arab world is supporting Israel's campaign really unconditionally.

And the sentiment that is being expressed to U.S. officials in the region is that they are "losing the Arab publics for a generation." And that U.S. support for Israel is being seen in the Arab world as "material and moral culpability" in what they consider to be possible war crimes. So this backlash, obviously, it poses a serious risk, of course, to Americans who are in the region. And we have already seen Iran and its proxies exploit all of the tensions and all of the anger launching attacks on U.S. service members in the region. So it has real consequences.

And the U.S. is trying to really toe this very delicate line between, of course, supporting Israel in its war against Hamas and retaliating for the brutal terrorist attack on October 7, then also disagreeing with how Israel is carrying out this operation. From the very beginning, they have been urging Israel to be more precise and more limited in its campaign something that Israel does not appear to have heeded over the last several weeks of its bombardment of Gaza.

So the Secretary of State, he is resisting calls from these Arab allies for a ceasefire. And at this point, the U.S. is backing some humanitarian pauses. But for the Arab allies, it's really not enough, Brianna.

KEILAR: Is it unusual to get a look at one of these diplomatic cables?

BERTRAND: It is and I think we've seen more of them leaking over the last several weeks because of this discontent, because these officials want the world to know that there is all of this anger.

KEILAR: And the Biden administration is being counseled on it, certainly telling.

Natasha, thank you for that. Boris?

SANCHEZ: Let's dig deeper now with retired U.S. Army Major Mike Lyons.

Maj. Lyons, thanks so much for being with us.

First, I want to replay that video that was captured just moments ago, the bombardment in Gaza. To the untrained eye, it looks like just a series of explosions. But obviously, you can give us perspective on what's actually happening. Walk us through what we're seeing.

MAJ. MIKE LYONS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Sure. So Israel would own the night if it was a conventional fight with their night observation devices. But in the urban fight, which is where they're at right now, they can't use that technology. So what they've got to use is illuminating flares coming from artillery or mortar rounds that light up the sky for the soldiers on the ground to see.

And then you can see what they're doing is they're calling in accurate artillery fire. I think that's the other side to this coin, is making sure that they're hitting targets that are, from their perspective, military targets.

So it allows them to turn the lights on when they want, hit a target and then the illumination goes out, goes dark for a while. And then again, they decide to turn the lights back on. So this is a classic example of how you have to fight in an urban warfare setting.

SANCHEZ: Yes, really fascinating. I did want to ask you about that diplomatic cable that Natasha Bertrand was just reporting on. How concerning is it to you that there is growing anger toward the United States in this region from Arab countries, especially with fears looming that this might grow into a broader conflict?


LYONS: Well, I think the United States and its allies has got to do a better job on the communication aspect, because that's what that communique was all about. And that diplomat was really acting as a switch. And I understand that he's communicating or they're communicating back to the United States.

But at the end of the day, they're going to do their job and push back on this fight and recognize that Israel is fighting for their existence. And they're fighting for something that after being attacked.

So again, as I look at those communiques, it's unfortunate that they're leaking. But I also don't think they're going to put any pressure on Israel just yet. I don't think Israel is stopping until it's convinced that Hamas has been roundly and soundly defeated, especially in the northern part of Gaza.

SANCHEZ: One way the United States is sending a message is putting U.S. personnel in the region in the form of carrier strike groups and an actual troops stationed not far from where we're seeing combat. I'm wondering, nearly 60 U.S. service members have been injured by Iranian-backed groups since the start of this war about a month ago, is the deterrence that's in place by the United States now enough?

LYONS: And Boris, it's in my view that the deterrence is mostly visual and it's not enough. And if I was the parent of a service member that was in Syria or inside of Iraq, and they were being attacked by these drones, I would say it's time to get them out. If we're not going to protect them like we should, it's time to withdraw them.

And what I mean by that is responding proportionally, going after the leaders of these groups that are attacking our soldiers, not some ammo depots and dumps and the like, and not taking away their equipment, taking away the leadership that's making the decision. So I would like to see the deterrence escalated, but this - the administration does not want to see that, because it could eventually lead to something that they don't want to do with the Iranians.

But again, from my perspective, we have to do more than just visual deterrence, which is really what we're doing.

SANCHEZ: So effectively, your argument is that Iran needs to be confronted fundamentally because they're backing these groups. And you know that if these leaders, as you're suggesting, are eliminated, Iran isn't going to just sit by as it happens, are they?

LYONS: Well, let's see what happens. Let's see what they did last time. That's the whole thing about deterrence. That's how it's supposed to work. And so if they want to escalate, if they decide that it's important for them to escalate, then we'll see what happens. Then you'll see the true effect of having two carrier groups inside the Mediterranean like we do right now.

Again, we have to ensure, we don't want this to escalate. But protection of our forces has got to be one of our primary objectives. It's not the primary objective and making sure that we can protect those troops, because if we can't, then let's just get them out of there and just decide that we're not going to even put ourselves into that fight. SANCHEZ: Maj. Mike Lyons, we very much appreciate your time and perspective.

LYONS: Thanks, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

Still to come, President Biden taking credit for Democrats' big week and also downplaying some bad polls.

Plus, suspicious and potentially dangerous letters at election offices across the country. We have details on the FBI's investigation.

And later, the IRS announcing new income tax brackets for 2024. What this means for your wallet.

All that and much more still to come on CNN NEWS CENTRAL.



KEILAR: Joe Biden is officially on the 2024 presidential ballot in South Carolina. Today, Vice President Kamala Harris traveling to the Palmetto State to file that paperwork. And this is a big deal, because for the first time, South Carolina will lead off the Democratic primary calendar.

SANCHEZ: It also carries historic significance for Joe Biden, right? It does come at a time when the president is taking a victory lap also over Democrats' success in elections this week and as he's taking a jab at Donald Trump. Biden's saying at a fundraiser, "We haven't stopped winning and he hasn't stopped losing. The truth is this guy can't get tired of losing."

Biden also downplayed the CNN and New York Times polls that showed him trailing Trump in several key states in a hypothetical rematch.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny and David Chalian join us now.

Jeff, what is President Biden trying to communicate here? It seems like a more aggressive tone from the White House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORREPONDENT: It definitely is a more aggressive tone. I think he's trying to show that he's in the game. He's trying to show that he is not only the president, but also a candidate for president. And he wants to show a little bit of bravado here.

It's clear that he has been disheartened and angered by just this narrative that's setting in that he's in a head to head matchup with the former president. And then he's down in all these polls. He's been through many, many elections and he's been down in many elections. He's lost a few elections, but he's won a key election as well.

So I think just trying to show that he's a candidate for president as well and taking some jabs at Donald Trump. He seemed to relish in that last evening. Of course, all of this is to show that it's a choice between the two of them. It's not just all on him.

KEILAR: To that point, does the President have a point? Hey, we're still really far out in the election. And sort of to that point, it's sort of a Jim Clyburn, congressman from South Carolina is saying. He's saying people are not in sync with the campaign yet. He used that word and he said, you look at Bill Clinton, you look at Barack Obama. They weren't with those candidates, with those incumbents either. And so I guess he's saying they'll come around, but is the president correct? We just have time here.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, he is certainly correct. We're a year away. I mean, this is - a poll a year up from the election is not election results, so he's certainly correct on that.


CHALIAN: But as we sat here earlier this week, Brianna, and the vice president came out in the aftermath of those polls on Tuesday's election results to go before the cameras at the White House earlier this week, she acknowledged. She said the President and I have our work cut out for us and we've got work to do and they do have work to do.

So, yes, are these poll headlines welcome developments for the Biden campaign? No, of course not. But are they just a snapshot right now and kind of identify what the work is ahead?


I mean, key parts of the president's coalition that delivered him to the White House in 2020, young voters, African-American voters, Hispanic voters. There's clear diminishment of support. That doesn't mean that's where it will end up a year from now. But it does mean they have work to do.

SANCHEZ: And we've seen Joe Biden pull off comebacks before, notably in South Carolina in the early stages of the 2020 primary season. He lost in Iowa, lost in New Hampshire. That state turned his fate around and now it's the first one in the primary process for Democrats. That's significant.

ZELENY: It is significant. And the reason it's first is because he lost in Iowa and New Hampshire. So the White House and the DNC decided to essentially wipe them off the map of the early calendar because they were afraid of the potential of a primary challenge.

And there are a couple small primary challenges out there. Dean Phillips, the congressman from Minnesota, first and foremost. But by starting in South Carolina officially, he will not - he will likely not have a big challenge to his candidacy there. Otherwise, the significance of South Carolina is largely symbolic. Of course, it doesn't play a role in the general election. It's not competitive at this point. But I think it's interesting that the Vice President went down there. She's becoming much more engaged in this race as well. She has been out campaigning at HBCUs and certainly on the abortion issue. We'll see a lot more of her.

KEILAR: What does the President need to do to build off of these wins, these recent election wins?

CHALIAN: Well, I do think you're going to see and we have seen and you're going to continue to see a leaning into this fight for abortion rights. I think you're going to see a continued effort on this notion of the democracy being at stake to get to Jeff's point about this has to be a choice.

And that is, at the end of the day, what the Biden team is really banking on. Here is that once this is a fully engaged, fully funded, one-on-one battle between the sitting president and the former president, that that contrast benefits them and that is what they're counting on. And the contest isn't quite there yet, right?

I mean, we've got to get through even though he's the dominant frontrunner. The Republicans still have to vote in this process. But once that arrives, the White House believes they're going to be in a better position to make the contrast campaign. It's not just about selling Bidenomics. That is clearly not going to be it. They're going to have to explain why the alternative is bad for the country.

KEILAR: Yes. This is the pre-party. The real show is still a ways off.

ZELENY: Never mind the third party. That could also be a challenge here.

KEILAR: Oh, nice one. That was good.

ZELENY: We love a party.

KEILAR: That was good. That was practically a mom joke.

ZELENY: We'll take it.

KEILAR: I'm going to steal it.

Jeff Zeleny, David Chalian, thank you so much.

KEILAR: And coming up, who sent these suspicious letters to election offices in six different states. That is what the FBI is trying to find out, is at least one letter was laced with fentanyl.



SANCHEZ: Federal investigators are trying to hunt down whoever sent suspicious letters to election offices in several states. One official says their letter contained fentanyl, and it's suspected to be in other letters, too. Investigators believe all the incidents were also connected, given the timing.

CNN's Josh Campbell joins us now.

Josh, what's the latest on the investigation?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Boris, at this hour, authorities have not announced any suspect that they are looking at. But we're talking about an investigation that involves several different agencies. We're talking about at least six different states here. Letters sent to election officials in California, Georgia, Nevada, Oregon, Texas and Washington State.

We did get a statement in from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, I'll read you part of that. They say that the FBI, along with our law enforcement partners, responded to multiple incidents involving suspicious letters sent to ballot counting centers and is reminding everyone to exercise care in handling mail, especially from unrecognized senders. If you see something suspicious, please contact law enforcement immediately.

Now, it's important to point out, Boris, just for perspective here, I was speaking this morning with a medical professional who specializes in fentanyl overdoses. We're not talking about anthrax here, which is obviously very deadly in low quantities. But fentanyl, if you have a casual inhalation of that, according to this official, the ability to die from that is very low.

So we just want to tamp down any possible hysteria here. But obviously, if you are an election worker out there, you are in fear because these letters are coming to your place of business. And that's why I expect we will likely see very serious charges if and when this person is taken into custody, not only interstate threats to the mail, but also interfering with the U.S. electoral process, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Josh, you're a former FBI special agent, walk us through how cases like this are investigated.

CAMPBELL: the public often credits the FBI with solving these big cases. In reality, it involves multiple agencies. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service may not be a household name, but this is a team of highly sophisticated agents and analysts who work these investigations.

When I was working cases, one in particular involving mail threats, we called in that agency. Before lunchtime, they had the suspect that was identified. They have the ability to actually track pieces of mail through the system down to where that letter was mailed from. They can also look at batches to determine if there are other additional similar type letters out there.

We know that the Secretary of State of Georgia was on CNN this morning today and said that authorities told him that another letter was en route to Georgia, so that would likely be intercepted by this team. But an incredible ability to decipher what mail is actually being sent, where it is being sent, that obviously would be looked at to try to track that back to the person who actually sent it.