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IDF: Friday's Airstrikes Targeted Islamic Jihad In Gaza; Ukraine, Russia Trade Blame Over Shelling At Nuclear Plant; Hungarian PM Viktor Orban Speaks At Conservative Conference; Escalating Tensions Over U.S. House Speaker's Trip To Taiwan. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired August 06, 2022 - 03:00   ET




LYNDA KINKADE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to all of you watching here in the United States, Canada, and around the world, I'm Lynda Kinkade. Ahead this hour, missile fire lights up the sky of Gaza, escalating tensions between Israel and Palestinian militants. We'll go live to southern Israel with the details. Plus, shelling near a nuclear plant has Ukraine and Russia trading blame. We'll take you to the region where the strike happened. And China carries out days of military drills around Taiwan after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the self-governing island. Details plus the warnings from China about how volatile the situation is.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN Center, this is CNN NEWSROOM with Lynda Kinkade.

KINKADE: Right now, it's 10:00 o'clock Saturday morning in Gaza, where Israeli war planes continue to pound the Islamic Jihad for a second day. Israel's military says its airstrikes on Friday hit militants inside Gaza who were allegedly about to launch a terror attack. 19 members of Islamic Jihad will reportedly arrested Saturday in the West Bank. Islamic Jihad says one of its senior commanders was killed in the strikes. A short while ago, the Israeli army said militants in Gaza have fired nearly 200 rockets towards Israel since Friday evening. It claims almost all of those rockets were intercepted, fell short, or landed in open areas. No casualties have been reported.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, at least 11 people were killed since Friday's airstrikes in Gaza, including a 5-year-old girl, 75 others were wounded. Journalist Neri Zilber joins us live from southern Israel. And this, of course, is the most serious escalation in violence in over a year. What triggered this latest flare up?

NERI ZILBER, JOURNALIST AND ANALYST ON MIDDLE EAST POLITICS: Good morning, Lynda. That's right, it has been the most serious escalation in over a year since May of 2021. The 11-day conflict between Israel and the Hamas militant groups in the Gaza Strip. Really, over the past week, tensions have been mounting here in Southern Israel, where we're standing right now. The precedent cause was a arrest operation by the Israeli Security Forces in the West Bank, not the Gaza Strip, but the West Bank.

Early Monday morning, they netted a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank. In response, Islamic Jihad was vowing to retaliate in some form or fashion. The Israeli authorities said that one of those means would be a cross border terror attack from Gaza into southern Israel, targeting either Israeli soldiers or civilians. A large part of southern Israel in and around the Gaza Strip for the past four or five days was under a de facto lockdown in anticipation of just such an attack until Friday afternoon, when it seems the Israeli government essentially lost patience and launched those preemptive strikes, in its words, to counter stole (PH) the potential counter-terror -- cross-border terror attack.

KINKADE: And Neri, so far, 11 people killed in the Israeli airstrikes including a 5-year-old girl. What is the risk that this could escalate further?

ZILBER: Well, in this part of the world, there's always a risk that things could escalate further, it does seem that overnight, things have calmed down, at least from the point of view of Israeli airstrikes into the Gaza Strip targeting actual Islamic Jihad commanders or militants. And on the other side, Islamic Jihad rocket fire into Israel has been fairly limited to southern Israel in and around the Gaza Strip, including the city of Sderot where we're coming to you right now. Yesterday night, in a massive barrage, the initial barrage by Islamic Jihad, they fired longer range rockets up to and including Tel Aviv and the outskirts of central Israel.

According to Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, however, Israel does not seek a further confrontation and addressing the Israeli public yesterday, as well as the international community Prime Minister Lapid said, "Our fight is not with the people of Gaza, Islamic Jihad," in his words, "are an Iranian proxy that wants to destroy the State of Israel and kill innocent Israelis. The head of Islamic Jihad is in Tehran as we speak." And according to Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Israel will do whatever it takes to defend our people. That was Lapid yesterday afternoon.


We should mention, however, if there's one silver lining from the past days of hostilities, it is that so far, and we stressed so far, Hamas, the larger and stronger militant group in the Gaza Strip, has not entered hostilities. It really is the fight at this point between the Israeli Army and Islamic Jihad in Gaza.

KINKADE: Neri Zilber in southern Israel, thanks very much. With disturbing new indications that North Korea may be ramping up its nuclear ambitions, satellite images from Planet Labs showing new structures being built at North Korea's Punggye-ri nuclear test site. It comes as a confidential U.N. report obtained by CNN shows that Pyongyang is taking steps to prepare for a future nuclear test. Punggye-ri is where North Korea has conducted six underground nuclear tests. The U.N. report says that development has been ongoing there as well as at other locations. Taiwan says it's detected multiple Chinese aircraft and naval vessels operating around the Taiwan Strait this morning, with some crossing the median line, the halfway point between the self-governing Island and China. Taiwan's defense ministry said the activity could be a possible simulated attack. Of course, it comes just hours after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to the Indo-Pacific Region ended. She left Japan early Friday morning, but it was her trip to Taiwan that dominated the spotlight. We have more on this developing story later in the show.

Rockets and artillery rounds hit dangerously close to Europe's largest nuclear plant. And now, the attack is setting off a blame game between Kyiv and Moscow. That story ahead.



KINKADE: We'll accusations and fighting between Moscow and Kyiv after artillery strikes at Europe's largest nuclear plant. Ukraine says Russian rockets hit the grounds of the Zaporizhzhia Plant Friday. Russia has an entirely different version of events, claiming Ukrainian Forces were behind the attack. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy lays the blame at Moscow.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, PRESIDENT OF UKRAINE (through translator): This is the largest nuclear station on our continent. And any shelling is an over and blatant crime, a terrorist act. Russia has to bear responsibility just for creating a threat to the nuclear plant as such.


KINKADE: For more CNN's International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson joins us from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Good to have you there for us, Nic. So, the U.S. Secretary of State says there's evidence Russia is using this plan as the equivalent of a human shield. What more can you tell us? Has the plant been damaged? And if so, what are the risks?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, the risks are not insignificant. The International Atomic Energy Agency is concerned about what's happening at the plant. They don't have the ability to send inspectors there, for example, to assess the damage and see the -- see the dangers and risks from it. It's about 35 miles, 50 kilometers away from where we're standing now. There are increased tensions in this area, increased because the Ukrainians feel that the Russians are about to advance.

The Russians took control of that nuclear power facility on the 5th of March, and there was a significant battle around it, the power plant workers didn't want to leave. It is understood, not just by the State Department, but the U.S. -- the U.K. military, the Department of Defense also believe that Russia is using the nuclear power plant as a military base, which increased the likelihood in this increased tense situation of military strikes. And yes, Russia is saying that Ukraine is attacking it. Ukraine is saying that Russia is hitting that base. What doesn't seem to be in doubt at the moment is that Russia has military assets at that nuclear facility. And that in of itself, is dangerous.

But these increased tensions here are also manifesting in a different way. The Secretary of State there saying that the power plant is effectively a human shield to stop the Ukrainians advancing there. And there were about 6,000 Ukrainians who are stuck on the Russian- controlled part of Ukraine at the moment, who are saying that they are being used as human shields. They're on what is known as a green corridor, a route for them to get safely here into Ukrainian- controlled territory. We went down to look at the crossing yesterday. It's been it's -- because of rain recently, it's been difficult for people to get across. But we found a lot of traffic going into the Russian-controlled area.


ROBERTSON (voiceover): Waiting and waiting families, pets, possessions loading them down, all crossing to the Russian-occupied territory, south of Zaporizhzhia.

(on camera) This is what slowing everything up here, the deep mud. Cars just getting bogged down, sliding all over. This one just managing to get through, and the reason they're coming this way? Quite simple, the bridges are blown up.

(voiceover) Ukrainian Emergency Services doing their best to get people through the rain sodden fields. We've had to drag a few trucks out today, the commander says, but it's drying out and getting easier. Known as the green corridor, it's where people cross to and from Russian-occupied territory. But something off this day, the traffic almost entirely one way. Of an estimated 6,000 people stuck on the Russian side only 76 crossed, many, many hundreds went the other way.


Where are you going?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because my parents live in (INAUDIBLE).

ROBERTSON: Is it dangerous? Because there are Russians controlling (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know, I know this. But I must to take from parents from (INAUDIBLE) to my sister, just--

ROBERTSON (voiceover): Everyone leaving Ukrainian-controlled territory telling us a similar thing. They expect to come back, even if it appears they're not. I'm taking my mother to the other side, he says, and picking up my grandmother. When we asked where he's taking his young daughter, he shrugs. If they were going to live on the Russian side, no one willing to admit it. The route working so well this day, several trucks taking the chance to turn a profit. This man his van loaded with Pepsi and toilet paper, telling us he's taking it to market.

(on camera) The emergency services here say that on a normal day, they get traffic coming from the occupied -- the Russian-controlled side. Today, it's different. They understand that there'll be nobody, nobody else coming from the Russian side today. No one any wiser why the Russians are still blocking so many desperate to leave.


ROBERTSON (on camera): So, as we watched, as soon as the last vehicle went across, heading into the Russian-controlled territory, and those rescue workers, the emergency services, they're helping out at that crossing. As soon as they understood no one was coming from the other side, they left. While people are crossing over, you can hear the sound of shelling in the distance. Most of the people taking that route feel safe on that crossing, because they don't think either side will actually shell the crossing, but the villages right next to it, they do get hit, and they do get hit on quite a frequent basis. A lot of evidence of shelling around there.

But the real question on people's minds ism why if the crossing is not being blocked, as it has been over the past few days by heavy rain, by flooded fields, why can so many people cross and go into Russian- controlled territory and all those 6,000 people waiting on the -- on the other side cannot come out? And the conclusion people here are coming to is that Russia won't let them leave Russian-controlled territory. That's a concern. And that speaks to the issue of human shields. And that speaks again to that issue, that there could be a military offensive going from either direction here in the near future.

KINKADE: Yes, interesting. Good to get that perspective from you on the ground. Our thanks to you, Nic Robertson and your team. Well, in the east, Russia claims at least three people are dead after a Ukrainian strike in the Donetsk region. Ukraine's artillery reportedly hit a bus Saturday morning, leaving at least five others wounded. But Ukraine says the cities on its side of the front lines have been taking heavy Russian fire for weeks. That's happening as Western officials say Russia's ground forces are struggling to make more progress in the east. But in the south, Ukraine says a new Russian offensive could be in the making. Russia is reportedly sending in troops and equipment to the key city of Kherson to push back against Ukraine's incremental gains in the region.

Well, for more now, we're joined by Malcolm Davis, a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, he's speaking with us from Canberra. Good to have you with us.


KINKADE: So, what can you tell us about the offensive and counter offensive in the south, Russia reportedly deploying more troops? Talk to us about the battle for Kherson and why it matters?

DAVIS: Look, if you look at the geography of the region, Kherson is very close to Crimea. And Russia cannot afford to lose Crimea, which it annexed back in 2014. So, the Russians realized that the Ukrainians need to take Kherson to protect Odessa. And thus, prevent a Russian attack into Odessa that would then leave the Russians controlling the -- virtually, the entire south coast of Ukraine. And Ukraine couldn't function as a state if it doesn't have access to its coastline. So, both sides see Kherson as a critical target in the sense that Ukraine must capture Kherson to protect Odessa and potentially threaten Crimea. And Russia must prevent that attack on Kherson and protect Crimea. So, this is turning out to be potentially a decisive battle in the war.

KINKADE: So, certainly, a critical battle. And Ukrainians right now using an influx of weapons from the west. What impact is that having on the battle there? What have they been able to achieve?


DAVIS: Well, the Russian's preferred approach is to undertake a war of grinding attrition, where it essentially bombards Ukrainian Forces for extended periods of time, as well as Ukrainian cities and wears the Ukrainians down. The Ukrainians, up until recently, haven't been able to answer that sort of attack. But with the delivery of long-range weapons, including HIMARS from the United States, suddenly, the Ukrainians can deliver precision long range firepower against key Russian targets such as logistics facilities, command and control, troop concentrations, that sort of thing. And so, it's actually shattering the Russian's ability to undertake a battle of attrition. And it's turning the war into a battle of maneuver again, which then favors the Ukrainians.

So, you know, I think that it's very interesting that essentially, as a result of these weapons deliveries from the West, including HIMARS, in particular, you know, the Ukrainians are starting to get within grasp of being able to turn the tide and maybe capture the momentum. But the Russians will do their very best to spoil that, prevent that from happening, and force the Ukrainians back onto the defensive.

KINKADE: So, with that all in mind, where has Russia made territorial gains in recent weeks and what options are open to Russia in the coming weeks and months?

DAVIS: They've certainly made gains in the Donbass region, taking the Luhansk can now going into Donetsk. They're trying to encircle Ukrainian Forces there. The Ukrainians have pulled back rather wisely to avoid their forces being captured. But ultimately, the Russians, I think, will try to press their advantage there. The Russians are defending obviously in the south around Kherson but the Ukrainians are clearly intent on launching a counter offensive there to drive the Russians out. And the Russians have got undertaking offensives near Kharkiv up in the north to try and undermine Ukraine's ability to just focus on essentially the south.

So, I think that the Russians have the ability, potentially, to slow down any Ukrainian offensives. But the Russians are reaching the end of their useful, useful forces. They're starting, you know, to put it bluntly, to scrape the bottom of the barrel in terms of fighting forces as so many of their forces have been weakened or destroyed. And so, whether they have the ability to sustain momentum, and to reverse Ukrainian counter offensives is a key question.

KINKADE: And I want to ask you about that because you hear all sorts of figures tossed around when it comes to casualties. And estimating the scale of casualties requires some guesswork. What can you tell us about losses on both sides, Russian and Ukrainian?

DAVIS: Certainly, the Ukrainians were taking heavy casualties in some recent weeks. But that's eased off a bit thanks to, you know, once again, HIMARS. I think everyone is probably marveling at how effective it -- HIMARS is. So, the Ukrainians have managed to utilize that weapon system very effectively to erode Russia's ability to inflict massive fire against the Ukrainian Forces. The Russians are taking very heavy, heavy casualties. As I said, the question is, at what point is their breaking point? At what point can their forces no longer resist? And they culminate, and every point beyond that, they are in retreat? And I think the risk here is that, you know, we look at Ukrainian advances and say, well, this is great, and it is.

But the risk as the Ukrainians advance, and start to win battles is that the Russians may be tempted to escalate, either widen the war or start to bring in different types of weapons systems, the Russians have made nuclear threats in the past. So, we should take that seriously. I'm not saying that we should prevent Ukrainians from winning. I think that Ukrainians do need to win decisively. But we have to be careful on how that's achieved without running the risk of escalation into either a wider war or some sort of Russian move to -- for a escalate to de-escalate strategy, potentially using a tactical nuclear weapon.

KINKADE: All right, Malcolm Davis, good to get your perspective. Thanks so much for joining us.

DAVIS: Thank you.

KINKADE: Well, the head of Amnesty International's office in Ukraine has quit. Oksana Pokalchuk cited an Amnesty report that criticized the Ukrainian military for putting bases and operating weapons systems in residential areas, including schools and hospitals. Amnesty said that they would violate international humanitarian law. Well, in a statement on Facebook, Pokalchuk said she tried to dissuade Amnesty from publishing that report, saying it would become a tool of Russian propaganda. The Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky also criticized that report saying, it tries to shift the responsibility of civilian deaths in Ukraine, away from Russia.


Well, the White House says comments from President Biden made about being hopeful for Brittney Griner's release don't reflect any developments behind the scenes. This week, a Russian court sentenced the American basketball star to nine years in prison for drug smuggling. The U.S. calls her detention, wrongful. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the U.S. will pursue Russia's willingness to discuss a prisoner swap. The U.S. has already offered to trade Victor Bout, the imprisoned Russian arms trafficker, that it's holding for Griner and marine veteran Paul Whelan who's also detained in Russia.

Well, if you're joining us in North America, I'll have more CNN NEWSROOM after a short break. And the rest of the world, "AFRICAN VOICES CHANGEMAKERS" is next.



KINKADE: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and Canada. I'm Lynda Kinkade, and you're watching CNN Newsroom.

The mother of a child killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting is reacting to a jury's latest verdict against far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.


SCARLETT LEWIS, SON KILLED IN SANDY HOOK SCHOOL SHOOTING: We can choose love and that we're all responsible for one another. Care and concern is so important. And we saw what happens when there is a dearth of that. And so I hope that we all just go home tonight and everybody that's reading these articles and hearing this message and you choose love with your kids, because you can realize that you have a choice and your choice is love.


KINKADE: Jones had called the shooting a hoax, that during the trial admitted that it was real. The jury ordered him to pay $4 million in compensatory damages Thursday, and is now ordering him to pay $45.2 million more in punitive damages. After the verdict, Jones's lawyer spoke to reporters about his clients reaction.


F. ANDINO REYNAL, ATTORNEY FOR ALEX JONES: His reaction was that, you know, he'd been found guilty before he ever had a chance to defend this case on the merits. That the, you know, the First Amendment is under siege. And that he looks forward to continuing the fight.


KINKADE: CNN's Drew Griffin has more on the verdict and what comes next.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: The jury and Travis County Texas came back after an afternoon of deliberations with a stunning amount, $45.2 million. That is going to be added on to the already $4 million they are awarded earlier this week for a total of $49 million in payments that Alex Jones may have to make to the parents. There is a statutory cap limit on some of the punitive damages which could reduce the amount. But still in all, this was a whopper decision for the plaintiffs in this case. The parents of a victim of a shooting that Alex Jones for years said didn't happen. He is going to have to pay apparently a big sum and he faces two more trials very similar to this, which means Alex Jones troubles have only just begun.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.

KINKADE: Former President Donald Trump is expected to address the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas later today. He follows a lineup of Republican candidates who are on the ballot in the November midterms. Many of them are echoing Trump's unfounded claims that the 2020 election was ramped with fraud and was stolen. CNN's Kyung Lah reports.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fresh off a Republican primary victory for Arizona's Governor, Kari Lake arrives to a hero's welcome at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Dallas.


LAH (voice-over): In her home state, she is leading in every single county, centering her campaign on Donald Trump's lie about the 2020 election. A position she pledges she will not pivot away from.

LAKE: We outvoted the fraud. We didn't listen to what the fake news had to say. The MAGA movement rose up and voted like the lives depended on it.

LAH (voice-over): Trump endorsed election denying candidates one up and down Arizona's ballot Tuesday. U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters and Secretary of State candidate Mark Finchem, who says he wants to eliminate all voting machines.

MARK FINCHEM, ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Paper ballots, hand counting on one day. We can do that. We used to do it.

LAH (voice-over): Election experts say that would mean month's long counts. 2020 deniers despite no evidence of widespread fraud, won. And not just in Arizona.


LAH (voice-over): But in Michigan this week, Republican Gubernatorial Nominee, Tudor Dixon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no, do you believe Donald Trump legitimately won the 2020 election in Michigan?


LAH (voice-over): Now, Dixon is dodging that question. DIXON: There were some things that happen in Michigan that didn't happen in other states, which are very concerning.

LAH (voice-over): These wins are just the latest in the study advanced by those sowing distrust in U.S. elections, being put on the November ballot. In Nevada, Jim Marchant is the Republican nominee for Secretary of State running to oversee his state's elections. He told us this earlier this year.


JIM MARCHANT, NEVADA SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: I believe it was stolen. Yes. I mean, I believe that there were enough irregularities that we need to do an audit.

LAH (voice-over): And then there's Michigan's Kristina Karamo, another Secretary of State candidate who doesn't believe the 2020 results. Election liars on state ballots show Trump's grip on the GOP, celebrated by far-right propagandists, Mike Lindell, at CPAC.

MIKE LINDELL, GOP ACTIVIST: Everybody's going to go vote these great candidates like Kari Lake and override the machines.

LAH (voice-over): On the CPAC agenda --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They stole the 2020 election.

LAH (voice-over): -- it is relitigating 2020. And also looking ahead to November and beyond.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They want to rig elections, institutionalized voter fraud. We're not going to allow it.

LAH (on-camera): I see your hat there.


LAH (on-camera): How important is it for you to talk about 2020 as we look at 2022?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He won. He won in 2020. Hands down across the nation.

LAH (on-camera): What does that say about where the Republican Party is in this country?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: MAGA. They're with MAGA, they're with Trump. They're Trump followers.


LAH: Donald Trump is the closing speaker for CPAC, even though we've been hearing his talking points from speaker after speaker over this entire convention. And while not on the official schedule, Kari Lake did tweet out that she will be the speaker right before Trump.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Dallas.

KINKADE: Well, one speaker who took to the podium early in the conference was Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. He won over the crowd saying his nationalist agenda in Hungary aligns closely with America's conservative movement.


VIKTOR ORBAN, HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER: I can already see tomorrow's headlines. Far-Right, European racist and anti-Semite strongman, the Trojan horse of Putin hold speech at conservative conference. Don't worry, a Christian politician cannot be racist.


KINKADE: Well, earlier I spoke with Leslie Vinjamuri from Chatham House about the similarities between Orban and Trump.


LESLIE VINJAMURI, HEAD, U.S. AND AMERICAS PROGRAM, CHATHAM HOUSE: I think they both draw on a similar playbook. It's your pro-autocrats friendly to Russia, pushing back on -- against liberal values, a very similar playbook. But again, the big, the very big distinction is the system in which they operate.

In Hungary, Viktor Orban has very successfully managed to dismantle democracy to create electoral rules that have made it possible for him to change the Constitution, to control the media, to undermine judicial independence. All things that Donald Trump has tried to do, but he faces a very different system, a very different level of mobilization across the society, and a set of norms that are far more embedded. So that I think is what we have to hope for. But they are very similar as individuals.


KINKADE: We can see the rest of that interview in the next hour of CNN Newsroom.

Beijing and Washington exchanged angry words in the wake of U.S. House biggest trip to Taiwan. And over the last few days, China has put on a massive show of strength around the self-governing Island. We'll have that story when we come back.



KINKADE: Welcome back. Taiwan says it has detected multiple Chinese aircraft and naval vessels operating in the waters around Taiwan Strait this morning. A visual say some cross the median line and that the activity could be a possible simulated attack against Taiwan. Beijing and Washington are blaming each other for the escalation in tensions over the U.S. House Speaker's visit.

CNN Correspondent Selina Wang is in Beijing and has the latest from the Chinese capital. Selina?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lynda, the fallout from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan continues with China ramping up its military and diplomatic backlash. What China is calling its largest ever military drill around Taiwan is continuing. Beijing is sending the world the message, that its powerful military has the ability to choke Taiwan off from the rest of the world.


WANG (voice-over): Rockets from China launched towards the Taiwan Strait. Chinese fighter jets approach the island. Beijing ramps up its intimidation of Taiwan over U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit. China says it staging a blockade around the island. On Thursday, Chinese state media reported missiles flew over Taiwan for the first time before falling into nearby waters.

Beijing then announced its suspending cooperation with the U.S. on key issues, including talks between defense leaders and coordination over immigration, international crime, illegal drugs, and climate talks.

JUDE BLANCHETTE, FREEMAN CHAIR IN CHINA STUDIES, CSIS: As China is lobbing missiles all around Taiwan, they've decided that they're going to cut off communications with the U.S. which just adds to the possibility of a miscommunication or by either side.

WANG (voice-over): The U.S. and China are blaming each other.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: China has chosen to overreact and use Speaker Pelosi's visited pretext to increase provocative military activity. There is no justification for this extreme, disproportionate and escalatory military response.


HUA CHUNYING, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translation): U.S. and some of its lackeys jumped out to accuse China of overreacting. If they really worry about the regional peace and stability, why didn't they send out earlier to prevent Pelosi from paying the provocative visit to Taiwan?

WANG (voice-over): China flew an unprecedented number of fighter jets across the median line of the Taiwan Strait. PLA pilots said they were excited to get so close to the island.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translation): When I overlooked the coastline of the Taiwan Island, my determination to safeguard the territorial integrity of the mother then became more firm.

WANG (voice-over): All of this rage just over a two-day visit. Pelosi's presence in Taiwan a slap in the face to Beijing, which insists the self-governed island is a rebel Chinese province. Pelosi is out of Taiwan but left a crisis behind her. Many in the region fear that Beijing's retaliation is just getting started.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WANG: Now climate change has been one of the only areas where the U.S. and China have been talking despite recent tensions. But now even that window for dialogue has been cut off, all of this further damages already strained U.S.-China relations. But when it comes to these military exercises that China is carrying out, military experts tell me they could not have all been planned right when news about Pelosi's possible visit came out.

They were likely planned long ago. But by pegging it to the Pelosi visit, that has whipped up a lot of patriotism at home. And for Xi Jinping, it is a welcome shift of attention for the home audience away from all of the economic problems at home. Lynda?

KINKADE: Thanks so much to Selina for that report.

Well, even though it's ended, we are still getting reaction to Pelosi's trip. Here is Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on a visit to the Philippines. And there he said that maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait is vital for many countries, in part, reflecting the role the strait plays as a critical waterway. Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. commented that the heightened tensions over the visit demonstrate the volatility of Asia's diplomatic scene.

The U.S. climate envoy John Kerry is slamming China's decision to suspend climate talks in the wake of Pelosi's visit. He said and I quote, "We are the two largest economies and the largest emitters, and the entire world will suffer the consequences if we don't, together, lead the way on climate action. The PRC's announcement that it will unilaterally suspend our bilateral climate of workers both disappointing and misguided. The climate crisis is not a bilateral issue, it's universal."

Wildfires, flash floods and heat are all threatening parts of the US. We'll get the latest from the CNN Weather Center when we come back.



KINKADE: Three people are dead after a lightning strike near the White House Thursday. An elderly couple visiting from Wisconsin and a 29- year-old male. Officials say the three victims have been taken to hospital in a critical condition following the incident at Lafayette Park. One of the victim also sustained life threatening injuries. It's not known if they were hit directly by the lightning strike.

In California, around 1,000 people are stranded in Death Valley National Park due to flooding. Roads going in and out of the park closed Friday. Officials say a number of people have found a way to leave. And officials say at least 70 large wildfires are burning in at least 14 states. Well over a million acres have burned so far. Alaska is at the top spot for both the most active fires with 27, and also the largest fire.

Joining me now is Meteorologist Derek Van Dam. Certainly, a lot to cover, Derek.


KINKADE: The vision out of Death Valley, it's something incredible, 1,000 people stranded there and heard one official say that they got about a year's worth of rain in one morning.

VAN DAM: Yes. In fact, it was just an incredible amount of rain. In fact, they had their second wettest day in 111 years of record keeping. They were only 1/10 of an inch shy of going to the number one spot there. They had 1.46 inches of rain. That's an incredible amount of rain for Death Valley, considering that this is pure desert, very dry area. A lot of monsoonal moisture moving across the region. And they received with that nearly 1.5 inches of rain, about 68 percent of their average annual rainfall.

Now, what's happening over the western U.S.? That is a profound amount of precipitation for such a short period of time. We have had four consecutive weeks above 50 percent of our country under drought conditions from the West, now expanding into portions of New England, including coastal areas of Massachusetts in and around Boston. In fact, some of the areas over the West coasts have had their first or second driest year to date. Just incredible what's taking place right along the coastal regions of California, for instance.

And of course, with the ongoing drought, the heat, we have our wildfires burning out of control, 70 active large wildfires, many of them as you heard from Lynda, occurring in the state of Alaska. But all in all, 14 states have large active wildfires ongoing as we speak. And we have the heat to contend with across the central interior.

This excessive heat warning includes the Omaha region. And then we look towards the east coast one more day of heat for places like Boston, as well as New York and Philadelphia. We have heat advisories in place for this area. Temperatures as you step outside will feel like the triple digits, very easily, very hot and very humid at least for the next 24 hours before some minor relief starts to settle in. You can see the nation's capital in the same situation as well.


The other big story we're following is the potential for flash flooding in and around the areas that have been hit hardest by flooding within the past seven or eight days. That would be Eastern Kentucky. We have a marginal risk of flash flooding there and of course, our monsoonal moisture still bringing the chance of flash flooding over the Great Basin.

But flash flood watches in place for Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, southern portions of Ohio. Rain is moving through. And Lynda, you know, any additional rainfall for these locations could mean flash flooding occurs at anytime.

KINKADE: Flash flooding, fires, heatwaves, bring us some good news next hour, Derek Van Dam.

VAN DAM: I will try my best.

KINKADE: Good to have you with us. Thanks so much.

Well, that wraps this hour of CNN Newsroom. I'm Lynda Kinkade. I'll be back with much more news in just a moment. Stay with us. You're watching CNN.