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Thousands Feared Dead, Missing In Libya Flooding; Death Toll From Morocco Earthquake Climbs Past 2,800; Kim Jong-Un Takes Private Train To Russia For Putin Talks As United States Worries Two Leaders Will Strike An Arms Deal; Kremlin Promises "Full-Blown Visit" Between Putin And Kim; Supreme Court Hearing On Netanyahu's Judicial Reform; American Safe After Falling Ill Over 1000 Meters Underground. Aired 2- 3a ET

Aired September 12, 2023 - 02:00   ET




PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello and a warm welcome to all our viewers watching from all around the world. I'm Paula Newton.

Ahead right here on CNN NEWSROOM, devastation in North Africa. 1000s now confirmed dead in Libya, after heavy rainfall triggered catastrophic flooding and swept away entire neighborhoods.

And then, in Morocco help is starting to arrive and some of the areas hit hardest by Friday's devastating earthquake, but for many residents, help did not arrive in time.

Plus, Kim Jong-un has crossed into Russia, where he's expected to meet with Vladimir Putin amid concerns the two leaders could be planning an arms deal.

So, it is 8:00 a.m. across northeastern Libya, where heavy rains and flash flooding have washed away entire villages along the Mediterranean coast.

The Libyan National Army and health officials say at least 2,000 people have been killed, and 5,000 to 6,000 still missing this hour. It's impossible to verify any of those numbers as many areas remain unreachable.

Video from the region shows a building's collapsed cars submerged torrents of water rushing through streets. The city of Derna was especially hard-hit.

Authority, say two dams collapsed there. Bridges were -- the three bridges were destroyed and phone lines are currently down.

The storm system dumped about eight months of rain on the region in a single day. It caused catastrophic flooding in Greece just last week. The Red Crescent is leading relief efforts there with aid supplies and rescue teams coming in from Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

We go live now to CNN's Eleni Giokos, who has been following all of these developments for us from Dubai. Good to have you on the story, Eleni.

I mean, look, we've been looking at the images, right, apocalyptic whole communities seem to be annihilated, and shockingly, the head of Libya's emergency and ambulance service has admitted to CNN that there was no warning to residents. No evacuations, no calls to get to higher ground.

In light of all of that, what are you learning about how this tragedy unfolded?

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, Paula, and the emergency services also saying we were just not prepared that the wind systems, the rain systems, the climate systems -- were just not studied enough. And that is why people woke up in the middle of the night seeing their homes flooded, some saying that up to three meters.

And then, trying to make a dash for it to get out of almost an impossible situation.

You're seeing these images right now. Entire homes, it looked like they were just melted away by the force of the water, and the storm water.

You mentioned those two dams that collapse, adding more water pressure, exacerbating the situation. We're seeing people that you can see this has been taken from inside that vehicle.

So, people were trapped in cars. Over 2,000 people fear dead. That number is going to increase. We're hearing reports that people's bodies are lying on the ground, some were swept away into the sea.

Derna is a port city. So, you can only imagine the catastrophe. But, of course, other areas will also hard-hit. People are trapped right now. There is no Internet lines, phone lines are down as well. Search and rescue teams are in absolute need.

This is Storm Daniel, it hit Greece. Now, it's went to Libya. And, of course, lack of preparedness has exacerbated the situation.

Look, rescue teams from Turkey, from UAE, and importantly, as well from Qatar have arrived to try and help these eastern parts of the country. But it's the lack of preparedness that makes this story a lot more difficult to fathom.

And as we see this increasing, we also anticipating more rainfall, about five millimeters or so, and that is anticipated.

Unfortunately, Paula, the number of people that are missing over 6,000. Again, difficult to verify these numbers in the current situation, because they just don't know how many people are trapped and they are trying to retrieve people. And also, this is going to continue for the next couple of days in term -- in terms of ascertaining how devastating this has been.

NEWTON: Yes. Officials themselves, Eleni seems so staggered by what is before them but --



NEWTON: -- by exactly what the storm has happened.


I want to get a sense now from you about how the political turmoil in Libya might be affecting all of this? Obviously, difficult to coordinate aid.

GIOKOS: Yes, exactly. There's no real centralized system to try and coordinate aid or even to try and create warning systems like this, resulting in this lack of preparedness.

So, the Libyan National Army is governing the eastern parts of Libya, and then the international -- internationally recognized government is in the west. The West has now declared three days of mourning. But there is a central government entity that tries to speak to both sides. There is a hope of this catastrophe now that both sides will come together to ensure that as much assistance as possible, is sent to these areas.

But here is the thing. Look, we know that the eastern part of the country has been mostly closed off. It's -- Derna is a port city. This is an important economic hub for the area. The question now becomes can they -- can they bring rescue teams together to work effectively to try and send aid as quickly as possible?

Because now, it's still -- we are still in search and rescue, and then, the aftermath that will bring many questions as well to the point of very divided country, Paula.

NEWTON: Yes, just incredible images. It has been absolutely breathtaking. And, you know, another morning there, and they will have to deal with the aftermath. Eleni Giokos for us. Thanks for keeping us up to date.

Now, in Morocco, rescuers are working urgently to find survivors in the rubble more than three days after the country was hit by a devastating earthquake.

The death toll there has climbed past 2,800, with that number still expected to rise in the days ahead. Aid has been slow to reach some of the hardest hit remote villages where roads have been destroyed or blocked by debris.

State media report, Morocco's military has now finally reached the epicenter with aid and equipment to help clear the roads.

Now, according to UNICEF, initial reports show about 100,000 children -- 100,000 have been impacted by Friday's quake. The 6.8 magnitude quake has devastated villages, as we were just saying, and that is along the foothills of Morocco's Atlas Mountains.

CNN's Sam Kiley traveled to the region and spoke with one villager about the incredible devastation left behind.


MUHAMMED I'D LAHOUSINE, EARTHQUAKE SURVIVOR: Their houses here destroyed. There is 21 died here.



KILEY (voice over): Muhammed is a law student. And he grew up in Tiznit.

KILEY: So, you know -- you know, the people who died.

I'D LAHOUSINE: Yes, you know, everyone here is family, you know? Because it's small. It's not the big village, but everyone know each other here.

KILEY: It must break your heart.

I'D LAHOUSINE: Yes, it's so bad. You see these people here dead. In this house, two, three person here is dead. And this house and the second house, three, we have all one house here, one house there, all the family dead, you know. So, it's --

KILEY: are you -- what again --


I'D LAHOUSINE: I don't know. I don't know what they will say. It's a bad night.

KILEY: A very bad night.

I'D LAHOUSINE: Was a bad night. Yes.

KILEY: Well, staggering for all.

KILEY (voice over): This is what remains of 120 homes. Muhammed knows every house that was and who died in them.

I'D LAHOUSINE: The house destroyed on -- all family -- all the family dead.

KILEY: In this?


KILEY: This one in front.

I'D LAHOUSINE: Yes. This one.

KILEY: How many people in that family?

I'D LAHOUSINE: We have four.

KILEY: Four.

I'D LAHOUSINE: And live behind one person alive. One child.

KILEY (voice over): Last Friday's quake took more than 2,800 lives, and the numbers climb. Isolated villages like this, giving up their grim tolls slowly.

KILEY: Did you think there are many villages like this in these mountains, in the same condition?

I'D LAHOUSINE: Every villages -- yes. And more than this.

KILEY: You think more even?

I'D LAHOUSINE: Yes. The village behind this mountain is more than this.

KILEY (voice over): More remote hamlets in the Atlas Mountains are likely to have been cascaded into rubble like this. Shop, small businesses, houses hundreds of years old, slide into one another smashed.

Muhammed explained that his neighbors fought for every penny that they earned as farmers in a harsh landscape. They fought for food. They fought to educate young people like him.

I'D LAHOUSINE: The people not ready for this, you know, just normal people here.

KILEY (voice over): Aid and rescue is getting to places like this, but many others have yet to be discovered. Muhammed fears that many more dead and injured are lying on the villages like this, cut off from help.

But the community is staying on. Village life reduced to a shared tent for 24 families. This is the community kitchen.


KILEY: Mothers of this village, what do you want from your government?

I'D LAHOUSINE: Everyone here asking just for houses.

KILEY: Houses.


KILEY (voice over): We need homes. That a cry that's only going to get louder here. Sam Kiley, CNN, in Tiznit.


NEWTON: So, for more information about how you can help victims of the Morocco earthquake, go to

Two international pariahs are preparing to meet in person for the first time in four years. We'll discuss the deal they may strike as Kim Jong-un's private train rolls into Russia.


NEWTON: So, according to Russian state media, the armored train carrying the leader of North Korea has now arrived in eastern Russia. Kim Jong-un will be holding talks with the Russian president that could lead to an arms deal.

The Kremlin says this will be a full-blown visit and dismissed U.S. warnings about any weapons sales.

CNN's Will Ripley has details on the journey and what each side stands to gain.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A growing arsenal of ballistic missiles but not a single bullet train. One of many contradictions, as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un slowly rolls towards Russia, in Soviet era armored train cars painted green.

With glistening white interiors, gourmet meals and live music like the North Korean luxury train I wrote in 2018. Windows boarded shot to block our view of the destitute countryside.

Kim has made this journey before to the Russian city of Vladivostok. But this trip could have huge ramifications for Russia's war in Ukraine, for North Korea's growing nuclear arsenal.

Kim is expected to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Like Kim, a global pariah, and now, potential partner.

U.S. officials warned last week of possible arms negotiations. Putin desperately needs weapons and ammunition to fight his war in Ukraine. North Korea is sitting on a huge stockpile.

What could Kim get in return? Money and missile technology. So, he can bypass sanctions to build more nuclear capable ballistic missiles. Moscow has a huge arsenal and decades of know how.

In July, Kim hosted the Russian defense minister in Pyongyang, showing off his latest ICBMs and drones. Analysts say bear striking resemblance to U.S. military models.

South Korea's spy agency warned last month of growing military cooperation, warning of "the possible transfer of Russia's core nuclear and missile technology to North Korea."

Analysts fear of potential return to Cold War politics, a partnership giving Putin more firepower and Kim more nuclear power. Two rogue nations potentially teaming up to take on the free world.



RIPLEY (on camera): And this is the reality of the world now faces. Russia and North Korea. Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un. Partners in crime, standing shoulder to shoulder.

Kim's weapons can help Putin in Ukraine, and Putin his nuclear knowledge can help him grow his nuclear arsenal, posing an even greater threat to the United States and the West.

Will Ripley, CNN, Taipei.

NEWTON: CNN's, Clare Sebastian is following all of this live from London. Good to see you, Clare. And to have you on the story, and as you reminded me, Putin is actually speaking this hour at this economic forum. You know, it's no mystery as to why Putin would want this forum and why is asking, perhaps, for weapons from North Korea.

You know, the more pertinent question here, though, may be, what else? Where else could this alliance lead to? Could Russia be willing to help North Korea advance its nuclear program?

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Yes, Paula. I think that is perhaps the key question, one of the most dangerous things that could potentially come out of this, could be the transfer from Russia to North Korea of technology that could aid the North Korea's nuclear program.

For Russia, who has, you know, really since 2006, back to as a member of the U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea, albeit with some reservation in later years, this would be something of a turnaround to go from sanctioning its nuclear program to aiding it.

So, certainly, that would be a measure of the seismic shift in the global order that has been sparked by the war in Ukraine.

And even if they don't transfer technology, the money that they could potentially pay in North Korea for weapons could be funneled into the nuclear program.

They could also, you know, prevent further sanctions as a member of the Security Council. So, this is certainly one to watch. And, of course, we know that Russia has amped-up the nuclear rhetoric, certainly in Europe by pulling out of the last nuclear arms nonproliferation agreement with the U.S. by stationing nukes in Belarus, and this would ramp up the nuclear stakes over in Asia as well.

Putin, as you say, speaking right now. He is talking about development in the Far East. But we have heard elements of the sort of anti- Western rhetoric playing into these. Saying that Western countries have essentially ruined the systems they have created in terms of financial integration, trade, and things like that, talking about the multipolar world.

And this is part of it as well, aside from the transactional elements of this meeting, a potential arms deal, and whatever North Korea wants in return is the politics, this building up of the so-called multipolar world, these anti-Western, anti-sanctions axis.

So, I think even though, you know, the White House talks about weakness and desperation as the motive for Putin wanting to court North Korea, I think it's clear that any deal between these two countries could potentially make both of them more dangerous. Paula?

NEWTON: That is a good point. Clare Sebastian, we'll let you get back to Putin. And you will update us in the coming hours on what he is saying. Thanks so much.

Now, I want to bring in, Robert English from La Spezia, Italy. He is the director of the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. And good to have you with us.

So, we know this could end up being, perhaps, even a food for arms swap. But do you believe it could go further? I was just discussing with Clare, whether or not Russia, who for decades seemed to know better, right? That a nuclear North Korea would be a global menace. Do you think that's still Putin's opinion?

ROBERT ENGLISH, DIRECTOR, SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: So, I think the Russians have basically accepted that North Korea is and will remain a nuclear power.

The sanctions that Russia, not only joined in previously, but helped sponsor in the early 2,000s have not worked. And for some time, Russia, while officially still observing the sanctions under Putin has actually been conducting trade, illegal or illicit trade with North Korea.

So, this is, in that sense, a continuation. Maybe just coming open with an unofficial policy of accepting nuclear North Korea and doing business with it.

NEWTON: When Kim and Putin met four years ago, Putin was actually billing himself as a mediator between the U.S. and North Korea on the country's nuclear program.

In light of that, I'm interested to know your opinion, why do you believe Putin has pivoted here so abruptly? Obviously, we had the invasion of Ukraine that goes without saying, but there are stark changes here.

ENGLISH: Yes, it's -- I guess two things I'd point to. One is more than near term. Right. Both countries are pariah states. Extreme pariah states, heavily sanctioned, untouchable in normal international relations.

So, there is a sort of, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, you know, we're going to join together and help each other the way that Germany and Russia did after the First World War. It's a natural phenomenon.

The second is this underlying compatibility in their needs and their interest. Russia needs large quantities of artillery shells and simple artillery, multiple launch rockets, and North Korea has millions in their stockpiles.


North Korea wants everything from high tech missile and submarine assistance, to food aid, to grains and other foodstuffs. So, they have a lot of, you know, mutual interests. And we're going to see them come open now in joining those interests and helping each other.

NEWTON: You know, I want to ask you about what shaped your academic career. You conducted nearly 400 interviews with Soviet intellectuals and public policymakers. And I underscore, Soviet.

I'm curious, how much do you think, Putin has perhaps turned the clock back a little bit there in Russia? Those local elections is what I'm really pointing to, they seem rather Soviet inspired. And now, you see him sitting down with someone like Kim Jong-un.

ENGLISH: Yes. That's a great question. And I'm glad you are looking at the sort of historical sweep. The majority of the officials and specialists and experts that I was interviewing at the end of the 1980s were progressives, they were liberals. They were people who were helping perestroika, they were pushing Gorbachev to improve relations with the West to cut weapons and end the Cold War.

We are back where we started. For someone like me who has been tracing this for over 30 years. Exactly, as you put it, Putin is a Soviet-era product, he's you know, military intelligence, security. These are his priorities. These are his allies and comrades who have this Cold War anti-western view of the world, and have brought us full circle. They don't call it Soviet. But in that respect, it's very Soviet-like. This besieged fortress, we must stand against the West attitude.

NEWTON: Yes, and it has been staggering to see the effects right around the world from him turning back the clock.

Robert English, always appreciate your insights. Thanks so much.

ENGLISH: You're welcome.

NEWTON: Now, as Russia and North Korea hammer out what could be a new arms deal, Ukraine is urging its allies to send long range missiles as quickly as possible. That's ahead.



NEWTON: Returning to one of our top stories now Morocco, rescuers are working urgently to find survivors in the rubble, more than three days after the country was hit by a devastating earthquake. Now, the death toll has climbed past 2,800 with that number still expected to rise in the days ahead. Aid has been slow to reach some of the hardest hit remote villages where roads have been destroyed or blocked by debris.

State media report, Morocco's military has now reached the epicenter with aid and equipment to help clear the roads. Hlima Razkaoui is national director of CARE Morocco, and she joins us now live from Casablanca.

I mean, I just want to get the measure of this now that we're a few days out. I mean, what was it like in the early hours? And where are we now, given this is really something Morocco hasn't seen in at least a century?

HLIMA RAZKAOUI, NATIONAL DIRECTOR, CARE MOROCCO: Good morning. Yes, this is Hilma, speaking.

Yes, the situation here is still very difficult. People are still living with fear. I have visited the villages where happened, the heart of earthquake yesterday, and going back again today.

People are already suffering and they left their houses because, you know, the village that we visited, almost all houses collapse. Those who are still have standing could collapse in a while. And everyone has left the houses and living outside.

They try to have shelters, but they are still lacking shelters. Some have, some not, and sleeping outside. Women and kids are scared. Scared, especially, during the night, because of dogs outside and I didn't have neither the latrine for the night.

So, the national authorities and Moroccan army are doing their best, and they took the lead and coordinate the effort, but still, that takes time, that we saw huge people spill their hand, trying to get their own survivors. Yes.

NEWTON: I know you spoke to people in those remote villages today, one of the saddest things I heard was that there had been crying and screaming. And now, in so many of these villages, there is just silence.

How are people coping with the fact that help did not reach them. Many of those villages until, you know, the last 24 hours, and perhaps, some still haven't been reached.

RAZKAOUI: I mean, I met with the authorities yesterday. And actually, they are all very deployed, helping people already got first aid. They are already been on the rescue. The Moroccan authorities are doing really their best and they are really active since the very first hour.

Here, the thing is people are really in need of regular food delivery, water delivery, shelter. Some of them we are seeing that some of them were already getting shelter, some are still waiting. So, the thing is the situation is very wide. So, it takes time, actually, to cope with everyone and cover everyone.

The national authorities coordinate and help the civil society, as CARE Morocco, to join them helping and getting more regular food delivery. So, things is there. I mean, people are trying to organize the authorities and civil society. But it takes time because the needs are so huge.

NEWTON: And when you say the need --


RAZKAOUI: Also, you should know that winter is coming. So, the authorities are trained to anticipate the winter and the cold of the winter for people to be on the shelter, you know, before the winter.

NEWTON: Given that you say people are already suffering and the need is great, do you believe it might be necessary to evacuate many of these people from these villages for weeks if not months, just because it's not safe to be in those areas, and there isn't -- the necessities of life anymore?

RAZKAOUI: That's the national authorities for the time being, analyzing the situation, and they are deeply working on the best scenario to better help people, and make them the safe as possible.


They analyze all aspects of the scenarios to identify the right one and are working on it.

They are already working on it. Plans are already there, and they are already going ahead with the best scenario to better suit the people in the most effective way and anticipating the winter. I was in the field yesterday, and I could see that.

Now, it's a matter of us, to organize ourselves, The National Civil Society, to get ourselves, as well as funding, to be able to support the deliveries, sitting next to the authorities, helping them in delivering according to the plan.

NEWTON: Okay, Hlima Razkaoui, with CARE, we will leave it there for now. Thank you so much.

RAZKAOUI: Thank you so much.

NEWTON: Ukraine's president is warning his country that the conflict with Russia will not end anytime soon, telling Ukrainians to prepare for a long war. Ukrainian officials are urging Western allies to send more military help, including long-range missiles. A U.S. official tells CNN that President Biden is expected to make a decision about sending those missiles soon.

That official saying, quote, "There is a much greater possibility of it happening than ever before." Mark Galeotti is the founder and CEO of Mayak Intelligence, a consulting firm focused on Russia. He's also the author of "Putin's Wars, From Chechnya to Ukraine". And he joins me now from Broadstairs in England.

Good to have you in on these issues as Putin is speaking this hour from Vladivostok, perhaps we are a bit reductive, though, about the war in Ukraine. It's always about winning, losing, defense, offense. That makes it easier for us to digest, no doubt, but what about the nuance and the deeper analysis? I know that to that end, you say the frontline really doesn't betray much about what's going on. Why not?

MARK GALEOTTI, FOUNDER AND CEO, MAYAK INTELLIGENCE: Well, I think it's this obsession we've acquired with exactly how many yards have been moved forward today and how many miles and so forth. Obviously, yes, it matters. Ukraine is committed to regaining all its occupied territories. But I think what we sometimes miss in that is precisely all the other indices.

It's not just about territory, it's about positioning, it's about how much of the other side's stocks of advanced weapons have been degraded and so forth. And when one puts all these sort of different calculations together, it's clear that while Ukraine is undoubtedly winning, there is no way getting around that, it does suggest that this is precisely, as you've already said, going to be a rather longer war than some people rather, sort of, triumphalistically expected.

NEWTON: You know, Zelenskyy, that's his stand. And he has said that for a while. But he is much more emphatic now, and seems to be taking a tougher stand towards any kind of peace negotiation. What more can Putin throw at this war? Or is a stalemate good enough for him? A frozen conflict. Would that serve Vladimir Putin's purposes just fine?

GALEOTTI: I think from Putin's point of view, he wins by not losing because his calculation is this, I think he's now reached a situation where he's not going to be winning some grand victory on the battlefield as things stand.

However, he hopes that he can extort some kind of settlement that he can then spin as a trial. If he can outlast, outlast Ukraine's will and capacity to keep fighting, but even more, outlast the West. Because the critical potential point of failure is us, if we decide that we've had enough, if we decide to stop or scale down the amount of financial and military support we provide Ukraine, then Kyiv finds itself in a much, much tougher position.

So, precisely, from Putin's point of view, actually a stalemate is very good. So, he will continue to throw soldiers into the fight. He almost certainly will launch a new mobilization wave, all really intended to try and deny the Ukrainians the chance at that kind of decisive victory.

NEWTON: And to that issue of the mobilization, what do you make of the claim from British military intelligence and Ukrainian officials that Putin might be on track to mobilize as many as four hundred thousand more troops by the end of the year? Is that plausible?

GALEOTTI: I think that's probably -- let's put it politely, at the extreme end of what is really plausible. It's not about just simply gathering together recalcitrant 40, 50-year-olds who last saw a gun 30 years ago. It's also about, who's going to train these people? Where are they going to house them? What weapons have they got?

I mean, there is a limit to how much old 1970s and 1980s kits they can drag out of warehouses and so forth. To be honest, I think a more credible figure is between two hundred and three hundred thousand. Now that's still a lot of manpower to have at your disposal.


But given that, as I say, these are not going to be good troops by any means. All they can really do is at best hold the line.

NEWTON: Yeah, and unfortunately for Russian families, they may be injured, or worse, dead troops very soon. Given that, if we go back to how Putin can prosecute this war at home, you know, do you believe, post Prigozhin here, that he could still have some trouble with the Russian public opinion?

GALEOTTI: I think so. I mean, I think we have to realize there's two different threats here. One is from the public. We're not likely to see grand protests, because remember, this is an increasingly brutal authoritarian police state. If you go out and protest, you're almost certainly going to be arrested. If you're lucky, you're going to be fined, if you're unlucky, you're going to prison and going to be roughed up by the police.

So, I mean, I think there is a concern about not pushing the population too far. But we have to keep that in sort of limited constraints. Secondly though, it's the elite. That's, I think, what the Prigozhin mutiny really brought up. It's really striking how many within the military and security apparatus did not really want to get involved.

They didn't want to join the mutiny but they didn't want to protect Putin either. But so I think, already, we're beginning to see a certain kind of calculus. People thinking, what is more dangerous? Letting Putin drag this country into increasing chaos and misery, or actually going against him?

So far, at least, the risks in turning against Putin are greater. But the longer this war goes on, the more the misery accrues at home, then people may well start to change their minds about that.

NEWTON: Yeah, and again, as you're saying, that will likely be motivated in some way by the elite. Mark Galeotti, we'll leave it there for now. Thanks so much, appreciate it. And we will be right back in a moment with more news.


NEWTON: Israel's Supreme Court is hearing arguments right now in a historic case over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to overhaul the country's judicial system. For the first time ever, all 15 Supreme Court judges are hearing a case together.

They'll have to decide whether to uphold or strike down a law passed by Netanyahu and his supporters designed to limit the Court's ability to nullify government decisions deemed unreasonable. Israelis have been protesting for months over the issue that critics say erodes the Court's independence and harms Israel's democracy.

Journalist Neri Zilber joins me now from Jerusalem with the latest. As we just noted, this is historic. What is the timeline here and do we have any indication on what could possibly be decided?

NERI ZILBER, JOURNALIST: Good morning, Paula. That's right, historic day in Israel, extraordinary day. We're standing outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem.


As you can see and hear, protesters for and against the Supreme Court making their voices heard, trying to get inside the walls of the building behind me. 15 judges, as you mentioned, are now sitting in judgment.

A full panel, a historic first in Israeli legal history, deliberating over the legality of a law passed by the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in late July, essentially stripping the Supreme Court itself of any judicial oversight powers over government decisions, and crucially the ability of the government to appoint and fire key civil servants.

Now obviously, a historic first as well, the Supreme Court may, for the first time in Israeli history, actually deem a law like this, a quasi-constitutional basic law, as illegal and unconstitutional. That's in play. Although a real decision is not expected for another few weeks. So it won't come down today.

But rather, another historic first, the Netanyahu government, from the prime minister on down to senior ministers, have made it clear in recent weeks and in recent days that they may not abide by whatever ruling comes down from the building behind me and the justices, setting up, potentially, what many analysts fear is a constitutional crisis in Israel. Now, inside the building, Paula, you have two sides of the argument.

On the one side, the government is being represented by a private lawyer, not by the attorney general. The attorney general, which is the highest legal official in the land, has refused to defend the government's position, stating itself - - stating herself, rather, that it is undemocratic and unconstitutional.

But the government is arguing that it is the will of the people and the sovereign here in Israel that makes the decisions, it's not the Courts, but rather the government and the parliament and the majority they have in parliament. On the other side of the argument, civil society groups and opposition politicians deem the law passed in July as unconstitutional, undermining the tenets of Israeli democracy, Paula.

NEWTON: Okay, and we'll wait to see how all of that unfolds there at the Supreme Court. Neri Zilber for us in Jerusalem, thanks so much. Now, an American caver is thanking the Turkish government and a team of rescuers from multiple countries for saving his life.

Mark Dickey was trapped in Turkey's third deepest cave more than 1000 meters underground. He reportedly suffered from gastrointestinal bleeding. More than 200 rescuers worked to get him back to the surface and he was immediately taken to the hospital Tuesday. He says it's amazing, I can imagine, to be above ground again. And we wish him all the best.

I want to thank you for joining us. I'm Paula Newton. WORLD SPORT is next. And I'll be back in 15 minutes with more CNN NEWSROOM.