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CNN International: Top U.S. Diplomat Meets with Leaders Across Region; Iranian Foreign Minister Also Visiting Regional Leaders; CNN Visits Be'eri Kibbutz After Massacre by Hamas; Israel Prepares for Next Stage of War Against Hamas; Protesters at White House Call for End to Attacks on Gaza; India's Top Court Declines to Legalize Same- Sex Marriage. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired October 17, 2023 - 04:30   ET




BECKY ANDERSON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's been a weekend of high stakes shuttle diplomacy across this region. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, hearing from key Middle Eastern allies on a whistle stop seven nation tour. Many of the regions top leaders calling for Israel to deescalate and allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Egypt's president says Israel's response to the Hamas attacks has gone beyond self-defense and is now a, quote, collective punishment against Gazans. His concerns echoed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. MBS stressing to quote:

Stop the military operations that claimed the lives of innocent people. Work to calm the situation, stop the current escalation and respect international humanitarian law -- including lifting the siege on Gaza and work to create conditions for the return of stability.

And Qatar working intensively to secure the release of hostages taken by Hamas, while also calling for de-escalation in the region and an immediate ceasefire. Blinken brought those sentiments back to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: The way that Israel does, this matters. Needs to do it in a way that affirms the shared values that we have for human life and human dignity. Taking every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians.

ANDERSON (voice-over): Meanwhile, Iran's foreign minister, conducting his own version of shuttle diplomacy. He travelled to Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and met with Hamas officials in Qatar. In Beirut, he also met with officials from Hezbollah. Both of those groups considered proxies for Iran. Tehran increasing warnings that the conflict could spread if Israel does not stop its attacks on Gaza.

Also over the weekend, the U.S. sent a second carrier group into the eastern Mediterranean to send a message of deterrence. But President Biden says there's no evidence Iran is behind the Hamas attack on Israel. JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Iran constantly supports

Hamas and Hezbollah. I don't mean that, but in terms of where they -- did they have fore knowledge? Did they help plan the attack? There's no evidence of that.

ANDERSON (voice-over): The U.S. is not the only major power getting involved. China sending its own special Middle East envoy to the region next week, to quote, cool down the situation. But despite the high stakes' diplomacy, the situation seems far from cooling down.

Becky Anderson, CNN Tel Aviv.


BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR: Still to come, we'll take you inside a kibbutz that was violently attacked by Hamas in Israel and walk through the remnants of a family's home and see what's left.



MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get you up to date on the latest developments, then from southern Gaza. The Palestinian Interior Ministry reports Israeli air strikes killed at least 21 people in Khan Younis, and it says another 28 were killed in Rafah. That is home to the border crossing, where many Palestinian civilians have been gathering to try to enter Egypt.

NOBILO: The proximity of the Be'eri kibbutz in Israel to the Gaza border made it a prime target for Hamas fighters during the attacks. More than 120 people were killed in the slaughter with more taken hostage. CNN's Erin Burnett spoke with Israeli Forces who are there right now. Some of their stories may be difficult to hear.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR (voiceover): Men came at dawn through the main gate to this town of just over 1,000 people burning, shooting, slaughtering. Now this kibbutz is a mass grave and still an active fighting zone. We're told terrorists have still been found hiding.

This day, IDF guns pointed at Gaza just beyond the barbed wire. One soldier we saw on duty there, has served 25 years in the Army.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we saw here nothing can prepare you for this kind of brutality of evil, pure evil. So you asked me how do I feel? Determined. Very determined.

BURNETT (voice-over): Determined because here you breathe the crime through your nose, your mouth. The presence of human death hits us.

BURNETT: This family that lived here were the Haddads (ph), their names on the outside. On the floor inside, we saw a bus pass for one of them. And this is their home completely charred, destroyed.

BURNETT (voiceover): This is the front garden. Everything is now dead.

BURNETT: I'm standing inside someone's home where they were celebrating. Exercise bike behind me, everything burnt and destroyed. In the kitchen, even on the refrigerator, the charred remains of all the pictures that somebody would have just had on the outside of their fridge. The medicine, the medicine containers that you would label by day to make sure you took the right pills every day. All of that just part of the normal life left behind.

BURNETT (voiceover): Home after home, after home. Here someone was a bike rider. Here someone loved gardening. That life now gone. Now bulletproof vests worn by Hamas and zip ties lie outside this home. Evidence Hamas was ready to tie up many more victims. And still, it is the children that no human can comprehend. We learned the fate of one of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We opened the door we saw a baby girl, four months old. The entire room is upside down. And the baby lying on the floor. Her hands --

BURNETT: Burned?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. She was so beautiful. So beautiful. There are her pajama, shot in the head.

BURNETT (voiceover): He says they carried her outside like an angel -- an infant. And children's toys and drawings are scattered everywhere in Be'eri.

BURNETT: In this house, you see children's homework, children's books, the deck of cards just spread out here along the ground. There was clearly fighting inside this house outside this house Arabic graffiti, name of a brigade, Agusan brigade. Arabic writing displayed all the way along the outside, bullet holes in the glass as we walked in.

The words also say, Allah Akbar and victory, only there is no victory here. Only death and hate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since Saturday morning we're dealing with a holy mission, not less.

BURNETT: A holy mission.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A holy mission. Yeah. Holy, not less.


NOBILO: Joining us now from Tel Aviv is Major Libby Weiss. She's a spokesperson for the Israel Defence Forces. Thank you for being with us this morning.


NOBILO: According to a statement by the Palestinian Ministry for the Interior, Israeli air strikes killed at least 28 people in Rafah Tuesday morning and 21 in Khan Younis. What is the intention behind the evacuation order for civilians if the Israel Defence Forces are going to strike areas that the civilians have been asked to go to?

WEISS: Well, first I should say that the sources for those figures are of course Hamas. So it would seem that those stats are coming from them, and we very clearly understand that they have been trying to prevent civilians from following those evacuation orders.


So I would look at those figures with some skepticism.

But our goal is -- if we didn't want to minimize the impact on the civilians, we wouldn't have told them to evacuate. That is exactly what we've said. This warning has now been out for several days. We keep encouraging them to move south and to do that for their own safety. And I -- you know, I can't confirm figures that Hamas is putting out. And I would be very skeptical of the accuracy of those figures.

NOBILO: So if we put those exact figures to one side for a moment, there aren't strikes being carried out on areas in southern Gaza where the civilian population have been asked to evacuate to?

WEISS: I can't comment on specific strikes, but what I can tell you is this --

NOBILO: You don't need to comment on specific strikes, but are there any strikes in those areas?

WEISS: The civilians are being asked to move. They are receiving a warning that, might I say, none of the 1,400 Israeli civilians who were slaughtered on Saturday morning received. None of them, the people, the children, the elderly people, the civilians were --

NOBILO: But you are a government and not what you would call a terrorist organization. So of course you would warn the civilian population.

WEISS: Right. And now the civilian population within Gaza Strip, that is something for Hamas to answer to. They are the sovereign rulers within the Gaza Strip. The safety of people in the Gaza Strip of civilians within the Gaza Strip is the responsibility of Hamas. We provided a warning. We have opened that warning. We have kept that warning out. We are communicating it for several days now, and it is on the responsibility of Hamas to facilitate that movement and to protect civilians that is their -- that is their role as the sovereign power within the Gaza Strip.

FOSTER: According to lots of reports, the damage around the Rafah crossing is so bad it can't be used at the moment, if aid were to be allowed through. Can you confirm that?

WEISS: I can't confirm that. What I can say is that Hamas destroyed the two crossings that existed between Israel and the Gaza Strip, where aid would go in on a daily basis, where thousands of workers from Gaza would come into Israel to work. Those were destroyed by Hamas. I don't know to speak to the situation on the crossing with Egypt.

FOSTER: How easy would it be to open up that crossing do you think? Because a lot of expectation that when President Biden arrives, your government will be able to announce that there will be some aid going in through Rafah. How easy will that be and what effect would that have on your military campaign?

WEISS: Well, that is certainly something that on the diplomatic level is being discussed, and we will facilitate whatever decision the government here makes in terms of that.

NOBILO: How important a priority for you is it to avoid escalation with Hezbollah and open up another front in the north?

WEISS: Well, we're sending them a very, very clear message, and certainly it's a message that's being communicated by our allies as well, which is to not get involved in this conflict. And in the events that we have seen from the border with -- across from the border with Lebanon, the IDF has been responding immediately. But again, we, of course, send that message very, very clearly, as do our allies.

NOBILO: I just wanted to mention the video that's being -- we're not showing it, but it's of one of the Israeli hostages. Obviously, incredibly difficult to watch, and that's why we're not showing it. I mean, what are you able to say to those people back in Israel with hostages in Gaza that they're -- you know, in terms of the search and, you know, your ability to extract them safely? I mean, what are you saying to the families which may be watching this and just going through a horrible time?

WEISS: Of course. So the video that you mentioned was released last night of 21-year-old Mia Schem. She was at the festival on Saturday morning. And we understand that Hamas releasing these videos is very reminiscent of what ISIS did with videos of hostages. This is another attempt to engage in psychological warfare against the Israeli civilian population. And of course, the idea of -- and really everyone in this country has -- thinking about the hostages 24/7. Their safety is a top priority for us, of course.

And we anticipate that Hamas will continue releasing these painful and heartbreaking videos as another method of waging, I would say, as I said, a psychological war against civilians here.

FOSTER: OK, Major Libby Weiss, thank you so much for joining us today and sparing your time.


Now, protesters gathered outside the White House on Monday calling for an end to Israel's war on Hamas. They urged U.S. President Joe Biden to work to restrain Israeli aggression, as they called. And the protest comes as Israel is preparing for a ground incursion aimed at annihilating Hamas in Gaza. My colleague Rosemary Church spoke earlier with one of the protest leaders and asked what she hoped to see happen in Israel.


EVA BORGWARDT, NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON, IF NOT NOW: Today, thousands of American Jews were at every entrance to the White House calling on President Biden to exercise leadership in this moment. In a way that only he can, to call for a ceasefire, a de-escalation, immediate release of the Israeli hostages against some of our loved ones, us among them. And to address the root causes of this violence. Which is, again, a system of apartheid and occupation, and the assumption by successive Israeli governments that they can cage people indefinitely and brutalize them when they try to non violently resist and not expect disaster to happen to their own citizens. And large -- a large portion of the Israeli public is also clear on this. And we are here in solidarity with the Israelis and Palestinians that we love. Again, many of whom we are -- we are grieving this week. And we are there to call on President Biden to exercise leadership in this moment because it is desperately needed. It is, quite literally, life or death.

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: So that's your message to U.S. President Joe Biden. What's your message to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu right now, as he prepares to send Israeli troops into Gaza in an apparent ground incursion?

BORGWARDT: What we have heard from this Israeli Government, is that there is no strategy. What happens if they raise Gaza to the ground? What then?


FOSTER: We continue our coverage of the Gaza conflict after the break.



NOBILO: India's Supreme Court has declined to legalize same sex marriage. The court instead has accepted the government's offer to set up a panel to grant social and legal rights to members of the LGBTQ community.

FOSTER: It's a complex process, isn't it? Vedika, though, is joining us from New Delhi to help explain.

VEDIKA SUD, CNN REPORTER: Well, Max, it is complicated and remains complex because remember, there were four marathon judgements that were read out. It took over two hours that this judgement was delivered by five judges who've been hearing this case.

The hearing started in April this year and they had reserved the verdict in the month of May. But today was supposed to be the day when the community was hoping, expecting and they had their fingers crossed, that they would be recognized legally as a, you know, a community that can also get the license to marry. But that was not the case.

I have with me one of the petitioners, Uday. We've spoken to him. We've spoken to two more petitioners. They've all expressed disappointment over the judgment that was issued today. The details of which will come out slowly when the orders put up on the website. But for now, I want to understand from Uday, for our viewers out there, what he makes of this judgment and if he is disappointed. Uday, what do you have to say?

UDAY RAJ ANAND, PETITIONER: Look, it's a strange feeling, because when this whole process started, I think it was -- it was almost unfathomable, unimaginable that in, you know, that that we would be here. When I was a 13-year-old, you know, kid being told that LGBT people were a miniscule minority. From that point to now it's been an incredible journey. And so it was kind of in -- it was amazing that we were here.

Having said that, the fact that we haven't received the concrete relief that we came for, which is the right to marry. Of course, feels extremely disappointing. Hopes were up and they haven't been realized. So yes, there is a sense of sadness and disappointment.

Having said that, I think the court has made clear that it is not able to move in this direction, even though many of the judges did express their sympathy for the cause. They expressed in no uncertain terms the fact that they believe a legal framework should exist that should allow us to live with dignity. They disagreed on how we can get there. And I think now this is a matter for the messy process of democracy and the fight goes on.

SUD: I think Max, that's what essentially happened in court today. The judges did say they had their heart in the right place. A lot of them spoke about the discrimination that this community constantly faces. But that didn't really translate into a judgment in their favor. It was a verdict that went three to two. And the majoritarian view was that perhaps this is something which is really out of the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. This is something that the masses should decide on.

Now there still needs to be clarity on whether this goes to Parliament or not. If it goes to Parliament, remember there's a majority for the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government there and they have been very firm in not wanting legal recognition for same sex marriage. They made this very clear from the very beginning in their petitions, in their responses, in the Supreme Court. Very quickly back to you Uday. Is there hope if this goes to Parliament, would you say?

ANAND: Look, I think, to be absolutely accurate, I think the government in its response did not necessarily say that they were against the idea. They very much stated that they believed that it was not for the court to decide. So, you know, I think -- I think the lifeblood of democracy is hope. People have come before us in this fight and they have faced setbacks bigger than the one that has been faced today.

SUD: But they did say it seems to be the view of the urban elite as well.


SUD: As part of their --


ANAND: No. So the -- I mean, to their credit, all the judges agreed with the statement that that queer identity is not an urban or an elite concept --

SUD: Exactly

ANAND: -- that it is something that is, you know, it exists across the country. Many of the judges referred to, you know, an Indian tradition to state that there was nothing alien to India about homosexuality at all.

SUD: Which again is very progressive in nature. So I would say it's significant, Max, because India has come a long way since they decriminalized homosexuality. But there's still a distance to go in short, and the community here is hoping that happens sooner than later. Back to you.

FOSTER: Absolutely, Vedika, thank you so much.

NOBILO: Republican U.S. Congressman Jim Jordan is picking up more support in his quest to become the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. But it remains to be seen if he can get enough votes for a planned floor vote in the coming hours. The speaker needs a majority of the full House to be elected, and Jordan can only afford to lose four Republicans if every member votes.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): We will go to the floor tomorrow. It's not about pressure on anybody. Just about -- we got to have a speaker. You can't open the House and do the work of the American people and help our dearest and closest friend, Israel, if you don't have a speaker.


FOSTER: Jordan's allies believe if they can get the holdouts down to 20 or fewer members of Congress, they can grind it out on the floor like Kevin McCarthy did when he won the speakership after his history making 15 rounds of voting. If Jordan ultimately loses, Republicans would be back at square one on their 14th day without a speaker. I mean that story something else, isn't it?

Thanks for joining us here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Max Foster.

NOBILO: And I'm Bianca Nobilo. "EARLY START" is up next right here on CNN.