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CNN International: IDF Strikes Intensify As Ground Operations Expand; Gaza Communications Blackout Leaves Families, Medics In Limbo; Logistics Of Hostage Recovery More Difficult Now; Europe Foreign Policy Chief Calls For Humanitarian Pause In Gaza; Mass Shooting Suspect In Maine Found Dead; Jewish Group Rallies For Ceasefire; Former Vice President Mike Pence Suspends Presidential Campaign; Desperation, Devastation In Acapulco Following Storm; CNN Speaks to Iranian Foreign Minister about Israel-Hamas War. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 28, 2023 - 17:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

NICK WATT, CNN INTERNATIONLA HOST: Hello, and welcome. I'm Nick Watt. Welcome to our breaking coverage of the Israel-Hamas war.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: I'm Becky Anderson in Doha, in Qatar for you tonight.

The Israeli prime minister says Israel is fighting its second independence war, saying he expects the battle against Hamas to be a long one. Benjamin Netanyahu gave an update in the past few hours saying Israel was now in the second stage of its offensive against Hamas.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): The war inside the strip is going to be long and we are ready for it. This is our second independence war. We are going to fight for the homeland and we won't withdraw. We're going to fight on the ground, at sea and in the air. We will destroy our enemy above and below the ground. We are going to fight and win.


ANDERSON: Israel says it has now struck several Hamas targets in Gaza as part of an expanded ground operation. Inside Gaza there appears to be a total internet and communications blackout. You're looking at images from Gaza City obtained by CNN earlier on Saturday. A journalist there tell us that the artillery shelling in Gaza did not stop on Saturday after the heaviest night of airstrikes since war break out.

Palestinian health officials in the West Bank drawing some sources in Gaza saying more than 7,500 people in the enclave are being killed in strikes since October the 7th. Well, CNN's Jeremy Diamond is in southern Israel and he has been

hearing an uptick in strikes on Gaza and more rockets fired towards Israel.

Let's start with what's going on inside Gaza, those on the ground telling us that the bombardment continues, and it is heavy. Why did we learn out of the prime minister and the defense minister tonight about what happens next in this second phase?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, the Israeli prime minister and his war cabinet making very clear that this next phase of this military campaign is going to involve a significant ground operation inside of Gaza. One that has begun just over 24 hours ago. Yesterday evening, with intense bombardment of the Gaza Strip, and infantry as well as tanks moving into Gaza, fighting ongoing, even today and making clear that these troops are not coming back to Israel anytime soon, rather, this ground operation appears to only be heading for a direction of intensification.

As is the bombardment and the shelling of the Gaza Strip, in just the last hour, Becky, we heard what is undoubtedly the loudest explosions that we have heard in these three weeks of war. I was saying that last night because it was true and in just the last hour, Becky, we had three quick explosions in quick succession that were just extraordinarily loud. Shaking the hotel that we are in which is about six miles away from the Gaza Strip.

Near Gaza you could see enormous flashes of light as these explosions occurred inside of Gaza. And so we expect to see more of this in the coming days and weeks. Israel's prime minister making clear that this war is like Israel's second war of independence framing it in existential terms and also making clear that this will be a long, drawn-out war and one that could be costly for Israeli troops -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Jeremy Diamond is on the ground, thank you.

Well, the director general of the Hamas controlled Gaza Health Ministry tells CNN that hospitals there are used to treat patients only. Well, that came in response to an Israeli claim that Hamas has set up command and control center in bunkers underneath Gaza's biggest hospital.

My colleague Nada Bashir has more on the situation inside Gaza and how civilians are increasingly paying the ultimate price. Her report contains some images that you may find distressing.


NADA BASHIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A flash of light over the chilling, imposed darkness that engulf Gaza every night.


A glaring promise of more death and destruction. The ongoing siege and a communications blackout, plunging Gaza into eerie silence. What little video has emerged so far paints a picture of the

devastation brought by Israel's relentless bombardment. Scenes of incomprehensible lost, shrouded bodies, the latest amongst thousands of victims.

Israel says it is targeting Hamas. Now also expanding its ground operations. A retaliation, they say, to the Hamas terror attacks of October 7th, which left at least 1,400 dead and more than 200 others held hostage inside Gaza. But in the besieged strip of land, the number of Palestinians killed also rises with each and every airstrike.

"The situation here is dire. Our homes were destroyed in the airstrikes. Six of our family members were killed. What can we do? We are all living through this."

This was the scene on Friday, at the Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza. Now, not only a lifeline to thousands of patients, but a sanctuary to tens of thousands, including children, displaced by the war.

"We are not even asking for food, we are not asking for water. We are asking for safety and security. Our men, women, our children, they've all been killed."

Many have come in the hope that hospitals will remain a safe haven. But this safe haven is now being characterized by Israel, with no verifiable evidence, as a potential target.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The red buildings, as I mentioned, are buildings that Hamas is using.

BASHIR: It is a claim rejected by Palestinian officials in Gaza, who accused Israel of falsifying intelligence and say the hospital is only used to treat patients. But the consequence of such allegations is feared by many. Any suggestion that this hospital could be viewed as a legitimate target by Israel, for doctors who know the hospital well, is a warning of unimaginable bloodshed.

DR. MADS GILBERT, PROFESSOR, CLINIC OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL OF NORTH NORWAY: I have been walking in all parts of Shifa. In the basement, in the different clinics, in the different buildings. I have been there night and day, peacetime, wartime, all over. I have never seen anything that could look like or function as some command center.

BASHIR: On and on, Israel's airstrikes lay waste to this already ravaged enclave. Artillery shelling now adding to the devastation. The people of Gaza, gripped by a constant cycle of mourning, still struggling to comprehend this endless nightmare. Death now woven into the very fabric of their lives.

Nada Bashir, CNN, in Amman, Jordan.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ANDERSON: Well, the secretary general of the United Nations arrived here in Doha in Qatar today. He met with the Qatari prime minister, thanked him for his efforts in mediating the release of hostages in Gaza. Hours before we saw this uptick in bombing across Gaza, diplomatic sources had told me that they were making significant progress on negotiations between Israel and Hamas. These are Qatar-led mediation efforts to release a large number of civilian hostages.

Well, earlier I sat down with the spokesman for the Qatari prime minister who told me that while the negotiations are much more difficult now since this second phase of its operations Israel has described it starting this time last night, he said Qatar is not giving up on those negotiations. Have a listen.


MAJED AL ANSARI, SPOKESPERSON, QATARI MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: The talks, as I just mentioned, were going with all parties. We were working around the clock. The task force responsible for this was working around the clock to make sure that we are able to reach a deal, and we were very hopeful that that might happen. Obviously this escalation makes it considerably more difficult.

But as you heard today, even during this escalation, Prime Minister Netanyahu was mentioning talk of mediation on the release and the prisoner exchange deal. We had the Hamas spokesperson just minutes ago saying that they are willing to conduct a prisoner exchange deal. So, although the situation on the ground is coming more and more difficult from a logistical perspective, and from a political perspective, but we are still hopeful that the efforts that we are leading will be able to reach a situation level where we have a release of more hostages.


ANDERSON: So let me quite clear, the talks and the mediation to effort the release of civilian hostages, possibly a prisoner exchange at this point have not collapsed. Correct?

AL ANSARI: No. I believe they are still going. The task force is still working on it. And as I said, it's becoming more and more difficult with the current escalation. This escalation that is happening right now, you know, one of most terrible escalations that have happened in the region for a really long time, is making it totally more difficult. As I said, on the logistical side of it, they're just moving people during a land incursion and increased bombardment.

But also from a political side, of course, you know, mediation only works when you have calming periods. Under this kind of conflict, this kind of confrontation between both sides it become more difficult. But it's still ongoing, and we can't give up. I can tell you that really we can't give up on this on all sides. Nobody in the region can afford to give up on this and just leave it to the military people to decide what happens in the future.

ANDERSON: What can you provide us in terms of the details of these talks? AL ANSARI: Well, obviously, Becky, I can't get into the details of

this because our main concern now is getting the hostages to their families and making sure that this mediation succeeds. And that would be very difficult, you know, right now as we share a lot of the details, but as you heard today from Prime Minister Netanyahu and from the spokesperson of Hamas, we are talking around the idea of more hostages coming out, and talking around the idea of a prisoner exchange.

We are optimistic that the talks are heading more towards all civilian hostages. But obviously, it is a fluid situation on the ground. We still don't know what will happen.

ANDERSON: Do we know how many civilian hostages there are held in Gaza at present?

AL ANSARI: I am not sure, to be honest, anybody knows. We have our number, we're discussing it, you know, through the lists we get from various countries of other foreigners. Citizens who are held hostage. We have the numbers on the Israeli side, you have numbers on the Palestinian side, but these numbers are not necessarily always the same. But the important thing here is that both sides acknowledge that the civilian hostages need to go out immediately.

And both sides, and especially Hamas on the other side said very clearly that they are willing to let the civilian hostages go out, so we have to work towards that as soon as possible.

ANDERSON: We know that Hamas have been pressing for at least the release of Palestinian women and teenagers held in Israeli prisons. We heard Benjamin Netanyahu say today that had been discussed in the war cabinet. Can I press you on whether you believe that that exchange could be for women and children being held in Gaza by Hamas? And if so, are we talking around sort of 50, 60 people here?

AL ANSARI: Obviously, Becky, we've been talking about day one about our priorities in this. It is our main goal and our end goal to reach all the hostages and give them back to their family. But obviously when you put it-- when you prioritize it, you start with the women and children, you start with the foreign civilians, and then you go to the rest of the hostages. And obviously, if we were going to prioritize we're going to start with the women and children. But I believe that right now the discussion encompasses, you know, the idea of civilian hostages all together. And obviously, priorities will be made when you have the discussions on the ground.

ANDERSON: As I understand it, one of the problems is Hamas doesn't actually hold at present all the civilian hostages and indeed military hostages, and these would be soldiers and Israelis of reservist stage. Hamas doesn't actually hold all of those hostages themselves. Is that correct?

AL ANSARI: It's a complicated situation on the ground, Becky. There are a multitude of players in Gaza. It's not -- this is not an army- to-army conflict, this is a very difficult humanitarian situation. It's very difficult when it comes to the parties who are involved in this. So it's understandable, the situation of the hostages is not organized. It's a chaotic situation right now in Gaza especially with the current bombardment and the land incursion.


ANDERSON: Majed Al Ansari speaking to me earlier. Very important stuff with regard to Qatar mediation talks.

Today, ahead of that, Antonio Guterres, the U.N. secretary general, had been here. He was thanking the Qataris for their mediation efforts. He also made a telephone call to President Sisi while he was here and was talking to the Qatar prime minister about how you would operationalize a humanitarian cease-fire effectively. That is what was voted on at the U.N. General Assembly last night coincidentally or perhaps not at the same time as the Israelis started the escalation in these ground operations.

Antonio Guterres has said today and I just want to quote him here, "I reiterate my appeal for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, unconditional release of hostages and delivery of relief at a level corresponding to the dramatic needs of the people in Gaza where a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in front of our eyes."


I want to welcome in Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch.

How do you assess what is going on right now?

OMAR SHAKIR, ISRAEL AND PALESTINE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: I think we've seen a level of violence that's simply unprecedented in the modern history of Israel and Palestine. You have a reality on the ground where more than 7,700 Palestinians according to the Gaza Health Ministry, have been killed since October 7th. The population has been without electricity and water for three weeks. They have been with only a trickle of aid, food, and medicines during that period.

Communications have been cut out since Friday meaning that people on the ground cannot reach emergency life-saving services. Family members cannot check on one another. You have further orders of displacement half of Gaza, more than a million people ordered to leave their homes. No safe place to go, no safe way to get there. It is really an unprecedented descent into darkness and we are seeing atrocities and really the risk of further mass atrocities.

ANDERSON: And Omar, we had 120 countries vote in favor of an immediate humanitarian cease-fire. A pause in what is going on in order to get humanitarian aid in and for some sense of, you know, sort of order in all of this chaos. But at the same time we have seen, you know, the announcement of the second phase of this war by air, sea, and land by Israel. Its ground forces are on the ground in Gaza, we are told, as we speak. So what happens next?

SHAKIR: Look, I think we have to understand the reality we're facing right now where you're seeing Gazan under a level of bombardment that simply is unprecedented. I mean, you have a situation in which entire large parts of neighborhoods, entire city blocks have been reduced to rubble. Human Rights Watch over the years has documented indiscriminate airstrikes, war crimes, wiping out entire families. High-rise buildings with no apparent military target in sight.

I think we're really seeing a reality that the people of Gaza have -- we simply haven't seen, you know, before. And there's an urgent need whether or not there is a cease-fire or not, the protection of international humanitarian law should apply. There needs to be concerted effort. You know, Israel can flip the switch, turn on electricity, turn on water. It is to punish 2.2 million people for the actions of individuals. That's a war crime.

Aid needs to come in. You know, we're seeing a small percentage of what used to go to Gaza before. So people are hungry, kids, you know, aren't able to receive, you know, clean water. We have a reality where hospitals are running out of medications, not able to provide basic medical services. This is a humanitarian catastrophe and it is manmade and it can be changed with the flick of a switch and it's really disappointing that there hasn't been more international action to end this humanitarian unlawful siege on Gaza.

ANDERSON: So what are you calling for, Omar? I mean, you and I have spoken over the years and we've had conversations about why it is that things -- this cycle of violence has continued in the past. I think everybody agrees at this point there is just no going back to the status quo. I know your work has been so incredibly difficult because the authorities in Israel have made a very difficult for you to actually operate.

But, you know, we have seen this demonstration of support at the U.N. General Assembly, albeit a nonbinding resolution, calls for an immediate cease-fire. And I'm continuing around this region, I'm in Qatar tonight, around this region to see efforts to try and sort of operationalize that as it were to try and get something happening on the ground which, you know, it's not clear whether there will be any pause in the fighting at this point. So, you know, what's your message?

SHAKIR: Look, I think there are three immediate things we need right now. The first is there must be an end to indiscriminate attacks, an adherence to international humanitarian law. The whole rules of war precisely remain to spare civilians, and civilians both Israeli and Palestinians but especially Palestinians in recent days are the ones paying the heavy price. Secondly, we need to put a focus on restoring basic services like electricity and water and allowing in enough aid, food, medicines, to reach civilians in dire need.

And then the third thing I think is really critical is we must underscore that impunity for unlawful attacks over the years. As you said, we've seen this film, we've seen these cycles of escalation and violence.


There needs to be a clear reference to the role of the International Criminal Court and the need for accountability. But really long term, beyond this immediate need we must address some of the root causes to this violence including Israel's apartheid and persecution against the millions of Palestinians. We need to recognize the reality for what it is and we need to take steps to ultimately address it including by ending all forms of complicity and grave crimes, whether it's arm sales, whether it's business arrangements that make states complicit.

We haven't seen this before. Humanity is facing a test of its underlined principles and its rules based international order. We're failing and the ramifications will be felt for civilians far beyond Israel and Palestine.

ANDERSON: Omar Shakir, speaking to me tonight. I'm in Doha, in Qatar. Thank you.

The United Arab Emirates has condemned Israel's ground operations. The Foreign Ministry called for an immediate cease-fire to ensure civilians are not targeted, as I was just discussing. The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on Friday calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas conflict with an overwhelming majority. Well, the UAE mission to the U.N. said, quote, "120 votes is a rejection of the status quo that is currently happening on the ground in Gaza. Humanitarian aid must come in. There must be humanitarian cease-fires or truces to allow for those who have been injured and wounded to seek medical assistance."

You are watching CNN. I'm Becky Anderson. Stay with us.


WATT: Welcome back. I am Nick Watt in Los Angeles.

We're learning more about the suspect behind this week's shooting rampage that killed 18 people in Maine. The body of Robert Card was discovered Friday night. Police say he died from an apparent self- inflicted gunshot wound. He also left a note indicating that he did not expect to be found alive.

Shimon Prokupecz has the details.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Police are releasing more information in today. The most information they've released since this happened. They say they were able to do that because the investigation is now essentially over. There will be no one to prosecute. And so they are releasing new information. They say that they found the body on Friday night at 7:45 p.m. after a call from the recycling plant, a recycling plant manager in Lisbon who told them they needed to go check these areas.

These trailers, there were 50 some trailers in this one area. And so police did that. It was offered a tip in this community that they went ahead and checked the trailer, and they found the shooter dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. They said they also found two guns inside the trailer. [17:25:02]

They also confirmed they found a long rifle in his car which he abandoned and then fled they believe on foot to this recycling plant. They also had released more information about the investigation. A note they say that they found at his home. They're releasing more details about that, saying that he left information for a loved one and the detailed bank accounts and the passcode for his cell phone so that a family, a loved one could get inside that phone.

They said they are looking at all of that. They're going to be going all of that information as part of the investigation. And the other thing that they're looking at here is his mental health. The shooter's mental health. They are reviewing information about that. They say that he was going through some difficulty, thinking that he was hearing voices, some other mental health issues. And one of the things that they're looking at is the reason for why he targeted these locations is because he thought people perhaps were speaking badly about him, and so that perhaps is some of the motivation here.

All of this happening as police here continue to investigate the crime scenes and collect evidence. And then in the coming days we're going to start seeing vigils here where people are going to be able to get together and the families and the people who live in these communities get together, and share some of their pain and the memories of those who died.


WATT: After the break, a Jewish group turned out in New York to advocate for a cease-fire in Israel. We'll talk to one of the organizers of this rally in Grand Central Station.


ANDERSON: Well, what Israel calls the new stage in its war against Hamas is moving forward with the country's leaders warning that Israelis should prepare for a long war. In just the last hour, CNN's Nic Robertson reports hearing an interruption of activity near the Israel-Gaza border. Nic says he's heard fighter jets in the sky and has seen huge flashes in the direction of Gaza.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation a couple of hours ago. He said the military's aim right now is to destroy the military and government of Hamas. Well, amid the devastation inside Gaza, a near total communications blackout has made things even more challenging.

Well, Nic Robertson is in southern Israel, not far from that border and has this report.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Racing along the border with Gaza, Israeli merch for tanks, an incursion force on the move. [17:30:07]

Part of the IDF's intensification of operations preparing the way for an expected large scale ground offensive.

(On-camera): That dirt track down there where you can see the dust coming up, that's the road that runs along the Israeli side of the border. We've been able to hear intense gunfire from the IDF shooting into Gaza, tank rounds as well fired from there right into Gaza.

(Voice-over): Machine gunfire erupts as unseen soldiers battle for control of the fields that separate the border from the crowded Gaza towns. Inside the towns smoke rising from intensified strikes, where the IDF says Hamas hides in underground tunnels and among civilians.

Israel's defense minister announcing a new phase in the war.

YOAV GALLANT, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): We attacked above the ground and below the ground. The instructions to the forces are clear, the action will continue until a new order.

ROBERTSON: The tempo of battle rising noticeably Friday night. Power, phone and internet services cut in the north of the densely populated Palestinian enclave. Hospitals already short of medicine, water and other essentials at times appearing overrun with casualties.

On Saturday, in apparent desperation with deteriorating humanitarian conditions, some Gazans stormed the U.N. compound looting food.

PHILLIPPE LAZZARINI, UNRWA COMMISSIONER GENERAL: As we speak, people in Gaza are dying. They are not only dying from bombs and strike. Soon many more will die from the consequences of siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.

ROBERTSON: With nightfall, Saturday, the IDF keeping up the pressure on Hamas, the pace of strikes unrelenting as the ground offensive continues. Israel's prime minister promising more to come.

NETANYAHU (through translator): The war in Gaza will be long. We're going to fight in the air, ground and sea. We are going to fight and win.

ROBERTSON: So far, only a tiny fraction of Israel's fighting force of more than half a million troops have crossed the battle lines into Gaza. What comes next could ignite tensions way beyond Israel's borders.


ANDERSON: Well, pro-Palestinian rallies worldwide are intensifying as Israel moves into Gaza. In the West Bank, people marched through the streets of Jenin. Marches in Istanbul waved their Turkish and Palestinian flags. Demonstrations also in the west.

Here's an aerial view of demonstrators in London. A huge crowd gathering on the streets near Big Ben, demanding that U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak call for a cease-fire.

And have a look at this video. A demonstration on Friday in the United States. This is New York's famous Grand Central Station. And you can see banners reading, Palestinians should be free. People chanting and singing in support of a cease-fire. This rally was organized by the group Jewish Voice for Peace. It's one of the largest Jewish groups in the U.S. calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

Jay Saper is a spokesperson for Jewish Voice for Peace. They were a key organizer of that protest, and they join me now.

How many people attended that protest? And why was it so important for those who demonstrated, Jay?

JAY SAPER, SPOKESPERSON, JEWISH VOICE FOR PEACE: Well, thank you for having me on your program. Yesterday, just hours after Israel knocked out communications in Gaza, thousands of Jewish New Yorkers shut down New York's iconic Grand Central Terminal. The biggest train station in the world.

We were raising our voices, rabbis and elected officials, elders and children, together. We called out for a cease-fire now. There were over 350 people who got arrested in the sit-in, refusing to leave until our government called for a cease-fire to save lives.


We know that right now so many --

ANDERSON: You're calling on the U.S. government to call for a cease- fire which it has not gone so far to do. In fact, it vetoed a resolution at the U.N. Security Council just last week in favor of a cease-fire.

Your voices are loud. Just how loud do you think? I mean, 350 protesting, do you think that reflects a body of American Jews who feel the same way as you do?

SAPER: Thousands that packed inside the terminal and 350 got arrested. And Jews are rising in unprecedented numbers to speak up for Palestinian lives. Just a few years ago, I organized to bring Ahmed Abu Artema, a writer and activist from Gaza, here to New York City to speak and share about his time organizing and leading the historic 2018 Great March of Return.

Just earlier this week, an Israeli airstrike hit his home killing members of his family, including his son, and injuring him severely. Our Jewish tradition, my Jewish tradition, teaches me that life is precious, and that is why so many of us are doing all that we can to try to save lives in Gaza, to call for an immediate cease-fire so that Gaza can live.

ANDERSON: Is your organization and those who joined you, and apologies, you said 350 arrested, but thousands there. My apology, I correct myself there. Is this a generational movement? Is this a younger generations movement? And have you -- I know that many who protested have had real disagreements with family members. Is that something that has happened within your own family? Or certainly are you hearing those stories?

SAPER: We are so proud that our organization is incredibly intergenerational. We had an 81-year-old feminist scholar, Roslyn (INAUDIBLE) who got arrested last night, and also we had younger people as well getting arrested for the first time. So we have also Ross (PH) got arrested with a group of her friends, elders, who she had organized with them, many of them themselves are even older then the state of Israel.

So our community is young and old together. And we are committed to carrying forward our own teachings of us as a Jewish people to care and act for justice, to save lives. We also had intergenerational families there. One of my friends got arrested with her mom and with her father. We know that right now so many people are grieving. We grieve for the lives of Israelis and Palestinians --

ANDERSON: Jay, yes. Jay, just let me ask you very briefly. Does this Biden administration reflect you and those who belong to your organization? Does its position, does its voice reflect who you are?

SAPER: We absolutely are calling for a cease-fire. We do not want President Biden to pledge more weapons and more money to the state of Israel, which the U.S. already gives $3.8 billion in military funding to each year. We oppose President Biden's position, and call on him to call for a cease-fire now, and not continue to support the Israeli military as it continues to drop bombs on Gaza.

ANDERSON: Jay Saper, thank you very much indeed for joining us, your perspective on CNN tonight.

SAPER: Thank you.


ANDERSON: I'm Becky Anderson in Qatar, in Doha this evening -- Doha in Qatar. I'll be right back.


WATT: Welcome back. I'm Nick Watt in Los Angeles.

Mike Pence's four-month-long fight to become the 2024 U.S. Republican presidential nominee is over. The former U.S. vice president announced Saturday during a speech in Las Vegas that he is suspending his candidacy effective immediately. His decision comes amid consistently weak poll numbers, small crowds, and problems raising money.

Kristen Holmes joins me from Las Vegas.

Despite all that I just said, this was still something of a surprise, Kristen.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was an absolute surprise. I'm actually told that they were keeping it close to the vest. They wanted it to be surprise, that they weren't giving out their remarks, even to members of the event staff. I was told that event planners here on the ground were surprised when it happened. But, you know, you talk about all those various factors.

The fact that it was small crowds, that he was having problems raising money, and it's important to note that he had still not qualified for that third GOP debate, which is in two weeks. And we are told there was a lot of concern that he wasn't going to qualify even though he had had back-to-back fundraisers over the last several days. But I spoke to one adviser who said it wasn't just about the money. It was also about the fact that Mike Pence saw the writing on the wall.

That this lane that he believed existed for him within the Republican Party just didn't. Take a listen to what Pence said.


MIKE PENCE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Traveling across the country over the past six months, I came here to say it's become clear to me, this is not my time. So after much prayer and deliberation, I have decided to suspend my campaign for president effective today.

Now I'm leaving this campaign, but let me promise you I will never leave the fight for conservative values, and I will never stop fighting to elect principled Republican leaders to every office in the land. So help me God.


HOLMES: And Nick, even despite again those small crowds, that inability to raise money, this is a very significant moment for the Republican Party, for him dropping out. You have to remember back in 2016, Donald Trump brought Mike Pence on as vice president to essentially be the voice of reason to the conservative party, to appease their minds at this person, Donald Trump, who many couldn't get behind.

He was supposed to be the Republican Party. Now you're looking at this two cycles later, and there is no room for Pence in the Republican Party, which has really become Donald Trump's Republican Party. And I will note, Donald Trump took the stage behind me after Pence, about an hour afterwards, and did not say anything about his former running mate.


Of course, as you will remember, their relationship ended poorly when Pence decided to certify the 2020 election results, something that Donald Trump pressured him not to do.

WATT: Kristen Holmes in Las Vegas, thanks very much.

In the meantime, current U.S. president Joe Biden promises that Washington will stand by its neighbor to the south after Hurricane Otis slammed into Mexico this week. The storm hit Mexico's coast Wednesday as a category five hurricane, killing at least 39 people. The popular resort city of Acapulco was hit the hardest. Mexico's president describes the situation there as one of, quote, "disorder, chaos, uncertainty, and fear."

Gustavo Valdez is in Acapulco surveying the damage.


GUSTAVO VALDES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on-camera): We've made it to Acapulco for just barely because once you get into the city there is a big traffic jam, that is preventing us from advancing. But the story you can see is behind me. All these people, the residents, the people you don't usually associate with a tourist town are trying to go and find whatever they can to get by. Because so far we have not seen any help from the government.

We have not seen a centralized location where people might be distributing water or food. And you can see people, we're hearing reports of looting. We saw it on Thursday, now we are seeing all these people. And this is the problem. The cars just come from wherever they can. But let's see if we can talk to this guy, this gentleman over here.

What do you have here? There's no food, there's nothing. What do you have? Food and water, and some toilet paper and some dishes. They are admitting that they went into a store and they got what they needed because they can't find it anywhere. So everybody is complaining. They are asking, they need help, they need help. So the destruction is one thing in the tourist part. Now the residency just begging for help.

Gustavo Valdes, CNN, Acapulco.


WATT: Stay with CNN. We'll be right back.


ANDERSON: Well, President Biden says, Washington is ready to take further action to defend U.S. forces in the Middle East. The Pentagon says it hit Iran-backed targets in Syria on Friday with airstrikes. It says it was in response to attacks by those groups on U.S. forces in the region.

Well, Bianna Golodryga spoke to Iran's foreign minister. He denied his country's involvement in those attacks. Have a listen.


BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN ANCHOR: I want to talk about your time in New York because you spoke at the U.N. and I want to quote what you said for our viewers. You said, "I say frankly to the American statesman, we do not welcome expansion of the war in the region. But I warned, if genocide in Gaza continues, they will not be spared from this fire."

Is that a threat? Is Iran prepared, really, to go to war against the United States? [17:50:06]

HOSSEIN AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN, IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): I -- we don't want this war to spread out.

GOLODRYGA: But with all due respect, your actions don't seem to match your words. You say that you are playing a constructive role in helping peace and security. But according to the Pentagon groups affiliated with Iran have targeted U.S. forces or bases in the region, at least 15 times now since October 17th, injuring at least 20 U.S. military personnel. A U.S. carrier strike group shot down 15 drones, four cruise missiles fired by Iran-backed Houthi militants in Yemen, that was aimed towards Israel. President Biden said this yesterday. He said --

AMIR-ABDOLLAHIAN (through translator): Any attack that is carried out in the region, and if the U.S. interest are targeted by any group, you know, linking them to the (INAUDIBLE) of Iraq, without offering them any piece of proof, is totally wrong. You see, two weeks ago, I was in Iraq, also in Syria and Lebanon. I could see up close and personal that the people of the region, they are very sensitive about the developments in the Palestine.

They are angry. They are not receiving orders from us. They act according to their own interests. And also what happened, what was carried out by Hamas. It was totally Palestinian. They decided to take responsibility for that.


ANDERSON: Well, that's the Iranian foreign minister speaking to CNN earlier.

Jordan's foreign minister says the ground operation launched by Israel last night is going to bring about a humanitarian catastrophe. And I quote him there. A reminder that Jordan is the custodian of Jerusalem's holy sites, including the Al-Aqsa Mosque. He said the world must work towards a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue.


AYMAN SAFADI, JORDANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: How many lives are going to have to die before we say this is not the path that we need to do? Those that are lost on both sides are lost. There is nothing we can do to bring them back. But we can save lives, we can stop others being killed. And this is really what our message. Every life matters. Muslim life, Jewish life, Christian life. That is where we stand, and we just don't see that this war is going to bring security to anybody.


ANDERSON: Egypt's president warns the Middle East will become a ticking time bomb if the war between Israel and Hamas expands to other countries. Abdel Fatth El-Sisi says his country is trying to help resolve the conflict and urged other countries to respect its sovereignty. His comments come as Egypt investigates what it says were unidentified drones that came down in its territory on Friday.

Egypt has been reluctant to open its border crossing with Gaza and let in refugees, even as Israeli strikes hit just across the border in Rafah. It warns that Israel's ground operations will destabilize the region. The Saudi Foreign Ministry also wants Israel to pull back.

We are hearing a chorus of condemnation about what is going on now in Gaza. And the cries for an immediate cease fire.

Melissa Bell is in Cairo. And those words echoed by the Egyptian president today. There was a peace conference held just last weekend. It seems like a long time ago. A peace summit hosted by President Sisi. I mean, playing a very strategic role here in what happens now and what happens, Melissa, going forward.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Egypt has traditionally played, Becky, this mediation role, not just between different countries in the region but even within Palestinian factions, between Palestinian factions themselves. And again, it's key to the negotiations that are going on along with Qatar with regards to the hostages. But also what is likely to happen in and around the Rafah crossing.

So far no hint that it's going to be open. The U.N. agency is calling urgently, that the system for the aid to get through the crossing needs to change, dramatically, if lives are to be saved. And also there is the question now that this ground incursion has begun of how much pressure will be brought to bear on Egypt to allow the civilians to leave. They've been absolutely firm so far, officials in Cairo, that not only do they not want a flood of refugees to the Sinai Desert, but the idea of the displacement of the Palestinian population is a nonstarter for regional leaders altogether.

And as you say a chorus of condemnation specifically in the wake of that ground offensive. And all the more so after that resolution that was voted on by 120 countries spearheaded by the Jordanians.


You mentioned their position a moment ago in favor of a cease-fire, even as things got steadily worse. And so they have lined up today to condemn it, the Jordanians, the Saudis, the Egyptians, as you say, the UAE as well. But we've also been hearing from Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank in Ramallah calling for the Arab League here in Cairo to meet urgently. An emergency session in order to consider that very question, Becky, the fact that far from agreeing for a cease-fire that would allow some humanitarian aid in so desperately needed by those in the Gaza Strip.

In fact, Israel has responded with more bombardments and destruction. So a great deal of anger and a great deal of concern here in the region, Becky.

ANDERSON: And it's interesting, isn't it? We heard the prime minister of Israel talking about the two objectives, the annihilation, the dismantlement of Hamas, and at the same time, getting those hostages home. And on that point, he said the more we hit the enemy, the more we know that they will come to an agreement on the hostages.

If anybody thought that a sort of pause, a humanitarian cease-fire, you know, a lull in the fighting a calming down, might be the opportunity to get these hostages out, and I've been talking to the Qataris who are leading these negotiations, well, that is certainly not Israel's position as things stand.

Melissa, it's good to have you. Your analysis is extremely valuable. Melissa Bell is in Cairo. Thank you.

And thank you for joining us in our special coverage this evening. I'm Becky Anderson in Doha.

WATT: And I'm Nick Watt in Los Angeles. Stay with CNN.