Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Injured Gaza Evacuees Being Treated in Egypt; IDF Raids Hospital, Claims Military Equipment Found; Russia Filling Military Ranks with Convicts. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired November 16, 2023 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: And here on CNN Newsroom, 11 guns, three military vests, nine grenades, two Qurans, a string of prayer beads and a box of dates. But for now, only promises from Israel of concrete evidence to come, which proves our mass command centre operates beneath Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

After meeting with China's Xi Jinping for four hours, the U.S. president described talks as both constructive and productive, and then says she is still a dictator. For weeks now, Israeli officials have publicly claimed Hamas headquarters was operating from tunnels and bunkers below the main hospital in Gaza.

Shifa Hospital was said to be the beating heart of the militants' command infrastructure. Officials also telegraphed an Israeli military raid was coming. And now that precise and targeted operation has ended for now, with promises that concrete evidence will be made public soon to prove that Hamas used the medical facility as a terror headquarters.

Around the world, though, there has been loud and growing condemnation over the Al-Shifa Hospital incursion. The World Health Organization called it totally unacceptable and a possible violation of international humanitarian law. And pressure is now growing on Israel to justify the raid. On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces revealed weapons and military kit belonging to Hamas was found inside the hospital, along with unspecified technological assets. But so far, no evidence of the underground tunnel network beneath the hospital. Hamas describes Israel's claims about uncovering weapons as a blatant lie.


LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS, IDF SPOKESPERSON: These weapons have absolutely no business being inside a hospital. The only reason they're here is because Hamas put them here because they use this place, like many other hospitals and ambulances and sensitive facilities inside the Gaza Strip for their illicit military purposes.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VAUSE: During a news conference hours ago, the U.S. president said he had urged Israel to be incredibly careful with this operation, while adding he was absolutely confident Hamas would not be running a command center under the hospital and call that a war crime.


JOESEPH BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's the situation. You have a circumstance where the first war crime is being committed by Hamas by having their headquarters, their military, hidden under a hospital. And that's a fact. That's what's happened.


VAUSE: More details now on what Israel claims to be a precise and targeted operation at Shifa Hospital from CNN's Nic Robertson.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Inside Al Shifa Hospital, Israeli forces are facing their biggest credibility test in Gaza so far. After weeks of claiming its basement is a network of Hamas bunkers, the IDF moved in in the early hours of Wednesday morning. But 24 hours later, no evidence of Hamas' subterranean network here has been presented.

UNKNOWN: We found weapons, intelligence materials, military technologies and equipment. In addition, a military command post was located.

CONRICUS: This building of the Shifa Hospital, Israeli troops breached here a few hours ago. This is where patients come in order to get MRI services. We have no independent access to Al Shifa Hospital so far. If you follow me behind the MRI machine, I'll show you what our troops exposed just minutes ago.

ROBERTSON: An IDF spokesman gives an unchallenged tour of what he claims they have discovered.

CONRICUS: There is an AK-47. There are cartridges, ammo. There are grenades in here, of course, uniforms. And all of this was hidden very conveniently, secretly behind the MRI machine.


ROBERTSON: CNN cannot independently confirm the IDF's claims, but two days ago, when CNN was taken by the IDF to the Al-Rantisi hospital in Gaza, we posed this question when shown another alleged Hamas weapons cache. Some people, they would look at this and then question the reality of what you're showing us.

REAR ADMIRAL DANIEL HAGARI, IDF SPOKESPERSON: I think this is hard evidence that you see here and when we entered the hospital you asked me, why did you open the back of the hospital like that? Because we knew the terrorists were here. ROBERTSON: Unlike Al-Rantisi hospital, Al-Shifa still has staff

inside, seen here a few days ago, but reaching them has been made near impossible as communications were cut as the IDF went in. One doctor did manage to get a call through.

DR AHMED EL MOKHALLALATI, SENIOR PLASTIC SURGEI AT Al-SHIFA HOSPITAL: The whole hospital is totally like, let me say in a way, handicapped. Like no one is operating, no one is seeing anyone. It's like all waiting for what the end point of this one. Are we going to survive this moment or not?

ROBERTSON: And a local journalist inside the hospital reached by CNN said he had seen the IDF quote conducting search and interrogation operations with the young men amidst intense and violent gunfire inside the hospital. CNN cannot independently verify these accounts. Hamas dismissed an earlier IDF claim they'd found weapons at the site as propaganda. On a tour with troops, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared emboldened by taking the hospital.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: They told us that we would not enter Shifa. We've entered. And in this spirit, we say a simple thing. There is no place in Gaza that we will not reach.

ROBERTSON: Absent proof of Hamas's bunkers in Al-Shifa, Netanyahu may find that reach curtailed as international outrage that the IDF offensive mounts. Nic Robertson, CNN, Sderot, Israel.


VAUSE: Joining us now is Lieutenant Colonel Amnon Shefler, spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces. Colonel, thank you for being with us. After this targeted operation at Shifa Hospital, which continued by my count at least for at least 12 hours, the IDF released photographs and videos. And essentially from my count, 11 guns, three military vests. One had a Hamas logo on it. A number of grenades, two Karads. There was a string of prayer beads as well. All of this was found inside the hospital.

We cannot verify that, but we also hear from a senior military official who said, quote, we saw concrete evidence that Hamas terrorists used Shifa Hospital as a terror headquarters. Without splitting hairs here, seeing evidence is not the same as having evidence. So, do you have that evidence in hand? And if so, how much longer will it be before that is made public? And how much can you say about that evidence at this point?

LT. COL. AMNON SHEFLER, IDF SPOKESPERSON: Thank you for having me. Everything that we do, including the operation in the Shifa Hospital, is to further achieve 2 main goals that we have put forward. One is to dismantle Hamas. And second is to bring back the 239 hostages that are still held, 41st day now, in Gaza.

Now, specifically about the operation, and as you're asking about what we will be bringing back, the material is still there. We saw it. We exposed it to the world. We took in reporters last night again to see it. And we're continuously working in the hospital to expose more of how and what Hamas is doing in the hospital in order to make sure that it cannot continue using it to carry out its terror activity.

VAUSE: The question of whether or not Shifa Hospital was the beating heart of Hamas' terror infrastructure in northern Gaza, as some Israeli officials have said, seems to be going to the very heart of credibility. The crucial element here, I guess, is now on Israel to prove what has been said for the past few weeks. And that's why I'm pushing on this issue of when will that information, when will that evidence be made public?

SHEFLER: First and foremost, it already has been. We have seen AK-47s. We have seen grenades. We have seen vests. We have seen material of how to attack tanks and other military installations. And that has already been exposed inside a hospital. What are those doing inside a hospital? Second, we're continuously working on exposing more of what Hamas is doing and how it's using that area.

I must also add to that, we have been calling for weeks for the citizens of Gaza to move to the southern part that is safer, south of the Wadi of Gaza. Hamas has also heard this, and they knew that we were coming also to the hospital and had an advantage that we gave up for reasons to be the most accurate and safe with the people and the patients that are in the hospital and they could have used it to clear out.


Like we found for example a uniform that were left on the ground when they fleed that area probably wearing civilian clothes. But still we're looking and whatever we will find we will share and already we have found a very clear evidence of military use of that installation.

VAUSE: And again, without harping on the issue military use of a hospital is not the same as a command-and-control centre buried deep below the hospital as the beating heart of the terror infrastructure of Hamas. So again, what people I think would like to see, if it's possible would be, you know the video the guided tour of independent journalists of those tunnels of those bunkers where Hamas has been operating from. Because with all due respect what has been seen so far doesn't add up to the tunnels and the bunkers and the command centre which has been described to us and the world by Israeli officials as the Hamas command and control centre.

SHEFLER: Hundreds of miles of terror underground infrastructure is all around the Gaza Strip. We have already found 300 shafts that go into those tunnels most of them booby-trapped and including in the vicinity of that hospital. Now some of these have been also closed by Hamas and others will be revealed when we find them. So, this terror network is something that is very expansive all over the area and once we find it we will share it but already as I said we have cleared out that that is an installation that has been used and not only we say it also our American counterparts have said it the president has said it also yesterday.

VAUSE: The senior advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Mark Regev he did promise there would be further evidence to be made public to back up those claims and again is there a time frame on how long we can expect before that information is made public and I guess the question here too are there concerns that the longer that evidence takes to be made public the more harm it does to your credibility?

SHEFLER: I think we've already shown very clearly how this installation the Rantisi hospital the Al-Quds hospital has been used by Hamas both to carry out its strikes to hide its people to have arms inside and as we've seen probably also in the Rantisi hospital hold hostages so that that's already been made very clear.

I think what's also added to that is how Hamas deliberately uses these civilian installations be it schools be it mosques and also hospitals to carry out its terrorist activity while hiding behind the most vulnerable and the sick to carry out a terrorist attack and that's why we're there to stop them from doing that and not being able to attack us ever in the future which we also believe will bring a better future for the Palestinians living in the Gaza.

VAUSE: Colonel thank you for your time. Lieutenant Colonel Amnon Shefler there in Tel Aviv with the very latest on that operation. We appreciate your time sir.

SHEFLER: Thank you.

VAUSE: Here's President Joe Biden is calling his high-stakes summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping constructive productive and frank. They met for four hours Wednesday near San Francisco their first face- to-face talks in a year following months of tensions between their countries. President Biden says they've agreed to restore high-level communication between at a military level as well as pick up the phone and talk to each other when there's a crisis, which is a good thing, even when there's a disagreement.

They also agreed to crack down on illegal fentanyl production many of the chemicals used to make that drug are exported from China. But even with all their agreements it's clear there are deep divisions still when pressed on whether he trusts the Chinese president. Biden summed up his approach to Xi by saying trust but verify and then there was this.


UNKNOWN: Mr. President, after today would you still refer to Mr. Xi as a dictator? This is a term you used earlier this year.

JOESEPH BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, look he is. I mean he's a dictator in the sense that he is the guy who runs a country that is a communist country, that is based on a form of government that is totally different than ours.


VAUSE: Live now to Beijing CNN's bureau chief Stephen Chang is with us. So that dictator remarked by US president, he was answering a question to be fair, came during an off-the-cuff moment at the end of his news conference. It's the first the first time rather he labeled Xi a dictator that was during a private fundraiser back in June. Beijing did not react well.

This time the remarks were made in public. Biden could have chosen not to answer the question he could have walked away. So clearly this was a choice by the president to say what he said and I guess the question is this relationship between Beijing and Washington still so fragile that one word can derail what has been a very positive meeting.


STEPHEN CHANG, CNN BUREAU CHIEF: John, I really don't think so at this stage. Remember, you know, this, even before the summit, the bar was so low in terms of expectations, especially by the Americans. So, anything the 2 leaders agreed on would, you know, easily clear that hurdle.

That seems to be achieved if you look at the announcements of all the things you just mentioned in terms of the restoration of these channels and mechanisms. Really some of the low-hanging fruits, if you will, climate change, fentanyl, and also male-to-male communications, which is also, by the way, very important at a time when the two militaries are having a growing number of close encounters in the region, with each blaming the other for being unprofessional and provocative.

But when you look at the overall relations, a lot of these things they announced today were actually cut off unilaterally by Beijing just last summer after then-U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan. So in a way, what they achieved today was simply going back to things, how things were before last summer. But still, this is important because, you know, all these geopolitical tensions you mentioned, the economic challenges faced not just by these two countries, but the whole world.

So, you simply cannot have the world's two biggest economies and two superpowers to be at loggerheads for so long, and this is just not sustainable. So, in that sense, this is a positive development. But of course, you know, a lot of people think this is best described as a tactical stabilization, because as your question kind of really touched on this, fundamentally, how they view their own strengths and the other's intentions have not changed at all.

You know, obviously, beneath all the smiles and the toasts and, you know, they all said the right things in the right setting. Xi Jinping, for example, said, Planet Earth is big enough to accommodate the success of both China and the U.S. He said something similar before but using the Pacific. So now it's being upgraded to the planet. He also did point out that it's not going to work if the U.S. still tries to contain China's rise to suppress Chinese interests.

What he didn't seem to say is the second half of this line that he had said domestically, which is China must fight back. John.

VAUSE: Stephen, thank you. Stephen Jiang live for us in Beijing. Coming up here on CNN, we've obtained from the Israeli military unreleased video recorded by Hamas militants as they began their murderous attack on Israel, October 7. Exclusive report in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAUSE: When Hamas militants broke through the Gaza border fence October 7, many were wearing GoPro cameras to record the brutal attack. Some of the videos were then used by Hamas for propaganda, but not all of them. CNN has obtained video from one of those cameras provided by the Israeli military. The IDF says it shows the reality of what happened, which many have called Israel's 9-11. In one long, continuous video, it shows 100 minutes of horror and terror. I have to warn you, some of what you're about to see is very graphic. CNN's Oren Lieberman has our report.


OREN LIBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An explosion. Before dawn on October 7. The time is here and the attack is underway. Allahu Akbar. God is great. They chant as they cross the breached fence. Go right. Go right. Go right. They say.


Less than two minutes later, they cross the second security fence. They are in Israel, heading towards a kibbutz. The sun is up, and a day that will reshape the region has begun. This video comes from the body cam of one of the terrorists who took part in the attack. It was obtained exclusively by CNN from the Israel Defense Forces. For the first time, we also see video inside Hamas tunnels before the attack.

It is a look into a network of tunnels, with what appear to be supplies stored in the darkness. Writing on the walls in Arabic says, what's hidden is far worse. Above ground, the gunman fires his first shots. Go on man, go on man, he screams. They stop on the way. More than a dozen militants gather here to prepare for the next assault. One has several rocket propelled grenades on his back. Minutes later, a group advances across an open field, moving towards the village of Kisufim (ph).

The gunman charges the last bit and spots an Israeli soldier on the ground. Others join in celebration. Moments later, he is more composed as he turns the camera on himself. He says his name and that he's 24 years old. He's a father. He says he killed 2 Israeli soldiers. He asks God for victory and well-deserved martyrdom. On motorbikes now, they keep advancing, moving together along empty Israeli roads, or nearly empty. The man cheers as he sees bodies on the road.

His is not the first wave. He rounds a corner. Here, we have seen this place before, among the first videos to come out after the attack. This is dash cam video from a car on the same road moments earlier. The car approaches a group of militants who open fire. The car coasts, its driver almost certainly dead by now. It is just after 7.40 in the morning.

After a quick reload, the group approaches a military base near the kibbutz of Re'im. For 65 minutes since crossing the Gaza fence, they have had nearly free reign in Israel. The gunman closes the distance with a weapon he took from an Israeli soldier, opening fire, and fire comes back. This man's part of the attack comes to an end. The terror is just beginning. Oren Lieberman, CNN, Tel Aviv.


VAUSE: Well, now to plan B for Britain's Prime Minister and his controversial plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda. He now plans to introduce emergency legislation to formally recognize Rwanda as a safe country. That's in response to a Supreme Court decision which said the whole deal was struck down unanimously. And that deal would allow the UK to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda for processing, regardless of nationality. CNN's Clare Sebastian reports now on how Wednesday's ruling has impacted this controversial immigration plan.


CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was a unanimous decision from the UK's highest court and a resounding defeat for Britain's Prime Minister in an already turbulent week for British politics. The Rwanda policy, which has cost 3 successive Prime Ministers reportedly more than $170 million and untold political capital, was designed as a deterrent against soaring numbers of migrants arriving to the UK in small boats.

The scheme had planned to deport illegal migrants, regardless of nationality, to Rwanda where their asylum claims would be processed. Well, the Supreme Court ruled that it wasn't the idea of sending migrants to a third country that was unlawful, but Rwanda specifically, saying, quote, there were substantial grounds for believing that there were real risks that asylum claims would not be properly determined by the Rwandan authorities. There were, therefore, real risks of refoulement.

Refoulement is the technical word for the forced return of asylum seekers to countries where they're at risk of persecution. The British government is casting this as a setback rather than a failure. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowing to press on and sign a treaty with Rwanda, even making changes to UK law if necessary to get this policy through. Well, his new Home Secretary appointed just 2 days ago faced some pretty fiery reactions in Parliament.

JAMES CLEVERLY, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: We need to deliver the Rwanda deal. They're not - they're not listening, Mr Speaker so they might want to listen to this. We have a plan to deliver the Rwanda deal, and we will do whatever it takes to stop the votes.


SEBASTIAN: The UN, refugee agency and human rights groups welcomed the ruling. Rwanda's government, though, not at all happy, saying they, quote, take issue with the ruling. And Rwanda, as they say, committed to its international obligations. Claire Sebastian, CNN, London.


VAUSE: Still to come here on CNN, lives in the balance at Gaza's Al- Shifa Hospital, 36 premature babies. Now the clock is running. Without fuel to run their incubators, time is limited to save their lives. How Egypt is trying to help in a moment.


VAUSE: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN Newsroom. Israel's precise and targeted operation on Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza continues at this hour. Among the hundreds of patients still inside the hospital are the most vulnerable of all, babies in the neonatal unit. That's according to health officials. CNN's Eleni Giokos has this exclusive report now on efforts currently underway by officials in Egypt to try and evacuate the newborns.


ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In a command center in Cairo, Egyptian authorities working against the clock. Egypt's health minister on call to receive some of the most vulnerable patients. He's expecting over 30 neonatal babies to enter Egypt. New to the world but caught in the crossfire as the IDF begins its raid inside Al-Shifa Hospital.

DR. KHALED ABDEL GHAFFAR, EQYPTIAN HEALTH MINISTER: Time is important, and every single minute that we're not getting them in, the incidence or the chances of losing their life is very high.

GIOKOS: Since November 1st, injured Palestinians have crossed through the rougher border into Egypt, the only lifeline to leave Gaza.

GHAFFAR: We dedicated 37 hospitals with more than 11,000 beds for that purpose and more than 1,700 ICU units together with incubators for kids and other facilities for renal dialysis and so on.

GIOKOS: Would you say that the number of injured Palestinians that are in Egypt right now in the hundreds?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Approaching more than 200.

GIOKOS: In an exclusive, Minister Kafr (ph) takes us to visit patients.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the champ. This is Abu Rahman (ph).

GIOKOS (voice-over): Here, at the National Medical Institute in Cairo, finally safe, but haunted by what brought them here. Guilt, heartbreak, utter despair.

Mohammed Wadiya (ph) blames himself for his children's injuries. He says he listened to the IDF's warning and moved South from the North. Only to be part of an airstrike in Khan Yunis on October 16th.

He went to buy food, and when he got back, everything was gone, he tells me. His son, Abu Rahman (ph), just 9 years old, and fighting through seven war injuries, his 14-year-old sister beside him. Both had shrapnel in their tiny bodies, and broken bones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me, I'm an orthopedic consultant, and other team is plastic.

GIOKOS (voice-over): They say no physical wounds can compare to the mental scars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you imagine a child, you have a child, he's scared. He should be scared from a cat or dog, dark. So, when you find that scared from losing his family, it's really shocking.

GIOKOS: Did you get a warning? Did someone tell you to evacuate?

GIOKOS (voice-over): He tells me no, no warning. On his knowledge of Hamas in his building, he says, no.

We meet the next family, and they recalled their strike. Two p.m., 31st of October, Jabalya camp. Elhan Magad (ph) was praying when her husband, Rami Mahmoud (ph), went out to get food. And when he returned, his house, gone. He found Elhan (ph) by seeing one finger sticking out from the rubble. She survived, but two of her children did not.

The 15-year-old daughter called a friend before she died, predicting something would happen to her.

Rami (ph) shows me a video of his son. He got a haircut three days before the strike. They tell me he wanted to look good if he died.

For all the survivors we met, one wish binds them all. To return home to Gaza.

Eleni Giokos, CNN, Cairo.


VAUSE: Retired Major General Mick Ryan of the Australian Army joins me now from Canberra.

General, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.


VAUSE: I want you -- to show you a part of what's called a show-and- tell by an IDF spokesperson in Gaza at Shifa Hospital. Here he is.


JONATHAN CONRICUS, IDF SPOKESPERSON: This is the bag that we found, and this is the stuff that was in it. Now, those insignia, military insignia. A knife. For those of you who read Arabic, you will be able to understand what it says here. But it's, Hamas, the military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam.

Of course, a vest with equipment and, as always, an AK-47. Standard gear, grab and go, which they thought would be a good place to store inside a hospital.


VAUSE: OK, a couple of things, a couple of disclaimers. Assuming all that belongs to Hamas, which we cannot independently verify. And also saying it is still early days, and there are promises of more to come.

But at this point, does that haul justify the Israeli military focus on Shifa Hospital not just on Wednesday but in the days and weeks leading up to the raid?

RYAN: Well, if that's all they find in due course, it would be very difficult to justify these -- these raids on what is a protected place.

But as we know, the first reports can often be wrong. These things take time to exploit. And I expect the Israelis will be continuing to search the hospital and the sub basements for further evidence of these Hamas command centers that they've alleged are there and that John Kirby, the U.S. spokesman, referred to in the last 24 hours, as well.

VAUSE: I mean, without sounding glib, how hard is it to find a command center?

RYAN: Well, IT depends how well it's hidden underground. There could well be hidden entrances. I'm pretty sure Hamas won't have signs and neon lights pointing to it.

So, you know, it could take some time to find these. And clearly, Israel and the United States have some evidence that points this way. So they'll continue to search. And they will be keen to find it. If it's there, they'll find it.

VAUSE: Wherever hospitals are, anywhere around the world, they have special legal status during any conflict. So here's the head of the World Health Organization. Listen to this.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: One thing is clear: under international humanitarian law, health facilities, health workers, ambulances and patients must be safeguarded and protected against all acts of war.



VAUSE: What are the rules of the roads, the dos and the don't's -- which, by the way, Hamas clearly ignores by firing missiles at Israeli hospitals? And did Israel follow those rules by giving advance warning of the raid to hospital officials at al-Shifa?

RYAN: Well, the rules basically say that a hospital and its inhabitants, its doctors, its patients are protected under international law.

However, if that site is being for the storage of weapons, or the use of hostilities, the facility itself loses that protected status. But the doctors, the patients never lose that status. So, it does become a target.

But at the end of the day, it's not just legal consideration. There are moral considerations in these kind of things, as well. And these are the kind of legal and moral arguments that I know both the IDF and others will be having after this particular instance.

VAUSE: In 2014, Amnesty International reported that "Hamas forces used abandoned areas of al-Shifa Hospital, including the outpatients' clinical area, to detain, interrogate, torture and otherwise ill-treat suspects, even as other parts of the hospital continued to function as a medical center."

And, in 2009, the PBS program "Wide Angle" reached a doctor in Gaza "who believes Hamas officials are hiding either in the basement or in a separate underground area underneath the hospital," said "they moved there recently." This is 2009. With other locations being destroyed by Israel.

If a hospital has been used by combatants in the past, or if one side believes the other intends to illegally use a medical facility in the future, does that negate its current protected status now?

RYAN: Well, I think the Israelis would use that as part of their evidence case. But they certainly must have other evidence about it being used now.

I mean they've been insistent on this for some time now. So, they clearly have evidence that it is currently being used. Or at least up until Israel seized the hospital, its being used.

So if it is being used by Hamas as a command and control center, for the storage of weapons, the hospital itself loses protected status. But, as I said before, the -- the people in it, the patients and the doctors, never lose that status.

VAUSE: General Mick Ryan, thank you, sir. Appreciate your being with us. Appreciate your expertise and your insights. Thank you.

RYAN: Thanks, John.

VAUSE: Well, from prison to the front lines in Russia's war against Ukraine. A look at the hard-core criminals receiving pardons and guns to go into battle in Putin's war of choice.


VAUSE: Confirmation from Russian officials that Ukrainian forces are now holding a crucial piece of real estate on the Eastern side of the Dnipro River.

A Moscow-installed governor says a small number of Ukrainian troops are now operating Northeast of Kherson but are under heavy fire.

Tuesday Ukraine announced it had established a sustained presence on the East bank after staging cross-river raids for weeks.

To the Northeast, those efforts continue for two Ukrainians who are believed trapped under this building in the town of Selidove. Officials say at least two others were killed in a Russian strike on Wednesday. Three others were injured.


A convicted mastermind of a high-profile murder of a Russian journalist is no longer in prison. Anna Politkovskaya was a prominent Kremlin critic who was shot dead near her home in Moscow in 2006.

But as CNN's Fred Pleitgen reports, the man convicted of orchestrating the killing has been pardoned in exchange for fighting in Ukraine. And he's not alone.



FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): As Russia loses large amounts of soldiers on the front lines in Ukraine, the Kremlin continues filling the ranks with convicts, pardoning and releasing even the most dangerous ones if they survive their tour of combat.



PLEITGEN (voice-over): Sergey Khadzhikurbanov was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2014 for organizing the high-profile killing of prominent journalist and Kremlin critic Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in her apartment block in 2006.

Now Khadzhikurbanov has been pardoned after fighting in Ukraine, his lawyer says. Politkovskaya's family and the paper she worked for, Novaya Gazeta, irate.

"It is a monstrous fact of injustice and arbitrariness, an insult to the memory of a person killed for their beliefs and for carrying out their professional duty," they wrote in a statement.

There are others. Vladislav Kanyus was sentenced to 17 years in jail for brutally murdering his girlfriend and ordered to pay compensation to the victim's family, Russian media reports.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): He was also pardoned after fighting in Ukraine and doesn't even have to pay the compensation. The Kremlin defending the decision. "There is a certain practice that is being implemented," Putin's

spokesman says. "To my knowledge, there are no exceptions to this practice. More precisely, there are exceptions. But they do not relate to the topic of the resonance of this or that case."

The Wagner private military company first started using convicts on the battlefields in Ukraine last year, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin traveling to Russian jails to recruit inmates.

"I spend more ammunition than was ever spent in Stalingrad," he said at the time. "First sin is deserting. No one leaves the front. No one surrenders."

Even after Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash in August, Russia continues large-scale recruitment of prison inmates.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin even included some in a moment of silence for fallen soldiers.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN LEADER (through translator): We are all people. Everyone can make some mistakes. They once made them. But they gave their lives for their motherland and atoned for their guilt in full.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): And that amnesty also extends to killers in Russia, who can prevent doing time by killing even more in Ukraine.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Berlin.


VAUSE: Thank you for watching. I'm John Vause, back at the top of the hour with more CNN NEWSROOM. In the meantime, WORLD SPORT starts after a very short break. See you back here in 17 minutes.