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U.S. Sanctioned Four Israelis; Horror Felt by a 6-year-old Girl; Iran Watch U.S.'s Next Move; Russian Critic Undeterred by Tough Prison Rules; U.S. Defense Secretary Apologized; China Says Their Economy is Doing Great; Farmers Express Their Anger; New Team for Lewis Hamilton. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired February 02, 2024 - 03:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber.

Ahead on CNN Newsroom, four Israeli settlers in the West Bank facing sanctions from the United States as the Biden administration tries to get a handle on growing violence against Palestinians.

And as the U.S. readies a response to the deadly attack on an American military base in Jordan, new intel assessments on how Iran feels about the actions of its proxies.

Plus, President Biden continues to court major unions during a campaign stop in Michigan as the race for the White House continues.

UNKNOWN: Live from Atlanta, this is CNN Newsroom with Kim Brunhuber.

BRUNHUBER: After weeks of pressuring Israel to scale back its military tactics in Gaza, the U.S. is now turning its attention to the West Bank. The Biden administration is announcing sanctions against four Israeli settlers for their violent acts against Palestinians.

The State Department says one man initiated a riot with cars and buildings set on fire and a Palestinian civilian killed. Another was part of a group that attacked Palestinian farmers and Israeli activists with stones and clubs. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office disputed the need for sanctions, saying, quote, "Israel acts against all lawbreakers everywhere, so there's no room for exceptional measures in this regard. The absolute majority of the settlers are law-abiding citizens."

All right, let's begin with journalist Elliott Gotkine following Developments Live from London. So, Elliott, take us through this move by the U.S. and the reaction.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Kim, it's an unprecedented move by the Biden administration and goes much further than the dozens of visa bans it imposed on some settlers back in December. And what America is saying, I suppose it's trying to achieve two things here, really.

One is, send a message to Arab American voters in this critical election year that despite its support for Israel in its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, that it is still trying to do its best to be an honest broker in the region, and not least because opinion polls have been showing that Arab Americans have been deserting the Biden camp in their droves.

The other thing that I suppose this is designed to achieve is to draw a line in the sand for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government to say in the words of Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the Israelis must do more to clamp down on settler violence.

Now according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there have been about 500 Israeli settler attacks on Palestinians since the Hamas-led massacre of October the 7th. When it comes to these four individuals, you've given an outline of some of the things that they are accused of, it's unclear though what the practical impact of these sanctions is going to have.

Essentially, they will mean that these four individuals who are Israelis, they don't hold American citizenship and the Biden administration says it won't be imposing sanctions on Israeli settlers who do hold U.S. citizenship.

What these sanctions do, effectively, it cuts them off from the American financial system, it imposes travel bans and they won't be able to do business with Americans. But it's unclear if that is going to have any practical impact on these individuals who, some of whom by the way, have already been charged by the Israeli authorities.

And so that would lend credence to what Netanyahu was saying, that Israel does take actions against settler violence. I suppose the big problem here though is that two of Netanyahu's coalition partners, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich from the religious Zionism Party and Itamar Ben-Gvir of the Jewish Power Party are both settlers themselves and support the settlers.

And I suppose what's happened since they came to power, and especially since October the 7th, is that some settlers have felt emboldened to carry out violence against Palestinians in the Israeli occupied West Bank because they feel that they have a measure of cover in the highest echelons of power.

It's also worth noting that these sanctions on these four Israeli settlers are just the first. There are expected to be more to come as the Biden administration tries, as I say, to show that its support for Israel in its war against Hamas doesn't stop it from doing what it sees as taking necessary measures against Israeli settlers for carrying out violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: All right, Elliot Gotkine in London. Thanks so much.


The Hamas-controlled health ministry says more than 27,000 people have been killed in Gaza since October 7th. Now the figures don't distinguish between combatants and civilians.

New video shows the destruction in northern Gaza with entire neighborhoods leveled, not a single building left standing. UNWRA, the United Nations main relief agency in the enclave says funding cuts will most likely force it to suspend its work not only in Gaza but across the entire Middle East by the end of this month. Listen to this.


KHALID AL AMOUDI, FLOUR BAGS TRANSPORT WORKER (through translator): If the UNWRA stops, there will be no food, drink or life in the Gaza Strip. There would be no aid or anything in Gaza. It's the UNWRA that helps us by providing flour, canned food and drinks for our daily lives. If it wasn't for God and UNWRA, we won't have a life in Gaza Strip.


BRUNHUBER: Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is hailing his forces' progress in southern Gaza. He says Hamas has been left severely weakened and the Israeli offensive will continue further south to the city of Rafah.

In central Gaza, relatives of a six-year-old Palestinian girl are desperate to know what's happened to her. She was trapped in a car on Monday after she and her family came under Israeli fire. That's according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has details. We just want to warn you, some of the content may be disturbing.


UNKNOWN (on-screen text): Come take me. Will you come and take me?

UNKNOWN (on-screen text): Do you want me to come and take you?

UNKNOWN (on-screen text): I'm so scared, please come.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A desperate call for help from six-year-old Hind, terrified, trapped in a car. Everyone around her is dead. Hind was in the car with her uncle, his wife and their four children, trying to flee fighting from this part of northern Gaza. The horror in that car captured in this call for help from her cousin, recorded by the Palestine Red Crescent.

UNKNOWN (on-screen text): They are shooting at us. The tank is next to me.

UNKNOWN (on-screen text): Are you hiding?

UNKNOWN (on-screen text): Yes, in the car. The tank is next to us.

UNKNOWN (on-screen text): Are you in the car?

UNKNOWN: Hello? Hello?

KARADSHEH: Relatives on Monday morning received a call from the family saying they'd come under Israeli military fire.

SAMIR HAMADA, HIND'S UNCLE UNKNOWN (through translator): Rahad called me. She said, Uncle, my dad, my mom, my sister, and brother were killed. I'm bleeding. Help me. I'm dying. I told her, tie yourself with anything. At 4 p.m. she died. The only one left was the little girl Hind. She said, please, I'm little. I'm injured. I peed myself.

KARADSHEH: Hind stayed on the phone with the Red Crescent for hours.

UNKNOWN (through translator): What time is it? She said it's getting dark. I'm afraid of the dark.

KARADSHEH: The area was too dangerous, hard to reach. They had to keep Hind on the phone as they scrambled to try and get a team to her.

UNKNOWN (on-screen text): Is there gunfire around you?

UNKNOWN (on-screen text): Yes, come and get me.

UNKNOWN (on-screen text): I want to my dear, but I can't right now.

KARADSHEH: As a team was finally dispatched, a psychologist was now on the phone with Hind.

UNKNOWN (on-screen text): We are all with you. We will wait on the phone with you

KARADSHEH: But days later, they're still waiting. The Red Crescent lost all contact with Hind and its two volunteers who were dispatched to find her.

CNN gave the Israeli military details about the incident, including coordinates provided by the Palestine Red Crescent. The IDF says, quote, "we are unfamiliar with the incident described."

NEBAL FARSAKH, SPOKESPERSON, PALESTINE RED CRESCENT SOCIETY: We are extremely worried. We need to know what happened. Did they manage to save Hind? Are they arrested? Did they survive? We need answers.

KARADSHEH: No one more desperate for answers than Hind's distraught mother.

WISSAM HAMADA, HIND'S MOTHER (through translator): If my daughter didn't die from the bullets, she's going to die from the cold, from the hunger. My daughter said, mama, I am hungry. She said, mama, I am thirsty. I'm cold. I call on the whole world to bring me back my daughter. I want anyone to call the army. We want our innocent little girl. Hind is too young to be going through this. She is too young.

KARADSHEH: So many, so young, gone in this war. But one family holds onto the hope that it's not too late to save their little Hind.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, London. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER: The U.S. officials say new intelligence indicates Iran's leaders may have been caught off guard by the deadly attack on American service members in Jordan and may be nervous about the actions of Iranian proxy groups and allies in Iraq, Syria and Yemen who are raising the risk of direct confrontation with the United States.

The U.S. has yet to respond to the killing of its troops. But the Pentagon chief has confirmed that a multi-tiered response is coming, but that the U.S. will work to avoid a wider conflict.


All right, I want to bring in CNN's Paula Hancocks, who's live in Abu Dhabi. So, Paula, what more are we learning about the possible response from the Biden administration?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kim, we've heard from Lloyd Austin, the Secretary of Defense, saying that it is time to take away more of the capability that these groups have to harm U.S. and coalition troops. Now, there's been more than 160 attacks, drone and rocket missile, against U.S. interests in both Iraq and Syria, and there had been a concern that there would be loss of life on the U.S. side.

Eventually, now that did happen last weekend, three U.S. personnel were killed on the border between Jordan and Syria and dozens more injured. So what we have heard from the Biden administration is that they are planning a multi-tiered response. So, it does suggest that it's going to be more than just a simple missile strike against those that they believe were behind this attack.

The Biden administration has said they believe it's the Islamic resistance in Iraq, which is an Iran-funded and trained and equipped umbrella group. So there are many other groups within this one umbrella group. They believe that they are responsible.

So the expectation is that their response could be multifaceted. It could be a number of strikes. It could even go over a number of days. But we're hearing that they will decide when and where to strike back.

But what we are also hearing from intelligence sources and those familiar with intelligence on the matter is that they believe Tehran is concerned by what has happened, that they were caught by surprise by the fact that this attack took place. And it really does go to the fact that how much control does Iran have over many of its proxies.

There's certainly the expectation that they don't have operational control per se over these particular groups. But certainly, the Biden administration believes that they are not going to significantly change their tactics in the near future.

There was a foreign policy essay written by Bill Burns, the CIA director, saying that Iran is very happy with what is happening at the moment, the fact that there are so many of its groups, of its allies, of its proxies that are carrying out attacks against U.S. and coalition forces.

But there is also within this intelligence, we understand, a concern from Tehran, believed to be a concern from Tehran, that some of its key allies, like China and India, are being affected, for example, by the Houthi rebels, those groups that are firing missiles and launching attacks against commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

Now, the sources we spoke to didn't specify exactly what the intelligence was, citing sensitivity, but in the past the U.S. has been able to gather intelligence either through human intel or through eavesdropping on Iranian communication.

So that is how the Biden administration is working at this point, assuming that Tehran may have been caught off guard by what has happened, but still planning ahead to some kind of response, which we could see at any moment. Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Paula Hancocks in Abu Dhabi. Thanks so much.

I want to bring in now Sanam Vakil, who's the director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the global affairs think tank Chatham House.

Thanks so much for being here with us.

So I want to begin there with the U.S. response to that deadly attack. The Biden administration, as we just heard, has said it will be a multi-tiered response, but doesn't want to get embroiled in a larger war. So what will the U.S. priority be here? Retribution, deterrence? Will they target Iran itself?

SANAM VAKIL, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, CHATHAM HOUSE: Thank you for having me. Well, we've been waiting for a number of days and I think that behind the scenes, the Biden administration has been curating a lesser response than perhaps was originally anticipated. Republicans have been calling for attacks inside Iran, so certainly the president is under serious domestic pressure.

But I don't expect an attack directly on Iran and I think the aim will be, above all, to reduce a broader regional war which the administration has been categorical about avoiding since October 7th, and the pick-up of escalation across the region.

But secondly, the Biden administration does need to draw red lines and maintain deterrence or restore returns that since the Gaza war we've seen an uptick of attacks across the region. The access of resistance that receives support from Iran has been using escalation as a pressure tactic to bring about a ceasefire.


And while we still don't have a ceasefire, it's certainly leading to a blending of conflicts and of course escalating the risk of a larger regional war. BRUNHUBER: I want to ask you if you believe these reports that Iranian

leadership is nervous about some of the actions of its proxy groups.

VAKIL: Well, OK. The axis of resistance is sort of complicated network. And I think it's important to reaffirm what Paula said, they do have agency in their own domestic context. Iran doesn't necessarily command and control every operation, and by sort of having a decentralized management of the axis of resistance Iran risks being blamed.

And in fact, here it is, being blamed for the killing of U.S. service men in these drone strikes a few days ago. And what Iran has been persistently messaging also since the Gaza war began is that it wasn't involved in October 7th, but certainly it plays a very serious and destabilizing role in the region.

So, Iran, if you will, wants to have its cake and eat it too. Its aims are to survive, to preserve the axis of resistance, but also to prevent direct strikes on Iranian territory.


VAKIL: It sees the Biden administration as playing a game to withdraw from the Middle East, and that's what Iran wants at the end of the day.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, you say they want to have it both ways. That's part of the pattern, right? That Iran says, well, we don't control these proxies, but at the same time, if you want us to control them, well, you'd better come to the table and offer us something.

VAKIL: Absolutely. And so, you know, there's a lot of push and pull here, and it leaves a nuanced response for the Biden administration that has been trying to Band-Aid tensions with Iran over the past few years and its advancing nuclear program. But the problem we have now is that the axis of resistance works transnationally and it's operational. And it does pose a long-term threat to regional stability, even if these strikes stop, which they say they will stop if a ceasefire is obtained. We have a long-term problem that needs a policy response.

BRUNHUBER: Now these groups are located, you know, all around Israel. How big of a boost to these groups has the war on Hamas been in terms of re-energizing them, their support and their funding?

VAKIL: Certainly, it has been a boost. On the one hand, they are trying to help Hamas by distracting and making sure Hamas emerges from this war somewhat intact, not completely destroyed. But on the other hand, these groups come together ideologically against the United States and the region, against Israel's posture in the U.S.

And so this gives a new energy and breathes new light into resistance, resisting Israel's aggression, resisting the U.S. And so certainly this has been a big boost.

BRUNHUBER: That could lead to more and more attacks on American forces, right?

VAKIL: Well, interestingly, since the drone strike in Jordan, the Iraq Resistance Group, which is an umbrella of a number of non-militia groups that are not affiliated with the government, they have issued a statement committing to not attack American bases and installations. And they've also tried to take the onus of responsibility off of Iran.

So it does really show us that these groups have domestic calculations. They're interested in self-preservation and survival. So, there are limits to their operations and there are limits to their risk. And this opens the space for the United States to try and reinforce deterrence, which I expect will be coming soon.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, we'll be watching. I really appreciate your analysis, Sanam Vakil in London. Thank you so much.

VAKIL: Thank you.

BRUNHUBER: All right, much more to come here on CNN, including our conversation with the wife of a prominent Kremlin critic imprisoned after criticizing Russia's war in Ukraine.

Plus, the U.S. president met with United Auto Workers Thursday, looking to shore up union support ahead of Michigan's primary later this month. We'll have that story and much more after the break. Please stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: In Russia, a prominent Kremlin critic was recently moved to a new penal colony. Vladimir Kara-Murza, who's also a British nationalist, serving a 25-year prison sentence for criticizing Russia's invasion of Ukraine. He was detained in 2022, hours after an interview with CNN. He called President Vladimir Putin's reign a, quote, "regime of murderers."

CNN chief global affairs correspondent Matthew Chance spoke with his wife and has the story.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the last time Vladimir Kara-Murza appeared in public. His prison uniform flickering on a court TV screen in January as he praised Russians who, like him, opposed the war in Ukraine. He's already serving a 25-year sentence for criticizing the Kremlin.

Now the dissident's wife tells CNN her husband has been unexpectedly moved to one of Russia's toughest Siberian prison colonies.

EVGENIA KARA-MURZA, VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA'S WIFE: The reason for his transfer, apparently, was that he had been declared a consistent violator of the rules of serving his sentence. For example, a violation that -- CHANCE: It's crazy.

KARA-MURZA: -- his pillow was not put in the right way on the bed. Another violation that his button on his shirt was not buttoned all the way.

CHANCE: So, these are all these are all really petty, petty little, you know, violations. Why do you think the authorities are using those kinds of tactics? What are they trying to do?

KARA-MURZA: I believe that everything is being done to isolate those political prisoners who refuse to be silent, even behind bars, and of course to intimidate others.

CHANCE: For years, Vladimir Kara-Murza has been one of the Kremlin's fiercest and bravest critics. This was us in 2015, after he'd recovered from what he says was a deliberate poisoning. But his opposition to the Kremlin never faltered, especially after the invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA, RUSSIAN OPPOSITION FIGURE: This regime that is in power in our country today, it's not just corrupt, it's not just kleptocratic, it's not just authoritarian. It is a regime of murderers.

CHANCE: And Kara-Murza is now one of several key Russian opposition figures, including the most well-known, Alexei Navalny, who've been locked up as President Vladimir Putin tightens his grip on power.

Meanwhile, Evgenia Kara-Murza tells me she's had just seven short phone calls with her husband in the two years since his arrest.

E. KARA-MURZA: The last phone call came before just before New Year and it was a 15-minute call. The first one in over half a year. I had to take away the phone from one kid after five minutes and give it to his sibling because I wanted to make sure that all three of them got to talk to their daddy.

CHANCE: It is heartbreaking for his family. And for Russia, say critics, this growing Kremlin fear of any political challenge.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.



BRUNHUBER: Ukraine has released dramatic video showing the alleged sinking of a Russian warship off the coast of Crimea. Ukrainian military intelligence says the guided missile ship took multiple hits overnight Wednesday into Thursday before reportedly going under. Russia isn't commenting yet.

Now this is the latest in a series of Ukrainian strikes on the Russian Black Sea fleet, which Kyiv says hinders Moscow's ground operations. Meanwhile, speculation is mounting in Ukraine about reports that

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy plans to fire his top general, Valerii Zaluzhnyi. In the last hour, I spoke with military expert Mick Ryan about possible reasons behind that. Here he is.


MICK RYAN, RETIRED AUSTRALIAN ARMY: My sense is this is less about Zelenskyy's fears about a Zaluzhnyi presidency and more about holding someone accountable for 2023's failures, as well as just wanting new and different kinds of strategic advice from a military leader.

BRUNHUBER: All right. So, I want to ask you about the possible impact here. How disruptive might this be for Ukraine if indeed it did happen?

RYAN: Well, certainly it will upset a lot of people who regard Zaluzhnyi very highly. But at the end of the day, generals in military institutions are designed to be replaced. It's just finding the right one to replace him. There are a couple of contenders who are out there publicly. There may be others that we don't know about.

At the end of the day, Zaluzhnyi is a professional soldier and he will facilitate a handover with his replacement in a pretty professional manner.

BRUNHUBER: So, a replacement, I mean, what effect might it have on Ukraine's relations with its allies, especially the U.S., either real or in terms of the perception of the Ukrainian government's instability here?

RYAN: I think this is more a perceptions issue. I think there are people potentially in the U.S. Congress and other countries who see this civil military tension as a reason to not give Ukraine aid. But civil military tensions are pretty normal in peacetime and wartime in democracies. And I don't really see this as out of the norm.

At the end of the day, whoever replaces Zaluzhnyi will have an enormous amount of goodwill from Western military leaders, and they'll be helping him settle into the new job, if that happens.


BRUNHUBER: Meanwhile, the European Union is hoping the U.S. will follow suit after Brussels unlocked more than $50 billion in aid for Ukraine. On Thursday, Hungary dropped its opposition to the E.U. funding, which kept aid money on hold for weeks.

But in Washington, a U.S. aid package for Ukraine is still in limbo. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wants to hold the first vote on the $60 billion aid package by next Wednesday. But Republican Senate whip John Thune said he's not sure enough members in his party will support the measure. If the bill clears the Senate, it'll still face an uphill battle in the House of Representatives.

A new CNN poll shows former President Donald Trump narrowly ahead of President Joe Biden. Forty-nine percent of registered voters in the survey conducted by SSRS backed Trump and 45 percent backed Biden. Now Trump's lead is slightly larger than the margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percent.

Now that same group backed Nikki Haley over President Biden in a hypothetical matchup by a much larger margin, 52 percent to 39 percent.

Meanwhile, Biden was in Michigan on Thursday and got an enthusiastic reception at a United Auto Workers Training Center near Detroit. Joined by UAW President Shawn Fain, the president met with union members who were making phone calls for his campaign ahead of the state's Democratic primary on February 27th.

The UAW endorsed Biden last week. The president carried Michigan in 2020 and is hoping to repeat that victory this year. During remarks, he said the country's current economic strength relies on organized labor. Here he is.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We now have, in large part because of you and organized labor, the strongest economy in the whole damn world.


BIDEN: We do.


BRUNHUBER: The former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization is in talks to potentially plead guilty to a perjury charge. Now this is related to the civil investigation into the real estate company's finances.

According to people familiar with the matter, Allen Weisselberg is negotiating the Manhattan -- with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, but no deal has been finalized. Trump's former longtime lieutenant pleaded guilty in 2022 to 15 criminal charges related to tax fraud and spent 100 days in prison.

Well, government censors in China are working overtime to paint a picture of a strong economy. They're erasing any signs online that things aren't going well. We'll have details on that after the break. Stay with us.




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to all you watching us around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN Newsroom. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is taking responsibility after

failing to disclose his prostate cancer treatment and hospitalization to the president and senior officials sooner.

CNN's Oren Liebermann has more.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: At 10:30 in the morning Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin walked into the Pentagon briefing room. He moved slowly, visibly limping. In his opening remarks, Austin took full responsibility for the lack of transparency around his prostate cancer diagnosis and hospitalization.

LLOYD AUSTIN, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We did not handle this right, and I did not handle this right. I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis. I should have also told my team and the American public, and I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.

LIEBERMANN: Austin last took questions from the media on board the USS Gerald R. Ford more than a month ago. It was two days before he first went to the hospital. He says his diagnosis with prostate cancer shook him and he didn't want to burden others with his problems.

AUSTIN: It was a gut punch. And frankly, my first instinct was to keep it private.

LIEBERMANN: Austin was admitted to Walter Reed Medical Center on New Year's Day for complications from the procedure on December 22nd. In a 911 call, an aide asked for discretion.

UNKNOWN: Can I ask, can the ambulance not show up with lights and sirens? We're trying to remain a little subtle.

LIEBERMANN: Austin says there was no order given to keep the hospitalization secret.

AUSTIN: To answer your question on whether or not I directed my staff to conceal my hospitalization from anyone else, the answer is no.

LIEBERMANN: Austin says he apologized directly to President Joe Biden for not telling him about his diagnosis, but he says he didn't consider resigning. On January 8th, Austin's chief of staff, Kelly Magsamen, ordered a 30-day review of notification procedures.

The 30-day review is due in a matter of days now, I think less than a week if I'm not mistaken. Do you commit to making that review public?

AUSTIN: I commit to being as transparent as possible. There will be elements of this that are classified. But we're committed to sharing as much as possible as soon as possible.

LIEBERMANN: Austin's press conference comes as the administration promises to respond to a drone attack Sunday that killed three U.S. service members in Jordan, as well as more than 165 other attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East.

The White House said it holds Iran ultimately responsible for arming and supplying the militias that have launched the attacks. The U.S. has promised a multi-phased response, one that officials say will be more powerful than previous strikes in Iraq and Syria.

AUSTIN: I don't think the adversaries are of a one and done mindset. And so they have a lot of capability. I have a lot more.

LIEBERMANN: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made it clear that a U.S. response is coming against the Iranian-backed militias that have carried out strikes on U.S. forces in the region, including the attack on Sunday that killed three U.S. service members and wounded scores more.


Though he wouldn't say exactly what that attack would look like, he did say that the U.S. has already taken away capabilities from these militias, and now it's time to take away more of those capabilities.

Oren Liebermann, CNN in the Pentagon.


BRUNHUBER: U.S. Central Command says it's repelled another series of attacks on international shipping from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. Now this says Washington urges China to use its leverage with Tehran to ease tensions in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The Houthis leaders mocking that strategy, calling the outreach to Beijing a sign of failure. The militant group claims that America's repeated strikes haven't weakened their position.

Well, China says its economy was strong and healthy in 2023, but was it really China's cracking down on any suggestions? The contrary, erasing internet posts showing the economy, the stock market and the real estate industry are all struggling.

CNN's Ivan Watson has the story.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The world's second largest economy had a tough year in 2023. Now one of Beijing's answers to the challenge, ban and erase criticism of it.

In December, China's Ministry of State Security issued this order, resolutely crack down and punish illegal criminal activities that endanger national security in the economic security field. Apparently, that includes disappearing negative commentary from the already heavily censored Chinese internet.

On December 1st, this prominent economic professor, Liu Jiping (Ph), advised people not to invest in the falling Chinese stock market. Now all of Professor Liu's social media accounts are frozen. And when you click to follow him, you get this message, which translates, it is forbidden to follow this user due to their violation of relevant rules.

CNN found similar freezes temporarily imposed on at least five other Chinese economic analysts. Also removed from the Internet, this documentary highlighting economic hardship among Chinese migrant workers.

STEVE TSANG, AUTHOR, POLITICAL THOUGHT OF XI JINPING: I think the Chinese economy is at a cliff edge at the moment. I don't think it has stopped falling off the cliff yet, but it's getting to a point where things can get much more difficult.

WATSON: Officially, the Chinese economy grew by more than 5 percent last year, but the country's youth unemployment rate keeps hitting record highs. Then there's China's all-important real estate sector, which along with related industries used to make up 30 percent of the Chinese economy.

This is the Hong Kong office of the biggest symbol of China's real estate crisis Evergrande. Until two years ago, this company was the largest home builder in China, employing some 200,000 people. Then the company defaulted on its debt, and now a court here in Hong Kong has ordered the liquidation of Evergrande.


WATSON: Across the country protests as angry new home buyers demand completion of unfinished homes that they've already paid for. Perhaps the only other sector gloomier is the country's stock market. In the past three years, the combined Chinese stock market lost more than $6 trillion.

MR. TANG, BEIJING RESIDENT (through translator): I haven't made any money out of the stock market, so I sold all my stocks.

WATSON: "The Chinese economy is strong and it will be stronger, says this Beijing resident." Perhaps Xi got the message from this recent meeting of the country's top propaganda officials. Their order, amplify bright prospects of the economy as China heads into 2024.

Ivan Watson, CNN, Hong Kong.


BRUNHUBER: Protesters and police clashed outside Argentina's Congress as lawmakers debated the president's controversial and wide-ranging reforms package. Security forces used tear gas and water cannon to clear out protesters in Buenos Aires on Thursday.

Workers unions, human rights groups, and left-wing political members are among those opposed to the bill known as the omnibus. Measures include economic austerity, privatization of public institutions, weakening labor protections, as well as increasing the president's power.

President Javier Milei says it's all necessary to tackle the country's economic crisis. And while controversial, a recent poll shows 42 percent of the population supports the reforms while 51 percent opposes them.

All right, still ahead, as European leaders descend on Brussels on Thursday, so too did hundreds of angry farmers, tractors in tow. Their frustration towards E.U. leaders and their long list of grievances. That's coming up next. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: In Kenya, a huge fireball engulfed several houses, businesses, and vehicles overnight after a truck loaded with gas exploded in the capital city of Nairobi. Officials say at least two people were killed and more than 200 were injured.

Command center has been set up at the scene to coordinate rescue. Authorities are warning people to stay away from the area to avoid disrupting rescue operations at the scene.

Crowds in Paris blocked roads with tractors this morning as farmers extend their protests over their economic hardships. Farmers also descended on Brussels on Thursday demanding E.U. leaders address their grievances.

Demonstrators rolled into Brussels in their tractors with some throwing eggs, blaring horns and holding signs with the slogan, no farmers, no food. Farmers have been protesting across several E.U. countries against the bloc's agricultural rules, taxes and low wages.

Following Thursday's summit, French President Emmanuel Macron called for an E.U.-wide policy to support farmers.

CNN's Melissa Bell has the latest from Paris.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From Italy to Greece, Portugal and France, the anger of farmers has grown and spread, reaching now all the way to the heart of the E.U. Too restrictive, they say, in terms of regulations, but with little to protect them from unfair competition, especially from duty-free Ukrainian meat.

Calls for action forcing themselves onto the agenda of leaders gathered in Brussels to discuss aid to Ukraine.

UNKNOWN (through translator): We are asking the leaders to review their laws. They talk about being greener, but if that happens then there will be land which isn't worked anymore and it's difficult enough as it is.

BELL: Concerns echoed by farmers in France who've reached the edge of Paris where the police have drawn a line.

EMMANUEL MATHE, FRENCH FARMER (through translator): We can't earn a living. We're subject to enormous constraints and there are products coming in from outside Europe that compete with us without having to apply the same rules that we're obligated to in order to produce.

BELL: Scenes like these have been playing out across the European Union and whilst the grievances are fairly distinctive from country to country, what unites the farmers across the E.U. is in the end frustration with Brussels, the red tape and bureaucracy, regulations that it imposes, and the fact, say the farmers, that it doesn't protect them sufficiently from competition from outside the E.U.

SEBASTIEN ABIS, ASSOCIATE RESEARCH FELLOW, FRENCH INSTITUTE FOR INTERNATIONAL AND STRATEGIC AFFAIRS (through translator): Why is it that we tell a European farmer that he cannot produce like this, but we allow food products to enter the European market which costs less? They have to produce food and increasingly they have to offer bioenergy and bioeconomy. They have to keep in mind the environment, the landscape and sometimes regulations and standards. Not all measures are compatible or convergent.


BELL: The anger has spread across the E.U. and beyond the disruption now represents a political threat with European elections just a few months away and leaders rushing to announce concessions.

GABRIEL ATTAL, FRENCH PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Our livestock farmers need specific support. That's why I'm announcing that we're allocating 150 million euros to them in tax and social support starting this year and continuing on a permanent basis.

BELL: Yet so far, little has calmed the farmers united across Europe in their anger at Brussels, which they say is killing their livelihoods.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.


BRUNHUBER: Meanwhile in London, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg was in a magistrate court Thursday over public disorder charges. Thunberg was arrested in October along with other protesters who were blocking the entrance to an oil and gas conference. Thunberg addressed the charges by raising concerns about the need to protect the environment and human rights issues.


GRETA THUNBERG, CLIMATE ACTIVIST: Even though we are the one standing here and climate environmental and human rights activists all over the world are being prosecuted sometimes convicted and given legal penalties for acting in line with science, we must remember who the real enemy is. What are we defending? Who are our laws meant to protect?

(END VIDEO CLIP) BRUNHUBER: Thunberg and her four co-defendants have pleaded not guilty. If convicted, they face a maximum fine of more than $3,000 each.

All right. An update now on that Israeli-owned vessel where thousands of sheep and cattle have been trapped for nearly a month due to the security risks in the Red Sea. We're hearing the ship has docked again in Perth, Australia, where temperatures are soaring.

Sarah Smith from Australia's Nine News has this report.


SARAH SMITH, REPORTER, NINE NEWS: The livestock ship carrying 16,000 animals has redocked here in Perth. We're unsure why at this stage and what the future of these animals is. The vessel docked here yesterday for a few hours to be restocked with essential supplies like food and water. It was then taken offshore to undergo routine cleaning and for the animals' beds to be changed.

There are vets on board and they say the animals are in good health. The Department of Agriculture is still considering the exporters' application to have the animals reexported to the Middle East. They were turned back due to rising tensions in the Red Sea.

The handling of this situation has really frustrated farmers. They say it's taken far too long and they're calling for the federal agricultural minister or the head of Department to resign. But these animals, 14,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle have now been out at sea for almost a month.


BRUNHUBER: All right, just ahead here, from the mother of the Oxford, Michigan High School shooter as she defends herself at her trial.


BRUNHUBER: In the coming hours, the prosecution is expected to cross- examine Jennifer Crumbley, the mother of the Oxford, Michigan high school shooter. She's facing manslaughter charges and the deaths of four students.

Prosecutors are accusing her of gross negligence for disregarding the risks when she and her husband bought their son a gun days before the shooting.

Jean Casarez has the latest.


JENNIFER CRUMBLEY, MOTHER OF OXFORD HIGH SCHOOL SHOOTER: That was the hardest thing I had to stomach is that my child hurt and killed other people.

[03:50:01] JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The mother of the Oxford, Michigan shooter who killed four high school students in 2021 for the first time defending herself in court.

CRUMBLEY: I've asked myself if I would do anything differently and I wouldn't know.

UNKNOWN: If you could change, what would happen, would you?

CRUMBLEY: Absolutely, I wish he would have killed us instead.

CASAREZ: Jennifer Crumbley charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter after she and her husband got a gun for their 15-year-old son days before the massacre. She has pleaded not guilty and appears to be shifting blame to her husband in her testimony.

UNKNOWN: Who is responsible for storing the gun?

CRUMBLEY: My husband is.

UNKNOWN: OK, explain why you say he's responsible for that role.

CRUMBLEY: I just didn't feel comfortable being in charge of that. It was more his thing. That's why I let him handle that.

CASAREZ: Crumbley maintained she had no reason to believe her son was a danger to anyone else.

CRUMBLEY: As a parent, you spend your whole your whole life trying to protect your child, your child from other dangers. You never, you never would think you have to protect your child from harming somebody else. That's what -- that's what blew my mind.

CASAREZ: She recounted the moment her husband called telling her the gun was missing.

CRUMBLEY: Instantly, it just, I'm like, my gosh, he's got the gun. I didn't actually think he was at the school shooting it. I thought maybe he walked home and got the gun and was in the field by the school shooting. I just, I didn't imagine my son actually going into a school shooting.

And then when we got more updates, I was like, my gosh, he's a school shooter. He's going to kill himself. Because in my mind, that's what school shooters have done. They've killed themselves after. So, I yelled in my talk to Tuck, Ethan, don't do it going to kill himself.

CASAREZ: Revealed in court before Crumbley took the stand, journal entries of the shooter just days before he opened fire, killing four classmates. He writes, I have zero help for my mental problems and it's causing me to shoot up the effing school. My parents won't listen to me about help or a therapist.

The journal seen here was found in the shooter's backpack that he brought with him that morning, spilled out on the school's bathroom floor. However, Jennifer Crumbley testified her son never asked her to get help for mental health issues.

UNKNOWN: Do you recall there ever being a time where he asked you to go to a doctor or to get help, and you said no?


UNKNOWN: Or left it at home?

CRUMBLEY: No. There was a couple of times where Ethan had expressed anxiety over taking tests, anxiety about what he was going to do after high school, but not to a level where I felt he needed to go see a psychiatrist, or mental health professional right away. No.

CASAREZ: Crumbley described threats she says she and her husband received after the shooting.

CRUMBLEY: I was feeling pretty scared.

UNKNOWN: OK, scared of what?

CRUMBLEY: Well, scared that somebody might hurt us.

CASAREZ: The defense also attempted to portray Jennifer as a normal mother.

CRUMBLEY: Every year around Thanksgiving, I was cooked Thanksgiving dinner. The day after we would go cut our Christmas tree down. He was a big history buff. We can play trivial pursuit and he would get me in history every single time.

CASAREZ: Jean Casarez, CNN, New York.


BRUNHUBER: A French advertising company has agreed to pay $350 million to settle a lawsuit related to marketing opioids. New York's attorney general says the company called publicists led a campaign targeting doctors to over prescribe the opioid Oxycontin. The campaign promoted the drug as safe, which helped fuel the opioid crisis that claimed hundreds of lives in the U.S. since the 1990s.

The company didn't admit wrongdoing, but says it's hoping the payment will help fight the crisis. The settlement is the first of its kind for an advertising company involved in promoting Oxycontin.

Big news in the racing world, seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton is leaving his Mercedes team this year and will be joining Ferrari in 2025.

CNN's Amanda Davies has the latest.


AMANDA DAVIES, CNN WORLD SPORTS ANCHOR: The most successful driver in the history of F1, arguably the most iconic storied team on the grid. It's a union that's waxed and waned on the rumor mill many a time over recent years and now it is a done deal.

Speculation had really started to grow with reports emerging over the last 24 hours or so. It's now been confirmed that after what will have been 12 years with Mercedes with the most dominant run the sport has ever seen, Lewis Hamilton will be leaving at the end of this season to take on his new challenge at the age of 40.

It was Mercedes who released the first statement saying he's activated a release clause in his contract with a real show of the mutual respect between the relevant parties.


Mercedes principal Toto Wolff talking of the pride with which they'll look back on the partnership. And Lewis saying in part in his statement, it's a place where I have grown up, so making the decision to leave was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. But the time is right for me to take this step and I'm excited to be taking on a new challenge.

Ferrari have simply then followed up with a statement saying, Ferrari is pleased to announce that Lewis Hamilton will be joining the team in 2025 on a multi-year contract. He's joining as a teammate to hot young talent Charles Leclerc. That means Carlos Sainz leaving.

Lewis has often expressed his admiration for Ferrari and appeared in a documentary at the end of last year, paying tribute to Michael Schumacher and the team where he won the last five of his record- setting seven world titles.

The Romantics have long loved the idea of Lewis with a last hurrah in the red of the Scuderia, driving them to victory once again. They haven't won a driver's title since 2007. They won just one of last year's races. And also, driving Lewis to that record breaking eighth world title.

Before that though, 24 races still to go with Mercedes with the season getting underway in Bahrain in the first weekend of March.


BRUNHUBER: It's Messi mania in Hong Kong. Lionel Messi and the inter- Miami team are now in Hong Kong as part of Miami's first ever international tour. Welcome ceremony and photo ops were held at the Hong Kong International Airport on the team's arrival. They'll play a friendly match with the specially invited Hong Kong team on Sunday.

All right, have a look here, something you don't see every day. Police in Australia were called to help bust a toddler out of a claw machine he was able to crawl into. Authorities say three-year-old Ethan climbed through the machine's dispenser to get his hands on a prize.

He seemed to be having the time of his life playing with all the stuffed animals, but Queensland police officers asked him to move to the back of the bin and to cover his eyes. Well, that's how they could break the glass and set little Ethan free

and get him back into the arms of his family. Now, no word if he was able to get a prize in the end.

All right. That wraps this hour of CNN Newsroom. I'm Kim Brunhuber. Max Foster and Bianca Nobilo will take over from London after this short break.