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CNN International: U.N. Describes Rafah As "Pressure Cooker Of Despair"; Blinken Returns To Middle East On High-Stakes Trip; Britain's King Charles III Diagnosed With Cancer; Some Republicans Resisting Bipartisan Senate Border Deal; Ukraine: Drones Powered By Jet Skis Sink Russian Warship; At Least 123 People Dead, Hundreds Missing; One Year On, Survivors Struggle To Rebuild Their Lives; Winter Weather Creates Chaos For Chinese Travelers. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired February 06, 2024 - 08:00   ET




BIANCA NOBILO, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Bianca Nobilo in London in for Max Foster who's on royal duties just ahead.

The U.S. Secretary of State starts his day in Egypt before crisscrossing the Mideast for talks on the fighting in Gaza. Can Antony Blinken make any progress towards a truce between Israel and Hamas?

Plus, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wishes the King well after the shock of Charles's cancer diagnosis. We're live outside Buckingham Palace this hour.

And CNN goes back to the heart of the suffering one year after the devastating earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria. We'll show you how the survivors are coping.

America's top diplomat is on his way to Qatar, the next stop on his high stakes trip to the Middle East, nearly four months into the Israel-Hamas war. Earlier on, Antony Blinken sat down for talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo, the latest round of diplomacy. Began with Monday's meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.

U.S. officials say talks are geared towards putting an enduring end to the crisis, meeting the humanitarian needs of people in Gaza and plans for the enclave after the war. Palestinians are hoping Blinken's trip will lead to a pause in the fighting ahead of a threatened Israeli assault on Rafah.

More than a million people, about half of Gaza's population, are crammed into the small city on the border with Egypt. And most of them are currently living in makeshift tents. And we're going to be going live to Israel for more on that in a moment.

But first, we -- actually, we've got Jeremy Diamond with us. I believe we've been having a couple of technical issues. Jeremy, are you with us?


NOBILO: OK, excellent. I'd like to begin by talking about Blinken's trip. This is the fifth time that he's done one of these since the Hamas attacks on October 7th. Is there an expectation that this could herald a breakthrough in the talks and possible ceasefire hostage negotiations between Israel and Hamas?

DIAMOND: Well, it's not clear, but it is certainly the hope that there could be some kind of progress at least this week while the secretary of state is in the region. Of course, there are a number of issues on his plate here. I mean, initially he is dealing with the aftermath of those U.S. military strikes on Iranian forces and proxies in Iraq, Syria, as well as Yemen.

The Secretary of State trying to balance that aspect with the diplomatic efforts to try and prevent this regional conflict from spiraling into a far worse regional war. But what he is also looking to do, as you mentioned, as it relates to the hostage deals is to see if a breakthrough is possible.

And while he is in the region this week, Hamas is currently still studying, analyzing, consulting it's different leaders over that framework proposal that the United States, Egypt, Qatar and Israel agreed to a little over a week ago now. That response from Hamas could come while the secretary of state is in the region.

And today, he is making a pair of critical visits to the capitals of Egypt as well as Qatar. The two key mediators who have been dealing with Hamas directly trying to prod them to agree to this broad framework or at least to present a counter proposal that could advance those negotiations.

Now, officials that I and my colleagues have spoken to have indicated that this is not likely to come to ahead this week, but this could be a process that will go on for several more weeks. But there's no question that there is significant momentum behind this, that there is significant optimism on the parts of various negotiators.

And once the secretary of state finishes up his visits to Doha, Qatar, as well as Cairo, Egypt, he will be headed here to Tel Aviv for critical meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where the focus will not only be on the progress and the updates on those hostage negotiations, but also looking at the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and also planning for longer term.

What does a post-war future look like for Gaza in terms of governance and security, but also the longer term objectives that the United States has here of turning this war into an opportunity for a potential creation of a Palestinian state. Something that the Israeli Prime Minister has time and again stood in the way of, made clear that he is opposed to, and plans to stand in the way of in the future.

That has been really thumbing his nose in the face of his American allies. And so the secretary of state will no doubt be looking to see if there is any movement, any possibility of moving the Israeli Prime Minister off of that position, and what more can be done in terms of a two-state solution going forward.


NOBILO: Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says he was thankful to learn that King Charles cancer was caught early on. Speaking to the BBC, Sunak added that he was, quote, "shocked to learn about King Charles diagnosis". The royal family has not disclosed what type of cancer the king was diagnosed with or what stage it's currently at. Mr. Sunak said he will remain in close contact with Charles and that their weekly audiences will continue as normal.

CNN's Max Foster joins me live from outside Buckingham Palace in London. Max, what is the latest that you're learning about King Charles's condition and treatment as a lot of the British media this morning speculating about when his son, Prince Harry, might come to visit him?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: So we know that Prince -- I have been told that Prince Harry is coming over. We haven't been told of the timing, but certainly all eyes on whether he arrives in London today. King Charles is at Clarence House, which is just up the road from here. And there's certainly lots of photographers out trying to catch a glimpse of Prince Harry.

They've -- I'm told that the king is on good form and in good spirits. And if anything, he's quite frustrated about not being able to carry out his public engagements, but his medical team have advised him against doing that. They're actually concerned about him catching any sort of viruses or anything during his treatment from the public.

So that's the main reason why he is not out and about. It's not that he doesn't want to be out and about, or doesn't feel well enough to be out and about. Meanwhile, he's getting this treatment for this form of cancer that hasn't been identified yet. He's been treated as an outpatient at Clarence House.

I'm not -- when I've been asking people, you know, why aren't we being told what the actual condition is, there might -- you know, I have been told that he could potentially change his mind and reveal what that condition is off the back of the fact that he's been working very closely with cancer charities over the years and how effective it was when he revealed he had an enlarged prostate.

And there was a huge amount of awareness raised about that, about prostate cancer and the National Health Service had a lot of inquiries as a result. So I think that's a watch. I think he may change the, you know, longstanding protocol about not revealing specific medical details in order to raise awareness about cancer.

But I don't expect that to be imminent, but that's an update we're waiting for. And in terms of other royals stepping in to carry out those key constitutional duties, he hasn't signed any paperwork on that yet. He hasn't appointed anyone because he feels confident enough to do that himself, but behind closed doors.

NOBILO: CNN's Max Foster for us outside Buckingham Palace in London. Thank you so much.

Republicans in the U.S. House plan to vote today on the impeachment of Joe Biden's Homeland Security Secretary. They're angry at Alejandro Mayorkas for not doing more to police the U.S. border with Mexico. Democrats claim this is all political theatre.

It's unclear if Republicans actually have the votes to pass the impeachment resolution. And it comes just days after a bipartisan group of senators unveiled a deal to enhance border security while also providing new foreign aid to U.S. allies. Joe Biden has expressed support for the deal, but Donald Trump is urging Republicans not to pass it.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a Democrat trap. It's a trap for Republicans that would be so stupid, so foolish to sign a bill like this. This bill can't be signed. And it's not only that, it's massive amounts of money going out of town, as we say.


NOBILO: With all of the latest on this, let's go to the White House and CNN's Arlette Saenz. Arlette, how close is this bill to being completely dead? What is the president trying to do to save it? And if it indeed goes no further, what does Biden do then?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bianca, the brink -- the bipartisan border deal being considered in the Senate is on the brink of collapse. We have heard over the past 48 hours, a lot of Republican opposition from the House and from the Senate to this measure.

Some saying that they simply oppose the measures outright. Some saying that they need more time to review it after the bill text was released late Sunday evening. And it really presents a quandary for President Biden and the future of this bipartisan border deal for months.

Republicans had insisted that any aid for Ukraine and Israel must be paired with changes to border policy. That is something that the White House, Democrats, and the Senate worked with a group of Republican Senators to try to hash out some type compromise.

The president even making concessions when it came to some of these border policy issues, but so far, it really has appeared to run into significant resistance in the Senate, and it's unclear whether it would be able to advance ahead of a key vote that is slated for tomorrow.


Meanwhile, it all comes as former President Donald Trump has lobbied hard against this bill. You've heard House Speaker Mike Johnson saying that it's dead on arrival in the House. And instead, Johnson is proposing a vote on a standalone bill for aid to Israel. That is something that the White House says President Biden would outright veto.

They call that a, quote, "cynical political maneuver". And what this really has highlighted is how critical it is for the Biden administration to try to show that they are doing something on to address the issues at the U.S. Southern border. We've really seen what the White House and Democrats go on offense saying that they have proposed these border policy changes, proposed fixes to address the crisis, but arguing that it's Republicans who are currently standing in the way.

Of course, you heard their former President Donald Trump saying that he believes that this bill does not have a path forward, suggesting Republicans should block it. We've also heard Republicans openly talk about how they -- some of them don't want to pass this bill because it could prove a political gift to President Biden if action is actually taken on the U.S. southern border.

So it really presents quite a challenge for the future of this bill, which is set for that key vote in the Senate, as all indications have so far shown that it appears likely to be unable to progress unless there's actually some major change in the shift in momentum of this.

NOBILO: Arlette, always great to speak to you. Thank you.

That border bill that Arlette was just talking about also includes billions of dollars of aid for Israel and Ukraine. The fighting in Ukraine, meanwhile, will soon be heading into its third year. The E.U.'s foreign policy chief arrived in Kyiv earlier on, on an unannounced visit. It's Josep Borrell's fourth visit since the start of Russia's full scale invasion.

Also in Ukraine today, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting leaders of Ukraine's nuclear industry before visiting the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. Late last year, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied the war had reached a stalemate.

But with no meaningful breakthroughs in Kyiv's counteroffensive and U.S. military aid hanging by a thread, Ukraine is increasingly relying on drones to level the playing field, as CNN's Fred Pleitgen reports.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): It was one of the most brazen and most successful operations by Ukraine's military intelligence service. Sea drones attacking and, the Ukrainians say, sinking a Russian warship inside occupied Crimea. And he was one of those involved. His call sign is 13, from the elite sea drone unit named Group 13. So secretive, we had to hide his face and change his voice.

We used 10 drones in the operation, he says. Six of them hit the Corvette Ivanovets. CNN cannot independently verify that the Ivanovets was sunk, but video provided by the intelligence agency seems to show the mini sea drones evading machine gun fire from the warship and then massive explosions.

Their weapons are not designed to deal with such small sea drones, 13 says. In most cases, they use anti-ship guns.

Ukraine barely has a functioning navy, but the Magura drones pack a massive punch, around 500 pounds of explosives.

PLEITGEN: These sea drones might not look like much and they might not go very fast, but the Ukrainians say they've been extremely effective at attacking Russia's Black Sea fleet and even sinking warships.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The main thing is to feel the drone, 13 says. Not everyone can hold a firm grip. If you squeeze a little, you can lose control of the drone. I would say it's like working with jewelry.

Asymmetrical warfare, they call it. And the Ukrainians, outmanned and outgunned, say they need to do a lot more of it.

After visiting the southern front this weekend, Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, telling Italian media he not only plans to fire his top general, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, there could be a larger government shake up.

A frontrunner to become the new commander-in-chief, the defense intel boss known for brazen attacks against Russian military and infrastructure targets.

The Russians are waking up at night to explosions, he says. Explosions in the air, explosions directly at the facilities. They see the real picture of war. They see burning oil depots, destroyed buildings and factories and so on. This is all beneficial.

And the Ukrainians vow to continue hunting Russian military vessels in this battle of David versus Goliath on the high seas.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, in southern Ukraine.


NOBILO: The death toll from dozens of wildfires burning in Chile has risen to at least 123 people with hundreds more missing. Two coastal cities popular with tourists are among the hardest hit with many homes reduced to rubble.


Chile's finance minister estimates the damage in one region alone will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The fires come in the midst of a summer heat wave, and scientists say climate change and the El Nino weather pattern are only making these types of fire events worse. Chile's president says it's the deadliest disaster the country has faced in more than a decade.


GABRIEL BORIC, CHILEAN PRESIDENT: The fire in Valparaiso was a serious emergency, the most catastrophic in our country since the earthquake of February 27,2010.


NOBILO: Still to come, one year after a devastating earthquake killed thousands in Turkey, CNN has traveled to one of the hardest hit areas, where people are struggling to survive.


NOBILO: You're looking at live pictures from Hatay, Turkey, where thousands of residents are marking the one year since a devastating earthquake that killed thousands of people in Turkey and northern Syria. The march includes friends and families of the victims.

The earthquake, as you probably remember, was one of the most devastating earthquakes of modern times. It flattened entire neighborhoods and destroyed whole city centers. Many people were trapped in collapsed buildings for days, waiting in freezing conditions for help.

Today, people in the quake zone are demanding answers from the authorities, including why millions are still homeless and at least 145 still missing.

CNN's Scott McLean has been to some of the areas that suffered the most. And he joins us now from Antakya, Turkey. Scott, what is the situation like around you? And how representative is that of the areas that were hit hard by the earthquake?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So Bianca, one-third of this province, Hatay province has left since the earthquake. Those are the official numbers, and it's not really hard to see why. It is difficult to find buildings that were not damaged in some way. And the old city where we are looks like this.

Let me show you a little bit more down this alleyway. You can see there is some work being done. This building is one of the very few in this area that has been restored so far. But, look, there's plenty more. This particular area has the added burden of having to be restored, you know, to make sure that the buildings retain their historic character.

But there are other buildings as well, though, Bianca, newer ones that were only a few years old that also fell, and that has prompted plenty of outrage amongst people. Again, look over here. There's just -- you can see the scale of what still needs to be done here. The government promised that there would be some 320,000 homes and apartments built within the first year. They've handed over the keys to less than 20,000 of them.

[08:20:01] There have been more than 250 builders convicted. More coming for failing to follow building code regulations that have been now on the books for more than 20 years. There's also, though, outrage at politicians for failing to enforce those case in point, that march that you mentioned, meant to be remembrance.

It is also, though, where people are protesting today. Some of them chanting, "We will not forgive. We will not forget".

NOBILO: Scott, who have you been speaking to and where are they living?

MCLEAN: Yes. So there are almost 700,000 people, Bianca, who are still living in hundreds of these sprawling container cities across the region where you have essentially temporary housing, the size of a small RV. But trust me, not nearly as nice. They have power and water, but that's about it.

They are basic. They're meant to be temporary, but frankly, you'll be hard pressed to find very many people who are moving out anytime soon. The difficulty for people who own their house is that private insurance is not common. So they're waiting on the government to help them rebuild. And for people who are renting, they're waiting for the supply to catch up with the demand so that they can actually afford something.

I've also met some Syrians who have been displaced by this earthquake. Almost half of the more than 3 million Syrians in Turkey were living in this region. And many of them can't get their kids into schools because of a law that requires them to remain in the areas where they were originally registered in.

And so I spoke to one non-profit that's helping at least try to teach these kids some Turkish. They said the problem is probably in the tens of thousands across the country. And I want to mention one other woman that I met as well. Her name is Cigdem Nur. Her brother, her sister in law, and her six-year-old niece are still among the missing from last year's earthquake. And even a year later, she is still desperate. Listen.


It's been a year and there's no trace of them, she says. I'd even settle for one cell. Imagine what it's like to envy someone who's found their relatives dead. My niece was six years old. Do you know how difficult it is to go to an orphanage and look for her every day?


MCLEAN: Bianca, I also met another woman Sama Guletsch (ph), whose 25- year-old son, Batuhan (ph), is also missing. She says that she will wait for him for the rest of her life, holding out just a tiny bit of hope that he might be alive. She is leading a group that is calling on the government to open a commission to find these people. But that idea has twice now been rejected by the Turkish parliament.

NOBILO: CNN Scott McLean for us in Antakya, Turkey. Thank you very much.

Still to come in China, wintry weather is a walloping travel plans for millions of people determined to celebrate the Lunar New Year.



NOBILO: China's busiest holiday is turning into a travel nightmare as hundreds of millions of people make the trek for Lunar New Year celebrations. Old Man Winter is causing chaos. Marc Stewart reports.


MARC STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Parts of China at a standstill during one of the most treasured times of year. Cars are stuck. Some highways look like parking lots.

There is such desperation. People are doing whatever they can to chip away the ice covered pavement. It's all part of a winter blast hitting as hundreds of millions of travelers head home for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Tang Zitao is in the middle of it.

TANG ZITAO, HUBEI PROVINCE RESIDENT (through translator): This journey has been too long, and it is indeed a torture.

STEWART (voice-over): He told me his six-hour drive is now taking more than 24 hours.

STEWART: What are the road conditions like? Are you seeing snow? Are you seeing ice? How bad is it?

ZITAO (through translator): The snow has been falling since the day before yesterday. It has melted a little, but it didn't turn into ice. So the road is very wet and slippery.

STEWART (voice-over): He is one of many on a treacherous journey that has left some travelers stranded without food and water. Who needs warm water? This little girl asks as she goes car to car with her mother. Other villagers offer noodles and porridge from over the fence.

It's not any easier if you're taking the train. It's packed inside the station in central China as passengers deal with delays. Much of this mess a flashback to 2008 when blizzards left 24 people dead and hundreds of thousands of people stranded. Yet there's a spirit of determination to make it home.

ZITAO (through translator): No matter what, we always head home for the Spring Festival. It is a Chinese tradition.

STEWART (voice-over): A tradition that could be hindered by unforgiving forces of nature.

Marc Stewart, CNN, Beijing.


NOBILO: Thanks for joining me here on CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Bianca Nobilo in London.

World Sport with Amanda Davies is up next.