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U.S. Airstrike Kills Kataib Hezbollah Leader In Iraq; Blinken Dealt Blow As Netanyahu Rejects Pause In Fighting; Violence, Security Threats Cast Pall Over Pakistan's Elections; Senate Blocks Border Deal And Funding For Ukraine, Israel; Chinese Hackers Spent 5 Years In U.S. Infrastructure, Ready To Attack; Israeli PM Responds to Hamas' Gaza Counterproposal; Families of Hostages Wait for Release of Loved Ones; Is Bamboo the Future of Construction; Prince William Returns to Royal Duties with Two Members on Leave; Interview with Mikaela Shiffrin. Aired 1-2a ET

Aired February 08, 2024 - 01:00   ET



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead here on CNN. So what comes next, now that the U.S. has killed the commander of a militant group leave responsible for a deadly attack on U.S. forces in Jordan.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): And not to do but they are on the way to complete victory.


VAUSE: which Israel's Prime Minister says is just months away. That means any deal for hostages at a ceasefire in Gaza looks increasingly unlikely.

And voters head to the polls to cast their ballots in Pakistan's general election, which has already been rocked by a surge of violence in recent days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Live from Atlanta. This is CNN Newsroom with John Vause.

VAUSE: According to U.S. central command the drone strike was remarkably precise what remains unknown now are the repercussions. At 9:30 p.m. Wednesday night in Baghdad, U.S. officials say a commander with Kata'ib Hezbollah was in a moving vehicle on a busy street when a U.S. drone strike destroyed the car, killing the man who is accused of directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region, more than 160 since October 7.

Officials in Baghdad received no advanced notification about the targeted killing. Sources tell CNN the now dead militia leader was in charge of logistical support, as well as drone and rocket operations.

In a statement Thursday, Kata'ib Hezbollah confirmed the commander's death. CNN's Oren Liebermann has worn out reporting in from the Pentagon.


Oren Liebermann, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. carried out a drone strike in Baghdad on Wednesday evening targeting a senior commander of Kata'ib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that the U.S. holds responsible for many of the attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. The target according to three U.S. officials, Wisam Mohammed Saber al-Saedi, according to a source familiar with Kata'ib Hezbollah's operations. He was in charge of logistics, as well as in charge of drone and rocket operations for Kata'ib Hezbollah.

Now this, a strike that clearly targeted a single individual car is very different than what we saw the U.S. carry out on Friday in Iraq and Syria. Those were sweeping strikes going after 85 targets across a number of locations, weapons facilities command and control nodes as well as a number of other facilities.

This wasn't about hitting facilities or weapons. This was going after leadership. The U.S. says this is part of the response to a deadly drone attack in late January in Jordan that killed three U.S. service members and wounded scores more.

Crucially, the U.S. says this is not the end of that response, that perhaps suggesting that the U.S. will continue to go after not only facilities, but also leaders of the militant groups that the U.S. holds responsible for many of those attacks on U.S. forces.

Kata'ib Hezbollah put out a statement mourning the death of al-Saedi, and saying that the response will include essentially targeting U.S. forces. That's a significant statement, because just last week, K.H. said they wouldn't continue to target U.S. forces so as not to embarrass the Iraqi government. So we'll have to see if this is a change in position.

Meanwhile, this drone strike angering the Iraqi government that called it new U.S. aggression, and said it undercuts understandings between Washington and Baghdad here. So we'll have to see how this plays out diplomatically with growing anger of U.S. operations and strikes in Iraq, that the Iraqi government considers a violation of their sovereignty.

But the U.S. has said this is not the end of that response to the deadly drone strike at the end of January there, so we'll see what else the U.S. has in store and how this plays out across the region. U.S.'s goal still is not to escalate the situation or to instigate an open war with Iran that remains something the U.S. is very much trying to avoid.

Meanwhile, U.S. Central Command says in this strike, there were no civilian casualties or collateral damage. But Iraqi police say there was at least one more person in that car that we saw burning. Oren Liebermann, CNN in the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VAUSE: Now to Israel, where the U.S. security state remains hopeful negotiations will continue over a deal for a ceasefire and hostage release in Gaza. But Israel's Prime Minister has just dismissed a counter proposal from Hamas with many of ours as delusional. CNN's Jeremy Diamond has details now reporting in from Tel Aviv.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The ball is back in Israel's court, and it's being swatted right back.

NETANYAHU (through translator): We haven't committed to anything. We haven't committed to any of the delusional demands of Hamas. There is supposed to be a process of negotiation between the mediators of what I see from versus reaction they are not there.


DIAMOND (voice-over): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissing Hamas's counter proposal for a ceasefire that would see dozens of hostages released from captivity. Instead, he's vowing total victory.

NATANYAHU (through translator): Surrender to Hamas is delusional demands will not lead to freeing hostages. It would just invite another massacre.

DIAMOND (voice-over): The latest Hamas position outlines three phases each lasting 45 days, beginning with the release of women, children sick and elderly hostages, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners, an intensification of humanitarian aid and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza's population centers, in line with a prior Israeli framework, but Hamas his proposal also calls for the release of all Palestinian prisoners detained since October 7. A non-starter for Israel.

Phase two would see the release of all male hostages and soldiers, as well as the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from Gaza. Dead bodies from both sides would be returned in phase three. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reviewing the proposal with Israeli officials.

ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: While there are some clear nonstarters in Hamas' response. We do think it creates space for agreement to be reached. And we will work at that relentlessly until we get there.

DIAMOND (voice-over): As negotiations dragged on no respite for those trapped in Gaza. Overnight ambulance crews in central Gaza rushing to the scene of another Israeli airstrike searching through the rubble, rushing survivors to the hospital.

But in Gaza, even the hospitals are no guarantee of safety.

DR. AHMED MUGHRABI, NASSER HOSPITAL: Hello, good morning, my friends.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Speaking from inside Nasr Hospital Dr. Ahmed Mughrabi describes the scene at the hospital's main gate.

MUGHRABI: This is the gate of the hospital, and how the people are standing, you know.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Snipers on rooftops, people trapped in fear.

MUGHRABI: Nobody an move outside of the hospital. See. The people how they are standing. They can't, they can't go. If anybody would go outside of this gate, you would be killed. See.

DIAMOND (voice-over): On the street outside the hospital a lifeless body explains that fear. Local say she was shot by a sniper.

From Khan Younis to Gaza City, the sounds of gunfire sparking panic. Hundreds of people waiting for humanitarian aid trucks now suddenly running for their lives. As confusion turns to fear some rush one way, others run the other. But nowhere seems safe. Jeremy Diamond, CNN, Tel Aviv.


VAUSE: Some former hostages are now speaking publicly and a critical of the prime minister who they say is too focused on eliminating Hamas leadership and needs to do more to secure the release of the 170 Israelis still held in Gaza.


SAHAR CALDERON, FORMER HOSTAGE (through translator): And don't talk to me about morality and that we can't give them more terrorists because you know what, it doesn't matter. There are 135 human beings still breathing who are in horror, and this is not moral. So please save those who are alive because we won't be able to bring back the dead.

ADINA MOSHE, FORMER HOSTAGE: I'm very afraid and very concerned that if you continue with this line of destroying Hamas, there won't be any hostages left to release.


VAUSE: Similar feelings in Washington were family members of hostages met with a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers as well as members of Israel's Knesset on Wednesday, urgent plea for their loved ones and all hostages to be brought home safely and now.


TZVI MOR, SON HELD HOSTAGE IN GAZA: We don't know if our son is still alive. We didn't get anything from the Israeli intelligence for more than 70 days. I think that's the first step to be with us is to close your eyes. And to think about your love loved ones. Being in the tunnel in dark tunnel, without air, without food without water.


VAUSE: (INAUDIBLE) Dank crabbed tunnels underneath Gaza where the Israeli hostages were held. Where has now been seen by CNN Ivana Kottasova, sorry, reports from Tel Aviv.


IVANA KOTTASOVA, CNN Senior Producer: It's important to say that I went into the Gaza strip with the Israeli military, which means that I was only able to see what they allowed me to see. And I can tell you even then, the level of destruction and devastation that I witnessed was just unbelievable as we drove from the border fence between Gaza Strip and Israel towards Khan Younis.


I did not see a single building that was not damaged in some way. And most were destroyed beyond any recognition. There is just piles and piles of rubble everywhere. And the Israeli military says that this level of destruction is down to the fact that they are trying to destroy this tunnel system that they say Hamas has built underneath much of the Gaza Strip. And that's what they wanted us to see.

So we visited these two underground compounds, just under a residential neighborhood in Khan Younis where Israel says some of the hostages that were taken during the October 7 terror attacks were taken and held. And they also say that this is a compound where some of the top leaders of Hamas were hiding during this war.

So we walked into the tunnels, and I can tell you that the experience of being inside, being underground is just horrific, the spaces are very narrow, the whole place is very warm and very humid. You feel like you can't breathe because there is no fresh air. And it's kind of feels very claustrophobic, as if the walls were closing in on you, and then you walk in. And there are all these little rooms, little caves that have tiled walls, and that you can see that there was some level of design going into these rooms, because, for example, in the kitchen, you can see patterns on the tiles and you can see floral motives in this underground military compound.

And then we want to see the room where some of the hostages were being held. And that was truly horrific experience. It's a very narrow room. There is a cage like gate in the middle of the room. The walls are very moist and sticky. It's very humid, it's very warm. And if we switch off the lights, it just plunges into complete darkness, which means that you immediately lose any sense of time, space, you have no idea what's going on above the ground and it just feels really, really hopeless. Ivana Kottasova, CNN, Tel Aviv, Israel.


VAUSE: When we come back, a fake news campaign in China centering on Texas, with claims another U.S. Civil war is imminent. Is that really fake news? What's behind this wave of disinformation?

Plus, the U.S. warning Chinese hackers have been lurking inside American infrastructure systems for years. New report shows the danger they now pose.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VAUSE: It's just past 11:00 a.m. in Islamabad and polls open as voters cast their ballot in a general election. Pakistan has been struggling with an ongoing political crisis of a former Prime Minister Imran Khan as economic uncertainty as well as frequent militant attacks.

The key players are veteran leader Nawaz Sharif, who's trying to make a comeback after years of self-exile a bit of corruption charges.


And Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, or the popular former leader Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose party won the last national elections, remains imprisoned on multiple convictions and is banned from running.

Violence ramped up ahead of the elections with at least 30 people killed in twin blast campaign offices in Balochistan province on Tuesday, a candidate was shot dead while campaigning last week. The government has suspended mobile services across the country, borders also been closed because of incidents of terrorism.

Live to Islamabad where CNN's Sophia Saifi is standing by again. So what, whatever, three hours into this and people? Is it -- do we know if there's much of a turnout of people scared to go to the polls? Are they eager to go to the polls was like?

SOPHIA SAIFI, CNN PRODUCER: Well, John, people were eager to get to the polls. But one thing that everybody was very concerned about was a nationwide data shutdown, which is exactly what has happened at the moment.

Our team here on the ground is having immense difficulties even getting on air to report the election. And we're an international news organization that multiple journalists on the ground are already concerned by digital rights activists that a mobile phone or cell phone shut down is going to cause panic amongst voters, it's going to contribute to a lower voter turnout.

And we ourselves went earlier in the day do a polling station around eight in the morning, when polls did open and there was a considerable amount of people who had started coming in. There was a slight delay because polling agents hadn't arrived.

And but again, this is a very huge electoral exercise. Pakistan is the fifth largest democracy in the world. 128 million people are eligible to vote. There are many main players who are, you know, involved in these elections. Imran Khan is behind bars, his party is still immensely popular, even though it's lost its popular electoral symbol at the same time.

You've got Nawaz Sharif, he's been a prime minister three times coming back again for the fourth, we know in a couple of hours. So, lots of fears of security of militant attacks. Like you said, there have been a few in the lead up to this election to this day. But we're going to have to see how the day unfolds. And we'll keep giving you that information. John. VAUSE: I remember Bilawal was just a young lad when his brother was assassinated all those years ago and there was talk of him taking over the family dynasty back then. So we'll see what happens with that. Sophia Saifi, thanks so much for being with us live in Islamabad.

Well, U.S. senators will hold a procedural vote Thursday on a funding bill for Ukraine and Israel. But this time, it will come without any border security measures or immigration reforms. Republicans blocked the larger combined package on Wednesday, rejecting what was a bipartisan deal, which would have enacted stricter border measures and contain pretty much everything they've ever wanted for the past two decades.

They bailed on the package under pressure from right wing members of the House, as well as Donald Trump, who is making chaos in the immigration system, a central campaign issue as he runs for president.

New foreign aid bill includes $60 billion for Ukraine, well, then $14 billion in security aid for Israel, among other provisions. Senate Majority Leader Democrat Chuck Schumer, chided his Republican opponents for demanding border policy changes to be part of the bill only to walk away from the deal just days later.

Well, fake news headlines about the U.S. and Texas being on the brink of a civil war spreading across China and media centers are doing little to stop the spread of disinformation. But why does the Chinese government what this message out there. CNN's Will Ripley explains.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a world where information is power, where fact and fiction collide. A digital drumbeat of disinformation from China, the U.S. State Department says threatening the very fabric of the free world.

One of Beijing's latest campaigns focusing on Texas, a tidal wave of disinformation surging across social media in China in recent weeks, zeroing in on tensions between Texas and the White House over illegal migrants spilling over the border from Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Texas declared independence from the United States --

RIPLEY (voice-over): Chinese social media users captivated by videos like this speculating about Texas declaring independence, online chatter of a looming U.S. Civil War, getting hundreds of thousands of likes, shares and comments, mostly untouched by Beijing's army of online sensors.


RIPLEY (voice-over): And not an isolated incident. The State Department says releasing its first ever report on what he calls the People's Republic of China's information manipulation. RUBIN: When you look at the pieces of the puzzle when you put it together, you see a breathtaking ambition on the part of the PRC to seek information dominance in key regions of the world.

RIPLEY (voice-over): What the U.S. calls a multi tight billion dollar coordinated campaign of distortion and disinformation devised by the Chinese government exploiting divisions within the United States.


China's foreign ministry firing back accusing the U.S. of hypocrisy for being the first nation to weaponize global information. Beijing blasting the State Department report as disinformation that misrepresents facts and truth labeling America an empire of lies.

The U.S. says China's digital authoritarianism accelerated in recent years magnifying perceptions of chaos in America. A welcome distraction analyst say for Beijing's communist leaders grappling with a growing pile of problems at home.

From China's real estate crisis, new homes never finished prompting protests by angry buyers, to a plunging stock market, skyrocketing youth unemployment and rapidly aging population. Beijing and Washington battling for information dominance.

RIPLEY: One key point on this fake news of a looming civil war in Texas. This is not the first time just the latest example on the Chinese internet of information being twisted and manipulated. The U.S. says it's part of a much bigger campaign by the Chinese government and almost Orwellian attempt to poison the information space crucial for democracies to function weaponizing disinformation exploiting existing fault lines in the U.S. and beyond and trying to reshape global opinions all to benefit China. Will Ripley, CNN, Taipei.


VAUSE: U.S. cybersecurity officials have only recently discovered that Chinese hackers have had access to computer networks at some critical infrastructure sites for almost five years. Let's go to a new report by U.S. and allied security agent, first -- as first reported by CNN.

U.S. officials already knew that China's -- Chinese hackers have been positioning themselves to disrupt U.S. transportation hubs or other infrastructure systems, such as water and electricity. But this new report reveals how long hackers have actually been inside the systems shows how far they've reached. China has routinely denied us allegations of hacking. CNN has reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Washington for comment.

Karim Hijazi is a cybersecurity and intelligence expert as well as founder and CEO of Vigilocity. He joins us now from Austin, Texas. Thanks for taking the time.

KARIM HIJAZI, FOUNDER AND CEO, VIGILOCITY: My pleasure. Great to be with you, John. VAUSE: OK, so CNN was the first report about this advisory issued by

the U.S. Cyber Security and Infrastructure Security Agency, the National Security Agency, and the FBI, warning operators of critical infrastructure, about this increased threat from China.

Authorities in China and Canada, Australia and New Zealand warned as well. But how useful is an advisory about Chinese hackers, when the targets of those hackers, especially in the U.S., are vulnerable, because in many cases, they don't have adequate cybersecurity, mostly because of a lack of funding.

HIJAZI: Very much so. And as we've talked about with critical infrastructure, the entire environment is quite outdated. And unfortunately, it's a combination of multiple things, vulnerabilities that are very hard to patch up effectively, you know, the widespread, and then the entrenching of things like malware, and what we call implants that have worked for many, many years that have done reconnaissance and sort of found new ways to persist and laterally move.

So, it's a little bit like whack-a-mole, you know, trying to find one, and you get one stamp down and another one pops up. And that's just making this so difficult. So the report really kind of accelerates our awareness of the fact that this is a very widespread and kind of persisting issue.

VAUSE: And the rules of other development here is that in the past, China would hack into steal trade secrets or trade information, you know, that kind of stuff, government information on business dealings, that sort of thing. This is a step up in a major way from what they've been doing in the past, right?

HIJAZI: Indeed, yes. China historically has been more of an intellectual property, concern for most organizations and defense industrial base as far as designs and plans for things that were otherwise proprietary to our country.

Now, this is quite a bit of a different sort of tactical shift in terms of trying to figure out more about how to stay persistent again, inside these environments, again, to what end is questionable. It's certainly not necessarily positive, no really good reason to be sort of stay persistent in an environment like a water treatment facility or a power grid.

So it does sort of beg the question of how does this relate to, you know, subsequent cyber incursion that will pre predate something more nefarious, all kinds of things have sort of been part of the conversation lately.

But certainly as it relates to where and how widespread this is, that's what's making this quite a bit challenging. It's not an easy fix. It's not just one vulnerability that can simply be patched and we're done with it. It's quite sprawling at this point.

VAUSE: And the director of the FBI appeared on Capitol Hill last week to explain what China is doing and why. Here he is. [01:25:04]


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: China's hackers are positioning on American infrastructure in preparation to wreak havoc, and cause real world harm to American citizens and communities if and when China decides the time has come to strike.


VAUSE: And that strike could refer to China trying to take Taiwan by force and causing cyber chaos on the U.S. mainland. The idea of hackers shutting down power grids and water services. It's been around for more than 30 years. Remember the movie? What was it? Sneakers?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rolling. Wow. Unbelievable. Anybody want to back out of New England?


VAUSE: But if China did something like that, without, you know, the crappy music, would it be seen by the U.S. as well, essentially an act of war.

HIJAZI: This has been the long, long debated topic about what constitutes an actual kinetic attack, right? Because fundamentally, cyber has always kind of been in the domain of inflammation. And frankly, in most cases, people, at least in the mainstream don't perceive it to be something really weaponized and very, you know, it's about information theft, or whatever, like we talked about a minute ago.

But certainly when you start affecting systems that can actually have a real world impact, for example, water treatment facilities, people have no idea why that's a dangerous concept. And when you think about the way water treatment works, if you simply change levels, you know, pH levels, for example, it doesn't mean about contamination, but simply that you can create an incredibly scary situation with, you know, non-potable water that people are now drinking unbeknownst to them that could cause a mass dysentery impact, which would then cause a flood of people into the hospitals and then you've got a cascading effect there.

So, you know, power is pretty obvious. Everyone gets that one blackouts are very visceral, and palatable, but are -- palpable, but really, things that are unknown to most as far as our ability to sort of subsist, that does, you know, in many cases, at least from a governmental standpoint, the perception is if something like that happened, that would constitute indeed an act of war. And it would escalate it into more of a kinetic situation, which is, which is concerning for sure. VAUSE: Karim, thanks for being with us. Really appreciate your insights and your analysis. It's good to see you.

HIJAZI: Good to see you, too.

VAUSE: People like efforts to secure a hostage and ceasefire deal in Gaza appear to have been dealt a significant setback by those details just a moment.



JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everyone.

I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

In Israel, a deal with Hamas for the release of around 100 hostages, as well as a pause in fighting in Gaza seems increasingly unlikely. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spent the past few days in the region pushing that deal.

On Wednesday, he met with the Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who did not outright reject a counter offer from Hamas. Instead though he described it as delusional and crazy. The Hams offer is for a three-state ceasefire over a total of 135 days.

Hostages would be released over the first two stages in exchange with thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

Hamas also demanding a total withdrawal from Gaza. All Israeli troops out within 90 days, as well as an agreement on a permanent ceasefire by the end of that lull in fighting.

Netanyahu says, Israeli forces will not withdraw from Gaza until there is a complete victory over Hamas. He says it's just months away.

Secretary Blinken though believes the Hamas offer still has some room for negotiations to continue.

To Washington now where CNN political and global affairs analyst and Axios politics and foreign policy reporter Barak Ravid is standing by.

Barak, good to see you. Thanks for coming in.


VAUSE: So there are two really big non-starters for Israel in this Hamas counter offers. There's a whole lot of medium-sized ones as well, but the big one, you know, during phases one and two of the ceasefire, Hamas wants a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. In other words, all ground forces out within 90 days.

And here's the Israeli prime minister on that.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We are on the way to complete victory. A victory is achievable. It is not a matter of years or decades. It's a matter of months.


VAUSE: There's also the other non-starter, which is a demand that by the end of the 135-day pause in fighting a permanent ceasefire will be in place. Again, not going to happen according to Netanyahu. Here he is.


NETANYAHU: If Hamas survives in Gaza, it is only a matter of time until the next massacre and the axis of evil of Iran and its proxies will continue its campaign of killing and aggression without interruption.


VAUSE: So just on these two points alone, the chasm between Israel and Hamas is about the size of the Grand Canyon. It doesn't seem possible to find common ground, but we'll wait and see.

But just precisely what did the prime minister of Qatar refer to on Wednesday when he described this counteroffer as a positive development?

RAVID: Well, I think the Qataris were pointing at one of the two documents that Hamas gave them back because Hamas gave first the framework that Qatar gave Hamas. Hamas gave it back with some relatively small comments but then added a second document which was an annex with a sort of a -- I don't know, Yahya Sinwar's gift list for Ramadan, you know. Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza with dozens of request for Israeli concessions from the al-Aqsa mosque, to thousands of prisoners that he wants released, including those who were sentenced to life.

And as you said, you know, permanent ceasefire, full withdrawal from Gaza, and all of those issues.

So I think that when it comes to the process, the Qataris felt that, you know, there are positive things in the Hamas response. When it comes to substance, the gaps are huge.

So now the question is, do you want to focus on the process or the substance? And today when Netanyahu was asked twice if he rejects Hamas' response, he called it delusional. He called it insane. He called it crazy.

He said he will not capitulate to it, but he did not say -- he did not say at all that he rejected and is not willing to negotiate. And this is the interesting thing here.

And I think the question now will be whether this Hamas wish-list is just an aspirational list for negotiations or it's a maximalist position that they're not ready to move from.

VAUSE: Well, with that in mind, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has with the eternal optimism of a schoolboy and believes there is room for negotiation. Here he is.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: we also see space in what came back to pursue negotiations, to see if we can get to an agreement. And that's what we intend to do.



VAUSE: So let's assume, there are negotiations, they continue on. What's the realistic timeline here of actually trying to reach some kind of compromised deal because they don't have an open-ended time period here.

RAVID: Exactly because every day that passes, more hostages are found to be dead. And those people are held in very, very grave conditions in Gaza. And the war is still going on.

And if there's one thing the Biden administration wants is some sort of a pause in the fighting because every day that passes with a war going on, it's damage to Bidens election campaign, especially among young voters.

This is why the Biden administration has no other option but to project optimism on this issue and to press hard both Israel and the mediators Qatar and Egypt.

And that's what Tony Blinken did today. And that what they'll continue on doing.

VAUSE: And of course, all of this taking place as the Israeli military turns its focus on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza.

So the (INAUDIBLE) now is that even if there is some kind of deal for a pause in fighting and for, you know, hostages to be released, it's going to come way too late if at all, for what, 1.5 million displaced Palestinian who are living in Rafah.

RAVID: I think that the whole Rafah issue, at least at the moment, is a lot of posturing and a lot of psychological warfare from the Israeli side. I do not see the Israeli government going on an operation in Rafah, as long as it thinks that there might be a chance for hostages deal.

Why? Because Egypt is vehemently against any operation in Rafah, because it's concerned that this would lead tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to go into Egypt, into the Sinai.

Therefore, I do not believe that Israel will do it because it needs Egypt for the mediation in the hostage deal.

And that's exactly one of the things that Blinken spoke to Netanyahu and to minister of defense, Israeli minister of defense Gallant and he told them that the U.S. is not only concerned about a Rafah operation because of the grave humanitarian situation on the ground with more than a million people, many of them displaced. But also because this could create a rupture between Israel and Egypt that could hamper any future hostages.

VAUSE: Barak thanks so much for the explanations and connecting the dots because it's all connected in one way or the other. And you put it together for us.

Thank you very much. That's great.

RAVID: Thank you.

VAUSE: Thank you.

Later Thursday the U.S. secretary of state is scheduled to meet with families of the hostages still being held in Gaza. 123 days have passed since their loved ones were taken by Hamas. Every day a living nightmare, every day a little harder than the one before.

More now from CNN's Nic Robertson.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Bittersweet, grandfather and granddaughter, born while her father, Sagui, an American, held hostage.

JONATHAN DEKEL-CHEN, FATHER OF HOSTAGE: For me, the birth of his third daughter just multiplies my desire and my absolute commitment to getting Sagui reunited with them.

Some of them entire families actually and that were murdered.

ROBERTSON: We first met Jonathan a month after the Hamas attack. His kibbutz, Nir Oz, taking refuge in a seaside hotel, reeling. Dozens dead, more than 70, including his son Sagui, taken hostage from their kibbutz.

A few weeks later, more than 30 of them released. And the first confirmation Sagui was alive.

DEKEL-CHEN: It was a wonderful moment for sure. Since then, of course, our worries have only grown.

If things were urgent when we last spoke, I think they've only become more urgent.

ROBERTSON: Others from Nir Oz, who we met last year, like farmer Nir Adar, who helped his two daughters survive the attack by telling them fairy stories in their rocket shelter. The past month also an emotional roller coaster. NIR ADAR, BROTHER OF HOSTAGE: Because the way I told them at the

beginning, so they don't have inside them the experience of trauma.

ROBERTSON: His grandmother at 85, the oldest hostage, released along with more than 100 hostages during a week-long truce last November.

ADAR: She said, I got more mature, like -- so this is very, very happy thing and moment for us.

ROBERTSON: But a few weeks after that, the news Nir feared most. His beloved brother Tamir dead. His body still held by Hamas.

ADAR: He died while he was fighting. He had the chance to fight and to save some people. So it's a small relief, maybe.


ROBERTSON: Amidst all the torment though, a ray of hope. The Nir Oz community welcomed to a new town and new homes.

YONATHON BAR, FORMER NIR OZ RESIDENT: We've got a big house with all these furniture that we didn't pick out.

ROBERTSON: When we last met banker Yonathon Bar and his son Ure (ph) from Nir Oz, life was on hold. Now, Ure has a new school and his best friend, Aten, who was the hostage he worried about most was released. He visited him in hospital the next day.

ROBERTSON: "We hugged in hospital. I was very happy," Ure says, he has been here playing with us many times since.

Even despite these important pleasures, life for the whole kibbutz locked in the trauma of loved hostages, dead and alive, still held.

BAR: Life is moving forward, but were still stuck on the 7 of October because -- we're not finished with all our friends there. They're still there.

ROBERTSON: What has changed -- anger with the government is growing.

DEKEL-CHEN: They're prioritizing a certain way of finishing this conflict that will for them serve as a kind of poster for what they have done.

But we are aware that we were abandoned on October 7 by this very same government and this prime minister.

ROBERTSON: Nic Robertson, CNN -- Kiryat Gat, Israel.


VAUSE: Now to Sudan and an unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. The U.N. says more than $4 billion is needed to try and ease what it calls epic suffering. Nearly 18 million people facing acute hunger.

A majority of the funding would go to people inside Sudan, millions have been displaced. But $1.4 billion would be allocated to the five countries neighboring Sudan, who've taken in millions of refugees. The U.N.'s Emergency Aid chief says last year's appeal (ph) was less than half funded.


MARTIN GRIFFITHS, U.N. EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR: Half of the population of Sudan needs humanitarian assistance, 25 million people. Far too many of them children.

It's very, very difficult to get attention to Sudan, which in my view is a place of as great a suffering as anywhere in the world today. It's simply also a threat to the stability of the wider region, not just the immediate region, but beyond.


VAUSE: The civil war which began last April between the Sudanese military and the Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces has created the world's largest displacement crisis. And it's ongoing.

When we come back here on CNN could bamboo be the key to climate- friendly construction in the future?

Yes, it could be.



VAUSE: According to recent research, more than a third of global CO2 emissions come from buildings and infrastructure. But as governments and businesses around the world seek solutions in new technology, we see how one enterprise in Guatemala is turning to one of the planet's oldest building materials -- bamboo.


BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: In the east of Guatemala, nestled between Honduras and Belize, the forest of Punta Brava hold rich possibilities, abundant in a material that could be key to a revolution in architecture.

Economically and environmentally-friendly, bamboo is one of the fastest-growing materials on the planet, with some species growing by up to three feet a day.

TONO AGUILAR, ASTROPHYSICIST: It's really a plant with unparalleled potential.

WEIR: At the forefront of this movement is Tono Aguilar, an astrophysicist who pivoted from solving the mysteries of the Universe to focusing on our own planet's problems.

AGUILAR: Ten years ago when I wanted to start an enterprise that created social and environmental impact, I was aware that construction was one of the leading causes of pollution worldwide.

Also, the construction industry greatly excludes a lot of vulnerable people. There's a big housing crisis here in Guatemala. So I thought construction was the best place to start.

WEIR: Since founding his company Casa in 2013, Tono has overseen 110 projects, building homes, clinics, schools, even a shopping mall -- each with a focus on climate friendly materials, like bamboo.

AGUILAR: Bamboo is one of the unparalleled plants on earth that can help us solve both human issues and environmental issues. As opposed to a tree that takes 20 or 30 years to grow, bamboo is ready to harvest in five years.

And when you harvest it, what happens is that another one grows. It wants you to harvest it.

WEIR: A recent report from the U.N. Development Program foresees coastal flooding susceptibility increasing five-fold over the course of this century, putting communities like this one at Punta Brava at serious risk.

AGUILAR: Bamboo has long lengths while it maintains its structural integrity. So that allows us to build houses elevated over the ground.

All of our coast is subject to flooding. Thanks to climate change, it will continue to flood more and more so people really need to think in these low-income communities about how they're building the houses.

WEIR: Casa is working with the World Bamboo Organization to run workshops for the local community in how to plant, cultivate, and harvest bamboo to maximum effect.

SUSANNE LUCAS, WORLD BAMBOO ORGANIZATION: Our ancestors knew the benefits of bamboo. The indigenous peoples have used bamboo since the beginning. And we've moved away from that into more contemporary materials that now we realize have hurt the planet.

Using that old knowledge with recent innovations and technologies, improved engineering, it's an excellent example of using an old material for our new problems.

AGUILAR: We need to build with carbon negative building materials. And amongst the bio fibers, bamboo is king and queen. So I have no doubt that in a few years, we'll start seeing larger structures in urban settings using engineered bamboo. And we're excited to continue spreading knowledge about this wonderful plant.


VAUSE: Please let us know what you're doing to answer the call with #CalltoEarth.

Back in a moment.


VAUSE: Just days before the start of carnival in Rio de Janeiro, CNN Brazil is reporting city officials have declared a public health emergency over an epidemic of dengue fever. More than 11,000 cases have been reported in Rio so far this year, almost half the total number for all of last year.

Millions flock to Rio every year for the carnival wild celebrations which takes place just before Lent later this month.

Officials are setting up 10 care centers across the city trying to fight the spread of the virus.

Britain's Prince William has spoken off his gratitude for the kind messages of support he's received since his father, King Charles was diagnosed with cancer. On Wednesday, the Prince of Wales met with actor Tom Cruise and air ambulance staff at a fundraising dinner for London's Air Ambulance Charity for which (ph) he's the patron.

It's the first time he's spoken publicly since his father's diagnosis and his wife Catherine's, abdominal surgery.


PRINCE WILLIAM, PRINCE OF WALES: I'd like to take this opportunity to say "thank you" also for the kind of messages of support for Catherine and for my father, especially in recent days. It means a great deal to us all.


VAUSE: The revelations about the King's and Princess Catherine's medical conditions have raised concerns about how the royal family will cover public duties now that two senior members are essentially on medical leave.

CNN's Anna Stewart has more now reporting from London.


ANNA STEWART, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was back to work on Wednesday after a few weeks off, Prince William had been focusing on taking care of his wife and children while the Princess of Wales continues to recover from her surgery.

Now, he'll likely have even more work on his plate, given the King is stepping back from public-facing engagements while he undergoes cancer treatment.

And while Prince William is no stranger to public engagements, we may see him performing more formal and ceremonial roles in the coming weeks, like Wednesday's investiture.

In many ways, this is a glimpse into the future for the prince who only took on the role of heir apparent less than two years ago. Meanwhile, the King will be working from home or, perhaps that should be homes.

Currently it is Sandringham and according to Number 10 Downing Street, the prime minister had his weekly audience with the King by a phone call on Wednesday.

In stark contrast to Prince William's public engagements, Prince Harry was barely seen. He was spotted in the back of a car. He had arrived from California to see his father. We understand that the meeting was brief, only around 45 minutes. And according to U.K. media outlets, Prince Harry had already head home.

It is a reminder of how slimmed down the royal family has become in recent years and now with two key members off sick, there's certainly more work to go around.

Anna Stewart, CNN -- London.


VAUSE: This has been a very challenging season for U.S. alpine ski superstar Mikaela Shiffrin. Last month -- last month, she was tending to her boyfriend after his serious crash on the slopes in Switzerland. Then she suffered her own massive crash in Italy.

In this exclusive interview, Shiffrin shares her recovery progress with CNN's Don Riddell.


MIKAELA SHIFFRIN, CHAMPION SKIER: basically like a phase of the rehab I'm in right now is like reconditioning and so much of it IS sort of daily tests and different kind of stress, different kind of load on the knee. and basically seeing how the tissue responds.

That is this very day by day thing. So I know that I won't be racing in Andorra this weekend, and that's basically as far out as we can be sure at this point.

DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT ANCHOR: It looked like a really serious crash. I'm guessing your injury could have been much more serious. And there was certainly a moment when you are watching the broadcast where time just seemed to stand still. What was it like for you?

And I mean, what goes through your mind when you know it's gone wrong and you're going to hit the fence.

SHIFFRIN: before I actually fell, I kind of felt -- I felt immediately that something was off with my knee. Kind of -- it was sort of like immediate pain when I landed from the jump. I was actually trying to stop, but there's not really enough space in that section of the course to stop.

So then I was also trying to avoid the gate, avoid hitting the gate, and the way it just happened was like I hooked up and saw the fence coming. And I have not really had many crashes where I actually hit the fencing like at all, let alone that hard. So I felt like I was seeing this happen split second before it

actually did. Just please no, not the red room.

RIDDELL: You're so lucky, I guess. I suppose this also gave you an opportunity to recuperate alongside Alex, which is not something you both would have expected at the start of the season.

What was that like? Who was looking after who more?


SHIFFRIN: Well I would say emotionally and mentally, we look -- we look after each other maybe evenly. I feel like he may be looked after me a little bit more. Ironically, my crash was a lot, but he had a really extra dose of trauma and insanely high impact.

His mental state is so incredible to me that he can be so positive about life, about the steps, step-by-step, like every single step in front of him. He's able to just kind of take it with an open mind.

And this has been really, I mean, it's been really challenging thing for somebody at our level, I guess, of athletic competition, to then be reduced to, you know, not really even being able to take a shower or cut food on your own or walk, and you're in a wheelchair. And you can't get anywhere in your own apartment even though it's just one floor -- it's a lot kind of things that you just never think about.

You know, you mentioned I'm lucky. I actually am very lucky. I could have had a lot more damage than I did. And he is a pretty tough reminder of that.

RIDDELL: So you guys have been reminded of just how dangerous this sport is. You're young, you're successful, you're happy, you're in love. You've got nothing to prove to anybody. Have you found yourself discussing with each other? Maybe we just go off and do something else?

SHIFFRIN: I'm not going to say that it hasn't come up but that's also even before our crashes. It always comes down to the fact that we both do love ski racing, were passionate about it. There's a weight that the risk of crashing and having not just career or season ending injuries, but actually life-altering injuries.

That is a very big weight to carry around. And especially when you've experienced it firsthand, I guess the perspective shifts a little bit. I'm not going to say that -- I mean, that's a very real thing for sure.


VAUSE: Don was a bit it personal there.

I'm John Vause. Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Please stay with us. Rosemary Church is in the chair after a very short break. See you back here tomorrow.