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CNN International: Hamas Delegation Arrives In Cairo For Talks on Gaza; Eyewitnesses: At Least 14 Killed In Israeli Airstrikes In Rafah; Israeli PM Netanyahu: IDF Will Soon Go Into Rafah. Aired 8- 8:30a ET

Aired February 08, 2024 - 08:00   ET



BIANCA NOBILO, CNNI HOST: Hello, and welcome to CNN Newsroom. I'm Bianca Nobilo in London, in for Max.

Just ahead, the very latest developments from the Middle East. International concerns are growing over an expected Israeli ground assault in Rafah where an estimated one million people are crammed into a tent city, seeking refuge. Then, violence spreads in Pakistan where polls have closed in a widely watched national election. We'll have a live report as we wait for those initial results. Plus, incredible pitches from Iceland where a volcano has erupted for the second time this year.

Egypt is sounding the alarm about an Israeli military operation into Rafah, close to its border with Gaza. The foreign ministry says targeting Rafah packed with more than one million Palestinians crammed into tent cities is dangerous. This as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says soldiers will soon go into Rafah, which he calls Hamas' last bastion. The U.S Secretary of State also voiced concern about Rafah in meetings with Netanyahu and other top officials. Antony Blinken is wrapping up a four-day nation trip to the region after Netanyahu has rejected a Hamas response to a proposed ceasefire plan. The Israeli Prime Minister called that counterproposal "delusional".

Meantime, a Hamas delegation has arrived in Cairo for talks on Gaza. CNN's Jeremy Diamond joins us now from Tel Aviv, following all of these strands for us. Jeremy, let's focus on Rafah, the concerns of the international community about the possibility of more attacks in that area, and it just underscores the issues that Israel says that it has trying to root out Hamas without hurting civilians that they have not succeeded at.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. There is no question that an Israeli military operation into Rafah, ground operation, would put 1.3 million people who are now sheltering in a city that is typically inhabited by about 300,000 people at very, very serious risk. Rafah has been viewed as kind of the safest part of the Gaza Strip, although there still have been airstrikes in Rafah since the beginning of the war. And now, the concern, as telegraphed by top Israeli officials, is that Israeli ground forces may be moving into Rafah. Right now, the ground defensive is mainly concentrated in the second largest city of Gaza in Khan Younis, which is just north of Rafah. But, once they complete that operation there, the thinking is that the Israeli military in the coming weeks may choose to move into Rafah.

The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making very clear yesterday that he has directed the military to begin making plans for that. And in fact, I'm told that hurts the Halevi, the top Israeli General. The Chief of Staff of the Israeli military briefed Secretary of State Tony Blinken yesterday on Israeli military plans to move into Rafah in the coming weeks. And so, as a result, what you have is people sounding alarm bells.

A spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Minister today raising serious concerns, saying that a military operations into Rafah would pose dangers to the people who are sheltering there and also raising concerns about the fact that Rafah is so, so close to the Egyptian border. And Egypt has repeatedly made clear that the displacement of Palestinians who would be forced to flee into Egypt as a result of Israeli military operations, that that would be a significant red line that could potentially lead to a total rupture of Israeli-Egyptian relations.

The U.S. Secretary of State, I'm also told by two Israeli officials, raised serious concerns about that kind of a potential military operation into Rafah during his meetings yesterday with Israeli officials, asking repeatedly what Israel's plans are to mitigate the risk to civilians in such a densely, densely populated area. We've already seen in the last 24 hours several airstrikes in the western part of the city of Rafah, killing at least 14 people, according to a local journalist on the ground.

So, for now, we are seeing airstrikes there, but we have yet to see any kind of movement of ground forces in that area. And one of the main questions, Bianca, is, is this a negotiating strategy by Israel? Are they trying to get Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, to agree to a hostage deal on Israel's terms, or is this actually a real military operation that is preparing itself to enter that city where, again, 1.3 million people are estimated to currently be living there?

NOBILO: Jeremy Diamond, thank you.

Iraq is warning against U.S. aggression following an American drone strike in Baghdad on Wednesday. The strike targeted and killed a senior commander of Kataib Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia, who the U.S. says was responsible for the recent attacks on its forces in the region. It's part of an ongoing U.S. response that has included retaliatory strikes against groups in Iraq and Syria. Baghdad claims these actions have violated its sovereignty.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand is live for us at the Pentagon.


Natasha, great to see you, as always. What more do we know about the strikes and the commander who was killed? NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, Bianca, we're

told that this was an American drone strike that targeted a vehicle traveling in eastern Baghdad that was carrying this Kataib Hezbollah commander who was the ultimate target of the strike, and his name was Wissam Mohammed "Abu Bakr" al-Saadi. And according to sources, he was in charge of logistical support for Kataib Hezbollah, including drones and rockets, the same drones and rockets that have been used against U.S. forces in the region over 160 times since October. So, this was a very high-value target for the U.S. And we are told that is part of the response that President Biden authorized last week in retaliation for that drone strike linked Kataib Hezbollah that killed three Americans at a U.S. outpost in Jordan last month.

Now, we're also told that this is not the last of the responses that we're going to see from the U.S. in retaliation for that attack that killed those Americans. The U.S. has said that they're going to continue to retaliate against Kataib Hezbollah, against these other Iran-backed militias who have been launching these attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq and Syria. Of course, the first of these responses we saw last week when the U.S. carried out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, targeting these facilities and other weapons storage facilities used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as well as these Iran-backed militia groups.

So, this is not the last of the US response. But, of course, the Iraqis are very unhappy about this, calling it a violation of their sovereignty. All of this coming as the U.S. and Iraq are beginning talks to determine the future of the U.S. troop presence in the country. So, we'll have to wait and see how this all plays into the U.S.-Iraqi discussions, Bianca.

NOBILO: Natasha Bertrand at the Pentagon, thank you.

Polls have closed in Pakistan in a general election that has been marred by violence and allegations of cheating. The government shut down internet and phone service on Election Day, saying it was trying to cut down on terrorism. Still, there were multiple reports of attacks on polling stations leading to at least two deaths. The election pits three-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif against 35-year-old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. Popular former Prime Minister Imran Khan is in jail and he is barred from running again.

CNN's Anna Coren is tracking the vote for us. Anna, I suppose at the moment it's just a time of great tension and expectation as Pakistanis wait for those results to come in.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Bianca. They should be coming in over the next hour or so, and we should get a proper result later tonight. But, those reports of violence and multiple terror attacks in a number of provinces across southwestern Pakistan are starting to come in. They were targeting polling stations and security personnel. This is what we're learning. The death toll stands at three. That could very well grow with dozens injured.

Now, as you mentioned, the threat of terrorism was the reason authorities gave for shutting down internet and mobile services across the country, and that had several parties crying foul. Pakistan's Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International both criticized the decision. But, looming large over this election, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, the country's most popular politician, which -- as we know, is behind bars and disqualified from running. And in the past few weeks, he has been convicted in three cases and handed lengthy sentences, which his supporters believe is part of a state crackdown on Khan and his party.

But look, many analysts believe that Khan's predecessor Nawaz Sharif will be elected Prime Minister. This would be a historic fourth term for Sharif. He has never actually completed a full term due to fallouts with the military. He was disqualified from ever holding office, sent into exile. But, the political winds have changed. And with the blessing of the military, Sharif almost certainly become Pakistan's next Prime Minister. He is seen as a pragmatist, Bianca, as well as a businessman.

And we know Pakistan is going through the worst economic crisis in recent history. Inflation has soared to a record high of nearly 40 percent. And while there is this seething anger and disillusionment in regards to Khan and this two years of political instability, plus this overarching power of the military, which people are finally waking up to, there is also a sense of exhaustion and resignation amongst the population. A Pakistani, I spoke to, said, let's just get on with it. Restore stability to the system. And we know that Sharif wants to strengthen relations with the United States and with China. He has even made overtures to mending bridges with arch rival India.

But, critics and commentators say that these elections are one of the least credible in Pakistan's 76-year history, and that alone will undermine any political or economic stability required for this nuclear-armed nation of 240 million people.


Anna Coren, thanks so much.

In less than two hours, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that could completely upend the next U.S. presidential election. At issue, whether or not Donald Trump should appear on the ballot? The state of Colorado has barred him, citing a provision in the U.S. Constitution, preventing anyone who participated in an insurrection from holding federal office. Though the court is dominated by conservative justices, there is so little history of cases like this, that court observers say it's difficult to predict what the judges will decide.

Let's bring in CNN Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz with a preview of this. Katelyn, with so little precedent, what are the expectations like within the Trump team and among Trump supporters here?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: There are quite a lot of expectations that Colorado could be deemed an outlier in this situation. So, what has happened here over the past several months leading up to the primary elections of 2024, which are already underway, is a lot of challenges across the nation have popped up from voters and others challenging Donald Trump's ability to be listed on ballots as a candidate. That's because this law that emerged after the U.S. Civil War, the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, it says that people who are insurrectionists are not fit for office.

Colorado became one of only two of the 50 states to make a decision to say Trump fits that profile. He fits that under the law. And we as a state say that he is not eligible to be on the ballot or that votes cannot be counted for them if voters choose to vote for them because he is not eligible to hold that state's votes for the office of the presidency.

The big question now before the U.S. Supreme Court is, can Colorado do that? Donald Trump's legal team says that if Colorado can do something like this, it would unleash chaos and bedlam across the country. Other courts could follow this. Other state officials could follow Colorado's lead. And they potentially could be excluding not just Donald Trump but others in other future elections from the ballots if voters wanted to vote for them. Now, the Colorado Secretary of State is going to be arguing today. She says, yes, Colorado can do this, and the Supreme Court should give a state that level of power if they follow their processes, as the Colorado Supreme Court did.

Now, there are other things to be watching for today. We are not expecting a decision out of the U.S. Supreme Court. But, the nine justices will be asking a lot of questions of all of the lawyers that will be arguing before them. Trump isn't there in person. This is going to be quite a test for the legacy of the Supreme Court.

NOBILO: Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz, thank you. You'll be busy today. Stay with CNN for more on that. We'll bring you all the details on the Trump Supreme Court hearing as it happens. Our special coverage on CNN International begins at 10 a.m. Eastern. That's 3 p.m. in London.

Now, the pictures are spectacular, but the danger is very real. For the third time in two months, a volcano is erupting in southwest Iceland, shooting bright orange lava into the sky. The popular tourist hotspot, the Blue Lagoon, was evacuated earlier, and an expert says the erupting volcano poses a threat to a nearby geothermal power plant.

CNN's Sebastian Shukla joins me now live from Berlin to discuss this. Seb, great to see you. The lava flows are intensifying. Tell us about that and the danger that it does pose to the surrounding area.

SEBASTIAN SHUKLA, CNN PRODUCER: Well, Bianca, the pictures that you're seeing and everybody else is also seeing at home are a real reminder, aren't they, of the ferocity that the Earth possesses with some of those lava fountains shooting almost up to 80 meters into the sky. But, as you've said, there is concern that is growing about the lava that is now slinking its way across the Icelandic countryside with it approaching potentially a thermal power plant, but also crucially, a water pipeline, a hot water pipeline that would potentially see hot water in residents of four Icelandic towns cut off from that key supply.

Now, authorities are trying to build a concurrent pipeline whilst they tried to head off this mass of lava. But, crucially, we're not seeing at the moment and there is no suggestion that there is a threat to civilian life or even villages and towns that are in the way, much like we saw with the small town of Grindavik, which had to be evacuated as 4,000 people had to leave. But, as you alluded to, some people have been affected.


They have been moved from the Blue Lagoon Hotel and Spa towards hotels perhaps which were not originally their intended destinations like the Icelandic capital Reykjavik. Bianca.

NOBILO: Seb, great to see you. Thanks.

Still to come, two stories we're watching for you out of Russia. First, a Putin rival is barred from running for President. We'll have the details on that. Plus, Mr. Putin sits down with a controversial American journalist. So, what can we expect from that interview? Coming up next.


NOBILO: Just in to CNN, former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is being investigated in a wide-ranging probe into the efforts to keep him in power. Four people were arrested today as part of the investigation into the alleged attempted coup in the wake of the 2022 presidential election. Two of his aides are among those arrested, according to CNN, Brazil. No comment from Bolsonaro at this point. We'll bring you more from Brazil as we learn it.

A prominent challenger to Russian President Vladimir Putin has been barred from the country's upcoming elections. Boris Nadezhdin hoped to take on Putin as an independent anti-war candidate, he said. But today, Russia's Central Election Committee said that Nadezhdin didn't have enough legitimate signatures to carry on with his campaign. And in just hours, we'll hear from Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview with controversial American journalist Tucker Carlson. The sitdown is Putin's first with Western media since he invaded Ukraine two years ago. Carlson says he plans to release the interview Thursday at 6 p.m. Eastern Time, and he defended his reasons for giving Mr. Putin a platform.

To discuss both of those stories, let's bring in CNN's Fred Pleitgen. Fred, beginning with Boris Nadezhdin and his campaign, which has now ended to take on the Russian President, these upcoming elections, was that credible the claim that the signatures he had were not legitimate? Any response from his camp?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I don't think that Boris Nadezhdin thinks that it's credible. It was quite interesting because we saw some of the video feed from the Central Election Commission, and they essentially claimed that Boris Nadezhdin had the amount of signatures that he needed to have to be able to officially register to run for President. But, they said that there was questions about whether all of those signatures were real. So, it was about -- I think about 5,000 signatures short in the end, they claimed. He said that he disputes those claims and he wants to go to the country's Supreme Court.

I don't think his campaign has actually ended yet. I think he still believes that he might have a fighting chance, and certainly says he does want to go to Russia's highest court to see whether or not he can in effect run against Vladimir Putin. One of the things that he said is, look, he is in the double digits right now in some of the polls. He believes that there is millions of Russians who want to vote for him, and he wants to get that chance. Obviously, the Central Election Commission had other thoughts. And so, we'll wait and see what happens.

But, the way things are shaping up in Russia, it's very difficult to see that he is a serious challenger to Vladimir Putin.


Vladimir Putin, by the way, running on independent platform to another term as President. But, definitely, Boris Nadezhdin, as of right now, is out, but he certainly wants to challenge that and see if he can indeed make a run in that presidential election, although right now things are looking pretty slim for him, Bianca.

NOBILO: Fred, I'm sure, like me, you've watched Tucker Carlson's teaser of his sitdown interview with Vladimir Putin. There were a number of falsehoods in that. But, I am more interested to get your thoughts on how Ukrainians will receive that. Would there be a worry that by giving Putin that platform in America, to the world, that he might be able to make arguments that can challenge the case for providing funding, the UK and NATO, for Ukraine in their war effort?

PLEITGEN: Well, I think the Ukrainians are certainly concerned about that, and I think they fully believe that that is exactly what is going to happen in that interview. Although, of course, right now, we don't know what exactly Tucker Carlson asked Vladimir Putin, how tough the questions actually are in that interview. But, right now, of course, there is generally a big concern in Ukraine right here about some of the way that U.S. politics is shaping up. Of course, the Ukrainians have seen what's been going on with Congress, like for instance that supplemental falling through yesterday already in the Senate, not even reaching the House of Representatives. Also, some sort of standalone bill for Ukraine not yet tabled yet.

So, there is a lot of things that Ukrainians are concerned about. And they do believe that within the Republican Party in the United States that Vladimir Putin is getting more credibility, if you will, among some of these politicians, especially those who are close to former President Donald Trump. And certainly, they believe that Tucker Carlson is also very close to former President Donald Trump.

And I think some of the messaging also, Bianca, that we've seen from the Kremlin is certainly something that I would say stokes a bit of concern here in Ukraine, because the Kremlin came out quite clearly and said the reason why Vladimir Putin is not speaking to, as the Kremlin called, a traditional Western media, like for instance us or other U.S. or international TV channels, but to Tucker Carlson is because they believe it's beneficial. Let's listen to what the Kremlin said.


DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESMAN (TRANSLATED): We receive many requests for interviews with the President. There is no desire to communicate with such media outlets. And there is hardly any point in it. There is hardly any benefit from it. He has a position that differs from the others.


PLEITGEN: He has a position that differs from the others, obviously meaning Tucker Carlson -- one interesting thing that I picked up from that tape that Tucker Carlson put out when he was in Russia where he said, look, no one had bothered to speak to the Russian President so far. Of course, Vladimir Putin has one of the biggest platforms in the world. Things that he says at international conferences are usually broadcast. We use his soundbites all the time. We and other networks have asked for interviews with Vladimir Putin multiple times. So, in this case, it's not the Western media not bothering to speak to Vladimir Putin. It's Vladimir Putin only wanting to speak to Tucker Carlson, Bianca.

NOBILO: Fred Pleitgen in Kyiv, thank you very much.

Still ahead, a fake news campaign in China centers on Texas and claims another U.S. Civil War is imminent. So, what's behind this wave of disinformation? We'll take a closer look at that next.



NOBILO: Fake news headlines about the U.S. and Texas being on the brink of Civil War spreading through China, and its media sensors are doing little to stop the dissemination of that disinformation. Will Ripley explains why the Chinese government wants that message out there.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL 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.


RIPLEY (voice-over): 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 it calls the People's Republic of China's information manipulation.

RUBIN: When you look at the pieces of the puzzle and 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 multibillion 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, analysts 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.


NOBILO: That was CNN's Will Ripley reporting.

Thank you for joining me here on CNN Newsroom. I'm Bianca Nobilo in London. World Sport with Amanda Davies is up next.