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United States Launches More Strikes Against Houthi Targets In Yemen; United Nations "Extremely Worried" About Israel's Evacuation Plans In Rafah; White House Pushes Back On Special Counsel's Criticisms Of Biden; Aid Group Warns Rafah Could Turn Into "Zone Of Bloodshed"; 20th Puppy Bowl Airs Sunday On Animal Planet. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired February 10, 2024 - 12:00   ET


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FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Where will they go? Growing concerns today for Palestinian civilians in southern Gaza. An Israeli official now telling CNN that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the IDF evacuation operation in Rafah must be completed by the start of Ramadan, a month from now.

Plus, Special Counsel report cleanup. The White House and President Biden's allies pushing back with sharp criticism on the Special Counsels characterizations of the president, calling it gratuitous and inappropriate.

And two teams are set to go head-to-head and the biggest game of the year.

No, I'm not talking about Super Bowl LVIII. Not really. Its Team Ruff vs. Team Fluff. You'll meet the players of this year's Puppy Bowl.

Hello, everyone. And thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin in the Red Sea, where U.S. Central Command has just announced it has carried out more strikes on Iran-backed Houthi targets in Yemen.

CENTCOM says the strikes happened Friday and were aimed at drones and missiles that were getting ready to launch against nearby ships.

Last week. The U.S. along with the U.K. launch strikes on more than a dozen Houthi locations. CNN's Nic Robertson is following the developments from Tel Aviv.

Nic, what more are we learning about the latest round of strikes?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, these strikes seem to be developed from very precise surveillance of what the Houthis are actually doing on the ground, because they've picked up two of these Unmanned Surface Vehicles. It's basically a small boat packed with explosives and targeted those before they hit shipping in the Red Sea.

And also, four anti-ship cruise missiles were targeted. The Houthis often keep these head and they keep them in bunkers or in caves. And it appears that when they are bought out prior to use, they are targeted and as well one mobile cruise missile launcher was targeted as well.

All of those between the early hours of Friday and early Friday evening, Yemen time. So, this designed to keep the shipping lanes in the Red Sea safe and designed specifically as well to protect U.S. Naval vehicles that are patrolling the coastline there. Fred.

WHITFIELD: And Nic, there is also growing concern about the situation in Rafah in southern Gaza, along the border with Egypt. More than a million Palestinians are sheltering there.

And now, Israel is indicating that it will begin operations in the area. So, what do you know about what could happen?

ROBERTSON: Sure. I mean, I think at the moment we don't -- we're not aware that Prime Minister Netanyahu has given an order to the military to go ahead with this ground incursion. However, targets are being hit by the -- from the air in Rafah, as we've seen in other areas. That can happen before a ground incursion happens.

The prime minister has said the army must provide a way to make the civilian safe, to evacuate the civilians. We haven't heard from the army yet what that may look like, but what they've used before to keep civilians safe, sometimes doesn't. They are targeting Hamas civilians. civilians have been killed in in many operations on every day, that the operations continue inside Gaza.

Now, what the prime minister has laid out today is that all these operations should be completed in Rafah by the 10th of March, which is the beginning of Ramadan, as a holy month for Muslims.

So, this is an additional deadline and it seems with 1.4 million people, they are very crammed in into this town that is literally right against the border with Egypt.

Many people have had been forced to move multiple times. They have sort of -- the IDF has worked its way from north to south in Gaza and this is the last hurrah stronghold. This is how the IDF describes it.

The -- to have the operations completed by the 10th of March, would seem to be a stretch because Khan Younis, a town that doesn't have that size of population, the military operations there have been going on for several months now.

WHITFIELD: All right. Nic, Robertson, we'll check back with you from Tel Aviv, thanks so much.


All right. back in this country now, now, to the fallout from a special counsel report into President Biden's handling of classified documents that critics say went too far.

While Democrats are hailing the decision not to bring any charges against the president for willfully retaining classified documents. They are stunned, Special Counsel Robert Hur would characterize Biden as elderly and that his memory is, "poor".

And to make these statements in the middle of an election year, they say, politically motivated. Biden and his allies are blasting Hur's assertions. Vice President Kamala Harris, calling those assertions, gratuitous, inaccurate, and inappropriate. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is in Washington for us. So, Priscilla, how is the White House positioning itself this weekend to dispel Hur's characterizations?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, first and foremost, they are reminding people that there were no criminal charges brought against President Biden. But this report also touches on one of the defining themes of this campaign, which is the president's age, and his fitness for office. And that really struck a chord with the White House this week as Biden's aides said that this was inaccurate in the way that the president was portrayed. Saying that he is sharp, and he is tireless.

And we saw the president himself, angry about the way that he was described in this report, in that press conference that you see there, that was quickly put together, in which, he especially was angry about the fact that the special counsel had included that he didn't remember when his son died.

Now, Vice President Kamala Harris was strong and her pushback just yesterday about the way that she viewed how he was described in this report.


KAMALA HARRIS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The comments that were made by that prosecutor, gratuitous, inaccurate, and inappropriate.

The way that the president's demeanor in that report was characterize could not be more wrong on the facts, and clearly, politically motivated.


ALVAREZ: Now, to the substance of the report, the special counsel said that President Biden willfully retained and disclose classified information. Of course, this was before he was president. But again, said that there was no need to bring criminal charges. Now, he also drew on the distinctions between President Biden and former President Donald Trump, who also mishandled or was alleged to mishandle classified documents. So, he explained that as well.

Now, as far as how this plays out on the campaign trail, senior campaign officials said that President Biden does best when he is with voters. And we have already seen an uptick in the retail politics that President Biden likes to engage in, that all intended for voters to make their own judgments about the president's acuity.

But it is no doubt that they are having to grapple with what this report says as they head into this election season where the president's age is going to be front and center.

WHITFIELD: And so, Priscilla, what are the differences here from say the Trump documents investigation, how it's being handled?

ALVAREZ: Well, of course, President Biden, no criminal charges brought, different from former President Donald Trump in which that was the case.

There was also that President Biden, fewer documents that they came across compared to former President Donald Trump. But perhaps, the biggest distinction is that when President Biden came across the documents, he did cooperate and give those to the Archives. President -- or former President Donald Trump did not do that. It was more difficult to get those classified documents back.

So, it comes down to cooperation versus not enough cooperation. And so, that was something that was described in the report, and something that the White House is reminding people of.

WHITFIELD: All right. Priscilla Alvarez, we'll leave it there for now. Thanks so much.

WHITFIELD: All right. For more now on all this, let's bring in former federal prosecutor and host of "That Said with Michael Zeldin" podcast, Michael Zeldin, himself.

All right, Michael, good to see you. So, do you agree with the former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that this special counsel went too far with the characterizations of the sitting president?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, in this respect. I think that what he's biggest mistake was this line, which was that I'll read it, Fred. It says, "At trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury as sympathetic, well-meaning elderly with a poor memory."

There's no way that Hur could know how Biden would present himself to a jury.

Biden could well decide to present himself to a jury as being of sound memory, but having not done anything willfully.

So, that's, I think, Hur's biggest mistake. He's put himself in sort of the mind of a hypothetical juror, and he has made a conclusion based on this and if -- are -- had -- has articulated that. That I think was his biggest mistake.

He well could have said, we don't bring charges in this case because we don't think we can obtain a conviction or sustain it on appeal because of extenuating circumstances, full stop.


That's all he needed to say. Putting himself in the minds of the jurors was the one step too far in my view.

WHITFIELD: So, I would think that special counsel Hur, and anybody else in his, you know, orbit, would read, reread, and look for any kind of inferences like that, just to make sure that there are no misunderstandings. That likely happened here. So, what do you believe the motivation is as to why he or his office would keep that language in?

ZELDIN: Well, I think that he believed that because in his mind, Biden willfully retained and disseminated, which are things that usually get people prosecuted for, he had to explain in light of that, why are they bringing a prosecution then. If he willfully retained and willfully disseminated, that sort of black letter, prosecution, so, he has to go -- you know, sort of a step beyond to explain, yes. But in this case, here is why it's not warranted.

So, I think that was his motive. It wasn't politically motivated, was just explained to the attorney general why under these circumstances, he's not elected to proceed. But the problem was, he's now put himself front and center in the middle of a campaign where age is the key issue that Biden has to overcome.

WHITFIELD: Among those very critical of that language that we're talking about is the Vice President Kamala Harris. And, of course, she was formerly California's Attorney General, listen to all that she had to say.

HARRIS: So, the way that the president's demeanor in that report was characterize could not be more wrong on the facts, and clearly, politically motivated. Gratuitous. And so, I will say that when it comes to the role and responsibility of a prosecutor in a situation like that, we should expect that there would be a higher level of integrity than what we saw.

WHITFIELD: So, Mike, like can't be taken back, whether it's, as the vice president says politically motivated or not, but then, does it damage or undermine the report? Or does it damage or undermine the special counsel or both?

ZELDIN: Probably a little both, and you bring to it what you want to see. And I think that Biden's critics are going to say, you see, you're right, even an independent prosecutor who said, this guy is too old and infirm to be it. And then those who support him are going to say this is a gratuitous political hit by a Republican prosecutor, who worked for Trump. And, you know, it will all wash out.

But I think, to Priscilla's point, Biden now has the obligation to be out and among potential voters to prove essentially, that Hur is incorrect.

That he needs now to engage in much more hands-on retail politics, because that's the only form he has left to disprove what Hur had said. If Hur indicted him, he could have gone to trial and said, look, I'm not infirm, I'm not old. I'm not willful. But he doesn't have that option. So, now he's got to be out there, you know, sort of Harry Truman, like in 1944 on the whistlestop trains, talking to everybody to say, look at me, make your own decision.

WHITFIELD: All right. Michael Zeldin, we'll leave it that there, with that said. Michael Zeldin, thank you so much.

ZELDIN: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. All right, straight ahead. Officials in New York City are warning against generalizing migrants, following recent high- profile crimes in the city. We have the latest.

And later, Benjamin Netanyahu ordering Israel's military to plan for the evacuation of the last major population center in Gaza not occupied by the IDF.

But a refugee organization says the city could turn into a zone of bloodshed.

The global spokesperson for UNICEF joining us live. Stay with us.



WHITFIELD: The New York City mayor, district attorney, and police, are all warning against the generalization of the migrant community. They say most migrants and asylum seekers coming to the city are law abiding.

This follows several recent crimes allegedly involving migrants. On Friday, the NYPD arrested a 15-year-old migrant accused of shooting and injuring a woman at a sneaker store in Times Square.

Also, this week, the Manhattan D.A. indicted several migrants in connection with an assault on two NYPD officers.

And you can see in this surveillance video the officer has been kicked and punched.

Jean Casarez has the latest from New York. Jean.

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Fredricka, you know, I think what law enforcement is saying is what we call in the legal community, Lady Justice is blind.

It doesn't matter who you are, where you are from, it is all about the crime that you commit and that is what law enforcement is focused in on. But we got to look at the facts here, because it was Thursday night, it was a very crowded Time Square with the hustle and bustle that Time Square in New York City is so famous for.

It was J.D. athletic store, which is sportswear and shoes, there were three juveniles' migrants. Two 15-year-olds, one 16-year-olds, they were shoplifting. And they were taking clothes and shoes. Now, shoplifting in and of itself is fairly common in New York City at this point of time. But this turned out a little different because as the sick 15-year-old was leaving, the loss prevention officer tried to take the clothes back and he stepped back a few steps pulled out a gun and shot allegedly at her.


And from what we understand, reports are saying she ducked but he hit a tourist. A lady in her late 30s from Brazil. He then flees. Police officers are after him. The streets are crowded. He allegedly turns that gun around to shoot directly at the police officers, miss -- he misses and there you've got some video of it right there.

Still photos. But the fact is the officers didn't shoot back because it was so crowded.

I want you to listen to Chief of Patrol, John Chell, reflecting on the big picture of all of this.


JOHN CHELL, CHIEF OF PATROL, NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT: We're not going to broad brush a whole migrant community as being bad people. Just like we would import brush a whole community, a gang members from another borough for a whole borough.


CASAREZ: We cannot forget the victims in this. Number one, the tourists from Brazil, she was rushed to Bellevue Hospital, shot in the leg. She will survive, but it doesn't mean that she won't have traumatic injuries, PTSD, and also how, you know, her leg, will it function normally for the rest of her life?

And Fredricka, can you imagine being in Times Square, in the hustle and bustle and you suddenly see a young teen take out a gun and point it behind you? The trauma of just witnessing that and many people had to witness it, because police didn't shoot back because there were so many people in that area of Times Square.

WHITFIELD: Right. A lot of people were traumatized in that moment because there is, even though it's very crowded, there is a sense of safety that a lot of people feel just because of the number of folks all in Times Square to have a good time.


CASAREZ: True. Yes. WHITFIELD: And then, something like that to happen. All right. Jean Casarez, thank you so much.

CASAREZ: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, the countdown is on for Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas. How the city is preparing to keep visitors safe during the big game? Straight ahead.



WHITFIELD: All right. That's the signal, we're now just 30 hours away from kickoff for the biggest football game of the year, Super Bowl LVIII. In Las Vegas, will feature the Kansas City Chiefs looking for back-to-back titles, while the San Francisco 49ers will be looking for their first Super Bowl win in 30 years.

We have team coverage for the big game. Andy Scholes is in Vegas. But let's get started with Josh Campbell and the security preparations there.

So, Josh, local, state and federal law enforcement have spent months preparing for this game to what degree?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Fred and Andy, good to be with you.

Among the 65,000 people who will be inside and the hundreds of thousands, who will be outside Allegiant Stadium will be hundreds of law enforcement officers, federal, state, and local, as you mentioned, they have been preparing for months. They're bringing a host of resources we're told, including physical scanners for those entering the stadium, as well as explosive detection canines. There will be sensors on hand that essentially sniff the air for any type of chemical, biological, radiological threat. All that's happening on the ground.

In the air, there will be a national security temporary flight restriction instituted one hour before kickoff. That will be enforced by military fighter jets. Now, one specific concern that authorities are really worried about pertains to drones, drone technology, obviously very cheap to obtain.

We're told, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies will be on hand with counter drone technology, I've seen this stuff up close, it's really impressive. They have the ability to electronically drop a drone from the sky, or even take control of it and vectored away from a particular place, obviously, for the drone is carrying a potentially dangerous payload, you wouldn't want to bring that down in a populated area. So, all of that will be on hand.

We're told that for those who fly a drone near that area, they could face potential federal charges, as well as tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Now, Fred, authorities say all of this is precautionary. They haven't identified anything yet that is giving them concern, but they say they will be ready. Have a listen.


CATHY LANIER, SECURITY CHIEF, NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE: There is no known specific or credible threats to the game or any events surrounding Super Bowl. As always, you'll see an increased security presence not only around the stadium on game day, but also around all of our other events.

SPENCER EVANS, FBI SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, LASVEGAS DIVISION: We have FBI personnel stationed in our own Emergency Operations Center, and at every joint command post and Intelligence Center operating throughout the Las Vegas Valley. These on-premise analysts are backed up by FBI personnel, assigned to 24-hour cyber and critical incident watch centers on the East Coast.

We are monitoring and sharing every scrap of information that indicates a potential threat with all of our inner agency, law enforcement, and appropriate private sector partners.


CAMPBELL: Now, Fred, just a book in the security posture at the end of the game, you have to safely get all these people home. So, to that end, the TSA says that at Harry Reid International Airport, every security checkpoint will be operating for 48 hours straight.

Of course, the sad reality, we all know half the people leaving will be heartbroken. The last thing they won't -- they will want to cope with Fred, is a long line at the airport as they wait to leave.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it's going to happen. Josh Campbell, thanks so much.


WHITFIELD: All right. Let's bring in Andy Scholes for more on the big dance. So, Andy, kickoff is just one day away now. Set the stage for us in Las Vegas.


WHITFIELD: Where are the players, in fact, today? What would they be doing right now?

SCHOLES: Well, so, Fredricka, both teams, Chiefs and 49ers, they're going to have their own separate walkthroughs, go through those final preparations in game plan for Super Bowl LVIII.

And then both teams separately they'll come over here to Allegiant Stadium right behind me. Take team pictures, take pictures with their families and challenges and enjoy and relax the rest of the day before they get ready for the biggest game of their lives. Now, for the Chiefs. Most of them have been here, right? This is going to be their fourth Super Bowl in the past six years. For them, the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce. And you know, the big question a lot of people have right now, Fredricka, is Taylor Swift. Going to make it in times through the Super Bowl?


WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness.

SCHOLES: Her concerts in Tokyo, they did wrap up, and she is presumably on a plane right now on her way here to Las Vegas. And you know, the Chiefs have been dealing with his extra attention for months now. But this week, I mean, they just got hammered with Taylor Swift questions left and right. Now, will it be a distraction for the team as they head into the game? Well, here's what Travis Kelce had to say about that.


TRAVIS KELCE, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS TIGHT END: I'm juggled, you know, the perception of my focus. And I think that, you know, kind of being aware of that. I never wanted to make people in this -- on this team in the Kansas City Chiefs building feel like I wasn't focused on the task at hand. And that's when the football games knowing how much I love this game and I love coming into work and everything. So being able to juggle that and make sure everybody realizes my focus is in the right area, especially when I'm in the building and there's no distractions. I think that's been the biggest point.


SCHOLES: So getting to meet Taylor Swift at Chiefs games has been, you know, a pretty big deal for a lot of people this entire season. And one person who wants to meet Taylor at the Super Bowl, Fredricka, the big diesel, Shaq. I caught up with him last night and his big Super Bowl party that he has every single year Shaq's funhouse. It's always such an amazing time for everyone who gets to attend at the Super Bowl every single year. And Shaq told me, he's wanting to do one thing tomorrow shake Taylor Swift's hand.


SHAQUILLE O'NEAL, 4-TIME NBA CHAMPION: Well, I'm a Travis Kelce fan who love to meet Ms. Taylor Swift.

SCHOLES: You never met jer?

O'NEAL: No. I've never met her. Congratulations to both teams. You know, the chance to play for a championship. I did that six times, one, four. So may the best team win, but I'm a Cowboys fan. I can't come here and say I want this to, you know, with Cowboys.

SCHOLES: All right. Do you think Taylor Swift's been good luck with the Chiefs?

O'NEAL: I would say yes. They're in the Super Bowl aren't they?

SCHOLES: Yes. There.

O'NEAL: So yes.

SCHOLES: All right. Are you looking forward to the game?

O'NEAL: I'm looking forward to just shaking her hand.


SCHOLES: So Fredricka, we'll have to watch and see if Shaq ends up getting to meet Taylor tomorrow.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that's cute. He's not talking about shaking it off, but instead shaking her hand. OK, Shaq. Well, it's going to be an exciting game, nonetheless, no matter what. Andy Scholes, thanks so much. We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says any military operation in Rafah along the border with Egypt, must be completed by the start of Ramadan. That's March 10th. Israeli officials say they want to clear out what they're calling Hamas's last bastion in the region. CNN's Nada Bashir reports from Egypt, those who have taken shelter in the area now face the potential of a new round of fighting and bloodshed.


NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER (voice over): There are simply no words. This grandfather cradling the body of his seven-year-old granddaughter, Ataf (ph), beside the shallow grave, where she will soon be buried.

I told her mother that Ataf (ph) is now above in heaven, Ahmed (ph) says, with her aunt, her cousin and her grandmother, who are all waiting for her. You see, we have many martyrs in our family.

Ahmed (ph) says his family had been taking shelter in a school in Khan Yunis when an airstrike hit. It took hours, he says, to reach the nearest hospital still able to treat little Ataf (ph), but it was too late.

Across Gaza, more than 10,000 children have been killed since the war began, according to the Hamas-ran Health Ministry. Many more left orphaned or facing life-changing injuries.

In the central city of Deir al Balah, the airstrikes are near daily. Those who survive left to dig through the rubble with their bare hands in search of their loved ones.

Meanwhile in Rafah, once deemed a safe zone, UNICEF estimates that there are now more than 600,000 children among the over a million people in the area, many taking shelter in these sprawling tent cities.

The southern city has for weeks come under relentless airstrikes by the Israeli military who say they are targeting Hamas. But now a looming ground operation is stoking fears that Rafah could become, as one aid group has described it, a zone of bloodshed.

If by some misfortune there's an invasion of Rafah, two-thirds of the population will die, Gabr says. We can't get out of Rafah. We have no other alternative.

Israel says it is now calling for a mass evacuation of civilians in the southern city ahead of a planned ground offensive. But it is almost impossible to fathom where else these civilians can turn to.

But Rafah has not only become a vital lifeline for the displaced, it is also a crucial gateway for humanitarian aid crossing over from Egypt, and many in the international community are now sounding alarm bells over Israel's warning.

ANTONIO GUTERRES, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL: And I am especially alarmed by reports that the Israeli military intends to focus next on Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been squeezed in a desperate search for safety.

BASHIR (voice-over): The U.S. State Department has warned that it cannot support an Israeli military operation in Rafah without serious planning for civilians there, with U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday describing Israel's actions in Gaza as, quote, over the top.


But Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already dismissed a proposal from Hamas for a prolonged truce, which would see a phased withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, and a gradual release of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Netanyahu, who described the proposal as delusional, has vowed to push ahead until a, quote, complete victory over Hamas is achieved, leaving little hope for diplomacy as negotiations continue. And little hope for what lies ahead in Gaza.

Nada Bashir, CNN, in Cairo.


WHITFIELD: Thanks so much, Nada. Let's bring in now James Elder. He is the global spokesperson for UNICEF, the United Nations aid agency. Great to see you, so what is your greatest concern for the area if indeed, Israel conducts a ground offensive?

JAMES ELDER, GLOBAL SPOKESPERSON, UNICEF: An incredible number of children being killed, Fredricka. We've said consistently, children are under immense threat as we've seen in the numbers you shared from bombs, from fighting on the ground, from being caught in the crossfire. It's happening every day. But we've also said for months now, this threat of disease because of deprivation, a deadly lack of food, and lethal lack of water for children.

I've seen, Fredricka, mothers and fathers breaking down. They've kept it so strong in front of their children, and they can do it no more. And when I was in Gaza, that was two months ago. So their resolve, they have nothing left, the idea you would have a ground offensive in Rafah, whereas you say, 600,000 children. Rafah is a city of children. It cannot be a city of bloodshed. This is the worst fear I think any humanitarian organization has had since this fighting started.

WHITFIELD: So you said about 600,000 children, now we're talking about an area pre-war, the population in that Rafah area right was about 280,000. And now we're talking about 1.4 million Palestinian civilians and others who are in that volume of people, 1.4 million people. So how can an evac -- or what do you envision in terms of an evacuation? How can an evacuation in that concentrated area actually happen when so much of the other parts of Gaza have been bombed out?

ELDER: Well, it's a great question. And to be frank, Fredricka, we don't think it can. You know, it was several months ago that there was first this discussion of the fighting coming to the south and the promises were made, that the south, the people in the south, those people who fled three or four times to what was called safety, the south would not endure the ferocity attacks of the north. That has not happened. CNN show that very, very clearly those families are under immense threats every single day, as we now know by thousands and thousands of children being killed.

So there was an idea of safe zones but safe legally must mean more than not being bombed, it must mean access to food and water and protection. That's non-existent, Fredricka. I saw that. I saw streets packed with people. I saw girls, teenage girls queuing for four or five hours to use a bathroom. There is no way safe, legally, ethically to go, to go to the north. Two thirds of the homes have been damaged or destroyed. There's unexploded ordnance and weaponry everywhere.

There is nowhere safe. There has been nowhere safe. But of course people have hid in Rafah, 600,000, twice the population density of New York City. The idea to have a ground offensive remembering that Rafah gate is also where the vast majority of humanitarian aid that comes in, the small amount relative to what is needed comes in. If we jeopardize that, then, yes, you just -- we will see a catastrophic number of people being killed or simply dying from deprivation and disease.

WHITFIELD: So we're hearing a few different things right from the Israeli government and military while the government is saying prepare IDF, Israeli Defense Forces, prepare for an evacuation. At the same time, it's being said a decision has not been made. Which direction do you believe it's going to go?

ELDER: I don't know. I think that UNICEF is believed from the start that this whole conversation has to be based more on compassion, and as UNICEF's Executive Director said many months ago and I hope it can continue to resonate as it should that this conflict, you know, you will not get peace through the destruction of Gaza and the killing of so many children. It won't happen. Always seeing right now, Fredricka, is more polarization, more anger, more frustration.

The only way we are going to now get peace for everyone, for the children of Israel, let's also get those children who are hostages. Let's get them home, get them to their families. This will only come from a ceasefire. We're on a precipice of a historic level of devastation of children. Everyone needs to walk back, that requires compassion. And that also requires looking at children around the region in Gaza, the hostages and all children to be perfectly honest, that's what we pray will happen.


WHITFIELD: James Elder of UNICEF, thanks so much for your time. All the best in these continued efforts.

ELDER: Thanks Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: When we come back, where did winter go? Dozens of cities are reaching record high temperatures more than halfway through the season now and snow and ice have become rare commodities. What's causing this now lack of snow, next.



WHITFIELD: All right, it is still winter. But some parts of the U.S. don't seem to be feeling it, as record warmth moves over the northeast this weekend. In some states temperatures could be up to 30 degrees warmer than normal. CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchat is tracking all of it for us. Allison, we just cannot be satisfied. Sometimes it's way, way, way too cold as we talked about and now this.

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Fred, winter has been a bit of a disappointment if you're the type that likes to go ice fishing or skiing, or maybe you're just a kid that was hoping for a lot of snow days this year. The map behind me, all of these red dots that you see, those indicate the warmest winter so far to date. The orange dots, not much better, those placing in the top five. And you can see a lot of them hovered right over the Midwest and the northeastern region. That means the moisture that's come into those areas so far has been in the form of rain, not snow, leading to very significant snowfall deficits.

Marquette, Syracuse and Erie all more than 50 inches below where they normally would be this time of year, even Minneapolis and Cleveland, roughly two feet below average. And it's not just snowfall. It's also ice, the Great Lakes region, the total ice coverage right now, only 5 percent. Normally up to this point, they would have about 37 percent. That means we're looking at a near all-time low for those lakes.

And the forecast doesn't really look like we're going to be seeing much more ice. In fact, looking at just the next 24 hours, all of these dots indicate a place that couldn't have having a record high temperature. Now we are going to see those temperatures drop back soon. Cleveland going from 56 today down to 40 by Monday, Raleigh 73 today, down into the 50s by Monday. And the reason for that is we've got a cold front coming through. And not only is it going to bring temperatures back down, it's also going to bring a lot of rain to areas of the South that could end up producing some flooding concerns across several states, but also the potential for severe storms not just today, but also Sunday as well as Monday.

WHITFIELD: All right, Allison Chinchar, thanks so much.

All right, coming up, all you need to know about tomorrow's other big game.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mark Birdie and Chile take the toy to the 50. Plus, Athena steps in and is looking for the takeaway.


WHITFIELD: Oh, it's a brawl. Team Fluff and Team Ruff, there'll be squaring off in this year's Puppy Bowl. Stay with us.



WHITFIELD: All right, we all know this by now because you're shopping trying to get snacks and everything, you know, the big game, the dance, well, it's this weekend. For the players, it is the chance of a lifetime and I'm not just talking about the two legged players. Who will be top dog, literally, big dogs and not so big, competing on the world's biggest stage the Puppy Bowl. Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mark Birdie and Chile take the toy to the 50. Plus, Athena steps in and is looking for the takeaway. And we have a three- way tug of war.


WHITFIELD: Oh my gosh, this is true. A Sunday is the 20th Annual Puppy Bowl. The game airing on Animal Planet, of course. We'll have Team Fluff taking on Team Ruff. With me now is Dan Schachner. He is the referee for the Puppy Bowl. You're taking this very seriously, Dan, as am I and everybody else who will be a spectator. So this isn't your first time refereeing the game. What can we expect?

DAN SCHACHNER, REFEREE, PUPPY BOWL XX: Well, you can expect the puppiest Puppy Bowl ever in celebration of our two decades of glory. You're going to see the most amount of dogs ever at Puppy Bowl Sunday. We are on at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. You can watch us before that human game. But I guarantee you we got more cuddles, we're in a lot cuter. We're representing 73 shelters across the country in 36 states. We have special needs dogs. We have old dogs. We have tiny dogs, large dogs. And everywhere you look from the control rooms to the camera people to my own assistant referee, you're going to see a puppy.

WHITFIELD: You are indeed and it's the commercials have been so fun. And it's cute to look at, I guess, this is last year's Puppy Bowl. So among the puppy players, you know, the puppy athletes here, I mean, what's about the -- wow, OK, that was about the age, you know, range of these little puppies. What are they at their peak?

SCHACHNER: Well, yes, to be a Puppy Bowl pup, you have to be between three and six months of age. You have to be up for adoption. And that's it. And the way we gauge them when we're casting these pups is we just have them pose next to a 12 ounce soda can so we can sense how large or small they are.


SCHACHNER: And then we just divide a quarter by quarter, first quarter is the smaller breeds and we work our way up to the fourth quarter where we'll see our baby Great Danes. But don't be fooled, the baby Great Dane, it can still be 72 pounds. So we've still got large animals as well as small.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right. So is there kind of an advantage among the size and the breed of the puppies because we are talking about a variety just as you mentioned, you can have a Great Dane in the mix, you know, you might have a little Chihuahua puppy. But is there a certain breed that shows a certain aggressiveness or better agility when on, you know, the puppy football field?

SCHACHNER: The great thing about Puppy Bowl seriously is that every year we get surprised. You know, you might look a little -- at a tiny Chihuahua next to say a husky and say there's no way he's going to, you know, find his way around the giant husky. But because of their smaller size, sometimes the smaller dogs are able to literally run between the legs of the larger breeds and get in for a touchdown.

So there is an advantage to being small. We don't mix them so much so the larger breeds will make -- might be with a slightly smaller breeds but nothing too small for their own safety but that being said, don't underestimate your tinier dogs because they got some power.


WHITFIELD: Oh yeah, they got a big bark, more than a big bark out there. OK. So you mentioned the very top a lot of these dogs are coming from shelters, you know, some of them are rescues et cetera. So, you know, people are going to look at this and they're going to be sizing them up. They're going to be trying to figure out does this doggy, puppy, you know, suit my household? Talk to me about the really -- it's a lot of fun, but the real importance here that you're hoping these pooches are going to find a new home. They're going to be adopted after all this.

SCHACHNER: Our track record is 100 percent adoption rate after every single Puppy Bowl. Every single one finds a forever home. And yeah, you can go straight to as you watch the program. And anyone you fall in love with at, they will connect you with that shelter and that shelter. If that dog is already gone, because again, millions of people are tuning in, that dog could go quickly. But chances are and this is the message we, yeah, we want to get this message across that that dog is likely part of a litter of puppies.

So there's siblings for those dogs as well. Really, you have to think of all the Puppy Bowl dogs as ambassadors. And that's what we try to showcase, right, as many different breeds and mixes as possible because we're just opening hopefully opening people's eyes to the idea that their local shelter is going to have really, you know, a variety of amazing dogs that would make a great forever home.

WHITFIELD: I love it. Puppy Bowl with purpose. Dan Schachner, thank you so much. Have fun at the game.

SCHACHNER: Thank you.

OLIVER POILEVEY: We'll be watching, and good luck.

SCHACHNER: Thank you.