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CNN International: Israel, Two Hostages Rescued from Gaza in Special Operation; Nor'easter Set to Impact Northeast Early this Week; Ivory Coast Defeats Nigeria 2-1 in Africa Cup. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired February 12, 2024 - 04:30   ET



BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Bianca Nobilo. If you're just joining us, here are some of today's top stories.

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes is awarded MVP after the Chiefs defeat the San Francisco 49ers 25-22 in overtime to win the Super Bowl.

NATO's Secretary General says Donald Trump's controversial comments about the alliance puts European and American soldiers at increased risk. Trump has said that he would encourage Russia to quote, do whatever the hell they want to NATO countries who don't pay their full quota for the year.

Now, two hostages are back on Israeli soil and receiving medical care after the Israel Defense Forces say it conducted a joint operation to extract them.

FOSTER: To Tel Aviv now and Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, joins us. Thank you so much for joining us. Can you just tell us how those hostages are after everything they've been through?

LT. COL. PETER LERNER, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESPERSON: Good morning, Max. Indeed, I can report at this stage that Louis Har and Fernando Marman are in good condition. We have conducted a combined special operations mission in Rafah, in a residential area, in a civilian building they were being held, on the second story of that building. We had to breach the place they were being held, kill the terrorists, and bring them home.

FOSTER: In terms of that operation, it was obviously hugely complex. Is the Palestinian Red Cross -- Cresent Society, right in saying that 100 civilians ended up dying as a result of that because our correspondent was suggesting that there was this targeted military operation, effectively to create cover for getting those hostages back out?

LERNER: No, Max. The operation was extensive in both where it was conducted, but also in the means it was conducted by. I wouldn't accept any figures coming out of Gaza this morning. There are a broad range of different numbers being told.

Our operation was focused at bringing home the hostages, making sure that they can return to their families.

Why were they even being held hostage in the heart of Rafah? From our perspective, the reality is that our operational goals, our military goals of this war, to bring home the hostages, every last one of them, and to dismantle and destroy Hamas as a governing authority, remain relevant four months into this war.

Today, we had a military operational success at bringing the hostages home. Indeed, there remain 134 hostages remaining in the clutches of Hamas.

This war can be over tomorrow. All it needs is for Hamas to let the hostages home and unconditionally surrender.

NOBILO: Peter, I'd like to give you the opportunity to address something which is trending online, and that is the hashtag or phrase Super Bowl massacre, trying to allege that the IDF chose this moment for the special operation for beginning strikes in Rafah to coincide with the Super Bowl so that global or American attention would be diverted.

I'm not asking that in an adversarial way, but just to give you the opportunity to respond to that claim.

LERNER: Four months into this war, a war that Hamas chose to launch strategically against Israel, we are responding with force against Hamas wherever they are hiding. The reality of this war is a tragedy for so many people, and I would be very cautious at, you know, the cynicism of these hashtag warriors.

It's just ridiculous. The reality is that Hamas launched this war against us. They started this, but we have no choice but to change the paradigm once and for all.

Hamas can't be trusted with the power of government because we've seen what they do with it. They build a terrorist army. They build capabilities of an army capabilities.


They tunnel under U.N. facilities, into mosques, into schools, and they abduct people. We need to get rid of Hamas. We need to make sure that they never have this power of government again for the safety and security of all decent people in this region.

This is the tragedy. It's not to do with the Super Bowl, but it's in order to bring home the people that are unlawfully being held by Hamas. So, we should not plan our operations? We should not conduct operations because the Super Bowl is taking place. I would say no. When the operational reality permitted us to conduct the operation, that is when it was clear to go.

We jeopardize our forces going into this hornet's nest. When the operation was being conducted, they came under extensive heavy fire. The reality is that Hamas chooses the battleground. Time and time again, that battleground is behind civilians. Time and time again, it's beneath or leeching off of U.N. facilities, U.N. capabilities. Time and time again, they are putting the people of Gaza at risk.

We are trying to limit the civilian casualties. We are evacuating people out of harm's way. We're operating in a reality which, you know, this is where Hamas chooses to fight.

Would you suggest we don't fight back and raise a white flag of surrender in light of these terrorists? We won't do that.

FOSTER: On limiting civilian casualties, you've got a huge challenge coming up if you're ordered to go in on a ground invasion in Rafah, haven't you? Because there are, as I understand it, a million people there, many of them displaced from other areas. Inevitably, you're going to have a higher rate of civilian casualties if you go in with a ground operation there than you would have done in other parts of the country.

And it does raise the question of how you would avoid that, get civilians out of the way, whilst filtering out Hamas fighters who you are targeting.

LERNER: Max, throughout this war, we have proven time and time again that we can evacuate civilians from potential combat zones. It is a huge challenge. And, of course, we are very attentive to our allies that are raising concern.

The reality, once more, is that's where the civilians, the uninvolved, those that have not chosen to be part of this, are always going to get caught up in the warfare. Our role is to distinguish between civilians and the combatants, the civilians, the non-involved, and Hamas terrorists.

We've proven time and time again that we can do that, and we have. As you rightly pointed out, the government has instructed the IDF to create a plan of action in the eventuality that we need to mobilize. I think what we learned this morning in the aftermath of this rescue operation that that may be a reality that we need to mobilize.

There are still 134 Israelis being held in the clutches of Hamas. They need to be brought home. We could avert a need for a ground operation in Rafah if Hamas releases them.

We are creating the conditions to either bring them home through operations or through diplomacy. Those are the two options. There is no other option. We will not stop our operations in light of Hamas's aggression, in light of the fact that they continue to hold men, women, and children hostage in dungeons, in residential areas. Our obligation is to bring them home, every last one of them.

NOBILO: When you succeed in a complicated and dangerous rescue operation like what's just happened, how do you balance the imperative probably to gather intelligence from those individuals who might have some of the best chances of giving you information that might lead to the rescue of more hostages with their need to acclimatize and how traumatized they would be?

LERNER: Well, of course, as we learned from the previous hostage release at the end of November, we learned a lot of information and intelligence from them about the whereabouts of the extensive tunnel system and the dungeons that you covered in Khan Younis, for instance.

So of course, there's a period, but I think their state of mind, their health condition, are top priority in the aftermath of the operation. I'm sure that they will be willing and interested in sharing the information that they have.

As we move forward, as this operation develops further, we are constantly gathering more and more intelligence. The databases of Hamas that we revealed just this week revealed even more information about the network, about the capabilities of Hamas, about the mechanisms that they are using, that same database that was beneath the United Nations UNRWA headquarters.

Of course, there's lots of intelligence coming in.


And the result of this operation, or the possibility to conduct this extremely challenging rescue operation this morning, was a result of precise intelligence and highly professional capabilities.

FOSTER: Critics are arguing, I mean, I think there will be politicians obviously arguing that your successful operation in this case is evidence that the IDF can extract hostages, which takes the pressure off a hostage deal with Hamas. But this is only the second successful extraction you've had during the whole entire war, so it doesn't really prove that point, does it?

LERNER: So, you're raising a question that critics or analysts would say. I would say that we are increasing the pressure constantly on Hamas to create the conditions to bring home hostages, either with our forces, with special forces, with combined operations, or through diplomacy. The operation can result in a hostage release. That is what we are trying to do since the outset of this operation, since the outset of the war, since Hamas abducted the 240 people.

We have to keep in mind the families of the remaining 134 people being held by Hamas. Their lives have been torn to pieces through Hamas's actions. We need to bring them peace. We need to bring them and their loved ones home. And we need to do it through all of the means that are at our disposal, whether it's operations or diplomacy.

NOBILO: The world learned that Hind Rajab, the Palestinian girl who was trapped in a car in southwest Gaza, had died after riding in the car with her family members. Two ambulance workers were then dispatched to treat the girl to see what was happening.

The IDF has said it's looking into whether or not it was responsible for that. Do you have any update that you can provide?

LERNER: Well, I know we are looking into this incident, tragedy of civilians and medical staff. Of course, it needs to be investigated and we are looking into the circumstances of this incident. Unfortunately, I don't have anything to report at this time.

NOBILO: Peter Lerner, thank you for joining us. We'll be right back.


FOSTER: A massive storm system moving along the U.S. East Coast and millions are under storm watches and alerts. It's the second round of impacts from the system that's bringing severe weather to the Gulf Coast and the southeast.

NOBILO: The winter storm is expected to leave a blanket of snow in the region with central Pennsylvania through eastern Maine forecast to receive between 4 to 8 inches of snow. CNN meteorologist Elisa Raffa has a look at this week's forecast.


ELISA RAFFA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Our storm is on the move. That severe risk is sliding east as we go into Monday from Alabama into Georgia and the Carolinas. That's where you're looking at that threat for the 70-mile per hour wind gusts, large hail, and a few tornadoes. Some heavy rain there too.

You can see that line continues to push east and then move north into the Carolinas as we go into Monday. Then as we go late Monday into Tuesday, it starts to clash into some cold air up in parts of the northeast going into New England. And that's going to pump some snow from central Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and parts of New England.

And we'll find that snow come with some gusty winds and could drop visibility late Monday, early Tuesday morning, and then going into Tuesday night. All of that starts to exit.

Here's your footprint of the snow. You see all the deep pinks and purples. That's where you're looking at some snow totals, 6 to 8, even upwards of 12 inches of snow. Snowfall rates could be 1 to 3 inches per hour.

Couple that with the gusty winds, gusts up to 40 miles per hour, and you're looking at some really messy conditions with low visibility kind of peaking as we go into Tuesday. Really, again, exiting Tuesday night.

Now, we haven't really seen too much snow up in the east. A lot of our snow depth so far this year has been to the west. 25 percent snow cover for the lower 48 and a lot of it from the Sierra Nevada's into the intermountain west where we had that atmospheric river event unfold just a week or so ago.

Seasonal departure from normal for snow has been well below average for some places from the upper Midwest and the Great Lakes area where you see all those brown dots and then going into New England. Some places that you really typically see snow, like Minneapolis, Buffalo, haven't really seen too much so far this year. And part of the reason is we've had a really warm winter. You see all

the red dots. A lot of these cities in the Great Lakes region and then in the northeast there are looking at their warmest winter on record. It's just been kind of spring-like, really lacking a lot of the cold and lacking a lot of the snow.

We know that winter is warming across the lower 48 since 1970. You can see those same places, the upper Midwest, Great Lakes, going into New England are some of the places with the biggest fever, 4-to-5-degree fever since 1970. That makes winter the fastest warming season for a lot of these places.


FOSTER: Now, here in England, King Charles going on his first public outing nearly a week after Buckingham Palace announcing he had been diagnosed with an undisclosed form of cancer.

NOBILO: The 75-year-old monarch attended church Sunday with his wife, Queen Camilla, on his estate in Sandringham. The palace shared last Monday that King Charles would step back from his public duties while he's undergoing treatment. Charles has expressed his gratitude for the public support, saying it's brought him, quote, great comfort and encouragement.

And you said, Max, that there is a chance that he might be more specific about his diagnosis if he thinks that it might be able to help.

FOSTER: I just think that in the same statement he talked about his, he was how heartened he was to have risen, you know, raised awareness for, you know, people that suffer from cancer and the people that support them. And many of those organizations he supported in the past.

And I think there could be a logical progression that he would want to have even more impact by naming the cancer. But it's a private matter and no other monarchs have done that before. So, I think it's quite a big decision.

Still ahead, it was a game for the ages in the Ivory Coast. A report on the African Cup when we return.



NOBILO: The Super Bowl wasn't the only championship game that had fans glued to their screens this weekend. The West African nation of the Ivory Coast pulled off a victory for the ages on Sunday, winning the Africa Cup of Nations for the third time. CNN's Don Riddell has this remarkable story for you.


DON RIDDELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: The Africa Cup of Nations tournament this year has been wildly unpredictable.

We've witnessed so many upsets. For example, the top five ranked teams were all out even before the quarterfinals. And the only thing it seemed that we could count on is that we should never be counting out the hosts, Ivory Coast.

They have been dead and buried so many times, and yet somehow, they have found ways to survive and keep on fighting. On Sunday, Ivory Coast took on Nigeria in the final, and despite dominating, they fell behind. Nigeria going ahead late in the first half with a brilliant header from their captain, William Troost-Ekong.

It was Nigeria's first serious attempt on goal, and it stunned the stadium into complete silence. However, I doubt the elephants of Ivory Coast would have panicked. They've seen this movie before.

And in the second half, Franck Kessie headed in an equalizer. He was totally unmarked, and the stadium in Abidjan erupted.


But that was nothing compared to this moment, nine minutes from the time when Sebastian Haller put Ivory Coast ahead. And this is a story within a story. He was sidelined with cancer just a couple of years ago, and 18 months later, he's doing this. He scored the decisive goal in the semi-final, and that turned out to be the winner.

And this is just an incredible story. Ivory Coast have been through it all in this tournament. They barely made it out of the group stage. They were behind in two of the knockout games. They fired their manager halfway through the tournament, and yet somehow, they held on and prevailed in the end.

Absolutely brilliant. They're going to be making films and documentary movies about the run. This team has taken to the final. This is one of the all-time great sports stories. Congratulations, Ivory Coast, beating Nigeria 2-1 in the final of the Africa Cup of Nations. Back to you.


FOSTER: Awesome. Stories on the spotlight this hour. Singer Usher's Super Bowl halftime performance had fans saying, Yeah!

NOBILO: Yeah, yeah.

FOSTER: Bianca likes it when I say that because I'm so on it. The R&B crooner. Crooner? That really does make me sound old. He's up there with Sinatra.

NOBILO: Yes, beating Cosby, all your favorites.

FOSTER: He delivered a show-stopping spectacle, thrilling fans by throwing his shirt into the crowd. He later changed costumes and even roller-skated onto the stage. NOBILO: The eight-time Grammy winner was joined by some of the artists

he's collaborated with through the years, including Alicia Keys, Ludacris, Lil Jon, H.E.R. and He ended the show with a shout-out to his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia.

FOSTER: I'm just amazed about how much we're talking about the singers rather than the playing.

NOBILO: Oh, because it's -- I mean, that is the biggest gig that we have. We've got to go.

FOSTER: Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Max.

NOBILO: I'm Bianca. We'll see you tomorrow.

FOSTER: Goodbye.