Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

CNN International: World Court: Israel Must Do More to Get Aid to Gaza; Gazans Struggle to Find Food Amid Looming Famine; Maryland Governor: Long Road Ahead of Us After Bridge Collapse; Ukraine: Russia Attacks Energy Infrastructure; WSJ Marks One Year Since Gershkovich's Detention in Russia. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2024 - 04:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): My children were crying every night asking for a piece of bread, Najla says, we were dreaming of white bread. We were eating animal food.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In all honesty, if my passenger wasn't a little bit late coming out to the car and getting into it, we probably very well could have been on the bridge when it collapsed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This verdict to further prolong Evans' detention feels particularly painful as this week marks the one-year anniversary since Evan was arrested and wrongfully detained in Yekaterinburg for simply doing his job as a journalist.


ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a warm welcome to our viewers joining us from around the world. I'm Anna Coren. It's Friday, March 29th, 4 p.m. here in Hong Kong, 11 a.m. in Jerusalem.

The World Court is calling on Israel to do more to get basic supplies and humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza in order to prevent genocide. On Thursday, the court said famine is setting in. It voted unanimously to add more provisional measures to its order from January, saying: The catastrophic living conditions of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip had deteriorated further, in particular in view of the prolonged and widespread deprivation of food and other basic necessities to which the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been subjected.

Israel calls the decision cynical and accuses Hamas of commandeering, hoarding and stealing aid.

Its foreign ministry spokesperson says South Africa, which has brought the genocide case, is undermining Israel's right to defend itself. The court's decision comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his military is preparing to enter Rafah in southern Gaza. Well, the city is now home to about 1.4 million people told by Israel

to evacuate to safety there. The U.S. has repeatedly discouraged an Israeli ground incursion.

Well, CNN's senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman joins us now from Rome. He's been covering this story extensively. Ben, the International Court of Justice has ordered Israel to stop obstructing humanitarian aid into Gaza. There are some reports there are something like 1,500 trucks, aid trucks at the Egyptian border waiting to cross into Rafah. Practically, what does this ruling mean on the ground?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's all a question of who's going to pressure Israel to change its current behavior. And what we've seen is that after the initial 26th January ruling from the ICJ, that nothing really changed at all.

Now, the Israeli foreign ministry has put out a statement saying that they are doing their best to facilitate initiatives to bring more food into Gaza. But what we're seeing is that the humanitarian situation there is simply going from bad to worse, particularly in northern Gaza.

Now, yesterday we learned that so far 30 people have died in Gaza as a result of malnutrition and dehydration, 24 of them children. In fact, one boy, six years old, died yesterday. We were told by a doctor in the Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza that he died as a result of malnutrition and dehydration.

Now, there are efforts afoot to bring food and other supplies into Gaza. The United States, Jordan, France, Britain and others have airdropped food into Gaza. But we've seen earlier this week that 12 people died. They drowned while trying to retrieve some of that food dropped into Gaza.

Now, the United States is going to almost absurd lengths to try to bring food into Gaza by, for instance, sending more than 1,000 troops across the Atlantic to the eastern Mediterranean to try to set up some sort of seaport to bring food into Gaza.


But the essential problem is that the Israelis, for what other reason, are not allowing enough food in through the most obvious, the easiest route to bring in food into Gaza. And that is the variety of road crossings that exist between Israel and Gaza -- Anna.

COREN: Ben, despite the growing pressure on Israel, Netanyahu is refusing to change course, saying his military is preparing to enter the city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians are seeking refuge. Tell us more.

WEDEMAN: Yes, well, yesterday the Prime Minister was meeting with the families of Israeli soldiers currently being held hostage in Gaza, and yesterday he said that we conquered the north of Gaza and Khan Younis, and Rafah is next. Now, earlier this week, in a meeting with a bipartisan congressional delegation from the United States, Prime Minister Netanyahu laid forth his vision, if you can even call it that, of what the people currently taking refuge in Gaza, well over a million, I mean in Rafah, and he basically said they just can move out. They can move out of Rafah with their tents, in his words, and he says there's all of the north of Gaza.

People move down, they can move up. Now, this is not a Sunday picnic. These are people who have lost their homes. They've had to move multiple times. Many of their homes have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

Now, the United States has been pressing Israel for weeks to come up with some sort of plan to safely evacuate people out of Rafah in anticipation of this Israeli operation there, but this idea they can just move, sort of get, move, take their tents apart and move north doesn't really seem like much of a plan --Anna.

COREN: Absolutely not. As always, we appreciate your reporting. Ben Wedeman, thank you.

A U.N. humanitarian group is calling on Israel to expand supply routes into Gaza so that large-scale aid can be delivered to Gazans who are starving. CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has more on their daily struggle to find food. And a warning, you may find some of the images in this report disturbing.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This video filmed 11 days ago at a northern Gaza hospital captured little Mohammed's final days, his labored breaths and all that staff tried to do to keep him alive. On Thursday, six-year-old Mohammed became the 24th Palestinian child to die of malnutrition and dehydration in Gaza. And the fear is many more vulnerable lives could be lost.

Hunger is in every corner of this besieged territory. The pain visible in the eyes of mothers like Najla, who's helplessly watched her children go hungry for months. Her husband, Mahdan, has thought the unthinkable, throwing his children in the sea, to spare them this torture of an existence.

Dante's family endured months of bombardment in northern Gaza, but it's a looming famine there that's pushed them out of their home.

If you grab a bag of flour, someone can kill you to take it, Mahdan says. Our daily meal for our children became things we hadn't heard of before, like ground soybeans in a wild plant that we never tasted before, food that animals refuse to eat, we ate.

What they'll do, where they'll go, they don't know. All they want right now is to feed their little ones.

My children were crying every night asking for a piece of bread, Najla says. We were dreaming of white bread. We were eating animal feed.

For the first time in five months, they say, the children are having real food. Even if only plain bread. This is what Dante's family left behind in the north, scenes that tell

of the desperation of so many who also just want to feed their children, as they brush the little ape that's made it into this part of Gaza. More than a million Palestinians are now facing catastrophic levels of hunger, according to a U.N.-backed report, with famine projected to arrive in the north any day now.

In this man-made crisis, where Israel's been accused of using starvation as a weapon of war, something it denies. People every day find themselves scavenging for food, forced to pick wild plants to boil and eat. This grandmother can't hold back her tears as she washes weeds and leaves. It's today's meal.


What else can we do, she says? It's the indignity of hunger.

Avoidable suffering, as the world watches on.

Jomana Karadsheh, CNN, London.


COREN: In South Africa, an eight-year-old is the sole survivor after a bus fell off a cliff. She's said to be in a serious condition and is receiving medical treatment.

The accident happened Thursday on a mountain pass in Limpopo province. Crews are working to recover the bodies of the rest of those on board, 45 people who were travelling to a conference to celebrate Easter. Officials say the bus driver lost control and collided with some barriers on the bridge. That reportedly caused the bus to go over the edge, falling some 50 meters to the ground below where it caught fire.

Maryland's governor is admitting the state has a very long road ahead as a salvage operation gets underway after the collapse of the Key Bridge. Governor Wes Moore told reporters that recovery efforts for those still missing is a main focus as divers battle murky water conditions.

Officials are also working to reopen the channel and restart traffic to and from the port before ultimately rebuilding the bridge.


WES MOORE, (D) MARYLAND GOVERNOR: The Dali is almost as long as the Eiffel Tower. And the Dali has the key bridge on top of it. We're talking three to four thousand tons of steel that's sitting on top of that ship. So we've got work to do.


COREN: The U.S. federal government says it's giving the state $60 million as a down payment for cleanup work and rebuilding.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is bringing in the largest crane on the eastern seaboard to help clear debris.

Well, CNN's Pete Muntean has more from Maryland.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New video shows the fateful final moments before Baltimore's iconic Key Bridge was taken down by a crippled cargo ship, flashing lights on top, believed to be from the pothole repair crew that perished.

GAYLE FAIRMAN, UBER DRIVER: I could have been on that bridge.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Uber driver Gayle Fairman says she was stopped by police moments before the bridge's dramatic plunge into the Patapsco River below.

FAIRMAN: If my passenger wasn't a little bit late coming out to the car and getting into it, we probably very well could have been on the bridge when it collapsed.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Now, National Transportation Safety Board investigators, who boarded the Dali again on Thursday, are detailing the crew's desperate attempts to avoid disaster as the hundred ton ship barreled out of control.

JENNIFER HOMENDY, CHAIR, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD: We've seen the recordings. We have data which is consistent with a power outage.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): But NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy says it is too early to know what triggered the outage. The Dali's voyage data recorder shows it shoved off from the port of Baltimore early Tuesday at 12:39 a.m. Traveling at eight knots or roughly nine miles per hour, the ship maneuvered without issue for 46 minutes. Then at 1:25 a.m., numerous alarms sounded on the ship's bridge.

At 126 a.m., the crew ordered steering and rudder commands, then radioed for tugboats to come back and help. At 1:27 a.m., the crew began dropping an anchor on the left side of the ship and warned over radio that it was approaching the Key Bridge. At 1:29 and 33 seconds, impact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The entire Key Bridge has fallen into the harbor.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): Investigators now underscore that the 47-year- old bridge was designed without redundancy. Known as fracture critical, the NTSB says the failure of one support causes the entire bridge to fall.

The older design is common on nearly 17,000 existing bridges in the United States. The Key Bridge did have protective barriers known as dolphins, but investigators say the Dali slipped through them.

TROY MORGAN, STRUCTURES ENGINEER: The idea is not to really design these bridge piers to absorb that kind of direct impact. It's just not feasible. It's not economical. But usually there are other protective measures that can be taken to kind of limit the exposure of the piers to the ship itself.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): With the port a backbone of Baltimore's economy, there is an urgent push to reopen its shipping lanes, even at a reduced capacity. At least 11 ships are trapped in the port, critical for moving everything from sugar to cars.

The Army Corps of Engineers is working to move the Dali first, but its bow is now pinned under the weight of the collapsed bridge.

SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): If we can open one of the lanes sooner, then that obviously would allow ships to come in and out.

MUNTEAN: NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy says there is an issue with the ship's voyage data recorder.


The data it recorded is very bare bones. Engine RPM, movement of the ship's rudder and heading of the ship's bow. That is about it. Not like the recorder on a commercial airliner that records about 1,000 points of data.

The good news is the recorder captured a lot of audio from the ship's bridge, so the NTSB is now relying on that and interviews it is conducting with the crew of the Dali. All 21 of them are still on board.

Pete Muntean, CNN, Dundalk, Maryland.


COREN: Earlier, CNN spoke with retired Royal Navy Commander Tom Sharp. Take a listen to what he says surprises him about this bridge disaster.


TOM SHARPE, RETIRED ROYAL NAVAL COMMANDER: It's important, I think, to always just sort of sit back from that a little bit and look at the intermediate causes and the deep causes.

And if you look at the deep causes, that's the thing that surprises me here, is the resilience of that bridge or the lack of it. Now, that would have been known about in the port area. At some point, someone's done a risk assessment on the vulnerability of that bridge.

They've looked at measures to ameliorate that lack of resilience and have decided to not do it for reasons of cost. And I think when the investigation digs into the layers of this investigation, of this terrible accident, I think they'll look very closely at the decision chain to not provide greater resilience in and around the bridge. And or, knowing that, take tugs when ships pass under it.


COREN: A touching scene, the Baltimore Orioles honoring the bridge collapse victims before the season opener on Thursday with a moment of silence.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tragedy at the Francis Scott Key Bridge early Tuesday morning.


You can see fans and players bowing their heads with hats off for the victims, first responders and all those impacted.

The Orioles also featured an early version of the American flag. The League says it's a replica of the one that flew over Fort McHenry when the bridge's namesake, Francis Scott Key, wrote the Star Spangled Banner after the Battle of Baltimore in 1812. The poem, of course, becoming the U.S. national anthem.

Still ahead, the Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershowitz marks a full year since he was detained in Russia. You'll see how the newspaper is reminding everyone about the work he's unable to do.

And the U.K.'s King Charles makes a poignant Easter address as he recovers from cancer. We'll tell you what he said later this hour.



COREN: Ukraine says Russia has launched another massive attack on its energy infrastructure, targeting facilities in at least three regions.

It comes after a similar attack last week that knocked out power in Kharkiv. Ukraine's energy minister says today's barrage hit power- generating facilities with drones and missiles. A Ukrainian energy company reports thermal and hydroelectric plants in central and western regions were damaged.

Well, Michael Bociurkiw is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and former spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He joins us live from Kyiv. Michael, thank you so much for your time. What do we know about these attacks and what has been targeted?

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, OSCE: Sure. Good to be with you, Anna. Well, this was a massive one. Ukrainian officials are telling us that there were 99 missiles and drones. Of those, about 84 were brought down. But of course, it's those that are not brought down by our defense systems that caused the most damage, including two power plants.

DTEK, the major power provider here in Ukraine, said at least three thermal power plants were hit overnight. The regions hit were as far west as Lviv, Ukraine, but also Dnepropetrovsk, Vinnytsia, Ivano- Frankivsk, Cherkasy and Chernivtsi.

Kyiv, surprisingly, was relatively quiet overnight, but we did have a series of air raid alarms. And this is adding, again, not only to the damage to critical infrastructure, putting cities into blackouts, but also, of course, causing people a lot of fear and concern.

COREN: Michael, this follows a massive attack by Russia last week that left cities like Kharkiv in the dark. What has been the lasting impact of those strikes?

BOCIURKIW: Sure, and also Odesa as well, where I'm usually based. I actually drove through the city on Monday night and most of the city was actually in the dark. First time that has happened in about a year.

And, you know, cities like Odesa, I mean, let's be straight about this. This is a critical component of the global food supply chain. When there's no electricity, the port doesn't work. And it's a pity because the Ukrainians have worked very, very hard to push back the Russian Black Sea fleet to the point where the Western Black Sea reopened and grain and sunflower oil was being shipped to Western ports.

But that couldn't stop if these strikes continue. And one more thing, you know, there's also what's going on here beneath the surface, what I call kind of death by a thousand cuts. Ukraine's best and brightest are scared too. You can't blame them. They're leaving solely one by one from the calculations and observations I'm making.

COREN: Michael, you talk about the damage, but you also mentioned, I guess, the psychological impact that this is having on the population after more than two years of war.

BOCIURKIW: Yes, and I think the Kremlin knows very, very well what it's doing with these strikes. It is a psychological warfare as well. So we have the front line in the east where, you know, tens of thousands of men have died.

But we also have the front line of rockets and drones. And then there's psychological warfare, information warfare going on as well.

If you ask me what Ukraine needs right now, there are really two things to avoid this country being occupied. And one is those critical air defense system. And the other, of course, is that $60 billion of aid, which is tied up in the U.S. Congress right now, mostly by MAGA Republicans. So that cannot come soon enough. Ukraine needs it so badly.

COREN: How is that deadlock impacting Ukraine's ability to fend off these attacks?

BOCIURKIW: Right. Well, I just spoke to one of the most renowned Ukrainian singers last night, Mari Cheba, and she just returned to the front line.

And she said she couldn't believe the difference right now on the front lines. Not only are the soldiers having to ration ammunition, I'm hearing figures of for every 10 rounds coming from the Russian side, only one is returned by the Ukrainian side. But also, she said the psychological toll.

She used to go there to help soldiers heal. But now she says music doesn't seem to make that bit of a difference.

The other thing that aid is meant to do is to help budget support.

The IMF just came out with a report, Anna, that said Ukraine's economy is headed into very strong headwinds. And if with a $5 billion a month budget gap, if that support doesn't come in, you're going to start seeing holdbacks on pensions, teachers' salaries, that sort of thing. It's really a catastrophe.

COREN: Michael, in an interview this week, President Zelenskyy said war can come to Europe and to the United States.


Obviously, the U.S. being dragged into a NATO-fought war. It comes, as Vladimir Putin warns countries, those that allow F-16 fighter jets for Ukraine to be based in their countries, they will then become legitimate targets. What's the feeling where you are?

BOCIURKIW: Well, you've hit it right on the head. And this is something I've been amplifying on CNN Opinion as well, is that if this war is not stopped here in Ukraine, it will come to people's front doors.

And that could be anywhere from more Russian gray zone, warfare activity, but also higher food prices. And also, I think in the crosshairs of Mr. Putin, is NATO countries like Poland, but particularly the Baltic states. And that will be a lot more costlier for the West.

It will be deadlier because NATO troops, American troops, will have to come on the ground there.

Look, one quick factoid here is for three to four percent of the annual U.S. military budget, Ukraine has been able to destroy about 50 percent of conventional Russian military capability. That's a real deal. So I can't understand the rationale to hold this back, even if it is for domestic political purposes.

COREN: Michael, it's so important for us to hear your perspective, you know, on the ground from Kyiv. Michael Bociurkiw, thank you so much for your time.

BOCIURKIW: My pleasure. Thank you.

COREN: Well, as we're just mentioning, the White House is not ruling out a plan in the House of Representatives that would structure aid to Ukraine as a loan.

Well, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson has been working with Republican backers of Ukraine aid on a package that also includes restrictions on the U.S. border with Mexico. He spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday. Zelenskyy says he reminded Johnson of the dramatic increase in Russia's air terror over the past few weeks, and he urged quick passage of a new aid package.


VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I spoke with the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, about what is most crucial for protecting lives and international security now. I informed him about the current situation on the front lines, about the continuation of Russian strikes on our cities, that terror is only escalating and can only be stopped by the physical force of our defense.


COREN: It's been exactly one year since Wall Street journalist Evan Gershkovich was detained in Russia.

The newspaper is marking the anniversary in today's print edition by leaving part of its front page blank. The space represents the missing articles Gershkovich never wrote because of his detention. The headline says in part, his story should be here, the crime, journalism.

Well, meanwhile, the Kremlin says ongoing contacts about his possible exchange must be conducted in absolute silence, or they'll be less likely to succeed. As Fred Pleitgen reports, Gershkovich remains defiant in his own way.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): No media allowed at Evan Gershkovich's most recent court hearing in Moscow, just this short clip by the court's press service.

Despite a year in a Russian jail, a defiant smile from the Wall Street Journal reporter. No surprise, his detention was extended yet again through June 30th. The U.S. ambassador to Russia ripping into the verdict.

LYNNE TRACY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: The accusations against Evan are categorically untrue. They are not a different interpretation of circumstances. They are fiction.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Evan Gershkovich was arrested and charged with espionage a year ago while on assignment in Yekaterinburg, central Russia.

MARIA ZAKHAROVA, SPOKESWOMEN, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY (through translator): I do not know if there are any other cases, but the allegations made by our intelligence services today were not related to his journalism.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): The Wall Street Journal and Gershkovich's family strongly deny the allegations.

Polina Ivanova of the Financial Times is one of Evan's best friends and still keeps in regular contact with him writing letters. POLINA IVANOVA, FINANCIAL TIMES REPORTER, FRIEND OF GERSHKOVICH: He's

doing remarkably well. He's absolutely staying strong. He's not allowing himself to, you know, to wallow, to get too upset by everything. In fact, he spends most of his time in letters to us trying to make us feel better.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Gershkovich faces a jail sentence of up to 20 years if convicted.

But CNN has reported that Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan were part of a proposed prisoner swap with a now dead opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.

The Russian president taunted on his re-election day that he approved a swap on the condition he'd get back a high-profile Russian intelligence officer in prison for murder in Germany, Vadim Krasikov.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The person who spoke to me had not finished his sentence yet. I said, I agree, but unfortunately, what happened, happened.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): For those close to Evan, that means the waiting continues.


IVANOVA: You see Putin talk about it in, you know, very clear terms that this is what they want to see happen that that they are looking for a deal. You know, it just gives you hope that at some point this will, this, you know, that he will be home. He needs to be home. He needs to be back with his family with his friends.