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Talks between U.S. and Israel Could Happen on Monday; Israel Admits Killing Two Palestinians and Burying Them with a Bulldozer; Evan Gershkovich Has Spent One Year Behind Bars in Russia; Largest Crane on U.S. East Coast at Bridge Collapse Site. Aired 3-3:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2024 - 03:00   ET




ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to all our viewers watching around the world. I'm Anna Coren live from Hong Kong.

Ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, the U.S. and Israel could hold talks as soon as Monday about what happens next in Rafah.

The United States is calling for Russia to release American journalist Evan Gershkovich as he passes the one-year mark of his detention.

And a new twist on an old tradition. How one group is urging people to adopt a different kind of Easter egg.


COREN: Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans to send a negotiating team back to ceasefire and hostage release talks. The prime minister's office says that should happen in the coming days and as Netanyahu insists, the Israeli military is preparing to enter Rafah.

U.S. officials say separate talks with Israel about what happens next in Rafah could take place as soon as Monday. They were supposed to happen earlier this week. But Netanyahu called them off after the U.S. refused to block a U.N. resolution calling for a ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages.

Israel has not set a date for the Rafah operation to begin. There are more than 1 million Palestinians are taking refuge in Rafah. Officials have said they plan to evacuate civilians before starting a ground offensive.

Meanwhile, Israel has been conducting strikes in Rafah for weeks. On Friday, a Rafah hospital official told CNN that 14 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a house. Among them, four women and seven children.

Meanwhile, there are new fears that Israel's war against Hamas could expand further regionally after Israel conducted more airstrikes in Lebanon and Syria. Well, CNN's Melissa Bell has more on that, plus the future of ceasefire talks.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Israel claims that it's managed to kill one of the leading missile commanders in southern Lebanon. A missile commander of the Hezbollah. Hezbollah has been, for its part, has admitted that one of its members have been killed without specifying his rank.

From the point of view of Israel, this is considered a win but it also represents, given the exchange of fire along the Lebanese border both at from Lebanon into Israel this Friday but also from Israel into southern Lebanon beyond, since we're hearing from Reuters, that that is several dozen people who have believed to have been killed over in Syria.

What we've been hearing from Israeli officials and specifically from Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, is that Israel intends far more aggressively than it had before to pursue Hezbollah, where it needs to, not just in southern Lebanon but beyond.

Yoav Gallant saying that it is time that Israel strange changed its strategy. Now what we understand from American officials is that that had been made plain to them when he visited Washington earlier this week.

The United States extremely worried about what this may mean with Hezbollah, presenting a far more formidable foe they believe than does Hamas. It comes this ratcheting up of tension, violence along Israel's northernmost border, as there is some hope now for the hostage talks and their resumption.

We've heard from Benjamin Netanyahu that he is now going to be sending a delegation of Israeli officials back to Qatar and Egypt to resume those indirect talks in the hope that the remaining more than 130 Israeli hostages still in Hamas' hands might be released.

And, of course, with that, that a six-week ceasefire might yet be able to take place -- Melissa Bell, CNN, in Jerusalem.


COREN: The Israeli military has acknowledged it shot two Palestinian men in Gaza then buried the bodies with a bulldozer. The admission came after news outlet Al Jazeera published heavily edited video that it says shows the incident. And we have to warn you, this video is disturbing.


COREN (voice-over): Here, you can see one man walking along a beach.

Al Jazeera reports that this man and another were waving what appeared to be white clothes. At one point, the man raises his hands in the air. Later, he falls to the ground apparently after being shot.


The video then cuts to a scene where an Israeli bulldozer is burying two bodies in sand and debris. It's not clear if these are the bodies of the two men shown earlier. Al Jazeera says they are.

The Israeli military says the video shows two separate incidents. And here is their statement.

"The first incident occurred in the southern part of the corridor after the suspect did not respond to a warning shot. The force fired to his direction, and he was shot and slightly wounded."

The IDF says that man was released after receiving medical treatment and being questioned.

Regarding the second incident, the IDF says, "Two suspects with bags on their backs, observed our forces and approached them in a suspicious manner. After not responding to a warning shot, the forces conducted live fire toward them as a result of which they were killed.

"The bodies were moved from the area using the documented tool out of fear of there being explosives on the suspects and risk to the forces."

CNN has asked Al Jazeera for an unedited copy of the video.


COREN: There are new calls for international intervention to save people trapped in the IDF's siege of Gaza's Al Shifa Hospital. Gaza's civil defense is asking for help from the Red Cross and the United Nations to rescue people in and around the hospital.

Gaza's health ministry says Israeli strikes have killed medical personnel, patients and people taking shelter in the hospital.

One Palestinian paramedic says the IDF detained him at the hospital for three days. He says he and members of his family were stripped naked, left outside in the rain and cold, beaten and prevented from using the bathroom.

Well, Dr. Ghassan Abu Sittah has first-hand experience working in Al- Shifa Hospital and he joins me now from London.

Dr. Ghassan, thank you so much for joining us. This hospital you were working in is now under siege.

What can you tell us about the situation on the ground at Al-Shifa Hospital right now?

DR. GHASSAN ABU SITTAH, BRITISH PALESTINIAN SURGEON: Unfortunately, news about -- from the colleagues of ours, the doctors and the nurses who were back at Shifa, trying to get the hospital to work, trying to get the dialysis unit to work, operating to the operating rooms so that they can provide (INAUDIBLE), we've lost contact with him. A young plastic surgeon who I'd worked with have not -- has not been

heard from for the last seven days, along with his mother. And we fear for his life as we fear for the lives of all of our colleagues who were at Shifa Hospital.

The patients who -- and the internally displaced who had sought refuge inside the hospital are also trapped without water, without food.

And there's a dire need to evacuate them. The International Committee of the Red Cross needs to intervene to try to get these civilians and these medical staff out. Their lives are at stake and grave danger. And we need to intervene now.

COREN: Dr. Ghassan, the last time that you spoke to your colleagues, were able to make contact with them, what did they tell you about the working conditions there, the number of patients they were treating, their injuries and then, of course, the people seeking shelter in and around the hospital?

SITTAH: There were hundreds of internally displaced families seeking shelter. The wounded were being treated in makeshift, what has become a makeshift first aid station.

And the doctors and the nurses are all huddled with their patients in the inner rooms, in the corridors of the hospital, to try to avoid being shot by snipers stationed outside the hospital.

And many of the doctors had been arrested. Some of them had been there with their families and they were taken away. And there's absolute chaos there. But what is very clear is that the lives of the medical staff and the patients and the internally displaced is in grave danger.

COREN: As we mentioned, the Gaza civil defense is pleading for the Red Cross and the U.N. to intervene to rescue those people.

I mean, is that even possible?

SITTAH: The International Committee of the Red Cross does these kinds of evacuations all the time across the globe. And there shouldn't be any reason why a coordinated evacuation of the civilians and of the medical and nursing staff cannot be organized.


It's critical. I mean, otherwise, if not, if they're not killed by the shooting, they're going to die of starvation, dehydration. That's what -- there's no running water inside the hospital.

COREN: The IDF obviously is targeting Al-Shifa Hospital.

When you were there, did you see any presence of Hamas militants inside the hospital?

SITTAH: We spent 43 days in Gaza, the majority of which was in Al- Shifa Hospital. During that time, we did not see any combatants, even wounded combatants coming into Shifa hospital.

I was able to move freely in the hospital. Because we were so short of supplies, we would on a daily basis go around the different storerooms, collecting what we needed for the operating days, for the operating list of the day. And at no stage did we see any combatants around.

Even the policemen whose job was it to -- it was to control access to the emergency department had battles (ph). So all of this is as a result of a conscious decision to destroy what's left of the health system in Gaza.

We need to remember Shifa constituted 30 percent of the capacity of the health system. The fact that now buildings in Shifa Hospital are being torched by the Israeli soldiers means that they're trying to ensure that the health system does not -- is not able to come back online after a cease-fire, when there is a cease-fire.

(INAUDIBLE) destroy Shifa (INAUDIBLE) it means you destroy 30 percent of the system permanently and it means that this huge hospital needs to be rebuilt from scratch.

COREN: It must be so difficult for you to watch this tragedy unfold from afar, considering you were there not long ago, Dr. Ghassan Abu Sittah, we thank you for your time and we're thinking of your colleagues there in Gaza.

SITTAH: Thank you.


COREN: Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy is warning Kyiv will have to give up more ground without U.S. military aid. Mr. Zelenskyy told "The Washington Post" Ukraine's goal is to keep the front lines stable so it can prepare for a new counter offensive later this year.

But without U.S. support, he said, Kyiv will be short of key weapons, including air defense, Patriot missiles and artillery rounds. He says it could result in a step-by-step retreat by Ukrainian troops.

About $60 billion in aid has been held up by Republicans in the House of Representatives. House Speaker Mike Johnson has now committed to bring a bill up for a vote after the Easter break.

U.S. President Biden says Washington will keep trying to bring "The Wall Street Journal" reporter Evan Gershkovich home. He spoke on Friday, exactly one year since Gershkovich was detained in Russia for alleged espionage.

He's the first journalist since the Cold War to face those charges, which he and the newspaper deny. As Matthew Chance reports, Russia wants to keep him in pretrial detention for at least three more months


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was our latest brief glimpse of Evan Gershkovich appearing in a Moscow court this week.

In the past, we've been kicked out of the courtroom.

CHANCE: You can see Evan Gershkovich is in there. Hi, Matthew, from CNN. Are you holding up alright?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking Foreign Language).

CHANCE: OK, what do you want us to do?

CHANCE (voice-over): This time, journalists weren't even allowed in. There's the detention of the Wall Street Journal reporter on espionage charges was extended for another three months. Outside the U.S. ambassador marked a bleak anniversary.

LYNNE TRACY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: This verdict to further prolong Evan's 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.

The accusations against Evan are categorically untrue. They are not a different interpretation of circumstances. They are fiction.

CHANCE (voice-over): But incarceration behind the walls of Lefortovo prison in Moscow is a grim fact.


U.S. officials say they're negotiating with Moscow for his release. Even the Kremlin confirmed this week contacts on a prisoner swap are continuing.

To the Russian president, the 32-year-old American newspaper reporter, is a tradable asset.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translation): We're willing to solve (ph) it. But there are certain terms being discussed via special services channels. I believe an agreement can be reached.

CHANCE (voice-over): And this is who Putin has hinted he wants in return. Vadim Krasikov, a Russian operative, jailed in Germany for killing a Chechen dissident in a public park. So far, the Germans have been reluctant to set him free.

But the Kremlin knows painful agreements have been reached in the past. In 2022, U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner, convicted of possessing cannabis in Russia, was swapped for Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms trafficker.

PAUL WHELAN, DETAINEE: I want to tell the world that I'm a victim of political kidnap and ransom.

CHANCE (voice-over): Russia's also holding other Americans, among them former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, convicted of espionage and jailed since 2018. U.S. officials have designated Whelan and Gershkovich as unlawfully detained. TRACY: If the Kremlin has any desire to salvage Russia's integrity and international esteem, they should do what is right and release Evan and Paul immediately.

CHANCE (voice-over): But the Kremlin may want more than just integrity and esteem in exchange for its most valuable bargaining chips -- Matthew Chance, CNN, St. Petersburg.


COREN: (INAUDIBLE) the latest from Baltimore, where huge cranes are being positioned to untangle that collapsed bridge and the cargo ship that crashed into it.




COREN: Well, the largest crane on the U.S. East Coast is on scene in Baltimore to help with salvage efforts after Tuesday's bridge collapse. We are looking at live pictures. CNN's Brian Todd looks at the challenges engineers are facing as they try to get the shipping channel back in business.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Army Corps of Engineers is now ready to start clearing hundreds of thousands of tons of twisted steel and concrete that's blocking ships from entering or exiting the port of Baltimore.

GEN. SCOTT SPELLMON, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: There is a massive steel truss bridge going across that channel and at the bottom.


Fifty feet down at the bottom, there's also concrete, possibly some containers, other debris that we have to get off the floor.

TODD (voice-over): But it's a delicate operation.

OSCAR BARTON JR., DEAN, MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF ENGINEERING: It's going to be a monumental task. This is going to be piecemeal, section by section, piece by piece, until they can excavate the entire area.

TODD (voice-over): Dr. Oscar Barton is the Dean of Morgan State University's Engineering School and was a professor at the Naval Academy for 21 years.

TODD: What would you be most worried about if you were supervising the crane and this entire operation?

BARTON: Going too fast. Meeting the expectations of the public to move too quickly. We've got to be very methodical, very slow and very precise and getting it done.

TODD (voice-over): The Chesapeake 1000 arrived this morning but --

SPELLMON: That section of bridge that straight over the front of the vessel, that portion of bridge alone weighs 4,000 tons. My most capable crane there is 1,000 tons. So we're at least going to cut that into four members.

TODD (voice-over): A major complicating factor for crews trying to break up the wreckage in manageable chunks light.

SPELLMON: Imagine trying to do that 50 feet down in the dark, with a diving suit on. And we've got to do the same level of analysis on the bottom of that channel as we have to do for those members that are out of the water.

TODD (voice-over): And the cleanup work itself poses risks to the crane operators, divers and crew.

BARTON: It is dangerous. There could be tipping of the crane. So the balancing of the crane is most important.

TODD (voice-over): Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board is continuing its review. The NTSB shared video with CNN showing NTSB and Coast Guard investigators moving around on the bow of the Dali, right at the point of impact. The closest view we've gotten so far of the sheer devastation of this disaster.

So when will the channel be open to shipping traffic?

SPELLMON: I don't think we're talking days. I don't think we're talking months. Once we get started, I think we're talking weeks.

TODD: To illustrate part of the danger of this operation, General Scott Spellmon of the Army Corps of Engineers told us that the constitution of the metal here at the wreckage site is like a rubber band. When they cut it, it may not fall just straight down.

You could have large chunks of metal that snap and whip around like a rubber band and that could be lethal -- Brian Todd, CNN, Baltimore.


COREN: Are you tired of the same old Easter eggs?

One conservation group is shaking things up this year and inviting you to adopt an egg instead.




COREN: Amid ongoing gang violence in Haiti, some of the country's capital is still finding colorful ways to celebrate Easter. Well making these kites is a holiday tradition in the Caribbean nation, similar to painting eggs.

Well, Easter in Haiti comes, as the U.N. says violence there has killed more than 1,500 people so far this year, including children. Haiti has extended a curfew over the Easter weekend in areas, including the capital. As one man says, the kites are a way to carry on a tradition and bring a bit of joy back to the country

A high-profile Easter appearance by King Charles and a high-profile absence by Pope Francis. According to the Vatican, the pope did not attend the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum in Rome on Friday night.

Instead, he followed the service from his residence to preserve his health for Saturday's vigil and Easter Sunday mass. Earlier on Friday, Pope Francis did preside over celebrations at St. Peter's Basilica.


Meantime, King Charles is set to lead members of the royal family as Easter Sunday church services this weekend, his most significant appearance since his cancer diagnosis last month.

Well, eggs have long been a custom of the Easter holiday. They're a symbol of life and rebirth. Well, this year, a conservation group in South Africa is urging people to consider a new kind of Easter egg, one that supports the renewal of endangered birds.

CNN's Michael Holmes reports on a campaign hoping to replace Easter baskets with incubators.


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dipped, dyed, chocolate and, at times, exquisitely painted, eggs are a big part of celebrating Easter in many parts of the world. And one conservation group is hoping to add a new tradition to the holiday.

NICKY SHADBOLT, SANCCOB VOLUNTEER: When everybody is also thinking about chocolate and Easters and fluffy bunnies and so forth, we would like people to be focused on (INAUDIBLE) and you can even adopt an egg (INAUDIBLE) so much more symbolic of Easter.

HOLMES (voice-over): They might not be the fuzzy yellow chicks associated with Easter but the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds says it needs help funding the care of more than 200 African penguin eggs that were rescued from two different colonies.

The group is asking people to adopt an egg to pay for the cost of incubation and raising the chicks before they return to the wild. Some experts say rearing new healthy birds is the key to the survival of the penguins that once thrived in South Africa.

RONNIS DANIELS, RESEARCH DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, SANCCOB: The African penguin is quite close to extinction. By 2035, according to scientists and with the endangered status, it really is important that we do everything we can to protect the species.

HOLMES (voice-over): Ronnis Daniels says the African penguin population has less than 10,000 breeding pairs left. That's down from a total population of 1 million African penguins about a century ago.

One of their biggest threats is commercial fishing, which has depleted foods sources like sardines and anchovies that penguins eat. The organizations says it takes four months to raise a healthy chick from an egg. And any help this Easter, in the spirit of the holiday, could hopefully breathe new life into a struggling species -- Michael Holmes, CNN.


COREN: What a fantastic initiative and I'll definitely adopt an egg.

Well, thanks so much for your company. I'm Anna Coren in Hong Kong. "The Spirit of Soul" is next and my colleague, Kim Brunhuber, will be back in about 30 minutes' time with more of CNN NEWSROOM. Please stay with us.