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Gaza-Egypt Border Remains Closed, Aid Piling Up; Biden to Make High-Stakes Trip to Israel; U.S. Deploying Strike Force to Middle East; CNN Journalist Flees Gaza with Family Amid Airstrikes. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired October 17, 2023 - 06:00   ET


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow with Phil Mattingly in New York. Erin Burnett is live with us again in Tel Aviv, Israel.

And today, President Biden is set to leave Washington on a high-stakes trip to Israel as this war with Hamas intensifies and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza escalates.

President under growing pressure to get critical aid to millions of civilians in Gaza while also supporting Israel and trying to save American hostages held captive by the Hamas terror group.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: He's coming here at a critical moment for Israel, for the region, and for the world.

The president will hear from Israel how it will conduct its operations in way that minimizes civilian casualties and enables humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza.

It is critical that aid begin flowing into Gaza as soon as possible.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Overnight, Israeli air strikes continued to bombard Gaza ahead of a possible ground invasion. The Israeli military says Biden's visit will not delay its planning for that potential ground operation into the Gaza Strip.

Finally, humanitarian aid has been piling up at the border crossing in Egypt, which remains closed. The World Health Organization is now warning that water is running out for hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians.

Satellite images show 30-foot craters blocking the roadway near the crossing. Let's begin with Erin Burnett live in Tel Aviv. Erin, the Israeli

military said just moments ago it's concerned about the humanitarian situation, but there's no ceasefire yet. What do we know about how this plays out?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, of course, that border is still closed, as you point out, Phil. They're concerned about the humanitarian situation. There is no ceasefire. I mean, there's -- at this point, of course, despite all the attempts at negotiations, not much more to say.

I think what you just said there, though, is hugely significant. You talk about 30-foot craters. It is, on the reality of the ground, the actual terrain, the actual craters in the ground that may matter so much.

You open a border that can't be opened. That's the reality of the situation right now. And that, of course, is what President Biden is walking into, making a high-stakes trip to Israel tomorrow.

And that visit is intended to try to cool things down, to try to ratchet down the tensions somewhat, in some way, if he can succeed in addition to reaffirming U.S. Solidarity with Israel. We'll see how -- if there's any chance of this being successful.

CNN's Arlette Saenz joins us from the White House.

And Arlette, what is he hoping to accomplish? You walk into something like this as the president of the United States, you can't just walk in and walk out and have an invasion then happen, and not look bad. So what's the goal?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well for President Biden, this is a high-stakes diplomatic test, as he's not only trying to show solidarity with Israel but also act as a deterrence to adversaries in the region.

You've consistently heard President Biden warn adversaries against trying to use this situation to their advantage.

But this invitation to visit Israel came from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend. The president's team deliberated over the weekend and on Monday about whether he would move forward with such a trip, and ultimately, it was announced last evening by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had engaged in a marathon more than seven- hour sessions of talks with top Israeli officials.

And a key point of discussion between Blinken and those officials, and what is expected to be a key focus for President Biden, is the passage of that humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, as well as ensuring that civilians are safe and protected as Israel continues to issue their strikes against Gaza.

But this all also comes as the president is also concerned and has pledged to the families of the missing Americans that he will do everything he can to try to determine where they are and get them back.

But in addition to this visit to Israel, which is important in its own right, the president is also planning to travel to Amman, Jordan. And it is there where he will visit and meet with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, as well as the Palestinian Authority.

The president is expected to discuss with them also the humanitarian issues at hand as they're trying to get more aid into Gaza, as well as ensures the safety of civilians.

But this all comes as there are huge security concerns about the president traveling into an active war zone. You've seen the president do that in the past. It was a secret trip when he traveled earlier this year to Ukraine.

But the White House acknowledged that this is a very tense situation, that they did their homework about the security concerns and ultimately decided that they could announce the trip ahead of time and that the president would be traveling there.

But this will be a high-stakes moment for President Biden, as his visit there could further tie him to the response to this Israeli crisis.


BURNETT: As you point out, it could very much further tie him to that in a way that the United States would then be indelibly linked to. Thank you very much, Arlette Saenz.

Well, of course, at the heart of this is still the fact that the hostages are still in Gaza, 199 of them, Israel says. But they are still there.

And a movement on that, of course, could be hugely significant in how this plays out.

But the mother of one of those hostages kidnapped by Hamas is speaking out this morning. A short time ago, Karen Shem spoke, and she talked to reporters. She pleaded for her daughter's [SIC] Mia release. This comes a day after Hamas released a hostage video of Mia.

We are not going to show it, because it is propaganda, but in it, Mia is asking to be returned to her family as a medical worker or somebody treats her injured arm.


KEREN SCHARF SCHEM, MOTHER OF MIA SCHEM: I started to shout. I fell to the floor and to scream. And so I wasn't -- I didn't really knew what I was thinking. I saw my baby.

And then it became -- we started to -- to sing and, you know, to cry. Wow, she's alive and to be so happy. And then I started to be -- I felt scared. My message to my daughter is that I love her so much. And I miss her

so much. And all these days, I just thought how I'm hugging her -- hugging her when she's coming home. And that's what kept me strong and, you know, and focused.

I didn't know if she's dead or alive until yesterday. What I knew is that she's -- may -- might be kidnapped. And I'm begging the world to bring my baby back home. She only went to a party, to a festival party, to have some fun. And now she's in Gaza.


BURNETT: Of course, Phil and Poppy, what she filmed was under duress. Mia is a hostage.

One of the SEAL Team 6 hostage negotiator experts was telling us you sort of could hear ventilators in the background, which would support the idea, as the IDF has said, that she's being held underground along with other hostages.

They referred to the fact that they seemed to have tried to do hair and makeup to have her look nice. They're very much trying to manipulate the situation.

But the significance of the video still stands, that Hamas by putting it out is trying to show someone is alive and show that they have that leverage. And obviously, that leaves the door open for a possible hostage return.

HARLOW: And that is going to be crucial, Erin, right, when the president -- when President Biden is on the ground there tomorrow. What -- what will be done by the United States? Will Israel negotiate? They've been saying no to this -- to this point.

But to see that video and then to hear that mother plead to the world to bring her daughter home is -- is quite something.

MATTINGLY: Well, President Biden's high-stakes diplomatic visit to Israel tomorrow, as Poppy was noting, is going to involve discussions and a briefing about hostages, but it also comes as the U.S. military is intensifying its show of force in the region.

Defense officials telling CNN that a unit of about 2,000 Marines and sailors has been ordered to the region. That's on top of the U.S. carrier strike groups that have already been deployed.

And the head of the U.S. Central Command is in Tel Aviv to meet with Israel's military chief -- chief of staff to better understand the defense requirements and outline American support during the conflict.

CNN's military analyst and retired U.S. general -- Army General Mark Hertling is here to walk us through all of it.

You see the deployment of a rapid response force, in form of the U.S. Marines, to the region, not to Israel itself. What does that tell you? GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first of all,

those Marines were in the area. They were conducting exercises and training in Kuwait and Oman. Part of the Central Command operations. They do theater security cooperation.

But to give them an order to stop the training, stop the exercise, get back on the Baton, their -- their mothership, if you will, and get into the area tells me that there's a lot of stops being pulled out, with more force capabilities, more force packages.

Now, what is this ARG, or "arg" as the Marines call it, an Amphibious Ready Group? It's the U.S.S. Baton with several other ships that can carry about 2,200 Marines.

They can do a spectrum of operations, Phil. Everything from, like it says, crisis response to humanitarian assistance to noncombatant evacuations. It says special ops on here, but it's a special-ops- capable unit. What that means is they can contribute to SEALs and Rangers and -- and Delta Forces and others that might be called into the area.


They have the ability to do an amphibious assault on a shore that isn't necessarily what they're going to do. But just having them at the ready is a good idea.

HARLOW: What about security considerations for President Biden making this trip, especially given what we saw, the sirens going off, senators Romney and Chuck Schumer had to take cover when that happened.


HARLOW: Where the president is going, as well.

HERTLING: What I would say is the special -- special services, Secret Services are going through some cheetah flips right now, Poppy. They're -- they're really ramping up, and it's a quick announcement of a visit. They've only had a couple days to plan.

So they will talk to the Marines in the embassy in Tel Aviv and get some additional security there. And you can bet that there will be aircraft overhead, both lower rotary wing and higher fixed wing aircraft jets, when the president is in the area.

But that's not going to prevent Hamas or Hezbollah from launching rockets during the time he's here.

HARLOW: Right. And this is different from when he went to Ukraine in February, right, to mark one year of that war. This is different, way different in terms of security concerns.

HERTLING: Yes. It's slightly different. It was still active combat zones in both cases, but just because of the size of the area --

HARLOW: Proximity.

HERTLING: He is under the potential for rocket fire, just like Senator Schumer and his team were yesterday. But they will be in Tel Aviv. The country of Israel is only 250 miles long and at its widest point 85 miles wide versus Ukraine. And Kyiv especially, which is about 800 miles wide and about 400 miles long.

So, yes, it's -- it's a compressed area, and he's going to be there.

MATTINGLY: Cheetah flips?

HERTLING: Cheetah flips.

MATTINGLY: That's a new technical term (ph).

HERTLING: It's always dangerous having an Army guy talking about an Amphibious Ready Group, yes.

HARLOW: When you said that, I was like, these two Army guys know what that is. And I don't know what that is and that's a technical term.

HERTLING: That's right.

MATTINGLY: A new technical term. General Mark Hertling, we appreciate it, sir. Thank you.

HERTLING: Pleasure.

HARLOW: All right. Well, ahead, wait until you see this. Much more on President Biden's high-stake trip to Israel, yes, but also one of our own CNN journalists caught in the middle of this escalating crisis in Gaza with his family. Their desperate journey South from Gaza City, it is all detailed on camera. You'll see that next, right here.



HARLOW: Hospitals in Gaza received 110 bodies from different areas of Southern Gaza. That just happened overnight. And right now, the humanitarian corridor is still not safe.

Over 44 hospitals in Gaza have been hit, and the World Health Organization says 84,000 pregnant women there require aid right now.

This as the water crisis is also escalating. Civilians are suffering from dehydration and waterborne illnesses.

And CNN has been sharing with you the stories of Palestinians trying to escape as Israel's assault on Hamas escalates.

MATTINGLY: But now one of the people being forced from their home is one of our very own. Ibrahim Dahman is a CNN journalist, born and raised in Gaza. He says he wants to continue his work, telling the stories of the people there. But now, he's grappling with the reality of keeping his family safe at the same time. This is his story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)


GRAPHIC: I'm with my family fleeing airstrikes in Gaza.




GRAPHIC: My son is terrified.



GRAPHIC: I tell him, don't be afraid, son. But the truth is, I'm afraid, too.


GRAPHIC: My name is Ibrahim Dahman and I am a CNN journalist. For years, I have covered the stories of people in Gaza. I never thought that I would become part of the story.


GRAPHIC: Last week I was in Gaza City when I was told to evacuate.


GRAPHIC: I don't know where to go. Where?


GRAPHIC: But where do I go? My home, my family and my life are here.


GRAPHIC: Like so many others, I don't have anywhere else to go.


GRAPHIC: We reach a nearby hotel. There are journalists, families and people on their own. We're now among the displaced, 1.1 million people told to evacuate Northern Gaza.


GRAPHIC: They don't strike hotels, right?


GRAPHIC: They don't strike hotels, no. DAHMAN (voice-over): (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

GRAPHIC: I know deep down no building is safe.

We watch airstrikes, and the sound of explosions keeps us awake at night.



GRAPHIC: On our third day, a nearby building is hit. This man was injured in the explosion. He is my father's cousin. Thankfully, he only suffered minor injuries.


GRAPHIC: I must get away from the hotel. The situation is very difficult.


GRAPHIC: We load our car and head South to Khan Yunis.


GRAPHIC: Seconds after we left the hotel, they fired a rocket that heavily damaged the entire area.

Now we're in Khan Yunis. There are still airstrikes, but it is safer here.


GRAPHIC: It's only a matter of time until we flee again. I hope one day we can return home.


HARLOW: That last line from Ibrahim, "I hope one day we can return home."

MATTINGLY: The most striking thing -- and it's an extraordinary piece and we're grateful for it -- is telling his son they don't hit hotels when his son asks. I think every parent can identify with that, but not so much in that acute of a situation.

HARLOW: It's exactly the line that struck me most.

We do want to tell you, of course, everyone at CNN is supporting Ibrahim and his family any way that we can. We are in constant contact with him, and of course, we will keep you posted as he and his family continue this journey.

MATTINGLY: Well, President Biden is making a war-time visit to the Middle East. He is set to leave sometime this evening. We will ask one of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's senior advisers what the visit will look like and what Biden's support means for their war efforts.

Stay with us.


BURNETT: All right. Welcome back. I'm Erin Burnett, live in Tel Aviv.

President Biden is preparing for a historic trip to Israel and Jordan. The president will land here in Tel Aviv tomorrow morning, where he is expected to meet with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

After that extremely high-stakes meeting, Biden will then travel to Jordan and there, an equally high-stakes meeting with the king of Jordan, King Abdullah, and the Egyptian president, El-Sisi.


Also, the Palestinian Authority leader will be there. So that is going to be crucial, as well. This is about Gaza and humanitarian aid.

It comes, though, as we are getting our first look at weapons the Israel Defense Forces have seized from Hamas. I was there to look at some of these, because they're going out every day and gathering these.

You're looking at an entire container of grenades and large anti-tank mines. These are the things that they're finding littered all on that Gaza border by those kubutzes, which were attacked in the terror attack on Saturday morning, Phil and Poppy.

And it is pretty incredible to see the size of the arsenal. We're going to show you a lot more about it today.

But these are weapons that are, a lot of them, handmade in Gaza. They've got the stamp of Hamas on them. Some of them from Iran and weren't even used, but those are coming in. You can see the actual manufacture date in Iran.


BURNETT: You can see everything from Iran. And even some from North Korea.

So, it is all there. The evidence is there. And it's very much a scene in progress. Because there's massive amounts of weaponry coming in that we were able to see, guys. And -- and it comes in every single day.

Because there's still, you know, the large Jeeps of Hamas fighters. They have to de-booby-trap the bodies. They bring those bulletproof vests in. Those -- those Hamas terrorists are dead. They deal with that.

And then they are bringing in all of this material. So, it is an incredibly huge cache and gives a sense of the scale of the operation that Hamas was conducting.

HARLOW: Wow. It is stunning to see. And Erin, I know you'll have a lot more of that on your show tonight. But to say where they're manufactured with the date of when they were manufactured is quite something.

We'll get back to you very soon.

And as President Biden heads to Israel, the threat of escalation in the region obviously looms. In a phone call, Iraq's prime minister told the president, quote, "Continued aggression in Gaza stirs outrage among people in the region and globally."

Separately, Iran's foreign minister called on Israel to stop the bombardment on Gaza, warning that the spread of the war to, quote, "other fronts" might be, quote, "unavoidable," adding that time is running out for political solutions.

MATTINGLY: Now, in conversations I had last night with several top U.S. officials, here's what they tell me. The U.S. wants humanitarian plans mostly or fully signed off and implemented before the start of any Israeli ground incursion.

The goal is to turn the conceptual idea that was hammered out over the course of seven and a half hours of intensive negotiations by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, his team and their counterparts last night, into a tangible plan of action. They want it to be mostly teed up when the president arrives so he can get it over the finish line.

But that is easier said than done. And it requires other parties to agree to it, not just Israel. And that is a critical component of the second stop in Amman, Jordan.

Joining us now, Bloomberg editor and foreign affairs columnist Bobby Ghosh and CNN political commentator and former Biden White House communications director Kate Bedingfield.

Guys, great to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Bobby, the idea of the president going now, on the front end, the intent behind it. It's been interesting talking to U.S. officials about what they see as the why. What's your read on it?

BOBBY GHOSH, EDITOR AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG: Well, it's a very surprising move for the president to go in this early. And to your point, the president of the United States typically doesn't go -- doesn't travel until the outcomes of that visit have been pre- negotiated and guaranteed. baked in.

There should traditionally be no room for surprises when the president is there. So, this deal that's been hammered out by Blinken and his team has to be cast in stone.

The last thing the president would want to happen on his watch while he's there is for Israel to launch this big ground offensive without the humanitarian efforts already being in place. That would be embarrassing for the president. So he's taking a risk.

And when you're dealing with Bibi Netanyahu, that -- that is quite a risk, because he -- Netanyahu is known to sort of go off-pieced (ph) a little bit and do things on his own time line. And so the president is taking a big risk.

To your other point, that there are other players involved, he's going to Jordan. But Egypt is going to be the big player here. That humanitarian corridor has to come through Rafah in the South.

And we've seen video earlier in the show of big convoys of -- of humanitarian supplies waiting to go in. But the border is still really closed.

And for all that Israel and Egypt are saying they want to allow this humanitarian effort to begin, it's been days now.