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Palestinians Stranded In West Bank Fear For Families In Gaza; Families Of Possible Hamas Hostages Demanding Answers; Today: Biden To Visit Israel In High-Stakes Trip. Aired 7:30-8a ET

Aired October 17, 2023 - 07:30   ET




ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We have some new video just in that show strikes near the Rafah Crossing. That is the border between Gaza and Egypt. It is the same place where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are gathered hopefully to -- hoping to safely cross Gaza -- out of Gaza into Egypt. It's also where Palestinian-Americans and other dual passport holders all are massed waiting.

This comes as in the West Bank we are learning more about desperate Palestinians who have been stranded at a refugee camp for days trying to get home. There have been scores of Palestinians who were working in Israel and also were actually in Israel -- many of them work here -- when Hamas attacked and the conflict began. And now they're actually stuck in the West Bank. They can't go back to Gaza to return to their homes and they are fearing the worst for their families that they left behind just going for a regular day at work.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond joins us live from Jerusalem. And, Jeremy, this is a crucial part of the story. I mean, even in the kibbutzim, which were hit in the attack, you would have had people from Gaza coming over to work in those homes in Kibbutz. That's the way it works. You have, every day, people coming -- Palestinians -- into Israel.

What more can you tell us?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, before the war started, about 18,000 Gazans had permits to come and work in Israel. And UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, now estimates that more than 4,100 of them were in Israel when Hamas carried out its attack in Israel. Now, after having their permits revoked by Israel they are now stranded in the West Bank.

We met with a group of about 180 of them who are in the Dheisheh refugee camp to hear their heartbreaking stories.


ISMAIL ABD AIMAGID, BAKER (through translator): He is saying he likes football and he likes the phones. DIAMOND (voice-over): Sitting in a refugee center in the West Bank,

Ismail Abd AIMagid can't hold back his tears when speaking of his family. His wife and five children are in Gaza, which has faced relentless bombing over the last week.

AIMAGID (through translator): They are my life. Of course, they are all my life.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Ismail should be there, too. When war broke out he was in Israel, one of the roughly 18,000 Gazans granted a permit to work there.

AIMAGID (through translator): I always wanted this permit because the situation in Gaza is very dire. The financial situation, the debt. The economy is zero.


DIAMOND (voice-over): Now, Ismail just wants to go home.

AIMAGID (through translator): In an instant, right now, I'll go back. This moment, I would go back.

DIAMOND (on camera): When Hamas carried out its attack in southern Israel, hundreds of those Gazan workers suddenly found themselves stranded far away from their families as bombs began falling on the Gaza Strip. Now several hundred of those workers are here in the Dheisheh refugee camp waiting to return home.

ADAM BOULOUKOS, UNRWA WEST BANK DIRECTOR: Well, these numbers are really hard to get a handle on and there might be 15,000-20,000 work permits that are issued on a daily basis. We don't know how many were working on that Saturday. It was Shabbat, so maybe the number was half. Maybe it's more than that -- more than 10,000. But the Israelis have kind of gathered them up and brought them to the West Bank.

DIAMOND (voice-over): At least 180 are living, sleeping, and waiting here in the Dheisheh refugee camp's event center agonizingly powerless to help their families.

MARWAN SAQER, CONSTRUCTION WORKER (through translator): What do I feel? I feel like I can't sleep. I'm super worried about them. And all day I'm in contact with them. And until now, I spoke to my boy. I told him to leave -- to go to another area. Take your mother and your siblings and go to another area. If I was there I would be the one taking them from one place to another to protect them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is taking care of your family now?

AHMAD ABU ASSI, TEXTILE COMPANY EMPLOYEE (through translator): Nobody. All of us -- physically, we are here but our minds are in Gaza.

(On phone): Hello?

DIAMOND (voice-over): During our interview, Marwan's family tries to call him twice. "The call got disconnected," he says, discouraged. "There's no reception."


DIAMOND: And Erin, what was most agonizing in listening to these men's stories was the sense of powerlessness. As the heads of their families, they would normally be the ones driving their family from place to place trying to avoid the bombing that they are facing in Gaza. Instead, they are stuck, powerless to get back to their families, trying to connect with them on the phone. And as you can hear, they are trying to tell them where to go. But as we know, few places in Gaza right now are safe -- Erin.

BURNETT: So much pain and so much fear, and so much uncertainty.

Jeremy, thank you very much. It's such an important part of this story -- Phil.


With virtually no updates on the condition of the hostages in Gaza more and more families are growing restless. CNN's Clarissa Ward sat down with some of those families as they demand answers. Stay with us.



MATTINGLY: A new video just in shows airstrikes near the Rafah Crossing. We're told they hit about one kilometer from that crossing. It's about a half-mile. There were two strikes about 15 minutes apart, according to our stringer. And a reminder this is the same place where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are gathered hoping to safely cross out of Gaza into Egypt.

Our Clarissa Ward is in Ashkelon. Clarissa, you just heard booms in your area as well. What can you tell us?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Phil. No sign in sight of any end to the violence. As you mentioned, strikes in Gaza. Gazan authorities saying that more than 70 people have been killed when those strikes took place in the south of Gaza, which is supposed to be the area that people are being evacuated to for their safety -- hundreds of thousands of them. Six hundred thousand, according to the U.N. have moved into that southern part of the enclave.

Then just a few minutes ago, we heard a barrage of missiles coming in here to Ashkelon. Take a listen.


Missiles striking in Ashkelon, Israel.


WARD: And the Iron Dome, of course, intercepts the vast majority of those, although I will say this time we counted at least two direct impacts -- one of them not far behind me. We've seen some fire engines arriving. There's no sense or reporting yet that anyone was injured. But clearly, a sign that there is no abating to the constant escalation that has been continuing steadily for the last 10 days, Phil.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Clarissa, the IDF has said that there could be more of these hostage videos, right? That they released this one of a young woman named Mia. I know you've been speaking to and just spoke with some of the hostage families. What can you share?

WARD: So, Poppy, this is interesting because the IDF is now saying 199 hostages. Hamas is saying between 200 and 250. Last night they released a statement saying that they would be willing, potentially, to release foreign nationals who are among those hostages when the right circumstances exist on the ground.

But for the family members of all the Israeli hostages right now, there is real fear that the escalating violence, the relentless bombardment of GAZA is putting their family's lives in danger. Take a look.


WARD (voice-over): For days, they have sat outside the military headquarters in Tel Aviv holding vigil for their loved ones. Among many family members of those held in Gaza there is anger at the Israeli government's handling of the crisis and growing cries to make a deal for the hostages' release.

Shay and her family are looking for her sister, Liri Albag, a 19-year- old soldier who disappeared at Nahal Oz Kibbutz.

SHAY ALBAG, SISTER OF HOSTAGE: We don't know where she is, if she eats, sleeps, where they keep her. We don't know anything.

WARD (on camera): So tell me why are you here?

ALBAG: Because I want someone to look at me. Look at all of us.

WARD (voice-over): Earlier today, the government confirmed they believe another 50 hostages are being held in Gaza, bringing the total close to 200.


Among them is 74-year-old Vivian Silver, a peace activist and Canadian citizen who lived in the Be'eri Kibbutz. Be'eri was the site of some of the darkest bloodshed during the October 7 attack. Vivian's son, Yonatan, was on the phone with her throughout the morning as the horror unfolded.

YONATAN ZEIGEN, SON OF HOSTAGE: I heard a lot of gunshots outside a window and we decided to stop talking because she was hiding. But at some point, she wrote me that they're inside the house.

WARD (on camera): Her house?

ZEIGEN: Yeah. And that was it. I wrote her "I'm with you." She said "I feel you" and that was the last message.

WARD (voice-over): For nine agonizing days, he has shuttled between optimism and despair as Israel's leaders steel its citizens for an invasion of Gaza.

WARD (on camera): When you look at more than 300,000 reservists being called up, huge amounts of weaponry and military personnel massing at the border, a lot of anticipation about a ground offensive, how does that make you feel?

ZEIGEN: It makes me anxious. I didn't want war before and I don't want war now. I don't think we can kill dead babies with more dead babies.

WARD (on camera): Do you think in Israel that most people agree with you? Do you think people here want war?

ZEIGEN: Nobody wants war, but I think people are willing to accept war because you'll hurt anyone to stop the pain. So you see the demon in front of you and you want to vanquish it. I don't think it's realistic. Whatever we do to Gaza now it would come back.

WARD (voice-over): A plea to break the endless cycle of violence and to prioritize rescuing the living over avenging the dead. But in this moment of raw anguish it's the calls for invasion that are growing louder.


WARD: Now, we spoke to a former senior security official here in Israel, Poppy and Phil, who basically said that he does not believe this time that the Israeli government or the Israeli Defense Forces are interested in negotiating any kind of a deal or a prisoner swap with Hamas. He said that's the whole reason that Hamas' leadership even exists because most of them have been released in previous prisoner swaps.

He said that he thinks the best chance of those hostages being released is through ground operations once an invasion begins. And, of course, that will be a very frightening prospect for many of these families to hear -- Poppy, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, no question about that.

Clarissa Ward, great reporting. Thanks so much.

Well, President Biden will leave today for an extraordinary wartime trip to Israel and Jordan. Admiral John Kirby joins us to discuss the president's decision. That's coming up next.


[07:52:40] MATTINGLY: Well, this morning, Israeli Forces continue to pummel Gaza with airstrikes, and it all comes as President Biden prepares for his high-stakes diplomatic visit to Israel.

The U.S. military is intensifying its own show of force, as we've mentioned. Defense officials tell CNN that a unit of about 2,000 Marines has been ordered to head off to waters toward Israel. That's on top of the U.S. carrier strike groups that have already been deployed. The Israeli military -- it's getting ready for what it calls the next phase of its campaign.

CNN military analyst and retired U.S. Army Gen. Mark Hertling is here to walk us through all of it.

When you talk about the scale of what the U.S. has put into place, or starting to move into place assets-wise, what does it tell you about the U.S. posture?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST, FORMER COMMANDING GENERAL, U.S. ARMY EUROPE AND SEVENTH ARMY: It's a lot, and it is a deterrent force primarily. It is to prevent other nations and potentially, terrorist groups from entering into this conflict. It's not going to contribute specifically to the fight in Gaza but it is going to try and contain the area so there are another -- there are no other actors coming in to influence what Israel is trying to do.

HARLOW: I'm wondering if you think this is significant or how significant. The -- one of the IDF spokespeople that we've had on a lot, Col. Richard Hecht, just said, according to Reuters, quote, "We're preparing for the next stages of war. We haven't said what they will be." And this is the key part. "Everybody's talking about the ground offensive. It might be something different."

Is that significant?

HERTLING: It is very significant because I think what they're concerned about right now, Poppy, is intelligence. What kind of intel do they have on the area of operation -- that 25-mile by 3-mile stretch of ground we call the Gaza.

It's a tough area. It's like going out in the middle of Manhattan with a lot of buildings, with millions of people. So in order to operate in that area, especially when most of Hamas' actions are occurring underground, you've got to have intelligence. You just can't willy- nilly go in and start fighting.

HARLOW: You're saying you think this indicates that their intelligence isn't as good as they need it to be to go in on the ground?

HERTLING: I'm saying that that's a part of it.


HERTLING: But also, just going in with a massive amount of force is only going to get people on the Israeli side and the Palestinian side killed.

We're seeing airstrikes right now. That's significant. A lot of people are dying under those airstrikes. Hopefully, most of the people dying are terrorists.


But even strikes like that -- we're seeing buildings blow up. Every strike that occurs is driven by some type of intelligence. There is something there. It's just not an aircraft going in and dropping a bomb. They have some kind of intelligence that says we've got a terrorist here or we've got some kind of action going on.

MATTINGLY: How long would you want for an operation like has been I think previewed to some degree -- a ground incursion on a scale that's bigger than it was in 2014 and bigger than it was in 2008?

HERTLING: Yeah, let's compare a little bit, and it's a great question.

In 2014, Operation Protective Edge, which I've studied -- it's a fascinating campaign. They put the majority of their forces in the north, but they also had some going into the center and some in the south at (INAUDIBLE) -- kind of inside (PH).

Seventy thousand, they mobilized back there. Three hundred thousand they're mobilizing today.

And Israel killed 66 Israeli soldiers and 2,100 Palestinians. They've already surpassed that. And things have gotten much tougher inside of the Gaza since then because of Hamas blowing things up a little bit.

MATTINGLY: All right. Scale.


MATTINGLY: It's different and enormous.

HARLOW: Thank you.


Well, you're looking at live pictures of Capitol Hill ahead of a House floor showdown for its next speaker, maybe, later today.

HARLOW: We're also following the president's high-stakes trip to the Middle East. What it means for the war between Israel and Hamas, and potential U.S. aid in the region, next.