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Deal Reached to Allow 500 Foreign Nationals to Leave Gaza Strip; IDF Defends Deadly Strike on Refugee Camp; Protestors Interrupt Blinken During Israel, Ukraine Funding Hearing; Donald Trump Jr. to Testify in Civil Fraud Trial. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired November 01, 2023 - 06:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We begin with breaking news. I'm Poppy Harlow with Phil Mattingly in New York.

And just breaking this morning, Americans and hundreds of other foreign nationals who have been trapped in Gaza could be getting out imminently. The same with injured civilians. You are looking at live picture of the Rafah crossing this morning.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: Ambulances have been rushing there, and crowds of people have been gathering, after sources tell CNN Qatar has brokered a deal with Hamas, Israel, and Egypt to allow up to 500 foreign nationals to leave Gaza and enter Egypt. We're told the deal does not include hostages held by Hamas.

We have team coverage from Tel Aviv to the White House. Let's start with Salma Abdelaziz in London. Salma, what are we learning about this actual deal? Who can get out and when?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So we understand that this is a deal that has been mediated by Qatar, of course, in coordination with Egypt and the United States, Hamas and Israel.

And this is a deal that people have just been hoping, wishing and praying for, for weeks now. We're into the fourth week of the conflict. We've seen days and days of people just sitting at the Rafah crossing, hoping for it to open. Now we understand that it will open imminently.

We don't have a clear timeline, but we understand that we could see up to 500 foreign nationals cross today. We also could potentially see several injured people, injured Palestinians. Some 80 injured Palestinians potentially could be part of this deal, as well.

These would be the first Palestinians allowed to leave the Gaza Strip since the conflict began just after October 7th.

We did have images of ambulances. And I think you're playing those now. E.D. ambulances just waiting at that crossing. This is a major breakthrough, one that President Biden had been working on, one that the White House had been working on. One that, again, these families have been desperate to see.

but you have to remember, there ARE still 2 million people who are trapped in Gaza who do not have the option that this small group, this 500, potentially; up to 500 nationals do have to come through.

But it is a sign of a diplomatic breakthrough. And I'm sure for those mediators, hope that negotiations could move further along with hostages and other issues.

HARLOW: And it -- it's really important, Salma, that you point out also that this is not about the hostages being held and how they're going to make the distinction between those 80 or so that are injured enough to be able to leave and all the others is an impossible task.

Talk about the Rafah crossing, because there are two checkpoints they would have to go through.

ABDELAZIZ: Yes, so the Rafah crossing is extremely important, because you have to remember that the Gaza Strip has been blockaded now for more than 15 years. It's closed off on the Israeli side. It's closed off on the Egyptian side. Very few Palestinians, even before this conflict, would have the permissions to leave the Gaza Strip.

The Rafah crossing is one of those very few places, and now because of course, the Israeli side being closed and that complete siege announced right after October 7th, it is the one and only crossing.

And what we've seen over the course of the last few weeks is sort of chaos at that crossing, to be frank. Because we've seen families lining up day after day, including our own CNN producer, Ibrahim Dahman, among those families time and time again going to that crossing, hoping it open.

There were explosions, airstrikes near that crossing. Aid groups were warning that the roads around that crossing were also damaged.

So there has been a great deal of contention, if you will, and tension around that Rafah border crossing. And for many of these families, again, that have been waiting now for more than three weeks, the question will be, well, why did it take so long to get us out?

And yes, they're going to have to cross through this territory that, again, has been damaged, according to Egyptian officials, in the course of the last few weeks. They're going to have to go through multiple checkpoints, multiple security checkpoints to get across to the other side.

The select number of wounded, again, we are hearing only about 80 wounded. And you have to remember, there's thousands of wounded people inside the Gaza Strip.

The 80 wounded will also go through intense security checks. The ambulances are waiting on the other side.

It's a very active border in the last few days, because you also have aid going in that very small trickle of aid.


But this will be important to see these mechanisms take place, to see these wheels start to turn. And again for mediators, a sign of hope for progress in the future.

HARLOW: Yes. A real sign of hope. Salma, thank you for that breaking news reporting.

MATTINGLY: And joining us now, CNN military analyst Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Colonel Leighton, this has been the center point of intensive diplomatic discussions. It's also been a place of hopes and hopes dashed over the course of the last several weeks. Americans being told they might be able to leave and then never actually finding an open border. How does this actually work in terms of getting out of Gaza and into Egypt?


The big area here is really that right here at the Rafah crossing, what Salma was talking about, this is the area where they have to go through. And as Salma was mentioning, there are multiple checkpoints here.

What they're going to be doing is they're going to be looking for to make sure that no Hamas fighters get over this way. Because the key thing here is security for the Egyptians, as well as for the Israelis and, of course, actually for Hamas.

So what they're trying to do is they're trying to move the foreign nationals, and they're trying to also move the wounded people, the 80 or so wounded people that will be in those ambulances that we saw earlier.

So this is the kind of thing that's going to make a big difference. And Phil, when you look at the way this is going to go, it's going to be a test for the diplomatic efforts that have been going on between the White House, the Egyptians, Hamas and, of course, Qatar.

So these are the kinds of things that will make a difference on the ground for a select few people. But the misery in Gaza will continue.

HARLOW: How significant, Colonel, that Qatar, it appears, was able to broker this? And we're not talking about a handful of people. Salma's reporting is some 500 foreign nationals and also about 80 pretty severely injured Palestinians.

LEIGHTON: Yes. That's going to be a really big thing, because what the Qatari foreign ministry was able to do is work with people that really don't want to talk to each other. And that's the key thing.

When you lock at Hamas and you look at Israel, two intransigent parties in this particular thing, in this particular conflict. And you are looking at, really, an ability to get people who need to get out, out of a very intense conflict zone.

With this crossing not being open, this is an open air prison still. For these 500 people and the 80 injured, this is going to be, I think, a major break for them. And hopefully, it will allow them to achieve safety and get out of the danger zone.

HARLOW: Colonel Leighton, thank you. We'll get back to you very soon.

So the Israeli military revealing new details about the extent of its bombardment in Gaza. The IDF is now saying 11,000 terrorist targets -- targets, not people -- have been hit since the start of the war.

That includes the recent bombing of Gaza's largest refugee camp, which has triggered concern and condemnation from around the world. Look at that.

Eyewitnesses are describing a horrific scene in Jabalya. A warning: the images are very hard to watch.



GRAPHIC: Give her to me, give her to me.


MATTINGLY: One witness tells CNN it felt like the end of the world, with seven to eight huge craters filled with dead people and body parts. Another witness says he saw children carrying other injured children.

The Israeli military is defending the strike and saying it killed a top Hamas commander.

Joining us now from Tel Aviv is CNN correspondent Rafael Romo. Rafael, how is the IDF responding to very, very unequivocal backlash against this attack on a refugee camp?

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Phil and Poppy, good morning.

Well, first and foremost, the Israel Defense Forces say it was not an attack against the civilian population. The intended target was a senior Hamas commander was hiding in that location as well, as numerous militants with the Islamic organization.

Hamas denies that the commander was even there at the time.

IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus told CNN earlier that they hit a tunnel complex buried underground where the commander was hiding. Later, the IDF claimed that fighter jets acting on intelligence killed Ibrahim Biari, who was the commander of Hamas Central Jabalya Battalion and one of the leaders responsible for the October 7th terrorist attacks in Israel, adding that numerous militants were also hit in the strike.

This is how the Israel Defense Forces responded to the criticism about the civilian casualties. Let's take a listen.


JONATHAN CONRICUS, IDF SPOKESMAN: In this specific attack, we were targeting an important military commander. Therefore, there could be no warning before. We struck the target.


What we did here was to strike with the acquired [SIC] -- or the required amount of fire power in order to get to where he was hiding, in order to achieve a military achievement that supports the overall aim of the war.

That is why this was struck. It is both legitimate and an important military strike to do. I understand that the pictures are difficult. I understand that the pictures are difficult. I understand that our human feelings when seeing suffering, we relate to that.


ROMO: Phil and Poppy, Conricus went on to say that trying to -- trying to use civilians as human shields when it is a common practice for Hamas. He said is a war crime, just as much as not allowing civilians to evacuate from a combat area, which the militant Islamist group has also done.

Back to you.

HARLOW: Phil, has -- has the IDF presented evidence that they, indeed, were able to take out that Hamas target? And have there been -- has there been an actual number given on all of the civilian deaths from this?

ROMO: Yes no evidence so far. That's one of the questions that we've been asking: show us the evidence that actually that commander was there. So far they haven't been able to do that.

But in the past couple, in the past couple of weeks, they have also claimed that they hunted down and killed. They published a list of 32 alleged members of Hamas leadership. And it is very difficult to verify their claims.

Also we have to talk about the fact that because it is a zone, it's impossible to verify for us. So there's -- there's nothing that we can tell you at this point to verify that information.

HARLOW: Rafael Romo, thank you for the reporting for us, live from Tel Aviv this morning.

Ahead, a student at Cornell University has been charged in connection to really severe online threats made against the Jewish community there. Those details, ahead. MATTINGLY: And Secretary of State Antony Blinken about to head back to Israel. Protesters interrupted his testimony before a Senate committee yesterday as they called for a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas. More just ahead.

We are continuing to follow the breaking news that a deal was reached to release foreign nationals and critically injured civilians from Gaza. We will keep you posted. Stay with us.



HARLOW: You're looking at live pictures right now of the Rafah crossing in Southern Gaza into Egypt that has really been impassable for so many desperate to leave Gaza.

But there is breaking news this morning. Sources tell CNN that Qatar has brokered a deal between Israel and Hamas for the release of potentially hundreds of foreign nationals and critically injured civilians.

We, of course, will keep you posted as we learn more.

MATTINGLY: Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has been integral in long-time negotiations is going to meet with government officials. It will mark his third visit since Israel's war against Hamas began after the October 7th terrorist attack.

And it comes as President Biden and top national security officials are increasingly facing tough questions about Israel's commitment to minimizing civilian casualties, despite the rapidly mounting death toll and the bloody scenes we're continuously seeing out of Gaza.

Blinken also testified before senators yesterday in defense of the White House's $105 billion emergency aid package for both Israel and Ukraine. A tight-rope walk, supporting Israel while outrage at civilian casualties grows. It was evident, the hearing repeatedly interrupted by angry protesters, demanding a ceasefire. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ceasefire now! I beg you, ceasefire now!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Secretary Blinken, you may continue.



MATTINGLY: President Biden has so far resisted calls for a ceasefire and refuses to denounce Israel's tactics, making clear that, in his view, Israel has a, quote, "responsibility to defend its citizens from terrorism."

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is live at the White House with more. Priscilla, particularly in the wake of the strike in Jabalya, the refugee camp, this underscores that almost impossible balancing act. What's the White House saying right now?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does, Phil. And it really vividly captures the tightrope that you were just mentioning, where U.S. officials maintain that Israel is trying to protect civilian lives, but at the same time, these images and this destruction in Gaza is fueling that public outrage.

And that weighs heavy here at the White House among senior officials. And that also goes from the president all the way on down. In fact, this was something that had come up over the weekend in a phone call between President Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which was again reiterating that Israel has a right to defend itself, but it also has to do all it can to follow the rules of war and also protect innocent civilians.

Up until this point, what we often see from U.S. officials is that demonstrating empathy with these images while also making it clear that Israel has the -- Israel has the right to defend itself, particularly after those attacks in October.

To get a glimpse of that, take a listen to what national security spokesperson John Kirby had to say just yesterday.


JOHN KIRBY, SPOKESPERSON, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Unlike Russia in Ukraine, and unlike what Hamas did on the 7th of October, the killing of civilians is not a war aim of Israel. I'm not denying that it's happening. Of course it is.

What I can tell you is that we have indications that they are trying. I'm not predicting that, on any given day, they aren't going to fail to meet their own expectations about killing civilians.

Sadly, our own experience as a military over the last 20 years has shown us that, even with our best intentions and all the efforts that we put into avoiding civilian casualties, we still cause them. And it's tragic each and every time.


ALVAREZ: Now, aides to the president believe that those warnings are delivered in tougher conversations in private than they are publicly.

But all the same, Phil, the reality that the White House is facing here is that there are risks within the president's own party about the response and that erode -- that the public support for this, for Israel could erode in time. All of that weighing heavy here at the White House.

MATTINGLY: That's weighing heavy, particularly on the diplomatic side of things. But at home on the domestic front, there is a battle right now over the president's $105 billion emergency aid request. It includes $60 billion for Ukraine, $14 billion for Israel. [06:20:10]

The White House has now issued a veto threat on the Republican proposal. Right?

ALVAREZ: That's right. And so that Republican proposal doesn't include Ukraine. It's only Israel. And this was already set up for a collision course within the Senate and now here at at the White House.

And the White House coming out just last night, saying that "The bill is bad for Israel, for the Middle East region and for our national security. And if it gets to the president's desk, he will veto it."

And Phil, remember, the president delivered marks in October about this supplemental, making clear to Americans that these conflicts that are playing out abroad are not just far-away conflicts. They do affect national security here in the U.S.

And the White House has had to ratchet up their own support, public support for this supplemental. And so this veto would be, again, for this bill that only includes aid to Israel. And just making clear, again, the stance, that it needs to include aid to both Israel and Ukraine for matters of national security -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: Priscilla Alvarez, live for us on the North Lawn. Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. A significant update for you on the breaking news this morning. A Western official confirming to CNN Americans are not -- not -- expected to be among the first batch of people allowed to leave Gaza today.

It was unclear when they would be allowed to leave. It is expected Americans will be allowed to leave later this week, according to the official. We just don't know when.

Again, this is developing as we speak, and we'll continue to follow it very, very closely.

MATTINGLY: And as we do continue to follow that breaking news at the Rafah crossing this morning, watching it very closely, keep in mind there's also domestic news, as well.

Here in New York this morning, Donald Trump Jr. is expected to kick off the Trump family testimony in that civil fraud trial. What to expect. That's ahead.



MATTINGLY: We're showing you live pictures of the Rafah border crossing. It has been a critical point of discussion, often frustration over the course of the last several weeks as American citizens, Palestinians being told to evacuate Gaza or move from the Northern part of Gaza, across the board have been looking to get out, have been unable to do so.

Now we understand, according to our reporting, there is a deal brokered by Qatar -- Qatari officials that would allow for up to 400 or 500 foreign nationals to exit, along with 80 or so wounded Gaza residents.

We are keeping you posted on the latest as we continue to learn more on this breaking news.

HARLOW: Meantime, Donald Trump Jr. is expected to take the stand and testify today. The former president's eldest son will testify in this $250 million civil fraud trial.

Don Jr. and his brother, Eric, are executive vice presidents of the Trump Organization; also, defendants in this case.

The New York attorney general accuses them of fraudulently inflating their father's net worth to obtain financial benefits like better loans and insurance policy terms.

Brynn Gingras following this trial; joins us this morning outside of the courthouse.

He's going to take the stand. What are prosecutors trying to get from him?


Yes, remember the judge in this case has already ruled that Donald Trump Jr.; his brother, Eric; his father, Donald Trump, the former president, they're all liable for fraud.

But they're also trying to prove that they all worked together to create this fraudulent scheme over decades. So they're going to have to answer questions to that.

And to what you just said, Donald Trump Jr. and his brother, Eric, took on expanded roles at Trump Org when their father took on the presidency. So there's going to be a lot of questions about what role did they play, what did they know about the preparation of these financial documents.

Now, listen, in a former deposition done by Donald Trump Jr., by the attorney general's office, he said, I went to business school, but I didn't actually prepare these documents. I just relied on my legal departments, the accounting departments to prepare these documents. And then I would sign off on them.

So we'll see how he expands on that. Certainly, we're going to see the, you know, documents being put into evidence today that they are going to have to answer to.

And it will behoove them to answer those questions, because in the civil trial, you know, saying -- taking the Fifth or not answering questions could, you know, look to the judge as if they're basically just, you know, not wanting to be truthful about this testimony. So we are expecting Don Jr. to take the stand sometime this afternoon.

Eric Trump likely will happen tomorrow. But it's important to note here that the former president isn't expected to be in the courtroom for his son's testimony both today and tomorrow. So we'll see how this shakes out in the coming days, guys.

HARLOW: OK, Brynn. Thank you for following it. Appreciate it -- Phil.

MATTINGLY: We are continuing to follow that breaking news. Multiple sources telling CNN Qatar has brokered a deal to help get foreign nationals out of Gaza through that Rafah border crossing.

Now, this is separate, of course, from the hostage negotiations.

Western officials tell Kevin Liptak and myself that Americans will not be among the first group released, but they are expected to be able to leave in the coming days.

HARLOW: And Israel this morning defending its bombardment and that deadly strike on the crowded refugee camp in Gaza, saying they were targeting a key Hamas leader.