Return to Transcripts main page

Connect the World

Israel Army Chief Says War with Hamas Will Last Many More Months; Civilians in Gaza Seek Safety, Shelter amid Ongoing War; Iraq Condemns U.S. Airstrikes On Iran-Backed Militants; Netanyahu Confidant Meets with Senior U.S. Officials; Gangs Force Trafficking Victims to Scam Americans Online; Migrant Surge at U.S. Southern Border; Call to Earth: Coral Gardening; Father and Son-in-Law Save Man Trapped in Crashed Truck. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired December 27, 2023 - 10:00:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Live from CNN Abu Dhabi, this is CONNECT THE WORLD with Becky Anderson.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): Well, hello and welcome to CONNECT THE WORLD this hour. Attacks on U.S. troops and commercial shipping

incidents often involving Iran and its proxies are raising fears that Israel's war in Gaza could engulf the wider Middle East region.

Despite growing international pressure, Israeli officials say their campaign could last for months.

One day after meeting a top Israeli war cabinet member, the U.S. secretary of state is turning his attention from the Middle East to America's

southern border. What Antony Blinken hopes to achieve in Mexico.

Ukraine making a statement that it is not in a stalemate. This massive strike in Crimea is being seen as a battlefield success in Kyiv. And it

sends a message to Brussels and to Washington.

And former president Donald Trump apparently proud of the fact that people are associating the words "revenge" and "dictatorship" with his potential

second term. He's tweeting this word cloud less than one month out from the first 2024 primary contests.


ANDERSON: Let's start with Israel's military, which says it will press on with its war against Hamas. Its leaders defying mounting international

pressure to ramp down the intensive attacks in Gaza and allow a pause for the entry of more desperately needed aid.

Now the Israeli military chief says his country's, quoting him here, "a multi-arena war in the region with one goal: to eliminate Hamas."


GEN. HERZL "HERZI" HALEVI, CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES (through translator): The war will go on for many months. And we will

employ different methods to maintain our achievements for a long time.

There are no magic solutions. There are no shortcuts in dismantling a terrorist organization only determined and persistent fighting. And we are

very, very determined.


ANDERSON: Minimizing harm to civilians was among the topics discussed when a top ally of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the White

House earlier on Tuesday.

Ron Dermer met for four hours with U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

Now the United Nations says 85 percent of Gaza's civilian population has now been displaced since war broke out. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on

Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons says Israel's ultimate goal is to deport the majority of Gaza's civilian population.

It's an awful lot to join the dots on here. Will Ripley, connecting us from Tel Aviv.

And, Will, if one thing is clear as we approach the end of 2023, it is that we are nowhere close to seeing an end to Israel's war on Hamas and the

suffering that it is causing in Gaza.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It seems like a lifetime ago that, before October 7th, things were actually looking up in

Gaza. People's lives were getting better. There was talk of more opportunity, there was talk of an increasing living standard and then the

attacks happened and now this.


RIPLEY (voice-over): The terrifying sound of ongoing bombardment, Israeli shells hitting targets. Closer and closer to this U.N. run school in

central Gaza. For thousands sheltering, here it's time to move again. Families forced to flee for their lives and this is not the first or even

second time for many.

Once again, they carry the war torn pieces of their lives in pursuit of elusive safety.


Just days earlier, many here vowed they would never move again, never. A vow they are now willing to break, only because they know their children's

lives are at stake.

OM MOHAMED, GAZA RESIDENT (through translator): There is no safety in the school. We are looking for a safer place. I'm leaving because of the

intensity of the airstrikes and the suffering.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Everywhere else is crowded, there's no guarantee you'll find a spot. But what else can they do?

Even if they have nowhere else to go, they can't stay here. They don't want to die here. The scene, a grim reminder of what their parents and

grandparents endured, in 1948 when Zionist militias forced them out of their hometowns. In the cold winter, blankets and mattresses are precious


Cars and the fuel that run them are scarce. Those who can't afford it hire donkey carts. For the rest, it's a long trek on foot.

It's very tough back there, he says. Bombs are falling on people everywhere. People were injured there. We don't know where we're heading.

Everywhere is under threat. We're just moving with the rest of the people.

The destination for many, relatives homes, a roof over their heads even though they are neighborhoods already devastated by Israeli airstrikes.

Street battles raging across Gaza, turning areas north and south of the strip into ghost towns. The scars of battle, raw.

YOAV GALLANT, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): We are in a multi-arena war. We are being attacked from seven different sectors, Gaza,

Lebanon, Syria, Judea and Samaria, Iraq, Yemen and Iran. Anyone who acts against us is a potential target. There is no immunity for anyone.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Iran's allies in the region engaging a low level hostilities in response they say to Israel's war in Gaza.

Yemen's Houthi attacking ships, ships they claim already Israeli affiliated, turning the Red Sea into a dangerous route for world trade.

Iran's vow to avenge the killing of an Iranian commander in Syria, sparking renewed concerns of expanding the conflict.

Especially on the Lebanese-Israeli border, artillery fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah keeping both countries on edge since October 8th.

In Gaza, a race for survival between a routine of airstrikes rushing to hospitals and burials and the ongoing search for food and water and a

pursuit of shelter for close to 2 million people displaced.


RIPLEY: And here we are, some 80 days later, 21,000 or more people dead, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza. More than 55,000

people injured, many of them unable to even get into the handful of hospitals that are running on fumes.

Of course, speaking of fumes, almost no fuel; a struggle every day for people displaced, nearly the entire population of Gaza, to find food,

water, shelter -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Will Ripley, on the story. Will, thank you.

Other flare-ups in the region are raising fears of a spillover. U.S. Central command says the Navy intercepted a barrage of drones and missiles

over the Red Sea, a key world trade route.

U.S. officials say the launches started early on Tuesday morning and came from Houthi rebels in Yemen, which are supported by Iran. A U.S. official

says the Houthis have launched at least 100 attacks in the past month. CNN military analyst Cedric Leighton explains exactly what happened in the

latest event.


COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Several different efforts occurred with the Navy and they ended up going after, shooting down

12 one-way attack drones, three anti-ship ballistic missiles and two land attack cruise missiles.

They ended up doing this using a combination of FA-18 fighter jets and the U.S.S. Laboon, which is a destroyer. They were very busy doing this for

over 10 hours.

But they were able to knock all that down, because when you look at the different things that they took care of here, that really protected a lot

of the shipping going through the Red Sea and at these various points right here especially, this narrow point down right here, the Bab al-Mandab, that

is only about 20 miles or so wide.

Between Africa and Yemen, that's one of the narrowest choke points in the world we have to deal with here. And that's why the U.S. is protecting it;

12 percent of all commerce goes through here.


ANDERSON: Meanwhile, Baghdad condemning a series of American airstrikes inside Iraq.

The White House says the U.S. airstrikes and, I quote them here, "likely killed a number of Iran-backed militants." But Iraq says civilians were

among nearly 20 people injured.


It is worth noting that the U.S. operates in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi government. Natasha Bertrand is live in Washington for us.

Natasha, the U.S. certainly is becoming more hands-on in the region. We know that they've got vessels in the Mediterranean and, now, in the Red Sea

and no regional powers involved with American efforts to protect that shipping corridor.

How far is the U.S. and its allies, who have signed up -- and those are mostly Western.

How far are they willing to go, at this point?

What is the strategy here?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We are getting mixed signals about this. The U.S. announced the coalition last week of basically

a maritime task force that involves over 10 countries, including the U.S., that are going to bolster their presence in the Red Sea.

But there is some mixed messages about what they are going to be doing. The U.S., of course, has been shooting down missiles and drones that have been

launched by the Houthis. But other countries have not been as active in directly intervening in those attacks.

And while some countries may choose to escort commercial vessels through the Red Sea up through the Suez Canal if they feel like they are in danger,

the U.S. said that that is not going to be the case in every instance.

That is going to be essentially a case by case basis, where the U.S. determines or these allies determine whether or not to actually get close

to a commercial vessel that calls, for example, on a distress call or that indicates that they might be a target or to basically be like highway

patrol, which is being in the background, monitoring the waterway.

And making sure that they are available to respond if they need to. So it is unclear, at this point, how much that is actually working because the

Houthis have continued their attacks.

Yesterday was an extremely chaotic day in the southern Red Sea. It seems as though the U.S. is among the only allies that are responding to this in a

kinetic way, with actual force.

The question now is whether the U.S. is going to go a step further and attack the Houthis inside Yemen and strike their infrastructure. The U.S.,

of course, has been very reluctant to do that, because there are a lot of regional and political sensitivities.

The U.S. helped broker a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis to try to get to some kind of stability and peace in Yemen. So for the U.S. to

then strike the Houthis in Yemen and kind of re-erupt everything in the region again is something they don't necessarily want to do.

So they are relying on this task force, hoping that they can just shoot down these missiles and drones and try to reassure commercial vessels and

merchant vessels in the Red Sea that they are there to protect them if they need it. But clearly the Houthis are not feeling deterred.

ANDERSON: Yes, and there may be people watching this who will be surprised, perhaps, sort of allies in the region, particularly in the Gulf,

maybe where I am here in the UAE, having to prepare to get involved in this, at least overtly.

And I think there is a sense that this entire region has been calling for a cease-fire. Nobody wants to be dragged into a U.S.-led operation that

looks as if one is siding with Israel, ultimately.

And that seems, certainly from those I am talking to in the region, seems to be one of the reasons that this wider region is sort of holding back

because, at the end of the day, ultimately, nobody in this region wants to see those waterways back in play.

It is really concerning, as we sit here and broadcast from here, focusing back on the conflict in Gaza. And thank you for filling in some of the gaps


The conflict in Gaza, the U.S. influence on Israel, is important here. I want to understand where you believe that is, where the pressure is, how

much pressure there is at this point.

Israeli war cabinet member Ron Dermer has been in Washington. We know that that was an hours-long meeting with Biden officials.

What was on the agenda and what are the key takeouts, as we understand?

BERTRAND: A number of different topics were on the agenda, as you said. He met with secretary of state Antony Blinken and the national security

advisor Jake Sullivan. A very close ally of Benjamin Netanyahu, member of the war cabinet.

And he came to D.C. and, according to a White House official, they discussed the transition to a different phase of the war, to maximize focus

on high value Hamas targets.

That is really the key here that the U.S. has been focused on with their conversations with the Israelis, trying to get out of this high intensity

phase of the, war that has killed so many civilians with devastating airstrikes for the course of the last two months.

And try to focus more on targeted operations like going after senior Hamas leaders and that don't result in so much collateral damage. But they also

talked about steps to improve humanitarian assistance going into Gaza, as well as securing the release of the remaining hostages.


Obviously a key point discussion between the U.S. and the Israelis as these negotiations to get these hostages released kind of start to get back on

track here, with the Qataris mediating.

And then of course, major concern for the United States, planning for a post-conflict Gaza, what does that actually look like, what is Israel

willing to do to maintain the security of Gaza after the war ends?

Perhaps a role for the Palestinian Authority as the U.S. has been urging the Israelis to get behind. So that was a key topic of discussion.

But as far as the main takeaways, that remains to be seen, whether Israel actually moved to this next phase of the war, accepts a certain role for

the P.A., maybe a reformed P.A. for post-conflict Gaza and what that looks like moving forward, Becky.

ANDERSON: And you and I have been talking about this for weeks now. We are beginning to hear the region sort of getting involved in a discussion about

what, as it's known, the day after looks like.

But again, to reinforce, this region has been reticent to do so because it is calling for an immediate cease-fire. And that is certainly the

conversation that is being had between Israel and Jordan at present, Natasha, thank you.

Efforts to stop this bloodshed do continue. Jordan's King Abdullah is in Cairo, meeting with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. And they are

discussing potential paths to a cease-fire.

Egyptian officials have been holding talks with Hamas and with Islamic Jihad, trying to end the fighting, citing two Egyptian security sources.

Reuters reporting that a massive Islamic Jihad rejected Egypt's plan to end the war. Officials from both groups deny that.

So what is this plan looking like or sounding like?

Whatever the case is, it's worth underscoring what one Israeli official told CNN political and foreign policy analyst, Barak Ravid. Ravid took to

the X platform, reporting a potential three-phase deal proposed by the Egyptians. This is his multipart post.

And it says, in part, "The officials stress that the fact that Egypt presented this proposal is important and positive."

The official also telling Ravid, "The Egyptians have significant leverage over Hamas in Gaza. And the more dominant the Egyptians are going to be in

the effort to resume talks, the greater the chances are for success."

To be continued.

Well, Antony Blinken will have to turn his attention from the Middle East to the U.S. southern border. He is one of the top U.S. officials meeting

today with Mexico's president, talk about stemming the flow of migrants. We are going to get you live to the White House a little later this hour.

Ahead of that, allegations of blackmail and the death of a much loved actor. What is rocking South Korea is up next.

And thousands of Americans are losing money in a fast growing financial fraud scam based in Myanmar. A CNN investigation is up next.





ANDERSON: Fans are stunned to learn of the death of star Lee Sun-kyun. He's been a household name in his native South Korea for years and became

an international star in his role in the Oscar winning film, "Parasite."

Lee was found dead in his car earlier today. Police say it looks like suicide and they now confirm the 48-year-old actor had been investigated

for alleged drug use. South Korea's drug policy is one of the strictest in the world.

I want to bring in CNN's Hanako Montgomery, live from Hong Kong.

Let's do this in two parts, if you will.

Firstly, what do we know about the untimely death of this?

And let's be frank, this is a South Korean superstar.

HANAKO MONTGOMERY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Becky. As you mentioned. He is a superstar, both in his home country, South Korea and internationally.

South Korean police have confirmed to CNN, as you mentioned, that his death is presumed to be a suicide.

But what we also know is that, around the time of his death, Lee was being investigated for alleged illegal drug use. This investigation has been

ongoing since October and he has been questioned by the police three times, most recently, on December 23rd, four days before he was found dead in his


Now during this most recent questioning, police had him for 19 hours and he was released on Christmas Eve. Now it is significant to note that,

throughout this investigation, all of these drug tests have come back negative.

He has also denied ever knowingly taking drugs and has said instead that he was tricked into taking them and then subsequently blackmailed. He has

filed a lawsuit against his alleged blackmailer, South Korea police, have told us.

Now as fans around the world mourn his death, we also know that his bereaved family members and coworkers will be holding a funeral quietly,

according to local media reports.

ANDERSON: This will weigh enormously on his family and an outpouring of support and grief from those who loved his work.

MONTGOMERY: Yes, absolutely. And as we are seeing in South Korea, across the globe, really, there has just been so many social media tributes and

messages of hope and thanks to Lee for his amazing work.

And I think the fact that he was being investigated for drug use also comes as a real shock and a real significant moment in South Korea. We know that

the president, Yoon Suk-yeol, has announced that he is cracking down on drugs.

He has announced a war on drugs and has compared South Korea to 10 years ago, when he said that it was free of drugs. South Korea, as you mentioned

at the top there, is known for having one of the world's strictest drug- related laws.

We know that citizens can be charged with drug use, even using them abroad. And for some of the more serious offenses, like drug trafficking, for

instance, it can be punishable with life in prison.

And stars before Lee have also had to step out of the limelight, because of these drug related offenses. They've had their TV shows canceled, their

movie releases suspended or postponed, because they were found caught with drugs.

ANDERSON: Good to have, you thank you very much indeed.

To a story now of fraud that has victims on both sides of the world. Criminal gangs, apparently based in war torn Myanmar, near the Thai border,

are scamming millions of dollars online from thousands of unsuspecting Americans.

And they are forcing human trafficking victims to do their dirty work. CNN's Ivan Watson filed this report from the Thailand border.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been a living hell.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Northern California, C.Y. is piecing together his life.


After losing more than $1 million in a crypto scam.

C.Y., SCAM VICTIM: I can never forget or forgive myself, losing that kind of money.

WATSON (voice-over): He asked to remain anonymous to protect his family after he lost more than a million to a scam called pig butchering.

It started in October 2021 with a text message from a stranger.

C.Y.: This person texted me out of the blue from WhatsApp.

WATSON: What was the name of the person you were communicating with?

C.Y.: She claims her name was Jessica.

WATSON (voice-over): The two quickly became friends. She shared photos and C.Y. talked about the pain of caring for his dying father. After nearly a

month, the conversation turns to money.

C.Y.: She started to introduce me to cryptocurrency. Trading gold using cryptocurrency.

WATSON (voice-over): Jessica showed C.Y. how to invest, by installing a trading app on his phone that he says looked legit.

C.Y.: Around this point is when she was instructing me or showing me how to deposit my money to crypto currency.

WATSON: You thought in just a matter of weeks you doubled your money?

C.Y.: Yes.

WATSON (voice-over): Little did he know he was a victim, pumping money into a sophisticated con. For the scammers, a pig, fattened up for the


C.Y.: I logged back in. The account is gone. What the heck had happened?

What did I do?

That's 30 years of my life -- in my life, building up this -- this wealth.

WATSON (voice-over): Panicking, C.Y. begged Jessica for help.

C.Y.: Please, help me. I don't know what else I can do. I don't have any more money. I cannot buy anything else. I lost everything.

WATSON (voice-over): But Jessica disappeared and probably never even existed.

SPECIAL AGENT JAMES BARNACLE, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: This is the professionalization of fraud services.

WATSON (voice-over): The FBI says it's seen exponential growth in losses due to pig butchering scams.

BARNACLE: The bad guys are getting good and we're getting better.

WATSON (voice-over): An organization representing scam victims tracked their crypto transfers halfway around the world to this border region in


WATSON: U.S. scam victims say they've been able to trace their money to places like this. This walled compound across the river is just inside the

territory of Myanmar.

And that is where we're learning about the conditions inside, that some people who work there, they say that they were forced against their will to

try to scam Americans out of their hard-earned money in conditions that they describe as amounting to modern-day slavery.

WATSON (voice-over): This compound is where an Indian man named Rakesh (ph) says he was forced to work for more than 11 months without pay for a

Chinese criminal gang.

WATSON: The guards have spotted us.

WATSON (voice-over): Until they recently released him back to Thailand.

WATSON: Where was the job supposed to be?

RAKESH (PH), SCAMMER SLAVE: They told for me in Bangkok.

WATSON (voice-over): He, too, was the victim of a scam. Rakesh (ph), who doesn't want to be identified, says he first flew to Thailand for what he

thought was I.T. job. Instead, he says he was tricked into crossing the border to Myanmar, where a Chinese gangster told him to work or else.

WATSON: He threatened to kill you?

RAKESH (PH): Yes. He warned me like that.

WATSON (voice-over): And the job?

Spend 16 hours a day on social media, targeting Americans with a fake profile.

RAKESH (PH): Like, they were providing for us. I got a Russian girl. With using a Russian girl fake profile, I need to scam the people.

WATSON (voice-over): Posing as a Salt Lake City-based investor named Clara Simonov (ph), Rakesh (ph) flirted online with potential targets.

RAKESH (PH): Seventy percent to 80 percent fell -- fall for fake love.

WATSON (voice-over): Rakesh (ph) shows secretly-filmed images of what, at first glance, seems to be an ordinary office. But he says the bosses

routinely punished workers, forcing them to do hundreds of squats and beating them if they didn't produce.

WATSON: And you've helped rescue people who are trapped inside, behind the barbed wire --



WATSON: -- of that very compound?


WATSON (voice-over): Mechelle Moore is one of a group of aid workers based in Thailand, who have helped rescue hundreds of victims of trafficking,

like Rakesh (ph), over the last 18 months. She drives me along the border.

MOORE: There, there's a guard tower just there. Green roof.

WATSON (voice-over): Showing compounds only a stone's throw away, where she says trafficked victims are forced to work as online scammers.

MOORE: This is why this is modern slavery and it's right under everybody's nose.

WATSON (voice-over): Satellite images show rapid construction of these compounds on the border territory of Myanmar over just three years.

Thailand's minister of justice labels these facilities as hubs for criminal scamming activity.

TAWEE SODSONG, THAI JUSTICE MINISTER (through translator): These scammers have to use telephone signals to communicate. That's why they base

themselves near the Thai border, so they can use Thailand's telephone network.

WATSON (voice-over): But he says Thailand has no jurisdiction to crack down on suspected criminals operating across the border in Myanmar.


CNN asked the military government in Myanmar why it hasn't taken action against alleged criminal gangs operating on its territory and did not

receive an answer.

So for now, it looks like no one is going to stop this poisonous cycle of exploitation -- Ivan Watson, CNN, on the Thai border with Myanmar.


ANDERSON: You're watching CNN. Still to come, Russia confirms its warship has been damaged after a successful Ukrainian airstrike. Why Western allies

are calling this a setback for the Kremlin. That is after this.




ANDERSON: Welcome back. You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD, with me, Becky Anderson, out of Abu Dhabi for you, where the time is just after half past

7 in the evening.

Later today, Mexico's president will hold a critical meeting with top U.S. officials to discuss the migrant crisis at the U.S. southern border. This

delegation to Mexico will include U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

Now they are expected to press Mexico to play a bigger role in stemming the flow of illegal border crossings. In recent weeks, a new surge of migrants

has stretched resources for already overwhelmed U.S. agencies. CNN's Rosa Flores has more from the U.S. southern border for you.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As a migrant caravan forms in southern Mexico with thousands from Central and South America, the scene on

the U.S. southern border in Eagle Pass, Texas, has changed.

The areas where thousands of migrants were waiting outdoors to be transported for immigration processing last week were emptied out this

week. The flow this morning appearing to be down to a trickle.

A senior Customs and Border Protection official telling CNN that while the scene in Eagle Pass has improved, the agency is not out of the woods yet.

CBP still grappling with elevated numbers of migrant encounters on the U.S. southern border.


More than 11,000 migrants are waiting in shelters in northern Mexico, 3,800 in Tijuana, 3,200 in Reynosa, 4,000 in Matamoros. Many hoping to enter

legally but some opting to cross illegally, say community leaders.

U.S. federal authorities reported a seven-day average of more than 9,600 migrant encounters in December. That number was 6,800 at the end of


U.S. secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to meet with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Wednesday in Mexico City. The Biden

administration is expected to put pressure on Mexico to do more to stem the flow of migrants.

To deal with the flow, CBP has temporarily suspended operations at several ports of entry in several states to reassign personnel to process migrants.

This, as CNN learns from a CBP official, that the surge is in part driven by pseudo-legitimate travel agencies abroad that promise trips to the U.S.

But instead connect travelers to smugglers south of the border. That might explain this recent scene in Arizona.

FLORES: I work for CNN and I'm wondering where you're from, what country you're from?


FLORES: Senegal.


FLORES: Senegal.


FLORES: Senegal, Senegal, Senegal. Everybody's from Senegal.

FLORES (voice-over): Smugglers are dropping off 500 to 1,000 migrants in remote areas of Arizona, the official said, creating a logistical nightmare

for Border Patrol agents who have to find ways to transport them for immigration processing. For the volunteers who distribute water to migrants

in the desert, it's the children who get them every time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's heartbreaking when you see the little children.

FLORES: Migration appears to be feeding migration. I met one migrant woman from Ecuador who says that the amount of violence in her country has spiked

and that has led business owners, the job creators in her community, to flee her country and come here to the United States.

And she says that that is snowballing. That is forcing the workers to also flee their country and, you guessed it, come to the United States -- Rosa

Flores, CNN, Eagle Pass, Texas.


ANDERSON: This migrant crisis at the U.S. southern border has become a political vulnerability for President Joe Biden. That is probably an

understatement. And a lot is at stake, when top officials from his administration meet today with those Mexican leaders to discuss this


For more on this, let's turn to CNN's Priscilla Alvarez, who is at the White House.

There will be people watching this show, who will be keenly aware of what is going on at that southern border and keenly aware of how this is playing

into U.S. politics. This is a real football at this point.

And the Republicans are really pushing the Democrats for more action on migration and calling out Joe Biden, the president, for not having been to

the border.

Why is that?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is not just Republicans. The president is facing pressure from his own party for more

to be done on the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the bottom line has been from the beginning that the immigration system is decades old and simply cannot absorb the record number of people moving

across the hemisphere, like you heard from Rosa.

So the president speaking with Mexico to try to get them to help drive down the number of migrants coming to the U.S. southern border. It is a move

that the U.S. has used before in moments of crises.

And this time, clearly, very urgent, with two cabinet officials going down to Mexico to have these meetings today with the Mexican president and with

some members of his cabinet.

So the asks, according to officials I've spoken with, include, for example, moving migrants who are on the northern part of Mexico south; controlling

railways, which migrants use to more quickly get to the U.S. southern border and also providing incentives, like visas for migrants to remain in

Mexico and not continue their journey.

Again, this is an extension of a call between President Biden and the Mexican president last week, where the two agreed that additional

enforcement is needed.

Now we have seen a bit of a drop in the numbers. There was a time this month where there were about 10,000 encounters a day. I just spoke to a

Homeland Security official who told me that, yesterday, that was about 6,000 people.

That is still no small number. Border towns are feeling the pressure and they are restless as they continue to grapple with this surge. So the U.S.

is taking a step today to try to get more commitments out of Mexico to lower these numbers.

And it is worth mentioning that this year began with President Biden in Mexico, working with his counterpart, to try to tackle the issue of

migration. We are now at the end of the year. And the two are still trying to get a handle on the situation.

ANDERSON: Tough times.


Thank you. Really important stuff.

To Russia's war in Ukraine now. Western allies are calling the destruction of a Russian warship by Ukraine a certain setback for the Russian Navy. The

Kremlin acknowledges that the Ukrainian attack did damage one of its ships. Have a look at this.


ANDERSON (voice-over): That was a massive explosion, you can see it, in the Crimean port of Feodosia (ph). CNN has not been able to independently

verify that it was destroyed. But if it was, this would be the third instance of major losses of Russian military hardware in less than a week.


ANDERSON: The U.K.'s Defense Secretary, posting on X, said, over the past four months, 20 percent of Russia's Black Sea fleet has been destroyed.

Let's bring in our Fred Pleitgen, who is across this for us.

Clearly, the point here being that a statement from Kyiv on what can be achieved at this time, when there is certainly -- and let's be quite clear

about this -- there's certainly a Ukraine fatigue stateside, particularly from the Republicans. We are seeing fractures in Europe about who will or

will not continue to support Ukraine long term.

All of this because, ultimately, it feels like it's a stalemate and this war is going nowhere.

How significant then have these attacks that we've seen in these last few days, which have clearly been successful against Russian military hub, just

how significant are they, Fred?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think for the Ukrainians, Becky, it's extremely significant, especially because of what

you mentioned. Things are going quite difficult for the Ukrainians on many other parts of the battlefield.

If you look at the southern front, no movement virtually. There and not very much fighting going on in large parts. The eastern front, it seems to

be right now that the Russians are pressing.

So certainly, if we look at some of the destruction of Russian military hardware over the past couple of days, some fighter jets and now,

apparently, this landing ship as well, where the Russians said it was damaged, what we are seeing on our screens right now, that explosion

occurred on that trip.

It certainly seems as though, at the very least, it would be significant damage. That certainly is a win for the Ukrainians and definitely one they

badly need at this point in time.

Right now, the Ukrainians are saying there are two things to all of this. They managed to, they say, hit the ship in that port of Feodosia. That is

on the side of Crimea that is very far away from any Ukrainian held territory.

So they managed to strike very, very deep in Russian controlled territory, apparently, with air launched missiles as the Ukrainians and the Russians

say as well. So that in itself, is a statement.

Then Ukrainians are also saying, one of the other things they're not sure about, which they think is significant, that they believe there was a

considerable amount of explosive and ammunition on that ship as well. And that's why we're seeing that gargantuan explosion on our screens after that

was hit.

The Russians at this point are not giving very much information, saying that the ship was hit. At the same time, the Russians are trying to divert

attention a little bit, saying that they are the ones who are making gains on the battlefield.

So certainly trying to downplay this a little bit. But the Ukrainians have also been saying, British intelligence as well, that it's becoming

increasingly more difficult for the Russians to operate their Black Sea fleet in the Black Sea, away from those ports, simply because they are

dealing with attacks from Ukrainians.

Of course, with some of those seaborne drones, with attacks the Ukrainians are conducting but then also, with drone and missile attacks as, well


ANDERSON: Thank you, Fred.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. I'm Becky Anderson, live from Abu Dhabi. Coming, up Call to Earth guest editor Titouan Bernicot and his crew of

underwater gardeners show us how they are helping to coral reef ecosystems worldwide. Stand by.





ANDERSON: Right. Throughout this week, Call to Earth, which is a series here on CNN, is turning the spotlight on French Polynesia and an

organization working to restore coral reef ecosystems there and around the globe.

People like Titouan Bernicot started coral gardens in 2017 when he was just 18 years old as part of the Rolex Perpetual Planet Initiative. They are on

a mission to plant 1 million corals worldwide by the end of 2025. This is a strategy that they have dubbed Odyssey 2025. Here is a look at an integral

part of what they are up to.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): This is Tiaia, one of three permanent ocean-based coral nurseries in Moorea. As coral gardeners, both by company

name and by profession, these sites are at the core of what they do on a daily basis.

TITOUAN BERNICOT, FOUNDER, CORAL GARDENERS (voice-over): Coral gardening is the coolest thing on Earth. You are underwater. There is nobody talking.

You will hear the sound of the parrot fish like -- the noise of the waves.

You have those thousands of little coral fragments. And you have the fish. They become your coworkers. It's something so tangible. It's such a

rewarding feeling to see your tiny coral fragments growing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): First on the days to-do list is installing new underwater foundations, a task assigned to gardeners, Lowek

(ph) and Johann (ph).

BERNICOT (voice-over): I think that is the most physical part.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Meanwhile, team members, Hannah (ph) and Salome collect data from the nearly 6,000 pieces growing in this part of

the nursery alone.

SALOME CHAUVELOT, CORAL GARDENER (voice-over): We are looking at the overall health of each fragment for signs of degradation or disease and

bleaching signs as well. And then the last part is out of all the corals that are growing, we have some sample that we follow and monitor for


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Right now is also outplanting season, meaning there are healthy and heat-resilient coral ready to be relocated

back onto the damaged reef.

BERNICOT (voice-over): Well, as we learn my very mowdy day (ph) and we are planting those beautiful (INAUDIBLE) corals. That is the pinky (ph) coral.

We were shooting the right spots, removing the algaes, placing the big mother colony of coral from -- coming from our nurseries.

And then using the coral clips to attach them, the marine cements (ph). And it is really satisfying.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): And the cycle continues by refilling the nursery.

BERNICOT (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) some corals?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Yes.

BERNICOT (voice-over): So right now we are at the donor site, that's the place where we are collecting segments of corals coming from big mother

colony that are more resilient.


It survived through all the last bleaching events. And the plan right now is that we're going to place all the -- all the ropes in the coral nursery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): To preserve the health of the colony, they will take no more than 10 percent.

BERNICOT (voice-over): Then I will treat the coral rope. That is the process of coral gardening. We have (INAUDIBLE), nursery number two, rope

number one. That's how we do all the scientific monitoring here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): And they say on average it will take 12 to 18 months for those fragments to grow big and healthy enough to make it

back onto the nearby reef.

BERNICOT (voice-over): And there you go.


BERNICOT (voice-over): It was our dream one day to have a job where you get paid to be on the water and taking care of the place we love the most.

And we just made it happen.

It was not a job. But now it is real. Maurite (ph), Teijano (ph), Tejas (ph), Salome, they are living proof that, today, you can be paid to do

something meaningful. And that ocean conservation is not obliged to be a part-time job, only volunteering. You can wake up every morning with one

single priority and focus: how to save the most important place on Earth.


ANDERSON: And do be sure to watch CNN's half-hour special, "Call to Earth: Reviving the Reef." it airs this Saturday at 11:30 am in London. That is

3:30 pm right here in Abu Dhabi.

I am Becky Anderson and I will be right back.




ANDERSON: Donald Trump took to his social media platform, Truth Social, to share a word cloud about himself. Some of the most prominent words were

power, revenge and dictatorship. The word cloud is part of a survey for "Daily Mail," where 1,000 likely voters were asked what Trump wants out of

a second presidential term.

For more on this, let's get you to CNN's Kristen Holmes, who is in Washington.

What do you believe Donald Trump is trying to say by posting this word cloud?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Becky, this is what Trump has been saying his campaign was about since the beginning. One of the first

speeches he gave, he said, "I am your retribution."

He has long talked about how, if he was elected to office again, he would have a campaign of revenge, including weaponizing the Justice Department in

order to go after his political opponents, which he now says and tells his supporters is happening to him.

Part of this is a strategy to get media attention. He has seen the kind of eyeballs that go to him when he posts things like this. So that is why he

is doing it. But there is a very real part of an authoritarian potential for Donald Trump's rule.

One of the things we have reported is that, if he does get elected again, he wants to consolidate power under the executive branch, essentially

giving him unprecedented and a radical amount of power. Becky.

ANDERSON: Good to have you.

It wasn't a Miracle on 34th Street, more like 60 kilometers south of Chicago. And instead of Santa Claus, picture two curious fisher men, who

wound up saving an Indiana man who had been trapped in a crashed truck for days.


Have a look at this. You can see just how difficult it would have been to spot this from the road. Good Samaritans Mario Garcia and his son-in-law

telling journalists all they could see was something shiny.


MARIO GARCIA, RESCUER: We were getting to the fishing hole and the truck was a little distant (ph) but it was more like a mangle. You couldn't tell

whether it was a truck or not.

But it's caught our curiosity. And I walked over first and he followed me and we went up to it. And I looked inside and moved the white airbag and

there was a body in there. And I went to touch it and he turned around.

And that just -- it almost killed me there because it was kind of shocking. But he was alive and he was very happy to see us. Like he was really --

like I had never seen relief like that.


ANDERSON: Tuesday's rescue is being hailed as a miracle. The identity of the man has not been released. Authorities say they don't believe he would

have survived another night in what was the deep December cold.

A good way to close out. That's it for CONNECT THE WORLD. Stay with CNN. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" is up next. We will see you at the same time tonight.