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Based Used by Pro-Iranian Militia Struck in Baghdad; Fears Grow of Wider Middle East War amid Deadly Attacks; Khan Yunis Epicenter of Combat in Gaza; DeSantis and Haley Participate in CNN Town Hall Events; New Findings in Trump Foreign Emoluments Probe; Area Secured after Shooting at High School in Perry, Iowa; Japan Airlines Collision; Politics Stalls Aid to Ukraine and Other Allies; Harsh Cold Continues across Scandinavian Countries. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired January 04, 2024 - 10:00   ET




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

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): Welcome to what is our second hour of CONNECT THE WORLD.

Iran still reeling from the deadliest terror attack on the country since the 1979 revolution. No group has claimed responsibility. But the Iranian

president Ebrahim Raisi and other senior officials have blamed Israel for the explosion, saying it will pay a heavy price.

This comes after a senior Hamas leader was killed in an attack in Beirut on Tuesday. His funeral in Lebanon taking place in the last few hours.

And today, a drone strike killing a commander of an Iran-backed militia in Baghdad. A U.S. Defense official tells CNN that the U.S. targeted a member

of an Iranian proxy group operating in Iraq.

So tonight we ask, are we the closest we have been for some time to a wider regional war since the attack certainly on October the 7th?

Paula Hancocks is back with me this hour, here in the studio.

Let's start with. What we understand to have happened in Iraq.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes Becky, this is something that U.S. officials confirmed to us. They have targeted a member of an Iranian proxy


They say that this individual had, quote, "U.S. blood on his hands."

They say that they had been watching him for some time and they targeted a vehicle that he was in, in one of these bases in eastern Baghdad. And

according to a source within the group itself, he and another fighter were killed.

Now it's not clear at this point whether or not they had told the Iraqi authorities ahead of the strike. We also heard from an Iraqi government

official, a military spokesperson in fact, say that they believe that this was a blatant violation of the sovereignty of Iraq.

So of course, some conflict there. But we have to remember that this comes in the context of an increase in the number of attacks on U.S. forces, in

both Syria and in Iraq by these Iranian-backed militia groups. And we are seeing now the U.S. carrying out this retaliatory strike.

ANDERSON: And this is interesting, isn't it?

The timing of this just as Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, is on his way to the region, starting in Turkiye and doing a wider tour. Now that

of course, the reason for that is the backdrop of the Israeli war on Hamas in Gaza.

But this region feels very, very tense at present and you can see the U.S. being pulled in. It's a national security issue as far as the U.S. is

concerned in Iraq and Syria, if U.S. troops are in the crosshairs. We do not know who is responsible for the twin explosions in Iran as of yet but

the Iranian authority certainly pointing the finger.

What we know at this point?

HANCOCKS: Iranian president has said that he believes that it is Israel. He talks about the fact that there will be a heavy price to pay. In fact,

we can listen to exactly what he did say.


EBRAHIM RAISI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): These scarings (ph) that you held in the country, this type (ph) of people that pour in (ph),

that was a grave Qasem Soleimani these days.

You cannot scare the people with your criminal act. You are not strong enough to face the resistance. Your power has lost its effectiveness

against the forces of resistance.

Now you are targeting innocent people?

Know that you will pay a heavy price for this horrible crime.


ANDERSON: There's much talk about who might be responsible for these attacks and many suggesting this does not have the hallmarks of an Israeli

operation. The question we are posing tonight, though, are we closer to a wider regional war, Paula, it certainly feels that way at present.

HANCOCKS: Certainly. We've been seeing for three months now, since October 7th and those Hamas attacks on Israel, we have been seeing the U.S. at

pains to make sure that this does not develop into a wider regional conflict.

It's part of the reason why the U.S. President came here, why Antony Blinken is here constantly, it feels like. And he's on his way back this

week to try and defuse tensions.


HANCOCKS: We've also been hearing from officials in Lebanon suggesting that they do not want to be pulled into a wider regional conflict. Of

course, we have heard something different potentially from Hezbollah. The Iranian backed militia group with the leader, saying that if there is a war

between Israel and Lebanon, then it will be relentless.

And, of course, that could potentially bring Iran into the picture, which potentially then brings the U.S. into the picture because of Israel. So of

course, there is this great concern that this could become a wider conflict.

As of now, it does not appear that the main state players have the appetite for this to go further. But of course, that does not take into account any

kind of miscalculations, any kind of attacks that could create mass casualties on the Israeli side, on the U.S. side, that could pull them

further into this conflict. It is difficult to tell.

ANDERSON: When you talk to people in this region, there is a real sort of sense that people are seeing some evidence that Israel may be trying to

drag Iran into a wider conflict here.

Certainly the United States, from the outset, post October the 7th, has said to stay out, has warned Iran to stay out and, as you say, on a state

to state basis, we have not seen the uptick in activity by Iran itself. But it is these proxy groups around the region.

When you talk about the proxy groups, we're talking about Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, Hezbollah in Syria and Hezbollah in Iraq. So certainly, this

is a region that is tense; whether we are looking at a wider regional conflict at this point remains to be seen at the beginning of what could be

a really difficult 2024.

Good to have, you thank you very much indeed.

Israel says it will begin pulling thousands of soldiers out of Gaza this week in preparation, they say, for a new stage of the conflict. But

despite, that there is still intense fighting in places, particularly the southern city of Khan Yunis.

Gaza's Hamas-controlled ministry of health says 22 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike there earlier today, reporting 125 new deaths in Gaza in

the past 24 hours. Now Israel's defense force, the IDF, says its operations in Khan Yunis have significantly impaired Hamas' ability to command its

forces in the area.

Meantime, mourners formed a procession in Beirut today for the funeral of Saleh al-Arouri. He was the deputy head of Hamas' political wing and his

assassination inside Lebanon sent shock waves through the region.

It has also sparked fears of this wider regional war, although Israel has not acknowledged that it played a role in the attack. We have team coverage

on this. CNN's Nada Bashir is in Beirut and journalist Elliott Gotkine is covering the latest on the ground from Tel Aviv.

Let's start, Elliott, with you, if we can, and what is happening on the ground. As I understand it, now Saudi Arabia and several European nations

have joined the United States in condemning comments by far-right Israeli officials, calling for the resettlement of Gazans outside of Gaza.

This adds an extra sort of layer to rhetoric and concern, which, of course, is leading to a further level of tension in the region. Just explain where

we stand on that.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Becky, look, these are comments from two of the most right-wing ministers in this government, Bezalel Smotrich,

the finance minister, and national security adviser Itamar Ben-Gvir.

But I think their comments need to be seen in their context. First of all, they're not advocating the forcible move of Palestinians from the Gaza

Strip. They're saying that they should be encouraged, just to get their words as accurate as we can.

And the other point I think that is important is the context. These two ministers are pro settlement. They were against Israel dismantling its

settlements in the Gaza Strip and the removal of all security forces in the Gaza Strip in 2005.

And they've been advocating for a resettlement of the Gaza Strip by Jewish Israelis ever since. So that policy from that perspective is nothing new.

I think it is also worth bearing in mind that just because Smotrich or Ben- Gvir are up to something does not make it government policy. This is not government policy. And I think even U.S. officials had conceded that this

is not official government policy and they've been reassured as such by Israeli officials.

And I think the final point to bear in mind is that all opinion polls point to the day the elections happen in Israel, this government being tossed out

on its ear.


So any policy, even if this were a government policy, there is a fair chance that they wouldn't have an opportunity to implement it.

So these comments were made; they were condemned by Saudi Arabia, by the European Union, by the United States. But as I say, these are utterances

from admittedly from ministers in the government. These do not constitute government policy and it is not government policy to move Palestinians

outside of the Gaza Strip -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Thank, you Elliott.

Let me get to Nada. You have been covering the funeral of the deputy head of Hamas' political wing in Beirut. Clearly some concerns about how that

might act as a sort of tinderbox or act as a spark for what is a sense of Lebanon being a tinderbox at present. Just describe the mood if you will.

NADA BASHIR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, we have seen huge, enormous crowds turning out here in Beirut to paid their respects to Saleh al-

Arouri. He was laid to rest just last hour in the cemetery behind me.

This is the Martyrs cemetery in the Shatila camp, a historic camp established after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly

displaced after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

So as you can imagine, there is a strong sentiment in this area of support for the Palestinian causes and for many people here, for many people that

we've spoken to, Saleh al-Arouri was revered as a symbol of Palestinian resistance.

As you mentioned, number two in Hamas' political bureau, somebody who is considered one of the founders of the al-Qassam brigade, Hamas' military

wing. That is exactly the reason why he was also seen as a primary target for Israel following Hamas' attacks on October 7th.

You heard previously from Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing to target Hamas leaders wherever they may be located. And while Israeli

officials have neither claimed nor denied responsibility for Tuesday's strike, this has certainly escalated tensions.

Hamas' political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has accused Israel of carrying out what he described as a cowardly assassination on an official, against

saying the U.S. believes that Israel was not behind the strike.

Important to note that strike on Tuesday in Beirut took place in a Hezbollah stronghold. And, of course, al-Arouri was somebody who was

already a senior official within Hamas, somebody who had very close ties and links with Iranian officials and, of course, close ties and links with

officials in the Iran-backed Hezbollah group.

We did hear yesterday from the secretary general of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah. He addressed Tuesday's strikes and he issued a warning to

Israel, saying that the response from Hezbollah, if Israel were to seek a war with Lebanon, would be, in his words, limitless.

And he has issued similar warnings in the past. But of course, we have seen these tensions escalate on Lebanon's southern border. That continues new

daily exchange of fire between Hezbollah and the Israeli military on that southern border.

We heard those warnings from Israeli officials, including Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's war cabinet, that if -- that time is running out for

diplomatic solutions, that Israel may have to seek military action.

And of course, we have also heard from the Lebanese government, saying that Lebanon does not want to see a war break out, it wants peace on the

southern border. But again, those tensions seem to be escalating and mounting as the days go by.

There are real fears that the war between Israel and Hamas could certainly expand and spill over more broadly into the region.

ANDERSON: Nada is in Beirut, thank you.

Hezbollah has called the killing of Saleh al-Arouri a dangerous attack on Lebanon, its people and its security. My next guest says Hezbollah has two

choices on how to respond now: retaliation or capitulation.

He says Hezbollah's preferences for what he calls "gray zone warfare, harassing Israel but stopping short of war."

For us, Firas Maksad is a senior fellow at Washington's Middle East Institute and an adjunct professor at George Washington University's

Elliott School of International Affairs, also a good friend of the show.

Your analysis and insight, incredibly valuable, as we sort of pick apart what is going on here in the region. You explained a binary choice,

retaliation or capitulation.

What choice will Hezbollah make?

FIRAS MAKSAD, SENIOR FELLOW, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE, WASHINGTON, D.C.: Well, that is the million dollar question, Becky. I think listening to

Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah yesterday, he is not giving it away.

He wants to keep Israel guessing, he wants to keep United States guessing and kept referring to another speech that he is due to give tomorrow. But I

think what we are able to deduce from what he said is that Hezbollah very much prefers the current status quo.


The status quo in which his organization continues to menace Israel on the border, extracting the toll from the IDF, distracting or at least

attempting to distract from operations in Gaza, forcing Israel to deploy over 120,000 of its troops from reserves, up to the northern border with


But that is where Hezbollah really wants to keep things. That status quo increasingly Israel's messaging does not work for it.

And what we are seeing either through the assassination of this Hamas commander in the southern area of Beirut or through what they are saying

publicly in messaging through American channels is that Israel is working to change that reality on the ground and even risking war in trying to do


ANDERSON: I want you to listen and give our viewers a chance to listen to the Lebanese foreign minister. Stand by.


ABDALLAH BOU HABIB, LEBANESE FOREIGN MINISTER: We feel and we're afraid of it because the government of Lebanon, the Lebanese, don't want any war and

we'd like to have peace in our southern borders.

But the issue is, you know, what's happening in Gaza definitely affects what's happening in Lebanon because there are issues that have not been

settled for the last 75 years.

And so, we have problems. We -- yesterday, what happened in Lebanon, it is an Israeli attack in Lebanon, in Beirut.

Would there be a response?

I don't know whether it is this but the government of Lebanon would not make any response. We'll go to United Nation and we'll have a complaint at

the United Nation.


ANDERSON: Yes, and this is a caretaker government, of course, that does not want to see an uptick, an escalation in violence. It does not want a

war with Israel.

But what, if anything, can Lebanon's sitting government do at this point?

Let's just be quite clear for our viewers, who may not be as imbued in this region as the rest of us. This is all in the hands of Hezbollah and,

therefore, Iran ultimately at this point, for us.

MAKSAD: If there was ever a public acknowledgment from the Lebanese government, that it is completely impotent to influence the situation on

the southern border with Israel, this is probably it by the Lebanese foreign minister.

Hezbollah is running the show as it relates to what's happening down on the border and, of course, being a proxy that is highly influenced by Iran, it

means that Iran is also directly involved in this.

I think that the Lebanese government is relegated to issuing statements or asking for the United Nations to condemn Israel. But I think that there is

still an important role to play here for the Lebanese government as an intermediary.

Clearly what we're seeing with the visit of the U.S. presidential envoy to Israel, Amos Hochstein, is expected to be an effort at diplomacy. And the

U.S. does not talk directly to Hezbollah but does communicate through the Lebanese government.

There is still a pathway to resolve these differences through diplomacy. And as you know, I was recently in Beirut, talked to officials, talked to

those who are in a position to know. And I think that Hezbollah and others are open to the diplomatic compromise that would meet Israel's demand to

have Hezbollah withdraw from that border.

But in return for solving some of those disputed territories and disputed points along the blue line, the border between Israel and Lebanon. So there

is a pathway. The U.S. administration is involved. But that pathway is a difficult one for sure.

ANDERSON: I just wonder what you think the Biden administration needs to do to ready itself for an uptick in violence and an escalation in violence

in this region. It clearly doesn't want one. It has told, Iran from the outset, to stay out of this.

But we are already seeing the U.S. involved in Syria and in Iraq, in the Red Sea. It is leading a coalition of the willing to protect this

incredibly important global trade route from the Houthis. And indeed it has to be said at this point that maybe slipping into Somali pirates and the


That is becoming a real front, away from this conflict, but a real concern for U.S. national security as well when it comes to global trade.

From your perspective in Washington, what is the thinking behind the scenes?

As, let's remind ourselves, the U.S. goes into what is an incredibly consequential election, where domestic issues will have to be front and

center going forward.

MAKSAD: Wonderful question, let's talk big picture here.

Yes, first, domestically, what is happening in Gaza is reverberating here in the United States.


And having real domestic implications for President Biden, he is slipping in the polls and, in key states, the Arab American vote is one that might

make the difference.

I think that the administration is therefore, for domestic reasons, very eager to move and start talking about the day after the conflict subsides

in Gaza, let alone to try to limit this conflict to make sure it doesn't spread elsewhere in the Middle East.

This is a side with the strategic calculus, where it does not want to get sucked into a war in the Middle East and would rather focus on great power

competition with China and Russia.

But I think when it comes to Iran, earlier this year, there seemed to be an unwritten understanding between the Biden administration and Iran to keep a

lid on things in the Middle East. There were reports of meetings in Amman and elsewhere in the Middle East.

So the administration was willing to give Iran a pass, not enforce sanctions forcefully. But Iran also would refrain from enriching uranium

above the 90 percent threshold. What we are seeing is that detente, that understanding, is falling apart between Iran and the United States.

And I believe that today's U.S. hit against the leader of an Iranian- sponsored militia in Iraq is that attempt by the Biden administration to reestablish deterrence against Iran in the region.

And so the effort at a multinational naval force to combat the Houthis in the Red Sea. So there is a tug of war taking place here and that

understanding between Iran and the U.S., that seemed to exist, seems to be falling apart now.

ANDERSON: Yes, and it's a really difficult time for the region where I am, a region you know well, which is, of course, the Gulf countries, like the

UAE, Saudi Arabia, bent on Vision 2030, bent on economic success going forward.

We've seen over the past couple of years this real effort for de-escalation in this region, to serve the future economic interests and, at this point,

a lot of talk behind the scenes as to what does happen next.

Perhaps the reason we are not seeing the involvement of the UAE and the Saudis in this coalition who are bent on protecting the waters around the

Red Sea. But again, that could change.

Firas, it's always good to have you. Your insight and analysis is so important as we continue to cover this story, cover this wider region and

try to connect the dots on what is going on country by country as we cross this region. Thank you, sir.

Still to come, Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley will each make their case tonight in a CNN town hall event on why they are best positioned to defeat

Joe Biden in the upcoming presidential election.

Neither of them, of course, are front-runners for the Republican presidential candidate spot. We know who holds that at present. That is

Donald Trump and he will not be there tonight. We are live from Des Moines in Iowa in just a moment with a preview.





ANDERSON: Welcome back, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Becky Anderson. It is 24 minutes past 7:00 here in Abu Dhabi.

We want to invite you to watch CNN for back-to-back town halls live from Des Moines in Iowa in the U.S. Florida governor Ron DeSantis will go first

followed by the former United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley.

It all starts at 9:00 pm eastern, 6:00 am Friday here in Abu Dhabi. CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us now from the site. He has a preview of what we can

expect from the U.S. Republican presidential candidates during CNN's town halls.

Sir, let's start with DeSantis.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, obviously Iowa voters have a lot of questions for all of the candidates.

But Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, will be first onstage in a town hall moderated by our colleague, Kaitlan Collins.

And the questions obviously for DeSantis as we've been watching him on the campaign trail is, one, why aren't you going after Donald Trump in a more

aggressive way?

We heard that a couple of times yesterday. And his answer is a bit nuanced. He will say, look, he has been drawing distinction to basically initially

start this year by running to complete the work of the former president.

But now he is sort of arguing that Donald Trump was not effective in office, talking about immigration, how he did not build that border wall.

One of the central pieces of the argument from the Florida governor is that he could serve two terms in office, that he could serve longer than Donald


But the question is, is he Trump lite or is it something more than that?

It's been one of the challenges he's been trying to do, to distinguish himself here in Iowa now with just 11 days to go in this race.

ANDERSON: And Haley, briefly.

ZELENY: Well, Haley, obviously the former South Carolina governor, she is trying to make electability argument. She says, look, I can beat Joe Biden.

She points to a poll from "The Wall Street Journal" which was aired late last year that showed her beating Joe Biden by some 17 points.

So she makes a broader argument that she can rebrand the Republican Party, if you, will bring more people into the fold.

But many voters here in Iowa have questions about her conservative credentials. Those are some of the outlines of this. So, yes, this is a

competitive race to be the Trump alternative but the alternative is the point there, Becky. The bottom line to all of this, former president Donald

Trump still looms very large in this race -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Doesn't he just?

Thank you.

U.S. House Democrats talking today about a new report that they have released, looking to see if former president Donald Trump's business empire

profited during his presidency.

One example in their multiyear investigation alleges that China spent millions of dollars at Trump properties while he was in office.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump's legal team has formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the Colorado ruling that removed him from the state's

primary election ballot. Wednesday's move comes a day after Trump appealed the decision made by Maine's secretary of state but also prohibits him from

appearing on that state's ballots.

There's an awful lot going on here, CNN national security correspondent Zachary Cohen and CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig joining me now.

Zach, let me start with you.

Just tell us, what have you got?

ZACHARY COHEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Becky, there's a new report out today from House Democrats, it is based on documents they've

obtained from Donald Trump's former accounting firm.

These documents laid out very clearly that Donald Trump's businesses, which he did not divest before taking office, they received millions of dollars

in payments from foreign countries while he was president. And the biggest of all was China.

That was the country where the vast majority of this money came from. And there were payments directly from the Chinese government as well as state

owned Chinese companies. One of them was a giant Chinese state owned bank.

There's actually a tenant inside Trump Tower in New York that paid Trump about $2 million a year in rent, according to these documents. And that

included during Trump's stint in the White House.

So the concern that is outlined in this report is that these payments and the foreign payments and where they came from, over 20 countries, these

payments that they tracked, they were all an attempt to influence the Trump administration's foreign policy.

And we have seen over time this come up as a concern from both Democrats and Republicans. And frankly, this report points to comments that Donald

Trump made when he was on the campaign trail during the last presidential race to really underscore his view and his affinity for countries that give

him money.


That includes China, where he said, during a 2015 campaign rally, that he bragged about how much he loved the Chinese bank that was in this report

because they were a tenant of his in Trump Tower.

He loves that Saudi Arabia buys apartments; he said that at a different campaign event.

So Democrats really putting this forward at a time when Donald Trump is looming large as the leader, the front-runner for GOP primary campaign and

really drawing a juxtaposition to the ongoing House impeachment inquiry that is predicated on these allegations that President Biden profited from

foreign spending.

So a lot going on here in this report but connecting $5 million in profit to Donald Trump while he was president is the bottom line.

ANDERSON: That's fascinating. Let's find out whether he is likely to stay in this campaign of course.

Elie, what do we know about these appeals by the Trump team now on decisions made both in Colorado and in Maine about whether or not Trump

will actually be on those states' primary ballots?

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So Becky, we are seeing several firsts in the United States' history. Just for background here, the 14th Amendment of

our Constitution says that anybody who engages in insurrection or rebellion is disqualified from holding further office.

The problem however is that we've never been told by our Constitution itself, by our Supreme Court or by Congress exactly how that is supposed to

work. What happened here in United States starting a couple of years ago is that there's starting to be a bit of a scholarly academic effort to argue

what may be this amendment should be applied to Donald Trump.

And soon it started to take wing in the courts. And there were various challenges brought to Donald Trump in various states. Several dozen states

here in the United States, most of which have been rejected various either procedural or factual reasons.

However, in the last few weeks, two states, Colorado and, Maine have decided that, yes, Donald Trump has to be removed from the ballot and now

Donald Trump's team is in the process of appealing both of those. The Colorado decision is already up to the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump asked the U.S. Supreme Court to formally take the case last night. They can decide that in any moment. The main case still has to make its way

through the Maine state courts.

But Trump's argument is here essentially is, A, I didn't engage in insurrection but B, this is procedurally flawed. We do not have due process

applying here and, therefore, people are sort of making of this process on the fly and using it unconstitutionally to take me off the ballots.

ANDERSON: Good to have, you sir. Busy times.

Elie Honig in the house.

Coming up, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has some major goals for 2024, including producing 1 million drones for Ukraine. That and more coming up

after this break. Don't go away, we have some breaking news for you.





ANDERSON: Welcome back to CONNECT THE WORLD with me, Becky Anderson, and some breaking news for you out of Iowa. That is the U.S. state of Iowa.

Local officials confirming that there has been a shooting at a high school in the city, Perry, there. County government says multiple law enforcement

agencies have responded in the area they say is now secure.

Local newspaper also quoted police as saying it's no longer an active situation. Details are scant so far but we are monitoring this and we will

bring you more information, of course, as it comes in.

Well, the U.K.'s defense intelligence agency says there has been a shift in Russia's strategy in Ukraine, placing more emphasis on degrading Ukraine's

defense industry rather than attacking its energy sector.

Ukraine, on the other hand, is doing all it can to ramp up its domestic production of armaments. President Zelenskyy has said recently the country

aims to produce 1 million drones in 2024.

Well, nearly 500 prisoners of war on both sides of this conflict returned home this week. Ukraine says it is the largest prisoner swap since the war

began almost two years ago. Russia returned 230 Ukrainians, including soldiers and civilians, according to the president.

In return, Russia says 248 of its servicemen were released from Ukrainian- controlled territory. Russian officials credited the United Arab Emirates for making the exchange happen.

According to the UAE, quote, "The success of the mediation efforts was a reflection of the strong, friendly relations between the UAE and both the

Russian Federation and the Republic of Ukraine."

CNN's Fred Pleitgen joins us live from Kyiv -- Fred.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Becky. And the Ukrainians also crediting the UAE in a big way as. Well The

head of the military intelligence here in this country, Kyrylo Budanov, also said that it was that UAE mediation that really did make a difference.

And I think that this prisoner swap is definitely one that was extremely important, not just for the Russians but especially also for the Ukrainians

as well. We saw some pretty emotional scenes as some of those prisoners came back here to Ukrainian soil.

And one of the reasons for that is that a lot of the prisoners that were now brought back to the Ukrainian side are among those who were at the

longest held Ukrainian prisoners in Russian custody. Some of them were defenders of the Chernobyl power plant in the very early stages of Russia's

full-on invasion of Ukraine.

The ratpass (ph) Chernobyl was one of the main routes that the Russians took in their initial attack. A lot of those people have been locked up in

a nuclear bunker under that power plant for about a month and were then taken into Russia.

Some of those released also apparently defenders of Snake Island in the early stages of the Russian full-on invasion and a lot of them also

spending a lot of time in custody inside the Russian Federation.

The Russians said around 250 of their own soldiers have now been returned back but you're absolutely right to point out that the Ukrainians really

are digging in for the long haul here.

You mentioned President Zelenskyy talking about the 1 million drones. One of the things that is looming and lingering here, when you speak to

officials in Kyiv, is the big question about U.S. military aid funding for the Ukrainians.

The foreign minister of this country, he told our Christiane Amanpour that the Ukrainians are not backing down from what he calls their plan A. Let's

have a listen.


DMYTRO KULEBA, UKRAINIAN MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS: We don't have plan B. We're confident in plan A. Ukraine will always fight with the resources

available to it. What is given to Ukraine is not a charity. It is an investment in the protection of NATO and in the protection of also the

prosperity of the American people.


PLEITGEN: So you see there, the Ukrainian foreign minister calling for further weapons supplies. As in this past week, we have seen a uptick in

this already very violent war, Becky.

ANDERSON: Good to have you, thank you.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from Abu Dhabi.


The time here 20 to 8:00 in the evening. New findings on what may have led to the runway plane collision in Tokyo. Coming up, stay with us.




ANDERSON: We're learning more about the moments leading up to what was the deadly runway collision at a Tokyo airport.

According to NHK, the pilots of the Japan Airlines plane did not see what was a smaller Coast Guard plane on the runway. And records show runway

warning lights had been out of service for several days, failing to stop the Coast Guard plane from taxiing onto the runway. More now from CNN's

Will Ripley.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A catastrophic collision in the heart of Tokyo captured from passenger Aruto

Iwama's (ph) window seat as flames engulfed his Japan Airlines jet.

Honestly, I was scared to death, he says. At landing I felt strong shaking and when I looked out the window, I saw sparks flying, the plane burning

when the planes stopped in less than a minute the cabin was full of smoke.

That black smoke below through the cabin. In this video the voice of a young child. Please let us off quickly, he says, a polite plea for help.

Flight Attendants forced to use megaphones to direct passengers. The onboard communication system broken.

With just seconds to spare and some emergency exits blocked, the crew of 12 successfully evacuated 367 people including eight infants. Everyone

survived with barely a bruise.

The investigation of Tuesday's harrowing crash focusing on four crucial minutes 5:43 to 5:47 pm. Japan Airlines Flight JL516 making its final

approach over Tokyo Bay cleared for landing Haneda airport just as the Japan Coast Guard turboprop was pulling onto runway see right into the path

of the much larger Airbus A350-900.

The airliner hurtling down the runway as flames consumed the fuselage. The explosion and fireball fully engulfed both aircraft in a matter of minutes.

The airliners fire resistant materials and emergency exits, allowing vital time for nearly 400 people to escape the inferno.


At least five Coast Guard crew members died.

Japan's transport ministry releasing the official written transcript of those final four minutes suggesting possible miscommunication between air

traffic control and the two planes. Cockpit audio confirms the tower telling the Coast Guard flight to taxi to a holding point giving the

commercial flight clearance to land.

The transcript and audio raising key questions.

Why was the Coast Guard plane in the wrong place?

Why did the Japan Airlines pilots fail to see the other aircraft and abort the landing especially on a clear evening with good visibility?

Mangled metal and melted plastic a reminder of just how bad it could have been.

RIPLEY: And there it is what's left of the airliner still sitting on runway see here at Haneda airport.

A team of investigators are there including technicians from Airbus who are helping the Japanese investigators search for the missing black box which

could provide crucial clues in this crash that has disrupted travel for some 20,000 people and claimed at least five lives -- Will Ripley, CNN at

Haneda Airport Tokyo.


ANDERSON: Safety analyst David Soucie says the following.

"The runway status lights at the Japan scene are like many other airports and are meant to keep pilots aware of other traffic."

Have a listen.


DAVID SOUCIE, CNN SAFETY ANALYST: Those of collision lights that you're talking about the runway lights, the runway lights were working, it's

important to clarify what it is. These are runway status lights. What that means is they automatically turn red if the runway is not safe to enter.

So they can be told for in this, if they were working, then the cargo or the excuse me, the Coast Guard plane that was told to hold short would have

come up to that runway and seen a row of red lights that says stop, do not get onto the runway, because there's something dangerous going to happen on

that runway. And that's what those lights do.


ANDERSON: After a frantic search, Mexican authorities say that they have rescued 31 migrants who were kidnapped near the border with Texas. They

were abducted last Saturday from a bus traveling through the Tamaulipas state.

All of the migrants are said to be in good health. Authorities are still looking for the kidnappers. The kidnappings are the latest example of the

dangers that migrants can face on the way north to the United States. Those numbers are soaring right now.

Texas on the U.S.-Mexico border is so frustrated with the situation, it has been taking matters into its own hands. A new law set to take effect in

March gives local authorities the power to arrest and order the deportation of migrants.

But the Biden administration is suing to block the law, arguing that it is unconstitutional and that immigration enforcement should be solely left to

the federal government.

Republican governor of Texas Greg Abbott has been lashing out in other ways as well, like transporting thousands of asylum seekers to Democrat-led

cities such as New York. Mayor Eric Adams there told CNN how he feels about the lawsuit against the state.


MAYOR ERIC ADAMS (D-NY), NEW YORK CITY: I'm extremely pleased that D.C. is taking this action, the White House is taking this action. It's so

important to send a very clear, loud message to the government of Texas, who is really aggressively attempting to destabilize cities.

I think this action is extremely appropriate. But it's crucial and I need to say, this that this is a national problem. And all of these cities need

help from the national government.

The decompression strategy and the funding and making sure that we allow people to work and pursue the American dream. So kudos to this important

lawsuit that they put in place. But we still need the national government to solve this national problem.



Well, the problem, Capitol Hill has been at a stalemate over how to tackle immigration. Republicans are standing firm, demanding a hardline

immigration bill among other things.

The bill would renew construction of the wall on the border with Mexico and defunding nonprofits that service migrants.

It passed in the Republican controlled house last year. But Senate Democrats say it is a nonstarter. U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson,

Republican, and dozens of other House Republicans visited the border on Wednesday, again, making the point that they will stand by their demands.


Now let's remember that the standoff has global consequences. Republicans on Capitol Hill have tied their border security agenda to foreign aid.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's weapons stocks are running low in carrying the fight against Russia. American lawmakers set to return next week to pick up votes

on spending.

But without much to build on, at least not yet. There is no apparent consensus on funding for Ukraine or other key issues.

A story in the States really does have global consequences. This is a domestic issue, that border issue. It would be front and center as we get

into this presidential year.

Record low temperatures for some Scandinavian cities. This is as other parts of Europe deal with floods and heavy rain. Details on that after





ANDERSON: Several European countries dealing with severe weather in the new year week. A level 3 threat for flooding and heavy rainfall is in place

in some parts of France and Germany. Rescue crews went out to help people evacuate their homes in some places.

Along with flooding, other parts of Europe are feeling a harsh cold. Record temperatures impacting Scandinavia as an Arctic blast continues over the

region. One Swedish village just broke its all-time lowest temperature record, -43.6 degrees Celsius.

Finland also saw its lowest temperature in almost two decades, dipping to - 42.4 degrees Celsius.



ANDERSON: That is it from us, stay with CNN.