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Biden Arrives in Israel After Gaza Hospital Blast; Israel: Evidence Shows Islamic Jihad Rocket Caused Hospital Blast, Gaza Officials Blame Israeli Airstrike; Protests Erupt After Deadly Gaza Hospital Blast. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 18, 2023 - 05:00   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good day to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's Wednesday, October 18th. It is 5:00 a.m. here in Washington, it's noon in Tel Aviv where we just heard from President Joe Biden who is in a bilateral meeting right now with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. You seem him greeting him now on the tarmac just few moments ago.

The president commenting for the first time on camera about the explosion at a hospital in Gaza City that officials there say killed hundreds of people.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion that hospital in Gaza yesterday, and based on what I have seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you. But there's a lot of people out there not sure. So, we have a lot of -- we have to overcome a lot of things.


HUNT: So the scene was set by the Palestinian ministry of health to be, quote, unparalleled and indescribable. A spokesperson says that most of the victims are children and women.

Hours ago, Israel released this edited 32-second drone video that a spokesperson says proves the Israeli military did not cause the hospital explosion. He says the craters and other damage are not consistent with an Israeli airstrike. The spokesman says Israel also intercepted communications among Gaza militants that pinned the blame on Islamic Jihad.


REAR ADM. DANIEL HAGARI, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESMAN: The explosion of the Al-Ahli Mahadani (ph) hospital in Gaza was caused by an Islamic Jihad rocket that was misfired. According to our intelligence, Hamas checked the reports, understood it was an Islamic Jihad rocket that had misfired and decided to launch a global media campaign to hide what really happened.


HUNT: Whatever the truth, and the proof of it, or lack thereof, fallout from the hospital disaster is confounding President Biden's diplomatic efforts. Protests have erupted across the Middle East and there is the cancellation of a plan Wednesday summit in Jordan that was supposed include President Biden and the leaders of Jordan, Egypt, and Palestinian Authority.

White House correspondent Arlette Saenz is live for us in Washington.

Arlette, good morning. What did we just hear from the president as he met ahead of his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kasie, President Biden landed there in Israel trying to show the U.S. steadfast support for the country. You saw him in the tarmac embracing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as we'll the Israeli President Herzog.

And then he president went into that bilateral meeting saying that he wanted to make this trip to show is the U.S. stands with this country amid its war with Hamas. The president pledging that the U.S. would offer support and ensure that the Israelis have what they need as they which their fight.

But the president also as you heard him earlier there, addressed that blast at the Gaza hospital for the very first time on camera. Of course, an already complicated trip became even more complicated in the aftermath of that blast which has killed hundreds of people.

But the president shared in that meeting that based on what he has seen, he does not believe the Israelis were responsible. He said that he believes that it was done by the other team. Now, we know that the U.S. had received intelligence from the Israelis about this blast overnight. People were working to try to ascertain whether they could assign any responsibility for this blast. The president perhaps going the furthest so far to suggest that he believes that Israel did not commit this act.

Of course, what you have heard Israel really denounced suggestions that they have suggesting and said that it was the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group while Hamas is insistent that it is Israel who committed this act. But it all speaks to their very precarious nature in the region that President Biden will now have to grapple with. Of course, the White House is downplaying expectations about him emerging from this with concrete deliverables.

Instead, saying his trying to manage a concrete situation, but they're huge humanitarian concerns, concerns about risks to civilian lives in this conflict. Those are all issues the president is expected to race in his talks with Netanyahu today.


HUNT: Right. I mean, the original plan with the White House ahead of this visit was that they wanted commitments that humanitarian aid would reach Gaza, and that is why meeting with Arab leaders was also important, and also on the agenda, but of course this narrative around the hospital, a very complicated, one you outline has really derailed that and presents a significant challenge for all involved.

Arlette Saenz, thank you very much. I'm sure we'll be back with you throughout the hour as we watch President Biden on the ground in Israel.

Just ahead here, what caused the deadly blast at that Gaza hospital? We're going to talk with decorated Air Force intelligence officer.

Plus, another fail in America's House. There is still no speaker. Another vote expected today.


HUNT: Welcome back.

The Israeli military says they were not behind the blast at a hospital that officials in Gaza say killed hundreds of people.


Officials say lack of structural damage to the hospital scene in drone footage immediately after the blast proves that no Israeli fire hit the building, because it was not caused by an aerial munition. The IDF is, quote, categorically, end quote, denying any involvement after spokesman says it reviewed its own footage to confirm it did not fire that location.

Instead, the IDF claims the rocket fired by Islamic Jihad misfired and exploded.

Let's bring in CNN military analyst, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Colonel, thank you very much for being here. I want to bring people up to speed who maybe haven't been watching television, or doing the news the way we have been for the past however many hours when we were sitting on set yesterday afternoon, we first got news that the Palestinian health authority was saying hunches of people have been killed at the hospital.

Quickly, the IDF has blamed the president's meetings with Arab leaders in the region, set for tomorrow were canceled. There have now been protest have exploded across the Arab world in response to this. But now, there is a back and forth over who is responsible. The IDF is saying we did not do this, and they are citing evidence of drone footage we saw a bit there. We are starting to get the first daylight pictures. You are looking at them right now. This parking lot with these burned out cars.

Essentially, there's an argument about who did this and what this evidence shows us. As, you know, a military professional, when you look at these images of burned out cars, do you see an aerial bombardment from Israel, or do you see something that indicates this was a rocket that was misfired by the Palestinians on site? COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yeah, Kasie, good

morning. It's one of those things where you have to look at so many different factors. So these photographs, these video images are one aspect. But when you look at, them it seems more consistent with either a blast on the ground, or some other type of ordnance, instead of the type of ordnance that would have been fired by an Israeli fighter plane.

Now, having said, that there are certain possibilities to look at. So when you try to determine how -- whether somebody is responsible, or not one of the key things is a very simple one. Was this is an Israeli airplane flying in the area where it could have launched a missile to attack the hospital? Is that possible?

Then, after that question is answered, then you go, did that happen? Let's say the answer was, yes. Then you ask did that happen, is their indication that a munition was fired at that particular point in time and at that particular target. And then you also look at some other things.

For example, with some other explosions possibly those explosions, there are certain things that indicate there might have been a misfire rocket, and that inspired a rocket which is something Israelis are alleging, there would be a heat signature associated with that and we have to go back using what is known as signatures intelligence to determine whether or not there was that kind of thermal signature that would be consistent with a misfired rocket. So this would be some of the factors that could be used in addition to the damage you see in these videos, whether or not that would be consistent with a certain type of ammunition, or the debris of a falling rocket or the stationary explosive already on the ground that somehow exploded at that point.

HUNT: Right. So, let's -- let's also discuss a little bit about what the actual capabilities are and sort of the fact that there is an element of magnitude that would be associated with an Israeli bomb. Essentially, the Israelis are looking at this and saying, there is no crater in the ground. If we dropped a bomb, there would be massive crater here. The rockets that Hamas obviously are much less powerful.

When you look at these images, who do you believe?

LEIGHTON: Yes, if you did not see a crater, chances are there is no aerial bomb. That's exactly right from the Israeli standpoint. So, the crater argument is a convincing one.

The other thing to look at, is what kind of structural damages were around this area? You see the buildings are basically intact, a lot of people seem to have been killed by the fragmentation from the blast and the actual list and it moves out from the actual point of impact.

And so this is obviously a horrible situation. But, you know, clearly, what we are seeing right now does not seem to be consistent with an aerial launch of the ammunition that would then have resulted in an explosion down on the ground. HUNT: Right. Of course, the reality, though what happened here and

what the Israelis are telling us at this point is that they are also picking up chatter -- they claim that they have heard chatter via intelligence sources, that the Islamic Jihad was aware that they had misfired this rocket.


And that very quickly after realizing that, they put out this information about who was responsible for the strike.

That has since rippled across the globe in a matter of hours and really, affected the geopolitical narrative in a way that people are feeling about it intensely motional, and difficult conflict.

You know, how do world leaders or -- you know, even -- I'm interested to know how military leaders if that was the role you had, how do you think about that and the importance of trying to redirect the narrative, and what are the options for even doing that? I mean, look at these pushes across the world, this is what has already happened just in the less than 12 hours since we first learned this news.

LEIGHTON: Yes, it's really difficult. This is one of the most difficult problems. The first thing you have to do is get facts, as you know them. And this is a very difficult problem, especially when you are dealing with intelligence sources and methods, because once you start reviewing the information you have, let's say it's the signals intelligence intercept, which is what the Israelis are talking about of the chatter from the Islamic jihad in Gaza, that then reveals, of course, the intercepting that particular -- that particular line of communication.

But in this particular case, it's sometimes better -- certainly better to review that information and say this is what they said at this particular point in time. You know, in a world of deepfakes, and things like that, it becomes a really problematic situation nowadays because it's very hard for people to believe the truth even if they are confronted with the truth.

So that's the first thing. It's something that there's no guarantee of success. But it is the first thing a military and political person should do in a case like this, especially if what they are saying is correct.

HUNT: Interesting. Unbelievably complicated and difficult world that we live in now.

CNN military analyst, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton, thank you as always, my friend. It's wonderful to have you.

LEIGHTON: You bet, Kasie. Always good to be with you.

And those protests have been breaking out across the Arab world in the wake of that deadly blast at a Gaza hospital. We're going to talk about how that disaster changes efforts to keep the war from spreading, and we're also keeping an eye on President Biden who is set to meet soon with the Israeli war cabinet.

We'll be right back.



HUNT: Hundreds of anti-Israel protesters trying to break through security barriers near the U.S. embassy in Lebanon. That's just one of the many protest that has broken out across the Middle East in the wake of a hospital blast in Gaza.

Let's bring in CNN's Max Foster.

Max, always good to see you.

We just heard from President Biden who's on the ground in Israel ahead of his bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He said that this appears to be, quote, done by the other team, end quote. This is what he says to Netanyahu.

So he's accepting the Israeli explanation for what happened here, but we already have an incredibly complicated an explosive geopolitical situation in reaction to the initial reports that this was an Israeli strike that according to the Palestinian health authority, killed hundreds of Gazans.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, perception is often more potent as you know in war than the reality. And I think a lot of Palestinian sympathizes around the world have made their minds of very clearly, that Israel is lying, and the Palestinian delegation to the U.N. said as much yesterday.

So their view for many of those protesters is that Israel carried out a strike and they're lying. Of course, we have been carrying all of the Israeli spokesperson on the network, they're saying absolutely this was not us carrying out this strike. So, we are trying to balance things, a very difficult thing for us, of course, is that reporters in large numbers aren't being allowed and see actually what's happening on the ground. So we are trying to juggle this.

We're looking at all the protest bubbling up. We're seeing them in Lebanon. We're seeing them Iran. We're seeing them in Jordan.

Just consider that in Jordan, more than half the population are Palestinians. Millions of people, seeing protests apprise there, then you are seeing destabilization in the region, and this is the thing we are really concerned about in terms of moving ahead in terms of any sort of peace. And we've seen the Jordanian king call off a meeting with President Biden today.

So, how this is perceived that is going to have the impact on the situation in the region, and any chances of peace and I think that's as frank reality. There's so much distrust across the region.

HUNT: Yeah, I mean, the distressed is -- it's almost impossible for either side here to trust the other, and what they say. And you're right. And the reality, too, Max, is that we are having this argument before the Israelis have even made any incursion on the ground into Gaza, which we still understand is the eventual plan here, because there are, you know, over a hundred hostages being held by Hamas in that region, and the potential for this kind of I don't even -- you're right to sort of be very careful with the language, because we don't want to call it a misunderstanding. I mean, it's -- the two sides are telling very different stories about what they claim to have happened.


I feel like that tendency, or the likelihood that that's going to happen only gets worse when you're on the ground doing, you know, house to house urban warfare.

FOSTER: Inevitably, there will be more casualties, won't there, on both sides, and going in a ground incursion into what other people want to see as a sovereign state is a red line for many Palestinian supporters around the world. We've already seen pretty stark warning signs coming from Iran. That's a red line for them.

And obviously, at the back of everyone's mind is the tension between Iran and Israel, and that escalates at the northern border, many people viewing Hezbollah as a Iranian proxy, of course. We really need to keep an eye on that northern border as well, seeing how things escalate there in terms of wider conflict if it indeed that happens. But I think inevitably, whether or not there's a ground incursion, we'll play into that.

HUNT: Right, no, it's a good point and let's not forget about the backdrop here which is that we were on the verge of potential landmark normalization efforts pact being signed, specifically between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and we are so far away from that conversation as we watch all this unfold.

Max Foster live for us in London, thank you, sir. Always appreciate you.

FOSTER: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: All right. President Biden just commented for the first time on camera about the deadly hospital blast in Gaza. We're going to show you what he said coming up.