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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Sources: Rafah Crossing Not Expected to Open Today; Biden Ties Israel Aid to Ukraine in TV Address; U.S. Navy Warship Near Yemen Intercepts Multiple Missiles. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired October 20, 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 is Friday, October 20th. It is five a.m. here in Washington, noon in Gaza, where we had -- thought we were going to see trucks full of desperately needed humanitarian aid rolling through the Rafah border crossing by now.

But not yet, this is a live picture of the crossing. U.S. officials now believe that the first convoy of eight trucks will cross the border from Egypt to Gaza this weekend, possibly on Saturday.

Last night, President Biden addressed the nation, trying Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza, to Ukraine's battle against Russian aggression.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this uncommon. They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy, completely annihilate it.

History taught us that when terrorists don't pay a price for their terror, when dictators don't pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction. They keep going. And the cost and the threats to America in the world keep rising.


HUNT: The president is trying to build support for a $100 billion foreign aid package that would include no money for Israel, and for Ukraine. They key theme his speech? The idea of the United States as the indispensable nation guaranteeing global stability.


BIDEN: American leadership is what holds the world together. American alliances are what keep us, America, safe. American values and what make us a part of the nations we want to work with.

To put all that at risk, if we walk away from Ukraine, we turn our backs on Israel, it's just not worth it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: CNN's Jomana Karadsheh is live for us in London with the latest.

Jomana, can you help us understand what is going on at the Rafah crossing and why there seems to be a hold up in opening it to this humanitarian aid?

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Kasie, the expectation was that we would see that first aid convoy, those 20 trucks crossing the Rafah crossing into Gaza today. That was the expectation. We've heard that there were preparations, and we've seen preparations on the Egyptian side over the past 24 hours or so.

But what we understand right now that it is not happening, that this could possibly take place tomorrow, possibly sometime this weekend. It's very unclear right now. I mean, it was so close.

You've got the U.N. chief, Antonio Guterres, just arriving in northern Sinai. You've got high-level officials. You've got U.N. convoys, U.N. workers on the ground, all, set already to go with those 20 first trucks of desperately needed aid ready to go.

But what we understand is that there is a lot of work that needs to be done. You've got the physical work, the repairs that have been taking place to be destroyed and damaged. Roads around that crossing as a result of the strikes, but you've also got the work that has been taking place behind the scenes to ensure safe passage for these trucks, safe distribution of the aid.

And you've also got Israel's concerns that this does not get into the hands of Hamas. So a lot of work has been taken place, we'll have to wait and see when this finally happens. But you've got the civilian population there. The majority of the 2 million people inside Gaza are women and children. And they are facing dire humanitarian situation, a catastrophic situation by all accounts, as we are hearing from the U.N. agencies, as we are hearing from aid organization, saying that for nearly two weeks now, they have not received supplies of water, food, fuel, water and electricity have been cut off by Israel. And people are facing these dire, this dire situation right now.

And, you know, we're hearing, Kasie, from aid organization, saying it's a matter of days before they run out of food. It is a matter of hours before they could lose electricity in the hospitals. And a lot of concern about that when you don't have fuel to run the generators of the hospital going in with that first convoy of 20 trucks. A lot of concern about what is going to happen to patients who are reliant on -- who are in hospital, who are in intensive care, who are in incubator.

So, a lot of concern about getting that aid in, and getting it fast. Every minute counts, Kasie, according to aid organizations.


And they say that time is running out for civilians inside Gaza. HUNT: Right, I think we should underscore that the plan right now is

just 20 trucks to go through, which aid organizations warn is so far from enough for those folks that are waiting for this aid.

Jomana Karadsheh, thank you very much for getting us started this morning. I really appreciate it.

And just ahead here, new signs that Israel may be closer to launching a ground invasion of Gaza. We're going to have more on that military buildup.

Plus, the man who hopes to be the new speaker of the House planning to speak live just a few hours from now. What would Jim Jordan say?


HUNT: Welcome back.

A U.S. Navy warship in the Middle East intercepting missiles Thursday near the coast of Yemen. The USS Carney shutdown three land attack missiles and several drones launched by Iran-backed Houthi forces. No casualties to U.S. forces on civilians on the ground.


BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: This action was a demonstration of the emigrated air and missile defense architecture that we have built in the Middle East.


And that we are prepared to utilize whenever necessary to protect our partners and our interest in this important region.


HUNT: All right. Let's bring in retired Major General Dana Pittard, the co-author of "Hunting the Caliphate: America's War on ISIS and the Dawn of the Strike Cell".

Sir, good morning. Thank you very much for being here.

Can you sort of help us understand, you know, what we know or we don't know about these missiles? Who fired them? The possible targets? And what this represents in terms of degree of possible escalation?

MAJ. GENERAL DANA PITTARD, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, good morning, Kasie.

In fact, the shooting of the missiles was well done by the U.S. Navy, by the USS Carney, which is a destroyer that was stationed not far from Yemen in the northern Red Sea. We believe that the two to three cruise missiles were fired by Houthi rebels out of Yemen which are supported by Iran. And Iran has been fighting a proxy war with both U.S. and Israel and others, and we should expect more of this, of Iranian proxies like Hezbollah, like Houthis, the Houthis in Yemen, the Shia militias in Iraq, and others to try to attack U.S. interests. Luckily, the USS Carney was able to intercept those missiles, and also some drones in the area.

HUNT: So, let's talk a little bit about what we are expecting in Gaza in the next -- potentially 24 hours. I mean, we have been sort of waiting for this expected incursion, ground incursion by Israelis into Gaza now for days. But it does seem as though we are picking up increasing signs that action may be imminent.

Now, you have been inside Gaza. We've seen the commanders there saying that Israeli troops are soon going to see inside Gaza. Can you take us in a little bit into what we think they might see there. Obviously, they've been -- Israelis have been, you know, bombing Gaza for quite some time now. That ground is, I think the phrase often military folks use is softened.

Can you help us to understand what that means, and from your experience what they're going to say when they get there?

PITTARD: Yes, in fact, I have been to Gaza and Gaza City. And what's important is what we haven't been saying from obvious standpoint. What the Israelis have already started as far as operations. We've seen the targeting of Hamas leadership, which the Israelis are doing very well. It's the idea of cutting off the headfirst so we've seen the bombardment of different targets within Gaza and Gaza City from fighter jet bombers to artillery, all of that has been happening over the past week.

We've seen intelligence operations. We've seen psychological operations. We've seen operations possibly looking for the hostages. We've seen cyberattacks.

All of this is a part of the preparation for the actual ground campaign. And what we should see as a ground campaign would be attacking from the north, possibly attacking from the east, and possibly from the west from the sea.

Now the fighting is going to be tough because of the densely populated areas, when I was in Gaza, years ago, lots of people, a couple of million people there. Now there is even more people. So the fighting will be urban fighting, block by block, street by street, building by building.

And there will also be subterranean. Since the last attacks on Israel years ago, Hamas has spread its tunnel network throughout Gaza and Gaza City. So there will be a subterranean fights. There will be an above ground fight, as well as a fight in high-rise buildings. It will be a tough fight overall.

And it will be lots of casualties on both sides. And unfortunately, there will be caught in the crossfire.

HUNT: Yeah, just really the toughest kind of urban warfare.

Major General Dana Pittard, thanks very much. We really appreciate it. Have a wonderful weekend. PITTARD: Thank you, Kasie.

HUNT: And up next here, what about the other war? We'll have details on what Joe Biden told Ukraine's Vladimir Zelenskyy before last night's big speech.




BIDEN: Ukraine has regained more than 50 percent of the territory Russian troops once occupied, backed by a U.S.-led coalition of more than 50 countries around the world, all doing its part to support Kyiv. What would happen if we walked away?


HUNT: That was President Biden last night, talking about the war that we haven't been focused on very much over the past two weeks.

Let's bring in CNN's Max Foster to talk more about this.

Max, good morning. Always good to see you.

Before the speech, President Biden actually called Ukraine's President Zelenskyy and assured him that there is still strong bipartisan support for Ukraine. But obviously, if you're in Kyiv right now, this is pretty nerve-racking. This was the pitch from the president, to the American people, to say, hey, we need to support this. This is important. Here's why.

But the numbers aren't bearing out here. Public sentiment has really shifted in the United States, in recent weeks and months.


What hope, and what's the view from your side of the pond, so to speak?

MAX FOSTER, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was you that said it, wasn't it, just recently, that any package for Ukraine would now be tied to the package for Israel. Israel is currently the headline, but just looking at the numbers, what he's asking for is $14 billion for Israel, $60 billion for Ukraine.

So, he's pushing this whole package through, together, which may avert this lack of support for the Ukraine war, and continuing to fund it among some Republicans. But you know better than me, whether or not he's going to be able to push that through as one package. And whether or not the Republicans are going to ask for a separation of the Israeli and the Ukrainian package.

If that is the case, I think the Ukraine package, would be much harder to push through. HUNT: No, that's -- I mean, that's absolutely right, that's 100

percent what's going on here. I mean, I think, the thing that I really heard in Biden's speech last night, was a pitch to the American people to try to say that America still has this absolutely indispensable role on the world stage. And that these two things are tied together because supporting democracy over autocracy is more important, perhaps than it has ever been, with the potential for somebody with autocratic tendencies to get reelected here in the United States, especially.

But the message, you know, it's coming from somebody who, if you watch the speech last night. You could see Biden's age very clearly, and there does seem to be this feeling that there is a fracturing going on of the world order that we have known in the post-World War II landscape. I mean, does it feel to you that America still has the role that Biden is trying to convince people that America does?

FOSTER: I think it's really suffering that role, certainly in the Middle East, and among Arab countries. Obviously, the U.S. has some very strong links with many Arab countries. But if you look at all the protests, all the demonstrations, a lot of language coming from Arab leaders, the U.S. and Israel have very much been lumped together now.

So having this global policeman role becomes much more difficult, if you've clearly taken one side, a very controversial side, in that region. I think that's going to be a real challenge for Biden going forward. And then you've got -- you know, we have more statements coming from Beijing today, constantly getting them from Moscow, trying to undermine that global statesman role that the U.S. has.

So I think it's a huge challenge. And it's one where you saw, you're seeing much more of a reflection of that in recent days, aren't you in Biden's language, expressing a lot more sympathy for what Palestinian civilians are going through, rather than just focusing on that horrific terror attack on Israelis on their own soil.

HUNT: Right, and I mean, I think, you know, there's -- there are very significant reasons why he's doing that. And I mean they can read -- they can see how people are feeling about the plight of those Palestinians, just as plain as you and I can.

I have to say, as you are talking, I was flashing back to those pictures, too, of President Xi and President Putin of Russia and China shaking hands, meeting together. And think this is something I think you and I are going to be having a lot of conversations about in the year ahead. As they try to, as you astutely point out, challenge Western dominance.

FOSTER: Yes, it's interesting. I think that's the latest comments coming from Xi in China, a two-state solution. We need a cease-fire. We made a political solution.

A lot of people seeing that is completely unrealistic not timely because no one in the Middle East is in that state of mind right now. But what Xi is doing is presenting himself as the global peacemaker. So, it's more about messaging than reality, that kind of thing. But it sort of sinks in overtime, and trying to replace the U.S. HUNT: No, and, you know, the reality is these are autocracies not

democracies. I don't want to lose sight of that.

Max Foster, thank you very much for being here. Have a wonderful weekend. I'll see you on Monday.

FOSTER: Thanks, Kasie. Thank you.

HUNT: All right. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations erupting across the world. A live look from the country where that it's happening ahead. And Congressman Jim Jordan set to speak after failing as elected House speaker. What to expect from him today, coming up!




BIDEN: Hamas and Putin represent different threats. They share this in common. They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy, completely annihilate it.


HUNT: Good morning. Thanks for getting up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt.

That was President Biden speaking from the Oval Office last night, just the second time he's done that in his presidency, making the case to the nation for sending more aid to support the war efforts in Ukraine and Israel. He also made this clear distinction between Hamas and the Palestinian people.


BIDEN: Hamas, its stated purpose for existing in the destruction of the state of Israel and the murder of Jewish people. Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people. Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields. And innocent Palestinian families are suffering greatly because of that.

Meanwhile, Putin denies Ukraine has or ever had real statehood.


HUNT: CNN's Betsy Klein joins me now.

Betsy, good morning. Thank you so much for being here.

This is obviously something the White House doesn't do very often. It underscores just how important these remarks or to the president himself. What stood out to you last night?

BETSY KLEIN, CNN PRODUCER: Kasie, it was a rare address from President Biden where he sought to tied together Israel and Ukraine and the wars there and said -- make the case really that it is critical moment for both the U.S. national security, the future of democracy.

Now, the president has often said this is an inflection point in history and the battle between --