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IDF: Heavy Airstrikes Hit 320 Targets Across Gaza Overnight; China's Mideast Envoy: War Caused By Lack Of Palestinian Rights; Today: 9 New Speaker Candidates To Make Their Cases At Forum. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired October 23, 2023 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for getting up early with us. I'm Kasie Hunt. Just a few seconds before 5:30 here on the East Coast.

Israeli forces targeting northern Gaza with heavy airstrikes overnight killing dozens, including children in the Jabalia refugee camp, that it says were aimed at militants, their tunnels, and command centers. The Hamas-run Health Ministry says that they were destroying homes and buildings in Rafah, Khan Younis, central Gaza, and Gaza City. A senior Israeli official says there's no ceasefire as the IDF targets tunnels and Hamas command centers.

This comes as the U.S. works to get about 600 Palestinian-Americans out of Gaza.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have several hundred Americans and other nationalities -- other civilians from other countries who want to leave Gaza. We've had people come to Rafah, the crossing with Egypt -- and to date, at least, Hamas has blocked them from leaving.


HUNT: Officials at Gaza hospitals say that they are overwhelmed with casualties as they struggle with electricity and fuel shortages. The Palestinian Health Ministry says more than 4,600 Gazans have died so far.

Report Eliott Gotkine joins us live from London. Elliott, welcome back. We do know that Israeli troops are massing by the tens of thousands along Gaza's border but still, at this hour, no word on the ground incursion that's expected any day now.

What do these increased airstrikes tell us about what's going on? And what is the work that's going on behind the scenes to try to free these hostages ahead of a potential incursion? ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Kasie, as far as the hostages are concerned, we know that the U.S. and the Qataris, in particular, who have a direct line to Hamas and the leadership there in Doha -- they are working behind the scenes to try to get more of those now 222 hostages. That figure has been updated from just over 200 just in the last few minutes. Two hundred twenty-two hostages that were abducted by Hamas in that terrorist attack of October 7 during which up to 1,400 -- or more than 1,400 people were killed inside of Israel.

So that's what's happening behind the scenes. There is no real public comment from the Israelis about negotiations but we know that the U.S. and the Qataris are working on it.

As far as the airstrikes are concerned, the Israelis said that they were going to be ramping up airstrikes against militant targets in the Gaza Strip and they've been true to their word. And as they say, they have hit more than 320 targets -- militant targets, they say, such as tunnels, such as command centers, anti-tank missile cells, and the like. And also, as well, parts of the militant group's assets, which they say pose a threat to their troops who have been massing on the border with the Gaza Strip pending a ground invasion.

And what we also saw -- and this is another indication that we are perhaps inching closer to that expected ground invasion -- we saw the first clashes inside the Gaza Strip between the IDF and militants of Hamas. Hamas firing an anti-tank missile at the IDF killing one soldier and injuring three. Hamas claiming to have destroyed a couple of military bulldozers and a tank.

So it does seem that we are inching towards this ground invasion. When it will happen, Kasie, we still don't know.

HUNT: All right. Elliott Gotkine, thank you very much for your reporting. I really appreciate it.

And China's special Mideast envoy concluding the reason for the Israel-Hamas war is, quote, "The legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people, which have not been guaranteed." It comes as China sent its envoy to the region to push for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

CNN's Kristie Lu Stout is live in Hong Kong for us with more. Kristie, thank you very much for being with us this morning. Can you help us understand the Chinese position here?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. China has a firmly pro-Palestinian stance but it is also making this diplomatic show pushing for peace in the region.

China's special envoy for the Middle East is in the region pushing for peace. Zhai Jun says that Chinese willing to do, quote, "whatever is conducive to promote talks to reach a ceasefire to restore peace." He adds that there is a risk of a large-scale ground conflict in Gaza and that is significantly rising.

Look, China wants to present itself to the world as a neutral mediator but it has very little experience in mediating such a conflict. It also has deep interest -- economic interest in the Middle East, especially access to oil. In fact, about half of China's oil imports come from Arab states, which also account for more than 20 votes at the U.N.

Now, over the weekend we heard from Zhai Jun. He was speaking in Cairo for the Cairo Summit for Peace. He is also -- in addition to visiting Egypt, he's visiting the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other countries across the region.


He says China has provided and will continue to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians and that China wants to promote a two-state solution, which is exactly what we heard last week on Thursday from the Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

But it's important to note what we have not heard from China -- we have not heard any condemnation of Hamas. China has not condemned Hamas for its brutal terror attack on Israel on October 7.

Back to you, Kasie.

HUNT: Kristie Lu Stout, thank you very much for that report. I really appreciate it.

STOUT: Thank you.

HUNT: And later on today, House Republicans will meet for a candidate forum as they go back to the drawing board in their effort to select a Speaker of the House. As of now, they have a slate of nine new candidates. Congressman Jim Jordan, of course, was voted out as the party's nominee last week.

Here are the guys that are running instead.

TEXT: Jack Bergman, Byron Donalds, Tom Emmer, Kevin Hern, Mike Johnson, Dan Meuser, Gary Palmer, Austin Scott, Pete Sessions.

Over the weekend, a number of Republicans bemoaned their party's inability to settle on a speaker after nearly three weeks.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we should be embarrassed as a party, quite frankly, about what's going on in the House of Representatives. I mean, these guys and women look like a group of 11th graders trying to pick the junior class president rather than the Speaker of the House.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): This is embarrassing for the Republican Party, it's embarrassing for the nation, and we need to look at one another and solve the problem.


HUNT: Very blunt.

What is not clear, of course, is whether any of these nine candidates can secure the 217 votes needed on the floor to win the gavel.


REP. MIKE TURNER (R-OH): You know, getting 217 is obviously going to be very difficult and is the sort of Rubik's Cube of the answer to all of this.


HUNT: If only it were as easy as solving a Rubik's Cube.

But for our attempts to find our own answers let's bring in Mica Soellner, congressional reporter for Punchbowl News. Mica, good morning to you. Thank you for being here.

So there's nine -- nine of these guys who say that they potentially want what promises to be either the shortest or hardest, or both shortest and hardest job in Washington, and it's not clear any of them are anywhere close to 217 votes. And, of course, they need at least half the conference -- 50 percent, plus one if they want to become the new speaker nominee designate.

Does anyone have an edge at this point? What are we expecting today?


Yeah, exactly. As you mentioned, I think a lot of members of the Republican Conference are really coming to the reality that it's nearly impossible to get 217 votes.

I will say that we're probably going to see Tom Emmer have a pretty good lead. He has the biggest name recognition, I would say, out of most of them just given the fact that he is the number three Republican right now in the House. So he has that leadership post already.

But we're also seeing candidates like Byron Donalds, of Florida, pick up some support. Of course, he's a member of the Freedom Caucus so he'll have some conservative backing there. But he's also gotten some of those people that were against Jordan last week.

We saw Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, for example, throw his support behind Donalds, as well as Gimenez said -- who said that he would be behind Kevin McCarthy this whole time. That he was only Kevin. So he threw his support behind Donalds, too.

So we're seeing some candidates jump ahead in the race.

HUNT: So, Mica, I mean, one thing I don't want to lose sight of and it's easy to as we kind of do all the horse-trading and the back-and- forth is that -- I mean, the government is only funded basically till the week before Thanksgiving, right, which is fast approaching. Halloween is next week. Two weeks after that.

The House Republican Conference has already spent nearly three weeks scrambling to try to get a speaker. They have run through their two most obvious choices here.

How much concern is starting to build that they're not going to be able to solve this problem before the government shuts down of its own accord simply because there's no Speaker of the House?

SOELLNER: There's a lot of concern. Yeah, that deadline is exactly right. That's when the C.R. runs out. And I think Republicans have been so focused and scrambled on getting a speaker the appropriations battle has kind of fallen to the wayside.

That's going to be a huge problem for whoever does end up getting this post. They're going to grapple with basically a House in crisis and a House that's been frozen for weeks because of Republican infighting. So whoever is able to get this gavel -- if they are by that time -- they will immediately have to gravel with trying to avert another government shutdown which, of course, was the very thing that cost Kevin McCarthy his job when he worked with Democrats to avert that first deadline there.

HUNT: Yeah -- no. That's exactly the point I was going to make because -- and part of me keeps circling back around. Kevin McCarthy has obviously said you know what, it's not going to be me. They threw me out. There are these eight that are hardline against him.

But whoever does get this job is likely to be in such a weak position anyway that I struggle to see that even if they are in charge how they convince people to hey, let's govern. Because if they do something that requires Democratic votes, the chances they could keep that gavel seem slim to none.


SOELLNER: Yeah, it's going to be very, very hard to unify this conference right now. I mean, you have Republican members in the clips you've shown before just openly saying yeah, that it's broken. That it's divided. And I think members are more comfortable kind of saying that out loud which, of course, most of the time they stick to their messaging saying that oh, we're unified. We're going to get back together.

But right now it's really, really fractured, so whoever takes this position is really going to have to grapple with dealing with all ends of their party, especially the conservative wing that has had heightened influence over this Congress (PH) as it's really, really, grappled with taking over the agenda of the GOP majority.

HUNT: Right. And again, it's those conservatives that -- if there's anyone that's got concerns about Tom Emmer, who in theory should be the frontrunner here, he's the only one with any real experience doing any of this stuff, already has that problem on his horizon.

All right. Mica Soellner of Punchbowl News, thank you. I know you have a long day ahead of you. I appreciate you starting it here.

SOELLNER: Thank you.

HUNT: And Hamas isn't the only group that Israel is taking on right now. Where things stand in the fight against the Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon. That's next.



HUNT: Welcome back.

New overnight, the Israel Defense Forces say they struck another terrorist cell in Lebanese territory along with an anti-tank missile launch post. This comes are skirmishes continue along the Israeli- Lebanese border adding to concerns about a widening conflict.

Here's Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to IDF commandos in Northern Israel on Sunday.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): You are fighting for our lives, for our home. This is no exaggeration. This is war. We are now in a double battle. One battle is to block them here; the second battle is to win a crushing victory that will erase Hamas.


HUNT: All right, let's bring in Yaakov Katz, senior columnist and editor at The Jerusalem Post. He's also the author of "Shadow Strike: Inside Israel's Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power." Yaakov, thank you very much for being here.

In that speech you saw Netanyahu giving there he also warned that if Hezbollah entered the war, Israel would strike it with a force it cannot even imagine.

How close are we to that point of escalation, and isn't there significant danger in fighting a war on two fronts for the IDF?

YAAKOV KATZ, SENIOR COLUMNIST AND EDITOR, THE JERUSALEM POST, AUTHOR, "SHADOW STRIKE: INSIDE ISRAEL'S SECRET MISSION TO ELIMINATE SYRIAN NUCLEAR POWER (via Webex by Cisco): I think, sadly, we are close, right? We see that every day -- like you mentioned, Kasie, every single day there are skirmishes along the border. Hezbollah is attacking Israeli troops, firing anti-tank missiles, and trying to fire rockets for the time being, within about a mile range from the border.

But let's keep in mind, over the last two weeks, Israel has killed over 30 Hezbollah terrorists, right? That's a steep price also for Hezbollah. Israel itself has lost some soldiers up there. And I think that as we look down south towards the potential ground

incursion into Gaza, that would be another step up and a potential trigger for Hezbollah to escalate its own activity in the north, and that could lead to a wider conflict. And that's something that Israel is concerned about.

What I think what would ultimately happen though is if that did happen, Gaza would be the secondary issue or threat on the table. All Israeli resources -- air force, ground forces -- would move up north and would focus on that volatile front because Hezbollah is far stronger than Hamas and Gaza.

HUNT: Yes -- no. I mean, I absolutely take that point. But, of course, this is all unfolding right now because of what Hamas did in southern Israel.

And you actually wrote a piece in The Jerusalem Post where you talked about the challenges that Israel will face after this offensive starts, and that they will need to clearly define what victory looks like and what the exit strategy will be. I mean, what do you think those things should be?

KATZ: Look, I think that one of the big challenges -- or the big mistakes, I would call it, that Israel has made over the years is that it would see -- it saw Hezbollah amassing weapons. It saw Hamas amassing weapons. It saw Hezbollah training and it saw Hamas training. They were training all for the same thing, the annihilation of the state of Israel. And that's what Hamas tried to do when it massacred 1,400 people on that dark Saturday, October 7.

So we know that they've amassed these weapons. What happened? Israel said no, we can contain the situation. We can use some deterrents. We can use some economic incentives. We can use diplomacy. And we'll keep it contained and hopefully, we'll always be able to keep it under the threshold of a full out-blown -- blown out conflict.

But that doesn't work anymore. That's what we learned from October 7.

So now the question is this war with Hamas and possibly this was with Hezbollah -- what do we do the day after? They'll just rebuild again, Kasie. That's the whole problem -- they'll rebuild and they'll rearm. So how -- with Iran's help.

So how does Israel stop them? I think that needs to be one of the dramatic and significant changes is that Israel says no, we're not going to let you rebuild. So even after the war will hopefully end, Israel will have to continue to attack and to prevent these terrorist organizations from rearming. That will be complicated. We won't always have the world's support for that. But otherwise, we're just allowing them to rebuild and attack us once again.

HUNT: I mean, that's basically a preemptive strike doctrine, no?

KATZ: It would be a preemptive strike that would be based on rearmament. If we look at the Israeli's national defense doctrine, over 75 years,

Israel has never really launched a preemptive strike because of weapons buildup. It did it twice for nuclear programs -- one in Syria -- that's my book -- and one in Iraq in 1981. But otherwise, it doesn't really attack just because a country or an enemy amasses arms or weapons.

That will have to change because if it doesn't and they continue to rebuild -- so, five years, 10 years, 15 years they'll be able to do in the north or in the south the same thing they did here on October 7.


HUNT: Yeah.

So, Yaakov -- I mean, I was talking to Max Foster a little bit earlier in the show about this but I'm interested in, kind of, your view.

The one question seems to be OK, get rid of Hamas. The challenge is that Hamas is obviously a terrorist organization based on their actions on October 7, but they also play a significant role in governing the Gaza Strip. And I'm not clear who steps up and does those things in their absence. And I guess I'm curious to know why or how you think whatever rose up in its place could be a better situation for Israel than what's going on now.

KATZ: Look, it's a very complicated scenario and the question you're asking is the question I don't think anyone has an answer for yet, Kasie. Because what happens --

So, Israel goes into Gaza. It degrades Hamas' capabilities. It captures or kills a lot of Hamas fighters. Let's even say it's able to take out the top Hamas leadership.

But there are still Hamas people who will remain at the end of this. Even if it's a months-long operation there will still be Hamas people. They will still have some infrastructure. They will still have some weapons. And they could potentially still be in control.

So even if you toppled them, to some extent -- whatever that might mean -- who comes in their place?

Israel -- the last thing -- I think we can all agree the last thing that Israel should do is carry in some new puppet on the back of an Israeli tank into Gaza. That won't last, right? America tried that numerous times in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's a failed policy.

So we have to have also some sort of organic leadership that will come from within that will take over that will be accepted by the Palestinians in Gaza who are also going to have suffered after this conflict.

And I think here we're going to need some serious American involvement, some serious Egyptian involvement, Saudi involvement. This is going to require the entire region and the world to work together to figure this out. This is not something that Israel will be able to solve on its own.

Right now, Israel has to act in self-defense. What comes after is something that everyone's going to have to work on.

HUNT: Yeah, that's the hard part.

Yaakov Katz, thanks very much for being with us this morning.

KATZ: Thank you.

HUNT: I really appreciate it.

And just into CNN, a third convoy of aid vehicles has entered the border from Egypt to Gaza through the Rafah Crossing. That's according to a CNN journalist on the ground. Humanitarian convoys were also given the green light on Saturday and Sunday. We're going to have much more, next, on "CNN THIS MORNING."



HUNT: Welcome back.

Nearly three weeks after the House voted out Kevin McCarthy in historic fashion, the House remains without a speaker or a strategy. And there might be new challenges for the speaker's gavel but one of the party's central challenges remains its complete inability to unify.

That theme and the Rubik's Cube complexity of figuring it out is touched on by CNN's Stephen Collinson. Stephen writes, quote, "Twisting colored squares together in the right order seem simply by comparison with attempts to unite a House Republican Conference unable to comprehend how clownish it looks."

Let's bring in the author, Stephen Collinson. Stephen, good morning to you. Thank you very much --


HUNT: -- for being here.

I have to say I was a little surprised to see Kevin McCarthy actually say well, actually, this is really embarrassing. Perhaps they are starting to comprehend the depth of this.

But look, I want to -- I want to start by playing this -- Congressman Mike McCaul, who is somebody who spends a lot of time thinking about national security issues -- he's a Republican -- was on over the weekend and he put it in pretty dramatic, sweeping terms.

Take a look at what he had to say and let's talk about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MIKE MCCAUL, (R-TX): The world's on fire. This is so dangerous what we're doing. And most importantly, it's embarrassing because it empowers and emboldens our adversaries, like Chairman Xi, who say democracy doesn't work.


HUNT: I mean, that's a very sweeping point that I don't think has gotten enough attention. This idea that we are demonstrating to the world that the system that we have doesn't work properly and giving more fuel to these dictators out there.

COLLINSON: Yeah. One of the key features of the real political global foreign policy of nations like China and Russia is an argument, especially to developing states in places like Africa and Asia, is that you can't trust the U.S. That the U.S. model that many countries have tried to follow since the end of the Second World War is fractured and is not operable in a new century going forward.

So anything that plays into that impression is very damaging to the United States abroad. That, in fact, is why you've had nations like Russia, and China, and Iran try to influence the outcome of U.S. elections in the social media era.

And I think to your point about embarrassment, this is an issue internally as well. An embarrassment could end up being a real force. Because I think domestically, a lot of people don't really follow the machinations of the House of Representatives on a day-to-day basis as they live their normal lives. But when legislators tend to get into trouble it's when they indulge in behavior that wouldn't fly in another arena of life. And that's I think --

HUNT: Like junior high?

COLLINSON: Right, yeah. If you start to see, I think, a bunch of polls this week showing that the public is disgusted with the way the Republican Conference is behaving, that might concentrate some minds combined with a lot of fatigue and tiredness that has happened because of this three weeks of a power vacuum in the House conference. And that might force some minds.

The problem is whether it produces a strong speaker that can bring the conference together --

HUNT: Right.

COLLINSON: -- seems very doubtful.

HUNT: Right. Well, and I'm glad you mentioned that. And I'm not going to play it because we're getting short on time here, but Newt Gingrich made the point on the Sunday shows that the 217 have to not just pick a speaker but they also have to stick together for the next five or six months.

I mean, there's a certain richness that the condemnation of this type of politics is coming from the guy that basically invented it, Newt Gingrich. But that said, he's not wrong. I mean, we've gotten so -- it's gotten so bad that even Newt Gingrich is saying while these guys are not just going to have to do this, they're going to have to stick together, and I don't see how it happens.

COLLINSON: Yeah, that's right. He talked a lot of sense about what's going to have to happen in the Republican conference going forward if this Republican majority, as small as it is, is not going to be a complete bust over the next year or so before the next election.

You know, one thing about Newt Gingrich -- he was a firebrand that insurgent -- a disruptor. But he was also highly organized. The contract with America was that list, remember, in 1994 where Republicans ticked off everything they did -- every point they promised the voters. And then as soon as they passed a bill they publicized it.


There is none of that kind of organization in this chaotic Republican conference.

HUNT: No, there is absolutely zero. And right now, we're just struggling to get a speaker before the deadline to keep the government funded a week before Thanksgiving.

Stephen Collinson, I'm sure we'll have you back soon. Thank you very much for being with us this morning.

And thanks to all of you for joining us this morning as well. I am Kasie Hunt. Don't go anywhere. "CNN THIS MORNING" starts right now.