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IDF: About 300 Hamas Targets Struck By Combat Forces; Israel Says It Thwarted Drone And Missile Attack By Iran-backed Houthis Near Red Sea; Israel Soldier Rescued From Hamas Captivity; Blinken: U.S. Trying To Get 100 Aid Trucks A Day Into Gaza; IDF: Number Of Hostages Held In Gaza Now Up To 240; CNN Poll: Trump Holds Wide Lead Among SC GOP Voters; CNN Poll: Haley Jumps To 2nd Place Among SC GOP Voters; CNN Poll: Biden Approval Dips Among Black SC Voters. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 31, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today in Inside Politics, Israeli ground troops push deeper yet into Gaza as airstrikes kill a top Hamas commander who directed the October 7 massacre of innocent Israelis. And we're learning gripping new details about exactly how Israeli forces rescued an IDF soldier held hostage by Hamas.

Plus, dangerous threats. The FBI director issued a stark warning that the war in the middle east may inspire extremists here in the U.S. to carry out more attacks against Americans simply going about their daily lives.

And we have a brand-new CNN poll out this hour, revealing the state of the race in a crucial primary state, South Carolina. Donald Trump may still be the frontrunner, but just how dedicated are his supporters, and which candidate has surged into second place.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

We'll start with Israeli forces on the hunt for Hamas terrorists and closing in on Gaza city itself. The IDF says their troops are facing anti-tank missiles and machine gunfire as ground. The ground assault there intensifies, but airstrikes are not letting up,, continuing to attack hundreds of Hamas targets, hitting more than 300 overnight.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is in southern Israel. Jeremy, what are you seeing as night is falling there?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, throughout the day, we've been hearing the steady thud of artillery fire being directed at the Gaza Strip. We've watched tank movements throughout the day and this evening as night falls, we are still hearing small arms fire in the distance.

Israeli forces striking over 300 targets over the last day and we're getting a clearer picture of what those targets were. Not only Hamas command centers, their underground tunnels but also going after combatant commanders on the ground, which has been a key part of Israel's strategy as they conduct these expanded ground operations now in their fifth day.

And among the commanders that Israel has now taken out according to the IDF is one of the commanders who directed the terrorist attacks on October 7, and particularly those in the north, in Erez and Netiv HaAsara Moshav which we visited just last week.

IDF jets, according to the Israeli forces struck Nisam Abu Ajina, who is the commander of the Beit Lahiya battalion of Hamas is northern brigade. All of this as Israel's prime minister vows to continue fighting saying that he is rejecting some international calls for ceasefire.

BASH: And Jeremy, we're also learning that the IDF awarded an aerial threat in the area of the Red Sea. What can you tell us about that?

DIAMOND: Yes. That's right, Dana. Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are backed by Iran. They claimed credit for a ballistic missile attack on southern Israel as well as sending drones towards southern Israel. Now, Israel Defense Forces say that they intercepted all of those threats outside of Israeli territory. And they did so at least in the case of that surface-to-surface ballistic missile using the red arrow system, which is the first time that that system has been employed and successfully intercepted a surface-to-surface missile.

But what this does is it highlights not only the fact that Iran appears to be directing its proxies all over the region to conduct attacks against Israel. But also, it just highlights the risk of a broader regional conflict which Israel of course has been trying to ward off.

BASH: Israel and the United States, of course, they have been trying to ward that off. There is a kernel of good news and important bit of good news, which is that Israel did get rescue one of its soldiers being held hostage by the Hamas terrorists. What have you learned about how that happened?


DIAMOND: Yes. A private Ori Megidish, she is the fifth person held in captivity to emerge alive from the Gaza Strip, but she is the first to have been rescued by Israel Defense Forces. They conducted a ground operation carried out by special forces in coordination with the Shin Bet, Israel's Internal Security Service. And this is the first time that such an operation has successfully resulted in the release of one of those captives.

And so, as you said, a little bit of a bright spot there and it's being used by the Israeli prime minister and these really defense minister to kind of make their claim that they believe these ground operations are actually helping to try and release these hostages, giving the possibility of releasing them and also strengthening their hand at the negotiating table as those complex negotiations being led by Qatar, mediated by Qatar are ongoing.

And now, we have learned as of today, according to the Israel Defense Forces, that the number of hostages being held inside Gaza by Hamas and other militant groups, stands at 240. 240 people still waiting to try and get back to their loved ones. Dana?

BASH: It's extraordinary. Thank you so much, Jeremy, for that reporting. And joining me now is John Kirby, the National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications. Thank you so much for being here with me.

We have heard you and others in the administration, the president himself, say specifically that the U.S. won't tell Israel how to run its war.

There is reporting, though, that U.S. officials are advising Israel not to conduct the ground invasion, and to stop bombing areas near the Rafah gate. Is that accurate? And more importantly, is Israel from your perspective and the perspective of the president managing the war, the way that it should?

JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: I'll leave our private conversations between us diplomatically and militarily stay private. Dana, I think you can understand why we'd want to do that.

However, we have, since the very beginning of the conflict, been talking to our Israeli counterparts at all levels from the prime minister on about the need to respect civilian life to minimize civilian casualties and to allow humanitarian aid to get in.

So, in the context of those conversations, clearly, we're talking to them about vehicles, means ways in which those things can be achieved, not to mention the importance of getting all those hostages out. We know there's a small number of Americans in that group. We want to get them home to their families, too.

And in order to move hostages out, you're going to have to have periods of relative calm or humanitarian pause here and there to allow safe movement. So, we are having broad conversations with them. But obviously, these are their operational decisions to make. This is their war to fight.

BASH: Well, on the issue of humanitarian aid, the secretary of state was testifying on Capitol Hill this morning, and he said the U.S. is trying to get one hundred trucks of humanitarian aid a day into Gaza.


BASH: Have you gotten any assurances by the Israeli government, any backchannel at all from Hamas that this will be allowed to happen?

KIRBY: The Israelis have said, and they've said publicly that they will agree to a hundred trucks a day, at least in these early days. That's a good start. It's not enough. It's still a trickle compared to what was going in before. But the Israelis have committed to allowing a hundred trucks today. And today, we were able to get 67 in.

That's the most in a single day that we've been able to achieve but didn't get much in yesterday. So, 67 is a good -- it's a good -- some good progress here, but we got a long way to go. BASH: There is aid, as you know better than I, and then there was specifically the question of fuel. I want you to respond to something that the IDF told me, a spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner. I talked to him yesterday. Here is what he said when I asked about the concern in the West about fuel shipments not getting to civilians.


LT. COL. PETER LERNER, SPOKESMAN, IDF: There is fuel in Gaza, and Hamas is holding that fuel hostage as well. They're distributing it to the hospitals as they see fit. In the week before last, Hamas came, Hamas came into U.N. compound and took fuel and took medical supplies.


BASH: How do you respond to that?

KIRBY: Well, we know that Hamas has fuel available to itself and that it is using it to keep their tunnels lit and to support their own needs inside Gaza. I can't say with specificity how much they're giving to hospitals or not. But what we're hearing from the U.N. and what we're hearing from humanitarian aid organizations on the ground is that fuel is at a precious low level right now.

I mean, very, very low. And we've got to find a way to get more fuel in there so that the hospitals have the power, so that the desalination plants can keep -- the pumps can keep running and keep fresh water going. There's a desperate need for fuel. We're working on that very, very hard.


BASH: And that is up to Israel?

KIRBY: Well, certainly, Israel is a key player in terms of being able to get that fuel in there. There's no question about that.

BASH: "The New York Times" reported that U.S. officials understand that Israeli leaders believe mass civilian casualties are an acceptable price in this military campaign. Is that true?

KIRBY: I can't speak for what our Israeli counterparts think about that. I can only tell you what we think. And we have been crystal clear that the right number of civilian casualties in this or any other conflict is zero. You don't want to see any innocent life lost. And sadly, there has been innocent life lost on the Israeli side, and certainly on the Palestinian side, in Gaza to the tune of many thousands.

We want to make sure that Israel is continuing to conduct their operations in such a way that those civilian casualties can be minimized. I do think it is important, though, to note that civilian casualties are not a war aim of Israel.

They are going after Hamas leadership. They are not deliberately trying to kill innocent civilians, unlike Hamas, who definitely did that in their slaughter on the 7th of October, and have done it since the 7th of October by putting the people of Gaza in greater danger and in harm's way.

It is not a warning of Israel to cause civilian casualties. That doesn't mean that any civilian casualty can be excused or dismissed. Not at all. They're all important. And we're doing everything we can to encourage them to avoid that.

BASH: That's an important distinction. John Kirby, I want to ask you about this. The fact that this war is really dividing the president's Democratic party. Today, Congresswoman Cori Bush tweeted that Israel was conducting an "ethnic cleansing campaign," and the U.S. was funding, "atrocities against Palestinians."

As a key spokesperson for the Biden administration, what's the administration's argument to this Democrat about why I am sure you believe she's wrong?

KIRBY: Well, the congressman can speak for himself and his views. Obviously, we would take a significant issue with those assertions. We are helping our ally and our partner Israel go after Hamas terrorists that perpetrated the worst terrorist attack on Israeli soil, probably in their entire history on October 7, their version of 9/11 and maybe then some, if you just do the ratios. It was dramatic, and it was a slaughter, and we're helping them go after those Hamas terrorists.

We're not funding any kind of a genocide. And as I said earlier, Dana, that's not what Israel is after here. They're going after Hamas terrorists. And yes, there have been civilian casualties.

And as I said, none of them should happen. We don't want to see any. They can't be dismissed. And our thoughts and prayers go out to all the families that have suffered.

And that's why we're working with Israel to be as discriminant and careful as they can be in their targeting going forward. But this is about protecting an ally from a significant terrorist threat, a threat that is in the Israeli eyes existential to their existence, and you can't but look at what happened on October 7 and not understand why they feel that way.

BASH: John Kirby, thank you so much for taking the time. Appreciate it.

KIRBY: Yes, ma'am.

BASH: Up next, back here in the U.S., the 2024 campaign is still going strong. And we have a brand-new CNN poll of South Carolina Republicans to share with you. It shows there may be one Republican challenger chipping away at Donald Trump's lead a little bit. Who is it? I'll tell you next.




BASH: Joining me now is CNN's political director David Chalian. And when David is at the wall with me, it means one thing, new poll. Yes. So, what are we seeing? This is South Carolina.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: South Carolina, as you know a critical early state in the nomination process. Take a look at where the race stands in South Carolina. It's very similar to what we're seeing nationally. And in the other early states like, Iowa yesterday that you discussed on the program.

Donald Trump has majority support right now among likely Republican voters in the South Carolina Republican primary. 53 percent. Nikki Haley, unlike yesterday in Iowa, where she was tied with Ron DeSantis for second place. She's now using her home state advantage 22 percent, clear second place. DeSantis in third. Home state advantage not doing much of anything for Tim Scott down at 6 percent.

BASH: That's really interesting. I mean, Nikki Haley is former governor. Tim Scott is a sitting U.S. senator of the state and he's down at six.

CHALIAN: Who just won big reelection.

BASH: Right, exactly. It's not as if he hasn't proven that he's popular there. Let's look at how committed these voters are to their chosen candidate.

CHALIAN: I think it's such an important question, Dana, because I think it gets underneath the horse race and it shows you why Trump is so dominant in this race. Look here, among all the Republican voters we talked to, like the Republican voters in the primary, more than six-tens say they're definitely going to support their first choice. A little more than a third, 38 percent say they're open to changing their mind.

Among Trump supporters, 82 percent say they're locked into Donald Trump. They're definitely going to support him, compared to 18 percent of Trump supporters who say they might change their mind. Because remember, even in this world of overall voters, a third of might change their mind, some of them may change them to Donald Trump.

BASH: Right, right, right. So, that's shows you why he's so ahead. The question that everybody has is, he is locked in a lot of legal battles, all in probably, but in federally and across the country. What kind of impact is that happening, having on the voters?

CHALIAN: I know this shouldn't be surprising, but I can't stop being surprised by it, right? If true, we asked. If the charges against Donald Trump regarding his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. If they're true, are they relevant for fitness for his job?

67 percent of Republicans in South Carolina, two-thirds say not relevant, not relevant to his fitness for office. 17 percent say you can't doubts on his fitness for office. Only 16 percent of likely Republican voters in the Palmetto State say it's disqualifying for him for the presidency.

BASH: That is a stunning number. 67 percent say it doesn't matter even if they're true.

CHALIAN: Precisely.


BASH: OK. Well, we want to talk a little bit more about Nikki Haley who had a good showing in this poll. She was talking about this poll, other polls, how she is catching up. Here's what she said in her home state.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think that we will see that if you saw the polls today in Iowa, I am now in second place and Iowa, second place. We are now second place in New Hampshire. We are now second place in South Carolina. I got one more fell, I got to catch up to, and I am determined to do it.


BASH: Joining me now is our excellent panel, Leigh Ann Caldwell of The Washington Post, Ayesha Rascoe of NPR, and David Chalian, of course, is still with us. What are your thoughts on the way that this is shaping up? And when I say this, I think, you know, it's still important to give a beat on how Donald Trump is still so popular, and his supporters are so sticky. And I like using that word because it's David Chalian favorite word. But what about the Nikki Haley, if at all?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think Nikki Haley is showing that she's absolutely running a very good campaign. The fact that she is in second place relatively consistently over the last few polls, or at least she is very close with Ron DeSantis in Iowa yesterday, shows that she has a little bit of staying power and that she plans to stay in the race.

The challenge is that the only candidate who has to spend it, there's been a couple of candidates, but one with any minor following that is suspended their campaign, Mike Pence, he's only pulling it about 2 percent. And so, that is obviously a non-Trump support.

But that is not nearly enough to give to people like Nikki Haley or others who are trying to catch up to Donald Trump. That's what a lot of these candidates are hoping for is that they will consolidate the support as people do drop out, and then maybe something happens with Donald Trump.

AYESHA RASCOE, NPR HOST, "WEEKEND EDITION SUNDAY" AND "UP FIRST": You know, I think that it's good for Nikki Haley, it would be better if she was just running against Ron DeSantis. But unfortunately, she has to run against Donald Trump. And that's where we just not have not seen any candidate really, you know, just getting to the place where they could beat him. I haven't seen the game plan. I haven't seen like the strategy really take shape that they could do it other than hoping that somehow, they will consolidate, you know, all the, you know, other voters together. And that would be enough. I feel like we saw that in 2016 and it just didn't happen. And I just feel like we're seeing it again.

BASH: Yes. But even -- but kind of on steroids.

RASCOE: On steroids, like yes.

BASH: David, I want to bring up another part of the poll, which is also kind of remarkable, and that is the question of which candidates would the people asked from South Carolina never support. These are Republican primary voters. Chris Christie 71 percent. Again, this is people who they would never support. Ramaswamy 60, and then DeSantis, Haley, Scott and Trump is down at 19. He's obviously the most vocal against Donald Trump. That's what makes him stand out.

CHALIAN: Exactly. Think about what we were just talking about that we can't always wrap our brains around, only 16 percent of likely South Carolina Republican primary voters find if Donald Trump did what he's been charged of doing and illegally trying to overturn the 2020 election, that only 16 percent find that disqualifying.

Well, if only 60 percent find that disqualifying and that's Chris Christie is like dominant message that it is disqualifying. It shouldn't surprise us that seven in 10 voters have no interest in considering Chris Christie.

BASH: It is such an important data point, not dissimilar to others that we've seen, just about where the Republican Party is right now. And it is Donald Trump's party. We will see once the voters go caucus in Iowa and vote in New Hampshire and here in South Carolina and beyond. But when it comes to the fervor, it's kind of unbelievable.

CALDWELL: It is, and this is what Democrats are betting on that the Republican Party is out of sync with the rest of the electorate. And that is why they think that President Biden even though he is behind in a lot of these swing state polls, can be Joe Biden. This is what Democrats ran on in large part in 2022. It's what they ran on in 2020. And it's what they're hoping will work again.

BASH: There is one other poll I want to bring up here and this is the approval of the President Joe Biden, among black voters' 63 percent, white voters' 24 percent. Again, this is South Carolina, it's a red state. But this is relevant, because if you look back to the 2020 election, he won 90 percent of black voters, now with 63. And the question is whether this is a warning sign for Joe Biden nationally?


RASCOE: Well, I think it is something that he has to be concerned about. I mean, we should be clear that for decades, black voters have been consistent supporters of Democratic presidential candidates and Republicans have not been able to get really more than 12 percent of the black vote. And they will be very difficult for them to do so but they cannot ignore.

Democrats cannot ignore the risk that you get dissatisfied black voters and they do not turn out even if they won't go and vote for Trump outright. If they do not turn out, that is a problem for Democrats, and they cannot take that lightly.

BASH: Yes. I mean, there's very little chance that Democrats and Joe Biden will win the state of South Carolina. The question is what it means -- what it means, another state -- -


RASCOE: Yes. It's a sign for larger trend.

BASH: All right, everybody. Thank you so much. Standby, because coming up, we're going to talk again about the war in the middle east. And the fact that it is triggering a spike in threats to both Jews and Muslims. Here in the US, we heard a new warning from the FBI Director Christopher Wray this morning, quite stark. We'll talk about it next.