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Isa Soares Tonight

Israel Intensifies Operations In Southern Gaza; Secretary-General Of The Norwegian Refugee Council Calls The Situation In Gaza One Of The Worst Assaults On Any Civilian Population; Venezuela Moves To Claim Oil-Rich Guyana-Controlled Region; Venezuela Claims Guyana-Controlled Region; Interview With President Of Guyana On Venezuela's Attempted Land Grab; IDF's "Most Intense Day" Of Ground Operation; "Time" Person Of The Year Goes To Taylor Swift. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired December 06, 2023 - 14:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: A very warm welcome to the show everyone, I'm Isa Soares. Tonight, Israel intensifies its ground operations

in southern Gaza with the IDF claiming it's surrounding the Hamas leaders house somewhere in the Strip. This as a Secretary-General of the Norwegian

Refugee Council calls the situation in Gaza one of the worst assaults on any civilian population in our time.

Jan Egeland joins me live this very hour. And this oil rich territory in South America is now at the center of an escalating dispute between

Venezuela and Guyana. Nicolas Maduro orders oil drilling in the territory he hopes to exert control over. The president of Guyana will join me live

with his response.

But first this hour, Israel's prime minister says troops are now surrounding the house of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar in Gaza. It is unclear

if he's still there, if he's there at all. But Benjamin Netanyahu says quote, "it's only a matter of time before we get him." Mr. Netanyahu didn't

say where the house is located, but Sinwar is originally from Khan Yunis where fierce street battles are underway as Israeli troops backed by

warplanes intensify a ground assault on Hamas.

Intense fighting is also reported in the Jabalia Refugee Camp. The Palestinian news agency in Rafah says an airstrike hit an entire

presidential square killing dozens of people including women and children. "Al Jazeera" says among those killed today were 21 relatives of one of its


Eighty five percent of Gaza's population, so we've been telling you here on the show is now displaced. Many people crammed into makeshift shelters

there, even sleeping on the streets. The U.N. Secretary-General says public order could soon completely breakdown, his words, warning the war could

have potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as well as the region. The U.N. Human Rights chief also speaking out. Have a listen to



VOLKER TURK, U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Palestinians in Gaza are living in utter, deepening horror. Military operations including

bombardments by Israeli forces continue in north, middle and south Gaza, affecting people who have already been displaced multiple times, forced to

flee in search of safety. But no place is safe.


SOARES: Let's get more now from our Ben Wedeman who's live for us this hour in Jerusalem. So Ben, one Israeli general today saying that today was the

most intensive day of fighting -- tense day of fighting. Just bring us up- to-date with the very latest.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what we're seeing is that the Israelis are inside the city of Khan Yunis where it does appear

that indeed the fighting is intense. We've seen a variety of videos that show that there's been massive destruction in Khan Yunis, but not just Khan


The Israelis continue to bomb areas of the north as well, the Jabalia Refugee Camp, for instance, Deir Al-Balah, and of course, all the while,

the humanitarian situation is getting worse. The amount of destruction has gotten to the point where our colleagues who tried to geolocate pictures

can't do it because all of the landmarks have been obliterated.

And today, of course, it's another cold and windy day. It's also cold and windy down in Gaza. And as you mentioned, people are living in the streets.

They're living in what we call tense, but these are basically structures with thin, plastic sheeting that provide very little protection from the

elements, and therefore listening to Secretary-General Guterres, definitely has a pretty good take on what's going on in Gaza at the moment. Isa?

SOARES: Yes, and the IDF saying today that the Air Force has struck about 250 targets, Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. I mean, I wonder if they've

given us any more details, Ben, and what in terms has been achieved in the IDF's eyes or how effective they've been? Do we know how many Hamas

commanders, how many fighters the IDF has eliminated so far?

WEDEMAN: We don't really have a clear idea. They have put out a picture of a group of Hamas leaders sitting in a tunnel, allegedly, and they've

circled a few of those who have been eliminated.


But even in terms of the military campaign, you know, we've heard the figure 5,000 Hamas fighters have been killed, but it's estimated there are

30,000 out there, and we continue to see a mounting death toll among Israeli soldiers.

Hamas is putting out video of attacks on Israeli positions and Israeli soldiers and Israeli armored vehicles. So we're two months into this war,

the ground incursion is more than a month old, but what we're seeing is that Israel still has not been able to achieve its goal, its objective, its

primary objective, which is of course, the destruction of Hamas and its secondary objective, being the release of all the hostages.

SOARES: Yes, and what we have seen, just listening in the last few minutes, just to update our viewers, Ben, as you were talking, we've heard from the

Israeli military. They have basically asserted that Hamas leader that we mentioned earlier, of course, Yahya Sinwar, they say that he is underground

in Gaza, but did not say where they believe he is.

They said that Sinwar's house is in the area of Khan Yunis. This was IDF's Daniel Hagari saying in the press conference. But at this moment, Israeli

military saying that he is underground, but not sure where. Ben Wedeman there for us with the very latest --

WEDEMAN: Yes, Sinwar --

SOARES: Oh, go ahead, Ben, pick up, pick up on that. Pick up on that --

WEDEMAN: No, I was going to say that, you know -- yes, the announcement that his house has been surrounded, the announcement by Prime Minister

Netanyahu, I think it's more politically important for him than it is for the actual operation on the ground.

SOARES: Yes --

WEDEMAN: I mean, it's obvious he is not at home, and he could be anywhere. There are tunnels all under Gaza as the Israelis have asserted time and

time again, and it was widely anticipated that after the collapse of the truce on Friday, that Israel would focus its operations on the south of

Gaza, particularly Khan Yunis, where they believe many of the Hamas leaders are. So very important politically, but in terms of the battle --

SOARES: Yes --

WEDEMAN: In terms of achieving its goal of destroying Hamas, it doesn't matter much.

SOARES: Indeed --


SOARES: Important context. Thanks very much, Ben, appreciate it. Well, the Norwegian Refugee Council says it has been forced to halt nearly all aid

operations in Gaza. It says Israel's war in no way can be described as self-defense, slamming what it calls the siege of an entire civilian

population. The Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland said in a statement, I'm going to read it out.

"Our colleagues in Gaza ask themselves a simple question. How is it that these atrocities are beamed across the world for all to witness, and yet so

little is done to stop them?" And Jan Egeland joins us now live from Oslo. Jan, great to see you. So what is your answer then? What do you tell your

colleagues? How do you answer that question?

JAN EGELAND, SECRETARY-GENERAL, NORWEGIAN REFUGEE COUNCIL: I don't have a good answer at all, because this is clearly no way to fight terror, this is

not self-defense. Six thousand, 7,000 children, 5,000 women clearly innocent of the atrocities that happened in Israel on the 7th of October,

have been killed.

More children have been killed than in all other wars in the last year combined. This has to end. This bombardment from air, from warships, from

tanks on a densely-populated area is madness, really. We cannot reach the civilian population because our own aid workers are fleeing for their

lives. One of my colleagues -- I get emotional about this now.

One of my colleagues, a young lady has just given birth. She is with her baby, two months on the street in the cold, in the Winter. Her house is

destroyed. This is no way to wage a war.

SOARES: I'm sorry, Jan, about your colleagues in the war, those working, of course, and all those on the ground going through this. And I know, and I

read some of your comments through a statement that you put out, that you said recently that all day that you're receiving -- your team are receiving

harrowing reports from aid workers in southern Gaza.

We were just talking to our correspondent about what is happening in southern Gaza and those strikes, 250 or so targets today by the IDF. Just

tell me what you are hearing from your colleagues on the ground?

EGELAND: That there is no escape from the bombardment, that the panic, the fear, the angst and the suffering is everywhere now.


I mean, there are -- just another colleague said, they were in a place with 3,000 people sharing one toilet, I mean, trying to share one toilet. In

many places, they haven't had clean drinking water for a long time. Remember, this is a population under siege. It's a tiny place, smaller than

the municipality of Austria where I live, and there are 3.3 million people, maybe there are 30,000 Hamas fighters, and they have an enormous

responsibility for the atrocities that happened --

SOARES: Yes --

EGELAND: But the 2.3 million civilians do not.

SOARES: You also said Norwegian Refugee Council also said in the last 24 hours, and correct me if I'm wrong, that you're halting all -- nearly all

operations -- aid operations in Gaza. In practical terms, Jan, what does that mean?

EGELAND: Well, in practical terms, it means that our trucks are not able to cross Rafah at the moment. They're lined up in Egypt, and the few trucks

we've gotten through have not been able to reach the target because of this destruction, and some other places, there has been looting, so the truck

drivers cannot drive there.

We've been able to reach one university, which is crammed with 15,000 people, that was the one place we could distribute today. Remember, our own

aid workers are homeless. They have cold, they are themselves pleading. The only sensible thing now is a ceasefire, and we're looking to the United

States, the United Kingdom, Germany to demand --

SOARES: Yes --

EGELAND: That. They don't want their fingerprints all over a crime scene, we hope.

SOARES: Fingerprints all over the crime scene. Your statement, I'm going to read it out, you said, "countries supporting Israel with arms must

understand that the civilian deaths will be a permanent stain on their reputation." If so, I mean, is this directed at principally mainly here at

the U.S., and if so, what is your message then to the Biden administration here, Jan?

EGELAND: My message to the Biden administration is that I support the strong support for Israel's right to exist, the strong condemnation of

Hamas and what -- and the atrocities of the 7th of October, and that they haven't recognized the right of Israel to exist. But I would say to the

Biden administration, don't provide the arms to the killing of thousands of children, not a few children, thousands of children, every hour now, more

women and children are killed, totally innocent people.

I think the U.S. learned that the war on terror where they went over to the dark side -- to use a famous phrase by the Bush administration was wrong,

it was counterproductive, it didn't help in Afghanistan. It just produced more hatred, and in the end, a debacle for the whole so-called war on

terror. Same will happen here if Israel continues like now.

SOARES: The defense minister of Israel has said one in the past week or so, Jan, that this could go on for another two months. Who knows? It might be

even longer. We've heard in the last hour or so, the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres saying the public order could soon completely break down.

And he wonder what could have potential irreversible implications for Palestinians and the region.

If this is prolonged, if this goes on for longer than two months, even longer than that, Jan, what worries you? What -- how do you see this?

EGELAND: Well, the loss of lives will be unimaginable.


EGELAND: And people will really want to scream out of this cage. Remember, Israel has closed the border completely. The one border crossing where we

could get really a lot of aid through called Kerem Shalom was designed for trucks has been closed since the 8th of October. There is no Poland for the

Gazans as there is for the Ukrainians.

They are trapped. This has to end. There's -- it will be a bloodbath if this would continue for two months, and a stain on the conscience of Israel


SOARES: Jan Egeland, really appreciate Jan, taking the time to speak to us. Thank you very much. Well, emotions are running high, anger boiling over,

leaked audio recordings reveal a tense meeting between freed Israeli hostages, the family of those still being held by Hamas and Prime Minister

Benjamin Netanyahu. Jeremy Diamond is in Sderot, Israel, and joins us now with much more on those recordings.

So, Jeremy, just give us some more details here. What do these leaked audio recordings reveal from both the content to the tone?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really remarkable. It reveals not only the tension within that meeting as a handful of former hostages

testify before the war cabinet and pleaded for the release of some of their family members who are still held captive in Gaza.


But it also revealed more about the conditions in which some of these hostages were held. But to first talk about the pleas that we heard. We

heard from -- in this audio, we heard one former female hostage whose husband is still being held hostage in Gaza, and she pleaded for the

Israeli government to do anything to get him out, to release as many prisoners as necessary.

And she also accused the Israeli government of simply not doing enough, and not having enough information despite claims of having intelligence, about

the well-being and the whereabouts of hostages held in Gaza. She said that they don't have that information, and one of the points she made was that

she faced Israeli shelling when she was held hostage. Listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): You will return them all. They will not wait 50 days, they will not wait another year, because you claim

that they are strong enough. You have no information, you have no information. The fact that we were shelled, the fact that no one knew

anything about where we were.


DIAMOND: And she said that her husband was already struggling in captivity while she was there, and she said she has trouble imagining how he is

coping now that she and her children have been released from captivity. Another former hostage talked about the difficult conditions in particular

for elderly Israelis who are still held hostage in Gaza, saying that they no longer have their hearing aids or their glasses, were held in very

difficult conditions, and that they were beginning to lose hope.

I also spoke today with the son of one of those elderly hostages being held captive in Gaza who did attend this meeting as well with Netanyahu. He said

that he is worried that his father is indeed losing hope as he watches the Israeli government return not to the negotiating table, but return instead

to this offensive in the south.

He said despite how moving the testimony was from some of these newly-freed hostages, he felt like it didn't move the Israeli prime minister or his war

cabinet's position at all, as they continue to reassert that they are focused on both the war effort, but also returning the hostages, a goal

that the son of that elderly hostage told me are simply incompatible.

SOARES: Jeremy Diamond for us there in Ashkelon with the very latest. Thanks very much, Jeremy. And still to come tonight, U.S. President Joe

Biden says he might not be running again if it weren't for Donald Trump, who is declining to rollout whether he will abuse power if he returns to

the White House. Both of those stories after this.



SOARES: U.S. President Joe Biden is walking back an earlier comment, telling reporters that he'd likely still run for re-election even if Donald

Trump wasn't running too. Mr. Biden told Democratic donors in Boston on Tuesday that he probably wouldn't be seeking another term were it not for

Trump. The message, however, modeled, is that the president sees himself as the best barrier between Trump and the White House.

But Mr. Biden's current polling numbers and approval rating suggests he may be more vulnerable than last time. Meanwhile, President Biden's likely

opponent is side-stepping questions on whether he will abuse his power if he wins back the White House. He got that question from Sean Hannity on

"Fox News" on Tuesday night. Listen to this.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Do you in any way have any plans whatsoever, if re- elected president, to abuse power, to break the law, to use the government to go after people?

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You mean like they're using right now?

HANNITY: Under no circumstances you are promising America tonight, you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?

TRUMP: Except for day one.



HANNITY: Except what?

TRUMP: He's going crazy. Except for day one.

HANNITY: Meaning?

TRUMP: I want to close the border, and I want to drill --

HANNITY: That's not -- that's --


SOARES: Well, our senior politics reporter Stephen Collinson joins us now from Washington. Stephen, good to see you. Plenty of us to discuss. Let's

start first of all though, with that candid admission by President Biden, which he seems to have walked back now. What does that say in your view,

Stephen, about how President Biden is thinking, how he views Trump, and how that comment, "I want" is being received by donors.

STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICS REPORTER: I think it shows how central Trump is to Biden's presidency, because he has already said that he

wouldn't run properly in 2020, had it not been for Donald Trump. Remember that white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Trump

equivocated about, you know, good people on both sides.

That was the moment when Biden first decided to run. I think he believes that he is the only Democrat or the best-placed Democrat to beat Trump as

he tries to win back the presidency, and that's why he's in this race. Having said that, look at the context of this. This is a president with

approval rating of below 40 percent.

He's got real trouble with his own voters, and we're looking at a match-up potentially in 2024 between Trump and Biden, which most Americans don't

want to see. So having said that, these comments were pretty ill-advised, and that's why he's kept walking them back. I guess the one saving grace --

SOARES: Yes --

COLLINSON: Is that, this was at a fundraising event, it wasn't on camera, it can't be used in campaign advertising, really. But it's probably, you

know, the classic definition of a Washington gaffe is when a politician tells the truth by mistake --

SOARES: Yes --

COLLINSON: And that's what Biden did yesterday.

SOARES: Yes, I do wonder if Donald Trump is not the Republican nominee, at the moment, he is the leading candidate in terms of support, whether

President Biden reconsider. But let's talk Trump, because we heard that little clip there and that he made that comment that he would be dictator

from day one of his presidency, where he said he would close the border and drill.

Now, he has over the years expressed admiration, and you would know this, Stephen, for other dictators. I want to play this up for our viewers. Have

a listen.


TRUMP: Viktor Orban, did anyone ever hear? He's probably one of the strongest leaders anywhere in the world.

The problem is not that Putin is smart, which of course, he is smart, but the real problem is that our leaders are dumb.

President Xi is like central casting. There's nobody in Hollywood that can play the role of President Xi. The look, the strength, the voice.

And you know, Kim Jong-un wrote a letter, a beautiful letter, and asking for a second meeting, and we will be doing that.


SOARES: So put the comments we heard yesterday, right, with the ones we've just heard, we've just put together, the little clip we put together. What

would then -- why would he say that? How does that play? This comment yesterday, and what does a Trump presidency, return of a Trump presidency

means for the world stage. I'm thinking here climate change, Ukraine, Israel-Hamas war.

COLLINSON: I think that was an occasion, a rare occasion, in fact, where Donald Trump was actually telling the truth because I think there's every

indication that he wants to be a strongman. He admires those dictators in the clips that you played.

He wants to be at the top table of the world, dividing up the spoils with the likes of Putin and Xi. He sees himself in that kind of role.


He values, he has this vision of toughness. He doesn't care for democracies or alliances. So, I think that was also, as we saw Biden having a moment of

candor, that was Trump having a moment of candor. He couldn't have been in a more friendly environment. Sean Hannity is one of his biggest fans on

conservative media.

What he seemed to be trying to do is to get Trump pass the last few days where there's been a lot of damaging talk about how he would be a dictator,

while that's popular among Trump's voters. You know, it could drive away some of the swing state voters.

The problem I think that Biden is going to have in making this argument that Trump would be an authoritarian is that, there is great despondency in

the country over the economy, over crime --

SOARES: Yes --

COLLINSON: Immigration. Those are exactly the kind of issues we've seen around the world, in which demagogues can prosper. And I think that is the

most --

SOARES: Yes --

COLLINSON: Worrying thing for people around the world who don't want to see Trump come back. It's not that Americans necessarily want to vote for a

dictator, is that the political forces that can enable that to happen seem to be gathering pace.

SOARES: Important analysis there from our Stephen Collinson. Thanks very much, Stephen, good to see you again. We gave you more than one question,

you see? Thanks, as promised. And still to come tonight, tensions are rising in Venezuela and Guyana over the potentially oil rich Essequibo

region. I'll speak with Guyana's President about Venezuela's move to claim part of his country. That's next.



SOARES: Welcome back, everyone.

In Latin America, tensions are rising between Venezuela and neighboring Guyana. It's over this chunk of land that you can see there in orange and

green. That is the Essequibo region, a potentially oil rich territory, which is part of Guyana.

It is not just a dot on the map, as you can see. This region makes up two- thirds of the country. Venezuela has claimed the land since the late 19th century. But president Nicolas Maduro has escalated this claim, announcing

his move to take over the region. Have a listen.


NICOLAS MADURO, PRESIDENT OF VENEZUELA (through translator): Immediately, we will proceed to give operating licenses for the exploration and

exploitation of oil, gas and mines in all Guyana Essequibo.


SOARES: That was yesterday. Mr. Maduro is now showing his vision of a new map of Venezuela, including the disputed territory, saying more residents

from the area would be granted Venezuelan nationality.

Well, over the weekend, a referendum was held, where more than 95 percent of Venezuelan voters reportedly approved a new Venezuelan state in the

region. Important that we take this with a pinch of salt in terms of the electoral results coming from Venezuela.

But across the border, Guyana is ringing alarm bells. President Irfaan Ali calling this move by Maduro, quote, "a direct threat" to his country. Have

a listen.


IRFAAN ALI, PRESIDENT OF GUYANA: The measures announced are in blatant disregard of the order given by the International Court of Justice on

December 1st, 2023. Guyana views this as an imminent threat to its territorial integrity and will intensify precautionary measures to

safeguard its territory.

We will not allow our territory to be violated nor the development of our country to be stymied by this desperate threat.


SOARES: Context here is important. Essequibo has been part of Guyana since 1899, when international law set the current boundaries and Guyana was

still a British colony. Venezuela has long sought to control the territory and the discovery of the oil off Guyana's coast in 2015, as you can see


And the U.S. feel that has helped flame the current dispute. The International Court of Justice is now warning that Venezuela should not

take any action Essequibo but Venezuela says the port does not have authority to rule on it.

To get more on all of this, president of Guyana, Irfaan Ali, joins me now.

Mr. President, thank you for joining us this evening on the show. It is very clear from what we just played there, from your statement, that you

see this as a direct threat to Guyana's territorial integrity as well as sovereignty.

I wonder then, what is being done, what conversations you are having with leaders in the region and beyond to stop Maduro from the border incursion?

ALI: First of all, I'm very pleased to be here. The International Court of Justice in its order prohibited Venezuela from taking any action in

relation to the questions in the referendum. We've sought to annex Essequibo and to take certain administrative measures in relation to


Venezuela went beyond yesterday, not only announcing measures that it will annex Essequibo and take administrative measures but it gave investors

within the region three months to remove from this area, Essequibo, that is Guyana.

So last night the embassy contacted the United Nations secretary general. This morning, we've officially written to the United Nations Security

Council. As you know, Guyana is a law-abiding country. We believe in the International Court of Justice.

That is why we reported to the ICJ and we believe that is where the controversy must be settled. But we are taking every precautionary measure

against what is now a desperate attempt by Venezuela to seize our territory.

SOARES: What are those precautionary measures, Mr. President?

ALI: So first we are working on a diplomatic level. We've engaged a number of our allies and friends within the region in relation to defense

cooperation. The Department of Defense of the United States and the Guyana Defense Force. They have a very elaborate cooperation pact.

They're fully engaged on this matter. We are engaging the State Department, engaging the White House. President Lula and myself have conversations. So

sirac (ph), qaison (ph), commonwealth and OS, they are all engaged on this matter so that they can win and ensure that Venezuela does not act in a

reckless or adventurous manner.


SOARES: In the last 24 hours, you mentioned this, Mr. president, President Maduro put out a new map with his vision, his vision of Venezuela and that

includes Essequibo as part of his vision.

Have you seen though any signs, either militarily or from your intelligence, that Venezuela is preparing to annex Essequibo?

Have you seen Venezuelan forces at all on the border?

ALI: Earlier in the month, we saw an increase in Venezuelan presence, military presence on the border.

But what is concerning is the statement made by president Maduro to give effect to the questions in the referendum and the establishment of a state

of Essequibo issued by because of the ultimatum. He's basically given a ultimatum to investors, which includes the U.S. investors, Chinese

investors, to remove from the region within three months.


SOARES: Are they heeding that call, though?

Are they heeding that call?

What are you hearing from those investors?

ALI: We've made it very clear to the investors and to every Guyanese that Essequibo belongs to Guyana. In 1899, the borders were settled. Venezuela

participated in the settlement of the border. When we were going to independence, they raised the controversy.

That controversy is properly before the ICJ and that is where it will be settled. So we have told our investors to have no fear. We are on the right

side of history, the right side of the law and there's absolutely no fear in investing in Essequibo, which belongs to Guyana.

SOARES: We've also heard, talking about the region and what you're hearing, we've also heard from president Lula of Brazil. He's calling for "common

sense," those are his words.

We've also heard from the U.S. State Department, Mr. President, calling for a peaceful resolution on the border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana.

Do you feel that these comments go far enough?

Do you think that the region is doing enough to denounce Maduro's provocation here?

ALI: Caracom (ph) has issued a very strong statement. The OS has issued a very strong statement. Commonwealth issued a very strong statement. We're

working now with Silac (ph), who has issued a very strong statement.

I think president Lula also sent a team into Venezuela to have discussions with president Maduro and his team. That team came back. And what we saw is

that Brazil has increased their presence on their border with Venezuela.

President Lula has given me assurance that Brazil stands strongly with Guyana and that they would not see any reckless behavior by Venezuela.

We are working now with SOCOM, the Department of Defense and State Department of the U.S. and hopefully, within the next 24 hours, a lot of

strong statements and strong communications with Venezuela will be released.

SOARES: And context, Mr. president, I think it's important here. Because just for our viewers who may not know, Venezuela has elections coming up

soon. The opposition in the country is getting stronger.

How much of this just political posturing or a distraction?

What have you been advised?

ALI: So this is one school of thought, that a lot of this has to do with the internal politics of Venezuela. And president Maduro trying to distract

from the internal politics. But that is a Venezuela issue.

What he is doing is creating a direct rift with Guyana and working toward creating instability in the region. I think the U.S. ought to take this

into consideration. We expect President Biden administration will look at the behavior of Venezuela in relation to the sanctions themselves.

SOARES: And that is a very important point. I also think it's important to add that Russia, President Putin, as you well know, Mr. President, one of

president Maduro's allies, strong allies.

Given what we have seen in Ukraine and the fact that Putin remains in the battle and potentially losing financial support, Ukraine is losing

potentially financial support from the West or maybe waning, do you think that Putin's actions in Ukraine are enabling this?

ALI: This is another school of thought, that Maduro is taking examples out of what occurring in Ukraine. But we believe that in this Western

Hemisphere, we cannot allow a situation like Ukraine in this Western Hemisphere.

We cannot allow the annexation of a territory in this Western Hemisphere. That would be something that we have never contemplated in this hemisphere

and it will disrupt the stability, the peace that we are known for within this hemisphere.

SOARES: Mr. President, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us.


Thank you very, much sir.

ALI: Thank you very, much. It was great being here.

SOARES: Thank you.

Sticking to Ukraine, in fact, the U.S. is planning to give an additional $175 million in military aid to Ukraine. The package is part of its

dwindling supply of money for Kyiv under the presidential drawdown authority.

It will include ammunition for rocket systems, anti-armor missiles, small weapons as well as spare parts. The White House says this package will be

one of the last unless U.S. Congress passes more funding. President Biden is urging lawmakers to do so before the holiday recess.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't let Putin win. Say it again, we can't let Putin win. It's in our overwhelming national

interests and international interests of all of our friends.


SOARES: Former British prime minister Boris Johnson has admitted his government initially underestimated the threat posed by COVID-19.

He arrived in the dark hours before an official inquiry to avoid protesters. Families of COVID-19 victims are angry over previous evidence,

claiming Johnson told senior advisers to let the bodies pile high. Four people were asked to leave the hearing room after interrupting Johnson's

evidence. Have a listen.


BORIS JOHNSON, FORMER U.K. PRIME MINISTER: And can I just say how glad I am to be at this inquiry and how sorry I am for the pain and the loss and the


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sit down. Please stop --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- please sit down. Please sit down or I'm afraid you will have to leave the hearing room.

JOHNSON: So I understand the feelings of these victims and their families. And I'm deeply sorry for the pain and the loss and the suffering of those

victims and their families.


SOARES: And Johnson is set to continue to giving evidence. We sill stay across that for you.

And still to come tonight, Christmas during conflict. How Lebanese Christians are trying to prepare for their religious holiday as Israel and

Hezbollah trade fire. That story after this.




SOARES: Intense fighting rages on as Israel escalates its military operations in both northern and southern Gaza. Israel's Air Force said it

has dropped 250 Hamas targets over the past 24. Hours

The IDF say they also hit an armed terror cell operating near a school in northern Gaza. CNN cannot independently verify those claims.


SOARES: As the humanitarian crisis worsens, the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights says Gazans are living in utter, deepening horror. The

Palestinian health ministry said disease is spreading inside crowded U.N. shelters and 26 hospitals remain closed.

While Israel and Hezbollah, Lebanon's powerful militant group, have been exchanging frequent fire across the border for two months as the rest of

the world gears up for the holiday season. CNN's Ivan Watson reports on how these Lebanese residents are trying to lift spirits in a time of war.


IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They're putting up Christmas decorations in the Lebanese border town of Marjayoun,

residents trying to lift spirits in a time of war.

ROLAND CHANBOUR, MARJAYOUN RESIDENT: I'm making the tree for the Christmas. I hope it come, it will make better hope for the country.

WATSON (voice-over): But as Roland Chanbour strings up lights, we can hear and see the blast from incoming Israeli artillery, hitting fields below

this hilltop town.

WATSON: The artillery, the explosions are two kilometers, three kilometers away.

CHANBOUR: Yes, what you can do?

You leave (INAUDIBLE)?

You leave your house and go?

Where do we go?

WATSON (voice-over): For nearly two months, Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon have been fighting deadly artillery duels with the Israeli military

on the other side of the border. Explosions rock this area day and night.

FOUAD ANTON, PASTOR, MARJAYOUN NATIONAL EVANGELICAL CHURCH: Up on the, hills you see there are Israeli positions.


WATSON: The antennas are the Israeli positions?

ANTON: Yes, Hezbollah, they had these positions.

WATSON (voice-over): Pastor Fouad Anton shows me the battle-scarred Presbyterian church he says American missionaries built nearly 150 years


ANTON: The people here are very afraid.

WATSON (voice-over): This is not the first time this predominately Christian town has been a battleground.

ANTON: We revisit also in the year 2006, when Israel invaded even the south of Lebanon. Also a bomb came around here and we rebuilt that church.

WATSON (voice-over): Pastor Fouad says, during the last border war, he and his family fled Marjayoun. This time, though he sympathizes with the plight

of Palestinians in Gaza, he insists this should not be Lebanon's war.

ANTON: The people left the area and there are no jobs and nothing at all here. So my message is for Hezbollah is to stop this war.

WATSON (voice-over): Convoys of United Nations peacekeepers rumble through Marjayoun's streets, as do members of the Lebanese army, which is so far

neutral in the border conflict.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah's militants are almost invisible, using cat and mouse guerrilla tactics against the more powerful Israeli military, which often

flies drones high overhead.

None of this is good for Salam Aoun (ph).


WATSON: Oh, I'm sorry.

WATSON (voice-over): She isn't getting any business at her boutique. And with schools closed due to the crisis, her two children have to study




Salam (ph) says she tells her kids that the fighting is very far away from here and she says that they do get scared.

WATSON (voice-over): So it is no surprise that, this year, there is only one thing that people here want for Christmas.

CHANBOUR: Peace. Peace and hope.

WATSON (voice-over): Ivan Watson, CNN, Marjayoun, Lebanon.


SOARES: Still to come tonight, a record breaking year for the climate and for a global superstar. That is up next.





SOARES: Welcome back.

A U.N. weather organization says 2023 will be the hottest year on record. Each month from June to October set global temperature records by wide

margins with July being the warmest month on record.


SOARES: Well, "Anti-Hero" no more. Pop star Taylor Swift is getting big recognition from "Time" magazine. She is now their Person of the Year.

Swift beat out Barbie, the Hollywood writers on strike and others.

Some of the reasons for the magazine's choice, her enormous popularity, a soldout world tour that raked in billions and a blockbuster movie.

"Time" writes, "Swift's accomplishments as an artist, culturally, critically and commercially, are so legion that to recount them seems

almost beside the point.

"But this year, something shifted. To discuss her movements felt like discussing politics or the weather. A language spoken so widely it needed

no context. She became the main character of the world."

Joining us now is Lisa Respers France.

Lisa, I think that really sums it up, doesn't it?

When we talked about it in our show editorial meeting, none of us on the team were surprised that she got it. She has been standout, front and

center all year.

LISA RESPERS FRANCE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It feels like we are living in a Taylor Swift song, does it not?

The triumph, she got the guy. She is with the football hero. She is making tons of money. People adore her. It makes perfect sense that "Time" would

select her. She has made billions of dollars. She has brought so much joy to so many fans around the world. She goes on stage and she does like 50


Who does that?

So people were incredibly impressed by her. But it really does feel like 2023 was the year of Taylor Swift.

SOARES: And even if you don't like her music, I was speaking to a colleague, who shall not be named, who said she is not a Taylor Swift --

she doesn't like her songs. But she likes her as a person.

Talk to that.

Because she is endearing in so many ways, isn't she?

FRANCE: She really is. And I'm going to need you to email me the name of the hater.


SOARES: I'm a Swiftie, so I'm a Swiftie. So I'm good.

FRANCE: Yes, she makes us feel like she is one of us, right?

She writes songs about heartache and life that everyone can relate to. It is really hard to pull off when you're a celebrity of this caliber, being

relatable, right?

Because Taylor Swift is not worried about paying her cell phone bill, like some people are. She is really up there. But at the same time she's

bringing us along for the ride. She feels incredibly likable.


FRANCE: She's always really been sweet to her fans. She would pop on social media and leave comments. Sometimes when they would post about her. And

that type of interaction, especially via social media, means the world to people who are sitting back and watching your career and watching your


And just viewing you as the biggest star in the world as she is. So she just -- at the same time as being one of the biggest celebrities ever, she

also feels like she could be your cousin or your friend, or someone you went to school with. She feels incredibly relatable.

That is a huge talent when, in addition to the talent she has as a singer, writer and a performer.

SOARES: Indeed, we've only got about 40 seconds. You really nailed her legacy in terms of the context here.

But where does this leave her?

It is a lot of pressure.

Where do you go from here?

FRANCE: I'll tell you where people want her to go from here, they want an engagement to Travis Kelce. That is what people really want. People are so

into her lovelife right now. I find it really fascinating. I'm watching football and I never did before just because you want to be able to spot

Taylor Swift, right?

So I think where you go from here is she just keeps on doing what she's been doing. She keeps making music. And we are going to keep loving it.

SOARES: Lisa, appreciate it. Thank you very much. Great to have you on the show.

And that does it for us, thank you very much for watching. I'm losing my. Voice QUEST MEANS BUSINESS is up next, we'll see you tomorrow. Goodbye.