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Isa Soares Tonight

Hundred-Plus Dead After Twin Explosions In Iran; Hezbollah Chief Warns Israel It's Not Afraid Of War; Republican Lawmakers Visit U.S.-Mexico Border; U.S. House Speaker Visiting Southern Border Today; Over 100 Killed In Terror Attack Near Soleimani Grave; Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah Addresses Lebanon; World Darts Championship; Russia And Ukraine Carry Out Huge Prisoner Exchange; Urgent Rescues Continue After Japan's Massive Quake. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired January 03, 2024 - 14:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: A very warm welcome to the show everyone, I'm Isa Soares. Tonight, fears of increased instability in the

Middle East as a massive terror attack kills more than 100 in Iran. Details on the two explosions there in just a moment. This coming on the same day

that Hezbollah leader's response to a targeted killing in Beirut yesterday of a top Hamas commander, he's warning Israel that Hezbollah is not afraid

of war.

And a record immigration surge at the U.S. southern border. Right now, top Republican lawmakers are there to demand tough immigration policies. We'll

bring you, of course, the very latest. But first, this evening, a day after an assassination in Beirut, a horrific attack in Iran is only fueling

concerns about the stability of the entire region.

Iranian state media say 103 people were killed in two explosions near the grave of top commander today. Nearly, 200 other people were wounded, huge

crowds had gathered in Kerman to commemorate the death of Qasem Soleimani, who, if you remember, was killed in a U.S. drone strike four years ago.

Meantime, the leader of Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon condemn that attack today. Hassan Nasrallah also called the assassination of a top Hamas

deputy in Beirut, a major dangerous crime about which we cannot be silent. His words. Well, Tuesday's strike is widely blamed on Israel. U.N.

Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon says it's deeply concerned about the potential for escalation, warning could have devastating consequences of

people on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border.

Now, let's get more on all these trend, joined now by Nada Bashir, she's following the developments for us from Beirut this evening. And Nada, this

twin bombing first of all in Iran is being described by authorities there as a terrorist attack, but as of yet, no group has claimed responsibility.

What more are you learning this hour?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Isa, no claim of responsibility just yet. But state media citing officials is characterizing this as a

terrorist attack. We're also getting more details as they come at this stage. At least 103 people are said to have been killed, more than 180

injured, some said to be in a critical condition.

We've seen that dramatic video emerging of crowds running away from those explosions of emergency services, responding -- taking those injured to

nearby hospitals. And of course, this happened on a day marking four years since Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani was killed by U.S. strike,

ordered by then-President, U.S. President Donald Trump -- Baghdad International Airport.

And of course, we saw crowds gathering to pay their respects. Now, according to Iranian state media, that first blast was caused by a bomb in

a suitcase in a car just about 700 meters away from the burial site of Qasem Soleimani, where people had been gathering to pay their respects.

They believe this bomb was detonated remotely. A second blast going off just under a mile away from that location. According to Iran's Interior

Minister speaking to a state broadcaster, it was that second blast that actually killed the majority of the fatalities as understood so far, many

had been rushing to the scene to help those injured in that first explosion.

Now, of course, no claim of responsibility just yet. We have heard from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has taken to X, formerly

known as Twitter to say that there will be a harsh response to those responsible for this attack, and of course, there is mounting speculation

around the possible motives behind the attack, but who --

SOARES: Yes --

BASHIR: Might be behind the attack. We have heard now from a U.S. State Department spokesperson who has said that the U.S. certainly was not

involved, and that the U.S. does not have reason to believe that Israel was behind the attack. At this stage of course, still waiting for more details.

For now, authorities in Iran declaring tomorrow as a national day of mourning.

SOARES: Yes, well, of course, we'll see how Iran will respond, how Iran will answer to these attacks or retaliate for these attacks, however --

whoever may be behind them. In the meantime, Nada, the region was also today closely watching and listening to Hezbollah's leader Hassan

Nasrallah, and how he will respond following the attack you and I were talking about this time yesterday on Saleh al-Arouri.


How is Lebanon interpreting his words and what may come next here?

BASHIR: Look, Isa, this speech from Hezbollah, the Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah was pre-scheduled ahead of that strike on Tuesday evening.

The focus very much on marking the anniversary of Qasem Soleimani's death, he paid his condolences, of course, to the families killed in those twin


But of course, he also mentioned the situation in Lebanon with regards to the strike which Hamas has squarely pointed the finger at Israel as well as

of course a U.S. official telling CNN, they believe that Israel was indeed behind the strike which killed Saleh al-Arouri, the number two in Hamas'

political bureau, considered to be the founder of Hamas' military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades.

And we did hear from Nasrallah, saying that it would be -- there would be a limitless response from Lebanon if Israel was to carry out attack on

Lebanese territory. I'll just read you a bit from --

SOARES: Yes --

BASHIR: Nasrallah's statement, he said "yesterday's crime was large and dangerous, this crime will not be left without a response and punishment if

Israel wages a war on Lebanon, then our response will be limitless. We are not scared of war." Now, of course, this has raised mounting concern over

the potential for a further escalation of tensions between --

SOARES: Yes --

BASHIR: Hezbollah and Israel, and of course, we have continued to see the exchange of fire on Lebanon's southern border between Hezbollah and Israeli

military forces who have been striking what they say are Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon, in turn, Hezbollah carrying out attacks on

Israeli targets across the border.

We have been hearing calls for tensions to be defused of course, as the war in Gaza continues. There is a huge amount of concern that we -- continue to

spill out further beyond the region. And of course, we did hear from a member of Israel's war cabinet, Benny Gantz just last week, saying that

time is running out for a diplomatic solution, and that if Hezbollah isn't pushed away from the region, if there isn't a cessation of fire on that

border region, then Israel would be compelled to take military action.

But of course, no claiming of responsibility, but no denial just yet from Israeli --

SOARES: Yes --

BASHIR: Officials with regards to that attack just yesterday.

SOARES: Important context there from our Nada Bashir in Beirut. Thanks very much, Nada. Well, moments ago, the U.S. State briefing -- Department held a

briefing in fact, about the blast that Nada was talking about in Iran. Have a listen to this.


MATTHEW MILLER, SPOKESPERSON, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: It's too early at least for us to be able to say what might have caused it, but I do want to

address some of the irresponsible claims that I have seen circulating, and say that, number one, the United States was not involved in any way, and

any suggestion to the contrary is ridiculous. And number two, we have no reason to believe that Israel was involved in this explosion.


SOARES: Let's get -- bring in Oren Liebermann who is at the Pentagon for us. And Oren, first on this response, this is -- we've heard of course, the

words coming out of Iran, give us more of the reaction from the United States on these twin blasts.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, given the context of where this explosion took place on the anniversary of the killing of Qasem

Soleimani at an event marking his death, it would seem almost instinctual or obvious to blame Israel here, but the U.S. coming out quite forcefully,

as you just saw from Matthew Miller at the State Department --

SOARES: Yes --

LIEBERMANN: Saying the U.S. was not involved, and any suggestion to the contrary was ridiculous, and that also coming out quite forcefully and

saying there is no indication or information suggesting Israel was involved in these twin explosions.

Now look, he was pressed on this point and asked repeatedly how do you know that Israel wasn't involved, and they simply said, there's no information

that we have at this point suggesting Israeli involvement in the explosions here.

So clearly, it's quite early, and the U.S. Intelligence community is looking to get more information to gather what they can. Certainly, I'd

imagine speaking to Israel about what information they have, try to learn more about what and who may have been responsible for an explosion like


SOARES: In the meantime, let's turn to Israel, because in the last 24 hours, Oren, I'm sure you saw, we have had two senior Israeli ministers

from the far-right, I think it's important to mention this to our audience, of Netanyahu party calling for the pushing of Palestinian civilians out of

the Gaza Strip.

And I want to show our viewers one of the tweets from Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. This is what he had to say. "More than 70 percent of the

Israeli public today supports a humanitarian solution of encouraging the voluntary immigration of Gaza Arabs and their absorption into other


It does go on. But it does follow, Oren, similar comments by Ben-Gvir. What has been the reaction from the Biden administration to some of these


LIEBERMANN: Well, these comments have come from the far-right extreme of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition. They were almost immediately

condemned from the U.S., which called them inflammatory and irresponsible. They say they have spoken with the Israeli government which has told them

effectively, Netanyahu saying this, and he said this in the past, that this is not the official position of the Israeli government and not the policies

they intend to pursue.


That's what Netanyahu has said when pressed on these claims in the past. This is what your coalition and members of your government are pushing, how

do you stop it? And he has tried to say that he decides, that he is the prime minister, and he will push policy. But clearly, this is his

government, the government he wanted --

SOARES: Yes --

LIEBERMANN: The government he established and really the only government that will support him at this time. And if they want to, they could

collapse the government if he doesn't follow and pursue the policies they're pushing. And that is, as you can see clearly from that -- from that

tweet and the other statements we've seen from Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, the displacement of Gazans and the resettlement of Gaza.

SOARES: Yes, exactly, this is -- and we've seen some reactions as well from the French as well on this, raising eyebrows on this side of the pond too.

Oren, great to see you, thank you very much. Well, let's get some perspective now from our international diplomatic editor Nic Robertson who

is following developments live for us from Tel Aviv.

Nic, let me start off for -- getting some reaction if you have it from Israel to these twin bombings in Iran. You heard what the State Department

said earlier, saying it was not -- the U.S. was not behind it, and Israel also not behind it. What are you hearing from Israeli officials?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Nothing that's going to give the Iranian leadership any satisfaction. Israel is not obviously

claiming this, it's not saying it was responsible, it's not hinting it's responsible. It's just staying away from it.

And I think in the minds of the Iranian leadership, certainly at the IRGC level, whoever their minds do appear to be made up already. The commander

of the Quds Force of the IRGC who took over from Qasem Soleimani when he was killed in 2020, that he is already linking the incident today in Iran

with the killing of an IRGC General around Christmas Day in Syria on through an airstrike near Damascus.

Which he had inferred back then was an Israeli operation, an Israeli-U.S.- backed operation, and is making that link and distinction today to the events of today. So it's not a matter of what Israel is saying, it's a

matter it appears for Iran because, in many ways, the next move would be --

SOARES: Yes --

ROBERTSON: For them, it's a matter of what they decide and what's on their minds.

SOARES: And speaking of the next move, we've also heard in the last few hours, a very lengthy speech I may add from Hezbollah's leader Hassan

Nasrallah who commented on the killing of al-Arouri, who -- happened yesterday, you and I were talking about this yesterday.

He said "yesterday's crime was large", he said, "and dangerous. This crime will not be left without response", his words, and "punishment". Between us

and our enemies, he said, Nic, there is time and the battlefield. Israel, important to point out here, Nic, has not said it was behind this attack,

though a U.S. official confirmed to CNN that it was Israel. So what kind of response here Nic -- or some sort of retaliation is Israel anticipating?

ROBERTSON: I think Israel will anticipate some kind of retaliation, and I think the important line or another important line that Hassan Nasrallah

mentioned as well was that Hezbollah is not afraid of war if the attack is going to be on Lebanon, then they will have that fight.

I think this is perhaps a message to some of their more hard-line grassroots who have always understood Hezbollah to be -- and you know,

pretty much lockstep in its thinking and support for Hamas, but he's distanced himself, he's very carefully walked a tightrope, kept the -- kept

Hezbollah's actions along the northern border of Israel to a level where he says that they are distracting and interfering from Israel's operations in

Gaza, but they're not a major escalation.

And it appears he takes his time to think things over, this killing of al- Arouri yesterday in Beirut, will still be settling in for him and his calculations, and that is what happened in Iran today as well. So I think

he is still being very careful with his words, but perhaps speaking to those in Hezbollah who will be saying, look, we should be doing more, he's

still at this moment appears to be keeping calm.

But all of this, and also for the hard-liners in Iran who will be looking to their leadership and saying, you've talked about Israel being the enemy,

you've talked about the United States being the enemy, now we see these things. You know, you may want to stay out of the fight right now, but

there's -- perhaps, this creates an expectation of a certain grassroots level in a more -- in some parts of Iran, perhaps within the IRGC that

there should be more action.


So I think all of these create pressure on Nasrallah to add pressure on the Iranian government to act. So they're all whatever words we hear, this is a

very delicate time.

SOARES: A delicate time, almost like a tinderbox right now in this region. Nic, I know you'll stay across it -- across it for us, thanks very much,

Nic Robertson for us this hour in Tel Aviv. Well, let's get more now, I'm joined by "Washington Post" global opinions writer Jason Rezaian, and he

was "Post's" correspondent in Tehran in 2014, when he was wrongfully imprisoned by Iran, he was released a year and a half later in 2016.

Jason, welcome back to the show. The region, as Nic Robertson was just saying, you know, and clearly outlined for us is already -- was already on

edge following the attack in Beirut. What is your take first of all on the twin explosions in Iran which authorities are calling a terrorist attack?

JASON REZAIAN, GLOBAL OPINIONS WRITER, WASHINGTON POST: Honestly, I think that Tinderbox that you just referred to is getting larger and larger. The

borders of it, the walls of it are expanding further and further, and I think that this attack inside Iran, whoever undertook it exacerbates the

already extremely high tensions in the region.

And I worry that more -- a real precipice opportunity of this war or these wars expanding beyond the borders of which they've been fought over the

last three months.

SOARES: And on that, I mean, we've heard United States say in the last what? Twenty minutes or so, that it was not involved, no reason to believe

that Israel was involved in the explosions in Tehran. But really, there are two options. There's either an internal force or an external force. If it's

not an external force, who could it be internally here?

REZAIAN: Well, this is the question, and I think, you know, we'll get back to Israel in a second, but you know, there are a lot of people inside Iran

at this point who are vehemently opposed to the state. There are well- funded opposition groups in the border regions of Sistan and Baluchestan and Kyrgyzstan --

SOARES: Jason --

REZAIAN: But ultimately --

SOARES: Apology, stay with me. I want to go to the --

REZAIAN: Sure --

SOARES: State Department. John Kirby speaking, let's listen.

JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Our hearts go out to all the innocent victims and their family

members who are obviously, they're lives are going to be forever changed by this, but we don't have any, we don't have any more detail in terms of how

it happened or who would -- might be responsible for it.

On your second question, again, I would point to our Israeli partners to talk more about this. That -- we're again not in a position to confirm the

specific reports. I will just tell you that al-Arouri was a noted, designated global terrorist, and if he is infected, nobody should be

shedding a tear over his loss.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Kasie(ph), do you have any details on who is responsible, but can you rule out that Israel had anything to do with this?

KIRBY: We have no indication at this time at all that Israel was involved in any way whatsoever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No indication, but just to be clear, you don't think - - do they support or assist in some other way?

KIRBY: I would -- I'm not going to speak for another nation, I would just tell you that we have no indication that Israel was in anyway involved in


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And given that this was the Soleimani anniversary, did you have any Intelligence that something was being planned for this day?

KIRBY: We certainly had no indications that there would be some sort of violence surrounding the anniversary of his death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a follow-up on the Lebanon issue, is there any concern that, that particular strike might expand the conflict regionally?

KIRBY: Well, I will just say, Trevor(ph), everything that we've done, in fact, the lay-down I just offered of the force posture changes that the

president has ordered in the region has been designed to prevent an escalation or a widening or deepening of this conflict.

As we've said before, we don't want to see it wide and beyond Israel and Hamas, and again, we're going to keep working with partners in the region

to prevent that from happening.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, and on the Red Sea, you mentioned that joint statement that came out today, and that Singapore has added their names to

that as well.

KIRBY: Yes --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But that is just, you know, 13 countries total. That's smaller than the 44 that issued a statement in December, and you know,

countries that you think would be on that list like France are not. Is there a region -- reason why that is not a broader group of countries that

signed on?

KIRBY: I -- I mean, first of all, 13 other nations signing up to language like that, 13 total nations, 12 are less than us, I think is significant.

Other nations can speak for themselves about their decision-making with respect to signing on to public statements.

There are as you know many nations that are assisting us in Operation Prosperity Guardian in the Red Sea, that don't want to be public, that are

contributing capabilities, but they don't want it public.


So, I think you're seeing an increasing number of nations around the world, particularly as commerce in the Red Sea gets affected, and shipping

companies are making difficult decisions about whether to transit at the Red Sea, and the impact that is beginning to have on global commerce.

Countries are more and more becoming aware of this increasing threat to the free-flow of commerce in the Red Sea by the Houthis, and are increasingly

being willing to express their discomfort with them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, thanks so much. Is it the White House's view that the elimination of Hamas is unattainable goal.

KIRBY: What we've said before is, well, first of all, the Israeli should speak to their military goals. We have said that we absolutely believe they

have the right and responsibility to eliminate the threat that Hamas poses to the Israeli people.

Now, they have set for themselves, Peter, that the way they're going about that is really targeting infrastructure, you know, tunnels and command and

control nodes as well as leadership. It is not that unusual or different approach than we took ourselves in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, going

after the leadership network.

Now, you can certainly, significantly degrade a terrorist organization's ability to operate, train and conduct attacks by going after its

leadership. You are probably not going to eliminate the ideology which underpins that group, and we've seen that in al-Qaeda, ISIS or other


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, let me be clear, there is a difference between language the U.S. has used in the past where the language degrade, or try

to degrade the leadership and the ability to attack. So, does the U.S. -- just to be clear, I understand Israel's role in this, does the U.S. believe

the elimination of Hamas though, is an attainable goal?

KIRBY: We believe that it is absolutely an attainable goal for the Israeli military forces to degrade and defeat Hamas' abilities to conduct attacks

inside Israel. They can -- it can be done militarily. Are you going to eliminate the ideology? No. And are you likely going to erase the group

from existence? Probably not. But can you eliminate the threat that Hamas poses to the Israeli people? Absolutely.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, let me ask you another question if I can. We've been talking about the Houthis here, we heard from Maersk and some of these

other companies that obviously, the big -- the Danish shipping giant that paused --

KIRBY: Yes --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Its operations in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea, a lot of other shipping companies are either pausing or re-routing. Right now


SOARES: We leave John Kirby at the White House for just for a moment, but focusing there as you clearly heard on the various really strands and the

tensions in the Middle East, from Iran of course, to Beirut, where we saw the attack on Saleh al-Arouri happen yesterday, and the twin blasts in Iran


I was speaking to Jason Rezaian, and Jason, I'm hoping that you were listening there to John Kirby, but the timing was perfect, because I'd ask

you, you know, I mentioned that the White House clearly saying there are no indication at this time that Israel was involved on this, U.S. not involved

as well in this Iran explosions. You were telling me -- I asked you, I remember, who could be behind this? If it's not external, internal. Your


REZAIAN: Well, it could be, you know, any number of internal Iranian actors, potentially supported by other governments in the Persian Gulf. I

want to acknowledge that while Admiral Kirby says that the U.S. have nothing to do with it, and there's no indication that Israel had anything

to do with it.

We should remember that Israel has been the one entity that has shown an ability to pull off operations inside Iran. Nothing like this before, sort

of a -- you know, a suitcase bomb in a car according to official reports from Iran, but the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, disruption

of civilian infrastructure, nuclear infrastructure.

So, I don't think we can rule that out. But another thing that he said that I think is really important is that the U.S. position is that, it doesn't

want this confrontation, this conflict to expand beyond where it's already taking place. I think that's the right position for the United States, and


SOARES: Yes --

REZAIAN: That should be the right position for the world. Unfortunately, I think there are multiple actors in the Middle East that would like to see

this expand and become a bigger fight, and I hope that cooler heads prevail.

SOARES: And Jason, I know we're running out of town -- time, and you have to go, but very briefly, how then does Iran calibrate its response here?

REZAIAN: Well, I think that we will know better in the next few days what their response will look like. I think it will be very blustery in terms of

the rhetoric that Iran puts forward, but I think that they'll probably be more bark than actual bite, because they understand that their adversaries

in this fight are much better positioned to do real damage to Iran than Iran is able to do to them.


SOARES: Jason Rezaian, always great to get your perspective and insight. Thank you, Jason.

REZAIAN: Thank you.

SOARES: And still to come tonight, a historic crisis at the U.S. southern border with a number of migrant-crossing surging now. House Republicans are

making their case for border reforms in the stalemate over funding with the White House. That story after this.


SOARES: Welcome back everyone. To the migrant border crisis in the United States right now. At this hour, U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson is leading

a Republican delegation on a tour of the U.S.-Mexico border. Border crossings reached a record monthly high in December, though the Biden

administration is pointing to a significant drop in crossings this week.

Negotiations between the White House and House Republicans over a new border policy deal are, as you well know, deadlocked. Republicans on

Capitol Hill say President Biden has mishandled the crisis. The President in turn blaming Republicans for holding up border funding. Have a listen.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've got to do something. They ought to give me the money I need to protect the border.


SOARES: Well, U.S. senior national correspondent Ed Lavandera is at the border in Eagle Pass, Texas. Do we have, Ed? We do. Ed, great to -- what --

great to see you. Give us a sense then, Ed, what these House Republicans are actually trying to achieve today?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly, the House Republicans -- and pardon me, there is an airboat going down the

river behind me -- but clearly, House Republicans trying to put a great deal of pressure on the Biden administration, who they've accused for

months and years now of mishandling the migrant crisis on the border.

And what they're going to find when they come here to Eagle Pass, and this has been a city that has been at the focal point of the migration crisis

over the last few years where we've seen thousands of migrants crossing illegally here extensively.

And this is the area and the infrastructure that has been put in place by state authorities that have been fighting with the Biden administration as

well. Several miles of razor wire and the steel shipping containers to block access for migrants crossing the border.

But Isa, the bottom line is that, you know, Democratic critics will say that much of this simply has not worked. That this is, despite all of this

you see in thousands of federal state and local law enforcement officers, that still thousands of people here crossing.

And the thing is, is that for people to cross the -- cross the river, and in the moment they set foot on this side of the river, they can be taken

into a U.S. Border Patrol custody.


So that is why they are very critical of this. But despite all of that, the Biden administration is slamming these Republican lawmakers for arriving

here in the midst of negotiations that are very tense up in Washington over a border security bill and exactly what's going to happen.

You can hear that airboat behind me and some of the lawmakers in (INAUDIBLE) will be taking a tour along the Rio Grande. There are more than

60 of them who are gathered here this afternoon.

We're expecting to hear from the House Speaker and other members this afternoon but this visit comes as these border security bills, negotiations

remain very contentious and both sides very far apart to try to find any common ground.

SOARES: Ed Lavandera for us in Eagle Pass, Texas, thank you very much, Ed, appreciate. It

Still to come tonight, more on what we are learning about that deadly blast in Iran and Lebanon. I'll speak to a senior editor of the Carnegie Middle

Eastern (sic) Center about what this means for the region. That is next.




SOARES: A recap of our top story this hour: Iran says more than 100 people are dead after two blasts near the grave site of general Qasem Soleimani.

We're looking at videos coming out of Kerman (ph) in south central Iran that shows emergency services responding to the wounded.


State media reporting at least one of the explosions was caused by a suitcase bomb. Crowds have gathered to mourn Soleimani, who was killed

exactly four years ago in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad.

There have not been any claims of responsibility. Today's blast also came a day after a Hamas leader was killed in an explosion if you remember in

Beirut, Lebanon. Hamas was quick to blame Israel. But the Israelis have not officially confirmed or denied that they played a role.

In the last, hour my colleague Christiane Amanpour spoke to the Lebanese foreign minister, Abdallah Bou Habib. He's in Washington, D.C., for

emergency meetings. She began asking if he feared that Lebanon was being dragged into a wider war and this was his response.


ABDALLAH BOU HABIB, LEBANESE FOREIGN MINISTER: We feel and we're afraid of it because the government of Lebanon, the Lebanese, don't want any war. And

we'd like to have peace in our southern borders.

But the issue is, you know, what's happening in Gaza definitely affects what's happening in Lebanon because there are issues that have not been

settled for the last 75 years. And so, we have problems. We -- yesterday, what happened in Lebanon, it is an Israeli attack in Lebanon, in Beirut.

Would there be a response?

I don't know whether it is this. But the government of Lebanon would not make any response. We'll go to United Nation and we'll have a complaint at

the United Nation.


SOARES: And, of course, as of yet, the Israelis have not claimed any responsibility for that explosion.

For more now on how this is all playing out on the region, let's bring in Michael Young, the senior editor at the Carnegie Middle Eastern (sic)

Center. He's also the author of "The Ghosts of Martyrs Square: An Eyewitness Account of Lebanon's Life Struggle." He is usually, of course,

based in Beirut but he joins me tonight from Paris.

Michael, great to see you. I'm sure that you've been hearing the lengthy speech today from Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, who says that of

the killing of Arouri in Beirut, yesterday's crime was large and dangerous. This crime will not be left without a response. Those were his words.

What are your thoughts on what we heard from him today. What stood out to you?

MICHAEL YOUNG, SENIOR EDITOR, CARNEGIE MIDDLE EAST CENTER: Well, I, mean, of course, he was going to say we are going to retaliate. No one really

expected him not to say that.

The question really is what the retaliation will be. My suspicion is that, because if you listen to his speech more carefully, in the point how

Hezbollah had until now basically reacted in a contained fashion on the border.

And he said we were moved by two imperatives: on the one, hand to support Gaza but also to take into consideration Lebanese realities. And this leads

me to think that if there is a response -- and there will be a response -- that it will be relatively contained in the sense that it may be outside of

the immediate border area.

Because up to, now most of the fighting has taken place in the immediate border area. It may go beyond that. But at the same time I think he would -

- that Hezbollah will try to end it there. I don't really feel that Nasrallah wants to provoke a wider conflict.

I think he took a strategic decision since October not to carry Lebanon into a wider war that could spread to the region. And I think he will stick

to that.

SOARES: And as we heard from the prime minister in that little clip, the Lebanese government official, that Lebanon does not want to open another

front. But Hezbollah, like you said, has to respond and retaliate in some shape or form for credibility reasons too, I imagine.

YOUNG: Absolutely. There is this sort of deterrence relationship with Israel that has been going on now for decades. In terms of the deterrence

game, Hezbollah has seen the Israelis really push the envelope on several occasions in the south.

They have been targeting journalists, they have been hitting civilians and, of course, at Christmas, they targeted an Iranian Revolutionary Guard

official in Damascus. And I think, to a certain extent, Hezbollah wants to show that they are not going to remain idle while Israel goes -- pushes

that far.

But at the same time, there are certain limits to what it can do. Whether it will actually target Israeli cities is unclear at this point.

SOARES: Yes, actions are very much deliberative what we're hinting at here. But you've written recently, I think we have a little graphic to print up,

that some Israeli politicians today would like to extend the Gaza war to Lebanon on the assumption that the United States is covering for Israel and


It may provide an opening for a major military operation in the north.


Can you expand on that?

YOUNG: I did indeed write that but I think that that the Israeli rationale is incorrect. I think that the Americans have, over the weeks, made

increasingly clear that they don't want to see a conflict in Lebanon because they very much fear that it could spread to the region.

And Jake Sullivan was in Israel last week and he said that the way to resolve the issue of what comes after the end of fighting is through


So the Americans don't want a Lebanon war. And what is very interesting is that apparently the al-Arouri killing, at least if we are to believe what

we read, was not -- there was no prior consultation between the Americans and Israelis.

It seems like the Americans were virtually blindsided by the Israeli decision.

So my belief is that given that Israel took the initiative here without telling the Americans, except at the last minute, they would also be less

likely to push the envelope further with regard to the relationship with the United States, knowing very well that the Americans don't want a war.

So this is maybe another ingredient that suggests that things may be contained.

SOARES: Maybe contained but if you look at the last 48 hours or so, Michael, it does feel like the Middle East is a bit of a tinderbox,

especially if we just report on what we saw today, those twin explosions in Iran.

What do you make of that?

YOUNG: Well, to be honest, I have no idea. I don't know if that is related to domestic insurgency, domestic issues. I just cannot speak to that. I

have no idea.

SOARES: Michael, always appreciate your time. Thank you very much, Michael.

YOUNG: Thank you.

SOARES: And still to come tonight, new details of a deadly plane crash in Japan. Cockpit recordings have now been released and we will play them for

you after this.




SOARES: Luke Littler is making history once again now that he's earned a spot in the World Darts Championship final. He beat veteran Rob Cross

yesterday 6 to 2. The 16-year-old is the youngest player to ever make it to the semis and now the final of this competition.


Luke Humphries is the last person between him and the Sid Waddell trophy.

The British teenager was relatively unknown before making his debut at this year's championships. Don Riddell is following the Cinderella story. He

joins me live now.

Don, I believe it is taking place this hour. I believe it is already started.

What are his chances here?

DON RIDDELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple of weeks ago, most of us had never heard of him. So we could not imagine him in this position. Now that he's

got this far, I would say the chances are absolutely huge.

He has already knocked out two former world champions. He plays in such an entertaining way, young, fun and fearless and audacious. Clearly his world

has completely changed in the last couple of weeks.

You would never know from the way he stands there at the (INAUDIBLE) throwing his darts. He is just in his element. He said even before his big

semifinal (INAUDIBLE) he didn't think anybody could stop him. And I don't see any reason why that should change. Now

Of course, his opponent who is also known as Luke, Luke Humphries, will have other ideas. But clearly a lot of people, neutrals, are rooting for

Luke Littler.

SOARES: We do not know much about him. Like you said, we only just started talking about him in the last couple of days.

Training, when did he start darts?

It's not really an area of expertise that I'm used to here. Help me out.

RIDDELL: Right. So there is some adorable video online of him playing darts at the age of 18 months old. That is when he started. He began with these

little magnetic darts. It was basically just a toy set.

Understandably his mom and dad did not trust him with the pointy darts, the dangerous ones, until he was 4. That is when he started playing properly.

He says he just hasn't looked back from there.

An incredible story. Clearly he loves it, clearly he is devoted to it.

He has had a really good junior career. But he had only played, I think, four senior matches before making his debut on the world championships. He

entered as the world number 164. He could be leaving today, if he wins, with more than $600,000 in his pocket.

SOARES: Wow. We wish him all of the best. Great story. Love an underdog story. Thank you so much, Don. Great to see you.

Still to come tonight, investigators are trying to find out what caused that fiery runway collision in Japan. We will have a report for you from

Tokyo next.





SOARES: More than 200 prisoners of war have now been exchanged between Russia and Ukraine. Kyiv says it's the largest prisoner exchange between

the two countries since the war began almost two years ago.

The prisoners include Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, according to president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. In return for those held captive, Russia

says it received 248 service men from the Ukrainian-controlled territory.

Russia credited the United Arab Emirates for helping to make this happen.

New details are emerging about the deadly collision at Tokyo's Haneda airport. Records show that warning lights meant to stop pilots from going

on to the runway by mistake have been out of service for days.

A top Japanese official also released a transcript of communication between air traffic controllers and the two planes involved in Tuesday's collision.

According to that transcript, the passenger plane with nearly 400 people on board was cleared to land. CNN's Will Ripley is in Tokyo with the latest.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The investigation of Tuesday's catastrophic collision on Runway C of Haneda airport right in the

heart of Tokyo is now centering on four crucial minutes, from 5:43 pm to 5:47 pm local time.

During those four minutes, the Coast Guard turboprop plane was taxiing on the runway, getting ready for takeoff. The Japan Airlines Flight 516 was

making its final descent into Haneda airport.

If you listen to the newly released cockpit recordings, verified by transcripts, released by the Japanese transportation ministry, you can

actually hear the instructions from air traffic control to both planes.

Air traffic control telling the airliner from Japan Airlines that it was OK to land. Also telling the Coast Guard plane to hold in its position to get

ready for takeoff. Listen to both of those just now.





RIPLEY: The questions that arise from this recording, was the Coast Guard plane aware that it was actually in the wrong spot?

It was sitting right in the path of the Japan Airlines jet.

A massive A350-900 as it was making its descent, striking the Dash 8, creating a huge fireball, killing at least five members of the crew of the

Coast Guard aircraft. All the passengers safely evacuating from the airbus due to a really valiant effort by the flight crew themselves.

As we can see in this eyewitness video taken by passengers, revealing the moments when flight attendants didn't have a working communications system

and actually had to shout out commands to evacuate, using megaphones and their own voices to get everybody off alive. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (Speaking foreign language).


RIPLEY: A heroic effort by the staff working on board that flight. Those nine flight crew in the back of the plane. Some questions about the three

pilots of the plane.

Why did none of them notice that a Coast Guard aircraft was sitting right on the runway as they were making their descent?

And why did they not abort the landing?

Also, of course, the questions about why the Coast Guard plane was given command to stay put. Yet it was sitting in exactly the wrong place, leading

to one of the worst aviation disasters that modern Japan has ever seen -- Will Ripley, CNN, Tokyo.


SOARES: Staying in Japan, urgent rescues ongoing now after Monday 7.5 magnitude earthquake. The disaster killed at least 73 people. More than 70

have been rescued. The number of those still missing is unclear. CNN's Hanako Montgomery has more.


HANAKO MONTGOMERY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now we are in Wajima city, one of the worst affected areas in Ishikawa prefecture. Behind me is a really

alarming sight. A seven story building completely toppled on its side.

There is glass everywhere from broken windows, street lights still on. Now there are dozens of rescue operators right next to me. They are trying to

pull out a woman, they believe, is still stuck in this rubble. They are trying to access her by climbing underneath this building and pushing aside

what rubble they can.


But rescue operations keep getting interrupted because of these very powerful aftershocks. Japanese government has warned that these aftershocks

may continue for the rest of the week.

Much of Wajima city looks like this building behind me. Houses completely destroyed, roofs caved in. Roads have had fallen trees and landslides are

blocking the ways for people to evacuate.

Wet roads are left that have cracks along them and have been totally blocked up by traffic. Hundreds and hundreds of people are trying to

evacuate. On our journey here, which took, pretty much, all day we saw at least 50 ambulances and fire trucks from all across the country as they try

to get access to this part of the prefecture.

You can only imagine how difficult it has been for emergency medical personnel to find the remaining survivors in this weather-- Hanako

Montgomery, CNN, Wajima, Japan.


SOARES: Finally, a South Korean zoo has unveiled new baby panda twins before they make their official debut to the zoo visitors. The twin clubs

are six months old and will be presented to visitors Thursday.

That does it for us this hour. Thank you very much for your company. We will see tomorrow. QUEST MEANS BUSINESS with Richard Quest is up next.