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Isa Soares Tonight

WH Counsel's Spokesman: "Fundamentally Incorrect" To Compare Biden's Classified Docs Handling To Trump; WH Counsel's Spokesman: Biden "Never, Ever Took Any Action To Obstruct Classified Docs Probe; Netanyahu Directs IDF To Draw Up Rafah Evacuation Plan. 2:38-3p ET

Aired February 09, 2024 - 14:38   ET




ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a very warm welcome. I'm Isa Soares on tonight's show. On one side, and advancing other, I should say, on the

other, a border sealed shut. More than a million Palestinians are trapped in the middle. And amid growing concern about their fate, Israel is now

revealing how intense to protect civilians lives as it prepares an assault on Gaza's south most city of Rafah.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is ordering the IDF to draw up plans to evacuate the population so it can attack what he calls the last bastion of

Hamas. He did not say where all those civilians are meant to go. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says the announcement crosses

all red lines and is an attempt to force Palestinians off their land.

More than half of Gaza's population is crammed into that tiny space virtually pinned against the Egyptian border. And although Israeli ground

forces haven't yet arrived, Rafah is already under fierce attack from the air. This is what's left of a building hit today. Have a look at that. The

evacuation plan, though, comes amid the strongest criticism yet from Israel's top ally. Have a listen to just some of what we've heard over the

past day in Washington.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: The conduct of the response in Gaza in the Gaza Strip has been over the top.


VEDANT PATEL, STATE DEPARTMENT PRINCIPAL DEPUTY SPOKESPERSON: To do -- conduct such an operation right now with no planning and a little thought

in an area where there is sheltering of a million people would be a disaster.

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR: Absent any full consideration of protecting civilians at that scale in Gaza. Military

operations right now would be a disaster for those people. And it's not something that we would support.


SOARES: Well, we are covering all angles on the story for you. Our Nada Bashir net of a share is in Cairo. Jeremy Diamond is in Tel Aviv.

And Jeremy, let me go to you first. What more do we know at this stage about this evacuation plan in Rafah? And do we know whether Prime Minister

Netanyahu, where he wants to put more than a million, 1.3 million Palestinians?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: You know, it really is not clear at this point. And we have little to no details about exactly what

this evacuation of the city of Rafah would look like, how it would factor into a planned Israeli military offensive in that city.

The United Nations now saying that 1.4 million people are crammed into that city, that's more than half of Gaza's population. And all we have today

from the Israeli Prime Minister's office is that the Prime Minister directed the military to plan for the evacuation of civilians in Rafah,

this comes a couple of days after the Israeli Prime Minister said that the military would be advancing into Rafah next.

And so it's clear that the plans for this offensive seem to have proceeded planning for the civilian population that is actually living in that city.

But the Israeli Prime Minister saying effectively that there is no way to destroy Hamas as he has laid out that objective for this war without going

into that city of Rafah, where he says that there are four Hamas battalions remaining describing that city as Hamas's last bastion. Of course, it has

also become the last refuge for so many Palestinians in Gaza who have been seeking refuge there.

And we know that in the past, the Israeli military has of course sought to evacuate civilians from cities where they have been planning to conduct

significant ground offensive operations. But in many cases, we've also seen that those plans often don't provide the level of safety and security that

humanitarian aid officials have been calling for. People have been able to evacuate some of these cities. But in many cases, we have seen that those

safe evacuation corridors have not been as safe as initially described.

So, the United States, obviously, bringing enormous pressure to bear now with the U.S. President, as you just heard there, saying that the Israeli

military response in Gaza has been over the top. But significantly, his national security spokesman, John Kirby, also saying that a military

operation right now in Rafah would be a, "disaster" for the civilian population there if Israel does not sufficiently plan for that population.

So, it appears that right now that planning is indeed underway. But exactly what that will look like, where they will go, and whether or not there will

be the significant humanitarian resources in the place where they are told to evacuate to all major question marks at this hour.

SOARES: And Jeremy, let me go to Nada. Nada, I'm just going to get my producer Sarah to bring up that map again of the Gaza Strip, because it's

really important for viewers to see. Because I was speaking to a father of two in Rafah yesterday, just on the show, who works for the Norwegian

Council and he told me, Nada, as we're looking at this map, that "we are trapped on one side," he said, by the Egyptian border and on the other

side, by Israeli tanks. He told me, we have run out of options.

What are you hearing from your contacts in Gaza? And what are you hearing from the Egyptians in particular, who have been part of this diplomatic

push to try and get some sort of spores or ceasefire here?

NADA BASHER, CNN REPORTER: Look, Isa, when we hear from people on the ground in Gaza, particularly around Rafah, has we heard these warnings of

what appears to be an impending ground operation by the Israeli military, it is a mood of sheer fear in Rafah. As you mentioned, Isa, we have seen

airstrikes being carried out in and around the city. For some time now, the warnings of a potential ground operation are certainly so concerning, least

amongst the civilians there, but also, of course, from aid agencies and international partners as well.

We're talking about an area which, prior to the war, was home for some 200,000 people now. It is estimated 1.3 million people are concentrated in

this border city, many of them taking shelter in these sprawling tent cities, which have sprung up as a result of the war.

We've been hearing from the Israeli military from the outset of the war calling, ordering civilians to move south, to continue to move towards the

south, and in particular around the Rafah area, which, of course, has not only been a lifeline for many civilians, but also a crucial gateway for aid

getting into the Gaza Strip via the crossing through Egypt.

In fact, we have seen just today a huge queues of trucks lined up on the Egyptian side of the border.


Still waiting to get in to provide what limited aid is actually getting into the Strip. And there are tents and people camping up right up to the

Rafah border gates of course. If there is indeed this ground operation, which seems to be on the cards over the horizon, there is a huge amount of

fear. The Norwegian Refugee Council has described that eventuality as something that would turn Rafah into what they've described as a zone of


There have been warnings for the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres on this, raising the alarm, about the impact that this will have. And of

course, as we know, the situation in Rafah has been a key focus around negotiations as well. We have the Hamas delegation currently in Cairo,

holding talks around potential discussions of a long-term prolonged truce, which could potentially allow for further discussions around a ceasefire.

We've seen the Saudi Foreign Minister meeting with counterparts from Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, as well as Palestinian

Authority officials in Riyadh on Thursday. Those talks again focus on the situation on the ground, on a potential ceasefire agreement, but also what

more needs to be done to allow aid to get into Gaza.

But there is concern that if indeed there is that ground operation, which has criticism, even from Israel's closest ally, the United States, if

indeed that does take place, that could certainly not only jeopardize ongoing negotiations and diplomatic efforts, but will also place hundreds

of thousands of lives at risk.

SOARES: And I'll be speaking to an employee of the ICRC just after the break, from the situation about the situation in Rafah, and he has been

displaced five times. Nada Bashir and our Jeremy, thank you very much, jeremy Diamond for us in Tel Aviv. We are going to take a short break.

We'll be back after this.


SOARES: Well, we return to our coverage of the war in Gaza and the uncertain future for the enclave southernmost city, an Israeli military

operation in Rafah, as you heard in just the last 10 minutes, could be imminent.


The Israeli Prime Minister has asked his military to draw up evacuation plans for the population of Rafah. Aid groups and others have been sounding

the alarm for weeks. I want to take a listen to the U.N. chief, what he had to say about these reports earlier in the week. Have a listen.


ANTONIO GUTERRES, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: And I'm especially alarmed by reports that the Israeli military intends to focus next on Rafah, where

hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been squeezed in a desperate search for safety. Such an action would exponentially increase what is

already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences.


SOARES: Well, I want to get the view from someone who is inside Rafah now. Hisham Mhanna is a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red

Cross. And he joins me now from Rafah. Hisham, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak to us this evening.

You heard perhaps, I'm guessing, the order from Prime Minister, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, warning of plans to evacuate the Palestinian

population of Rafah. That's what 1.4 or so million people. When you heard this, what did you think? I mean, from a humanitarian point of view here,

what were your concerns?

HISHAM MHANNA, ICRC SPOKESPERSON: Hello, Lisa. And thank you for having me. Unfortunately, I cannot comment on political statements as I'm representing

an international humanitarian neutral organization as the International Committee of the Red Cross. However, what I can tell you is that it's --

SOARES: Oh, his signal seems to have frozen. I'm just going to check whether we have him, maybe we can refresh that signal. Are you still with


MHANNA: Can you --

SOARES: I can hear you now, right.

MHANNA: Yes, can you hear me?

SOARES: You were telling me you can't -- yes, I can hear you. You were telling me you could not talk about the politics. I do not want to talk

about the politics with you. Talk to us about what this will mean from a humanitarian point of view here.

MHANNA: Yes, from a humanitarian point of view. The conduct of hostilities and its impact in densely populated areas with civilians without adequate

safeguards to the human life could be disastrous. And we have witnessed that, unfortunately, over the past four months in different areas of the

Gaza Strip.

Now, the Rafah governorate represents 20 percent of the total space of Gaza Strip inhabited by more than 1.5 million displaced people, disconnected

from essential services like water and waste, water and sanitation services, they live in a random tents or makeshift tents and they are on

daily hustle to find food, health care and warmth for their families, for their children.

So unfortunately, if the situation becomes more dangerous, if the conduct of hostilities expands into the Rafah governorate, this will only shrink

the already limited humanitarian space to achieve the very minimum of humanitarian response by humanitarian actors, especially if adequate

safeguards to human life in such densely populated areas during, you know, the conduct of hostilities are not considered.

So, it's at the utmost importance now to consider the implementation and interpretation of the legally binding principles of distinction,

proportionality and precaution and achieve them --

SOARES: Hisham, let me just -- let me interrupt you on that. Let me just -- just because we're very short on time. So in terms of, you know, when you

hear this order, you're with the International Committee of the Red Cross, are conversations being had, Hisham, here about a strategy? Where are the

people, 1.3 million people there in Rafah, where are they supposed to go? What are your options?

MHANNA: There's no option. There's no more -- there is no more south than Rafah in Gaza Strip. There's nowhere else for the people to go. The

majority of people here have been, like the average, have been displaced for five to seven times, reaching to Rafah now. They are already living in

a very dire humanitarian situation. They have no access -- no adequate access to the essential services and that keeps them surviving.

So, unfortunately, this is nearly impossible to achieve without the cost of definite thousands of human lives that will be -- could have been saved,

you know?

SOARES: And I mean, you've been displaced -- my team told me, you've been displaced, Hisham, about five times and I know you live in Rafah with your

extended family. What are you telling them? Because obviously, important as we looked at the map, of course, of Rafah, you're very close to the border.

But it's the only -- also the only viable humanitarian crossing here, right, for Palestinian people to get food, medicine? What does that mean

if that's taken away?

MHANNA: It means that the already limited humanitarian aid that is completely incompatible with the continuously growing humanitarian needs

will no longer exist. And the essential and crucial security guarantees for humanitarian workers to get that aid to the hundreds of thousands who are

in need are no longer available because they are already limited.


And if the scenario of expanding military operation in Rafah happens, unfortunately, this will become even more difficult for -- to achieve a

humanitarian response. And that would be translated automatically to further human loss and suffering.

SOARES: Yes, we've got -- we're running our time. We've got about a minute or so left. What do you explain then to those who are seeking your advice

or when -- hear -- upon hearing what Netanyahu had to say? What do you tell them?

MHANNA: It's now more than -- more important than ever for the parties to the conflict to adhere to their legal obligations that are rather now more

alternative to respect and implement the international humanitarian law and only political solutions that could lead to minimize the humanitarian

suffering and the bloodshed in Gaza Strip. We have witnessed that --

SOARES: But that hasn't happened. That hasn't happened, Hisham.

MHANNA: -- the ceasefire --

SOARES: Hisham, that hasn't happened.

MHANNA: Hasn't happened yet. We hope so. And this is what the ICRC is doing at different levels. We have the -- our president have spoken to the

Israeli leadership in Tel Aviv and to Hamas leadership in Qatar, she said that also from inside the Gaza Strip, political solutions are now needed

than ever. The humanitarian situation cannot be relied on fully because it's --

SOARES: Hisham, I'm going to have to interrupt. I'm sorry to interrupt because we are running out of time. I apologize. Thank you very much for

taking the time to speak to us. "QUEST MEANS BUSINESS" is up next. I'll see you next week. Bye-bye.