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CNN Live Event/Special

Israel At War After Surprise Military Assault By Hamas From Gaza; Biden Declares The United States Stands With Israel; Europe And Other Allies Express Support For Israel; At Least 200 Israelis Killed In Hamas Terror Attack. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired October 07, 2023 - 17:00   ET



RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is midnight in Israel, as the country is coming to terms with the fact that it is at war with Hamas after Hamas launched thousands of rockets into Israel and killed hundreds of Israelis, military and civilians, along with taking hostages, so-called prisoners of war. We don't know how many.

The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has vowed to reach every place that Hamas is hiding, after the surprising and sophisticated attack on his country by land, sea, and air. The numbers of dead and injured will rise on both sides. At least 200 Israelis and at least 1500 injured. The IDF, some of its soldiers held captive, which has given a great complexity to the entire issue of what next.

Thousands of Israeli reservists are being called up. Benjamin Netanyahu is warning of a mighty vengeance and a long war. Here is how one terrified Israeli civilian describe the panic as militants moved into her town.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Suddenly, out of nowhere, shots are coming in. They started shooting in every direction. And I took the car keys and just drove, and started moving forward to get out of the shots. Out of the shots. And at some point, they overtook us. We were overtaken by the shooters. They started shooting at our vehicles. We got out of the vehicles. I didn't keep driving. We took cover.


QUEST: Now, if you want another example, Israel responding with airstrikes into Gaza. Palestinian health officials are saying there are 200 dead and over 1600 injured. Hamas says it's ready for a worst- case scenario and that would include a ground invasion.

For an example of how the very ordinary and mundane suddenly became deadly and risky, CNN's Nic Robertson arrived at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport a few hours ago. He had to quickly take cover, no sooner was he off the plane, the air raid sirens blared. This is how it unfolded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: We literally just got off the plane here in Ben Gurion Airport. The sirens have gone off. People are taking cover. We got off the bus, people are taking cover, and you can hear the intercept missiles banging in the air. Nothing incoming here. But everyone is taking cover. They've gotten down. A lot of concern about what's going to happen here this night.


QUEST: I spoke to Nic in the last hour, as he traveled closer to the border. He is at Ashkelon, and I wanted to know about the events that we've just been witnessing.


ROBERTSON: You know, all the way from leaving the U.K., the pilot had informed us that the airline had been in touch with their people on the ground at Ben Gurion, with Israeli Security Services. Even talking to the British government. And all the way through the flight, the pilot kept telling us that everything he was hearing from Ben Gurion, it was safe to go and it was safe to go in, and he was talking to authorities there.

And so we landed. But when the plane landed, everyone -- there was a big round of applause. Everyone was so relieved to get on the ground. No one really knew if they were going to make it or not. And then, as you say, we're getting off the plane, going down the steps. There's a bus, because we're parked away from the terminal. We get on the bus, we're on the bus for about 30 seconds heading towards the terminal.

And then through the cracked open windows, I can hear the siren. The bus stops, and the driver just waves at everyone, just -- he stopped randomly. I mean, there was no shelter place. You could just see there that people were hiding behind, you know, equipment that's lying around at any airport. And people just like got out. And suddenly they're reacting to being in this alien environment. You know, there were Israelis there, there were Brits there, there were others there.


So people suddenly found themselves at the center of this. Having to take cover in an open airfield surrounded by tarmac, hearing the sirens, and then hearing the explosions over their heads. And there were some people there who were very, very concerned. They hadn't been through this sort of thing before, in tears.

People hugging loved ones, so it was a really, really stressful environment, and then the bus driver said, OK, we're good, let's go, get back on the bus, get in the terminal. And that's how it went.

QUEST: Surreal. Dangerous and surreal. All right, tell me where you are and tell me where you are going.

ROBERTSON: What you're seeing behind me, that blue flashing light is a police checkpoint about 15 miles from Gaza. That highway there is the coastal highway that runs from Tel Aviv up here, down towards Gaza here. So right now we're standing on the outskirts of Ashkelon, the last major city, if you will, down the coast towards Gaza. And it's a city that had been targeted many times before. It's been the Iron Dome installations in this area that have been for a long time to defend from those rockets. I'm hearing fighter jets up in the sky there.

We were seeing flashes coming from the distant horizon. That way a little bit earlier we've been able to hear detonations and explosions coming from that direction, which is the north end of Gaza. And we're just going to -- John is just going to point the camera down here behind me, down the highway here. I mean, it is 11:00 at night here. But normally there would be a lot more traffic about. This is really deserted. A lot of the gas stations over there is open.

But most of the places we passed this far south have been closed and that's -- from what we've seen driving on the highway coming down here, the road has gotten quieter and quieter and quieter. And I won't say what sort of equipment was on the truck that went by me there, but you will understand in this environment that the military is on the move.


ROBERTSON: Enough to say. So this is the picture of what we're seeing here at the moment.


QUEST: Elliott is with me, Elliott Gotkine, normally based in Israel, but now watching and following developments from London.

And, Elliott, as we look at the last few hours, and I've been reading more now of the translation of Netanyahu's speech. He is leaving no doubt, he is going full throttle.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: It would seem that way. And we're really just, what we've seen so far in terms of Israel's retaliation to this unprecedented attack by Hamas against Israel, we're really just seeing the beginning. And what Netanyahu said, I'll give you a couple of the key things, saying that this war will take time.

And quoting the legendary Israeli poet, not for the first time, saying that revenge for the blood of a small child has yet been divided by Satan, which, I understand to mean that, you know, even Satan couldn't come up with the kind of retaliation or revenge that we are going to now wreak on Hamas in the Gaza Strip over the coming days at the very least, Richard.

QUEST: So let's deal with the real politic here. What do the Abraham Accord countries do? What does the UAE, even Saudi now, talking? How do they -- they don't want to get rid of what they have achieved, but how do they continue to still make bread and sit with Israel?

GOTKINE: Richard, I think first of all, you need to always remember that what you see from statements from some of these governments may not necessarily be what they are saying to Israel at the same time because they've all got their own domestic constituencies that they need to bear in mind when they come out and show either some kind of moderation in terms of its support for what Israel is doing, or perhaps to show more support for -- or to show some kind of tampering of their criticism, if you like, of Hamas and the militants there.

I certainly don't think that the Abraham Accords are in any danger certainly at this point, but I think it's worth noting that given that this just began in the early hours of Saturday morning in Israel, the time for diplomacy and talking, I think, is not yet here. It's going to take a number of days before either side is willing or ready to start talking. So I think what we're going to see in the coming days is we may see statements from some of these governments, and perhaps even the Saudis.

And of course, there's been a lot of very increasingly loud talk about Israel and Saudi Arabia normalizing relations. We will perhaps at some point see those countries, particularly the Emirates, coming in and perhaps having some kind of conversations to mediate. Usually the Egyptians do that, but I think now it's way too early to start talking about diplomacy. We may see statements, criticism of Israel, depending on what happens in the coming days.

But as I say, what they say in public and what perhaps they say to the Israelis are not always necessarily the same thing.


QUEST: Elliott Gotkine, talking from London. Many thank you, sir.

Speaking a short time ago at the White House, President Biden condemned the attacks saying, the U.S. is ready to offer all appropriate means of support to Israel.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, the people of Israel are under attack orchestrated by a terrorist organization, Hamas. In this moment of tragedy, I want to say to them and to the world, and to terrorists everywhere, that the United States stands with Israel. We will not ever fail to have their back. We will make sure that they have the help their citizens need and that they can continue to defend themselves.

You know, the world has seen appalling images. Thousands of rockets in the space of hours raining down on Israeli cities. I get up this morning, I started this at 7:30, 8:00, my calls, Hamas terrorists crossing in Israel killing not only Israeli soldiers but Israeli civilians in the street, in their homes. Innocent people murdered, wounded, entire families taken hostage by Hamas just days after Israel marked the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar. It's unconscionable.


QUEST: The support for Israel is broad and deep in the U.S. That's is Kevin Liptak who is with me now from the White House. We've seen everything from Republican presidential candidates like Governor Ron DeSantis, the governor of New York, almost (INAUDIBLE). But they don't really have the job to actually helping Israel now. What's the president going to do?

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and certainly you do see bipartisan support for Israel, really kind of a uniform voice from the American political establishment. But you're right, it is now President Biden's job to determine what the U.S. can do to support the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and what the president can do to try and defuse this conflict and prevent it from becoming a full-out regional war.

And you did hear President Biden really try and walk the line today in those remarks. And there was a reason he only spoke for about three minutes or so. He is limited on how much he can say. Limited diplomatically, limited politically, and certainly, the president didn't want to say anything that could necessarily escalate the crisis even further.

So you did hear him sort of read out the phone call that he had earlier this morning with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. And he repeated twice that the U.S. would be able to provide Israel everything it needed, as this conflict potentially escalates, and as it develops a response. But there is an open question. If what Israel needs requires any sort of congressional approval, the current Congress in the United States is paralyzed, there is no House speaker.

And so that will be an obstacle that the president will have to sort of jump over as he looks to respond. But certainly, President Biden is also hoping to lean on his regional allies, countries like Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates. Other countries in the region who do have some leverage with the Palestinians to try and convince them that a full-scale war is not in their own self-interest.

And of course, this was all coming against the backdrop of President Biden's attempts at negotiating a normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel.

QUEST: All right.

LIPTAK: Part of that had been some sort of concessions from Israel, it was very hard to imagine how that goes forward at this moment.

QUEST: Is there any risk that this does become a U.S. domestic political issue?

LIPTAK: Well, you know, it actually already has. And you have seen Republican presidential candidates accuse the Biden administration of providing Iran with resources, that it could have helped instigate some of these conflicts. And you'll remember, it wasn't that long ago that the U.S. unfroze $6 billion in Iranian funds as part of this deal to free American prisoners. But those -- just to be frank, to be honest, those attacks are not in good faith.

The $6 billion is not in Iranian hands at the moment. The U.S. Treasury Department has ways of tracking that money to ensure it's used only for humanitarian purposes. And at this point, none of the money has actually been spent. But you can see this already becoming a political issue for the president.

QUEST: Kevin, grateful, sir, thank you. Kevin Liptak at the White House.

The European Union says it unequivocally condemns, in their words, the Hamas attacks on Israel, and is now calling for violence to stop immediately. One of the many reactions coming in from around the world.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins me now with more reaction.

They all sort of say -- they all sort of say Israel, they respect and acknowledge Israel's right to defend itself. Except one country.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are statements that are absolutely important, particularly when you're looking at a 50-year anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, another surprising attack, unprecedented attack. And of course, countries around the world, Richard, responding to those horrifying images today. Take a listen.


ABDELAZIZ (voice-over): An unprecedented attack by Hamas on Israel. Israel's full-bore response, including a declaration that it was at war with Hamas. And a vow to exact a huge price on those responsible.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I have ordered an extensive mobilization of reserves in that we return fire of a magnitude that the enemy has not known.

ABDELAZIZ: Many of Israel's allies say they stand with Israel, saying it has the right to defend itself after such a large scale and brazen attack.

BIDEN: Let me say this as clearly as I can, this is not a moment for any party hostile to Israel to exploit these attacks to seek advantage. The world is watching.

ABDELAZIZ: No signs now of the previous rocky relations between Biden and Netanyahu. That flared between the two leaders after a controversial judicial reforms in Israel. Germany, France, and the U.K., also weighing in. All three countries calling the attacks an act of terror with Germany's foreign minister warning of the dangers of further violence.

ANNALENA BAERBOCK, GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Hamas' terror once again moved the region further away from peace. Through these terror attacks, there is now the incalculable danger of a large regional escalation.

ABDELAZIZ: Regional players like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are appealing for calm, calling on both sides to stop fighting. Before the hostilities erupted, Riyadh was in talks brokered by the U.S. to potentially normalize relations with Israel, with Saudi Arabia pushing for a resolution on the treatment of Palestinians before any deal could be reached.

Qatar, which historically has had both financial and political ties to Hamas, says it solely blames Israel, saying it provoked the aggression with recent raids on worshippers in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, though some experts say Qatar could possibly play a part in future efforts to de- escalate the crisis.

AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT MIDDLE EAST NEGOTIATOR: It improved relations with the Israelis, but they have been very supportive of the Islamists. And I think they want to maintain their ties and contacts with Hamas. They may well come into play a role.

ABDELAZIZ: Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is backed by Israel's arch enemy, Iran, praised the attacks, saying it was in contact with Palestinian resistance groups, both at home and abroad, adding further concerns that what began with a shocking start could spread into a wider conflict.


ABDELAZIZ: Now let's put aside the reaction from Western allies because I think those are to be expected. It is really about how the region, how the Middle East reacts to this. Most important of course are the mediators. Prime Minister Netanyahu has made clear he is not interested in de-escalation at this point. But there will have to be communication somewhere along the line with Hamas, and Egypt, and Qatar for that.

And of course, there is Iran. There is going to be concern about the southern front opening up on Lebanon, and how Hezbollah reacts, no sign that that happens. But absolutely all eyes will be on Tehran, and then finally for the wider picture, you just have to remember that there were very important talks, peace negotiations going on with Riyadh. Netanyahu had promised that he was on the precipice of this historic agreement.

And today Saudi Arabia, yes, calling for both sides, appealing for calm from both sides. But also blaming the occupation, as they put it, on Palestinians as a provocation for these attacks. There's going to be serious questions about Netanyahu's relationships with Riyadh in the context of course of these surprise attacks.

QUEST: Salma, grateful, thank you.

After a short break, we will have more coverage, and I'll bring you up to date. It's 25 past midnight in Israel at the moment. We will update you.



QUEST: Some late developments to bring to your close attention. Israel's Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said he's now expanding the special security situation to the entirety of the Israeli territory. In other words the whole country until this -- it was just 80 kilometers around the border with Gaza. Now it would seem that the whole country is part of this special security area.

Gallant says, 15 years ago as head of Southern Command I came close to breaking the neck of Hamas. I was stopped by the political issue. This phenomenon will not continue. And this is the crucial bit. We will change reality on the ground in Gaza for the next 50 years.

Chuck Freilich joins me. He's a former Israeli deputy national security adviser.

When you hear words like that, we will change the reality on the ground in Gaza for the next 50 years, what does that -- I mean obviously it tells a massive military, potentially ground forces. How serious?

CHUCK FREILICH, FORMER ISRAELI DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Well, I think 50 years might be a bit ambitious. But we've had enough of these repeated, limited rounds with Hamas, which provide for a temporary respite but don't solve the problem. What Hamas did this time is above and beyond, it is simply unacceptable. If the current number of Israeli fatalities, 250 people, remain at this level, which it won't, but if it remains that, just to put that in American terms, that's the equivalent of 10,000 people killed in a space of a few hours.

So Israel must respond to this in a very large scale. We can't tolerate this anymore. And I would imagine -- this is my assessment -- is that Israel will go away with that large ground operation, and potentially even seek to topple Hamas to achieve that fundamental change in the situation. Then the question is, what happens afterwards. And maybe the way to turn this into something beneficial in the end would be if this could be the basis for then reinstating the -- reinstating Palestinian Authority control in Gaza.

QUEST: That's in a sense is several moves down the road. And the failure of intelligence, bearing in mind not only do they come in by paragliders from the air, they came over the land. They got into Israeli towns and cities and took hostages. And obviously there will be a postmortem, an inquiry by the forces. But it's still galling and quite eye shocking.

FREILICH: It is. This is an enormous intelligence failure. Then backed up by an operational failure. And there will be a reckoning when the dust settles. It's not the first time in Israel's history or other country's history, where we've seen massive intelligence failures. And we will have to take a very tough look.


QUEST: Why did Hamas do it, do you think? Why would -- I mean, besides the convenience of the date of the Yom Kippur War, and all of that. Even with all the might that they have, and they have expended a good deal of it in the last 48 hours, 24 hours, that they must know what Israel is about to do? FREILICH: Well, I think one of the fundamental misconceptions that

many people have is that Hamas has moderated, maybe been tamed, maybe become interested in becoming the governor of Gaza. It's not Hamas is a radical jihadi organization, whose only (INAUDIBLE) is to fight and destroy Israel. That's what they're about. But aside from the symbolic timing of the day after the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, there is another fact happening here which I think they correctly assess that Israel have been significantly weakened by the internal turmoil of the last three quarters of a year, by the so-called judicial overhaul which tore Israeli society and to a certain extent tore the IDF apart. And we saw some of those results unfortunately today.

QUEST: Sir, I'm grateful for your time and insight. Thank you.

This is CNN. More in a moment.


QUEST: Israel says operations are underway to clear towns that have been infiltrated by terrorists. Declaring war against Hamas after an unprecedented attack, militants from Gaza fired thousands of rockets, breached security barriers, stormed through Israeli towns. Israel's army says both civilians and soldiers have been taken captive, at least 200 Israelis killed. In return, Israel has launched airstrikes in Gaza, and reportedly killed 232 Palestinians.


That number also likely to rise considerably. Israel is calling up its reservists.

Sam Kiley is following all this from London and joins us now.

Sam, you know, in the great scheme of these sort of events, two other ones come to my mind. The first, of course, was the Brighton bomb in 1984, or whenever, it was in Britain, where there was no intelligence or if there was it nearly killed Margaret Thatcher. The second, of course, is 9/11, where a complete failure of intelligence up the chain led to the dreadfulness of 9/11.

In all of these cases, it's the failure of intelligence that eventually leads to the awful result and requires the explanation.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and I think to that list, you could add the Yom Kippur War, which is being marked almost to the day, 50 years since the Israelis were taken by surprise during that religious holiday by a Syrian and Egyptian combined attack against Israel that threw Israelis on to the back foot before they were able to get a grip on themselves and drive the attackers out successfully in the end.

This though, I think as of a slightly different order on two levels. The first is there's been an intelligence failure, that much is very, very obvious, in an environment that is normally, absolutely soaked with surveillance. There are blimps over Gaza, there are drones over Gaza, there are helicopters over Gaza, there are aircraft over Gaza, and there are dozens and dozens of spies within Gaza, working for the Shin Bet, the internal security agency responsible for Gaza, run by Israel.

So in that context it's been very difficult to do anything in secret in Gaza. And yet they were able to conduct this very complex operation. And then there was the military failure. I think Israelis are going to be, when this is all shaken down, having a very long hard look at how and where and why the Israeli Defense Forces were deployed.

Were they excessively deployed on the West Bank, protecting the settlements? Perhaps. There's been some criticism in the Israeli media already there. It seems that the Hamas operators have been able to penetrate Erez crossing, all very dramatic. But this is how it unfolded -- Richard.


KILEY (voice-over): A living nightmare begins for this woman taken hostage as she disappears in a captured jeep with Israeli military plates into Gaza. Palestinian militants launched a complex attack, killing dozens of Israelis on assaults from the air, sea, and land. And they've claimed to have taken numerous hostages. The Israel Defense Forces say they are prisoners of war. And this soldier was captured alive after his tank was destroyed at the Gaza border. His fate is now unknown.

The Al-Qassam Brigade released a heavily edited propaganda video that purports to show militants overrunning Israel's Erez Crossing, the most heavily fortified location on the Gaza fence. The video shows dead Israelis and prisoners. Their fate is also unknown. These scenes are intended to galvanize widespread attacks against Israel. Amid this, Hamas called to arms. If you have a gun, get it out, he said. This is the time to use it. Get out with trucks, cars, axes. Today is the most glorious and the most honorable history begins.

So far that call has not been answered. But the Hamas operation involved unprecedented firefights inside Israeli territory in which civilian cars were targeted in Sderot and civilians gunned down on roads where what are reported to be militants were also killed.

NETANYAHU (through translator): We are at war. Not an operation or in rounds, but at war. This morning, Hamas launched a murderous surprise attack against the state of Israel and its citizens. We have been in this since the early morning hours.

KILEY: This has arguably been the biggest Israeli intelligence failure since Arab nations attacked the country 50 years ago. Israel has hit back with airstrikes pounding militant targets. And at least 198 Gazans have been killed. But the country's right-wing government will be under pressure to attack deeper into Gaza, and reserves are being mobilized country wide.

AVI MELAMED, FORMER ISRAELI INTELLIGENCE OFFICIAL: It's very possible that we will witness a massive Israeli ground operation in Gaza Strip that basically will aim to try and to change totally from the ground the conditions that have been prevailed for the last almost two decades.


KILEY: Israeli forces have struggled to contain the attacks from Gaza, from the sea and bulldozer assaults on the fence around the Palestinian enclave. And with a hostage crisis looming, the initiative still remains with Hamas.


KILEY: Now, Richard, there are by the Israeli admission there, you had Jonathan Conricus talking, he was saying -- he is the IDF spokesman saying that they don't know how many hostages have been taken, and prisoners of war. But there are a very significant number. Hamas is claiming dozens of hostages. That is going to complicate matters in terms of Israel's response to this Gaza incursion.

It inevitably is going to strengthen the hand of Hamas in any future negotiations, which will be handled, no doubt, through third party such as Egypt and Qatar, as they have done in the past. This is going to be an extremely fraught period, indeed, in Israeli history. And all of the eyes really are going to be on the future of what could be a very significant number of Israeli hostages in the hands of very violent militant group inside the Gaza Strip -- Richard.

QUEST: This idea, and you alluded to it in your report, one of the interviewees we've heard again and again of remaking the ground, the reality on the ground. The defense minister says today -- you know, he says that we will change the reality on the ground in Gaza for the next 50 years. Now there is a growing number of voices out there that basically forming a consensus, that there will be ground troops.

KILEY: There almost certainly, I think, will be ground troops. There's kind of not only a political inevitability about it, but something of a military inevitability. But that doesn't mean that they will successfully rescue all of these hostages. It won't mean that they are successful in terms of ridding the Gaza Strip permanently of militant groups, who wish to do Israel harm. And it won't -- ultimately, and the reason I say all this is that we've seen ground invasions in Gaza in the past.

You can't kill everybody in Gaza, you can't flatten all the buildings. It is still full of people and those people will have a vote in terms of their actions about how the future of the Gaza Strip pans out. And add to that the fact that there could be a combatant uprising on the West Bank, potentially among Israeli Arabs or ethnic Palestinians within Israel. And you've got a very, very dangerous and explosive situation from the Israeli perspective in whatever they are boasts about what they think they can do in the future militarily -- Richard.

QUEST: All right, thank you -- Sam Kiley, thank you.

Nic Robertson is next, he's with me. Where are you tonight? Where are you now? ROBERTSON: Yes, about three kilometers from the Gaza Strip, Richard. I

just listened to a helicopter, an Israeli helicopter overheard here, hearing explosions coming from Gaza, but in the last sort of 20 or 30 minutes here, we've heard that helicopter come in the air above us and then we've heard heavy machine gunfire sounding like it's coming from that helicopter.

I don't know if you heard that there, it's up in the night sky. But that was heavy machine gunfire coming from that helicopter.

We are at the edge here of an active military zone. We've heard from the Israeli Defense Force spokesman in the last half an hour saying Israel Defense Force still do not have full control over this area here that surround Gaza. A loud explosion, again, that helicopter firing heavy machine gun down towards Gaza. That is military operations ongoing down there. The checkpoint behind me is as far, and it's going again. So these operations are underway, that's why we're not allowed to get further down the highway here.

And for the residents in this area around Gaza, they have been told since early in the day, take shelter, don't leave that shelter. Some of these civilians may still be in jeopardy right now, Richard.

QUEST: We can indeed hear the machine gunfire from the helicopters.

Nic Robertson, I'm grateful, thank you.

And this is CNN.



QUEST: Allow me to bring you up to date. Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, describes his country at war. He's threatened Hamas with, his words, mighty vengeance. It follows the attacks, the deadly barrage, that hit targets in Israel. The IDF, Israeli Defense Force, says more than 2,000 rockets were launched.

It's an escalation, major, in the long running conflict. Israel says militants have captured both hostages and prisoners of war. And the Israeli prime minister warned they are responsible for the well-being of the captives, saying, Israel will settle the score with anyone who harms them.

If you look at the casualties, the numbers rise, at least 200 Israelis are reported dead, 1500, at least, injured. And for the Palestinians, the health officials there say the reprisals of course 200 deaths and injured 1600 people. And it is only going to get worse.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour spoke to the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He was in office during Israel's 2006 ground incursion into Gaza, and now gives us some idea of the actions Israel should take.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) EHUD OLMERT, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Well, obviously, we will have to do two things in two different and separate tracks. One, we have to fight the terrorists. There is no question about it. These are brutal, vicious terrorists. They are not interested in making peace with Israel. They are motivated, inspired, equipped, and triggered by the Iranians and by others. And Israel has to plan in a very careful manner. I would not give advice to the prime minister not even through you, Christiane, and CNN.

But I think that the reaction of the prime minister has to be very calculated, very careful, very aggressive, and very powerful in a manner that will hit the terrorists and try to avoid as much as possible hurting non-involved civilians.


OLMERT: Quite a few of them. I want to add something to this.


If there was a dream or an illusion that the Palestinian issue can be ignored, I think the events of today prove that it can't be ignored. It can't be overlooked. And something must be done in order to deal with the Palestinians, not with Hamas. We have to fight Hamas, but we have to reach out to the Palestinian Authority.

We have to speak with those who are capable and are interested, and perhaps maybe ready to speak with us, which we didn't do up until now for many years already. And this is a tragic mistake. Now we will have to do it, we will have to reach out to Abu Mazen, and we'll have to fight the Hamas.

AMANPOUR: From what you know about the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank, do you believe that this could erupt further around, you know, West Bank and elsewhere, and not be limited just to the Gaza area of Israel?

OLMERT: Well, you probably know quite well that over the last few months, there is an ongoing terror activities by individuals, but it's orchestrated and inspired by the Hamas in the West Bank. So there is already terror on a lower level, on the lower level in the West Bank. But quite a significant terror. And it probably can expand and we have to be careful in the way of that. But this is not the only other arena.

The question is, what will Hezbollah do? And what the Iranians will inspire the other factions to do. So this is something that needs to be taken care of in a very careful, but in a very powerful and decisive manner. Two things, two tracks at the same time. Fighting Hamas and talking to Abu Mazen. If someone thinks that we can continue to ignore the Palestinian issue as if it doesn't exist, I think the events of today are a tragic and painful and bloody reminder of the impossibility of this dream.


QUEST: Christiane Amanpour talking to the former Israeli prime minister. We will have more in just a moment.



QUEST: There is a live picture bringing to you from Gaza City. They obviously were trying to follow the events of the night and bring to your attention any -- I mean, any explosions, any obvious missiles going across the Iron Dome. At the moment, it's relatively peaceful. Not peaceful, there isn't -- we can't see the evidence of military activity.

While we watch these pictures, I'll just remind you some news to bring you. Air France is one of those airlines that's announced it's suspending flights until further notice between France, within Paris and Tel Aviv. The company has announced on Saturday. Safety of its customers and crews is the absolute priority.

And on the political front, interestingly, the former Israeli prime minister, Yair Lapid, who actually of course lost to Benjamin Netanyahu, he says it's time to put aside political differences. He says he suggests forming an emergency narrow professional government. He says the prime minister knows that with the current extreme dysfunctional cabinet, he can't manage a war.

There are suggestions that there will be those within the ruling coalition with its very slim majority that will either leave and go elsewhere, which could call into question the ability of Netanyahu to continue to govern. So in that scenario, the prospect of Lapid holding out his hand, and saying let's have a government of national unity, bearing in mind with all of these people can't stand each other politically, and have been at each other hammering (INAUDIBLE) for the last several years over the judicial reforms.

It gives you an idea that not only tonight are we facing the severe military war that the political crisis within Israel itself, and the role of the United States will be crucial, in a sense in mediating or at least trying to limit. Wolf Blitzer spoke to the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog. He said Israel appreciates America's unwavering support.


MICHAEL HERZOG, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: So Israel is under attack. This is an unprovoked war in a holy day in the Jewish calendar. And Hamas, earlier in the day, launched thousands of rockets and sent in dozens of militants breaching the border fence and with paragliders and other means. And they are now -- there's fighting going on as we speak in Israeli villages across the border.

This is war. This is unprovoked war. And we have to fight this war and we have to win this war. And we will do it.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: As you know, Ambassador, President Biden has now spoken with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. What can you tell us, if anything, about that conversation and the partnership between the two nations in this very critical moment?

HERZOG: I will say it was a very good call. And we appreciate very strong statements of support issued by the White House and the State Department. I think everybody understands that this unprovoked attack on Israel deserves very strong unequivocal condemnation and support for Israel right to the self-defense. And as I said, this is war. And we have to fight this war and win it.


QUEST: The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is promising mighty vengeance for what he is describing as this black day with the unprecedented attack which we've been reporting to you by Palestinian militants killing at least 200 Israelis.

The vengeance has already started. Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City have killed at least 230 Palestinians. And politically, President Biden in the United States has voiced his full support and backing for Israel.


BIDEN: Today the people of Israel are under attack orchestrated by a terrorist organization, Hamas.


In this moment of tragedy, I want to say to them and to the world, and to terrorists everywhere, that the United States stands with Israel. We will not ever fail to have their back. We will make sure that they have the help their citizens need and that they can continue to defend themselves.

You know, the world has seen appalling images. Thousands of rockets in the space of hours raining down on Israeli cities. I get up this morning, I started this at 7:30, 8:00. My calls, Hamas terrorists crossing in Israel killing not only Israeli soldiers but Israeli civilians in the street, in their homes. Innocent people murdered, wounded, entire families taken hostage by Hamas. Just days after Israel marked the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar. It's unconscionable.


QUEST: I want to leave you with the latest pictures that we are getting. These are from over Gaza where you can see, you will see shortly. The military activity continues tonight. Israel attacking Gaza with more missiles coming back from the Palestinian, from Hamas, into Israel.

We'll have more after the break. Around the world, around the clock, this is CNN.