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CNN International: Hamas Claims to be Holding 100 + People Hostage; Palestinians: 413 People Killed, 2,300 injured in Gaza; Iran Hails Hamas Attacks on Israel as 'Victory'; U.S. Carrier Strike Group Heads to Eastern Mediterranean; Israeli Security Cabinet Declares State of War; No Security Council Action Taken After UN Emergency Meeting; Pope Francis Calls for an End to Violence in Israel. Aired 11p-12a ET

Aired October 08, 2023 - 23:00   ET





LAILA HARRAK, CNN ANCHOR: It's Monday morning in Israel. Hamas claims to be holding more than 100 people hostage in Gaza, including high ranking Israeli officers. And that announcement comes just hours after the militants launched a major missile attack on Ashkelon in southern Israel. Here's a video of the aftermath of that strike.

While Israeli police say, an apartment building there received a direct hit, it's now been two days of strikes and retaliation.


MICHAEL HERZOG, ISRAEL AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday Hamas launched an unprovoked war against the State of Israel, firing until now over 4,000 rockets, which is more than they fired in the 10 days of the last round of war we had with them two years ago, and sending hundreds of terrorists into Israeli territory, butchering hundreds of Israelis.


HARRAK: While the death toll in Israel has now passed 700 people and that includes 260 people found dead at a music festival. Prime Minister Netanyahu has vowed vengeance as Israel responded by pounding Gaza with airstrikes.

A Palestinian Health Ministry says more than 400 Palestinians have been killed in those strikes, and other 2,300 have been wounded. Among the hostages are young people who were celebrating a Jewish holiday at a music festival near the Gaza border. But the Hamas gunmen who stormed the sites didn't just take hostages, they also murdered hundreds of festivalgoers.

And we caution you the images of the aftermath you are about to see our graphic, as CNN's Clarissa Ward saw when she visited the site. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What happened just off this quiet border road was a massacre. The bodies of the perpetrators still remain, while the fate of many victims is unknown. Organizers of the Supernova Music Festival say that thousands of young revelers had gathered to celebrate the end of the holidays.

Just snapped or 6:00 a.m. Hamas militants launched a bloody attack.

WARD (on-camera): So we're just now on the approach to the Kibbutz where that dance party was taking place. You can see there's vehicles all around here that have been shot up. We see the bodies of at least one, two Hamas fighters. I think there are more down this way.

WARD (voice-over): Many of the victims spent hours in hiding, waiting to be rescued and calling their loved ones.

WARD (on-camera): Many of them are still missing. Many of them are dead. It's been very difficult to try to get a precise number.

WARD (voice-over): Now a volunteer group that handles human remains says that at least 260 bodies have been found at the festival site. The government here took a bold step releasing an image of scores of body bags in a tent where investigators were tasked with identifying them.

WARD (on-camera): So you can see over here the body of at least one other person. I don't think you want to get too close to it. It's pretty graphic.

WARD (voice-over): Active fighting continued along this stretch of the border throughout the day as Israeli military forces poured in. So we're seeing a bunch of tanks being brought down this way. You can also hearing a steady stream of booms, apparently rockets, landing in the distance in that direction.

And certainly a feeling that people are on high alert. We tried to push further down that way. We were told no on certain terms, we needed to turn around.


HARRAK: CNN's Clarissa Ward there for us at the site of the music festival where hundreds of young people were killed or taken as hostage.

A CNN Jerusalem Correspondent, Hadas Gold joins me now. Hadas, since we last spoke, events have taken a catastrophic turn. What's the latest on the hostage crisis gripping Israel and the terrible death toll that seems to be rising?

HADAS GOLD, CNN JERUSALEM CORRESPONDENT: Well, Hamas now claims that they are holding more than 100 Israelis, both soldiers and civilians. They -- and that is an addition, potentially, to Islamic Jihad, which is another militant group in the Gaza Strip saying that they have 30 hostages.

We know that these are a combination of soldiers and civilians. A mosque claiming that's what they call senior officers are amongst the soldiers. But we also know that women, the elderly and wheelchairs and children as young as toddlers -- as young as two and a half potentially -- are among those being held by Hamas.

We do not know their conditions. We have seen videos of some of them as they're being taken away. Hamas says they're being held in strategic locations across the Gaza Strip. Laila, they're essentially using them as human shields to protect themselves while the Israeli military carries out their airstrikes targeting Hamas infrastructure and Hamas leadership across the Gaza Strip


In terms of the casualties, on the Israeli side, these casualties are in the several hundreds ranges. There's upwards of 700 have now been killed, more than 2,300 injured as a result of this. 260 of those at least are just from that music festival. That's where 260 bodies were discovered earlier -- 260 bodies were recovered earlier today.

That might not be the entire casualty count, because they might have not yet accounted for people who have died in hospital as a result of their injuries. And this situation is ongoing. Just in the last few minutes, Israeli media was reporting that there are still gun battles with militants in some -- in a southern Israeli town called Sderot.

So things are still very much developing. We haven't seen rockets necessary in the last hour, two hours or so. But we shouldn't expect that those will stop anytime soon.

In the Gaza Strip, we know that at least 400 people who have been killed, more than 2,200 have been injured. We do not know of the breakdown whether how many of those are militants, how many of those are civilians. In the same way that we don't have an exact breakdown in Israel, of how many were security or soldiers are police and how many were civilians. But Israeli military claiming that they've killed dozens, if not hundreds, of Hamas militants. But this is a rapidly developing situation that's changing by the minute.

But for Israel, it's probably the darkest day in its history. Just to give you a sense of sort of a proportion. You know, Israel is a pretty small country, 9 million or so people live in Israel. To have 700, 600 or so people killed -- to give you a sense of proportion, in the United States, I think that would be something like tens of thousands would be killed. 20,000 or so people would be killed. So for many people, Israeli citizens, they are likely in some way personally connected to somebody who has either been killed or kidnapped as a result of this attack.

HARRAK: Unprecedented. And in the meantime, Hamas, I understand, has claimed earlier that they were directing rockets toward Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv. Do we know more about that?

GOLD: Yes, this is something that Hamas or other militant groups in Gaza will often do when they start firing rockets towards Israel. And that's -- the point of this is to try to shut down the airport and try to prevent flights coming in and out. They often also target these rockets, not only towards, you know, cities and things like that, but also towards places like the ports, because they're trying to essentially freeze daily life in Israel as much as possible.

So those rockets were fired towards Ben Gurion Airport, Hamas confirming that's what they were trying to do. They also some of them were fired towards the suburbs of Tel Aviv and of course, to the cities right around the Gaza Strip. But as far as we know, the airport operations were not affected by those specific rockets.

But, of course, many, many airlines companies have already just preemptively canceled almost all, if not most of their flights, right now for safety sake.

HARRAK: So CNN's Hadas Gold reporting in Jerusalem. Thank you so much, Hadas.

And while much of the world is reacting to the Hamas attacks, with shock and outrage, one notable ally is celebrating the militant groups' actions. Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi, says his country supports, "The Palestinian nations legitimate defense" against what he calls the "Zionist regime of Israel."

And a speculation swirls over what role Iran may have played in the elaborately coordinated attacks on Israel. Iranian state media quotes Mr. Raisi as saying that, Israel and its supporters are responsible for endangering the security of countries in the Middle East.


EBRAHIM RAISI, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (via translator): It is a manifestation of resistance and standing up against the fake Zionist regime. Palestinian people, Palestinian soldiers, all Palestinian groups, and the Islamic Ummah really should be congratulated for this victory.


HARRAK: And a U.S. carrier strike group is heading to the eastern Mediterranean, that says -- President Joe Biden tells Israel that support is on its way. According to a statement from the White House, the President told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. is sending assistance for the Israeli Defense Force.

The White House also says there will be even more support for the IDF in the coming days, and it's expected that steps will be taken to bolster fighter squadrons in the region. The two leaders spoke Sunday morning to discuss the situation.

And top U.S. officials say help for Israel is on the way. U.S. officials say, these military deployments are intended to serve as a deterrent to Hezbollah and other militant groups. CNN's Oren Liebermann has more from Washington.


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. is sending a carrier strike group, the USS Gerald Ford carrier strike group, to the Eastern Mediterranean Sea as it watches the beginnings of a war unfold and Israel promising to carry out a widespread prolonged campaign in Gaza.

The purpose of this carrier strike group, which includes the carrier itself, as well as a guided missile cruiser and several guided missile destroyers, is not to get involved in this fighting or take part in any way in Israel's campaign against Gaza. Instead, it is a message to others in the region outside of Israel.

President Joe Biden said on Saturday, warning other actors in the region, without specifically naming whom, but telling them not to get involved or trying to exploit this opportunity, without naming them.


That was clearly a message to Iranian backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Iranian backed militias in Syria, a message of deterrence to them not only that carrier strike group heading from the Western Med to the Eastern Med, but also several more fighter jets heading to the region as a message of deterrence to Iran.

Those fighters won't go to Israel, but to other areas where U.S. fighters are based, again as a warning to Iran not to try to carry out any more aggression or take advantage of the situation.

Israel, we've also learned from a U.S. official and an Israeli official, has requested certain arms from the United States, in particular, precision guided munitions as well as Iron Dome interceptors. And those are the two munitions the U.S. -- Israel has used at this point.

Israel has carried out airstrikes in Gaza using precision guided munitions, so it makes sense that they're requesting more of that. And then Israel's Iron Dome has been incredibly busy intercepting barrages of rocket attacks from Gaza, pretty much since the moments this began with an opening salvo of rocket fires. So Iron Dome has played a critical role there, and Israel looking more -- for more of the Iron Dome interceptor missiles.

Israel, of course, has its own stocks in it and it uses those. But there's also an understanding that Israel can tap into U.S. stocks, some of which are in Israel in the event of an emergency and certainly, this qualifies as one.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke for a second consecutive day on Sunday. It seems they'll be keeping up a pretty steady cadence of communications, just to make sure that the U.S. is giving Israel what it has, what it wants, and what it needs. President Joe Biden and many in the Biden Administration promising full support for Israel.

Oren Liebermann, CNN in Washington. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRAK: And I want to turn now to CNN Military Analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling. He is a former commanding general of the U.S. Army Europe and the Seventh Army. Sir, good to have you with us.

The U.S. is sending Navy warships and a Pentagon announcing support for Israel, sending U.S. military assets. What is the significance of this aid, the objective? And what do you make of the specific requests that Israel made? What can you read into that?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET.) CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Hey, it's a couple of things, Laila. And first of all, thanks for having me. It has to do with the carrier strike group. The Ford Carrier Strike Group is a significant power punch for deterrence in the area, not just in support of Israel as an ally, but also to counter and deter anyone else, as Oren said in his report, actions by malign actors.

But that's not the only thing that's coming. There's also quite a few aircrafts that are going to be based in the area. This is something when I was commander in Europe, we often supported our ally Europe. It was under the European Command at the time, now it's under Central Command.

General Kurilla, who is the Central Command Commander, has judged these are the kinds of things that may be needed, first of all to deter, but also in probability that there are some Americans that are have been captured and perhaps killed, they may participate in actions to get those hostages out and coordinate with the Israelis to do that.

So multiple purposes for some of these forces that are going in. There's a lot of ammunition stocks inside of Israel that can also be resupplied. And that's the request for additional missiles to help in the Iron Dome systems. This is a system that is shared by both the United States and Israel. So there are some stocks. It's a from a company created between Israel and the United States. So those are certainly important, given the massive amount of rocket attacks that Hamas has been conducting against some key target within Israel.

HARRAK: Sir, I want to pick up on what you mentioned, of course, the U.S. citizens that are believed to be among the hostages that are taken to Gaza, and we also believe that several Americans have been killed. How does that complicates -- how does this affects, rather, any potential U.S. plans to engage if there are any such plans?

I mean, how does that complicate your -- not your response, America's response? Can they you know, have recover these citizens without going into Gaza? Is there a willingness to go into Gaza? Has that ever happened before?

HERTLING: Well, there certainly isn't a willingness to do this, Laila, because it is such a difficult situation.


But, certainly, whenever American citizens -- and I'll expand that a little bit. It's not just American citizens, but it's a -- there are citizens from other countries, who are certainly going to be identified that were part of the various attacks and have been taken by hostage.

So this is going to be more than an Israeli operation. They're going to need some assistance in terms of planning and potential casualty evacuations, as well as unfortunately, probably some individuals who have been killed in action will have to be transmitted out of the country.

So all of those things are part of what the military force does, as well as contribute to any movement of embassy personnel into or out of the area, as well as American citizens in a noncombatant evacuation operation.

HARRAK: My final question to you, you know, how might a potential extended military campaign -- and, you know, we've heard the Israeli Prime Minister, you know, preparing his citizens for a prolonged war. How might it impact, you know, the U.S. Mideast commitments and also commitments to Ukraine?

HERTLING: Yes. This is going to be a difficult week, Laila, and it's something that I've been thinking a lot about. I'm a student of the Israeli wars. I've written many papers about it as part of military requirements and courses.

And what's fascinating is, this is a repeating theme. We have seen the Israeli military having to be prepared for these kinds of things. They've even built a training center outside of Tel Aviv to train for operations in the Gaza. So these are some of the things that are going to be affecting, first of all, not just the U.S. military. You've seen Secretary Austin, working with his counterpart, the Minister of Defense Gallant, that's going to take away from some attention toward Ukraine.

There's also the congressional speaker elections that are going to be held this week that have so far appear to be a little bit chaotic. There's factors like Senator Tuberville's hold on promotions. Two of the key members of the campaign of the U.S. military that will be involved in this out of Central Command, the Deputy Commander of CENTCOM, as well as the fleet commander of the naval forces going into the area around Israel are both on that hold list that Senator Tuberville is at.

So all of these factors play a part in what's going to happen within the next few days. And it's certainly going to be a little bit chaotic and a little bit dysfunctional, as the U.S. military tries to help to different partners who are under crisis situations. because they're bearing the attacks of either terrorist or Russians.

HARRAK: Crucial days ahead. CNN Military Analyst, Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, thank you, sir.

HERTLING: Pleasure, Laila. Thank you.

HARRAK: And there's much more to come on CNN. We will have the latest on the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas. Stay with us.



HARRAK: An IDF spokesman tells CNN, more than 700 people are now confirmed killed, including soldiers and civilians, since Hamas militants launched a surprise incursion into Israel on Saturday.

Israel has been pounding Gaza with airstrikes since the government formally declared war on Hamas Sunday. While, several hours ago Hamas said it was launching a massive missile attack on southern Israel, CNN crews on the ground have reported hearing ongoing explosions and the sounds of Israeli fighter jets flying overhead.

CNN's Salma Abdelaziz joins me now from London with more. There's been no letup in the hostilities.

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. And Israel's military issuing a statement just in the last couple of hours, seeing that it has been able to carry out strikes on hundreds of targets against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It says that it's been hitting operational centers, command center. It goes on to say in the statement, the Israeli military does that it has severely degraded Hamas' capabilities.

But as you mentioned there, they are still very much able to operate. Just in the last few hours, Hamas claiming yet another barrage of rockets, some landing in Ashkelon. Claiming that it was able to fire rockets as far as Ben Gurion Airport. Claiming that Hamas was able again to take more hostages on Sunday, nearly two days into this surprise attack.

All of this a reminder of just how difficult that military objective that Prime Minister Netanyahu has set of breaking Hamas' back. Take a look at how the very early stages of that operation is unfolding.

My apologies, I thought we were -- we had video to play for you there. But again, the very early stages of this operation, we already see tens of thousands of people displaced inside Gaza. Now just from my own experience of being there, what happens is that many of those families then migrate to the city center to Gaza City. That means that that already very densely populated city becomes ever more crowded, meaning every single strike that you see has a greater potential of killing more and more civilians.

There are more than 400 people killed according to the Palestinian health ministry with hundreds more wounded. And there is nowhere to turn, and that's what's important to remember about Gaza. It is a blockaded enclave -- blockaded by air, land and sea. There are severe travel restrictions, there is no sirens if bombs are going off. There are no bunkers for families to go into. It is essentially open air for those families.

So while Hamas goes underground, according to reports, trying to save their own, entrenching itself ever deeper within the Gaza Strip. Those families, those 2 million people will have very few places to turn. HARRAK: Salma Abdelaziz reporting. Thank you very much for that update.

And the Israel Defense Forces say about 2,200 rockets have been fired at Israel. But Hamas puts the figure at 5,000. CNN's Tom Foreman looks at the numbers.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As Hamas has been showering rockets down on Israel from here all the way up to Tel Aviv in this region, military experts have been looking closely and asking a key question. How many rockets do they actually have? The truth is, nobody seems to know, except maybe Hamas itself.

Many estimates have been between six and 10,000. Although, there are plenty of experts who say that number may be way too low. That it's just a guess. Where did they get them from? 10 years ago, there was still a lot of smuggling in through Egypt and Sudan of major suppliers that they needed for building them.

Now, most intelligence agents think it's mainly homegrown in the sense that it's actually being built in this roughly six mile by 25 mile area. That they're actually building them here in clandestine rocket and missile factories.

Now, that doesn't necessarily mean they're doing it alone, because by all accounts these are getting to be more powerful, longer range, and more accurate. And a lot of that, many intelligence people think is being fueled by information from the Syrians, and from the Iranians, and maybe even still supplies coming in that way from time to time.


So as we look at these rockets moving out here, the second question that is asked is, which ones are they relying on the most? What do they have the most of? That moves into a different question. This area down here, what would be considered short range for them. Not short range in a global sense, but in terms of what they have.

These short range rockets that maybe go from six to eight to 10, 12 miles, something like that. These are mainly sort of point and shoot. They're not terribly accurate. They're easily built very cheaply. They have, presumably, the most of this according to most intelligence people. Thousands of these. More like maybe 1,600 to 2,000 of these, depending on whose estimate you look at. These are what they would consider mid-range. So you're getting up to 25 miles or so.

And then when you get up here to the top range, the most accurate ones are ones that could reach all the way up to, say, Tel Aviv with any degree of accuracy. They may only have tens of these, or maybe hundreds. Still a lot of damage packed in that. But most of them are down here.

And when you think about the areas where the fighting is happening on the ground, that would speak to those thousands at the lowest level, because everything down here is within the range of those very cheap, easy to build small kind of wild rockets out there that would, in a sense, prepare the battlefield for these militants.

Although, we pointed out this is not a battlefield. This is, in many cases, neighborhoods where just civilians are living and that's just being attacked and taken away, all under the cover of the rocket fire coming out from Hamas, which has been from the beginning, one of their chief tools for attacking Israel.

And there's much more to come on CNN NEWSROOM including a live reports on how the conflict between Israel and Hamas might escalate and how the U.S. might play a role. Stay with us.



HARRAK: More than 1,000 people have been killed in the fighting between Hamas and Israel, and that includes 700 now declared dead in Israel from Hamas attacks. Hamas also says they have taken more than 100 people hostage and Prime Minister Netanyahu has vowed vengeance as Israel responded by pounding Gaza with airstrikes. The Palestinian health ministry says more than 400 Palestinians have been killed in those strikes, and other 2,300 have been wounded.

Joining us now is CNN Senior International Correspondent Sam Kiley. Sam, the U.S. at this hour is moving U.S. warships and aircraft to Israel. It's being billed as deterrence. Is this just a show of force? How will their presence be received in the region?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it is a show of force. When you deploy a carrier group capable of putting some up to 90 fighter bombers into the air, it's a show of force that demonstrates very potent potential force.

Now the reason it's being moved to that location is not just to reassure Israel, but to suggest to Israel's enemies, chief among them, I think the Iranians, that any kind of escalation beyond the borders from -- of Israel will could be met by, not just its own Israeli response, but an American response.

You'll recall that President Biden yesterday wagged his finger and pointed, but didn't mention the name of any outside nation. But everybody knew what he was talking about, when he said that others should not take the opportunity of Hamas' infiltration of Israel and the atrocities there to try to attack Israel.

Now, clearly, the biggest threat externally close to Israel comes from Hezbollah. Hezbollah is controlled largely from Tehran. It is an extremely dangerous force with a very, very large armory of rockets, capable of hitting targets throughout Israel.

But Hezbollah also knows, because it has been told in no uncertain terms that if it were to attack Israel in a significant way, the whole of Lebanon would be very heavily bombarded by the Israelis. And that is something I think that the Lebanese know that they definitely can't afford, least of all at the moment when they're in such an appalling political, economic state. HARRAK: And Sam, there are now also fears of an imminent ground invasion in the Gaza Strip. What urban warfare look like in Gaza?

KILEY: Well, we've seen it before. So we know exactly what it looked like. Looks like last time the Israelis went in, it was extremely bloody, it's extremely complex environment to fight in. It's one of the most densely populated areas on Earth. About 2 million people live there. Very tight streets, very high, high rise buildings, poorly made many of them. A lot of them, of course, now very badly damaged by continuously Israeli airstrikes.

They would use artillery in advance of advancing infantry. They would have armored vehicles, they were have tanks. But they're -- all of those armored vehicles are of very limited use in that very tightly packed area.

And then you've got the very complicating issue of what Hamas claims to have at least 100 hostages taken from Israeli territory, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad about 30. So if you've got 130 hostages there, that makes Israelis calculations that much more complicated.

You'll recall that last time they did an invasion there, the Israelis had one soldier captured alive. He was five years later exchange for over 1,000 -- the release of over 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails. And now there's 130 hostages there. So this is going to be extremely difficult.

It's going to be difficult politically for the Israeli government not to go in on the ground and to enter it in negotiations with Hamas. But it's very difficult to see even if those negotiations are through backchannels, how else they are going to get their hostages out other than ultimately by negotiation.

But I think we're certainly going to see a lot more violence unleashed inside the Gaza Strip over the next week or so for absolute sure.

HARRAK: And in the meantime Hamas is still launching rockets. I'm just wondering, I mean, how long can they keep this up?


KILEY: Well, the more primitive, what they call the Qassam rockets, they make in Gaza. I mean, they make all of these rockets in Gaza. Some, though, without question have more sophisticated long range components that have been imported and supplied by Iran. It's largely funded, according to Israeli military intelligence by Iran, a lot of these rocket components.

But they make them out of equipment that looks like drain pipes, some rocket fuel, and some homemade explosives. They're unsophisticated, unguided, inaccurate, but deadly if they hit and they can get through the Iron Dome. And of course, the more they make, the harder it is for the Iron Dome, defensive anti-missile missile systems that the Israelis use to a very, very significant effect.

But if you fire enough into the air, some eventually get through. Two, for example, got through into, I think, it was Ashkelon, earlier on today when CNN was reporting from there. So in that context, the -- they can carry on making, I think, many thousands of these lower, more primitive missiles. But longer range missiles are much harder to come up with, and I think they'll be used much more sparingly by Hamas, and indeed those other militant groups then in Gaza.

HARRAK: Sam Kiley reporting, thank you very much for your coverage.

And we're hearing more accounts now of the people taken hostage by Hamas attackers at the Music Festival in Israel. Because the captives can't share their own stories right now, their family members are doing it for them.

Uriel Bohbot's brother Al Khanna was abducted from the festival. He and Al Khanna's (ph) friend Liel Cohen spoke to Anderson Cooper earlier and they told him how they found out about Al Khanna's kidnapping.


URIEL BOHBOT, BROTHER HELD HOSTAGE BY HAMAS: So I will called all his all his friends that go to this peaceful music festival. Everybody was not available. I'm trying and trying and keep trying till someone -- one of them answer me. He was home already. He actually leaves -- leave early when they got attacked, because the first attack was about 10 or 15 minutes from this late.

And then when he answered me, he just told me, I just saw your brother on the video. This video coming from the other side -- from Gaza side. And I told him that I can't believe. I thought that he's just playing with me and laughing with me. And he just sent me the video. And from then till now I mean shocked. I don't know what to do. We don't have any piece of information after that video.

And you can see on his face how much is scared. And you can see on his face that they hit him on his face. And terrible. You know, I'm speechless. Sorry. But I really want to share the story to the world and ask for to join me and to bring my brother back home as soon as possible.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, ANDERSON COOPER 360: Liel, I know you are coming to Israel. Have you -- has the family been contacted by Israeli authorities? Do you have any more information about Al Khanna's whereabouts or his condition?

LIEL COHEN, FRIEND HELD HOSTAGE BY HAMAS: There is no certain information right now. And actually there is still misinformation about other people that got kidnapped. So, we don't know their situation.

But the moment that we saw the video, we're still waiting to the government to respond of, like, what's going to be our plan and how we're going to strategize to bring him back home. We're still hopeless, waiting for any kind of help from the government. But we don't receive it right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARRAK: Uriel Bohbot and Liel Cohen, speaking to Anderson Cooper.

Well, meantime U.S. officials tell CNN they have not linked Iran to the attacks on Israel this weekend. But they're still trying to determine if it played any role. With one senior officials saying Iran has clearly provided support to Hamas for years.

CNN's MJ Lee has more now from the White House.


MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials tell CNN that at this moment in time there is still no smoking gun that paints a direct connection between Iran and Hamas' attack in Israel over the weekend. The officials, of course, point out that there is a history of Iran funding and aiding Hamas.


As one US official put it to CNN, they said, of course, Iran is in the picture and they have been supporting Hamas and Hezbollah for a number of years. And it does appear that U.S. officials are also more openly pointing to the possibility and the likelihood that it will soon be found that Iran had played a direct role in helping to plan and execute this deadly attack.

Now, we are aware also of an administration briefing that was held with lawmakers to share information about what the administration knows so far. And one of the things that we'll share tonight with lawmakers is that four Americans at least have been confirmed dead in Israel. Officials also warning that that number could rise in the coming days.

This, of course, all unfolding, as the U.S. is continuing to determine what additional assistance could be offered to Israel in the coming days. There have been military assets that have quickly mobilized into the region. And one key point of discussion in the coming days is going to be whether there could be additional assistance that is offered to Israel.

But of course, one complicating factor right now is that Congress is in a state of paralysis with not a permanent house speaker in the role, so it's unclear right now. And administration officials say that they are very much in a unique situation, because they don't know exactly what a nonpermanent House Speaker, what actions they might be able to take, even if there was consensus around a new assistance package for Israel. MJ Lee, CNN, the White House.


HARRAK: And there's much more to come on CNN. After a short break, we'll have the latest on the brutal conflict that has erupted between Israel and Hamas. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) HARRAK: The president of Iran is congratulating Palestinians after the surprise Hamas attacks that have left more than 700 people dead in Israel. President Ebrahim Raisi said, Sunday, that Tehran supports what he described as the legitimate defense of Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Hamas says it is holding more than 100 people house Stage in Gaza. And that announcement came just hours after the militants launched what they called a major missile attack on the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon.


Now, Israel has been launching counter strikes in Gaza. And according to the Palestinian health ministry, more than 400 people have been killed and another 2,300 have been wounded.

And earlier CNN's Richard Quest spoke with the Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, the International spokesperson for the IDF. Richard asked him what it would take to remove Hamas militants from Israel. Take a listen.


JONATHAN CONRICUS, IDF INTERNATIONAL SPOKESPERSON: The issue is that there were approximately, we assess, a 1,000 Hamas terrorists who crossed from Gaza through various crossings into Israel. And out of those 1,000, approximate, we were able to kill -- we've been able to kill more than 400.

But there -- once we closed the border and started to regain control, after a few hours of events, then there are many terrorists who were left in (inaudible) and have no way of getting out. And what we're seeing in the last hours or actually the last day is sporadic appearances of terrorists who understand that there is no way to go back to Gaza, and they then choose to try to attack civilians or to engage with Israeli security forces.

So the Israeli South is still unstable. We're talking about the area in the close proximity to the Gaza Strip, the envelope within a few kilometers of distance. By the way, crossings, I don't know, we haven't spoken about this. But the most of those ISIS inspired white Toyota trucks that the terrorists used in order to get into Israel, most of them crossed from the pedestrian humanitarian crossing in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, which is called the Erez crossing. The same crossing that provided the livelihood for about 20,000 Palestinian workers who have been working inside Israel over the last many months.

So that is the irony. And cynicism rolled into one.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS EDITOR AT LARGE: The you're a military man, and no military man likes to fight unless absolutely necessary. You're also familiar with this whole concept of escalation. And the massive response that Israel is undergoing, at the moment, whilst understandable in its facts, is only going to basically take us further down towards the gates of hell. CONRICUS: Well, if speaking about hell, you know, an Israeli general a day and a half ago said that, Hamas opened the floodgates of hell on Gaza. And Hamas is responsible for everything that happened for the killing of Israeli civilians, and for what's going on in Gaza now.

Now, that by no means indicates that we are not going to fight according to the laws of armed conflict. We will, because that is who we are. But what is happening is that we are going -- we have been tasked by the Israeli government to take out all of Hamas' military capabilities. So this isn't against civilians. This is against Hamas' military capabilities and their governing capabilities. And the end state is, a situation where Hamas has neither of those two.

QUEST: Right.

HARRAK: CNN's Richard Quest there speaking earlier with the International Spokesperson for the IDF.

And meanwhile, the UN Security Council took no action, Sunday, following an emergency meeting over the fierce fighting between Israel and Hamas. Israel's ambassador to the UN called Saturday's assault ruthless terror attacks, likening them to Israel's 9/11.

CNN's Richard Roth has more from the United Nations.


RICHARD ROTH, CNN SENIOR UN CORRESPONDENT: The UN Security Council failed to agree on a statement following Hamas attacks against Israel, which has killed hundreds of people.

However, the U.S. Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood told reporters, the U.S. was not really expecting that and was pleased that several members of the Council did speak out about Hamas' attacks.

ROBERT WOOD, DEPUTY U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: When you say protecting civilians, we are very much concerned about the impact of this invasion by Hamas, not just on civilians right in that immediate area, but in the region, this conflict could grow. And we don't want to see that happen. And obviously our thoughts are with all civilians that are hurt. But what we need to focus on is this ongoing terrorist violence being committed by Hamas.

ROTH (voice-over): Earlier in the day, the Israeli ambassador said Hamas was guilty of war crimes, while the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations said that only now does the world in history care when Israelis are killed.

The United Arab Emirates, the sole Arab country currently on the Security Council, thought some progress had been made, but the ambassador thought there'd be many more meetings ahead.


LANA NUSSEIBEH, UAE AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: I think the situation is stark and the council members are highly concerned. But we understand that right now we're in a very dynamic situation and a complex situation and in a state of flux, and that all Council members have to use both their international, but also their bilateral channels to try and call for calm and de-escalation.

ROTH: The Security Council received a remote briefing from the UN special envoy for the Middle East. Every month the Security Council holds a session on the Palestinian question. Things may be changing now on the agenda. Richard Roth, CNN, United Nations. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRAK: And there are very few commercial flights going in and out of airports in Israel at the moment and some carriers are in a wait and see mode right now. Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport saw a number of flights canceled on Saturday. American Airlines says it has canceled all flights from Tel Aviv to New York, JFK through Monday.

American is allowing customers to change their flights free of charge. And Delta Airlines canceled flights to and from Israel through the weekend and says it will work with the U.S. government with the repatriation of U.S. citizens who want to come back home.

Israel's Prime Minister is vowing to turn parts of Gaza into rubble, as Hamas claims it's taken more than 100 people hostage, including women children, since its deadly attack on Israel began. The latest, next on CNN.


HARRAK: The militant group Hamas now says it has taken more than 100 hostages, including some high ranking Israeli army officers since its surprise attack on Israel began Saturday morning.

Hamas announced hours ago that it was carrying out a major missile attack on the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon. Well that included what Israeli police say was a direct hit on an apartment building there. The death toll has now reached at least 700 in Israel, including 260 at a music festival and some 400 Palestinians.

Pope Francis is responding to the horrific attacks in the Holy Land, calling for an end to violence. Speaking in St. Peter's Square on Sunday, the Pope pleaded to stop the attacks and the weapons saying, that terrorism and war do not lead to any solution. The Pope also expressed his sympathy to the families of the victims.



POPE FRANCIS (through translator): I found with apprehension and sorrow what is happening in Israel, where violence has exploded even more quickly, causing hundreds of deaths and injuries. I express my solidarity with the relatives of the victims. And I pray for all those who are experiencing hours of terror and anguish.


HARRAK: And he went on to say quote, "War is a defeat. Every war is always defeat." Pope Francis also urged everyone to pray for peace.

And with that message we end this hour of CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Laila Harrak. Do stick around, I'll be back in just a moment with more news.