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CNN Live Event/Special

CNN International: Israel at War; Biden Argues for Increased American Assistance to Ukraine and Israel; Overnight Attacks on 100+ Hamas Targets in Gaza; Abolishing Hamas was Called for by Israeli Defense Minister; Rafah Crossing Not Anticipated to Open Today, Per Sources; Interview with Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner; MSF: Within 24 Hours, Gaza Hospital Will Run Out of Fuel; Interview with Palestine Red Crescent Society Spokesperson Nebal Farsakh; American Personnel Targeted by Rockets Near Airport in Baghdad. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired October 20, 2023 - 04:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN. More people get their news from CNN than any other news source.

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Bianca Nobilo.

MAX FOSTER, CNN HOST: I'm Max Foster. It's Friday, October the 20th, 9:00 a.m. here in London, 4:00 a.m. in Washington, where the U.S. president is making his case to the American people.

NOBILO: Joe Biden delivered a primetime address from the Oval Office, urging support for Israel and Ukraine, and he's expected to ask Congress to approve more than a hundred billion dollars, which would also include money for security at the U.S. southern border.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people. Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, and innocent Palestinian families are suffering greatly because of that. Meanwhile, Putin denies Ukraine has or ever had real statehood. He claims the Soviet Union created Ukraine.

History has taught U.S. that when terrorists don't pay a price for their terror, when dictators don't pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction. They keep going, and the cost and the threats to America and the world keep rising.

For 75 years, NATO has kept peace in Europe and has been the cornerstone of American security. And if Putin attacks a NATO ally, we will defend every inch of NATO which a treaty requires and calls for.

(END VIDEO CLIP) FOSTER: Well, there are new signs that Israel may be closer to launching a ground invasion of Gaza as it claims its fighter jets struck more than 100 Hamas targets overnight. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yaov Gallant met with troops along the border on Thursday.

NOBILO: And CNN crews in the area report an increase in military activity. The defense minister telling troops, "You see Gaza now from a distance, you will soon see it from the inside."


YAOV GALLANT, ISRAELI DEFENSE MINISTER (through translator): There is no forgiveness for this thing. Only total annihilation of Hamas organization. Terror infrastructures, everything that has to do with terrorists and whoever sent them. It will take a week, it will take a month, it will take two months until we eliminate them.


NOBILO: Truckloads of humanitarian aid along the border with Gaza will apparently have to wait in Egypt for a bit longer. Multiple sources tell CNN the Rafah Crossing is not expected to open today, but possibly will on Saturday. The World Health Organization says, that's only a start.


TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, W.H.O. DIRECTOR-GENERAL: Our trucks are loaded and ready to go. We're working with Egypt and Palestine Red Crescent Societies to deliver our supplies into Gaza as soon as the Rafah Crossing is opened.


FOSTER: Israel has cut off supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel to Gaza until Hamas releases its hostages, but now says it will not block humanitarian aid going into Gaza from Egypt.

NOBILO: The U.N. says food stocks could run out in a few days and people face a growing risk of waterborne illnesses. Doctors Without Borders says, the main hospital in Gaza only has enough fuel to run its generators for another 24 hours.

FOSTER: Let's bring in Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner. Thank you so much for joining us, Lieutenant Colonel, today. can you -- in the border of Israel -- border with Egypt rather, might be open for that, aid?

LT. COL. PETER LERNER, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES SPOKESPERSON: No, I heard your report, and that's what we're weighing on at this time. Indeed, we understand that there are preparations being made to have some truckloads of supplies coming into Gaza. Of course, our concern is where do those supplies actually end up. You know, we -- I heard the comment about the hospital not having fuel for more than -- another 24 hours. I would say, the fuel that Hamas commandeered from UNRWA just a few days ago would be more than enough to keep the hospital up and running.

FOSTER: And the U.N. says, they need 100 trucks a day, not just these 20 trucks, that's one thing. But I know that your concern is making sure the trucks are checked properly because you don't want any military equipment, for example, going to Hamas. Is that one of the delays from your point of view?

LERNER: I'm, you know, I'm not really in the -- on the Egyptian side. That is what they are doing, and I think that is where we need to be focused. Our mission is currently continuing to destroy Hamas. Their capabilities seek out and destroy their command-and-control positions. Their rocket launchers, their drone -- explosive laden drones. Wherever they are hiding, wherever they are operating, that is our focus.


The humanitarian operation is happening in parallel, mostly being coordinated by the diplomatic level. We are fighting against Hamas.

NOBILO: What is the status and the nature of the fighting at the moment on your northern border with Lebanon? Obviously, today we've heard that another town in Israel, Kiryat Shmona, which is home to around 23, 000 people, they've now had a mandatory evacuation order as well to move people away from that territory.

LERNER: And this is additional to another 28 communities that we've already evacuated. So, we are taking the necessary precautions to keep our civilians out of harm's way. We've seen an ongoing escalation over the last, now two weeks, it's 14 days. This is day 14 of this war that Hamas declared. And over the last 14 days, we've seen an ever-going escalation by Hamas against Israel, against Israeli forces operating against the -- across the border, along the border, but also against civilians that have -- that were at the border.

So, we are doing what we need to do in order to protect our civilians. Indeed, Kiryat Shmona is being evacuated, a mandatory evacuation in order to keep people's -- people -- our civilians out of harm's way. Hezbollah under the, I would say, guidance and encouragement of Iran is operating. They're doing it in order to try and divert our attention from the southern arena, but we're very, very focused on destroying Hamas, its capabilities. And we have the defensive capabilities, of course, on the northern border -- on the border with Lebanon.

There are two main concerns that I think should really concern Lebanon. First of all, the government of Lebanon, anything that happens from their sovereign territory, they need to -- they are responsible for them and they will be held accountable for. And second, I would tell Hezbollah, look very closely to how we are dismantling and destroying Hamas step by step. And they have to think if they really want to cross that threshold.

FOSTER: That's quite a significant thing you just said, that you'll hold Lebanon accountable for things that Hezbollah does. That would effectively create conflict between Israel and Lebanon, not just with Hezbollah.

LERNER: Well, absolutely. This is a sovereign state that has control over its borders. They have the responsibility to make sure that terrorists like Hezbollah, a terrorist army does not launch attacks against Israel.

NOBILO: Do you feel a responsibility in terms of the proportionality of your response to the attacks that were carried out on Israeli territory to prevent this conflict from spilling over and widening across the region because, obviously, the U.S. has said that it shot down missiles that came from Yemen. There is deep concern that this is going to escalate and potentially spill over. And the majority of that decision as to whether or not that happens depends on what you do in response to what happened to Israel.

LERNER: Bianca, it kind of sounds like you're asking us to surrender to a thousand -- three -- to the butchers --

NOBILO: I absolutely didn't say that.

LERNER: -- of a thousand --

NOBILO: I said, do you feel a sense of responsibility for preventing regional spillover because that depends on the proportionality of your response. In no way did I suggest that.

LERNER: That's what it sounded to me. As if we should not respond to terrorists in force because there's a potential of other terrorists --

NOBILO: I was asking a question about proportionality, sir. I didn't say anything about the fact that you don't have a right to defend yourself, nor is it my place to. So, I'm just asking you. Do you feel the responsibility that proportionality of your response might determine whether or not this conflict spills over to the wider region?

LERNER: Bianca, we operate based on three core values. First of all, distinction between civilians, noncombatants, and the terrorists. You see that we are targeting, destroying, and pursuing the terrorists of Hamas. Indeed, it is a densely civilian population, and therefore it poses a huge challenge for any professional military.

The second the second value that we are operating on is military necessity. So, we are targeting the military assets that Hamas has accumulated, not as a terrorist organization, but as a terrorist army. And finally, as you rightly pointed out, the issue of proportionality. And proportionality, Bianca, is not a numbers game. Proportionality weighs on the civilian casualties, the civilian impact against the military necessity and the achievements that it will give in the battleground to alleviate the military threat.

So, indeed, there is a huge challenge. If it will create a broader conflict, we need to be prepared for that. The IDF is, you know, we've recruited some 300,000 reservists in order to be prepared for an eventuality that there may be a broader conflict.


And indeed, many of those reservists will be focused on Gaza, but we have reinforced our forces along the border with the north, along the frontier. And we will protect ourselves. We will defend ourselves. And indeed, the people -- who -- Hamas are responsible for the reality in Gaza.

Hamas launched a war, a brutal massacre, a merciless attack against women, children, babies, elderly. They are holding up 203 Israelis and foreign nationals, as we speak, hostage. They are trying to manipulate emotions in order to create perhaps the chaos that -- across the region. But unfortunately, this does not and will not prevent us from defending ourselves.

And we will be proportionate in military terms. We will utilize our force in order to destroy all of Hamas's capabilities. They will never, ever be able to launch an attack, stage -- use the Gaza Strip as a staging ground against our people ever again.

FOSTER: You've talked before about how a ground invasion would obviously, the decision would be made by the government and then you would carry that out. Our sources have told us that politicians have given you the green light to go in. Can you just tell us what you're saying officially about that?

LERNER: Obviously, we are commenting specifically on any times and dates when the government indeed instructs us to. The IDF is making the necessary preparations in order to be ready to mobilize. We have accumulated quite a substantial force in the border, in the border area across services.

So, we have armored infantry, artillery, naval forces, air forces, home front command to protect our civilians. We are tasking them, so each unit, each operational force knows what their specific target task will be, when and if they need to mobilize. And yes, indeed, we are training and equipping them so that they are prepared for the battle, if it -- if and when it happens.

Now, obviously for operational concerns, I couldn't elaborate on a time and date, and I know that is what you're really interested in. When is this going to happen? But unfortunately, the current situation is we are pushing forward. We are escalating. We are striking Hamas extremely. I would say, dealing extremely strong hits. We will continue to do so in order to restore safety and security to the people of Israel.

FOSTER: OK. Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, appreciate your time today. Thank you.

LERNER: Thank you.

FOSTER: And now, the White House is expected to submit an urgent budget request to Congress today to continue funding the war efforts of both Israel and Ukraine.

NOBILO: The problem, of course, is Congress can't act on the request until House Republicans choose a new speaker, and no one knows how long that will take. CNN's Kayla Tausche has our report.


KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Biden in an Oval Office address making the argument that the world is at an inflection point, democracies against dictators, and that Ukraine and Israel are on the front lines of this war. He also made the argument that the U.S. needs to continue investing to help Ukraine and Israel win that war. Here's the president.

BIDEN: American leadership is what holds the world together. American alliances will keep us, America, safe. American values are what make us a partner that other nations want to work with. To put all that at risk, if we walk away from Ukraine, if we turn our backs on Israel, it's just not worth it.

TAUSCHE: Biden called it a smart investment that would pay off for generations, and also alluded to the fact that it would help keep U.S. troops out of those conflicts and keep the conflicts from widening. It all comes ahead of the White House asking Congress for roughly $100 billion in new aid to fund these crises. About $60 billion of that would help Ukraine continue defending itself as Russia's unprovoked invasion nears the two-year mark. And Israel, as the war with Hamas enters the two-week mark would see about $10 billion from that package.

But there remains to be seen what the path is for that package in Congress, where there's a leadership vacuum in the House of Representatives and very clear consternation among both fiscal hawks and progressive Democrats about writing blank checks to many of these countries. The White House is confident that there remains bipartisan support and that there is rough agreement among many lawmakers that the U.S. will end up on the right side of history.

Kayla Tausche, CNN, the White House.


FOSTER: CNN's Katie Polglase is covering all of this for us and she joins us now live with the latest. First, Katie, tell us about the reaction from U.S. lawmakers to Biden's request. Was there unanimity and consensus, or is it going to be more problematic than that?


KATIE POLGLASE, CNN INVESTIGATIVE RESEARCHER: It's definitely going to be quite problematic. And as we've seen in this reporting this morning, there is little unity right now in Capitol Hill. There is a leadership vacuum. There is no speaker in the House of Representatives. So, getting any kind of funding through is going to be very challenging.

And looking beyond Capitol Hill and the broader public opinion in the States, because of course that is the key question here, really, there is a divide as to whether or not funding should continue, not only to Israel, but also to Ukraine. And if you look at CNN polling in the last couple of months, there clearly is not much agreement as to how much funding there should be.

So, for Ukraine, we did a poll back in August, already over half of Americans were saying that the Congress should no longer be giving funding to Ukraine. Now, if we look -- turn to Israel, already, this is very much the start of a war. There is clearly a lot of escalation on the ground, and yet there is still not agreement amongst the American public as to whether or not there should be funding. Just 35 percent think the U.S. is giving the right level of assistance. 36 percent say, they're not sure.

So, Biden has a lot on his plate, really, to argue for more funding, and $100 billion total for all of this, not just Israel, but Ukraine, Taiwan, also the U.S. Mexico border. It's a lot of money to be asking for. And as we're seeing this morning, we're reporting on these developments on the ground. Escalation is clearly underway. Ground invasion is being talked about. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire. Getting aid in seems very challenging still. Biden's attempt in his visit there was to deescalate, to find compromises in this war, it doesn't seem to be going very well.

FOSTER: Whose fault is it that there's only 20 trucks lined up to go in and even they can't get in?

POLGLASE: Well, there seemed to be more trucks further back. There's 200 further trucks as well, we're talking about villages nearby as well, not just on the border. I think the main question as to why this crossing hasn't been opened at all, getting those 20 trucks in would at least do something. And there are people just on the other side of that border that could desperately need that aid as we are seeing these repeated aerial bombardments.

A lot of different facilities, infrastructure that help people, shelter people, help repair buildings, help treat people for injuries. All these kinds of things are getting damaged because of strikes and because of continued fighting.

And so, any kind of aid would be crucial. And as we're seeing, lots of dispute, lots of different countries involved in making that happen. Not just Egypt, which borders with Gaza, but also with Israel. Clearly, they have some views as to what kind of aid should be getting in, how much, and notably, they are not allowing aid in through the Israeli crossings into Gaza. This is just the Egyptian crossing.

So, clearly, a lot still on the table. And as you mentioned, it's only 20 trucks. There's still plenty more that needs to happen.

FOSTER: Well, the U.N. says, 100 are needed per day.

POLGLASE: Yes, the situation is dire. And as we're seeing with these strikes, it's only going to get worse. Unfortunately, there is very little agreement on the ground, and there is the risk from the Israeli side, now, of course, heavily disputed by the Palestinian side, that if you allow aid in then Hamas operatives may be able to store weaponry, they may be able to assist. That, of course, prevents any aid getting in, if you follow down that theory. And that is the issue we're facing, is that at the moment, there is no aid getting in at all.

FOSTER: OK. It's desperate. Katie, thank you so much.

From Europe to North Africa to South Asia, thousands of protesters are marching in support of Palestinians.

NOBILO: And House Republicans, embroiled in ugly arguments and no closer to picking their speaker. We'll have a closer look at Jim Jordan's uphill battle.



NOBILO: Humanitarian groups say, conditions are growing increasingly dire for civilians in Gaza. Doctors Without Borders says, the main hospital has only enough fuel to run its generators for another 24 hours.

FOSTER: Aid trucks are expected to pass through the Rafah Crossing on Saturday. Now, we're joined by the spokesperson for the Palestine Red Crescent Society Nebal Farsakh joins us from Skype -- or by Skype, from Ramallah in the West Bank. Thank you for joining us. It must be a massive frustration to you, this hold up at the border and the fact that you're only going to see 20 trucks going through at the moment, anyway, even when they do open it.

NEBAL FARSAKH, SPOKESPERSON, PALESTINE RED CRESCENT SOCIETY: Excuse me, I couldn't hear your question. If you can --

FOSTER: It must be -- this hold up at the border between Gaza and Egypt must be a huge frustration for you.

FARSAKH: It is. Actually, the Palestine Red Crescent has been preparing for the entry of a humanitarian aid over a week. Our committees are ready in Rafah and Gaza, as well as our warehouses to receive the aid and transport it to the most needy areas in Gaza. We -- our teams are still waiting to receive the aid from -- that our partners in the Egyptian Red Crescent. It's going to be a lengthy process since we need to unload the trucks to other trucks and then start the distribution process.

Up to the moment, there is a lot of confusion around the types of aid that is getting in. Also, as you just mentioned, like, 20 trucks would be not even enough to fulfill the gap that all -- the sectors in Gaza are facing, primarily the health sector as hospitals are the greatest need for the aid.

Yes. So, we're still waiting to see how the things will go on as according to our information, there will be the most important aid regarding the humanitarian aid, for example, water, food only, not -- those are the most priority. As for the hospitals we have said along that the most important is fuel, medicine and medical supplies. Up to the moment, we know that will be medical supplies and medicine. There is some confusion around the entry of fuel.


NOBILO: Can you give us an update, Nebal, on the prevalence of waterborne illnesses? I also heard earlier reports of skin rashes or diseases potentially spreading because people are in such close quarters.

FARSAKH: Absolutely. We at the Palestine Red Crescent, we run one of the hospitals in Gaza, which is Al-Quds Hospital. We have around 8, 000 Palestinians who have been internally displaced and sought refuge inside the hospital because they don't know where to go. Those who are -- were warned by the Israeli occupation forces to evacuate from Gaza and the north to the south. Since there is no place to go, so they sought refuge in our hospital, which is the same case for all hospitals in Gaza.

Now, hospitals in Gaza are not only a place for injured patients and wounded people, also a place for thousands of civilians who have sought refuge inside the hospital. So, they are using the same facilities, the same everything. There is lack of hygiene. The same case applies for schools, which is packed of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have sought refuge in the schools.

So, the situation is really so alarming, taking into consideration no water. There is no way hide for hygiene. There is lack of everything. So, that's why, there's a great concern regarding the spread of this kind of disease.

FOSTER: Nebal Farsakh in Ramallah, really appreciate your time today. Thank you.

FARSAKH: Thanks for having me.

NOBILO: For anyone who wants more information on how to help with humanitarian relief efforts for Gaza and Israel, please go to And there you'll find a list of vetted organizations providing assistance. So, once again, that's

FOSTER: A U.S. warship gets involved in a shooting incident in the Middle East, raising fears the crisis in Israel may not be contained for too much longer. That story just ahead.

NOBILO: And as world leaders come to Israel to show their support, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his country is fighting an axis of evil. That's just ahead.