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New Video Shows Two Hostages Just Released By Hamas; Israel Ramps Up Air War As U.S. Seeks Delay In Ground Invasion; Now: House GOP Meeting To Hear From Nine Candidates For Speaker; Israeli-American IDF Soldier From Maryland Killed in Missile Attack. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired October 23, 2023 - 18:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Here in the Middle East, as the casualties of war continue to compound, many of you watching, I know, feel compelled to try to help with humanitarian relief efforts for the innocent victims here in Israel and also in Gaza.

You can head to CNN has a list of vetted organizations on the ground responding. That's

Our coverage continues now with Wolf Blitzer in the Situation Room. I will see you tomorrow again live from Tel Aviv.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, new video of two Israeli hostages just released by Hamas. Stand by for the latest on their condition as more than 200 other civilians remain in captivity and in danger right now.

Also tonight, new scenes of far-reaching destruction in Gaza, Israel wrapping up its air war against Hamas, as sources say, the U.S. is urging the Israelis to hold off on a ground invasion so more hostages can get out and more desperately needed aid can get in.

And here in Washington, House Republicans are about to meet behind closed doors to hear from nine members now vying to be the next speaker. GOP lawmakers back to square one as the speaker fight drags on and the House enters a third week of paralysis.

Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

And let's get right to the breaking news on the release of two Israeli hostages and how it figures into this war against Hamas. CNN journalists are working the story in the region as well as here in Washington.

First, let's go to CNN's Erin Burnett. We're learning this live from Tel Aviv right now. Erin, what are we learning about these freed hostages?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Well, Wolf, we know that there are two more hostages freed tonight and that is something, of course, for those families to celebrate and that hopefully gives other hostages hope, although, of course, there is so much despair for them tonight.

Nurit Cooper, 79 years old, she is a teacher. She has been released along with Yocheved Lifshitz, who is 85 years old, a photographer. And actually, she was one of the founders of the kibbutz where both women were abducted from, that is, Nir Oz, along the Gaza border. Both of their husbands are still held hostage.

I can tell you the latest we have right now, though, is that in ambulances, our CNN teams are reporting, we're seeing arriving, from Rafah, from Gaza, from the Rafah crossing into Egypt soon after this hostage release had been negotiated. And obviously there's speculation that perhaps these two women could be inside them. They're being taken to medical facilities to be evaluated and their families will be waiting for them there.

The Israeli government, interestingly, Wolf, is specifically thanking the Red Cross for this as well as Egypt. Egypt is the main facilitator. You will remember for the American hostages on Friday that the facilitator was Qatar. But in this case, thanking Egypt and the Red Cross, and also specifically, interesting, Wolf, thanking the IDF and Israeli security forces as well, which is something just to take into consideration the implication, obviously, that there is a direct Israeli involvement in these negotiations.

BLITZER: Interesting. Erin, despite the release of these two hostages, Israel, as all of us know, has been focused in on preparing for a pretty significant ground invasion, right?

BURNETT: Yes. So, the other statement out of Prime Minister Netanyahu's team today, our only consideration is the security of the state of Israel. Really, these are just the only aircraft we see here, Wolf, now tend to be military helicopters. That's what you're hearing right now.

But, obviously, you did have the Defense Minister of Israel today making comments to troops going to visit them, because, obviously, they've been ready to go, ready to go, expecting to get that green light to actually go, and then there's been delay after delay, again, saying that there would be an assault in the air, ground, and sea, and it will come soon. Do your work. Get ready. We will need you.

And, of course, this comes as Israel today stepped up their assault on Gaza, more than 300 strikes over last night. Strikes continue now. They say they've killed the Hamas commander of the rocket launching unit, as well as five Hamas aerial array commanders, they call them. They say some of those were directly involved in the attacks of October 7th. They say they've killed five of those Hamas level commanders since this war began 17 days ago, Wolf.

BLITZER: Erin Burnett reporting for us, and, of course, we'll get a lot more reporting from Erin later tonight on Outfront. That starts right at the top of the next hour.

This new hostage release comes as sources tell CNN the U.S. has been urging Israel to delay a potential ground invasion of Gaza in part to allow more time for efforts to free Americans and other captives. [18:05:00]

CNN's Alex Marquardt is looking into this part of the story for us and you've done some significant reporting, Alex. How does this hostage release influence the administration's thinking right now?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly reinforces their thinking and encourages the fact that they have been pushing for this delay in the thinking that more time before Israel's ground invasion into Gaza could allow for not just more hostages to come out but more aid to go in, which is what we've seen over the course of the past few days.

And, Wolf, that attitude by the administration is being reinforced We're told by a US official to our colleague, M.J. Lee, that the Israeli military has told the Biden administration that there are still American Hostages who are alive Among those 200-plus hostages still in Gaza. So, that is certainly encouragement for the Biden administration.

Meanwhile, Wolf, we have been told that as a result of this hope that more hostages can get released, that the U.S. has been encouraging Israel to not go in. Israel, however, says that they are ready to go and they are -- excuse me, they are -- the U.S. doesn't want to be seen as being told be -- as telling Israel what to do. So, there are big questions now about what happens next.

Hamas is certainly being pressed to release bigger groups of hostages. But even if Israel delays, they're certainly not going to wait forever. So, this invasion could be coming very soon. Wolf?

BLITZER: What happens when these hostages are released, Alex? And what sort of information potentially could they provide?

MARQUARDT: Well, they could provide all kinds of intelligence about the conditions that they were living under in Gaza. So, we understand that the Raanan's, Judith and Natalie Raanan, who were released on Friday, that they are still in Israel and that they will be speaking with U.S. officials who will be asking them all kinds of questions about their time in custody, their treatment where they were. We can imagine that the Israeli officials will be asking them the same things as well as to these two ladies who have -- these two women who have just been released today that are certainly going to inform what Israel knows about how Hamas is keeping these hostages.

And, of course, as they prepare for this ground invasion, that intelligence could prove to be absolutely critical because we understand that these hostages are spread out all across the Gaza Strip, being kept underground, in tunnels and in bunkers. And certainly the Israelis and the Americans want to know as much as they can before this ground invasion is launched. Wolf?

BLITZER: Good point. Alex Marquardt, thank you very much.

Now to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, some more aid trucks made it through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt into Gaza today, even as Israel has been ramping up its air war against Hamas.

CNN's Clarissa Ward is joining us live from Cairo right now. Clarissa, people in Gaza are waiting for aid to trickle in as bombs fall and conditions grow more dire. Update our viewers.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. I mean, the situation was critical. Now the word you use is exactly apt. It is dire. Today, we saw another convoy of just over 30 trucks going in. That brings the total to just over 60 trucks in the last three days. But to give some perspective to our viewers, in a normal 16-day period, there would have been 7,000, more than 7,000 trucks of aid that would have gone into Gaza.

And that's in a normal 16-day period, which doesn't take into account, of course, the punishing bombardment you heard from Erin earlier, more than 300 strikes yesterday. Some Hamas commanders were killed in those strikes, but also hundreds of civilians, Wolf.

And the images that we're seeing coming out of Gaza hospitals are just horrendous at the moment. One of the most crucial things that they need, desperately, of course, is fuel. Israel has cut off the electricity in Gaza. Therefore, all these hospitals are reliant on generators, and generators at the moment are powered by fuel. But fuel can't get into Gaza for the moment, because this is one of the real sticking points.

In all these efforts and all these diplomatic talks to try to facilitate the continued flow of humanitarian aid, fuel is the tough one. The Israelis are concerned that Hamas will end up taking the fuel and using it. They don't want to see that happen.

But without fuel, it's not just even about generators, it's about desalination. We spoke to a doctor who talked about people drinking brackish water at the moment. That's leading to a huge uptick in preeclampsia in pregnant women in Gaza. And so you're having all kinds of knock-on effects and still no sign, really, that there is going to be a continuous, sustained humanitarian corridor, and that crucially fuel will be able to get into Gaza anytime soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: Clarissa, I know you had a chance to speak to a doctor at the largest hospital in Gaza City about how desperate the situation is there on the ground.


Tell us about that.

WARD: That's right, Wolf. So, we spoke to Dr. Marwan Abusada. He is the chief surgeon at the Al Shifa Hospital. That's in Northern Gaza. They have been told repeatedly to evacuate. He told us that they have 5,000 patients at the moment, 700 beds and 5,000 patients. They also have thousands of displaced people living in and around the hospital premises. He says that to evacuate is simply not an option for these people. Many of them are severely wounded or they can't move.

And he talked again about the crucial importance of getting that fuel. He said there are just two days left before they will run out of fuel entirely and there will be really catastrophic consequences. Take a listen.


WARD: If you do run out of fuel in two days, what will you do? I mean, what can you do?

DR. MARWAN ABUSADA, CHIEF OF SURGERY, AL SHIFA HOSPITAL: I think the international community will be part of the process of killing of our people. If they don't act on Israel to allow to get this fuel into Gaza, what to do for the people who are in the ICU and mechanical ventilator? What about the neonatal, the neonates, the small babies? We have more than 130 in our neonatal ICU units. What to do with them? They will -- okay, I think we are allowing them to die in peace. This is the issue if we don't have a fuel to run our generators in the hospital.


WARD: So, you heard that there, Wolf. He says that he has more than 130 babies in the neonatal unit. They are all dependent on these ventilators, incubators that will only be powered if they get fuel. We've spoken to Egyptian government sources who say this is a source of real frustration that they can't seem to come up with some mechanism for some and of agreement on this issue, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Clarissa Ward reporting from Cairo, Egypt, thank you very much.

Joining us now from Tel Aviv, the Israel Defense Forces spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, Lieutenant Colonel, thanks so much for joining us.

First, let me get to this very sensitive issue. What can you tell us about the condition of these two Israeli hostages who were released today by Hamas?

LT. COL. JONATHAN CONRICUS, SPOKESPERSON, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: Hi, thank you for having me again. The condition is that they are now being examined by doctors, by Israeli doctors. I still do not know the exact condition. I have heard unconfirmed reports about the medical state of one of them, but still unconfirmed and unofficial. And as soon as we will have more information about the state of these two elderly Israeli women that were taken and now released, we will update.

BLITZER: Yes. Yocheved Lifshitz, 85 years old, and Nurit Cooper, 79 years old, there you see pictures of them.

CNN has learned, Lieutenant Colonel, that U.S. officials are urging Israel to delay its ground invasion of Gaza to try to release more hostages and facilitate more aid to come into a Southern Gaza from Egypt. How much is Israel weighing that advice based on what you know?

CONRICUS: I will answer that, Wolf. I just want to say something about the story that was aired before from Cairo. You know, there is fuel in Gaza. Hamas has fuel. Hamas has quite a lot of fuel, about a thousand liters, if not more than that. And they can decide where to use that fuel.

And I find it strikingly absent from the discussion, from many discussions, what is Hamas doing with the resources that it has. It's only about Israel and Egypt and U.N. and international organizations. What about Hamas? Why aren't the questions posed to Hamas? Why don't you use some of the fuel that you have stockpiled and hoarded in advance of this situation and use it for the civilians?

BLITZER: So, what you're saying, Lieutenant Colonel -- if I understand what you're saying, Lieutenant Colonel, you're saying Hamas has fuel, but they're not making it available to the hospitals, is that what you're saying?

CONRICUS: Exactly. And they are using these poor civilians, which are not our enemy and not our target. They're using them cynically, just in order to milk every drop of international pity and legitimacy for their horrific activities, and they're using their own civilians to do it. Hamas has fuel, and Hamas should use the fuel not to fight against Israel, but really to care about the civilians that they are responsible for.

BLITZER: Important point indeed.

All right, let's get back to this other very sensitive issue. As you know, multiple sources have told CNN that U.S. officials have asked Israel to delay its ground invasion, especially after they were told more American hostages are alive.


No U.S. official is denying our reporting.

Is Israel considering delaying its ground invasion operation of Gaza?

CONRICUS: So, what I can say is that the level of the coordination is intimate, minute by minute. We share intelligence, we share assessments, we share the location and position of our troops, the capabilities, assessment of the enemy, and we look at this war that has been forced upon us both through a local lens and then, of course, a regional and international lens.

I am not concerned by a day or two of delaying operations because we use that in order to prepare ourselves even better. As we speak now, the ground forces are ready and prepared, and once they will be ordered by the cabinet to do so, they will launch ahead and bring the fight to Hamas and start hunting Hamas in the tunnels.

BLITZER: Are you at all concerned, Lieutenant Colonel, that as more hostages are being released and the situation in Gaza deteriorates, the public image of Israel could deteriorate if it goes into Gaza with a large number of troops on the ground?

CONRICUS: I am concerned by the fact that many people are people, organizations, officials, et cetera, for somehow maybe have a short- term memory and forget how this started. On the first day of the war, a few hours after the massacre of October 7th became apparent, I tweeted before I even got back into uniform, remember how this started. And I say that again today, remember how it started. It didn't start with Israel launching an attack. It didn't start with us butchering civilians. It started with them doing that.

And, yes, there is a risk of the news cycle of being hijacked by images out of Gaza, and, sad, I admit they are sad stories coming out of Gaza, but they are not Israel's making. They are the making of Hamas. And we will fight on the ground, we will fight in the air and we will fight in the realm of media and information to see it that truth gets out and that people who, for some reason, do not want to see reality as we see it from here will be reminded of how this started and what we are trying to do.

We are not fighting the civilians, we are not targeting them, we are targeting Hamas and it is them that we are going to defeat.

BLITZER: One hospital in Gaza now says they're consuming 9,000 liters a day, so clearly more fuel is desperately needed. I just wanted to point that out. Do you want to react to that, Lieutenant Colonel?

CONRICUS: I agree that more fuel is needed. First and foremost, everybody in the north should evacuate. That's the first order, and it should have been done long ago. And there's been ample time, more than a week, a week and three days, since we issued the first warning urging civilians to go south. So, people who care about it should have facilitated it with ambulances and whatever equipment available and should have gotten it done by now.

And second thing, yes, reprioritize your assets, Hamas. You have fuel to give it to the civilians and don't hoard it in order to run your H.Q.s underground and facilitate rocket launch to Israel and care for the families only of the select Hamas officials. Provide for the Palestinians in Gaza.

BLITZER: Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, thanks so much for joining us.

CONRICUS: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Just ahead, another live report from the region on this new hostage release as fears of a wider Middle East war are escalating.

And up next, I'll ask the key White House official, John Kirby, about the Hamas strategy on hostages and whether it's helping to delay an Israeli ground invasion against Hamas in Gaza.



BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news on the two Israeli hostages just released today by Hamas. They're reportedly in stable condition after arriving in Egypt. Let's get some more on all of these developments. Joining us now is John Kirby, the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications. John, thanks so much for joining us.

Why do you think Hamas is again releasing this time just two more of these 200-plus hostages they currently have? What do they hope or expect to get in exchange?

JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: It's difficult to know really what the motivation on their side is to do this now in piecemeal fashion. You had two on Friday and now two today.

Obviously, we're glad that two more people are safe and going to be back with their families soon. That's really important. But I can't get inside their head and what they're thinking. As you heard President Biden say recently is today, they just need to release all of them. There's no reason to be holding anybody. They should release them all. And short of that, we're going to keep working with our partners in the region to try to get the rest of them out, particularly those handful of Americans that we know they're still holding.

BLITZER: CNN has learned that the U.S. has intelligence right now that Iranian-backed militia groups are planning to further ramp up attacks against American forces in the Middle East. What is the Biden administration prepared to do to combat this?

KIRBY: Well, without speaking to a specific intelligence, this is something we've been watching very, very closely. In fact, today we were very clear publicly that we know Iran is backing these groups. We know that they're giving them the means, the resources, training, the encouragement and direct contacts with the IRGC, the Quds Forces, Revolutionary Guard, to conduct these attacks on our troops.

We will do what we have to do to protect our forces and our facilities in the region. That will continue. And we've sent a strong signal to Iran, through the additional military capabilities that we're putting in the region, that we have national security interests writ large across that region and we're going to protect and defend them as well.

BLITZER: So, is a U.S. war against Iran possible?


KIRBY: I think what we want to see more than anything, Wolf, is no widening of this conflict, no deepening of it. And we continue to send a strong message to actors in the region, including Iran, that if you're thinking about jumping in here, if you're thinking about deepening and widening and escalating, don't do it. We will take our national security interests very, very seriously in the region, and we've added to the military capabilities to make sure that we can do that.

BLITZER: I want to play something that President Biden said earlier today about the war that's ongoing between Israel and Hamas, and I want to play it for you and for our viewers. Listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We should have ceasefire. Not a ceasefire, we should have those hostages released and then we can talk.


BLITZER: What did the president mean by saying, and then we can talk? Is a ceasefire, John, on the table of Hamas releases all of the hostages?

KIRBY: I thought the message was pretty clear to Hamas, release all the hostages. That needs to be the first move here. They've got to release all the hostages. We're not talking about a ceasefire right now. In fact, we don't believe that this is the time for a ceasefire. Israel has a right to defend themselves. They still have work to do to go after Hamas leadership. We're going to keep supporting them. We're giving them more security assistance.

Your previous guest talked about sort of their operational picture. I'll let them speak for that. But our focus is on making sure that they have what they need to carry on this fight.

BLITZER: John Kirby at the White House, thank you very much for that update.

KIRBY: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: And coming up, we'll go back to Jerusalem for a live update on the two hostages who were just released by Hamas.

And you'll also hear directly from a Palestinian-American who's trapped in Gaza right now with his family.

Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.



BLITZER: Two newly freed Israeli hostages are heading toward reunions with some of their loved ones after they're released by Hamas within the past few hours but their husbands remain captive still in Gaza tonight.

CNN's Sara Sidner is in Jerusalem with more details. Sara, what are we learning about these two women and their release?

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR AND SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: These two ladies are from the Nir Oz Kibbutz. They were finally released 16 days after Hamas snatched them away from their home.

Their names are Nurit Cooper and Yocheved Lifshitz. They were released and they were handed over, by the way, to the Red Cross at the Rafah border, that crossing between Gaza and Egypt. And they are expected to be brought back to Israel, according to the family of Mrs. Lifshitz, who says that they are so, so happy to hear that their mother has been returned, but their whole bodies are focused on all of the other hostages who are stuck there in Gaza.

According to the Nir Oz Kibbutz, a huge number of people from that kibbutz were either kidnapped, killed, or are still missing. They say that Lifshitz was one of the founders of the kibbutz. She worked as a photographer and she was a teacher. And she's been a peace and human rights activist throughout her entire life.

Cooper, for her part, moved to the Nir Oz Kibbutz in its very early years, and she has been a teacher for early childhood education. We are seeing these women in this situation where their husbands are still stuck there as hostages. It has to be a terrifying moment for them, but they are released. That makes 4 of the 222 people that Israel said was captured, kidnapped, and is now a hostage in Gaza at this point in time, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're so pleases that Yocheved Lifshitz and Nurit Cooper are now freed from being hostages. Sara, thank you very much for that report.

The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, controlled by Hamas, says hundreds of people were killed after intensified Israeli airstrikes across Gaza overnight, including 182 children. Residents say there is no safe place from Israeli bombardment inside Gaza, including the compound of one of the oldest churches in the world.

CNN's Jomana Karadsheh has the story for us. We want to warn our viewers there is graphic video in her report.


JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): This is a war on Hamas, Israel says, but it is the people of Gaza who are paying the heaviest price. No place safe, no place spared, Israel's wrath. Danger looms around every corner of this besieged land every day, every minute, spent in fear of when death may strike. Many now write their children's names on their legs, so if they're killed, their little ones are not just a number.

Israel says it doesn't target civilians. It's Hamas, they say, that's using them as human shields. They try to avoid civilian casualties, they say, but the numbers and pictures tell a different story in a place where it is the innocent who are the majority.

Hospitals, schools, mosques have been bombed, and on Friday, Gazans absorbing another horror, one that hit their tiny Christian community, an airstrike on a building at the compound of the St. Porphyrios Orthodox Church, one of the oldest churches in the world, where hundreds had sought refuge from the relentless bombardment.

But this was no sanctuary, a scene of chaos at this house of worship. With no power, they used their phones to light up the rubble and dig bodies and survivors out of the carnage.


Daylight brought the painful scenes of those searching through shrouded bodies for their loved ones, the inconsolable grief of those who found them, the gut-wrenching grief of a father mourning his children, and a grandmother, her little George.

RAMZI AL-SOURI, GAZA RESIDENT: With no prior warning, they bombed civilians in the church. They killed my three children. They killed my cousins. My whole cousin's family was wiped.

KARADSHEH: The Israeli military said the airstrike was targeting a Hamas command and control center nearby. They said this was not the intention, what they call collateral damage. 17 Christians, entire families, including infants, perished in this strike. 26-year-old Viola was killed along with her husband and baby girl, her sister, Yara, her husband and children also gone.

FATHER HABIB SALIS, GREEK ORTHODOX PRIEST: Unbelievable, unbelievable. We are here 2,000 years and we are not going to live. We'll stay here. We'll continue our life as all the population in Gaza Strip.

KARADSHEH: So much grief, so much anger at the silence over their suffering and those who won't stop the bloodshed.

RAMY AL-GELDA, GAZAN WHO TOOK SHELTER IN CHURCH: This is a message to the world and specifically this message is to Biden, to the president of the United States. He should know that the Christian Arabs, Christian community in Gaza are being targeted. No one is safe here in Gaza, everyone in danger.

KARADSHEH: Shell shocked survivors, both Christians and Muslims sat around the church this weekend. There's seemingly nowhere left to run.


KARADSHEH: And, Wolf, for more than two weeks since the start of Israel's military operation in Gaza, the airstrikes appear to be intensifying, according to residents, and the death toll is continuing to rise by the day. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, more than 5,000 people have been killed so far. They say the majority of them are women and children. More than 2,000 children killed in a war that is only just beginning. People are terrified. They are trapped in Gaza and they are bracing themselves for what is yet to come, Wolf.

BLITZER: So heartbreaking indeed, Jomana Karadsheh, thank you very much for that report.

For more on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza right now, I'm joined on the phone by Abood Okal. He, his wife and their one-year-old son are American citizens from Massachusetts who were visiting relatives in Gaza. They have tried unsuccessfully so far to get to Egypt through that Rafah border crossing, which remains closed for evacuations. Abood, thanks, once again, for joining me.

As you know, Southern Gaza, where you are right now, just faced one of the deadliest and most intense days of bombardment since this war began. How did that affect you and your family? Is there anywhere at all where you believe you could be safe?

ABOOD OKAL, U.S. CITIZEN TRAPPED IN GAZA WITH WIFE AND ONE-YEAR-OLD SON (voice over): Yes, thanks, Wolf. No, we don't think there's any place that could be considered safe. Quite honestly, we left Northern Gaza Strip specifically looking for safety, following the IDF instruction. And since we've been (INAUDIBLE) lost, very close to that Egyptian border in anticipation that we would be evacuated by the State Department.

We've only seen the airstrikes increasing both in intensity and frequency over the last couple of days and specifically last night and tonight. There was an airstrike just a few moments ago before we got here, that was pretty loud, close by, and it's become the normal here. And we constantly smell basically gunpowder, debris, black debris and black powder. We see that every morning when we wake up on our phones on the floor. We certainly can cough it out in the morning.

And that has had an impact on us. My son has been increasingly becoming more attached to us. He wakes up having nightmares at night. And one of us, either Wafaa or myself, has to be with him constantly day or night. Otherwise, he would panic basically anything that (INAUDIBLE) really the fact that he's been shaking awake from sleep multiple times because of close by airstrikes.

BLITZER: When you and I spoke the other day, you told me your son has been struggling. You've been struggling. You have been struggling to find some milk for your one-year-old little boy. How's that coming along now?

OKAL (voice over): It's unfortunately not improving. Today we opened up the last box of milk for him. I was on a supply run yesterday. My brother and I tried to get enough to look for different types of supplies.


We don't have power so we tried to look for non-perishable items. And his milk is nowhere to be found in the stores. We tried at least six or seven different stores.

We're in the last box. We've been trying -- we've been integrating (ph) this day and longer than we expected we could get it us out of Gaza. We've been trying to wean him off milk in the last few days just in preparation for this day.

With the airstrikes nearby and the stressful situations that we, the entire family, and we've been unsuccessful at weaning him off milk. That is his comfort food. That is his comfort zone. We don't know what we're going to do tomorrow. We wake up and we run out of that last box other than try to attempt to find more in some of the nearby stores. Otherwise, we'll have to deal with it.

And there's been also other struggles with drinking water as well, both for him as well as for the grownups that we're sheltering with.

BLITZER: Well, good luck to you and your family, Abood. Thank you very much for joining us.

OKAL (voice over): Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, we'll go live to Capitol Hill, where nine House Republicans are making the case tonight to be the next speaker of the House. Will the closed door meeting lead to any consensus after weeks of infighting?



BLITZER: This hour, House Republicans are trying again to settle on a nominee to be the next speaker of the House, with a crowded new field of candidates vying for the job. The chamber without a permanent speaker now for nearly three weeks.

CNN's Melanie Zanona is up on Capitol Hill for us. There's a closed- door meeting going on of GOP lawmakers right now.

Melanie, tell us what's happening now, and whether any of these potential candidates seem likely to survive a full House vote if they get that far.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Well, Wolf, that is the conundrum that Republicans have been dealing with for weeks now. And they are really starting at square one given that they are 20 days in to this chaos, they are just tonight having a new candidate forum.

Moments from now, they will kick off a forum where all of these candidates are going to make their pitch, and they will gather once again behind closed doors tomorrow. They will have another secret ballot election and tonight is really about hearing from all of the different candidates. And so far, there are nine different Republicans who have jumped into the race.

That includes Tom Emmer. He's a member of leadership. He's the House majority whip. He also ran the NRCC for several cycles. He hasn't worked down to tamp down perceptions that he's not close enough to former President Donald Trump.

And there's Byron Donalds, a member of the Freedom Caucus, very well liked among conservatives. But he's a softer member, there is some skepticism about whether he is ready to step into the job.

There's also Kevin Hern. He's the head of the Republican Study Committee, another very large conservative caucus in the House. But all of these members are going to have to work to get 217 votes on the house if they become the nominee and right now, there is an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. But some members say that is going to drive them to try and unify, hopefully, by this week.

Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MIKE GARCIA (R-CA): The largest polarity of folks recognizing we have to get someone across the line, and I do think there is an appetite for compromise candidate. I think there is an appetite for someone to -- for folks to be okay if maybe not my guy back on to the speakership just filling the position is the priority.

REP. CARLOS GIMENEZ (R-FL0: I have nothing against any of the people.


GIMENEZ: Yeah, with Kevin, you know, now he is not endorsed publicly for speaker. Now so if he comes back on the ballot obviously also with Kevin. But, you know, he's not going to be on the ballot, so we need to back the nominee.


ZANONA: So, that last member there was someone who was only backing Kevin McCarthy for announcing he would be willing to back another candidate. So potentially a sign that Republicans are finally ready to unify but we'll have to wait and see, Wolf. And, meanwhile, all of these critical issues like government, funding aid for, Israel aid for Ukraine, all hanging in the balance -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Can't past legislation without a speaker.

Melanie Zanona, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, an Israeli American reservist in the IDF was killed during a missile attack from nearby Lebanon. We'll have a live report from his hometown just outside of Washington, D.C.



BLITZER: A dual U.S. Israeli citizen serving in the Israel Defense Forces was killed in a missile attack near the Lebanon border.

Brian Todd is joining us live from this man's hometown of Rockville, Maryland, where he's being remembered.

What are they saying about him, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're saying it was an emotional and patriotic poll that drew him back. Tonight, this community at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School is mourning the loss of Omer Balva, who was killed on Friday. We have new information tonight on the experiences of him and others who have been drawn back to the region to serve.


TODD (voice-over): Twenty-two-year-old Omer Balva was always drawn to Israel according to his friends. They say Balva who grew up in Rockville, Maryland, chose to serve in the Israel Defense Forces right out of high school, instead of going to college right away. Balva, a dual U.S. Israeli citizen was on vacation in the U.S. when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7th. After being called up as a reservist, he packed in hurried back to Israel. Within a few days he was dead, killed last Friday, by an anti-tank missile along Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

RABBI MITCHEL MAIKUS, HEAD OF CHARLES E. SMITH JEWISHH DAY SCHOOL: It is really devastating for our community. He was a lovely kid. He's the kind of kid who comes into a room and when he smiles, everyone notices it. It lights up the entire room.

TODD: Rabbi Mitchel Maikus is the head of the Charles E. Smith Day School where Omer Balva graduated in 2019.

MAIKUS: He was passionate about his commitment to Israel. I know that inside, he felt like he needed to be there, that he needed to defend the state of Israel. It's obvious to me why he would choose to go even though he knew it was going to be dangerous.

TODD: Friends say he was a selfless person, who was proud of the service.

ETHAN MISSNER, FRIEND OF OMER BALVA: He really is the best. He is the sweetest kid in the world.

TODD: He is not the only Americans serving in Israel's military. Even as thousands of Americans have been rushing to evacuate from Israel, some are traveling in the opposite direction, called up as reservists or even just volunteering.


TODD: Matthew Vonende, a former IDF paratrooper from Kansas City, says he will take any job the Israeli military will give him.

VONENDE: Everything is squared away here. I can finally go over there and focus on what I need to do whatever that's going to be.

TODD: Others volunteering as aid workers, or medics.

KINARET LEVIN, MEDIC TRAVELING TO ISRAEL: I am a licensed nurse, and I have a capability to come and help.


TODD: Twenty-seven-year-old Kinaret Levin from California is headed to Israel with the help of an organization called Bulletproof Israel.

LEVIN: This is doing my part, and this is my values, and who I am as a person, and who I am as a nurse.

TODD: But for every young volunteer or reservists, there are parents like Mildwurfs of North Carolina, whose daughter is serving in the IDF. Supportive but anxious.


BRUCE WILDWURF, DAUGHTER SERVING IN ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: And we recognize that right now in Israel, no one is safe. And that is tough for us to process.


TODD (on camera): As for Omer Balva, he has survived by his parents, three siblings, and a longtime girlfriend who he planned to marry. His funeral took place yesterday at a military cemetery in Israel. We are told that about 3,000 people came to pay their respects -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, thank you very much.

And we'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


TODD: A Palestinian journalist working with French National Public Radio was killed by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City.

The Committee to Protect Journalist says he is one of at least 23 journalists who've been killed in the war between Israel and Hamas, eight others are reported injured and three are missing.

For information about how you can help humanitarian efforts in both Israel and Gaza, go to or text "Relief" to 707070 to make a donation.

Thanks very much for watching,

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" live from Israel starts right now.