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The Situation Room

Now, Intense Gaza Strikes As Israel Expands Ground Operations; Phone Service Down Across Gaza Amid New Israeli Strikes; U.S. Says, Hostages Talks Ongoing Despite Escalating Warfare; Now: Intense Gaza Airstrikes As Israel Expands Ground Operations; Sources: Guns Believed Used In Maine Mass Shooting Bought Days Before Suspect's Mental Health Episode; All 18 Victims Of Maine Shooting Rampage Identified. Aired 6- 7p ET

Aired October 27, 2023 - 18:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Israel is unleashing intense new airstrikes on Gaza tonight, as it's expanding its ground operations there as well. The war against Hamas heating up nearly three full weeks after the surprise Hamas terror attack on Israel.

In battered Gaza right now, we're told phone lines and other communications have been largely cut off. Civilians caught in the crossfire as Hamas launches rockets and Israeli warplanes open fire. The United States says it's in talks with Israel about a humanitarian pause in the warfare to try to allow the potential release of more hostages held by Hamas. The White House, insisting negotiations aimed at freeing more captives, is ongoing right now.

And also breaking in the United States as divers join the search for the mass shooter in Maine. Sources now tell CNN the gun apparently used at the rampage was bought just days before the suspect had a mental health episode.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Jerusalem and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Here in the Middle East right now, we're witnessing a clear escalation in the Israel-Hamas war with widespread accounts of the most intense and sustained airstrikes on Gaza to-date. We've seen the skies over Gaza light up repeatedly in the last few minutes. The Israeli military declaring it's operating forcefully on all fronts, including expanded ground operations in Gaza right now.

Hamas, in turn, launching fresh attacks on Israel. We're following all the breaking news from our position right here in Jerusalem.

And our correspondents are standing by at key locations in Israel as well as in Washington. First, let's go to CNN's Nic Robertson. He's in Sderot, Israel, for us. Nic, do not far away. You're close to the border with Gaza. What are you hearing, where you are and how much more intense are these Israeli military operations tonight?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Wolf. We're hearing artillery echoing around us. There's a battery of artillery not far in this direction. They are firing big rounds into Gaza. There's another artillery battery that's been quiet for the last few minutes in this direction, they too have been firing.

But the intensity earlier this evening, just before dusk, and, again, several times later into the night, the intensity of both those artillery batteries opening up round after round after round, and then what we haven't heard from this location as intense as tonight, tank rounds, not far from here, multiple tanks opening up with heavy, repetitive fire, outgoing round, outgoing round, outgoing round.

And then just before dusk, something again we had not seen from here before, a heavy bank of smoke drifted up from Gaza on the wind up the hill here to where we are, lasted 20 or 30 minutes enveloping the town here, just the sort of smoke that the military would use to cover a ground maneuver by troops. We don't know if that's what it was used for, but it was bitter on the throat and it irritated the nose.

So, this smoke was really dense for a period of time. It gave the impression that this could be a ground incursion. Now, we don't know because we can't see inside of Gaza right now but we've been hearing heavy machine gunfire coming from areas that sound as if they're inside the Gaza Strip.

Typically, it will be the early hours of tomorrow morning before we hear from the IDF clarifying precisely what we've witnessed this evening, Wolf. But it has been heavy and it has been hard and sustained.

BLITZER: You know, it's pretty scary, Nic, because while you've been speaking, we've been hearing these loud booms coming from Gaza.


Is there any sense at all based on where you are in Sderot, not far from Gaza, what this escalation looks like from inside Gaza?

ROBERTSON: The images that we're seeing from inside Gaza this evening show a city that is largely in darkness and then these huge explosions that look sort of yellow and sort of flame orange erupting up. And you have an image of a building where there's flames coming up or this orange flash of an explosion, there's another detonation there, that's artillery outgoing towards Gaza at the moment, and then another flash next to that.

And so these multiple impacts which seem to really be, you know, you can coordinate them if you like with the outgoing shells that we hear from here and the impacts there. And the other thing of course is that the communications networks inside of Gaza are severely diminished tonight. Jawwal, the main Palestinian cell phone service provider, internet provider, is reporting that most of their services are down. Some people are managing to get few voice notes out, a couple of still images of what's happening inside of Gaza. But it does appear that a lot of the city there is in darkness and a lot of people are without the communications they've become used to, and that, the lack of communications, could also be indicative of this escalating moment towards a possible larger ground incursion that the IDF is talking about, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson reporting from Sderot in Israel, not far from Gaza. Stand by, Nic, we're going to get back to you. Stay safe over there as well.

I want to go to CNN's Erin Burnett right now. She's joining us live from Tel Aviv. Erin, with the Israeli military offensive clearly right now ramping up, what does this mean for the hostages being held by Hamas?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: And, Wolf, that's the crucial question. There are so many families of hostages that believe that the -- obviously, the ground offensive in Gaza and the victory against Hamas has been put first and the survival of hostages has been put second. That is the frustration that many of them feel.

But there had been, Wolf, as you know, an anticipation that there was a deal for a release of a significant number of hostages. We'd heard all sorts of numbers, but a lot of people have been -- maybe as many as 50, as we're listening to what's happening in Gaza right now, and that obviously had been being brokered by Qatar. The Israeli national security adviser had even issued a supportive Qatar in those efforts.

The belief is that, at least for now, those talks are obviously going very poorly. There has not been progress. Maybe that's part of the reason we're seeing Israel expand this ground operation, the third night in a row of ground assaults on Gaza as this continues here right now, past 1:00 in the morning.

But the spokesperson, the chief spokesperson, Admiral Daniel Hagari for the IDF, says that what Hamas is doing right now with hostages is psychological warfare. Here's what he said not long ago, Wolf.


REAR ADM. DANIEL HAGARI, SPOKESPERSON, ISRAEL DEFENSE FORCES: I suggest to disregard rumors. This is psychological terror and the cynical use of Israeli civilians by Hamas. We will reach and present any credible information, whether it's civilian intelligence or operational.

Any relevant information will be given to the families first once it's confirmed, and then will notify the public. Until then, don't surrender to Hamas manipulations of psychological terror.


BURNETT: Of course, Hamas has claimed that some hostages have been killed in airstrikes, no proof of that whatsoever. But that is the real question tonight as Israel is continuing to expand this operation in these early hours of the morning, continuing to think about those hostages who we anticipate are being held deep in those tunnels underground. Wolf?

BLITZER: So, scary indeed.

Erin, how much pressure is building and how much internal debate is there just ahead of an expected Israeli ground invasion?

BURNETT: It's interesting, Wolf, having this conversation, and, obviously, these are more anecdotal conversations. But in the context of now 20 days, it's been three weeks, three weeks in just a few hours since these attacks, thousands and thousands of Israeli airstrikes, three days now of a ground assault, the biggest two nights ago in a decade, it's even bigger tonight.

The assault has been unrelenting. The war is unrelenting. But there are still many Israelis who feel that they want that we are doing something, that there is a specific event. And it is unclear if the Israeli government is going to try to start making the case that they're making huge progress with what they're doing as opposed to building to something even bigger and more significant that could involve tens of thousands of troops. Wolf?

BLITZER: Erin Burnett reporting for us, Erin, thank you very much. Erin, of course, will have much more reporting coming up right at the top of the hour on Erin Burnett Outfront. She's live in Tel Aviv.

The White House is weighing in on the Israeli air and ground offensive that's underway right now and how it figures into all the efforts underway to try to free the hostages being held by Hamas.


CNN's Chief National Security Correspondent Alex Marquardt is joining us from Washington right now. So, Alex, what is the U.S. saying about this very definitive Israeli military escalation?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're not saying whether they got a heads-up on this, but my understanding is they are echoing, they're watching very closely, they're echoing what the Israelis have been saying about this being an escalation. They certainly believe that this is a significant expansion of what we have seen Israel doing over the course of the past few nights in terms of those incursions. This is a much bigger effort.

Now we are -- you know, the big question is what is going to happen with the hostages. The NSC spokesperson, John Kirby, earlier today saying that they have been having active conversations with the Israelis about humanitarian pauses, the belief that humanitarian pauses could actually help get more of these hostages out. We've heard the counterargument from the Israeli side that, in fact, more military pressure helps to get those hostages out.

Wolf, I've been speaking with people who are familiar with these negotiations all day long. U.S. officials are saying that these conversations are not dead. They do admit that they have taken a blow, that they are not going as well today as they have been earlier in the day and yesterday. You heard Erin there talking about this notion that we were thinking that we were perhaps on the cusp of seeing a large release of hostages. That now does not appear to be imminent.

Wolf, I was speaking with someone who has been briefed on these ongoing negotiations that have been led by Qatar. This person telling me that things are moving very quickly. The demands, the number of hostages, the timeline, they change every single hour.

Now, this escalation in the fighting, Wolf, this also could have huge ramifications for the hundreds of Palestinian-Americans who have been trying to flee Gaza. This will certainly step up their desperation to get out of the Gaza Strip. The U.S. has been blaming Hamas for failing to open the gates on the Gaza side of the crossing that goes into Egypt. We've also heard some complaints that Egypt is not making things as easy as they could when it comes to getting those Palestinian-Americans and other foreigners processed to be able to leave the Gaza Strip in the midst of this escalation.

BLITZER: So, Wolf, really, the bottom line here is the fighting that we're seeing, these loud booms that we're seeing right now is certainly going to complicate and make more urgent both the tasks of trying to get hostages out as well as those Palestinian-Americans. Wolf?

BLITZER: Those Israeli airstrikes, you can hear those booms, they are so loud and the skies light up all of a sudden in Gaza. We're watching this closely.

Alex Marquardt in Washington, standby. We'll get back to you as well.

Right now, I want to dig deeper with Israeli journalist of Middle East expert Barak Ravid. He's joining us right now. Barak, thanks very much for joining us.

These airstrikes that we're seeing in Gaza right now are apparently the most extent extensive since this war began. First of all, what are you learning about the fighting that's going on right now at the IDF expanding, clearly expanding its military operations?

BARAK RAVID, POLITICAL AND FOREIGN POLICY REPORTER, AXIOS: Yes, Wolf. Definitely those airstrikes are unprecedented since the beginning of this operation and there's also a lot of artillery fire from the Israeli side into Gaza.

But I think that the most important thing that is happening right now, and it happens in the town of Beit Hanoun, in the northern Gaza Strip, where Israeli forces, quite a big amount of forces, entered the Gaza Strip from the north to the area of Beit Hanoun. It is the northern outskirts of Gaza City. This is where the Israeli forces are right now and it's a much bigger and much more significant incursion than the limited raids we saw in the last few days.

There are thousands of soldiers that are entering the Gaza Strip from the north in the last hour or two and I think we will see more of that as hours pass until the morning.

BLITZER: So, are we seeing -- Barak, we're looking at the start of the Israeli ground operation into Gaza right now?

RAVID: Definitely. This is this is not a limited raid they are not going to go out in a few hours. You are looking at the real -- what you are seeing now is the real deal, okay? Again, I don't know what people expected to see but this is how a ground operation starts. This is phase one and I guess the Israeli military has at least two or three more phases to go.

BLITZER: That's exactly what I heard from a bunch of Israelis earlier today, this is a new phase in the Israeli military operation against Hamas in Gaza, and it's going to eventually lead to this full-scale Israeli ground invasion.


The Israelis have positioned about 300,000, 350,000 reservists along the border with Gaza. We can see a whole new chapter in this war unfold very, very soon.

The White House, as you know, Barak, says it is still working to secure the release of hostages, even as Israel is dramatically expanding its military operations. How realistic is it that Hamas would release hostages amid this new bombardment from Israel?

RAVID: Well, you know, I think that on the hostage issue, we have to differentiate between what we want to happen and what is actually happening, okay? And at least everything I hear from Israeli officials, more than one, more than two, three different Israeli officials today that are from three different Israeli agencies told me that there was no progress in the hostage negotiations and that this is the reason that last night, the Israeli War Cabinet decided to give the go-ahead to this ground operation because they just felt that Hamas was just playing for time and they weren't really ready for a significant hostage deal.

On the other hand, a White House official that I talked to say, no, the negotiations were serious, the negotiations are still ongoing, the negotiations could still bear fruit, but as you said, Wolf, once the ground operation starts, I think it will put everything on hold for at least a few days.

And, you know, the U.S. thinks that it could hamper the negotiations. The Israelis think it could give the negotiations a push because Hamas will be under more pressure. I guess we will see in the next few days.

BLITZER: We shall see. Barak Ravid, as usual, thank you very much.

Just ahead, we're going to have much more on all the breaking news coming out as Israel clearly, dramatically is intensifying its war against Hamas right now.

Stay with us. You're watching THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live from Jerusalem.



BLITZER: You're watching THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live from Jerusalem tonight, and I want to get back to the breaking news this hour. Israel unleashing a massive wave of airstrikes as it expands its ground operations in Gaza as well.

I want to go to CNN's Anderson Cooper. He's joining us live from Tel Aviv right now. Anderson, just how intense are these bombardments tonight? We really haven't seen such sustained strikes before.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's absolutely the case, Wolf. I mean, all throughout the day, even here in Tel Aviv in the afternoon, the number of rockets being fired from Gaza toward Tel Aviv, the number of air raid sirens that went off in Tel Aviv, was unusually high. That's certainly a harbinger of things to come.

What we've been witnessing over the last several hours is a big progression in terms of the level of violence, the level of the number of explosions, the variety of weaponry being brought to bear. Reuters had a night vision camera out. We saw what seemed to be tank fire across the border. That obviously indicates a closer level of engagement from a shorter distance with whatever they were firing at.

So, it is clearly just a huge uptick in the level of explosions and operations that are going on on the ground, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Anderson, what are the biggest challenges that Israel is facing right now as it clearly prepares for a massive ground invasion going against Hamas targets in Gaza?

COOPER: It is an extraordinarily complex operation. I mean, Wolf, you've been talking to folks who are involved in U.S. military operations in Fallujah, also in Mosul during the war in Iraq. Just about every military person I've talked to, a former military person has said what is going to happen on the ground in Gaza is far more complex, multiple times more complex than U.S. operations in Fallujah, which were extraordinarily violent and extraordinarily difficult. The number of civilians in that area, the number of hostages is unprecedented, the location of these underground tunnels and here we're hearing more shelling in Gaza.

And one has to remember, Wolf, just as it seems Hamas was preparing for the October 7th slaughter for some two years, as they have claimed, if that is the case, that means they've also been preparing for the Israeli response to that slaughter, which was inevitable and which they would have predicted for that same two year period.

So, they have been thinking about how Israel would counter the terror attack that occurred on October 7th and that is what they will be experiencing and have been waiting for.

BLITZER: Yes. Those booms coming in from Gaza, they've been nonstop, going on and on and on, and clearly not going to stop anytime soon.

Anderson, we'll see you in Tel Aviv. Thank you very, very much. And Anderson, of course, will have a lot more later tonight on AC 360, 8:00 P.M. Eastern.

Joining us now, CNN Military Analyst Wesley Clark, he's the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired general. General Clark, thanks so much for joining us.

We're watching and hearing these constant airstrikes in Gaza right now. Do you see this as Israel laying the groundwork for what's being expected, what all of us expect to see, a full-scale Israeli military ground invasion of Gaza?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I'm not sure that it's a full-scale ground invasion, Wolf, I don't think there's any way of judging that at this point. What we know is that the Israeli forces are there in strength, that they are in direct fire contact with the enemy and they're using indirect fire as well as direct fire machine guns to fight their way in.


We don't know what the objective of this is. It could be an enhanced reconnaissance in force to push in. It could be the beginning of a major offensive. It could be a (INAUDIBLE) Hamas (INAUDIBLE) and the flank. We're not sure where this is going, but it is more intense than what's happened before.

BLITZER: But based on your extensive military experience, General, what more can you tell us about Israel's strategy with this new potential phase? What are they trying to accomplish with these sustained strikes and these ground operations at the same time?

CLARK: Well, they should be going after the intelligence they're collecting. The raid on the previous night should have highlighted where the enemy positions are. Hopefully, they've collected intelligence from communications that the enemy's made. They're observing patterns of probably (INAUDIBLE) high-imaging equipment, and so all of this gives them a pattern and targeting with which to strike with their indirect fires or aircraft and their artillery. Meanwhile, they're coming in on the ground in some force.

Now, we don't know at this point what the objective is. In general, what you do in an operation like this is go for the key terrain. What would the key terrain be in Gaza? Probably significant infrastructure. It could be power plants, installation plants. It could be the high- rise buildings in a certain location, or it might be what is a nexus of the tunnel works that they've identified. So, we can't tell at this point what the key objectives would be at this phase of the operation.

In general, what the Israelis probably are going to do is slice up Gaza, get a small part of it, isolate it, clear it, move on to the next part, isolate it, clear it.

BLITZER: We just lost our connection with General Clark, but we will try to get back with him. General Clark, if you can hear me, thank you very much for joining us.

Just ahead, we'll get more on the breaking news with a key White House National Security Council official, John Kirby. He's standing by live.

This is THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live in Jerusalem.



BLITZER: We're following major breaking news right now. Gaza is being hammered tonight by a surge of Israeli airstrikes, the most intense bombardment since the beginning of the war. This as Israeli ground forces are also expanding their operations inside Gaza right now.

I want to go back to CNN's Nic Robertson. He's joining us from Sderot, in Israel, not far from Gaza. Update our viewers with the latest, Nic.

ROBERTSON: Yes, Wolf. Over the last five or ten minutes, we've heard another uptick in the outgoing -- excuse me -- outgoing artillery fire from here. There's an artillery battery some ways in the distance in this direction. We've been hearing multiple rounds fired out from there.

Judging by the time it takes for us to hear an impact, which is about 20 seconds or so, they're firing quite a distance. The impact we can hear it in the distance. It's not clear to us where exactly it's impacting. But Gaza City, for example, is about 7.5 miles away from where we are. But for each of those rounds that's going out, you can hear the impact behind us in Gaza.

So, that uptick is just indicative -- there was another round outgoing there -- it's indicative of what we've been hearing this evening. And this is just one of the batteries, the howitzer batteries, artillery batteries that's firing out right now. There are others around here.

Earlier on, we were hearing several batteries firing at the same time. But this does seem to be symptomatic of tonight. We don't know what it specifically is being targeted. Is it firing in support of ground troops during an incursion or is it simply going after other Hamas targets right now. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. It certainly seems to be a new phase in this Israeli military operation that's beginning right now.

Nic, stand by. I want to bring in CNN's Sara Sidner as well. She's joining us live from Tel Aviv. Sara, what is the sense where you are right now? Are Israel's operations, military operations right now ramping up dramatically?

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR AND SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, what we are seeing is not the incoming fire that we often see throughout the evening, although we did see it earlier. And earlier, there was a rocket that got bypassed the Iron Dome system and ended up hitting an apartment building.

There were several people who were injured. But according to the apartment building owner that there was no one inside the apartment that was actually hit, which he called a miracle, the residents were not inside that apartment. We are also seeing some strikes that actually made it through the Iron Dome system in Ashkelon as well.

What you are feeling here, though, is you can hear the intensity of the bombing in Gaza from this vantage point. You can feel it. It feels like thunder in the air, just constant booms that rattle in the sky. And so you can definitely tell that there are a lot more strikes than we have normally been seeing over these past three weeks and you certainly did see a few rockets that came over both in the morning and in the late afternoon early evening here.

Since then, it's been a little quieter here in Tel Aviv, at least in the skies over Tel Aviv, but in Gaza it has been so, so dark. It was hard to see anything until there was an airstrike and then you see that awful red glow of an airstrike and the explosion.

So, of course, people are feeling extremely nervous because they hear about this sort of new phase of the war beginning with another ground incursion from Israel into Gaza as they try and get Hamas out of that city. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. And what was significant, as you correctly point out, is that Hamas still has that capability of hitting an apartment building right in Tel Aviv, as you were just describing, very serious indeed.

Nic, let me go back to you. Is there a sense is there a sense, Nic, that Hamas is now bracing for this major Israeli ground invasion?

ROBERTSON: It does and I think the fact that we've heard them saying again for the second time in the past couple of days, appealing to their friends in the region, Hezbollah, to do more, saying that it's good that they've got their support but they need to actively engage now and support more.

I think this is indicative of Hamas putting out the message that this is the moment when their friends and allies need to step in. Every indication has been coming from Iran that backs Hezbollah, that funds Hezbollah, that is a really a political direction for Hezbollah, from Hezbollah themselves, indicating that if there was a ground incursion going into Gaza, that they would step in that they would up their attacks on Israel.

And, of course, they have the capability to launch from Lebanon. They have the capability to launch long-range missiles that can cover much of the country. We've seen what Hamas can do from Gaza with its rockets to Central Israel, to places like Sderot, to places even as far away as Jerusalem.

Hezbollah to the north has a bigger inventory of rockets, more sophisticated rockets, and, therefore, can potentially do more damage. So, Hamas trying to call for Hezbollah to step in at this time is an indication that they feel that the war with Israel is reaching that point.

They are expecting this ground incursion. They are expecting a fuller force arrayed against them, and they want distraction in other areas to try to weaken, A, Israel's resolve, B, try to undermine the Israel's military incursion at the same time. And, of course, this is a big concern about how that would inflame the region as well.

And I think perhaps what we've seen over recent days, the day before yesterday, IDF saying that there was a limited incursion, troops came out last night. They're saying the limited incursion troops came out today, saying that incursions would continue today, saying that they would broaden and strengthen, but not saying that this was the big incursion. So, a slow, slow steady, as General Wesley Clark has indicated a slow, slow, steady escalation that perhaps Israel hopes can keep groups like Hezbollah out of the fight.

And just as we're talking, I'm hearing heavy machine gun fire over my shoulder there, again, indicative of troops perhaps facing off against Hezbollah or other groups right now, but indicative of troops being close to contact with each other in the battlefield there, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And I know the Israelis are very worried and gearing up for the potential, the possibility of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah launching the, they have thousands of rockets and missiles warehoused in South Lebanon that could not only reach Haifa, but Tel Aviv, even where I am in Jerusalem right now. So, there's a lot of concern about Hezbollah getting directly involved.

Nic Robertson, stay safe over there. We'll get back to you as well.

I want to bring in John Kirby right now. He's joining us from the White House. He's the National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications, Retired Admiral John, thanks very much for joining us.

You just heard that report. What is your understanding of these Israeli military operations that are unfolding right now?

JOHN KIRBY, COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Well, they've said it for themselves that they're expanding some of their ground operations. I'll let them characterize that, Wolf. We obviously don't want to speak for military operations we're not in command of, but they've continued throughout, since the attack of October 7th, and continued to try to put pressure on Hamas leadership and to try to target Hamas leadership where they are.

And, again, I don't want to speak for them, but I think it's safe to say that these ground maneuvers, these early ground maneuvers are a piece of that larger effort.


BLITZER: Did Israel notify or consult with the United States ahead of this expanded ground operation that's unfolding right now in Gaza?

KIRBY: Well, we have terrific conversations, military-to-military contacts, obviously, and we've been talking to them continuously since October 7th. I don't want to detail the content of those conversations, but I do want to stress that these are Israeli Defense Force operations. They get to make the decisions. They get to talk about what they're doing. We won't do that for them.

BLITZER: A senior Hamas official, John, is appealing to their regional allies, Hamas' regional allies, for what they call stronger intervention amid the war that's going on with Israel right now. Excuse me, how concerned is the administration about this war escalating?

KIRBY: Very concerned. And that's why the president ordered some extra naval assets in the Eastern Med and eventually into the Gulf region. That's why we have boosted our air and missile defense. That's why we've added aircraft squadrons to the region. And it's why we have messaged privately and publicly that we don't want to see any other actor, be it Iran or a terrorist group like Hezbollah, escalate, deepen, and widen this conflict. So, yes, we are concerned about that possibility.

BLITZER: Yes, I know you are. You've said that the White House is still working to try to get more hostages being held by Hamas released, but the IDF calls reports of a possible deal over hostages that Hamas is suggesting. They're saying it's psychological terror. Is there a disconnect on this sensitive issue between the U.S. and Israel and how to free the hostages, more than 200?

KIRBY: Our Israeli counterparts like us, they want those hostages back. A lot of them are Israeli citizens. And they share the same concerns that we have about their safety. And we are in constant communication, not only with the Israelis but other partners in the region to see what we can do to get some sort of meaningful negotiated release of these hostages. That work continues. Obviously, it hasn't been concluded because they're still being held. But all of us share the concern over those hostages.

As you know, hundreds of American citizens are trapped right now in Gaza. So far, diplomatic talks to allow them into Egypt, the south, through that Rafah border crossing, have failed. What's the plan to try to bring these Americans home?

KIRBY: Ambassador David Satterfield our special envoy for humanitarian affairs there in the region, is working this literally by the hour, as well as the State Department and here at the NSC, doing everything we can to try to find safe passage for obviously several hundred Americans, but thousands and thousands of more families of people of Gaza that want to get out, some of them are foreign nationals.

Hamas is so far not being willing to be cooperative in terms of letting folks out from their side of that Rafah gate, but we're working with all the partners that we can think of, including some who have an ability to directly communicate with Hamas to see if we can make that happen.

We know these people are desperate. We know they deserve safe passage to get out. We want to get that done as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope that happens. A lot of lives are at stake right now.

John Kirby at the White House, thank you very much.

Just ahead, we'll have more on the escalation of Israel's air and ground offensive in Gaza and what comes next.

Stay with us. You're watching THE SITUATION ROOM. We're live from Jerusalem.



BLITZER: We are back here in Jerusalem, keeping a very close eye on the skies over Gaza, and an intense new wave of Israeli military air strikes.

I want to go back to CNN's Nic Robertson. He's right near the Israel Gaza border. He's in Sderot for us.

Nic, you mentioned hearing machine gunfire near your location just a few minutes ago. What more are you seeing, what more are you hearing from your vantage point right now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: As well as these barrages of artillery and the outgoing and impacts we can here in Gaza, we've also been able to hear small machine gun fire. And at times heavy machine gun fire, too, you know, like assault weapon type machine gun fire and much larger caliber machine gun fire. In the area down here, just behind me, to my left, I think, John is sort of showing you that area here.

This is the area that runs along the northern border between Israel and Gaza. And if there is an incursion along the north of Gaza tonight, it's going to be in that area. That's where we are hearing that machine gun fire from. And machine gun fire, unlike the long range artillery, that long range missiles, that long-range tank fire, that machine gun fire would be indicative of troops being able to see the enemy and potentially firing at the.

And that gives us an idea that if an incursion hasn't happened, the troops, IDF, or close to the fans. And if it has happened, right now, they're very close to Hamas fighting units. So Hamas also, its military has put out a statement this evening, saying they are operational and ready for the IDF forces.

So, are we hearing small elements of smoke gun battles? Possibly. Hard to tell from this distance. I think what's instructive is the last couple of days, the IDF has talked about these two-limited incursions with tanks, with infantry, and armored fighting vehicles. It has said there haven't been any IDF casualties.

Tonight, may be -- tonight, may be different, if it's been a more intense engagement. Again, we won't know until the morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly appears to be the case. Nic Robertson, in Sderot, as I always say, stay safe over there.


We'll get back to you.

Coming up, there's new information on the investigation of the shooting massacre in Maine. We're going to tell you what we're learning about when the gun appeared to be used in the shooting was purchased.

Stay with us for more of THE SITUATION ROOM. We are live tonight from Jerusalem.


BLITZER: Right now, there's more breaking news back in the United States. We are getting new information about the gun used in that Maine shooting massacre.

CNN's Brian Todd has the latest.


MICHAEL SAUSCHUCK, MAINE PUBLIC SAFETY COMMISSIONER: So, we will be putting drivers in the water.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, the sweeping manhunt expanding into the water for the mass shooting suspect in Maine. Divers staged at the Androscoggin River near Lisbon, where the shooter's car was found abandoned.

SAUSCHUCK: The divers checking for evidence, checking for potential bodies.

TODD: But law enforcement officials stressed they are not confirming there is a body and the water.


SAUSCHUCK: I'm not saying that the suspect -- we know the suspect is in the water, and this is what we're doing. What I'm telling you, is you're going to see activity here.

TODD: Investigators have so far recovered a cellphone that belongs to the suspect, an AR-15 rifle from his car, and a note that according to sources was suicidal in nature.

SAUSCHUCK: There was a note in one of these residents is that does involve -- these are mindset here, these are motive. When we can release it, we certainly will. TODD: Former federal agent Tom Kerry who lives in Maine was in the

FBI for 20 years and has extensive experience with manhunts, including the D.C. sniper case in 2002. He says this search is a difficult undertaking, especially in the dense forests of Maine.

TOM CAREY, FORMER FBI AGENT: Obviously, we are getting to the time of year where the leaves are falling. You get a carpet of that coming down. And it's hard to tell what's touched and what's untouched. I mean, we just walk there. You can't tell we just walk there.

TODD: Yeah.

CAREY: You know, that's what you're dealing with.

TODD: A search made even more difficult in this terrain, because the suspect is a skilled outdoorsman and marksman.

CAREY: You can walk right by him in the woods, in the thick woods and not even know he's here. Then the question is, is he going to attack and shoot somebody? And try to make a stand? Or is he just going to try to lay low and hope he can get through it?

TODD: Although a shelter in place order was lifted Friday afternoon, officials are on high alert for any movement in the area and urge the public to be cautious.

SAUSCHUCK: You just happen to be in the woods, minding your own business, going for a walk, that's going to make us a little concerned.

TODD: And they mean it. Police stopped a man on a walk with his dog on a wooded path. They approached him while he was on his knees with his hands up, until they left him stand and continued speaking.

As the search continues, and as law enforcement has emphasized, former agent Carey stresses how important the public is an aiding the search for the mass killer.

CAREY: I'm telling you from my own personal experience, you've got to speak up, because that can make the difference between catching this murderer or him being in the vapor for a long time.


TODD (on camera): And we have new information tonight from CNN's John Miller citing multiple law enforcement sources reporting that investigators believe that the gun that the suspect used in the rampage was purchased legally just days before he was hospitalized this past summer and ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after he reported hearing voices in his head and wanting to harm other people -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting -- thank you, Brian.

Finally tonight, CNN national correspondent Jason Carroll takes a closer look at some of the 18 victims who lost their lives in this massacre.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Moments after the shooting began at Schemengees Bar & Grille Restaurant, there were those who sprang into action, putting themselves into harm's way to try and save others and stop the gunman.

Leroy Walker Sr. says his son Joey grabbed a butcher's knife and went after the gunman when he was shot and killed.

LEROY WALKER SR., SONE KILLED IN SHOOTING: Loved by many. Loved by myself. And he would love back to everybody. So I know he would do such a thing to try to save lives and not let somebody hurt the people that he loved.

CARROLL: Also killed at the bar, Artie Stout, he lives behind five children. Bryan Macfarlane was there, too. He and other members of the deaf community had gathered at the bar for a cornhole tournament.

KERI BROOKS, BROTHER KILLED IN SHOOTING: You know, I want people to know how big this has impacted the deaf community, that, you know, we've lost four community members. Not only just Bryan, but we have lost three other friends as well from this tragic incident in this community. It's a huge loss.

CARROLL: Another tournament pick us up, in 39-year-old Peyton Brewer- Ross was killed. He leaves behind a daughter who had just turned 2.

Joshua Seal was there for the tournament as well. He gained attention as an interpreter of Maine's governor during the COVID-19 pandemic. His employer, Pine Tree Society, said in a statement, he was a husband, a father of four, and a tireless advocate for the deaf community.

A few miles away from the bar at the bowling alley, more victims and more reports of heroic acts. Like that of Michael Deslauriers II. His father says his son and his son's friend since childhood try to protect women and children. He says they made sure their wives and several young children were undercover when they charged the shooter. Both men were killed.

Tricia Assellin worked part-time at the bowling alley and try to call 911 when she was killed, 18 lives now gone.

Leroy Walker says his way forward is through faith and forgiveness.

WALKER: I can't -- I can't hate this person. I've been taught different than that, I hope anyways. And I believe in the Lord and I feel that way. You can't run around this world hating people. If you do, these kinds of things will happen more and more.


BLITZER: Jason Carroll, thank you for the report.

And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.

I'll be reporting throughout the weekend, beginning tomorrow, 1:00 p.m. Eastern with live coverage from Tel Aviv. Until then, once again, thanks for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.