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Flares Light Up Gaza Amid New Explosions; Trump's Two Eldest Sons Testify In Civil Fraud Trial; Haley Rising In GOP Primary Polls, Still Trails Trump; Cornell University Cancels Classes Citing "Extraordinary Stress" After Anti-Semitic Threats Against Jewish Community. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired November 02, 2023 - 17:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister's wife was suspended for 14 days and this week for some rather nasty Facebook posts she made against Brothers in Arms and some other groups. Quite frankly, how could Netanyahu not see brothers in arms as a serious threat?

Jake Tapper, CNN, Tel Aviv.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Our coverage picks up now with Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM live from Tel Aviv.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news, Israel appears to unleash a massive new aerosols on Northern Gaza, flares lighting up the sky while rockets fly and explosions boom. CNN, of course is on the ground as this powerful new Israeli offensive unfolds.

Also breaking an ominous new warning from Hamas, as the Israeli military says it has Gaza City completely surrounded. Hamas political leader saying dozens of hostages are subject to the same, quote, "death and destruction" as others in Gaza.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. We're live here in the Middle East on a night of intense warfare in Israel's battle against Hamas in Gaza. Our cameras capturing truly extraordinary images in Gaza as we follow this breaking story with our team of correspondents. First, let's go right to Nic Robertson. He's in Sderot, Israel, with a direct view of the skies over Gaza.

Nic, you're very close to Gaza right now. Tell our viewers what we've been seeing because this seems to be a powerful new chapter in the Israeli assault against Hamas.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLAMATIC EDITOR: Yes, Wolf, we're looking down right now into the northeastern corner of the Gaza Strip, looking down towards Beit Hanoun, which for a half an hour, was just swapped in and covered in the illumination of flares and smoke on the ground. We were hearing detonation, seeing rockets fired and hearing artillery being fired into Beit Hanoun. It appeared to be the sort of illumination and the sort of smokescreen, you would expect troops on the ground to be using if they were maneuvering to be going into this urban environment. Beit Hanoun has been bid hit very heavily over the past few weeks by Israeli airstrikes and artillery. The IDF has been warning the civilian population to leave the area.

Many civilians have been caught up killed and injured in the fire in Gaza according to the Ministry of Health, the Hamas led Ministry of Health there. More than 9,000 Palestinians have been killed, more than 22,000 injured. But in Beit Hanoun tonight, it appears as if there is a significant IDF offensive underway. The other thing that we're learning from the IDF is that just a few miles south of Beit Hanoun the much more densely populated Gaza City the IDF says is now surrounded, that they are using direct and intelligence led fire, precise fire on Hamas targets there. The commanders of the IDF have been warning their troops that they are now in enemy territory.

And we know that Hamas has been using shoulder launched anti-tank weapons, anti-tank rockets that have been penetrating some of the heavily armored tanks and armored personnel carriers. So this is a very dangerous fight for the troops in there, dangerous for the civilians. And that's why it appears the illumination is being used, smoke screens are being used to allow the IDF to advance or take control of certain positions down there in Gaza around Beit Hanoun. We don't know precisely because the IDF doesn't get precise details. We can't see precisely what's happening underneath all of that illumination.

But we can see there have been significant explosions was also seen Hamas fire rockets, at least two rockets out of Gaza this evening intercepted by Iron Dome as they flew north from here, Wolf, towards Central Israel.

BLITZER: Nic, this major Israeli air campaign that we've been seeing now for the past hour over northern Gaza, what does this tell us about the Israeli ground campaign that's clearly also intensifying?

ROBERTSON: Well, it tells us several things. One is is absolutely not backing off. And we knew that it wouldn't because as the commander of the IDF General Halevi had said and told his troops you're in the middle of a fight, this is going to be a long fight, we're going to continue it to the A commander of the IDF, Jamal Halevy had said and told his troops, you're in the middle of a fight. This is going to be a long fight. We're going to continue it to the end.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been in his message to troops as well as been sending a very similar message. So it does appear that what we are witnessing here is the next phase of operations in this incursion into Gaza, one that was focused an hour ago or maybe even right now. It's still underway in Beit Hanoun, focus there. And Gaza City, a major city and a densely populated in the northern part of the Gaza Strip surrounded, potentially indicating that the IDF has quite literally cut the Gaza strip into north and south, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson, stay safe over there. We'll get back to you. We're watching all the breaking news unfold.

Right now, I want to go to CNN's Jeremy Diamond. He's not very far away from where Nic is, and he's in Ashkelon Israel, which is pretty close to Gaza as well.

Jeremy, how does what we're seeing over the skies of Northern Gaza tonight? How does that fit into what we know about the ground or at least so far?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf, we are now in the sixth day of this expanded ground operation by Israeli troops and clearly the Israelis want to signal very strongly to Hamas that they have their stronghold of Gaza City encircled as we heard tonight from the IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari. But what they are also showing with this fighting is that it is ongoing in various parts of northern Gaza. Even if they say that they have Gaza City encircled, they clearly are still fighting on the outskirts of Gaza City as well. Beit Hanoun is the northeastern most city in Gaza. And this battle that we are watching now tonight, which has clearly kicked into a higher gear, it began earlier today, Wolf.

As we were standing in Sderot, not far from where Nic is today, we watched all day as there was a small arms fire, there were mortars being fired inside of Gaza, very likely by Hamas fighters and also artillery being fired from Israel into the city of Beit Hanoun and into other neighborhoods, other areas of Gaza, including it appears of the Jabalya refugee camp. And so, it's very clear that Israeli officials know that as much as they can encircle a city because of the network of underground tunnels that Hamas maintains, they also still face the danger of Hamas fighters popping up outside that city as well and in different areas. And clearly, they have not cleared all of the territory from the border with Gaza up until Gaza City. That act of fighting in Beit Hanoun tells us exactly that. And so, even if they are in Gaza City, they are clearly still dealing with Hamas fighters outside of Gaza City as well.

BLITZER: Jeremy, there's a new statement that just came out from Hamas about the fighting. Give our viewers the details.

DIAMOND: That's right, Wolf. Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's political leader in a statement tonight is making clear that this is really ground offensive, in his words, is putting at risk not only those civilians inside of Gaza and his fighters, but also he says the hostages that his militant group as well as other organizations inside of Gaza are still holding. He says that hostages held inside of Gaza are subject to, quote, "The same death and destruction as everybody else in the Gaza Strip." And he writes that this continued ground offensive by Israel, quote, "Will come at a great cost," including, quote, "To the lives of its prisoners and those who are exposed to the same thing the killing and destruction to which our people are exposed." Haniyeh also blames Bibi Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister for this ongoing war, saying that Hamas has proposed an immediate ceasefire for the openings of crossings into Israel, the exchange of prisoners and what he calls the opening of a political path to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Of course, these are kind of broad strokes, claims being made by the Hamas leader who obviously understands very well how to try and play the kind of media campaign that his organization has played so well for several years now. What is not clear is the details of those proposals that Hamas is making and what the terms actually are. We know that the Israelis have rejected the idea of a ceasefire, but they appear perhaps open to some kind of brief cessation of hostilities in order to allow for an exchange of prisoners or for hostages, civilian hostages being held inside of Gaza to be released. Whether or not such a deal can come together remains unclear as of yet, but we know that those negotiations between Israel and Hamas mediated by the Qataris are very much still ongoing.

And the Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, arriving in Israel signals that those talks are very much still alive and that they will continue.


BLITZER: Jeremy Diamond reporting for us from Ashkelon in Israel. Jeremy, standby, we'll get back to you.

I want to go to the White House right now where this hour we're learning about a blunt new message President Biden is sending to Israel. CNN's MJ Lee is joining us from the White House.

MJ, tell us about this new reporting.

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, as Israel continues its airstrikes and continued ground operations in Gaza. There is a growing concern here at the White House about the continued humanitarian suffering and the rising civilian death toll. Sources tell CNN that the Israeli airstrikes on the Jabalya refugee camp this week was particularly concerning and jarring to President Biden and some of his top aides, and that there is a growing recognition here at the White House that Israel really has limited time to continue its current operation in its current form before the outrage and the uproar about the humanitarian suffering reaches a tipping point. And to that end, we are told President Biden and some of his top national security officials have been urging their Israeli counterparts about what they see as this new reality with growing bluntness. We are also told that some of Biden's advisers believe that there are weeks, not months before the pressure on the U.S. government to publicly call for a ceasefire actually becomes untenable.

Of course, we saw some of this playing out last night when the President himself was confronted by a protester at a private fundraiser. But for now, Wolf, U.S. officials are publicly refusing to call for a ceasefire, saying that what they would like to see are humanitarian pauses. White House spokesperson John Kirby describing what those humanitarian pauses would look like earlier today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We're really not just talking about like one pause. What we're trying to do is explore the idea of as many pauses that as might be necessary to continue to get aid out and to continue to work to get people out safely, including hostages.


LEE: U.S. officials are of course continuing to press their Israeli counterparts about the humanitarian efforts that they say need to continue. And to that end, we have seen now 74 Americans, according to U.S. officials that have left Gaza and are now safely in Egypt. Wolf.

BLITZER: MJ Lee reporting from the White House for us. MJ, thank you very much.

Coming up, much more of our breaking news coverage from here in Israel where tonight we've seen a massive new Israeli air assault on Gaza. Plus, two of Donald Trump's children take the stand in New York. What they had to say about allegations they helped commit fraud. Stay with us. Our special coverage continues right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. Israeli forces unleashing an intense aerial bombardment of Gaza that simply lit up the sky just a little while ago. We were showing it to our viewers live. The war clearly escalating tonight on more than one front for that matter. CNN's Jim Sciutto is on the scene for us in northern Israel.

Jim, tell us what you've been seeing there today because it's very significant.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's notable to see Israeli ground forces advancing further and appears tonight in Gaza because what we witnessed up here today was one of the busiest days of airstrikes, rocket strikes from southern Lebanon into Israel, a warning you might say, from Iran backed Hezbollah militants inside southern Lebanon. They've been firing into Israel, Northern Israel for the last several days consistently every day, but this was the highest pace we've certainly seen. In fact, our team witnessed the Iron Dome missile defense system take out two of those rockets above our heads, though one of them came down and hit the main street of Kiryat Shmona, one of the communities up here as well. And if those missile strikes, those rocket strikes from southern Lebanon were intended to warn Israel away from more aggressive ground operations in Gaza does not appear is what you're witnessing. What we're witnessing down the south tonight does not appear that that warning held or is holding Israel back.

Another sign of Israel's preparations, we found ourselves in the midst of a Special Forces exercise today, live fire exercise in the north very close to the Syrian border. Some of the 70,000 IDF forces now deployed to the north to defend the northern border, participating in this exercise, in effect to keep their skills sharp, prepared to defend in the event of a greater incursion, greater involvement from Hezbollah. And I think you could also read that as a signal to those forces in Lebanon and Syria that Israel is ready if they do come.

The final thing I'll say, Wolf, is a great deal of attention focus tomorrow on the words of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, he's going to be speaking to his followers in Lebanon, and around the region tomorrow for the first time since the start of these latest hostilities. Question many Israeli officials, U.S. intelligence officials are asking is, will he order his forces in effect Hezbollah to intervene in this war more aggressively than they already have? Those rockets we saw today, perhaps a sign, but we're going to be listening to those words very closely tomorrow.

BLITZER: It's interesting, Jim, because I suspect based on a briefing I had today with a senior Israeli military officer, I suspect that what's going on in Gaza right now is at least in part, designed to send a message to Hezbollah and to Iran, for that matter, don't mess with Israel, because if you try anything and open a second front from southern Lebanon into Israel, you're going to pay a huge, huge price. The Air Force of Israel will come in, the ground force will come in and you won't believe what is about to happen. That was the message I think the Israelis are also in part sending tonight.


SCIUTTO: I think you're right, Wolf. And we saw by the way in response to that rocket barrage that we witnessed today, we saw Israeli war planes flying overhead, the IDF saying they struck targets in southern Lebanon today. And you couple, those Air Force strikes, you couple that with Israel's own artillery barrage into southern Lebanon with those exercises we saw today and of course, the action we've been seeing live on our air these last few minutes. And that is, I think, as you say, Israel saying that if need be, we will defend this country on all fronts.

BLITZER: Yes, indeed. That's what they're saying. And presumably that's what they'll be doing. Jim Sciutto, stay safe up there. We'll get back to you at Kiryat Shmona, by the way.

Fortunately, a few days ago, the Israelis evacuated 20,000, 30,000 residents, Israeli residents of Kiryat Shmona. So those rockets came in, but there were very few people there that are left there right now.

I want to bring in CNN military analysts right now to discuss the hugely dramatic developments, a new phase in this war unfolding right now. Retired Colonel Cedric Leighton is with us, retired General Wesley Clark is with us as well.

General Clark, when you see these extraordinary images coming in of this intense Israeli aerosol, the new ground incursion into Gaza, what do you think is taking place right now? GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Oh, they're moving to an escalatory phase, Wolf. They're going to go deeper in, they may insert by helicopter to seize more ground. They're getting targets. They're not just bombing buildings without targets. So they're collecting communications.

They're watching movements that they have targets, and they intend to get this over with. It's not going to be like Mosul, where would they take nine months, they're not going to do that. As they evaluate it, they're willing to put greater risk on the civilians in order to accomplish the military objectives than perhaps we would have.

BLITZER: When I was briefed earlier today by a senior Israeli military officer, a general, this officer said, this is going to go on for a while. Don't expect this war to go on just a few more days or even a few more weeks. They're thinking about months in order to get the job done. Their mission right now is twofold, they say. The first mission is to destroy Hamas as much as possible. Second mission is to get those hostages out safely from Gaza right now.

Colonel Leighton, let me get your reaction to these incredible scenes we've seen over the past 45 minutes or so live here on CNN.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Wolf, I think the -- you know, what you're seeing is what exactly what General Clark describes what's the also be the precursor to some more ground movements. Nic Robertson mentioned a lot of smoke and we can see some of that here in these images. It looks to me like they might be using the cover of smoke to move some of their infantry forces into areas around Beit Hanoun, which is that northeastern town in Gaza. So, that might be a way for them to move forward, take care of that pocket of Hamas fighters, which are supposed to be in Beit Hanoun and then move from there into Gaza itself. We know also that they've surrounded Gaza at least or at least in the process of doing that.

And if that is correct, then it seems as if these movements are part of a campaign that is designed to move forward very, very quickly. And in, you know, in spite of them preparing people for a long war, which is actually the right thing to do, they are also moving as quickly as they can on the military front in order to gain as much territory as possible and destroy as much of Hamas as possible.

BLITZER: Yes, that's their goal right now. General Clark, set the scene first, what do you expect the next step for the IDF will be?

CLARK: They're going to go deeper toward Gaza City. They're going to clear it. As they move, they've got to figure out what the tunnel network is, what the threat is from the rear and the flanks. They're going to put more forces in on the ground to do the security and bring the logistics up. And they're going to hope that these intense bombardments further incentivize the Palestinian population to leave the area north of -- in north Gaza.

They've got to evacuate. That's what the Israelis want. And they're going to draw Hamas to them. And hopefully Hamas then attacks is what the Israelis want attacks these armored formations that are there with a heavy firepower and the artillery.


BLITZER: General Wesley Clark, Colonel Cedric Leighton, guys, thank you very, very much. We're following all of the breaking news right now.

Up next, there's other important news we're following as well, including very testy moments in court today as two of Donald Trump's children actually took the stand in a case that could decide the future of the Trump Organization. Plus, we're closing in on a key vote in the U.S. House of Representatives, a standalone bill funding aid to Israel without additional help for Ukraine.


BLITZER: We'll have much more in all the breaking news coming out of Israel and Gaza in just a few moments. But we're also following another major story back in the United States. Only moments ago, court wrapped up in New York City where not one but two of Donald Trump's sons took the stand. The former president and his company are facing a civil fraud trial accused of repeatedly lying about the value of their assets. CNN's Kara Scannell is outside the courthouse in Manhattan for us. Kara, there were some tense moments in court today I understand, tell our viewers what happened.

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Eric Trump took the stand after his brother Donald Trump Jr. had finished testifying, it was just before noon. And immediately the Attorney General's Office, homed in on these financial statements that are at the heart of this case. They asked Eric Trump if he had any involvement in preparing the statements. He said he didn't. He said he wasn't even aware of them until this case came to fruition.

Well, then the Assistant Attorney General asking the questions spent an hour and 15 minutes showing Eric Trump e-mails going back to 2010, showing him clips of his video deposition that was taken earlier this year where he was asked about these financial statements, trying to get him to concede that he had known about these statements. And then he did respond to questions from the company's controller about how to value some of these properties.

An e-mail was shown with Eric Trump saying to put a value of about $200 million on a golf course. Well, Eric Trump dug in becoming agitated at one point visibly frustrated, raising his voice and saying that he fully understood that they had financial statements, but he said I had no involvement nor ever worked on my father's financial statements. So trying to draw a distinction between any financial information he might be providing, but these actual statements that are at the heart of the case that the judge has already ruled to be fraudulent.

Now, his testimony is going to continue until tomorrow. And that's because at the end of the day, as the Attorney General's Office was about to ask him about his take -- his asserting his Fifth Amendment rights during a deposition several years ago, his lawyers objected. And one of Trumps attorneys Chris Kise had mentioned something to the judge referring to his clerk.

And this is the clerk that has been at the center of the gag order where the former president has been fined for making references to her. Well, the judge got irritated by that suggested that Trump's attorney was misogynist for referencing her and said he might even expand this gag order. But Trump's lawyers said that they needed to make a record that they thought there was some bias in the case, because the judge was conferring with this law clerk. The judge pounding the table saying they were not allowed to know about these private communications. And he told everyone he would see them back tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. Wolf?

BLITZER: We'll be watching. Kara Scannell in New York for us, thank you very much. I want to bring in right now our Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid and former federal prosecutor Shan Wu. And Paula, let me start with you. A lot of this testimony that we've heard has been really in the weeds when it comes to how corporate finances actually work. What has been your biggest takeaway, at least so far?

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, those weeds are the financial documents that are at the heart of this case, and here we heard Eric Trump insists that he had nothing to do with statements regarding the financial fitness of this company. But then, the Attorney General's Office was able to repeatedly present other statements and evidence contradicting what Eric was saying on the stand. And that's why this became at times pretty tense. And you saw his temper kind of flare, as the government pretty effectively undercut his credibility on the stand.

BLITZER: Interesting. Shan Wu, do you think Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. have come across as credible witnesses?

SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No, not at all actually, Wolf. I think this tactic of theirs trying to totally distance themselves saying that they know nothing about the financial statements. Plus, the admissions that came out from Eric, under the examination from the AG, I think it really hurts their credibility, not to mention that last tidbit that Kara gave about that exchange about the judges law clerk, I mean, it's unfathomable to me why his defense counsel are using that kind of tactic here.

What they should be doing is trying to show the judge that there was some good faith efforts made. There could have been honest mistakes. Not this notion that we were running the company, but we don't know anything about what's happening on the financial statements of the company, that just is not very credible. And given that the judge already found fraud, and they're at the question of what kind of punishment is going to be, you know, given out here, I just don't think it's helping their case very much.

TAPPER: Paula, Ivanka Trump may have to testify as well, if she loses her appeal. What kinds of questions would she be expected to face?

REID: Well, Wolf, as you just noted, she is still trying to avoid having to take the stand next week. Now she is no longer a defendant in this case, but prosecutors insists she still has personal knowledge about the Trump Organization and is still very much entwined with the family business.

Now, if she does take the stand next week, it is likely that the questions will focus on a hotel here in Washington, D.C. that they previously owned her involvement in that deal and how she profited from that sale. But because she has a more limited role in this case, the questioning for her will likely be a lot shorter and a lot more narrowly focused.


BLITZER: Interesting. Shan, what do you expect to happen when former President Donald Trump himself itself takes the stand next week?

WU: Well, I think the big question is, will he take the stand? I think he will. I mean, he doesn't have to. But he probably, for reasons of ego, as well as not wanting the adverse inference that can be drawn in a civil case, if he takes the fifth, he probably will take it. I expect more of the same, probably a lot more bluster, more like Don Jr. than like Eric.

But this notion that he would have relied on the accountants and that there was some sort of disclaimer that absolves him of any liability. And again, I think all of that, Wolf, is not really going to go as an effective way of lessening the sanction that may occur, because it's really still trying to litigate liability, saying we didn't really do anything wrong, even though the judge has already found fraud.

So unless Trump is able to really get at this notion of we were involved and we made some honest mistakes here, and fine, you found this fraudulent, but we shouldn't be hit, would the heaviest of the fines or punishment. If he just does the same tactic as his sons did, I don't think it's going to be very effective either.

BLITZER: Interesting. Shan Wu and Paula Reid, to both of you, thank you very much. We'll stay on top of this story for sure.

Just ahead, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents are certainly on the rise across the United States, with college campuses becoming a frontline for heated, sometimes violent divisions over the Israel- Hamas war. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We're following political developments back in the United States as well. Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley trying to take advantage of Ron DeSantis's faltering campaign and seize the second position behind Donald Trump. CNN's Jeff Zeleny is out there on the campaign trail watching all of this, watching Haley in New Hampshire specifically right now. Jeff, how has Nikki Haley managed to close the gap with Ron DeSantis?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one of the ways is by holding town hall meetings like this, which she'll be about to be doing here this evening in New Hampshire, taking many questions from voters, both here in New Hampshire, also in the early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina. If you take a look at a couple recent polls just this week, including our poll from South Carolina, you can see how she is in a strong second place.

But, of course, far behind former President Donald Trump, who has a commanding lead in all of these states as well as nationally. But she has eclipsed the Florida governor there. But if you look at an Iowa poll, of course, Iowa is going to open this contest on January 15th. She is locked in a dead heat with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis again well below Donald Trump.

But, Wolf, as we've been traveling across New Hampshire with her, talking to voters, they say they like her strength. They say they like her seriousness. Also her attention to foreign policy, which she's been talking about throughout the course of the campaign. Today, she weighed in very strongly on the question of funding for Israel and Ukraine.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And now you're hearing this story of, do we fund Israel or do we fund Ukraine? Don't get involved in that, because you know what, America can never be so arrogant to think we don't need friends. You want to see the connection? This isn't just about a war in Europe. It's not just about a war in the Middle East. This isn't just about China on the march. When all of this happened, what's the first thing Putin did? He didn't call Netanyahu in Israel. He called and invited Hamas to Russia.


ZELENY: So, of course, she's a former governor of South Carolina as well as a former U.N. ambassador during the Trump administration. So she has been talking about foreign policy throughout the course of the campaign. Of course, now it is front and center in the conversation. But, Wolf, when you talk to voters, there's no doubt they are giving her a look because of her strong debate performances in the first two Republican debates. She has a third Republican debate next week. Of course, she's on a collision course with the Florida governor here.

But, Wolf, for all the talk of her rise and in clear -- it's clear she has been rising, it's still a race for second place that she is locked in. The ultimate question is this a winning moment for her in the end, when she would eventually, hopefully, take on Donald Trump in her view, we will see if that should happen. But there is no question about it. Donald Trump, the former president, still has a very commanding lead in all early primary states and indeed around the country. Wolf?

BLITZER: No question about that. Jeff Zeleny in Nashua, New Hampshire for us, Jeff, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, college campuses have become a flashpoint for anti-Semitic and Islamophobic hate incidents, which have also been rising across the United States since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. Brian Todd is monitoring these very disturbing developments for us. What's the latest, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tensions are boiling tonight at some of America's best known elite universities, many of which are really struggling to bring anti-Semitism and Islamophobia on campus under control.


TODD (voice-over): At Cornell University, classes canceled Friday in the wake of the arrest of a student for making disturbing anti-Semitic threats. While students say they're breathing a sigh of relief.

EMMA, CORNELL LAW STUDENT WHO'S CONCERNED ABOUT ANTI-SEMITISM ON CAMPUS: We're still scared. We're glad he's in custody, but there's still certainly a fearful environment.


TODD (voice-over): A 21-year-old junior at Cornell, Patrick Dai, is in custody and has not yet entered a plea. Prosecutors say in online posts, he threatened to kill Jewish students at Cornell and to shoot up a mainly kosher dining hall on campus. One prominent Jewish advocate says this about the cancellation of classes at the university.

TED DEUTCH, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE: A day off is not the answer. I'm not saying that it's the wrong decision. There is a lot of stress us at Cornell. But the response that has to come is some moral clarity on campuses and the recognition that what we're seeing now is related to Hamas's attack on October 7th. It's an unwillingness to simply call out that terror.

TODD (voice-over): Cornell's president says the school is now enhancing its efforts to combat anti-Semitism. But it's one of several universities in America struggling tonight to deal with an inundation of protest, anger, and fear prompted by the Israel Hamas war. Those emotions have sometimes led to threats and outright violence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The events in Israel and Gaza have always been a touch point for individuals in the U.S. And there's a lot of passion there, and sometimes that translates into violence.

TODD (voice-over): At Columbia University in New York, dozens of students staged a walkout on Wednesday of a class in which Hillary Clinton was lecturing. Their protest over the fact that some Columbia students were publicly labeled anti-Semites after they'd signed anti- Israel statement. Columbia's president has now announced a task force to combat anti-Semitism, a similar effort undertaken at the University of Pennsylvania, whose president has been under pressure to resign over a Palestinian literary conference at the school held before the war started.

MIA BLOOM, EXPERT ON EXTREMISM, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: It's being driven by the fact that they're worried about the extent to which they're losing their donors. They're losing their funding. TODD (voice-over): Top law enforcement officials are also tracking a huge spike in Islamophobia in the U.S. since the war started, harassment, threats, violence against Muslims, an advocate says, for expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people.

AMR SHABAIK, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: Nationwide, CAIR's national office has recorded almost 800 and counting bias based incidents targeting Muslims, Palestinians, and Arabs across the country over the last three and a half weeks.


TODD: And the colleges are also feeling additional pressure from outside their campuses. Some of the nation's most powerful law firms have written a letter to America's elite universities warning them to crack down on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, strongly implying they won't hire students who take part in that. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Brian, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, my report on the Israelis keeping hope alive on behalf of hostages who lost their entire families in the Hamas terror attack. You're going to hear their powerful support for those who can't speak for themselves. We'll do that right after a quick break.



BLITZER: It's now been nearly a month since Hamas kidnapped more than 200 people as it carried out its deadly October 7th attack. The carnage left entire communities in Israel devastated. And for some captives, no family left to speak on their behalf. Today, I had the chance to meet with one Israeli woman keeping hope alive.


BLITZER (voice-over): Here in Tel Aviv, family and friends come to honor and raise awareness about their loved ones who are missing and being held hostage by Hamas. But some families don't have anyone to speak for them.

SHIRI GROSBARD, FAMILY FRIEND: I'm here on behalf of the Trupanob family, basically because there's no one else left from the family to stand up for them. Honestly, I couldn't bear it. These are just good, honest people.

BLITZER (voice-over): Every member of the Trupanob family was killed or kidnapped from the Nir Oz kibbutz on October 7th, according to Israeli officials.

GROSBARD: This is Grandmother Irena. Irena Tati. She's a pediatrician, a children's doctor. I know that, you know, if there are kids there, she's taking care of them. This is Lena. Lena is the mother, Elena. We saw her on the video that Hamas released three days ago.

BLITZER (on camera): So you know she's alive?

GROSBARD: We know she's alive. Sasha is Lena's son. He's 27. His birthday is up in nine days. Sasha is a brilliant young engineer, and he had his girlfriend, Sapir. They recently moved in together, and she was with him visiting his parents for the weekend.

BLITZER (voice-over): Vitali, Sasha's father and Elena's husband, can't speak for his family. He was murdered by Hamas.

GROSBARD: His body was found 10 days later, after October 7th, right at the outskirts of Gaza.

BLITZER (voice-over): Grosbard told us that Trupanobs have no other relatives in Israel. They moved here more than 25 years ago after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

GROSBARD: There's a saying in Hebrew, and we say, (Speaking in Foreign Language), which basically means that we stand up for each other and we vouch for each other. I'm also a third generation to two Holocaust survivors. Something about this story, I couldn't bear it.

BLITZER (voice-over): Shiri Grosbard worked with Sasha and grew up in a different kibbutz. Since the terror attacks, she's been volunteering at the family forum to raise awareness about the Trupanobs story.

GROSBARD: When you live on kibbutz, then everyone is your family.

BLITZER (voice-over): The Nir Oz kibbutz was hit particularly hard. Out of the 400 people living there on October 7th, it is believed dozens were killed and kidnapped.

GROSBARD: I think in a lot of people's minds, they're moving towards the situation that's happening right now with Gaza, with the military and everything. But we're still here, they're still there, and we need to keep speaking up.

BLITZER (on camera): Are you at all hopeful that these people will come home?

GROSBARD: I am 100 percent sure. We're not having it any other way. These are our people. Of course we'll bring them home 100 percent.



BLITZER: And if you saw that long table with all those empty chairs, which we all saw today, that was a Shabbat dinner that they're preparing when all 248 hostages come back to Israel. That's why they set up that long table with all those empty chairs right there.

Coming up, an Israeli assault lights up the skies dramatically over Gaza just a little while ago, as the IDF now says, it has Gaza City completely surrounded. We'll have live reporting from the region just ahead.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, Northern Gaza bombarded in a new Israeli assault, lighting up the sky with flares and covering the ground with choking smoke. The air and ground war is clearly intensifying as Israeli forces now say they have Gaza City completely surrounded.


Also tonight, as more Americans and other civilians are allowed finally to escape Gaza into Egypt, Hamas has a new warning about the hostages it's holding in the battered territory.