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Palestinians Clash with Israeli Forces; Russia Expels Diplomats and Tests New Ballistic Missile; Trump White House; Officer Who Shot Alton Sterling is Fired; South Korean Musicians to Perform in North Korea; China's Space Lab to Fall to Earth Soon. Aired 2-2:30a ET

Aired March 31, 2018 - 02:00   ET




CYRIL VANIER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Scene near the Israeli border as Gaza residents begin a campaign of protests. At least 17 Palestinians were killed on Friday, according to Palestinian officials.

The Pentagon says it needs to keep U.S. troops in Syria just as U.S. President Trump announces they'll be out soon. I'll talk to a general who knows the battlefield.

And a defunct Chinese space station is hurtling towards Earth as we speak. Don't worry, the chance is any of get hit are tiny, say the experts.

I'm Cyril Vanier. This is CNN NEWSROOM in Atlanta. Thank you for joining us.


VANIER: Saturday turns out to be a day of mourning for Palestinians. At least 17 were killed in clashes with Israeli troops on Friday and almost 1,500 wounded, all of this according to the Palestinian ministry of health.

Here is how things looked on the Palestinian side of the border between Israel and Gaza. Israel says tens of thousands of Palestinians rushed the fence. Witnesses say Israeli troops opened fire and sometimes with live ammunition. And this was just day one of what's expected to be at least six weeks of protests.

The campaign Palestinians are calling the March of Return. Israel blames Hamas for the violence. The Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas blames Israel. He also called for international action.


MAHMOUD ABBAS, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT (through translator): I have asked the United Nations today for immediate action to provide international protection for our Palestinian people facing this continuous and escalating daily aggression.

I have asked the envoy of the State of Palestine at the United Nations to communicate with members of the U.N. Security Council and the general assembly.


VANIER: I want to war you, this next report contains graphic video. Ian Lee was in the middle of the protests and he showed us what happened


IAN LEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The value of land in blood and tears. Earlier, Gazans moved toward the border. Israeli soldiers monitor from a dirt berm on the other side.

First, they fire warnings, then tear gas.

The Palestinians advance, some hurling rocks with slingshots. Then come Israeli bullets and the casualties.

LEE: Throughout the course of the day, we have seen so many people injured that the ambulances have a tough time of keeping up. They drop the injured people off at the hospital; they get back, usually filled up and they are off again.

LEE (voice-over): The death toll rises, more than 1,000 injured. Overwhelmed hospitals struggle to cope. Still, the tens of thousands rally around the Palestinian flag. They are demanding to return to their lands lost in the 1948 war, which is now in Israel. Hamas urged them to remain peaceful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Of course we feel afraid but we should sacrifice for our land. People should sacrifice for it. But, of course, we feel scared. We are afraid because our children are very important for us.

LEE (voice-over): Scenes like this played out along the border, Palestinians and Israeli soldiers squaring off. For the residents of Gaza, the goal is simple.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are ready to cross now over to the border. We aren't waiting. We have crossed it before and we will do it again.

LEE (voice-over): Crossing that fence is a red line for Israel's military, blaming Hamas for the day's violence and issuing a warning that the army views with great severity any breach of Israeli sovereignty or attempts to damage the security infrastructure.

Yet still, the young men of Gaza push forward, casualties mounting. The largest protest Gaza has seen in years, met with deadly violence. And this is only day one -- Ian Lee, CNN, Gaza.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VANIER: The U.N. secretary general wants an investigation into the violence and a senior U.N. official warns the situation in Gaza could deteriorate in the coming days. Here is part of his statement.

He says, "Israel must uphold its responsibilities under international human rights and humanitarian law. Lethal force should only be used as a last resort, with any resulting fatalities properly investigated by authorities."

Now Russia had promised to respond. And so it did. Diplomats from at least 23 countries are no longer welcome in Russia.


VANIER: Moscow expelled 50 of them, that's retaliation for Russian diplomats in more than 20 countries told to leave. All of this comes a day after Russia told 60 U.S. diplomats to get out. You're look looking at diplomatic staff leaving the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg now closed by the Russian government.

It all started with the nerve attack in Britain on a former Russian spy and his daughter. The U.K. says Russia was behind that. Moscow denies it.

And Russia is showing off military capability. It has just released new video of an intercontinental missile test. It's called the Sarmat. NATO calls it Satan 2. It comes just days after several countries expelled Russian diplomats and Moscow followed suit. Brian Todd takes a look at the diplomatic fallout from this missile test.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is powerful, provocative and now it is on public display.

Vladimir Putin's latest threat to America is this intercontinental ballistic missile, officially called the Sarmat, but nicknamed by western officials the Satan Two for its deadly force. The missile's test firing was rolled out by Russia in high-definition.

Putin says, it has virtually no limitations on distance, capable of reaching the United States.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (through a translator): It is capable of attacking targets via both the North and South Pole. Sarmat is a formidable weapon. No system, not even perspective missile defense systems are an obstacle for it due to its characteristics.

TODD: The Russians say, this missile can carry as many as 16 nuclear warheads, enough to wipe out Texas. This dramatic test firing, which experts say was meant to send a signal to the U.S., comes on the heels of Putin's grandiose presentation of other Russian weapons systems a few weeks ago.

Including a cruise missile, which can fly low to the ground, weave around obstacles and enemy radar and is powered by a nuclear engine on board.

As well as this unmanned underwater drone launched from a submarine, it could carry a nuclear warhead directly to an enemy sitting.

U.S. officials tell CNN, they have doubts that many of these weapons are near operational. But experts say the Russians will get there. And for Putin, there's a bigger game of foot. What's his motivation here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's got two audiences. First is always his domestic audience to show Russians and to show the rest of the elite that Russia's still a great military power. The other audience is always a conversation with the United States to show us that he's a force to be reckoned with.

TODD: As he flexes his military muscle, Putin is now in an all- out diplomatic brawl with the U.S. and its allies over the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England. The Kremlin denies Britain's the claims that Putin is behind the

attack. But after the Trump administration, along with several European countries kicked out dozens of Russian diplomats, Putin is retaliating, expelling western diplomats from Russia.

And according to Politico, Russia's new ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, has complained in a letter to Republican Senator Orrin Hatch that he can't get meetings with anyone in the Trump White House, with cabinet secretaries, or members of Congress. If that's true, why would Antonov be shut out?

JOHN KIRBY, CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: No doubt, if I'm in the administration, the last person I want to see on calendar is the ambassador from Russia to the United States, at least right now.

And if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it in a way that it is incredibly transparent, lots of people in the room and I'm going to be somewhat protected. Number two, I think it very much is in response to the poisoning in the U.K. and the evidence that Russia was behind it.

TODD: But the White House is now claiming that ambassador Antonov's claim is not true, a senior White House official telling CNN that they have always been responsive to Antonov, that he has met several times with senior National Security Council officials throughout the year and that they have encouraged other people in the U.S. government to meet with him.

This official points out that that's access to U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, has not been granted in Moscow -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


VANIER: And meanwhile officials in the Trump administration are scratching their heads over a surprise comment the president made on Thursday about Syria. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We are knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon. Very soon, we're coming out. We'll have 100 percent of the faith as they call it, sometimes referred to as land. We are taking it all back, quickly. We are going to come out of there real soon.


VANIER: Well, the senior administration official tells CNN that they're still trying to figure out exactly what Mr. Trump meant. The official says the Pentagon believes a withdrawal could leave a power vacuum in Syria. Military leaders have said that they want to stop ISIS from ever --


VANIER: -- reemerging.

This is when you want to talk to retired General Mark Hertling, who's also our CNN military analyst.

General, great to have you with us. You were on the ground in Iraq, I should point out for our viewers. So you know this part of the world well. You know this battlefield well, Iraq, Syria.

General, candidate Trump promised to defeat ISIS and then leave.

Has the U.S. now won that war?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Absolutely not, Cyril. And this is one of the things that continues to come out of this fight in both Syria and Iraq, that you may have harmed or defeated part of the caliphate and taken away certain areas of ground along the Euphrates and the Tigris River Valley. But until you have defeated the ideology, you can't claim a victory.

And this is the mistake that we, the coalition and the Iraqis and the Syrians have made so many times before, where they believed, because they have killed a great number of people, that it has defeated the ideology.

It has not. We have said many times before that taking away land is not defeating the idea. That's still a fight that exists in the future. And as soon as you take your eye off the ball and think you have won, another organization, another ganglike structure, another network will rise up again.

VANIER: Look, apparently, the Pentagon doesn't believe it's time to pull out, contrary to the U.S. president. In fact the Pentagon doesn't even believe that defeating ISIS is enough of a reason to pull out. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DANA WHITE, CHIEF PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: While the coalition has significantly degraded ISIS, important work remains to guarantee the lasting defeat of these violent extremists.


VANIER: That was Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White, speaking just hours before the president says we're going to get out of there quickly.

So does he not just not agree with his military apparatus?

This is another instance where the president has his own thinking, distinct from what his advisers are telling him?

HERTLING: There certainly seems to be some disconnect not only with the Department of Defense but also the State Department that issued a similar statement that you just heard.

So, yes, I think there are some differences of approaches. And perhaps the president is speaking out of turn. His advisers have said that he perhaps was using rhetoric to jump ahead because he had received briefings about the status of ISIS.

But, truthfully, this is dangerous. And what you have to consider is a couple of things.

First of all, how do our allies hear these statements from both the president and the Department of Defense?

How do our adversaries -- and I'll include in that category Russia, Syria and Iran and maybe even to a degree, Turkey, who is our NATO ally but certainly they have done some things that are contrary to what we need to happen in the fight in Northern Syria.

But also how do our good friends on the ground, how do the military individuals who are working with us, the Syrian Defense Fighters as well as the Kurds, who have been fighting with us for some time in Northern Syria?

How do they hear these kinds of statements?


HERTLING: There are certainly disconnects in every approach. And this is a time of the campaign where you really need to have all the people on the same sheet of music, all singing the same song, having the one band, one sound approach to what is attempting to happen next in this fight against ISIS.

VANIER: The U.S. currently has about 2,000 troops in Syria. I mean, we are -- this is not a situation like Iraq and Afghanistan, where the U.S. had tens of thousands of soldiers committed, 2,000 people.

Is that a big commitment?

HERTLING: It is not from the standpoint of quantity. But there is certainly a significant amount of quality in those 2,000 forces and what they're contributing to the coalition fight and how they're partnering with the SDF and the Kurds.

And, again, this goes back to, having been on the ground in these kinds of situations before, when some of our allies and partners in the fight hear these kinds of statements, they will initially turn to their partners, whether it be a sergeant or a captain or a lieutenant colonel, who is actually advising and assisting in these kinds of fights, and they will hear these, make no mistake about it.

And they will say, what's going on with your government?

Are you or are you not still with us?

And what can we expect of you in the future?

And that's why these kinds of statements are so critically important in terms of sending a message and sending a signal not only to allied and partner governments and foes but also to the soldiers on the ground.

That's the one, truthfully, Cyril, that I'm most concerned about.

What happens in the fight when the people you are partnering with hear these kind of statements and think that there might be --


HERTLING: -- a little bit of space between what is being said by the commander in chief versus what they're being told by the young people, who are fighting alongside with them on the battlefield?

VANIER: General Mark Hertling, we'll see how it develops. But it's been good talking to you. Thank you.

HERTLING: Always a pleasure, Cyril, thank you.

VANIER: Malala Yousafzai, the 20-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, is visiting her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. This is video of her helicopter landing. She hasn't seen her home since the Taliban tried to kill her back in 2012.


MALALA YOUSAFZAI, EDUCATION ACTIVIST (through translator): I am very happy I'm back in Pakistan. I keep telling myself I'm in Pakistan. It feels like a dream. I can't believe it. I used to look at maps and tell myself that it's my country and it's very far away but now I'm here.

And the future is our girls and their education. I want to make sure that they get education and become an integral part of society.


VANIER: Malala says she is hopeful for Pakistan's future. During an interview on local TV, she praised rise in activism in her country and the fight for free speech.

Coming up, the fight for justice against police shootings. How two U.S. cities hundreds of miles apart are dealing with the deaths of two African American men, both of them killed by police. Stay with us.




VANIER: Many cities in the U.S. are reckoning with police violence, particularly against African Americans. Now we have new developments in the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling back in 2016.

On Friday, officials in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, say they fired officer Blane Salamoni for violating their use of the force policy. Officials also released four new videos from the night that Sterling was killed. We're about to show you some of that footage. We have to warn you, though, some of it is disturbing.

It shows two officers trying to get Sterling to put his hands against a car and eventually struggling with him on the ground. Seconds later, gunshots are heard. And in another part of the video, Sterling is shown dying on the ground.

Now I want to take to you Sacramento, California, a city also reeling. Protesters are demanding justice for Stephon Clark. Police shot this unarmed African American man less than two weeks ago. On Friday, a new autopsy ordered by Clark's family showed he was shot eight times, six times in the back.

The family's lawyers say that that contradicts the police version of the shooting that Clark was running toward them when they fired. Ryan Young has more from Sacramento.


RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Another night of protests in Sacramento. You can see the protesters behind me, letting their voices be heard. Of course, this is a day that had a lot of high emotion because the attorney for the family came out with their own findings and autopsy.

The autopsy shows that they believe in their investigation that Clark was shot multiple times and then six shots hit him in the back and then another in the leg. The father of two, they believe, was on the grounds dying for several minutes before he received help.


YOUNG: And of course, ultimately, he died.

Now, you can feel the power of this protest that has been taking to the streets for the last few days. They do plan to have another protest Saturday before the NBA game here. There's been a lot of conversation about what to do next here in the city.

We do know the police department has said they will not comment about the independent autopsy because they do not want to comment before their investigation is finished. What they are doing here, though, is they're standing still right outside of city hall to make sure their voices are heard.

Once again, another protest Saturday, a lot of people wondering what will happen next because people in this community say, they want to have more answers from the authorities involved -- Ryan Young, CNN, Sacramento.


VANIER: Despite North Korea's newfound interest in diplomacy, the international community continues to increase the pressure on Pyongyang. Days after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited China's president, the U.N. Security Council again moved -- this happened on Friday -- to blocked North Korea's efforts to smuggle oil and coal.

It accepted a U.S. proposal to blacklist dozens of ships and shipping companies. A meeting between Mr. Kim and South Korean president Moon Jae-in is planned for April 27th. The North Korean leader is also expected to meet with U.S. President Trump, also, although we don't know when or where.

The U.S. and South Korean military are also planning a show of force. Joint military drills will be starting on Sunday. Meanwhile, South Korean artists will put on a different kind of show.

These performers just left for North Korea for a short tour, even a concert in Pyongyang. The 160-member troupe includes a K-pop girl band and rock singers. It's the first time in more than a decade South Korean artists will be performing in the North.

Still to come, it's the size of a school bus. And it is hopelessly adrift. But don't worry. Parts of this plummeting space lab are unlikely to hit you. We'll have the details ahead.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three, two, one.

VANIER (voice-over): SpaceX successfully launching 10 satellites into orbit on Friday. However, it did fail to catch the rocket's $6 million nose cone with a net. That crashed into water at high speed. That matters to SpaceX because SpaceX is working to reuse rocket components to cut the cost of space missions.

(END VIDEO CLIP) VANIER: Meanwhile, scientists say a Chinese space station falling toward Earth could enter the atmosphere within days. The Tiangong-1 or Heavenly Palace, as it is known, has been in a decaying orbit since it stopped functioning two years ago. Ivan Watson is literally tracking it for us. He's in Beijing right now.

Ivan, why is there a space station speeding towards us, pray tell?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, the Heavenly Palace is falling out of the heavens right now. Let's just first show you, we have satellite trackers showing where the Chinese space lab is approximately at this time.

It's over the South Pacific approaching the western coast of South America at a speed of about 7.8 kilometers a second. It's going around the Earth roughly once every 89 minutes. Now the Tiangong-1--


WATSON: -- was fired up into space by the Chinese space agency in 2011. It was China's first space lab. And there were -- Chinese astronauts were visiting it. But the last time that happened, Cyril, was in 2013.

Now in 2017, China informed the United Nations officially that it had basically lost contact with the space lab for more than a year. The last time they've actually been able to communicate with it was in 2016. And they informed the U.N. that they were going to closely monitor its deterioration and how it was going to fall out of orbit.

They insisted that it had fully fulfilled its, quote, "historic mission," and that the danger to aviation and to the ground was very low. That's been backed up by other experts as well, who insist that there is very little danger of somebody being hurt by this, probably less than chance than being struck by lightning.

But it's expected that it will enter the Earth's atmosphere in the next 24 hours. And some people may see it kind of fall apart into a fire ball in the sky -- Cyril.

Ivan Watson, monitoring this from Beijing. You have got 24 hours to keep tracking this. It's good to know we are safe.


VANIER: Thank you for watching. We're back with the headlines next. Thank you.