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At Least 50 Dead in Strike on Yemen School, Mostly Children; Senator: Russians Have Penetrated Florida's Voting System; Israel & Hamas Trade Fire in Sudden Escalation. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired August 9, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:34:34] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Dozens of children, most under the age of 10, killed in an airstrike that hit a school bus.

Just a warning, the video we'll be showing you is graphic.

The bus was driving through a market in a rebel-held area of Yemen. Officials say the children were on their way to summer camps. This child still wearing a little backpack when he arrived at the hospital. The strike came from a Saudi-led coalition, which called the airstrike, and I'm quoting now, "a legitimate military action."

Our senior international correspondent, Nima Elbagir, is joining us now.

Nima, update our viewers. What's the latest?

[13:35:09] NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The death toll, Wolf, sadly, has crept up throughout the day. It currently stands at 50 killed and 70 injured. The majority of those are children. As you said, most of them are children under the age of 10.

I think it's really important to let our viewers know that footage that you showed actually isn't the worst of it. Much of the footage, much of what we saw of the aftermath of this attack is too graphic to show on air. Some of those images that I watched show dismembered limbs of children piled up in the back of pickup trucks. It showed children who had been burnt so badly that their facial features were indistinguishable. It showed children trying to crawl to safety. This attack, eyewitnesses tell us, Wolf, happened in the middle of a marketplace. They say it was a direct hit. As you just read there, the Saudi-led coalition is not denying that this strike happened. They're saying that this was a legitimate targeting of terrorist assets that their intelligence told them were responsible for the ballistic missile strikes that had been targeting civilian areas.

So far, all we have seen is condemnation from a variety of international agencies. But what we haven't seen is condemnations from government. We haven't seen any condemnations coming out of the White House. That, unfortunately, is par for the course, Wolf. Just in June when, humanitarian organizations were trying to negotiate a cease-fire in the last remaining functioning port in Yemen, really the only outlet Yemenis have to get in much-needed supplies, the U.S. and U.K. blocked even just a statement calling for a cease-fire. That, of course, goes back to really how much of the weapons have been used by the Saudi-led coalition have been bought from both the U.S. and the U.K.

The hope inside Yemen, from those we're speaking to, is that this horror could prove to be a turning point. But, frankly, Wolf, they're not that hopeful.

BLITZER: Yes, and when we report that the Saudi-led coalition airstrike was responsible, do we know if it was a Saudi war plane or another coalition partner's war plane?

ELBAGIR: That still hasn't been confirmed. But the Saudis have come back with a variety of different explanations. They called this "dynamic targeting," Wolf, which is not a military term that I personally am familiar with, nor many of the contacts I've reached out to in other militaries are familiar with. But that's their current explanation for how this could come to pass.

BLITZER: Truly awful, awful situation.

Nima Elbagir, thank you for updating our viewers. We'll certainly stay on top of this story. A horrendous situation in Yemen.

ELBAGIR: Thank you.

BLITZER: There's more news we're following here in the United States. Florida Senator Bill Nelson now says Russian operatives have penetrated some of his state's voting systems. The only problem, the state of Florida, the secretary of state there, says it has zero information to back up the Senator's claim.


[13:42:50] BLITZER: "The United Sanctions of America" -- that's what Russia is now calling the U.S. after the imposition of new sanctions. The Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesperson says the sanctions are unacceptable and called the USA, and I'm quoting now, "an unpredictable participant in international affairs."

The new sanctions were ordered in response to the February poison attack in Britain of a former Russian spy and his daughter. Both survived the attack. Russia denies any involvement. The sanctions are actually mandated by a 1991 chemical weapons law.

Here with us to discuss, Susan Glasser, CNN global affairs analyst and writer for "The New Yorker," and Ryan Lizza, CNN political analyst and chief political correspondent for "Esquire."

Susan, you spent a lot of time in Russia. The Russians, presumably, insist they will retaliate. What, if anything, do you think is going to happen?

SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, you know, we've seen these tit-for-tat rounds before with diplomatic expulsions, the closing of the consulates and the like. What's extraordinary about this is, first of all, it represents a pretty belated response to this astonishing use of deadly nerve agent on British soil months ago. Actually, the Trump administration is required by international biological chemical weapons conventions to do something about it if a state is accused of being in violation of it. They spent months not doing anything, belatedly made this action. Of course, it comes after the president's very friendly Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin. To me, it actually underscores just how sort of double headed the Trump administration policy is. You have Donald Trump's policy toward Russia, which is very conciliatory and very different from the often- tough policy of his own administration. And this is another example of that.

BLITZER: They did, the administration, expel about 60 Russian diplomats but did not impose the sanctions, which were required as part of this 1991 chemical weapons law. And it was only after the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ed Royce, in late July, wrote a letter to the president saying, you know what, you've missed the deadline. The law says 60 days. You're beyond that. You got to do this.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This law is on the books and, all the sudden, the administration was made aware of it and were forced to act, which is the pattern here, right. You have a president who is almost obsequious in his relationship with Vladimir Putin. But you still have a lot of Republicans in Congress and even a few in the administration who want to pursue a tougher line. So you can't blame the Kremlin for saying the United States is a little unpredictable, right. They have a president who is pursuing one agenda with Russia, and we have Republicans in Congress and some in the administration who are pushing other issues. The government is divided. So it's not surprising that the Kremlin is trying to figure out where this relationship is actually going.

[13:45:39] BLITZER: What do you make of Senator Bill Nelson of Florida? He's up for re-election. Now suggesting, claiming there's evidence that the Russians are actually hacking into electoral systems, election systems in the state of Florida. The secretary of state there says they don't have any evidence of that. What do you think?

GLASSER: Well, you know, first of all, we have heard increasing warnings, including from some inside Trump's administration, that Russians are poised to attack once again using cyber means in advance of the 2018 elections. Yet, the real story there, right, has been this has become a partisan issue in U.S. politics. So you have Republican state election officials saying that the very endangered Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson, is somehow making a charge that they haven't substantiated. Just the other day, up on Capitol Hill in Washington, you have Republicans voting down a measure to give more money to election security in the states, presumably, to combat Russian hacking. So, you know, part of the story is because President Trump has so adamantly denied that Russia intervened on his behalf in 2016, we're still pointing fingers rather than having a concerted government response to the very real threats according to U.S. intelligence to American election systems. BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stick around.

There's more news we're following, including a sharp escalation in the Middle East as Israel and Hamas exchange fire for more than 24 hours. What's behind this flare-up? Will it continue to escalate? We'll go live to the scene.


[13:51:37] BLITZER: A sharp escalation between Israel and Hamas. The two sides exchanging fire now for more than 24 hours, disrupting attempts to secure a long-term cease-fire.




BLITZER: The Israeli Air Force carrying out widescale strikes on Hamas targets inside Gaza, as Gaza militants, led my Hamas, fire scores of rockets and mortars.

Our Oren Liebermann is joining us from just outside Gaza.

Oren, Israel says at least 180 rockets and mortars were launched at them from Gaza. What led up to the flare-up? What's the latest? What are you learning?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this started on Tuesday afternoon when Israeli military targeted a Hamas military post with tank fire killing two Hamas militants. Hamas and Islamic Jihad led a response and we saw that response start on Wednesday night, leading very much up until today. A short time ago, the Israeli Air Force targeted a multi-storied building in Gaza. Hamas says it was a cultural center. Israel says it was a building for Hamas' interior security. Just before that, militants in Gaza had fired a rocket at the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, quite a distance from Gaza, indicating it may have been a larger, more powerful rocket. That all happened after a bit of a lull in the fighting, pretty much immediately dashed hopes of an imminent cease- fire. That all started Wednesday night. Israel says Hamas has fired more than 180 rockets and mortars, injuring a number of Israelis, according to the Israeli military. In response, a way of Israeli airstrikes against what they say are Hamas military targets in Gaza. In those strikes, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, three Palestinians have been killed, including a young mother and her 18-month-old daughter -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Bad situation, indeed.

Oren, ending these sharp escalations often take some level of international intervention, some level of medication. Are we seeing that yet? Is there anything going on?

LIEBERMANN: Absolutely. United Nations leaders here as well as Egypt have been working with Israel, talking to Israel and to Hamas, essentially mediating between the two sides, because they won't talk to each other, trying to find some sort of common ground for a cease- fire. Those efforts have been ongoing since last night and are ongoing at the moment. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas calling for international help. The Trump administration siding very much with Israel. Trump' special advisor, Jason Greenblatt, tweeting, "Hamas regime again is launching rockets at Israeli communities. Another night of terror and families huddling in fear. Israel defends itself. This is the Hamas regime's choice. Hamas is subjecting people to the terrifying conditions of war again"

So, Wolf, the lines in the sand have been drawn. It's now the U.N. and Egypt trying to get all the sides here to back down.

[13:54:21] BLITZER: Yes, let's hope this quiets down very, very quickly.

Oren Liebermann, on the scene for us, thank you very much.

There's more news just into CNN. The first lady's parents, Melania Trump's parents now officially U.S. citizens. We have details.


BLITZER: This is just coming in to CNN. Melania Trump's parents have officially been sworn in as United States citizens. The president's in-laws took the oath this morning in New York City. This is them standing beside their attorney just a little while ago. Their attorney says the first lady's family, they are very grateful and very appreciative. The attorney also adds that the category in which they received their U.S. citizenship will be confidential. Until now, Melania Trump's parents had been living here in the United States as permanent residents with green cards. Congratulations to the family on this very important day. New U.S. citizens for the parents of the first lady.

[14:00:00] That's it for me. Thanks for watching. I'll be back at 5:00 p.m. Eastern in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

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