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Worst Fighting in Years Edges Toward All-Out War between Israel and Palestinians; 71 Bodies Pulled from Ganges River; Nepal Faces Oxygen Crisis and Government Collapse; Confusing Claims on Transmission of Virus Outdoors; Israel Ramps Up Airstrikes Amid Rocket Fire from Gaza; CNN Goes Inside Sacred City Besieged in Ethiopia's Tigray; Chinese Zoo Criticized for Concealing Big Cats' Escape. Aired 12-12:45a ET

Aired May 12, 2021 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John Vause.

Coming up this hour, no off ramp in sight: an unprecedented number of rockets from Gaza deep into Israeli territory. Already, the worst violence between both sides in 7 years.

Going global: India's coronavirus mutations spreading beyond the region, has concerns growing about the effectiveness of current vaccines.

Searching for an escaped leopard in one of China's biggest cities, also searching for answers.

Why did officials from the zoo remain silent for more than a week?


VAUSE: It is 7 am in Tel Aviv and Gaza City, and with no off ramp to the escalating violence, Israelis and Palestinians appear to be inching closer to an all-out war, the likes of which has not been seen since 2014.

Air raid sirens were heard in Tel Aviv just a few hours ago, after another volley of rockets were fired from Gaza. More than 70 kilometers away, Hamas says, the attack was in response to repeated Israeli airstrikes.

Health officials in Gaza say at least 35 people, including 12 children, have been killed during the Israeli offensive already. This 13th story residential tower was leveled by Israel's air force on Tuesday. The IDF claims the building was being used by Hamas for military research.

That brought a barrage of rocket fire from Gaza aimed at Tel Aviv, forcing the closure of Ben Gurion International Airport. Israel says the rocket fired from Gaza has killed at least three people, with reports 7 were injured when a rocket hit a bus just south of Tel Aviv.

Despite growing international pressure on both sides to de-escalate, Israeli prime Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu warns this is just the beginning.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): Hamas and the Islamic Jihad will pay for this and they will pay a heavy price.

ISMAIL HANIYEH, SENIOR HAMAS POLITICAL LEADER (through translator): If Israel wants to escalate, we are ready for it. And if it wants to stop, we're also ready. If they want to remove their hand over Jerusalem, we are ready.


VAUSE: CNN has extensive coverage in the coming hours ahead. But we begin with CNN correspondent Hadas Gold, reporting from Ashkelon on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza.


HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sirens, let's go, let's go, let's go.

GOLD (voice-over): In Ashkelon and other neighborhoods near the Gaza border, the warning sirens sound all day long. As Hamas and Islamic jihad launched rocket after rockets against targets in Israel, with around 500 fired so far.

A senior member of Hamas' political bureau saying in a written statement Tuesday that Hamas' response is to stop the Israeli occupation's violation and to halt the implementation of its aggressive schemes in Jerusalem.

Undeterred by Israel's crushing air strikes in response and vows of harsher retaliation.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): After a situational assessment, we have made the decision to further increase both the intensity of the attacks and rate of attacks. Hamas will receive blows that it did not expect.

GOLD: Tensions have been building for weeks. A major flashpoint, protests over threatened evictions of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem and clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at Islam's third holiest site, the Al- Aqsa mosque has broadened into a level of anger and deadly violence in the region not seen in years.

The all too familiar sight of this long-standing conflict of grief and anguish returning as mourners bury their dead in Gaza, not only Israel's intended military targets but also the young. At least ten children among the 28 killed thus far in strikes. Israel says it's investigating any civilian casualties with more than 150 civilians injured.

And while Israel's air defense or Iron Dome has intercepted most of the incoming rockets from Gaza, direct hits in Ashkelon left two Israeli women dead and dozens more injured.


GOLD (voice-over): Stoking the very real fear of the growing scope and reach of these weapons on Israeli civilians.

And while protests pop up in various cities around the globe against the force of Israelis' air response on Gaza and against the possible evictions in Jerusalem, Western nations are uniformly condemning the rocket attacks and are calling for a de-escalation in tensions, a call that has so far gone unheeded.

And with Tuesday night's new rocket barrage of Tel Aviv and the retaliation all but certain to come, a death toll all but certain to rise -- Hadas Gold, CNN, Ashkelon.


VAUSE: There are growing concerns of just how this conflict will end with neither side apparently ready to step back. The U.N. is calling for an immediate end to what they describe as a spiraling escalation.


STEPHANE DUJARRIC, U.N. SPOKESPERSON: The secretary general is gravely concerned by the serious escalations in the occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, including the latest escalation in Gaza, which add to the heightened tensions and violence in occupied East Jerusalem.

He's deeply saddened to hear of the increasingly large numbers of casualties, including children, from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and of Israeli fatalities from rockets launched from Gaza.


VAUSE: And from the White House, expressions of serious concerns about the violence in the region, President Biden said to be monitoring the situation but not much else.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has been briefed daily on developments in Jerusalem and Gaza, he just received another update before I came out here from the national security adviser.

Since last week, he has directed his team to engage intensively with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials as well as leaders throughout the Middle East. His team is communicating a clear and consistent message in support of de-escalation and that is our primary focus.


VAUSE: Omar Shakir is the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch. He was deported from Israel two years ago. That's why he is with us this hour from Palo Alto in California.

Omar, thank you for taking the time. We've seen this before, back in 2014, only this time the conflict has escalated a lot faster. By the time the shooting ended seven years ago, more than 2,200 were killed in Gaza. That included more than 1,500 Palestinian civilians, more than 500 were Palestinian children; 67 Israeli soldiers were killed, six Israeli civilians were also killed.

If this current round of violence continues, it would seem to be a not unreasonable assumption to expect a much higher death toll, given how quickly this all escalated, especially in Gaza.

OMAR SHAKIR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Absolutely, I think we're as close as we've been in 7 years since 2014, to full-fledged hostilities. I think all the ingredients are there, including leadership by the Israeli government, that seems intent on taking dramatic measures that likely amount to war crimes, targeting civilian buildings, buildings that house dozens of families, strikes that are likely disproportionate, as well as a Hamas leadership, that seems to want to take advantage of the moment to bolster their own standing in the region.

So when you have this sort of combustible leadership and you have a solution where the Israeli government is pursuing discriminatory evictions, mobilizations, throughout the occupied territory in Israel, you have a confluence of factors that could lead to bloodshed, repression and, unfortunately, could continue for days.

VAUSE: The Israelis make the point that if Hamas didn't place their rockets, the missiles in residential areas and use civilians in Gaza as human shields, then they would not have to target those areas and the civilian death toll would be significantly lower.

How much responsibility does Hamas have for that high civilian death toll in Gaza?

SHAKIR: Look, Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip over well over a decade. We've documented war crimes, including the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructures, grossly disproportionate strikes.

We are investigating these attacks; it's too early to make a legal assessment about them but our track record of Israel using excessive and disproportionate force makes it clear that they deserve the overwhelming blame.

We're talking here about a 25x7 mile, 40x11 kilometer strip of land of 2 million people. When you target civilian buildings, when you use explosive weapons with wide area effects, you're bound to have civilian harm.

VAUSE: Hamas did not win the last conflict, they claim they did but they simply (INAUDIBLE) rocky theory they were still standing by the end. The real losers were basically the civilians, the kids of Gaza, the grandmothers and so in Ashkelon, the civilians who died there.

So why would Hamas go through another round with Israel when really the death toll in Gaza is so very high, despite what Israel does?


SHAKIR: I think we have to put the events in Gaza in the proper context. These events began over what happened in occupied East Jerusalem, where the Israeli government is seeking to evict Palestinian families from homes that they've lived in for generations as part of a government policy in Jerusalem, to maintain a sizable Jewish majority, systematically oppressing Palestinians through land grabs, through boxing them in to enclaves and these other actions as well as the excessive force used at the al-Aqsa mosque.

Of course Hamas, opportunistically seized the moment as a chance to brandish their own credentials. So It's something that doesn't help the Palestinians shift to (INAUDIBLE) in Jerusalem but really the core here, we have to remember, began over this government policy, which has been years and decades in the making to take over Palestinian land and to resettle it by Jewish Israelis.

VAUSE: Very quickly, the Arab League has warned Israel, this conflict could have much bigger regional implications. Listen to this.


AYMAN SAFADI, JORDANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Israel is playing with fire. The aggression of its actions, its morals and illegitimacy pushes the entire region toward further conflict. Israel is limiting all the chances of achieving fair peace (ph) and it is threatening the safety and stability of the entire region.


VAUSE: You know, they may say that but I don't see any of those Gulf Arab states, which signed a normalization agreement with Israel, in the last six months or so, in any rush to tear up those agreements?

SHAKIR: Absolutely, the Arab League is a bunch of hot air. What you are hearing there is not going to change the reality on the ground. What we need to start with right now is the international community recognizing the reality for what it is, apartheid.

Millions Palestinians live a reality of apartheid and persecution every day. It's time that the international community called a spade a spade, recognized that reality and take the sorts of human rights and accountability measures in the situation that this gravity warrants.

VAUSE: Omar, thank you, we appreciate your time, thank you.

SHAKIR: Thank you.

VAUSE: Please stay with, us in a few moments we'll hear from the Israel Defense Forces spokesman about the sharply escalating tensions, in the region and the view from the IDF.

India and Nepal are struggling with failures in leadership, a raging pandemic and a short of oxygen. Up next, we visit a hospital in Nepal, where COVID patients are begging for treatment and being turned away.




VAUSE: A warning here, the video you are about to see has been deliberately blurred by us but it is still graphic, the images of bodies floating down India's Ganges River. The remains of at least 71 people now pulled from the river in the country's east.

This is due to the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. All of these people are believed to be coronavirus victims.


VAUSE: But authorities in one state say they are unable to determine the cause of death due to heavy decomposition. The official number of new deadly cases has been falling the past two days but remains incredibly high. It's way too soon to know if the worst COVID outbreak in the world has peaked. CNN's Anna Coren tracking this crisis, from South Asia. She is live in Hong Kong with the very latest.

That's the problem isn't it?

No one knows when the end will come and it doesn't seem to be any end in sight.

ANNA COREN, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Experts, John, are wondering whether or not the cities, the major cities in India, have reached their peak, like Delhi, New Delhi, and Mumbai. We have seen numbers going down in the last couple of days.

However we are expecting from the health ministry to get the daily numbers. They are expected to cross the threshold of 23 million total infections, as well as 250,000 total death, a staggering toll. That just gives you an idea of the magnitude of the crisis unfolding in India, even if those numbers, those daily numbers are coming down.

The prime minister, Narendra Modi, has still not been seen in public for over 3 weeks. We know that he has canceled his trip to London to attend the G7, because of the pandemic unfolding back home.

Interestingly, John, his government has decided to start up a positivity campaign. They are trying to spin their way out of this crisis and have had ministers attend these workshops to get the positive messages out. This is while people are still dying across the country.

Turn our attention now to neighboring Nepal, where we are seeing a repeat of scenes that are happening in India, now happening in Nepal: a shortage of oxygen, a shortage of beds, people being turned away.

It really is quite frightening what's taking place in this very impoverished country that does not have the infrastructure that India has. And John, the shortage of oxygen is proving to be the biggest killer, take a look.


COREN (voice-over): So close to receiving help but still struggling to breathe, COVID patients line up outside of hospitals in Nepal, begging for oxygen supplies or an available bed. Hospitals are starting to turn patients away and doctors are raising the alarm about what they're calling a crisis of oxygen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the global community needs to step up forward from now on. It's the lack of oxygen that is going to bring about a huge catastrophic year.

COREN (voice-over): In desperation, people are even taking to Twitter to beg for help, including Surajan KC, whose parents are both in the hospital with COVID-19; his father in ICU.

SURAJAN KC, SON OF COVID-19 PATIENTS: With Dad, it's up and down because his oxygen level is not stable. We're just waiting and watching whether he's going to recover soon. So we are just hoping every day that he gets well soon, so we can bring him home.

COREN (voice-over): Even though his parents now have hospital beds, that does not guarantee a supply of oxygen.

SURAJAN: It is pretty scary, especially when it comes to oxygen, because even if you find beds in hospitals, I've heard that so many hospitals are telling the patients to -- that they have to find oxygen for their patients by themselves.

COREN (voice-over): One group of volunteers is trying to help by connecting these patients with oxygen supplies and beds, using a website and social media to fill the gaps, in a system, which they say, is failing the people.

EEDA RIJAL, COVID CONNECT NEPAL: It's a humanitarian crisis at the moment and we who are working on the front line, we've seen that surge and we don't understand why the government has not been able to see this.

COREN (voice-over): But their work is getting harder. After new directives were issued, stating that only the government can approve oxygen distribution from factories, aimed at preventing hoarding in private homes but strangling supplies with red tape.

To try to meet the increasing demands in this impoverished country of more than 30 million people, Nepal's oxygen manufacturers are being asked to ramp up production. And China is sending in 20,000 oxygen cylinders and 100 ventilators.

Climbers attempting Everest are also being asked to save their oxygen canisters so they can be re-filled for the hospitals. Doctors also believe these climbers should be donating full oxygen canisters to help this crisis. There are more than 3,000 small canisters of oxygen currently on the mountain.

Despite the unfolding disaster in the hospitals, the caretaker, Nepali prime minister told CNN on the weekend, the COVID situation is, quote, "under control," a response which angered many Nepalis.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are not getting better, people are not getting oxygen, people are crying out for help. And the head of this country comes up and says, oh, everything is fine, like Nepal is normal, everything is under control, while people are dying out in the streets.

COREN (voice-over): The prime minister on Monday lost a vital vote of confidence, after more than 200 lawmakers gathered in parliament, despite the risks of large gatherings.

So his government, like the fragile health care system, is heading for collapse and front line workers are being left to cope with the onslaught.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been sleepless night for the last 7 days and so I'm thinking as (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been working 24/7 and, the thing is, taking a break has never been an option, because people's lives are at stake at the moment.


COREN: And John, the supreme court of Nepal has issued an interim order for authorities to set up our national task force to make sure that the distribution of oxygen and medical supplies is happening, because as we can see, it is not. This is a country that desperately needs, help it needs international aid.

VAUSE: Anna thank, you Anna Coren live for us there in Hong Kong.

CNN medical analyst Celine Gounder is an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist, as well as the host of the podcast "Epidemic." She is with us this hour from New York.

It's good to have you with us; it's been a while.

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It's great to be here, John.

VAUSE: All right, the unanswered question right now just how effective existing vaccines are in relation to the B.1.167 variant of concern, first detected in India.

The scientific journal "Nature" says this, "Scientists identified eight mutations in the virus' spike protein through which it gains entry to cells. Two of them look similar to mutations that allow other variants of concern to become more transmissible.

"A third resembles a mutation that may have allowed P.1, which is the Brazilian variant, to partially evade immunity."

So put all this together along with the rapid spread in India, and now this mutation is out dominant there, is there any reason why to believe that this is not more contagious?

Is there any reason to believe that there is not a good chance that vaccines are less effective?

GOUNDER: John, we were seeing on the ground in India and also, for that matter, to some degree in the U.K., is a race between the Indian variant, the B.1.617 variant, and the U.K. variant, the B.1.1.7 variant. Both of them appear to be more transmissible, so they spread more easily from person to person.

The U.K. variant, the B.1.1.7 variant, is what prompted these very strict lockdowns in the U.K. over the holidays, then the result in a surge of cases across Europe. By the time it hit the U.S., we were actually somewhat fortunate that we were far enough along in vaccination that we were somewhat insulated from those effects.

But we have rapidly seen the U.K. variant become the dominant strain in the U.S. and in much of the world because it is more contagious.

Now in India and in parts of the U.K., we're seeing now this race between the Indian variant and the U.K. variant to see which will actually dominate. And it does seem the Indian variant may be even more contagious than the U.K. variant.

VAUSE: There is not just the threat from the mutation itself, that India was meant to be the vaccine producer, if not of the, world then certainly of the developing world. Exports to those less wealthy nations, especially through COVAX, are now on hold.

About 4 percent of the world's population has been vaccinated, which means the virus will keep spreading, keep spreading, keep mutating. This ends up being just a really bad version of whack-a-mole.

GOUNDER: This is a really important point. I think many countries, including the U.S. where I am, but also the E.U. countries have focused on vaccinating their own citizens, not on scaling up manufacturing to vaccinate the rest the world.

This is really shooting ourselves in the foot because, if you do allow the virus to spread unchecked in the rest of the world, you will see the virus continue to mutate. You will see eventually the virus find ways to evade our immune responses, even to the vaccine. And we will set ourselves back tremendously by allowing that to unfold.

VAUSE: Sometimes and understandably, health officials from the WHO, from the CDC, through an abundance of caution perhaps, they make statements which are less clear, maybe even misleading to a degree.

"The New York Times" reports, on one announcement which came from the CDC, that less than 10 percent of COVID-19 transmission was happening outdoors. "The Times" quotes a doctor, a virologist at the University of St. Andrews, who confirms what we've been told by dozens of epidemiologists, that benchmark, quote, "seems to be a huge exaggeration."

This report goes on to say, in truth the transmission that has COVID outdoors seems to be below 1 percent and may be below 0.1 percent.


VAUSE: The point is, it's a bit like saying less than 1,000 people die every year from skydiving. Now that's true, because the real number is 13, it's correct but it's misleading. This is one of those instances where it does seem that the CDC needs to be a lot more forthcoming and transparent with these numbers.

GOUNDER: With respect to transmission outdoors, where we really are concerned is where people are closely huddled together, say huddling over a football or a soccer ball or packed together at an outdoor concert or a political rally.

And by the, way we have seen this happen both in the United States last summer during political rallies as well as more recently in India in political rallies. That has seeded infections into rural areas.

So we do know this happens, even outdoors, when people are packed together. It's just that it's not that often that people are packed together like sardines, where you can get that transmission outdoors.

VAUSE: So that's why the less than 10 percent number, because it's in limited settings?

Very quickly?

GOUNDER: Yes, it's just in those very specific settings where people are close together outdoors, they really do have to worry about transmission outdoors.

VAUSE: OK, Dr. Gounder, we'll leave it there. Thanks so much, good to see you.

GOUNDER: Great, thanks so much, John.

VAUSE: This just, in India's health ministry has released the latest official COVID, numbers once again a new record death toll. More than 4,200 deaths on Wednesday, an overall death toll now exceeding a quarter of 1 million.

India's total cases have now risen past 23 million.

Still to come, overnight airstrikes between Israelis and Palestinian militants of Gaza; despite a rising death toll and fears of worse to come, neither side appears ready to step back.




VAUSE: Welcome back, everybody, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM, I'm John Vause.

Israelis and Palestinians are waking to the damage and devastation from a night of rocket fire and airstrikes. A 13-story building in Gaza came crashing down Tuesday, the target says Israel claims its office space was being used by Hamas.

Palestinian health officials in Gaza report at least 35 people, including 12 children, have been killed by the Israeli offensive. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are firing longer range rockets to Tel Aviv, just to the city south a bus was set on fire after it was hit by rockets. Local media reports 7 people were injured.

Elliott Gotkine is live this hour at the Israel-Gaza border.

I guess what can we expect in the coming hours, Elliott?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, I think we can probably expect more of the same, more rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel, more airstrikes carried out by the Israeli Defense Forces, the IDF, into the Gaza Strip.


At the same time, we've seen growing unrest in towns with mixed Jewish-Arab populations, or large Arab populations such as Haifa.

I'm here in the village of Dahmash, which is just outside the central Israeli city of Lod. And there were more clashes overnight. The violence initially began with some clashes between the town's Arabs and Jews.

It's what one man then shot one of the Arab protesters, who later died. Two people have been arrested for that. And then the violence has just kind of ensued from there. So much so that the government has declared a state of national emergency.

And on my way into this village I passed through, you can see rocks strewn along the road. You can see burnt-out vehicles, the carcasses of vehicles there, as well.

And the reason why we're actually here, we came through Lod to this village because one of the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip landed just about a meter or two away from where I am now, in this farming village.

You can see the damage done to the vehicles here. Tragically, the father of the household, a 52-year-old man by the name of Halil Allad (ph) and his daughter, Medine (ph), they were out here when the rocket landed, and they were both killed, which brings the death toll inside Israel up to 5.

So I'm afraid, John, it was a long night, and it looks like it's going to be a long day, as well.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: It seems Hamas has learned not how to beat the Iron Dome missile defense, certainly, having a lot more success against it by firing the rockets at a lower trajectory and firing more of them. What more can you tell us about that?

GOSKINE: Yes, John, I mean, when we're speaking with the idea of spokesman yesterday morning, he was saying that there's about a 90 percent, meaning zero percent, success rate. So 9 in 10 of the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip were being intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, which has also been beefed up in recent years.

But clearly, if you are firing, you know, hundreds and hundreds of these rockets at Israel, some of them will inevitably get through. As we saw yesterday, when we were in Ashkelon in the residential building that was struck.

And as we can see here, this village just outside Lod in central Israel, where rockets will get through. And, you know, injuries and deaths will happen.

It just seems, you know, impossible to have a 100 percent success rate. So obviously, the IDF and the operators of the Iron Dome missile defense system will be learning all the time how to cope with any evolving threat.

But at the same time, you know, the militants in the Gaza Strip are also learning how best to try to ensure as many rockets get through as possible.

VAUSE: Elliot, thank you. We'll be checking in with you in the coming hours. Appreciate it.

Elliott Goskine there, live in Israel, Gaza.

Well, earlier, CNN's Wolf Blitzer spoke to an Israeli Defense Forces spokesman about the Israeli response to the ongoing rocket fire in Gaza.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, saying Israel is now in the midst of what he calls a significant operation that will take time. What exactly does that mean? What is the scope of this operation?


What that means, in fact, is that the IDF is conducting operations right now but also preparing to enhance and broaden the scope of those operations in the future. We have been protecting Israeli civilians now for the last more than 24 hours against an almost unprecedented barrage of rockets against our civilians.

The Iron Dome system has been delivering and has saved countless Israeli lives. But at the end of the day, the rocket fire that we saw towards central Israel, towards Tel Aviv and, really, the heart of Israel is, of course, totally unacceptable, something that the IDF will not stand for.

And we are planning and conducting operations to make Hamas pay the price for their aggression against Israel.

BLITZER: I know you're launching airstrikes. What about a ground assault into Gaza? Is that likely?

CONRICUS: I wouldn't get ahead of ourselves. I'd say that there's an abundance of military targets that we have planned, we have investigated, and prepared ourselves to be able to strike them. All of those are pure classified military targets belonging to either the Hamas or the Islamic Jihad. And we've been attacking those targets over the last 24 hours, and we have plans to continue and to broaden the scope of our attacks.

Just as the prime minister said and the chief of the general staff also reiterated, that this isn't going to end tomorrow, and the fact that Hamas allowed itself such a blatant act of aggression against Israel will not go unanswered, and we are attacking their targets.

BLITZER: Can you confirm there have been civilian casualties?

CONRICUS: We are aware of the reports. I can say that. I can also say that we take every report of civilians and non-combatants that are killed or affected by fighting seriously, and it is our specific interest to minimize that number to the lowest possible number.


I can say that we will never reach zero, and in any military activity in a densely-populated urban area just like Gaza, and in area where the terrorist enemy uses civilians as their human shields and makes it virtually impossible to distinguish, between enemies and non- combatants, it's a very difficult situation.

But what we are doing is trying to abide by international law, trying to use the most precise ammunition at our disposal so as to cause minimal collateral damage. And you spoke about it before. You had it in the story. When we knock down large, significant infrastructure, then there's a process of warning and making sure that the target area is clear of non-combatants.

And as we saw, a large military -- or a large structure that served Hamas's military purposes was hit, and there are no reports of casualties, because we made sure that it was clear of civilians and non-combatants before we took it down.

That's the level of our commitment. Are we going to be 100 percent perfect in this regard? I don't think that we will, but I can assure you and everybody watching that we take the issue seriously. And any reports of non-combatants involved in the killing, of course, is something that we want to avoid, which is, of course, totally different from how our enemies are operating, who are trying to cause civilian casualties in Israel. And unfortunately, we now have Israelis that are dead and wounded in the last hours of fighting.


VAUSE: That was Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, speaking there to CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

Well, for months, the humanitarian crisis has been unfolding in Ethiopia's Tigray region, with reports of atrocities and violations of human rights amid a military conflict.

Now, a CNN team is there. The first journalists to enter a sacred city besieged during this conflict. It was not easy to get there. Here's CNN's Nima Elbagir at one checkpoint.


NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We get out of the car with our hands up and identify ourselves to the Ethiopian soldiers.

(on camera): Hey. Hey, hello. Hello. CNN, CNN. We're CNN, journalists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's impossible.

ELBAGIR: We are journalists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's impossible.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before, ask our commander.

(voice-over): The soldier spots our camera. They're incredibly tense.

(on camera): It's OK, it's OK.

(voice-over): The soldiers close in on us.

(on camera): We are fair.

(voice-over): As we're pulled to one side, we turn on our covert camera.

(on camera): Are we detained? Unless we are detained, we're not giving them the camera.


VAUSE: Find out what happened during the rest of their journey and see the shocking truths they uncovered, Thursday, starting at 5 a.m. in London, noon in Hong Kong. A story you'll see only here on CNN.

Well, still to come, a leopard can't change its spots, and neither can a Chinese safari park, which covered up an escape by three of the big cats. The search for one continues. Details in a moment.



VAUSE: A Colombian student protest leader has died nearly a week after being shot eight times. Lucas Villa's family and the government confirmed his death on Tuesday.

Thirty-seven years old, he was one of three students shot by unknown gunmen during peaceful protests against the government last week. The president made a concession to the student protest movement on Tuesday, announcing lower income students will not pay university fees for the second semester this year, acknowledging the hardship brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. officials are pleading with Americans not to hoard gasoline after the cyberattack that shut down a critical fuel pipeline. The secretary of energy says, just as there was no need for panic buying of toilet paper at the start of pandemic, there's no need to do the same with gasoline.

But some gas stations on the East Coast are already running dry. Several states are taking emergency steps to ease the shortage. That fuel supplier, Colonial Pipeline, hopes to have its lines restored by the end of the week.

To lose one leopard is unfortunate. Two is careless. How about three? Three leopards all escaping from a zoo in China. Two are being caught. The third is still on the prowl. Now questions are being asked, like, why have zoo officials kept silent for more than a week?

Here's CNN's Will Ripley.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They hunt in the dark, run faster than any human, prey on animals and sometimes people.

So why did a popular Chinese zoo keep the escape of three leopards a secret for seven days in one of China's biggest cities?

The vice mayor of Hangzhou says police have captured two of the big cats, the third still on the run. The government released video showing a young leopard waking up from a tranquilizer, safely back in its cage at Hangzhou Safari Park.

Zoo handlers are accused of leaving a gate open, allowing the rare Chinese leopards to escape.

The zoo waited a full week to notify the public, as thousands packed the park over the busy May Day holiday. The public first learned of the prowling predators on social media. Chinese state media says, the zoo initially denied they escaped, even as pictures of the carnivorous cats went viral.

In a statement Saturday, the safari park said it was sincerely sorry for failing to warn the public. "We were worried the announcement of the incident would cause panic," the zoo said, adding they felt there was little risk, because all three leopards are young.

They now say, "We sincerely accept the criticism."

With two big cats now in custody, a massive hunt is underway for the third. Search teams using high-tech drones, night vision gear, and good old-fashioned police dogs trying to track one of the world's most elusive wildcats.

Hangzhou's vice director of public security says more than 4,000 people are involved in the search.

For now, they hope the promise of a free meal could lure the last leopard back to its cage.

Will Ripley, CNN, Hong Kong.


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