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Mental Trauma Facing Released Hostages; First Group of Hamas Hostages Set For Release. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 23, 2023 - 13:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Boris Sanchez in Washington, alongside Wolf Blitzer in Tel Aviv, Israel.

In just 11 hours, when the clock strikes midnight in the United States, the fighting will stop. At least, that's the new plan for the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas after a one-day delay. The pause will be followed by the first group of hostages released by Hamas.

This morning, the Qatari government, which has been mediating this deal, laid out an updated framework. Listen.


MAJED AL-ANSARI, QATARI FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: The beginning of the pause will be 7:00 a.m. Friday, the 24th of November. And it will last, of course, as agreed, for four days. And the first batch of civilians to be released from Gaza will be around 4:00 p.m. of the same day.

There will be 13 in number, all women and children.


SANCHEZ: And, Wolf, CNN has learned that the Israeli government has received a list of 13 women and children who are going to be released tomorrow. And their families have been notified.


The first group of Palestinian prisoners, Boris, is also set to be freed by Israel at that same time, on Friday, 4:00 p.m. here, 9:00 a.m. in Washington. But this one-day postponement has been added day of fighting, heightening the tensions around this very, very fragile agreement.

Becky Anderson is joining us from Doha, Qatar, right now.

Becky, I know you asked several important questions at the briefing by the Qataris earlier today. What details have been fleshed out?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think it's important to point out that, even though Majed Al-Ansari, who is the spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs here in Qatar, did his best to answer with detail in every question that was asked, clearly, there is some information that they are unwilling or just unable to provide, I mean, operational detail that would put in jeopardy this, as you describe it, very fragile setup, this deal, as things stand at the moment.

They have described to me, the mediation team, as these having been very intense negotiations, very complicated at times. And even though we now have a time that the guns, as it were, will go silent and a loose time for the release of these hostages, anything can happen, of course.

We asked a number of questions, as you rightly point out, not least for some specific detail on how those 13 hostages who have now been identified by Hamas to the Qataris and subsequently to the Israelis, how they will be handed over to the Red Crescent and make their way out of Gaza into ultimately the safety of the Israelis.

And this is what Majed Al-Ansari told me:


AL-ANSARI: Can't disclose information for security reasons. And as I -- we have always said, our main objective here is the safety of the hostages.

So we can't disclose a lot of information regarding the routes they will be going through, but we will be focusing on making sure that they get there safely through making sure that, through our operations room, that will work with both the Red Cross and the parties of the conflict, that all information is in real time and everybody is getting the information the right way, so we can move them safely.


ANDERSON: It's important to point out, Wolf, that, despite the fact they couldn't give us the real sort of granular detail on how that routing would work, there is some proof of concept here, because, as you will remember, over the past 45 days, there have actually been two periods where two hostages have been released.

One was an American woman and her 17-year-old daughter and two Israeli elderly citizens. And, on those occasions, the ICRC was delivered these individuals. They then made their way, one set to the Erez Crossing in Israel and then through that crossing, the others down to the Egyptian border, and then routed back into Israel to the south.


So, when I asked, will this be a similar operation, Majed Al-Ansari was able to say, well, pretty much yes. So I think we have got a sense of what happens. But this is so fragile. We do understand that the guns will go silent, the hostilities will stop for that -- tomorrow and then a period of four days.

And what's included in that is the flying of surveillance drones. And the last two occasions that hostages were released, there were actually drones flying above those releases. And they have stopped that on this occasion. There will be nothing in the air. And that is to ensure that nobody is confused as to whether there is continued hostility at that point of exchange.

So we have to assume everything goes according to plan. We have to assume that, for the benefit of the families of those hostages who are likely now to know who these 13 individuals are -- let's remember there are 39 children being held hostage at present. We know that.

There are around 50 who will be -- 50 individuals who will be released over the next four days. We know Hamas has something like 70 to 80 in total. There is an opportunity for Hamas to effectively buy an extra day's truce if they can extend by 10 hostages each day the number of people who are released.

So this is -- the detail is there, the obligations on both sides baked into this deal. Should either side break their obligations, then this deal will fall apart. The Qataris, Wolf, have been very specific with me in telling me those obligations are there for a reason.

Everybody understands what their obligations are, both on the Israeli and on Hamas' side. Let's hope that they stick to them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Becky, stand by. We're going to get back to you.

I want to bring in Oren Liebermann. He's with me here in Tel Aviv as well.

Oren, officials are, totally understandably, being very careful about sharing specifics. But we do have more details about how the releases may actually play out, right?


We have learned how the process will work for transferring the 13 hostages, the first group that will come out from Hamas to Israel. First, Hamas will hand those hostages over to the Red Cross in Gaza. The Red Cross will then move them to certain border crossings, either Rafah on the Egyptian border, if that's the easiest one to go through, or perhaps, if they're closer to the border crossings with Israel, for example, Erez or Be'eri, they might come out that way.

They will be transferred to IDF soldiers who'll be waiting to take them. It's worth noting that those soldiers have been given specific instructions on how to receive those women and children into their care. And that includes what they can say, what they can't say, letting them know they're now in a safe place.

That certainly would be a major question, after nearly 50 days of captivity in Gaza. And then, from there, they will be taken almost straight to hospitals. For the hostages under 12 years old, their families will meet them pretty much as soon as they can.

For the hostages who are more than 12 years old, the hostages -- the families will meet the hostages at the hospitals. At that point, they will be in Israel. The focus would then shift from the first group to the second group and making sure the process still plays out.

BLITZER: Very delicate details, indeed.

Tell us a little bit more, Oren, about the role of the International Red Cross.

LIEBERMANN: It's a critical role here.

Under international law, they're supposed to be able to visit hostages. And, frankly, they're one of the only organizations that really can operate in Gaza, go in, transfer the hostages and bring them out. And that's why they're so crucial here.

Now, there is a question about the other roles they play. In addition to transferring the hostages out of Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said that, under the agreement signed with Hamas, they would be able to visit the other hostages who remain in captivity. The only problem there is, we spoke with the Red Cross, and they say they're not aware of that part of the agreement.

So that is a very major question hanging over all of this.

BLITZER: Lots of questions hanging over all of this right now.

Oren Liebermann, thank you very much.

Becky Anderson, thanks to you as well. We will obviously get back to both of you.

Meanwhile, Israel has absolutely not -- repeat -- not let up on its airstrikes. Its forces continue to bombard Gaza ahead of the anticipated truce. The IDF says it carried out 300 strikes on Hamas targets, including military command centers, tunnels and storage facilities for weapons.

For more on this, I want to bring in CNN military analyst retired U.S. air force Colonel Cedric Leighton.

Colonel, thanks so much for joining us.


When this truce is implemented, fighting will pause for four days. As you know, that's part of the deal. From a military standpoint, Colonel, what risks are there in allowing this type of multiday pause.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, Wolf, there are risks actually for both sides in this.

Both sides are seeking to take advantage of the situation right now. So when this truce takes effect on midnight -- at midnight Eastern time tonight, that will be the end of the line, in essence, for military operations for the next four days.

So each side is trying to take advantage of that. If they fail to take advantage, if they fail to gain a tactical position that they want or that they may need, that then puts them at a disadvantage, at least at that location. The other thing that could happen is, if there are no surveillance capabilities because of the cessation of military operations, then it, in essence, blinds the one side or the other as to what the other is doing, what the adversary is doing.

And this is going to affect the Israelis more than the Hamas. But the idea is that the fact that they're not using -- they're not allowed to use drones during this period, that is also a significant piece. However, there are other intelligence sources that the Israelis can use and will most certainly use it in this case.

But from just a military perspective, the disadvantages are, basically, if you don't gain the position that you need right now, you will lose the advantage, and there's a possibility you will also lose momentum when those hostilities recommence, should they recommence after these four days.

BLITZER: Colonel, if Hamas uses this time of the so-called pause to regroup, how do Israeli forces prepare for that?

LEIGHTON: So, what they will have to do, Wolf, is, the Israelis will have to take a look and see where Hamas is moving.

So this is where intelligence and surveillance become critical. They will need to know if Hamas, for example, has set up certain ambushes or if they have moved many of their fighters into some of the tunnels or moved them somewhere else.

Those are the kinds of things they will need to know. They have to expect that Hamas is going to regroup or is trying to regroup. And what they will then do is, when hostilities recommence, should they recommence, they will then target those areas where they believe the Hamas fighters have moved to.

So that's, in essence, how this is going to work. But it is going to require a lot of work on the part of the reconnaissance forces of the IDF, as well as their intelligence services.

BLITZER: Colonel, the Israeli military says it actually fired strikes along the border with Lebanon today after Hezbollah launched attacks on an IDF military base in Northern Israel.

How does Hezbollah capitalize on this so-called truce?

LEIGHTON: Yes, they have several possibilities.

One of them is to ignore anything that is going on in the south, which they're not going to do. But the possibility exists that they will use this time to do what they think they need to do against or in conjunction with Hamas or against the Israeli forces. So that's one thing.

But the other thing that Hezbollah can do is basically support the efforts of Hamas. So, if Hamas is getting ready to mount, let's say, a rocket strike against Israeli cities, Hezbollah could do the same thing in the north. So, it could occupy the Israelis in the south, the center, and the north because of the ranges of the different rockets and missiles, in the case of Hezbollah.

So those are the things that could happen. Hezbollah will probably try to lay a bit low at this particular point in time. But there's always the possibility that they may seek to exploit any type of movement that Hamas is making or they may seek to take advantage of a lull in fighting in this particular situation.

BLITZER: Colonel Cedric Leighton, as usual, thank you very much for joining us.

Hope and anxiety here in Israel right now, as many families wait to find out if their loved ones will be set free tomorrow. You're going to hear from one of those family members. That's coming up next.

Stay with CNN. We will be right back.



BLITZER: We continue to report the breaking news on the Israel-Hamas truce.

Qatari officials confirmed that the temporary truce will begin tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. local time -- that's midnight tonight Eastern time -- and that 13 women and children are now set to be released around 9:00 a.m. Eastern. They will be handed over to the International Red Cross. But this deal is likely of small comfort to those families whose loved ones thus far are not part of the agreement.

Joining us now is Jonathan Dekel-Chen, a history professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His 35-year-old son, Sagui, was kidnapped by Hamas on October 7.

Professor, thank you so much for joining us.

How are you and your family, first of all, holding up with this news? And how are your daughter-in-law and your grandchildren holding up?

JONATHAN DEKEL-CHEN, FATHER OF HAMAS HOSTAGE: Well, we're all doing the best we can under the circumstances.

And we are all from kibbutz Nir Oz, so we have a multilevel of crisis and trauma. Not just was Sagui kidnapped, but another 75 -- or actually 80 members of our kibbutz were kidnapped on October 7, another 20 murdered, and our entire community destroyed.

So, this news -- and, honestly, I -- for me, it's a -- for all of us, it's a mixed bag, because Sagui will, in all likelihood, not be released in this round. However, we -- I expect that we know very well and are friends with many of those who will be released in this first batch.

[13:20:05] And so we couldn't be happier for those families that will be reunited over the course of the next few days with their little children and moms, all of whom are like extended families for us.

BLITZER: Qatar says the International Red Cross will be allowed to check on the remaining hostages.

What are your thoughts about this part of the deal? Does it give you some hope about your son?

DEKEL-CHEN: Well, it certainly does, Wolf.

Since the morning of October 7, we and many other of the hostage families have heard absolutely nothing about or from our loved ones. I truly hope -- I mean, it's kind of outrageous that the Red Cross wasn't able to visit with them until now, but it will be really important for all of us to know, all of the 240 or the 190 that will remain after this first stage, to get proof of life, to know if our loved ones are healthy.

So that is an important step, but only one step, of course, towards what is the goal for all of us, which is the release of all of the hostages.

BLITZER: How frustrated, Professor, are you that you still have not heard any solid information at all about your son's whereabouts or well-being?

DEKEL-CHEN: Well, it's -- it -- it's with us, that fact is with us day and night.

And I -- frustration, I'm not sure that that's the correct word, because we understand this is about Hamas. This isn't about the efforts that the Israeli or the American government, for that matter, are making to ascertain the health, the whereabouts of all of the hostages.

I think this is just yet another example of the savagery that we now know, we knew beforehand, but certainly have demonstrated to us during the attack on October 7 by Hamas. It's just another layer of that.

BLITZER: What more would you like to see from the White House, Professor, to try to free your son and the other remaining hostages?

DEKEL-CHEN: Well, Wolf, I can say this.

From two days following the attack itself, the Biden administration has been very active in being in contact with me and the other nine families of U.S. dual citizen hostages in Israel. And since that point, the administration officials, national security advisers, State Department, FBI, Senate Foreign Relations Committee have been very transparent with us.

And we feel as if there's a partnership being built. And so I really, at this point, cannot say that there's anything specific that I will want to see from the U.S. administration, but for all of us not to be satisfied at this moment by this first wave, which we really hope will come fast over the next few days, but not to be satisfied with that.

This job is over when all 240 are home, the Israeli-Americans and everyone else.

BLITZER: Good point.

Jonathan Dekel-Chen, thank you so much for joining us. We, of course, hope you will be reunited with your son, very, very soon.

After these hostages are returned, a key question remains, what happens next and what support they need after enduring a truly incredibly traumatic ordeal.

Joining us now to discuss this part of the developments, Paula David. She's a social worker and a psychotherapist in Jerusalem who specializes on treating trauma in children and families.

Paula, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for all you're doing.

What level of trauma do you expect to see from these children and the women once they're released?


We -- I want to add first that I'm actually from the Haruv Institute in Jerusalem. And we are an institute that actually in regular days works on training professionals in the field of child maltreatment. However, we have been working now very intensely since October 7 about -- in the whole issue about trauma and the child hostages.

And we actually have written guidelines, along with the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs, about what should happen once these children are brought over to Israeli sides.

So, in answer to your question, we...

BLITZER: So, just -- go ahead.


In answer to your question, we don't -- we have not experienced this kind of trauma in this country. There is no precedence for it. We are a country that knows a lot about trauma and has experienced a lot of trauma, but we have not experienced this. And we actually don't know.

We do know that everybody has been profoundly traumatized. We know that children have witnessed their loved ones being murdered and then dragged off into Gaza, sometimes with their parents, sometimes without their parents. We know that some of them are going to be coming back with -- maybe with their mothers and maybe alone, and maybe without their fathers, who are going to be staying there.


And we are prepared for a profound traumatic response, I would say, from all the children, and even the -- and also the adults that come back.

BLITZER: I wonder, Paula, if you could share with us some more details on how Israel is preparing to care for these freed hostages. We hope all of them eventually will be freed.

What will be the number one priority in helping them move forward and rebuilding their lives?

DAVID: That's a good question.

I'm going to actually talk about the children, because we're starting with the children now. And I think the number one priority is what we have to do when children are traumatized, which is to be able to reestablish somehow a sense of safety, and which is very difficult to do, because, actually, these are children who believed that they were safe, and the country has actually failed them by having this happen, this terrible event happen on October 7.

We want to be able to help them feel a sense of empowerment and autonomy, and to be able to maybe also get some -- return to a feeling that the world can be a benevolent place for them, which it hasn't been...


BLITZER: What about the families and the loved ones of the hostages, Paula, the families and the loved ones of the hostages? How can they help with this journey of healing?

DAVID: I think that the families are going to be a different family, and they're going to have a different experience.

And the children aren't going to be the same children. And what we expect from parents is what we know that parents know how to do best, which is to love their children, or their other loved ones, if there aren't parents left, is to love their children and to be very patient with allowing them to kind of reintegrate into society later.

I think that they need patience. I think they need a lot of love. And I think that also the parents will need a lot of guidance in order to be able to understand the manifestations of trauma that they will be seeing in their children and also to help manage their own very, very powerful feelings of having maybe let their children down, of seeing their children experience unmentionable deeds, or have them witnessed terrible events and so forth.

I think that everybody that's going to be taking care of these children has to -- have to be able to be very, very patient. And we will have to see what happens.

BLITZER: Paula David, thanks for joining us. Thanks for all you are doing. We are appreciative, grateful to you.

And our special live coverage will continue after this quick break.