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Israel-Hamas Truce Begins: Hostage Release And Humanitarian Aid In Focus. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired November 23, 2023 - 14:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching CNN NEWS CENTRAL. We hope you're having a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. I'm Boris Sanchez in Washington, D.C. My colleague, Wolf Blitzer. He's in Tel Aviv, Israel, where right now we're just 10 hours away from an expected truce between Israel and Hamas. After a one-day delay to a truce deal, the fighting is set to stop temporarily at midnight Eastern time. About 9 hours later, Hamas is set to begin releasing 13 women and children who've been held captive for nearly 50 days.

Right now, the Israeli government has a list of those hostages and says that it has notified their families. But it's unclear if any Americans are included. President Biden is saying that his fingers are crossed that 1 of them is Abigail Adon Wolf, a three-year-old American toddler.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I hope she's released. As part of the deal, Israel will release 150 Palestinian prisoners and allow humanitarian aid into Gaza. For now, the fighting, though, continues. A short time ago, the Israeli defense minister said he expects it to last another 2 months at least. But the Qatari government, which played a truly critical mediating role in these talks, said, it is hopeful hostilities will stop with this deal. Listen.


MAJED AL-ANSARi, QATARI FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON: We are hopeful. I don't know if I should say confident, but we are very hopeful. And as I said, the commitment we have seen from both sides leads us to be very positive, to deal with this very positively. We are seeing a good level of commitment over the agreement itself, the details hashed out. The first, you know, glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, this crisis. And this is why we needed to succeed, and we are hoping and working towards it.


BLITZER: We've got our live team coverage on the ground here in Israel, seen as Jeremy Diamond is in Sderot, near the Gaza border. But first, I want to go to CNN's Matthew Chance. He's here with me in Tel Aviv. Matthew, what can you tell us about how the hostage release could actually play out? You're getting some new information.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, a little bit of new information from Israeli sources who are briefing us on how this is going to play out. It's not altogether clear, because obviously it's very difficult, lots of moving parts. Logistically, it's going to be quite difficult. But the thrust of it at the moment is that they're expecting, and they've got the list of 13 Israeli hostages in front of them, who they expect to be released tomorrow at some point, probably in the afternoon tomorrow here at local time.

What the Israelis are now saying is that they intend to release 3 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails for every one Israeli hostage. We've reported on that before. But that comes to 39 if all 13 Israeli hostages are released, as is expected. So, 39 Palestinian prisoners. But they're not going, this is what I've just got this evening, they're not going to be releasing those Palestinian prisoners, they say, until such times as the Israeli hostages are in Israeli hands.

And so that's a slight difference from what we were hearing earlier. But now they're saying they're going to wait to see what hostages come out before they even start the process of releasing those Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails.

BLITZER: I know, Matthew, you've been speaking to some of the Israeli families of the hostages. There's certainly a lot of anxiety, nervousness right now. Tell us what you're hearing.

CHANCE: I mean, the anxiety, the stress, you know, about not just what's happened, but, of course, the waiting game that they're now all kind of been sucked into as well. I mean, I was speaking to lots of families, several families who have got relatives who are toddlers, children, wives, sisters, daughters, who are potentially part of this 13 people, certainly potentially part of the 15, -- the 50 hostages that are expected to be released, women and children, over the next coming days.

As we heard, the Israeli authorities say they've spoken to each one of those families. But there are obviously going to be people that they haven't spoken to. And that must be absolutely awful for them. We don't know who's on the list yet, officially, at least. And if we did know, we wouldn't be able to report it anyway. But obviously this is a very, very stressful, anxious moment for all of those people and all their families waiting to see what happens tomorrow.

BLITZER: Our heart goes out to those families. Matthew, thank you very much. I want to go to Jeremy Diamond. He's in Sderot, not far from Gaza right now. Jeremy, with just hours before this truce goes into effect, the Israeli military says it struck 300 Hamas targets in Gaza in just the past 24 hours. What more are you learning about what's actually happening on the ground there?


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And I don't know if you can hear it right now, but we are hearing some very, very loud explosions coming from the northern part of the Gaza Strip. It appears to be coming from the area around the Jabali refugee camp. You may have just seen a flash just then. And we know that Israeli forces have told us, Israeli military has told us in recent days that their forces have been encircling the Jabali refugee camp and continuing to fight Hamas militants there. That is one of the areas that Israeli forces have been focused on in recent days. And we are hearing heavy activity coming from that direction. You saw that flash just then at this very moment. All right.

All throughout the day, Wolf, we have been hearing heavy explosions inside of Gaza. We've been hearing machine gun fire and continuous military activity. This, as the Israeli military makes clear, that they will continue to fight inside of Gaza up until they get the order to stop. Up until that 7 a.m. truce that is expected to go into effect in order to allow for the release of hostages over the next several days. But this is certainly the most sustained bombardment that we have been hearing all evening, what we are witnessing at this point in time. And we are hearing heavy explosions inside of Gaza. We have been hearing - at this point in time, it's very similar to what we have seen at this point on Twitter. very moment.

After this pause in fighting ends, Israeli officials, Israeli leaders in particular, the prime minister as well as the Defense Minister making very clear that this war is not over yet. This is not a permanent ceasefire, and the fighting will resume. In fact, tonight, the Israeli Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, saying that fighting will continue for at least, he said, at least 2 more months in order to achieve the military aims of this war, which are not only to secure the release of all of those nearly 240 hostages, but also to eliminate Hamas from its power in the Gaza Strip.

A very significant statement from the Israeli Defense Minister, indeed. Jeremy, thank you very much. Matthew, thanks to you as well. The Israel-Hamas hostage deal also means critical humanitarian aid can be delivered to Gaza. A convoy of aid trucks has lined up at the Rafah border crossing from Egypt into Gaza, ready to bring desperately needed food, water, and medical supplies. The International Rescue Committee says it welcomes the 4-day pause in the war, but warns that that's not enough time to address the dire humanitarian crisis that continues in Gaza.

CNN's Eleni Goikos is in Egypt for us. Eleni, let's begin with CNN's Nada Bashir. She's joining us from Jerusalem. I'll get to you in a moment. But, Nada, the IRC says this four-day pause should be used to increase supply deliveries and that a massive, sustained effort is needed inside Gaza. You've been doing a lot of reporting on this. How essential is this aid?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: It is deeply essential, Wolf. We've been hearing those warnings from humanitarian organizations for weeks now about the deteriorating humanitarian situation. We are talking about people going without food and water, some going without food and water for weeks. We're working on rations of just bread between their families. And so, this is desperately needed. And, of course, on the medical front, we've been hearing those warnings from doctors and health officials on the ground in Gaza. As we know, the vast majority of hospitals in Gaza are in-operational, are unable to provide adequate care. They are working on a first aid basis, some carrying out surgeries without even anesthesia. We've been hearing from doctors who are having to carry out amputations without the necessary medical equipment and medication.

This will be vital. We've been hearing those calls for a sustained pause in order to allow for U.N. agencies and other aid groups to get into Gaza, to get that aid to those in need most. And, of course, as we know, at this current point in time, according to the U.N.'s humanitarian office, there are some 1.7 million people inside the Gaza Strip now internally displaced. And we've seen hundreds of thousands of people as part of that mass exodus evacuating southwards. We've heard those warnings from the Israeli military telling civilians in the north to move southwards because that bombardment has intensified in the north, as Jeremy was just mentioning.

And as we have seen, many people are now living in these large, tense cities. Those U.N.-run schools and other shelters are well beyond capacity. But there are fears for the safety and security of civilians now living in these tense cities. As we know, the temperature has turned. It is getting colder. It is raining more often. Winter is looming. We've heard from the Norwegian Refugee Council warning that more needs to be done to protect those civilians in the south. This is an unlivable situation, according to the U.N.'s humanitarian office. And, of course, as we have seen, there is still ongoing airstrikes in the south as well. So, the situation there is dire.


Now the hope is that once this aid is able to get in over that 4-day truce this will provide some much-needed humanitarian respite for those civilians, this will allow for doctors to provide care with new equipment and replenished medical resources but of course as you just heard from Jeremy once again this is a situation that cannot be sustained over just 4 days. We've been hearing from aid groups saying that they need longer, they need more time, they are many of them calling for an outright ceasefire but as we know that is not on the cards at the moment.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing that this war will continue after that truce is over and of course the fear is that once this truce is indeed over we will see that ground fighting, that ground incursion pushing further southwards and of course we have heard those warnings of a potential southwards movement civilians being told to move and find known shelters but with so many displaced and with the Gaza Strip still very much under a blockade the fear is that there is simply nowhere else for these civilians to turn. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right Nada, standby, I'm going to get back to you. I want to go to Cairo right now seeing as Eleni Goikos is going to give us an update on the plan to allow those aid trucks into Gaza from Egypt. Eleni, the Egyptian government says it's not clear what kind of aid nor how much of it will be allowed. Tell our viewers what you're learning.

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: What we have been learning over the last 24 hours an enormous amount of activity at el - Arish going towards the Rafah border. Our teams on the ground have been describing seeing dozens and dozens of trucks heading towards that border crossing in anticipation for this 4-day truce and much needed aid that Nader was describing that needs to get into Gaza immediately. International aid organizations are frankly ringing alarm bells.

We have been hearing from the United States and the United States and the United States and the U.S. about the situation in terms of the dire situation playing out within Gaza. And I just want to reiterate what Martin Griffiths from the U.N. said yesterday. He said that they negotiate daily with the Egyptians as well as with the Israelis to get aid into Gaza. But when it comes to the number of trucks, the amount of fuel in terms of food and water and opening those safe passageways, Wolf, it all comes down to negotiations with Israel. But Israel has the final say.

With this, of course, truce that we're seeing, which of course is priority to try and get hostages out, this is opening an enormously important corridor to get aid into the region. And you've got to remember the macro picture here. If you are in Gaza right now, the only way you can get out is if you're a foreign national or you're a dual passport holder or you have a critical injury that can get you on a list and into Egypt. For the rest of the people that are in Gaza right now, for the Palestinians there, they are facing acute, huge shortages, as well as water shortages. And then the hospitals themselves have been describing harrowing scenarios of difficult decisions that doctors are having to make on a day-to-day basis because they cannot keep generators on and also lack of anesthesia.

BLITZER: Eleni, talk a little bit about some of the experiences of people who have successfully evacuated from Gaza. I know you met with one American family at your hotel who painted a very, very grim picture.

GIOKOS: It was actually harrowing to meet this family, because we knew that many foreign nationals and dual passport holders were being hosted at our hotel. And we bumped into a family with three little children. And the children just looked completely numb, and they weren't smiling. So, you could just see the energy and the trauma that emanated from this family. But speaking to the parents, they were saying they were scrambling just for a piece of bread for many days and no water available.

When they found out they were going to be on a list to exit into Egypt, they were going to be on a list to get out of Gaza. And they were going to be on a list to get out of Gaza, they waited at the Raffah border with absolutely no resources. And then we also have been speaking to people at the Raffah border, our teams there, described meeting one elderly man. And he talks about being pulled out of the rubble, losing most of his family. But, prior to that airstrike that he was a part of, he basically had no food and water. He talks about the fear. And, Wolf, I want you to take a listen to what he described to us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNKNOWN: We pray for Martin. But the fear, this fear, I can't describe it. We die every night in this war. You hear the sound, about to strike. And we don't know where it would hit. A missile destroys a block. So, imagine what happens when we are hit with three 3 missiles.



GIOKOS: So what we've also heard from the Qataris today, importantly, Wolf, as they describe what is going to play out in the next day with this truce on the go, they said humanitarian aid is part of this deal. It's an important part of this deal. But they really emphasize that it's only a fraction of what Gaza needs right now. And they are hoping for a protracted ceasefire or some kind of protracted truce to get more aid in because it is just that dire in Gaza right now.

BLITZER: Certainly, as Eleni Jokic said, Donald Bashir, thanks to both of you very much. Excellent, excellent reporting. After nearly 50 days, we could be less than 24 hours from seeing the first group of hostages released from Gaza. There is absolutely no room for error. Anxiety on all sides is sky high right now. We're getting new details that are pouring in on the -- by the second, I should say. CNN special live coverage will continue after a quick break.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Tel Aviv. We're just hours away now from the first group of hostages being released by Hamas once this humanitarian pause kicks in. A lot is certainly at stake right now. Let's discuss with Dan O'Shea.


He's a retired U.S. Navy SEAL commander who coordinated the hostage working group at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. Also joining us, CNN political and national security analyst David Sanger of The New York Times. Dan, let me start with you. What stands out to you as we near these first releases? What do you make of this framework?

DAN O'SHEA, RETIRED NAVY SEAL COMMANDER: Well, this is it's a very tenuous situation because ultimately this deal was not struck across the table between Israel and Hamas. It was done through third party media. So there's still a high level of distrust and anything could go wrong. So really this first, you know, fire that kicks in at midnight, I believe a local time in Israel will or midnight out here at 7 a.m. in your time, it will be critical that these first batch of hostages that comes off smoothly, and hopefully the ceasefire will hold and the first tranche of 50 hostages will come home safely. But it's a very tenuous environment and anything could go wrong at a moment's notice. So, we need to proceed cautiously with cautious optimism.

BLITZER: Key words, anything could go wrong. Let's hope it doesn't happen. We want to see this hostage deal go forward. Dan, let me follow up. Israel, as you know, has notified the families of these first 13 women and children who are there risks in doing that and not holding on to that information until these people are actually out of Hamas's hands.

O'SHEA: 100 percent. I can just tell you, being on the coordination of over 400 kidnaps in Iraq, the very last thing you do is try and give families hope because nothing is certain, especially in these environments, until that hostage is safely and securely brought into harm, you know, out of harm's way. Anything -- anything could go wrong. And that is the biggest challenge because it's a very tenuous situation. And I think it's a very tenuous situation. And I think it's a very tenuous situation. And I think it's a very tenuous situation. And I think it's these families have been, they've been going through hell. It's been a nightmare for the families in addition to what the hostages themselves have gone through. So, you don't want to give undue hope for folks because if something goes wrong, then the level of anger and outrage the families will respond with will be a lot to handle.

BLITZER: Yeah, good point. David, let me get to you. Is there a worry that groups other than Hamas may seek to try to sabotage this so- called pause or actually take advantage of it?

DAVID SANGER, CNN POLITICAL AND NATIONAL SECUITY ANALYST: The biggest focus, of course, is on Hezbollah to the north. They are not covered by this pause. And they may well see an opportunity to go cause trouble. Of course, they're Iran-backed. And there have been a lot of quiet warnings, including, we think, from the Chinese going to the Iranians about keeping that part secure. But, you know, just to build on what Dan said, I think part one of our concern is obviously tomorrow and a smooth start to this.

The bigger mystery to me, Wolf, is what happens at day 4 and 5 and 6. So obviously, if this goes well, there'll be a great interest in extending it, trying to see if you can get more hostages out. But the price for those, particularly for the men, for members of the military, that will go up considerably. And then the Israelis are going to face a very hard choice, because if they decide to go resume the war, as Prime Minister Netanyahu has said they would, it could choke off further hostage releases.

Remember, Hamas will still have nearly 200 in hand. And then, of course, the next part of that is, Israel will face a fair bit of condemnation for restarting the bombings, assuming they do that, after you've had a period of 4 or 5 or 6 days of relative peace.I'm not sure they've politically quite figured out how they're going to go handle that.

BLITZER: I suspect you're right. Dan, let me follow up with you. The hope clearly is that this deal will get extended and result in more than 50 hostages being freed. But the hostages are leverage for Hamas, as we all know. So how do you navigate that? How do you get them to relinquish what, for all practical purposes, is the only card that Hamas has?

O'SHEA: Well, and David kind of hit at it, the fact that the calculus for these hostages, it's easy for them to let women and children go, and presumably the elderly should be in the next tranche. But all the military age, males and females, hostages, they're still in the Israeli Defense Force reserves. And so there will be a much higher price to pay for them to release, because the only thing protecting Hamas are these hostages.


They're going to hold onto them to the bitter end. So this will get dragged out. And again, as you pointed out, there'll be tremendous pressure on Netanyahu to extend the ceasefire if the first four days go smoothly. So it is -- , God knows what's going to happen in four days. But again, there's a lot of things that can go well, but it doesn't make anything easier for both the IDF, who wants to resume the offensive, versus Hamas, who wants to survive another day.

BLITZER: Let me follow up, Dan, with you. What happens for the hostages after all of this, months from now, especially the kids? What kind of care and treatment is needed? You've dealt with these issues before.

O'SHEA: Yes, they are going to go through what's called repatriation. First and foremost, every hostage is going to be, victim is going to be seen by medical staff and checked out physically. And of course, addressing some of the injuries we know some of them had. But the most important is going to be the mental health. These challenges and the lasting repercussions of what, especially these young kids who are not, -- no one is, -- these kids have been held in probably a tunnel for the last 47 days. There could be a lifetime of issues for these young children and the shock and trauma of what they've been through. And they are potentially looking at a lifetime of health care on the mental health aspect side of all this.

BLITZER: Yeah, so sad indeed. David, we've learned that President Biden played a pivotal role in getting this deal done. That's significant because over the years, he and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu haven't necessarily always seen eye to eye. Talk a little bit about that.

SANGER: Well, their history has been a choppy one, Wolf. And you've seen those tensions really come out in the past few weeks. And in part, this is because the Israelis have 2 strategic objectives that are in tension with each other. One of them is the defeat of Hamas, and the other is to get all the hostages out. And you're now seeing the shift, assuming that this comes ahead tomorrow, toward getting the hostages out. But President Biden has been pressing Netanyahu in 13 phone calls, at least 13 that we know about, to begin to think much more heavily about the long-term costs of whether or not the bombing of the Palestinians at this level, with this level of casualties, is in Israel's long-term interest.

And on that, they have just a fundamental disagreement. Now, the U.S. has not come out publicly to go denounce them, other than Secretary of State Tony Blinken's phrases that there have been far too many Palestinians killed. But that's been the source of tension here. As President Biden says, please help us help you to get to a longer-term solution. And so, you've heard President Biden talking about this to get to a 2-state solution. You have never once heard Prime Minister Netanyahu utter that. And that's you're going to see play out after these releases are complete.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens. All right, David Sanger, Dan O'Shea, guys, thank you very, very much. Family members anxiously awaiting to see if their loved ones will be released from Gaza. Some already have been notified. Many, though, have not. And this first round is strictly women and children. Could others soon follow? Stay with CNN special. Live coverage. We'll be right back.