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Qatar: Truce At Midnight ET, Hostage Release At 9AM ET; Israeli Forces Continue Striking Gaza Ahead Of Truce; Aid Trucks At Egypt-Gaza Border Before Midnight ET Truce. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired November 23, 2023 - 15:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: You're watching CNN NEWS CENTRAL. It is the top of the hour. I'm Boris Sanchez in Washington alongside Wolf Blitzer in Tel Aviv.

We're just hours away now from the start of the temporary truce in the war between Israel and Hamas. At midnight Eastern Time tonight, 7 AM local time where Wolf is, a temporary truce is set to begin. And later tomorrow, the first group of hostages being held by Hamas is expected to be released. Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Thirteen women and children are set to be freed in that first group. The Israeli government says it has the list of names and has notified the families. But in advance of all of this, Israel says it has conducted hundreds of strikes in Gaza.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is a few miles from Gaza right now. He's joining us from Sderot, and he just heard a bombardment last hour. We also have Oren Liebermann. He's here with me in Tel Aviv.

Oren, let me go to you first. Walk us through what we'll see on the ground a few hours from now.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a lot of moving parts here and this all requires the meticulous planning, which is why we might have seen that delay last night. First, nine hours from now, the pause in the fighting begins. Shortly after that, we expect to see the hundreds of aid trucks beginning to enter Gaza for that desperately needed humanitarian assistance there.

Then, nine hours after that pause in fighting begins, we'll begin to see the release of those 13 women and children, those first group of hostages. They'll go to the Red Cross from Hamas. They'll then be transferred into Israeli military custody and will then be brought out through two different border crossings into Israel straight to hospitals.

Those younger than 12 will meet their families quickly. Those older than 12 will meet their families at the hospital.

After that's confirmed, so after that part is done, a number of Palestinian prisoners, women and children, will be released from Israeli jails. At the same three-to-one ratio as the overall deal, so it'll be the release of 39 Palestinian women and children from Israeli prisons, they'll be released from two prisons in Israel. They'll be taken to a prison in the occupied West Bank and from there released to their families.

You get a sense there of how many parts there are to this and how delicate this is. And that's why the first day and the second day are viewed as sort of a testing period for this to make sure this can work. Earlier today, the Qatari foreign ministry said they've tried to go through every possible scenario to troubleshoot anything that might go wrong here so this can keep moving forward as it's planned, but a lot of moving parts.

BLITZER: So I understand that the Palestinian prisoners, being held by Israel, they will be released around the same time that the hostages will be released by Hamas?

LIEBERMANN: That's the plan. Israel will first confirm that the 13 Israeli hostages are in Israel and then from what we understand from an Israeli official, then the release of the Palestinian prisoners will begin.

BLITZER: All right. Oren, standby. I want to bring in Jeremy.

Jeremy, this truce was postponed by one day, so today the guns are anything but silent. What are you seeing right now? What have you been hearing?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No doubt about it, Wolf. Just moments ago, an enormous barrage of - sounded like a bombardment, heavy bombardment of the Gaza Strip. It appeared to be coming from the same direction where we were hearing explosions last hour, which is in the direction of the Jabalya refugee camp. That is where we know that Israeli forces in recent days have been operating very, very heavily.

They have told us in recent days that they have encircled that refugee camp and they say that Hamas militants are still inside there and they are ready to go. They are fighting them. And so moments ago, we just heard an enormous barrage of bombardments in that area.

What is clear, Wolf, is that Israeli forces are going to continue to operate in the Gaza Strip up until that truce actually begins. And then after that truce begins, we're told that Israeli forces will not move past the truce line. That truce line, I'm told, is effectively the north-south divide in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli forces have told civilians to move south of that line. That will be the line that Israeli forces will not cross as this truce goes into effect at 7 in the morning local time and is expected to last, if everything goes according to plan, for at least four days.

Now, one thing that is also clear is that Israeli forces are going to continue to fight after this pause is over. The Israeli prime minister as well as the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, both signaling very strongly that this war will continue until they reach their objectives to destroy Hamas, to get all of the hostages, all of the nearly 140 hostages back. And the defense minister, in fact, saying that the fighting will last for at least two months after this initial pause is over.

BLITZER: And, Jeremy, as you know, many involved in these very delicate negotiations, the hostage negotiations, are hoping it will be a starting point for more releases and longer truces. What are Israeli officials saying about those next steps?


DIAMOND: Well, like I said, they're making very clear that the fighting will continue after this pause. And so it was interesting to hear the spokesman for the Qatari ministry of foreign affairs talking about the opportunity that this might present to try and establish some kind of a longer ceasefire. For Israeli officials, at least, that appears to be off of the table.

But one thing that is on the table is the possibility for additional releases of hostages and additional days of pause beyond those first 50 and during those four days of pause in fighting. In fact, I spoke with Gal Hirsch the other day, the special coordinator for the Israeli prime minister for hostage affairs, who emphasized that this first 50 hostage release is simply phase one. Phase two could be those 10 hostages per day in exchange for an additional day of truce, as well as a three-to-one ratio of those Palestinian prisoners.

But also, of course, Israeli officials making very clear that they are committed to the release, securing the release of all nearly 240 hostages, whether that is through negotiations or through military operations on the ground.

BLITZER: And Jeremy, amidst all of these developments, I understand there are also some serious developments over at the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, which Israel raided last week. Get us up to speed.

DIAMOND: That's right, Wolf. Israeli forces, as well as the Shin Bet, which is Israel's internal security service, apprehended the hospital's director earlier today. We are told that they have detained him and taken him in for questioning by the Shin Bet security services.

The Israeli officials say that they detained him because of the evidence that they have uncovered in recent days of a massive, sprawling tunnel system below Al-Shifa Hospital, only some of which we have actually seen evidence of in recent days. But the evidence that we have seen in recent days, Wolf, has been pretty compelling in terms of the extent of this tunnel system that appears to exist under Al- Shifa Hospital, including areas where there is an air-conditioned room in one spot, there is a bathroom in another, and meters of tunnels that Israeli forces have shown us in video so far.

Now, this hospital director, we're told, Israeli officials effectively saying that, look, this tunnel system existed under his direction, and it appears, according to Israeli forces, that Hamas was using electricity and other resources from the hospital. And so Israeli officials say they want to question him about his knowledge and his potential cooperation with Hamas.

Of course, Al-Shifa Hospital and health ministry officials inside of Gaza, they have denied that Hamas operated tunnels underneath Shifa and they have denied any knowledge of that. So we will see where that situation leads, wolf.

BLITZER: Very sensitive issue, indeed. Jeremy Diamond, Oren Liebermann, guys, thank you very, very much.

For more on all of this right now, I want to turn to Tal Heinrich. She is the spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Tal, thank you so much for joining us. We are just a few hours away from the Israel-Hamas truce. A lot of specifics so far have not been shared. But can you provide, Tal, any further details on what this hostage release will actually look like?

TAL HEINRICH, NETANYAHU SPOKESWOMAN: So, Wolf, at this point, I can confirm that Israel has received the list of the hostages who will be the first to be released from the Gaza Strip in the first stage of the outline that we have agreed upon. For various reasons, we have not made this list public and I'm sure that you can understand why.

We have informed the families of these hostages as well as the families of all hostages, nearly 240 families who have been going through this torture of mind and soul. And we are with them in this together. We're all feeling the pain. We're still living the October 7th moment in Israel and it is going to be a bittersweet moment for us.

Because while some hostages, we hope, will come back, others, for this point, will be remained behind. You know that our government took a very difficult decision here and I know that you talked to some families. Not everyone are seeing this in the same way. We have various opinions in Israel, but this decision really reflects a very wide consensus among the Israeli public.

We want to see our sons and daughters back, all of them, and we will continue to work tirelessly towards this goal and the goal of dismantling Hamas. But in the words of the great Thomas Sowell: there are no good solutions, only trade-offs. So this is the trade-off that we have agreed for.

BLITZER: Tal, what happens if Hamas breaches this agreement?

HEINRICH: So, you see, first we have to ask, well, what is the definition of breaching an agreement. And I would say that we will define it as just the same as any other normal, modern, civilized country would and we will see. We will act accordingly and we will monitor every kind of movement on their behalf.


You know that back in 2014, Hamas breached a U.N.-mediated ceasefire. There was a ceasefire in place. They've done that several times. And during that ceasefire, they killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped the body of one of them, Adar Gordin (ph), into Gaza. To this day, his body has not been retrieved. So we will have to act accordingly. But we hope it doesn't happen again.

BLITZER: As you know, the Prime Minister ...

HEINRICH: There are no guarantees here.

BLITZER: Yes, no guarantees at all. Prime Minister Netanyahu said that after the current truce that's expected to begin - and I'm quoting him now - he said, "We will continue with our war aims, mainly to eradicate Hamas." And he added this: "There is no hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and the Arab states if we don't eradicate this murderous movement that threatens the future of all of us."

How does that impact the truce right now? What's the impact of that going to be on this goal of trying to bring all the hostages home?

HEINRICH: Well, we said that we are willing to extend - for every 10 hostages the Hamas will release - extra 10 hostages, rather - we will be willing to extend another day of pause in the fighting. But the prime minister is correct in the way he defined it. We need to make sure that we eradicate terrorism.

If we want to have any kind of hope, for any kind of prospects for peace in the region and it's something that Arab partners in the region understand. It will also benefit their causes, because we need to send an unequivocal message against terrorism. First, pure evil, the pure evil called Hamas, that mutilated, raped and butchered our people on October 7th must be eradicated. It is true that it's not only a governance rule and a military wing, but that Hamas is also, in a sense, an ideology. And that a longer commitment, a difficult process to root out this ideology that they call for, that the state of Israel should be obliterated.

They say in interviews, Hamas leaders, that they want to sacrifice the Palestinian people of Gaza to achieve this goal of the destruction of the Jewish state. We will not let them achieve either of these goals. And, Wolf, I'll just add that today, maybe even (inaudible) part of the nation that leaves nobody behind, and we are so committed to this principle.

BLITZER: All right. Tal Heinrich, thank you very much. We lost a little bit for technical reasons the last couple sentences or so, but we appreciate your joining us. Thank you very, very much.

Meanwhile, a convoy of trucks could begin hauling humanitarian aid into Gaza as soon as the truce begins. CNN special live coverage will continue right after a very quick break.



BLITZER: The Israel-Hamas hostage deal also means critical humanitarian aid can be delivered to Gaza a convoy of eight trucks is lined up at the Rafah Border Crossing from Gaza into Egypt and Egypt into Gaza, ready to bring desperately needed food water and medical supplies. The International Rescue Committee says it welcomes the four-day proposed pause in the war but warned it's not enough time to address the very dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Let's start with CNN's Eleni Giokos.

Eleni, you have an update on the plan to allow those aid trucks into Gaza from Egypt. 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 CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So we know that under this agreement that 200 aid trucks will be able to enter Gaza daily as long as this truce upholds which is really important. This is a bigger number than we've ever seen since October 7th and I want to remind our viewers that before October 7th we had 455 aid trucks going into Gaza that's on a good day.

So we've seen very little going into Gaza frankly and this is what's contributed to the dire humanitarian needs on the ground, the lack of fuel, of lack of water and food. We've been hearing some accounts, Wolf, which are frankly hair raising over the past few weeks.

Now importantly fuel has now started to enter Gaza since November the 21st. And according to the Egyptians we've seen a fair amount going in and this is specifically to help the hospitals that need to run on generators to ensure that operations keep going and of course it's going straight to the humanitarian agencies, because the big fear from the IDF has always been that if fuel enters Gaza it could go to Hamas.

This is a big move. This is a - I mean, I know that the truce is really focused on trying to get hostages out but this is a welcomed relief. And I want to remind everyone what the U.N. has said overnight, Martin Griffiths reminded everyone that while they have negotiations on the go in terms of hostage releases in terms of the humanitarian front they negotiate on a day-to-day basis not only with the Egyptians but also with Israel about how many trucks can go in, where the fuel will be allowed in and the final stay Israel has.

So that is the way the basic information comes from in terms of what is allowed in. Interestingly, the Egyptian president, Sisi, said today that the Rafah Border was never closed for aid and reminded everyone that Israel shelled the Rafah Border on the Gaza side four times since the start of this war which of course has delayed so much.


But in terms of just encapsulating what Gazans are going through right now lack of food, lack of fuel lack of water, one of the most difficult and important evacuations out of Gaza was those 28 neonatal babies. And five of those babies had died before they were able to get to Egypt because they weren't in incubators and that is because they didn't have fuel at the hospital. So Wolf, I mean, overall the macro picture are really dire in Gaza. If

this is a prolonged truce that will be good news to alleviate some of the pressure in the Gaza Strip.

BLITZER: Eleni, talk a little bit about the experiences of those people who were able to be evacuated from Gaza. I know you've spoken with some of them.

GIOKOS: Yes. Yes, I mean at my hotel we spoke to some of the foreign nationals and dual passport holders and we met one family that were describing how they were scrambling for just scraps of bread and water. They were being displaced from area to area and then eventually they found out that they were on the list to evacuate. They have American passports as well and they were saying there were trapped at the Rafah Border.

We also spoke to one elderly man that just came over the border on the Egyptian side and he was talking about the fear that he felt. And he was pulled out from the rubble losing most of his family but he again as well describing a situation where there wasn't even any bread for him to eat, I want you to take a listen to the fear that he describes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through interpreter): We pray for martyrdom, but the fear - this fear - I can't describe it. We die every night in this war. We hear the sound about to strike. We don't know where it would hit. A missile destroys a block so imagine what happens when we are hit with three missiles.


GIOKOS: Wolf, I also went and visited some injured Palestinians at hospitals here in Egypt and they were saying it's not just the fear of the bombing and the shelling and whether they will survive but just the fear of just finding food on a day-to-day basis not knowing what the future looks like.

The Qataris today said that this aid that is going into Gaza is very needed but it's only a fraction of what is required on the ground and international aid organizations say that this needs to continue the amount of aid that will be going in - during this truce needs to continue and that is essentially in Israel's hands.

BLITZER: All right. Eleni, standby I want to bring in Nada Bashir. She's joining us from Jerusalem right now. Nada, the IRC says, the International Rescue Committee, says this four-day pause should be used to increase supply deliveries and that a massive sustained effort is what's really needed urgently inside Gaza, what are you learning about that?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Yes, absolutely we have been hearing from aid groups including the IRC calling for these longer-term pauses in order to allow this crucial aid to get in. As you've heard from Eleni, this isn't seen as being enough aid to fulfill the needs of those civilians inside the Gaza Strip who have been facing this deteriorating humanitarian situation for weeks now.

And, of course, while the IRC as well as other aid organizations have welcomed this truce this four-day respite for civilians inside the Gaza Strip and while there certainly will be a crucial window to get aid into Gaza, they are saying that this will not be enough they require more time in order to really fulfill the need of those inside Gaza.

And I have just a few lines from the IRC now which really captures the warning that they are issuing alongside other aid agencies saying four days is not enough time to meet what are now catastrophic levels of humanitarian need. The scale of suffering requires a massive and sustained humanitarian assistance effort and civilians must have protection that has been gravely absent.

Now, of course, we do know that there is a huge amount of concern for the many civilians who have now been internally displaced. The U.S. humanitarian office estimated about 1.7 Palestinians are now displaced inside the Gaza Strip. We have seen that mass exodus of Palestinians fleeing northern Gaza where the bombardment and on the ground fighting has really been concentrated, fleeing to southern Gaza, heard the orders and warning of the Israeli military.

But now there are hundreds of thousands of people in southern Gaza, taking shelter in temporary shelters, including U.N.-run schools but also many now in these 10 cities that we have seen is established where, of course, the security situation is fraught, where the humanitarian situation is fragile, to say the least.

And as the weather begins to turn and as temperatures drop, many are warning that the situation being faced by Palestinians in southern Gaza is simply unlivable.


They require sanitation support. They require more food, more safe drinking water. And crucially, there will be a huge need for further medical aid to get in. We have seen Gaza's hospitals collapsing under the pressure of this war. This window will provide some aid, of course, to get into those hospitals, but it certainly will not be enough to alleviate the pressures that have been inflicted on Gaza's hospitals, on Gaza's civilians over the course of the last few weeks of this war, Wolf?

BLITZER: Nada Bashir, Eleni Giokos, to both of you, thank you very, very much.

Tomorrow is the release of 13 women and children being held hostage by Hamas may be the - maybe a small comfort to those families whose loved ones thus far are not part of the agreement, at least, not yet.

I spoke with one father whose 35-year-old son was kidnapped by Hamas on October 7th. He said he welcomes the release of any hostage, but does express feelings unsettled because of what it doesn't mean for his son and the others still in captivity.


JONATHAN DEKEL-CHEN, SON TAKEN HOSTAGE BY HAMAS: This news, honestly, 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. 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.

Since the morning of October 7th, 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: We're following the very latest news from the wider region here in the Middle East as well, including a U.S. warship shooting down multiple attack drones over the Red Sea. Stand by, new information coming in. We'll be right back.