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Israeli Military Warns There Could Be "Changes At Any Moment" Before Friday Hostage Release; Aid Trucks At Egypt-Gaza Border Before Midnight ET Truce. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired November 23, 2023 - 16:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: You're watching CNN NEWS CENTRAL. We hope you're having a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. We're grateful that you're sharing part of it with us. I'm Boris Sanchez in Washington, D.C.

The Israeli military is now warning that there could be changes at any moment, just hours before 13 women and children are set to be released from Gaza. At midnight Eastern Time, a truce between Israel and Hamas is expected to go into effect. About nine hours later, Hamas is set to free that first group of hostages. Right now, the Israeli government has a list of those captives and says it has notified their families.

This plan coming together after a one-day delay, but the Qatari government, which mediated the deal, says it is hopeful it will go as planned.


MAJED AL-ANSARI, QATARI FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: We are hopeful, I don't know if I should say confident, but I'm 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 need it to succeed, and we are hoping and working towards it.


SANCHEZ: We have CNN team coverage on the ground in Israel, covering this from every angle. Nima Elbagir is live in Jerusalem. Jeremy Diamond is live in Sderot, near the border with Gaza.

But we start with Oren Liebermann, who's live for us in Tel Aviv.

Because, Oren, there are a lot of moving parts set to begin in just a few hours. Walk us through how the release of hostages is scheduled to play out.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: And, Boris, all of those moving parts have to work in a very specific order for this to go through. It was meticulous discussions and planning that got to this point, and it was because there were still some questions essentially about the logistics of it, that we saw that 24-hour delay to get us to this point. It all starts about eight hours from now, when that pause in fighting goes into effect.

Shortly after that, hundreds of humanitarian aid trucks lined up in Rafah outside of Gaza will begin making their way in. That aid desperately needed. Nine hours after the pause in fighting begins, around 4:00 in the afternoon, we expect to see the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, 13 women and children. That will work by transferring them from Hamas to the Red Cross, and then the Red Cross will bring them to the border crossings either through Egypt or directly into Israel.

Then, that first batch of 13 women and children will be taken to hospitals, obviously, for evaluation and checkup. If they are younger than 12, they will meet their families as soon as possible. If they are older than 12, they will meet their families at the hospital.

Then, according to an Israeli official, once it's confirmed that the hostages are in Israel, there will be a release of 39 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails. They'll be released from two Israeli prisons, then transferred to an Israeli prison in the occupied West Bank. At that point, they'll be allowed to head home and go to their families.

This is the first day. This then needs to work out repeatedly over the course of four days, and it is so delicate, that's why the IDF was warning that it could essentially change at the last minute, until the process begins, and even after the process begins, it could still change.

However, the Qatari foreign ministry in their press briefing earlier today said they see a commitment from both sides to make this work out. They were crucially asked, what happens if there's a violation of the cease-fire? There they said they would be in communication with both sides to walk them back from the ledge.

The first two days of this are viewed as almost a testing period by U.S. officials. If those work out, then there becomes the possibility that the pause in fighting could be extended for the release of more than 50 Israeli women and children over a longer period of time, but as of right now, Boris, from where we're standing and how delicate this entire situation is, that is a very big if.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, Oren, the Israeli military has said the handover process of hostages is going to be complicated. You sort of laid out how it's supposed to go, according to the plan, but there are a lot of logistical challenges that they'll likely face.

LIEBERMANN: Of course. Now, first, how the Red Cross moves inside of Gaza, that part is a very close hold. Making sure they get from Hamas to the Red Cross, to the IDF, that in and of itself is difficult.


It's worth noting that the IDF has prepared essentially a document of guidelines for Israeli soldiers to receive the hostages, how they're supposed to handle them, what they're supposed to ask, reminding them they are now safe, having crossed back into Israel because of the trauma they faced over the course of the past nearly seven weeks. All of this has gone into the planning, meticulous details about how this is supposed to work out, troubleshooting all of the pathways.

Nothing here is easy, especially when you have Israel and Hamas with so much distrust there. It was an incredible effort to get them to the point where they could agree on this document, and now, of course, we see, if it holds and how long it holds, and then, if it's possible to build on that for the release of more, first women and children, but then perhaps expanding it to elderly men, and we'll see where it goes from there.

However, it is worth noting that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said, as other senior officials, that the war is still very odd when this pause in fighting is over and that Israel's mission is still to destroy Hamas.

SANCHEZ: Jeremy, with just hours to go before the temporary truce goes into effect, Israel continues to hammer Gaza with airstrikes. What are you learning about that?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Over the last couple of hours, Boris, we have been hearing intense bombardments of the Gaza Strip. Perhaps the most intense we've heard in the last couple of days. In just the last hour, we heard and saw some very large explosions coming from the direction, it seemed, of the Jabalia refugee camp, where we know Israeli forces have been operating very heavily.

I want you to listen and watch these explosions, and I'll pause for a moment, so you can hear the sound here.


DIAMOND: And you can hear, that was just the first round of explosions, the sound reaching us, obviously, after you can actually see the visible explosions on-screen, but this was what we had at the top of the last hour, and in the top of the hour before that. You can hear there, the secondary -- second round of explosions there, going off.

And so, these have been the scenes tonight, and we expect this to continue into the night. Israeli military officials have made very clear that they will continue fighting in the Gaza Strip up until they are given the order to stand down before that 7:00 a.m. truce. We will see whether or not that truce actually comes to be at 7:00 a.m., whether both sides respect it. There have been violations of cease- fires and truces in the past in previous wars between Israel and Hamas, but this is obviously a very, very delicate situation.

And we also know that one thing Israeli officials have made clear is that this is merely a pause in fighting. It is not a permanent cease- fire, and they have made very clear that once these initial round of hostages get out, perhaps ten after that per day for extensions of that pause in fighting, at some point, the Israeli military will return to its mission in Gaza, which the Israeli prime minister laid out as retrieving all of the nearly 240 hostages, and also, of course, eliminating Hamas from its power in the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials indicating very strongly they intend to move south, deeper into Gaza.

SANCHEZ: And, Jeremy, the IDF actually confirmed that it has detained for questioning the director of the Al Shifa Hospital, the hospital that they recently seized, that they claimed command and control center for Hamas inside and the tunnels underneath.

What can you tell us about that?

DIAMOND: That's right. The Israeli military confirming that it and the Shin Bet, which is Israel's internal security services, has detained the director of Al Shifa Hospital, Gaza's largest hospital, detained him for questioning, and why, they say it's because of that network of tunnels that Israel has begun showing evidence of that it appears to exist below Al Shifa Hospital.

In recent days, we have seen, as the Israeli military has put out more evidence, more videos of these tunnels that appear to exist under Al Shifa Hospital, showing not only that tunnels exist, that built-out rooms, one of which appears to have an air conditioner in it, another that had a bathroom, a kitchenette, as well.

Effectively, the Israelis are saying, look, this hospital system -- tunnel system used hospital resources, such as electricity, and they are questioning how the hospital's director could claim to not know about it. They say that will question the director about his potential connections to Hamas, his knowledge of this tunnel.

It is important to note that a doctor who is travelling -- a doctor from Al Shifa hospital told Al Jazeera that the director of the hospital was actually arrested while traveling with a World Health Organization convoy headed south, that part the Israelis have not confirmed, but they've confirmed he's been detained and he will be questioned. They haven't said for how long -- Boris.


SANCHEZ: Jeremy, thanks for that update.

Let's pivot now to Nima, because we have learning more about the Palestinian prisoners that are expected to be released as part of this deal.

What are you learning?

NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, under Israeli law, Israel is allowed to arrest children as young as 14, so, we know that there will be teenagers 18 and under in that number, there are some 380 teenagers held in Israeli detention. We will assume there are around 33 women. They are expected to be among them.

There is disappointment, though, Boris, because initially Israel published a list that showed that 50 Palestinian prisoners would be released, and I think it's important to stress here, just picking up on what Jeremy said, the escalation of the bombardment of Gaza. It's very difficult for Palestinian families tonight to, you know, initially have believed that possibly there could be enough numbers that their loved ones could be amongst them, but then also to know that in the lead-up to this very -- to this point delicate, as Oren called it, truce, that the bombardment on Gaza continues, and let's not forget what that means. That means civilian deaths. And that's part of the reason that there has been so much international pressure, led by President Biden, to get Israel to this place.

So, the fact that there is an escalation and the potential of deaths in the final hours towards the cease-fire is heartbreaking for so many of the Palestinian families to see, Boris.

SANCHEZ: And, Nima, 39 P prisoners in all said to be released as part of this swap. You mentioned some of the makeup of those that are being released. I imagine the process also of swapping them is going to be somewhat similar to the Hamas hostages being freed, and that the Red Cross is going to get a chance to examine them?

ELBAGIR: Absolutely. Very kind of closely matched. The difference is that the Israeli army has made very clear that the war will continue, and therefore, these hostages could potentially be rearrested. That's the difference between the view from the Palestinian side, the families waiting for the prisoners to come home, versus the joy and hope that I imagine the hostage families in Israel are feeling tonight, that there are no guarantees, even the trucks coming in from Rafah will be enough to staunch even the preliminary needs.

This pause, if hopefully it goes through, and at the moment, right up until the final moments, that is not guaranteed, will be a brief respite that will not be sufficient to quell the concerns of the families of the remaining Palestinian prisoners, or at the very least, even give those in Gaza that desperately needed live-saving support, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Nima Elbagir, Jeremy Diamond, Oren Liebermann, thank you all very much for the reporting.

We want to dig deeper now, get some military analysis with retired Army Colonel Peter Mansoor.

Colonel, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate you sharing part of your Thanksgiving with us. There are going to be nine hours between the truce starting, and the first hostages being released. I imagine that is an extremely precarious time.

Why do you think the deal was structured that way, to allow for nine hours between the cessation of hostilities, and then the exchange of prisoners and hostages?

COL. PETER MANSOOR, U.S. ARMY (RET.): The word of the cease-fire and when it begins and enforcing it has to filter down through the chain of command on both sides, and it may be even more difficult on the side of Hamas where their fighters are in tunnels and maybe not in contact with their senior officials. So, the nine-hour gap there is to make sure the cease-fire is holding before the hostages are exchanged.

SANCHEZ: And Jeremy mentioned that during pauses like this in the past, we've seen a bit of shakiness, some fighting happening. Is there a threshold, do you think, during a pause like this, for smaller hostilities that may break out during that nine-hour block? What do you think each side should tolerate?

MANSOOR: Yeah, I think each side expects that there may be some small exchanges of gunfire and they won't be tolerated, but that won't necessarily end the cease-fire. I think the Israeli side will have much more discipline in the cease-fire than Hamas, just because what I said, fighters in those tunnels may not be in close contact with their superiors.


But let's hope it holds, and as it takes effect, I think, as the days go by, it will be -- the cease-fire will hold once it's in place.

SANCHEZ: To the point you just made, this truce is with Hamas, but Hamas isn't the only group that's holding hostages. There are other parties involved, including the Islamic jihad. Do you see the potential for those other players in Gaza to potentially violate the truce?

MANSOOR: There is that potential. I was assuming that Hamas was speaking for all the various warring parties in the Gaza Strip, but if that's not the case, then you can expect violations of the cease-fire, we'll just have to wait and see how that plays out on the ground.

SANCHEZ: Sure. So, looking forward, if Hamas releases the 50 hostages and this plan goes through and they continue releasing ten or so a day, we've heard the potential of a two to three-week pause that could play out that Israeli officials said they are open to. What do IDF troops in Gaza do during that time? Do you think that kind of break can have an impact on their offensive posturing?

MANSOOR: It's beneficial for the Israeli Defense Forces at this point to take an operational pause, resupply their forces. Retrain their soldiers on urban warfare tactics. So they can use the two or three weeks to their benefit before they continue offensive operations to clear Gaza City, and then potentially move into the southern part of the Gaza strip and finish the defeat of Hamas down there.

SANCHEZ: Obviously, this kind of handover is a very delicate operation. We know there are a lot of groups, a lot of third parties involved. Are you surprised this was delayed by a day?

MANSOOR: Oh, absolutely not. There are so many moving parts to this cease-fire that a delay of 24 hours was almost to be expected to iron out the final details, get the communications working on the ground. But you know, for at least, for more than 40 families, it's going to be a day of Thanksgiving one day late tomorrow when their loved ones are released.

And we can hope the cease-fire holds and that more hostages are release into the future, and this also gets the two parties talking. It gets Israel and Hamas talking about the future. And even if Israel continues its offensive operations in Gaza, it will at least have some communication with people with their blood on their hands who they need to talk to in order to finish this war once and for all.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, an important point, and a lot of moving parts to this. Colonel Peter Mansoor, thank you so much for walking us through it.

MANSOOR: Thank you, and happy Thanksgiving.

SANCHEZ: Same to you.

Still to come, an angle of this deal that we haven't fully delved into, because aid groups are getting ready to deliver much needed supplies and fuel to Gaza during this pause in the fighting. One humanitarian group says that four days that's been allotted for the deal is not enough time.

We're going to speak to someone with that organization when we come back.



SANCHEZ: A temporary truce between Israel and Hamas also means that critical humanitarian aid can reach Gaza. A convoy of aid trucks is currently lined up at the Rafah border crossing in Egypt, ready to bring desperately needed food, water, and medical supplies. The head of the U.N. relief agency operating in Gaza says the people there have been, quote, stripped of their dignity. Officials say that a massive, sustained humanitarian effort inside Gaza is badly needed to save lives.

Let's discuss this with Shaina Low. She's the communication adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Shaina, thank you so much for joining us, and happy Thanksgiving to you.

Your organization has argued that a four-day pause is not enough time to address the humanitarian needs in Gaza. But within that window, what is your group ready to do?

SHAINA LOW, COMMUNICATION ADVISER, NORWEGIAN REFUGEE COUNCIL: We have 53 staff on the ground in Gaza who have been preparing for this very moment, waiting for the opportunity where it's safe for us to be able to expand our operations. Already, we're working to -- we've been working to distribute cash to Gaza's most vulnerable families. We will continue to do that, and we've been managing a number of sites in Gaza for internally displaced persons, providing them with hygiene kits, food and other goods, and we hope to be able to expand those efforts as the pause begins.

SANCHEZ: So, Prime Minister Netanyahu has said there might be an additional day of the pause for every ten hostages that's released by Hamas. That could mean a several week pause in the fighting.

What more can be accomplished with that extra time?

LOW: Well, we really need more than four days. Four days is just not sufficient to access all parts of Gaza, northern Gaza and Gaza City have effectively been severed from the rest of Gaza. And so, for us -- and there's been communications challenges reaching people up in the north, so, for humanitarian agencies like the Norwegian Refugee Council, we need to do an assessment and figure out what the needs are, how many people remain there, and what is most needed. And so, we need lots more time, and we need more than the 200 trucks per day that have been allowed to enter during this pause.


This is 46 days, more than 46 days of hostilities, where little has been getting in to reach people in Gaza. We have 1.7 million Palestinians internally displaced. Many of them have brought nothing with them when they left, so, those people are all in need of blankets, mattresses, food, medicine, clean water, things they've been deprived of for more than six weeks.

SANCHEZ: And, Shaina, the Israeli government has vowed that as soon as this arrangement with Hamas is over, they are going to resume this war. Your organization has written in a statement that it would, quote, be a disaster to reignite this conflict.

Tell us more about your organization's view of this.

LOW: You know, the amount of humanitarian suffering that the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza have been facing is just unimaginable, catastrophic. And what -- and to reignite the hostilities after a four-day pause will only lead to increased suffering.

We've seen that the Israeli military is ramping up to move to southern Gaza, which will lead to even more people being displaced. We are incredibly worried about people being forced out of Gaza, forcibly transferred, a violation of international humanitarian law, a grave violation. Mass deportation and continued forcible transfer, as we've already seen from northern Gaza down to the south would just be catastrophic at this point.

SANCHEZ: Shaina Low, thanks so much for sharing your time and perspective with us. We do appreciate it.

This just into CNN. You're looking at video from Ireland where violent clashes have broken out in Dublin after a stabbing. We understand a bus has also been set on fire. The latest from that country, when we come back.