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Any Moment: Hamas Due To Release First Hostages From October 7 Attack; Any Moment: Thirteen Hostages Held By Hamas Expected To Be Released; Americans Not Expected Among First 13 Israeli Hostages Freed Today. 9-9:30a ET
Aired November 24, 2023 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: All right. The breaking news. This is the exact moment. We are expecting word that 13 hostages held by Hamas, all women and children, have been released by the terror group after 48 days of captivity.
The time of release was expected to be 4:00 P.M. local time. That's 9 A.M. Eastern time, so we are standing by for information.
Hamas agreed to free them in exchange for a pause in fighting, humanitarian aid, and Palestinian prisoners.
According to Qatari officials who brokered the deal, Hamas will hand over these 13 hostages to Red Cross workers somewhere inside Gaza. They will then enter Israel through one of two places, either directly from Gaza, right here or further south from Egypt, down here. Once in Israel, they will be taken directly to hospitals by helicopter.
Now, the larger agreement cause -- calls for a pause in fighting for four days, a total of 50 hostages of the estimated 236 being held will be freed. A U.S. official says Americans are not expected to be released today, but some are part of the four-day agreement that includes Abigail Adon, whose fourth birthday is today. She turns 4 today. She was kidnapped on October 7th by Hamas terrorists who murdered her parents.
This morning, we have seen some aid trucks crossing through from Egypt, through the Rafah Crossing. Here are some images of that right there. This is part of the agreement.
We have teams of reporters standing by at all the crossings and across the region. Let's get right to -- right to Kaitlan Collins in Tel Aviv. Kaitlan.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN HOST: Yes, John. We are obviously watching all of this incredibly closely as we now hit the time when we heard from officials that they do expect the first release of those 13 hostages to happen.
We are told by Israeli officials, including a senior advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu, that as soon as those hostages are safely back here in Israel, that's when they will announce the list of the names of the 13 that are first in this group to be released and also that they have in confirming made it back here safely to Israel.
Whereas you just laid out, John, they obviously have a very long process to go through, to reintegrate them after being held hostage for 48 days now by Hamas in Gaza.
A lot of questions about what their condition is going to look like. We don't know. We've heard U.S. officials say that they are alive, but they are certainly not well given what they believe that they have been held in in these conditions. So there's major questions about that.
And I should also note, it is 13 Israeli hostages that are being released. We have now just learned from the Egyptian side that they do expect 12 Thai nationals to also be released as a part of this today. Of course, those were several of the nationals that we know were kidnapped who have been working in a lot of the Kibbutzim. And so that is something we will be watching closely as well.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond is live at the Israel-Gaza border where we believe we could see some of these hostages start to come across.
Jeremy, and obviously we're waiting for confirmation from the officials to tell us when exactly this exchange has happened both for the Israeli hostages and the Palestinian prisoners. What have you been hearing from officials and what have you been seeing from your vantage point?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kaitlan, I actually just spoke with a spokesman for the Israeli military who told me that this hostage release could now take place between 4:00 and 6:00 P.M. local time. So that is a window of the next two hours.
Obviously, behind me right here is the Kerem Shalom crossing. And this is one of the crossings where we could see that the Israeli hostages finally come into Israel. Those first 13 women and children who we expect to be released today by Hamas.
We expect that they will be released into the arms of the Red Cross before being taken to Israeli forces at one of these crossings.
This crossing of Kerem Shalom is especially significant because it is where Gilad Shalit, that Israeli soldier who was held captive in Gaza for more than five years. He was released at this crossing right behind me. This is also a place where we have seen aid go in.
This is a significant crossing between Israel and Gaza. And so we are waiting to see whether or not this could be one of those locations.
I'm told that after they cross, they are expected to be loaded up into buses and taken to a nearby air force base. From there, they will finally be able to have that first phone call or that first meeting with their family members after nearly 50 days of captivity.
A medical assessment will be conducted. And from there, we expect that they will be flown to one of six hospitals across Israel, depending on their medical condition and their medical needs.
From there though, a whole of government effort is really coming into place here. Everything from financial to medical, psychological support, all of this is expected to be provided to these hostages.
We know that the Israeli government has been preparing for this from the military, all the way on up to the prime minister. And we also expect that there will be an operations room where top Israeli officials will be able to monitor this entire situation, which again, this country is just -- has been waiting for this moment for so long now, Kaitlan.
And at this moment, they have a lot of hope, but there is also still some lingering anxiety, anxiety about whether or not this moment will actually come true.
And what that means for the other hostages, nearly 240 of whom have been held in Gaza for nearly 50 days now, whether or not they will also be able to be released.
COLLINS: Yes. A lot of these families have said they're not getting their hopes up until they've actually seen them back here on the ground.
In Israel, Jeremy Diamond. We'll continue to check back in with you.
I also want to go now to CNN's chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, who is in Petah Tikva. That is in Israel at a children's hospital where, of course, we believe that they are preparing how to care for these people who have been held hostage for so many weeks.
And, Clarissa, I think one thing that stands out is, you know, so many of these people, they -- we believe they've been held underground in these tunnels. They don't even know the full scope of what happened on October 7th. That's just part of this process of reintegrating them after they are released by Hamas.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kaitlan. And that's why you've seen the Israeli Ministry of Welfare has put out some comprehensive guidelines for the IDF soldiers who will be the first Israelis to greet these hostages as they cross back into Israel.
They have been told not to answer any questions about their loved ones. You can imagine the first question a lot of these children are going to be asking is, where's Mommy? Where's Daddy? Where's my sister?
And in many cases, of course, their parents may have been killed. They may have been injured. It's obviously varies on a case-to-case basis.
But basically, the IDF has been told not to answer those questions, to say simply, I can't answer that, sweetheart. But I'm taking you now somewhere safe where you will see people you know. They can give you more information.
It's interesting, though, the Ministry of Welfare also said that it will be very important to tell these children very quickly what has happened and what did happen more broadly speaking on October 7th, because, of course, the minute they come back into Israel, the minute they have contact with other people, they have, you know, ability to look on their cell phones, depending on what age they are, they will start to put that puzzle together, if you will.
And so it is important to deliver the news, bad news, if it is swiftly, but also in a very sensitive and humane manner.
Soldiers have also been told, don't pick children up without asking their permission first.
And so I think there's a very real sense that the children who were kidnapped and taken hostage on October 7th are going to be different children today as a result of the trauma that they will have inevitably endured, even if they were receiving what one might deem to be relatively good treatment.
They have still been held, many of them underground separated from their loved ones for seven weeks. That has a tremendous toll. And that is something that when we talk to the hospital staff here at the Schneider Children's Medical Center that they are keenly aware of that they are trying to prepare for in the most sensitive way possible.
There is obviously a growing number of journalists, a lot of them inside as well. But we are being held in a different area from where the hostages would be expected to arrive.
And I should add something else, Kaitlan, which is that the hostages who are brought here, and it's expected that those hostages who have been held with their mothers, their mothers would also be brought here. There will be no separation of any families. So they will be brought here.
They are expected to be the least injured, if you will. If there are hostages who have serious injuries or very serious medical attention, they will be brought to one of the number of other facilities that have been agreed upon.
So a lot of anticipation right now. Members of the hospital staff telling us that they really haven't slept. They want to do everything in their power to make this as seamless as possible, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Yes. It feels like everyone is kind of collectively holding their breath, waiting on this to happen.
We'll continue to check in with you, Clarissa, to see if and when those women and children are coming to that hospital.
Also on the ground for us is CNN international anchor, Becky Anderson, she's in Doha, Qatar, where this release was negotiated, where we really first got the confirmation of what this was going to look like. And, Becky, we know there's an operations room in Doha. It has members of the mediation team, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, who have really been tracking every second of this process.
What have they been seeing? What more can you tell us that they are essentially watching and waiting, I guess kind of like the rest of us?
BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes. They are monitoring every second of what is happening on the ground. They tell me that is by phone because they are not actively on the ground themselves, but they are clearly in touch with the stakeholders here, the parties that are integral to making this work.
As part of this deal, there are very strict obligations baked in for both sides. And on the side of Hamas, the deal is that these hostages would be released around about this time today, 13 women and children to be released into the hands of the ICRC and then moved to the Israeli border. One of those border crossings that has been used before in these hostage releases.
Remember, we've had two groups of hostages released earlier on in this conflict. So there is -- there is a proof of concept of how this works, but this is all being monitored from here with those who have been at the heart of this mediation.
And I am told that things are going according to plan. Remember that we had a ceasefire, brokered to start at 7:00 A.M. local Gaza time, 12:00 in midnight, Eastern Time.
That mostly went to plan. We did see a bit of activity until about 18 minutes past that hour, but things do look quiet on the ground. Part of the obligation was the secession of all hostilities on both sides. So that is going according to plan.
A bit of a delay over the aid coming across the border. That's also very much part of this deal, this humanitarian pause for the Gaza Strip. Ninety trucks already have got through today, 200 expected. There was some delay. But, again, that is now moving.
So this next stage is absolutely critical. This is the point at which we expect these hostages to be on the move. On the move out of Hamas' hands after 49 days and into the hands of the ICRC and subsequently into the hands of the IDF and to safety.
This is extremely fragile. The members of this operations team working here around the clock. And they are anxious, I think it's fair to say. You wouldn't know that. If you spoke to them, they are absolutely focused on what is going on, but I know that this has been an incredibly intense time of negotiations.
Incredibly complicated. They've made all the more difficult they tell me here in Qatar by the escalation in violence.
So the obligations now are understood by both sides. A pause in fighting, the exchange of these hostages for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the opening of that border for the efficient and effective movement of aid into Gaza.
So we now have to wait and see whether this works, one hopes it does for the families who will now know which hostages are being released today, whether this works and whether those families, at least and those hostages, get some relief from this trauma. Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Yes. They're making one of the most critical journeys of their lifetimes. Becky Anderson, thank you in Doha.
CNN's Oren Liebermann is on the ground also here in Tel Aviv. And, Oren, we just learned, you know, we were talking about in Doha, how -- the officials who helped mediate this deal are watching very closely.
We've also learned that Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Gallant, they're also watching from a military intelligence room, watching. Essentially, it feels like everyone is so closely to see how this first transfer of these hostages goes, which we have not gotten word yet that they -- the hostages have made it here to Israel.
What are you learning about how Israeli officials are monitoring this to see just how closely this is handled and how it goes according to the agreement that was struck between Hamas and Israel?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kaitlan, you're absolutely right to point out that the first day, and to some extent, the second day as well are viewed as the testing period for this. And we're not even through the first day yet here.
There is a very specific timeline of how this is all supposed to play out. And at least so far it has played out by that timeline.
The seven o'clock truce this morning went into effect a few minutes later, the humanitarian aid going into Gaza, but this now is the critical part. This is what it's all about, the release of Israeli prisoners or hostages, I should say, from Hamas captivity.
And this is the part that needs to work and it's incredibly delicate. It's Hamas holding them, then to the Red Cross, then to the IDF, and only then does Israel release the Palestinian prisoners, women and children held in Israeli jail.
So even this is incredibly sensitive and delicate and needs to work out. If it works out today, then we can start talking about tomorrow. Another list of prisoners who are set to be released should be received later on tonight. And we can watch this whole process play out again and again. But crucially, it has to play out the first time.
I did speak to an Israeli official a short time ago. It looks like everything is playing out as it's supposed to, but nobody is putting a specific time and saying, this is the exact time the Israeli hostages will be in our hands. And that's because it's unclear exactly what roots they're taking and how this plays out, how long it'll take all of this. So everyone's still very much holding their breath in this painstaking, deliberate process to get to the release of the Israeli hostages.
And that's the key moment to know, OK, another stage of this is done and it has to keep moving forward. In terms of how the truce is playing out on the ground, it is holding. We do know that some Palestinians have tried to move from Southern Gaza to Northern Gaza. The IDF says they have established essentially, according to the agreement, positions there to prevent that from happening.
They say the IDF -- they say rather that northern Gaza remains an active war zone and nobody should return there, according to the agreement. We do have some reports on social media video of gunfire opening up as Palestinians have tried to move north.
So we're going to keep an eye on that because that too is part of this. And is one of the many things that can make a delicate agreement fall apart very quickly if it spirals out of control from a simple little incident on the ground or elsewhere for that matter.
COLLINS: Yes. And, Oren, you lived here for a long time. You know that there is no shortage of history to look at and breaches and cease fires that have been brokered between Israel and Hamas before.
I think that's why everyone is looking to this deal with skepticism, cautious skepticism of whether or not it's going to hold.
I mean, what are the expectations if it goes -- if things go according to plan today for whether or not this could be extended beyond those 96 hours, beyond those 50 hostages.
LIEBERMANN: So the Qataris were asked about this -- the Foreign Ministry press conference yesterday. And their wording also was very specific here. They were asked that they were confident that this could be extended. And this spokesperson for the foreign ministry said, hopeful. Wouldn't say confident.
So that gives you an idea of how much essentially belief there is that this can be extended, especially even before we've seen the first 24 hours go into effect.
There is a hope that it can be, that more Israeli hostages can be released from Hamas captivity. More Palestinian prisoners can be released from Israeli prisons. But we have to get there first. And the Qatari foreign ministry said, on day three on day four, we can begin to have those conversations about extending this.
It's also worth noting that the agreement covers the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners. But Israel put out a list of 300. So it seems from that perspective, they're also preparing for the possibility of releasing more Palestinian prisoners. If this is extended on that day- by-day basis with 10 Israeli hostages released on a daily basis.
COLLINS: All right. Oren Lieberman, thank you. And to all of our reporters, we are covering this from every angle in the region as we are watching this very closely.
And John, I mean, this is such a critical moment here in Israel where it has just been filled with such grief for the last several weeks. And the idea that some of these hostages may be coming home. You can even hear from families of other hostages who got a call from the Israeli government yesterday, saying, your loved one is not going to be in this first group of 13.
They are still happy for the other families because these families have been spending so much time together. You often hear them say, you know, I have 240 other family members now. Other families that they've been spending so much time with because they're the only people who know what it's like, what --they've been going through the hell that they've been living through for these last several weeks as they are watching so closely to see if this deal does go through in the next hour.
BERMAN: You know, every time that phone rings for them, it must be filled with so much hope, but also trepidation.
We are now about 19 minutes into the window when we expect the first group of 13 hostages to be released from inside Gaza. We're standing by at the two crossings back into Israel where we expect some of these hostages to come back through.
This is CNN's special live coverage. Stay with us.
COLLINS: Any moment now, Hamas is due to release the first group of Israeli hostages from its October 7th terror attack. U.S. officials not expecting any Americans, however, to be among the first group, though they are hopeful that some Americans will be freed as a part of this deal that has been struck between Hamas and Israel.
Over the next 96 hours, we do know the youngest American hostage that is being held is Abigail Adan. She turns 4 years old today.
Yesterday, President Biden was asked about whether or not she would be included in this first group of hostages being released, and he said he was hopeful.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you expecting that the little 3-year-old girl to be among the hostages released, Mr. President?
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Keeping my fingers crossed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COLLINS: CNN's senior White House correspondent, MJ Lee, joins me now from Washington. MJ, obviously, this is a disappointment to a degree for the White House. They were hopeful. They were anticipating that Americans could be in this group, but they also were realistic and they didn't, you know, know exactly that they would.
What are they expecting now? What are you hearing from officials?
MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. As you said, no Americans are expected to be released today as a part of the first 13 women and children that are released, but the hope and expectation still is that they will be among the first 50 that are released in the next four days or so.
Uh, Kaitlan, I think we're seeing how this is very much expected to be a day-to-day ordeal where each day we find out, and U.S. officials find out exactly who is going to be released and whether Americans are going to be among the group released each day.
As you said, we are talking about three American citizens for now, two women and 4-year-old, Abigail Adan, whose parents were killed by Hamas. She has two siblings who saw those murders take happen.
And as you said, it's her birthday. So I think for so many reasons, Abigail, in particular, of course, has been on the minds of so many people watching this hostage release, potentially take place within the next hour or so.
But as you said, no guarantees as to exactly when these folks are going to get out and whether the schedule is going to hold, frankly, in the coming days.
COLLINS: Yes. Those are major questions. Obviously, we know the White House is checking closely.
MJ Lee, thank you. John?
BERMAN: All right. With me now, Chris O'Leary, senior vice president for global operations from the Soufan Group. He headed hostage rescue and recovery for the U.S. government for years. And Barak Ravid is also with us, political and foreign policy reporter for Axios.
Barak, let me just start with you, because you're so well sourced in the region. We're 26 minutes roughly into this window where we expected the hostages to be released? What are you hearing at this moment?
BARAK RAVID, POLITICAL AND FOREIGN POLICY REPORTER, AXIOS: Hi, John. Good morning. At the moment, from what I hear, the hostages were still not transferred to Egypt. I just checked it like a minute ago.
The plan is that once they're transferred to Egypt, Israeli officials are supposed to be there to identify them, verify their identity. And then move them with a convoy to the Israeli border crossing with Egypt and from there in helicopters Two several hospitals around the country where their families will be waiting for them. They're going to get medical checkups and then meet their families. That's the plan at the moment.
BERMAN: All right. Chris, so according to Barak's sourcing, at this point, they haven't crossed over yet. The expectation is that they will, or it could happen at any minute, even if and when it does happen today.
What are your biggest concerns over the next few days as this deal rolls out?
CHRISTOPHER O'LEARY, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT FOR GLOBAL OPERATIONS, THE SOUFAN GROUP: Well, I think it's been widely reported the fragility of this deal. You're dealing with terrorist organizations, not only Hamas, but Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which on the continuum of, you know, Islamist Jihadi terrorist organizations, they're much further up the spectrum.
So they've broken truces before, violated ceasefire that were not theirs, and they're Islamists. They, you know, are committed to destroying Israel.
So they could ruin this for everybody and also was just reported. The communication to the local Gazan population, where they have to hold fast. They cannot try to move north because, you know, just the strike on the head of a match could put this all up in flames.
BERMAN: Yes. A little thing could become a big thing very, very quickly.
Barak, there's been some confusion about the Red Cross, not in their role in turning over the hostages, but the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that as part of this agreement, Red Cross officials would be able to visit hostages who remain inside Gaza.
But now it seems less clear whether or not that will actually happen. What are you hearing on that front?
RAVID: So first, John, just an update that I got just 20 seconds ago from Israeli officials who tell me that the hostages are being handed over right now as we speak in the city of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza Strip to the representatives of the Red Cross.
This is happening as we're talking right now. And this means that in a few minutes, the Red Cross convoy will start making its way to the Rafah Crossing from Khan Unis. This is just minutes drive away.
So this thing is happening as we speak right now. Hamas is handing over the hostages to the Red Cross representatives in Khan Yunis.
BERMAN: If you guys can put a map up of Gaza so we can show people what Barak is talking about there or I can walk over to the magic walk you're showing.
RAVID: Yes. Khan Yunis is -- John.
BERMAN: Khan Yunis is in southern Gaza. Right. It's in southern Gaza.
RAVID: A bit northern, a bit north of the Rafah Crossing. This is, I think, by car on a normal day will take you, I don't know, six, seven minutes on the highway, on the Salah al-Din Road south. It will take you six, seven minutes to reach the Rafah Crossing. We are very close to this deal being implemented. It is being implemented right now.
And just to your previous question. So the agreement that was signed between Israel and Hamas includes a clause, a very short clause that says that the Red Cross will be able to visit.