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Thirteen Israeli Hostages Held By Hamas Expected To Be Released. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired November 24, 2023 - 09:30   ET



BARAK RAVID, POLITICAL & FOREIGN POLICY REPORTER, AXIOS: 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 the hostages that will remain in Hamas custody, meaning not the 50 that are going to be released, but all the others, and the Red Cross will be able to deliver medicine.

This was in the draft agreement. Hamas, according to Israeli officials saw this clause, did not reject to it, did not oppose to it, did not ask to change it in any way, and this clause is still in the agreement that was agreed upon. And the Israeli officials told me that, unlike several reports that we heard, they did not get any message through either the Egyptians or the Qataris that Hamas has any issue with this clause.

It still does not mean that it will be implemented. This is -- this clause is only for, you know, down the road after this phase of releasing the hostages will end. Only then they'll go to the next phase of trying to coordinate those visits. But until now, Israeli officials tell me they did not hear any objection from Hamas.

JOHN BERMAN, ANCHOR, CNN NEWS CENTRAL: All right, guys, if you can put that map back up on the screen of southern Gaza where we can see Khan Younis where Barak was just talking about right now. And Barak's reporting -- there you can see it right there, Khan Younis highlighted in southern Gaza.

Remember, southern Gaza is where Israel has told people inside Gaza to move, from the north there in red, down over wadi Gaza, the marshlands there into southern Gaza. So Khan Younis is the biggest city in southern Gaza where the most people live, that is where perhaps these hostages are being handed over at this moment to Red Cross officials and they'll be moved south.

The entire length of Gaza is 25 miles. So you get a sense it's just a few miles away from the southern border there, so this could all be taking place at this very moment. Chris, I do want to talk about this. And this is an aspect of this, if this is happening in Khan Younis as Barak says, and everyone knows it's happening in Khan Younis, how badly do the Israelis want to be getting information about where these hostages are coming from, and how limited are they since they're no longer -- they're not able to fly drones over Gaza at this moment? CHRISTOPHER O'LEARY, SENIOR VP FOR GLOBAL OPERATIONS, SOUFAN GROUP:

So it's a challenge, and that's a real deficit for them. The collection from the drones, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance is critical in finding the other hostages. You track the guards, the members of Hamas. You track their movements of where they're going and where they're coming from. You like illuminate the network, try to piece them together.

So, all those little pieces of intelligence are important. But what you are going to get instead now, we're going to get tactical debriefs of the hostages as they come out by trained professionals with counselors who will do this once they're ready, and you'll start piecing together information that will also help, you know, build the picture, and then when the drones get to start flying, that stuff will be laid on into the collection effort.

So, you're losing something near term, but you may actually be getting greater details and new lines of effort and intelligence collection in for it.

BERMAN: And quickly, the issue of the Red Cross which we were just talking about with Barak Ravid which Israel has as part of the deal they say, unclear if they'll actually get those visits. What are the risk/rewards of that if it can happen?

O'LEARY: So, it's unusual. Red Cross doesn't usually get to visit hostages held by terrorist organizations. What they do traditionally is they visit prisoners of war and they have access. The concern is letting them go in to give some legitimacy to Hamas as a uniformed combatant force under armed conflict. They're not terrorist organization.

So we have to remember that. But on the positive side, they're going to be able to provide medical care, possibly identify the hostages that are being held, that are alive, and there's some information that's missing for some of these families. They don't know if their -- you know, their family members are alive. So we're going to get that. That's going to be positive, and it's all going to be reported back. So it is a positive turn in some ways.

BERMAN: All right, we are getting some breaking news just in. I just heard in my ear that all 13 of the hostages are now in Egypt. So over just the last few minutes, they moved from, according to Barak Ravid, from Khan Younis, which is just a few miles away from the border with Egypt, they are now all in Egypt. Israeli hostages are now with the Red Cross in Egypt, that is according to the prime minister's office. Let's get right back to Kaitlan Collins in Tel Aviv. Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, this is just about half an hour past when we heard yesterday that these hostages were going to be released. And now the Israeli Prime Minister's office, sources confirming to our colleague Matthew Chance say yes, these 13 Israeli hostages, who have been in Hamas captivity for the last 48 days, have now been handed over.

They are in the custody of the International Committee of the Red Cross, that is who is accepting them from Hamas officials from Gaza.


They are now in Egypt. Of course, we know that is just one step as a part of this process before they then will be headed here to Israel. That is where that lengthy process is going to begin of medical checkups, of meeting with therapists and meeting, of course, and most crucially with their families and with their loved ones. CNN's Becky Anderson is in Doha for us, tracking all of this.

And obviously, we'll check back with Becky Anderson, she's not there yet. She is in Doha, she's been monitoring this, of course, that is where the Qatari officials have been the ones at the center of making sure that this deal happened. And this is the most notable moment for a lot of families here in Israel that has happened since October 7th.

Now, hearing that at least 13 of these Israeli hostages are now out of Hamas captivity, they are now in Egypt, and they are going to be moving on to this process that we know as we've heard from our reporters on the ground, our officials on the ground, that a lot of hospitals in Israel had been bracing and basically waiting for this moment to happen.

Because one big unknown has been the condition that these hostages are going to be in. We've heard from U.S. officials who say yes, all 13 of the Israeli hostages who are being released today are alive. But Brett McGurk; President Biden's top Middle East official, who has been deeply involved in the negotiations here, said yes, they are alive, but they are certainly not well.

And so, there are a lot of questions here about the condition that they are in, what that is going to look like, and how they are doing, John, as we are monitoring all of this to see, you know, what is the next step here --

BERMAN: Yes --

COLLINS: What is the condition of these 13 hostages? Because we do expect children to be among them. And so that is something that officials were watching closely, because they were saying, you know, we're going to ask questions of the adults. They're not going to ask questions of the children in the same way. That has been the guidance that has been going out to the Israeli soldiers who have an enormous responsibility on their hands as they are receiving these hostages who have been through a traumatic several weeks.

We don't know what conditions they've been in. We know -- you know, there's this extensive tunnel system underneath Gaza that two of the hostages who were previously released said daylight shocked them when they saw it, John, because they had not seen the sun in so many weeks. And so, of course, that is going to be a question for these 13 hostages who have just been released to the International Red Cross Committee.

BERMAN: We just got Becky Anderson up from Doha in Qatar. The Qataris were so crucial in brokering this deal. So Becky, what are you now hearing from your end that we have from the source and the prime minister's office that these 13 hostages are with the Red Cross in Egypt?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, according to diplomatic sources who are very specifically involved in monitoring this hostage release, and they are -- they've got an operation center set up here in Doha. Not all of the hostages I've just heard, not all of the hostages are as of yet with the ICRC. Some of them are. I have been told, but not all of them.

There has been a slight delay. And I haven't been told what that delay is, but not all of those hostages are currently with the ICRC. But there are some who are. So obviously, we said from the beginning of this, this is going to be fragile. There are going to be delays. This is an extremely difficult operation. The process is set up. There are obligations on both sides.

The first obligation today that Hamas hand over those 13 women and children to the ICRC. We are not sure, we cannot yet know exactly where those hostages are or whether they are all together in one group. But certainly, I've literally just been told in the last couple of seconds, that not everybody as of yet is with the Red Cross. The hope here is, that will happen soon is what I'm being told. But it hasn't happened as of yet. So obviously, there is a little bit of conflicting reporting going on --

BERMAN: Right --

ANDERSON: As things stand. And one has to hope that this process is just slightly delayed at this point. It is early in this process. I mean, it's only 4:38 local time. The scheduled release was at 4:00 p.m. I think many people were surprised that this was happening as quickly as it was on the ground. You know, schedules are schedules until they're broken.

And this is a very difficult situation, neither side has any trust for the other, which is why this operation room is being set up here by the mediation team in Qatar with the ICRC, and they are in constant touch with those involved in this process. So without getting ahead of ourselves, I think we just need to ensure that we are reporting what we know on the ground, obviously.


And that is what we know today, certainly from those who are intimately involved in this operation now, and intimately involved in monitoring this operation. But it does sound as if at least there is some optimism that things are moving in the right direction, John.

BERMAN: All right, Becky, we'll let you get back to working your sources here in Doha, obviously, we are getting conflicting information or at least different information from different aspects of the people involved with this deal. It is just part of how complicated this deal is. It involves several different countries and a terrorist organization trying to coordinate efforts right now. We do have one source in the Israeli Prime Minister's office telling

us that all 13 hostages are with the Red Cross in Egypt. Becky's sources in Doha saying not all of them just yet. Let's go back to Barak Ravid from "Axios" right now. And Barak, again, you had heard that they've been turned over to Red Cross officials in Khan Younis, which is still inside Gaza. Where are things now, just over the last few minutes? We're 40 minutes into this window where the hostages were to be turned over.

RAVID: Yes, John, I just checked with two Israeli officials that are right now in the situation room where this thing is being followed. And according to those officials, the -- we are still in the process of Hamas handing over the hostages to the Red Cross in Khan Younis. They are not in Egypt. According to Israeli officials, the hostages are still not in Egypt. So I think we should be very careful with everything we say right now.

There is a lot of uncertainty. There's a lot of fog. There's a lot of conflicting, contradictory reports. But at least, according to two Israeli officials I spoke to, and who are right now in the situation room following this operation, the hostages are still not in Egypt, we're still in the phase of Hamas handing them over to the Red Cross in Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip.

BERMAN: Understood. So again, we can put that up on the map so people can see exactly what we're talking about here. Khan Younis, the biggest city in southern Egypt -- sorry, in southern Gaza. Barak Ravid sources say that they are the 13 hostages in the process of being handed over to Red Cross officials there -- that's still in Gaza. They would then be moved to Egypt to cross back in to Israel.

This is an important part of the process, but the process is not done yet. I want to bring back Chris O'Leary who is here with me to talk about this. You have dealt with hostage releases and negotiations before. What's this like for the 13 hostages going through this right now, remembering some of them are children?

O'LEARY: Yes, so they're confused right now. They don't know what's going on, they don't know that they're being turned over. They don't trust their captors obviously, because you know, they've been held in tunnels likely for the last six weeks. So it's going to be very traumatizing, very confusing, they will be dealt with very carefully. This is all coordinated, pre-rehearsed. There will be professionals that take them through the continuum to reintegrate them.

And as we talked about when they're ready, they will start to get questioned. But they have to be medically sound and psychologically sound. It doesn't do you any good to rescue them or recover them and they're medically OK, but then they're mentally incapable of re- entering society. So that's one.

The other thing is, from the -- you know, I can speak to the -- you know, U.S. military and intelligence side, we go through specialized training to prepare us for being detained. These victims do not. This is extremely arduous for them. It's going to be a shock to their system coming out, and they will not trust anybody for quite some time.

BERMAN: Do it again. Just to reiterate this. This is a complicated process. This is not like the Berlin wall and the cold war where there's one place where you know something is going to take place. There are so many different moving parts here, which explains some of the confusion here in this process. So let's get back to Kaitlan in Tel Aviv to figure out where we are at this moment. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yes, John, and just to walk people through who are watching this and confused about what this process is looking like, we had been told that when these hostages were released, that, of course, they're going to be handed over from Hamas to the Red Cross.

And then, that is when they are going to be going to Egypt. None of this is a great distance apart where the handoff is happening to where these hostages are actually going in Egypt, where some of them who have needed an immediate medical checkup will get that checkup, and then, of course, be transferred we believe via helicopter here to Israel to the point where the preparations for this have been so extensive that they've got noise canceling headphones for the people who are going to be on those helicopters.


And so, what we're hearing from these sources is that yes, this process is of handing over these hostages from Hamas to the Red Cross is underway right now as we are speaking. Of course, that handover is happening in Gaza. Then they are going to be going to that transfer point in Egypt.

And you can see here on that map that you were showing just few moments ago, John, none of these distances, none of these points are a great distance from one another. It's only, you know, about a ten- minute drive, we believe from one point to where they are going to be going.

And so, that is of course, you know, all of this is happening in a really fluid motion as Israeli officials for their part, going on the record for this, they're waiting until these hostages are back here on the ground in Israel before they make their official announcement from the prime minister's office that they are here. But what we do know, this process is underway at this moment.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the Israel-Gaza border, where we believe a crossing point where some hostages may be coming through. Jeremy Diamond, what are you hearing from your Israeli sources, and what are you seeing on the ground?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Kaitlan, I think the news that these Israeli hostages have -- are in the custody of the Red Cross in Egypt tells us, one -- two things, effectively. One, they could come through this Kerem Shalom Crossing, and the only other crossing really that would make sense from this point would be the Nitzana Crossing, which is another crossing between Egypt and Israel. That is where a lot of those aid trucks have been going to get checked

by Israeli officials before -- to get those security checks before they make their way into Gaza. But what we have seen in the past, for example, in the case of Gilad Shalit in 2011, is that he was transferred into Egypt first via that Rafah Crossing, and then he came into Israel via the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

Kerem Shalom has two access points, one of them, Gaza to Israel, and the other, Egypt to Israel. And so that gives us a strong indication that this may very well be the location where those 13 women and children could make their first entry back into Israel. That is certainly a very strong possibility.

From here, my understanding is that they would be boarded onto buses and taken to an Air Force base where they would finally be able to make their first phone calls or have their first meetings with some of their family members, depending on the circumstances. And then from there, of course, they would be taken in helicopters to one of several hospitals in Israel that have been preparing for this very day.

As you know, Kaitlan, there has been an enormous process to build up and to prepare for these hostages to arrive for the various medical, psychological, financial needs that they may have. But certainly, for the families of those 13 hostages who have been told that they -- their family members were going to be released today, knowing that they are now in the custody of the Red Cross must give them a huge sigh of relief, even if they won't be able to breathe entirely easy until they know that they're firmly on Israeli soil.

COLLINS: Yes, it's confirmation these are the first officials that they've come into contact with beyond Hamas since October the 7th. And so, this is also a testament to what we know so far, this agreement between Israel and Hamas actually working and in process as we've seen the fighting stop, the aid go in.

And now hearing that these hostages are being handed over, that, that is underway right now. CNN's Matthew Chance is also tracking all of this as we are watching it very closely, things are changing by the moment as this is developing. And Matthew, obviously, a big part of this is not even what this group looks like that we've also learned, it's actually bigger than this, that there are also 12 Thai nationals that are being released according to Egyptian officials.

That's what they've been saying. As a part of that in addition to the 13 hostages that we believe are being handed over right now. What are you learning?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, you joined me, Kaitlan, at the Hatzerim Air Base, which is about 25 miles or so from the Egyptian border with Israel. And as we've been reporting, our understanding now coming to us from Israeli government sources is that both the 13 Israeli hostages and the Thai nationals as well, the Thai hostages, 12 of them, are with the ICRC, the International Committee of the Red Cross inside Egypt at this point, and will shortly be handed over to the Israelis. Now, according to the Israeli Defense Forces, the military that we've

been speaking to here, that handover has not happened yet, and will be announced as soon as it takes place. But when it is, the way things are going to pan out, we understand is that they're going to be brought here to this air base.

Again, 35 miles or so from the border by Israeli vehicle. They're going to be given medical checks to see whether there's any medical emergencies that need to be addressed urgently. They're going to be offered food and water and you know, a change of clothes. Potentially, some of these people may have had the same clothes on for weeks upon weeks.


And of course, the Israelis are making a big point how they're going to be handling this very delicately. Because some of the people coming out as hostages will not know, we're told, that their -- for instance, their parents, their loved ones, have been killed. And so, they're coming into a very different world to the one they left so abruptly back home on October the 7th.

Now, once the process of -- you know, sort of initially processing the hostages, the freed hostages at this airbase is over, and that could take between half an hour and two hours we're told by the Israeli military. Well, then they'll be boarding helicopters at this airbase and they will be choppered to the relevant hospitals elsewhere in Israel, some of them very close to Tel Aviv.

But there are also a number of other hospitals that have been put on alert as well, depending on the particular medical requirements of the individuals concerned. But, you know, we are waiting now. The expectation is that once the hostages that are freed and handed over to Israeli custody, it will take about an hour for them to get here.

And then you've got that half an hour to two hours here before they're eventually helicoptered away to the hospitals where they will meet their family members for the first time. So we've got some hours ahead of us as this very complicated and logistical operation unfolds. Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Now, it is truly changing minute-by-minute. We know one of the first things that they are expected to be able to do is make that phone call to those families, Matthew, who are waiting. We'll continue to check back in with you with what you are seeing on the ground.

We're also following what is a part of this exchange. It's not just the Palestinian -- the Israeli hostages being released. There are also Palestinian prisoners who are being released as a part of this agreement from Israel and Hamas. CNN's Nada Bashir is tracking that part of this story from the West Bank.

And Nada, obviously, what we had heard from sources is that Israel was basically waiting until they knew that these 13 hostages were going to be handed over before they're released, those 39 Palestinian prisoners. What have you been able to see from where you are? NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, it suddenly is a very delicate

process as you mentioned there. The Israeli authorities waiting for that final confirmation of the safety, security, and of course, the final evacuation and rescue of those 13 hostages from Gaza before beginning the process of releasing those 39 Palestinian prisoners.

And as we know earlier in the day, they were transferred from two jails, southeast of Haifa to the Ofer Prison, which is just in a distance behind me. It's there that they are being held before they can begin to be released. Now, it is at this prison that they will undergo checks by the Red Cross. We understand, according to authorities here, and the list issued by Hamas that there are 24 women and 15 children amongst those that are set to be released today.

They will then cross via the Beitunia Crossing, which is just behind us. And we have seen crowds gathering now, waiting for that final crossing to unfold once they have passed Beitunia Crossing, they will be returned to their homes and to their families.

So, of course, you can imagine for those loved ones of prisoners who are set to be released today, this is a welcome step, a welcome development. This is part of a longer process, of course, as we know, there are 39 prisoners set to be released today. But of course, this is part of a wider 150 who could potentially be released if this four- day truce, and the terms of that truce is indeed upheld over the next four days.

And of course, this is just a small fraction of the number of Palestinian currently detained in Israeli custody. As we know, there are more than 8,000 Palestinians in Israeli custody, and among them according to the Palestinian prisoner society, more than 3,000 who are currently being held under administrative detention. Meaning they have no charges laid against them, meaning there's no ongoing legal process.

And Amnesty International says that is a process that could go on indefinitely. So of course, this is a difficult and delicate situation. We have been speaking to family members including one relative of one of the prisoners set to be released today. They have said that well, they do welcome this step, they are not celebrating the release of these prisoners today.

They are still, of course, deeply concerned about the situation in Gaza over the mounting deaths on what could potentially develop, of course, intensification of the war after this four-day truce, if it's indeed four days, is over. Many here say that they are still concerned about the situation in Gaza, it is very somber mood amongst the crowd here.

We have also seen tensions rising a little bit. The IDF throwing tear gas at some of the crowds here, some responding with stones. The Red Crescent now saying that at least one 16-year-old boy has been injured as a result of live fire and taken to hospital in the occupied West Bank. And we are still chasing comment and confirmation from the Israeli forces on that front. Kaitlan? COLLINS: Yes, difficult and delicate indeed. Nada Bashir, thank you.


And John, obviously, we do know that as we're learning all this, picking up these pieces from sources about this process that is under way right now, Israeli officials have said that once they are in Israel, they will release the names, the full list of those who have made it, but they are waiting for them to safely make it back here in Israel as this process is under way, John.

BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan, keep us posted as to what you're hearing. And just to remind people the very latest information we're getting which has been conflicting over the last 20 minutes. The 13 hostages appear to be in the process of being handed over to Red Cross officials still inside Gaza, whether they have transferred fully into Egypt yet or not, that is what we are trying to determine at this now.

But the process, it is under way. Chris O'Leary is still with me, hostage negotiator, hostage coordinator and expert. We've got about a minute left before we're going to take a quick break and reset here, Chris. This is the first stage, this is the first day of this. This could be extended past four days, Israel says, if Hamas continues to turn over a minimum of ten hostages a day. How long do you see Hamas doing this for?

O'LEARY: I think Hamas is going to try to drag it out for a little bit longer, it makes sense, it recalibrates the strategic narrative in the international community, that's part of the propaganda of releasing the Thai victims today. But I think both sides are going to get to a decision-point where it starts going against their interest.

Hamas wants a long-term, you know, protracted situation here with the hostages. They'll hold most of the IDF soldiers as long as they can. Israel has to defeat Hamas, and extending this truce, the ceasefire goes against those interests. So they're going to have pressure from the international community to extend it. They're also going to have pressure within the community of Israel from the hostage families. So it's in friction with each other.

BERMAN: As wonderful as it is for these families, today and tomorrow, to be getting their family members home, and we hope we'll get word that they are in Israeli territory very shortly. As nice as it is for these families, by the time this process is over, it is very likely that Hamas will still hold well over a 100 hostages. So this will continue to play out for some time.

Chris O'Leary, thank you very much. We are continuing to monitor the breaking news, the hostages held by Hamas terrorists inside Gaza, in the process of being turned over, we are getting new information in by the minute. Our special live coverage continues right after this.