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13 Israeli Hostages, 12 Thai Nationals Being Released by Hamas; Sources Say, White House Monitoring Hostage Transfer in Real Time. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired November 24, 2023 - 10:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The breaking news is this. We are just getting word that the 13 hostages being held in Gaza by Hamas terrorists are in the process of being turned over at this minute. Our latest understanding is that they have been turned over or are in the process of being turned over to Red Cross officials in the Southern Gaza City of Khan Younis. You can see where Khan Younis is, right here. They would then be moved from Khan Younis presumably to the south here, either Rafah or this crossing right there.

This is not far. This is less than ten miles. It is less than 20- minute drive from place-to-place. So, this process could be very, very quick. Again, 13 hostages in the process of being turned over, our understanding all along is this will be children and also women. This is part of the deal that was brokered that would release 50 hostages from inside Gaza over the next four days in exchange for some 150 Palestinian prisoners inside of Israel, also humanitarian aid coming into Gaza from Egypt, and a few other things around the margins.

Again, our understanding, this process is under way, it is developing by the minute. One of things we are watching is Abigail Idan. We are waiting for information about Abigail Idan who turns four years old today. Her parents were killed by Hamas terrorists. Unclear, we have been told, that Americans would not be part of this exchange today, but it is one thing we are watching for very, very closely

Okay. Let's get back to Kaitlan Collins in Tel Aviv to get the latest of what you are hearing at this very minute, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, John. Obviously, this process is painstaking. It is developing minute-by-minute here as we are watching this happen. What we do know now is that they are in the process of handing over these 13 Israeli hostages to the Red Cross. That is the group that we knew was going to be receiving them and then facilitating their move from there in Gaza to where you just pointed out on the map, not a far distance to Egypt. And then once they are processed in Egypt, that is then when they will be helicoptered here to Israel.

But regardless, John, this is what we are seeing right now as this process is under way. One of the biggest diplomatic breakthroughs that we have seen since October 7th, we have seen a few hostages come out before total so far, but this is the largest group that we have seen so far, and we are also hearing in addition to the 13 Israeli hostages, 12 Thai nationals who are also being held in Gaza are also being handed over. That is what we are hearing from the Egyptian officials.

So, there's a lot of the tracking developments of moving -- fast- moving developments happening right now. We are tracking them all. We've got a team across the region covering every single angle of this hostage release that is now under way as we are monitoring it very closely, waiting to hear confirmation from Israeli officials once they have made it here when they will publish a full list of the 13 who have been released.

CNN's International Anchor Becky Anderson is tracking this from Doha. And, Becky, you have been hearing from sources about where this process is. What's the latest that you are hearing?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: So, there is an operations room set up here in Qatar, Qatar, the heart of this mediation, of course, Israel and Hamas not talking directly, Qatar mediating these talks and getting them over the lines.


There is an operations room set up here with the members of the mediation team intimately involved with those on the ground and with the ICRC. And they are tracking this minute by minute.

There are obligations baked in on both sides and one of those was that Hamas would release these 13 women and children today into the hands of the ICRC who will then deliver them to the IDF in Israel.

As we understand it, as we speak now, that process is underway and some of those hostages, I am told by diplomatic sources, have been handed over. But there is still an ongoing process. We have to assume none of this is going to be easy. There may be slight delays. But given it's only just over an hour since the scheduled departure of these hostages from Hamas' hands wherever they were being kept, the deal had baked in a 4:00 P.M. release. That's an hour ago.

I have to say many people who are intimately involved with what's going on are quite surprised that this has happened as quickly perhaps as it has. Those hostages are now in the process of being handed over. We do not know where they will enter Israel from. Certainly, they will be coming out of Gaza. Is it Gaza-Israel or is it Egypt into Gaza? That is not clear at the moment.

There is some proof of concept for this, if you want. We've had the release of two sets of prisoners over this conflict both mediated by the Qataris, the American, Marmina (ph), 17-year-old daughter, and two elderly Israeli citizens. That process worked and that is why there is some confidence today that this process will work as well.

But, again, like I say, because there is no trust between either of these parties there were these very specific obligations built in, embedded in this deal and both sides had to understand what their obligations are. When we see the handover of these hostages and indeed they are on safe Israeli soil, it is likely we will hear or see the release of the Palestinian prisoners, the 39 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails.

Again, a very important point. This is an exchange, as it were, of individuals. Hostages are held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons.

So, at this point, I'm told by those who are intimately involved that things are going according to plan. There is a bit of a delay on the humanitarian aid starting across the border today. Again, that's a really important pillar of this deal and a little bit of activity just around the time that the truce was supposed to start at 7:00 A.M. local time.

But, again, mostly this is going to plan and this part is the part that is so delicate. It includes children. We don't know who. We do know that there is a baby as young as ten months old being held hostage. We don't know whether that baby will be transferred today.

We know that four-year-old Abigail, the American citizen, is being held hostage. We're told by American sources that it is very unlikely any Americans will be let out today. But that gives you a sense of just how delicate this is. There are kids involved in this, women, elderly women. And this is a really fragile operation.

COLLINS: Absolutely. And that ten-month-old baby spent a month of his life being held captive, held hostage by Hamas. Obviously, we'll be watching all of this closely once we do get the list of these hostages.

Becky Anderson and Doha, we'll check back in with you.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is also at a crossing in Southern Israel. It's near the Israel-Egypt border, Kerem Shalom, where we believe it is one of the two locations that we have heard from Israeli officials. Hostages could be entering through to come into Israel today.

Jeremy, what are you seeing right now?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Kaitlan. There are effectively two locations where once these hostages go into Egypt, they could potentially be coming into Israel. One of them is the Nitzana crossing, which is further this way over my right shoulder. The other one is the Kerem Shalom crossing, where we know that there has been a history of deals involving people going through Rafah into Egypt and then coming through Kerem Shalom into Israel.

It was the case with the Raanan family, Judith and Natalie, those two American-Israeli hostages who just a few weeks ago were released on what Hamas called humanitarian grounds and accompanied by an Israeli official via that Kerem Shalom crossing.

[10:10:13] That crossing is just over my right shoulder here.

And there is a road all along here where earlier today we did see some buses and vans headed in the direction of the crossing. I can't confirm to you whether or not there is a connection with the hostage release. But, certainly, if indeed as I have been told these hostages would be brought on buses to a nearby air force base, if that were to happen it would happen right over my shoulder here.

There is a road here that goes north effectively in the direction that they would need to go to get to an air force base. And so we could certainly be witnessing that scene here as soon as those hostages are brought into Israel and are sent on their way to that air force base. That will be the first opportunity for those 13 hostages to get evaluated medically and also crucially to speak with their families who they haven't had any contact with for nearly 50 days.

And so this moment of pain and anticipation and anxiety and just a mix of emotions that Israelis all across the country have been feeling, but especially, of course, their families, it is now coming to a boiling point. It is now coming to an inflection point here. And we could see that moment happen very soon.

COLLINS: All right. Jeremy Diamond, thank you.

And I also want to note that we are hearing from an Israeli source right now telling me that all 13 of the Israeli hostages are now in Egypt. Obviously, that was a moment that we were watching earlier. They are being handed over to the Red Cross in Gaza, then being transferred to Egypt in ambulances and vans. We are now being told by a senior Israeli official that all 13 of the Israeli hostages have now made it to Egypt.

That is their next stopping point before they come here to Israel. We are waiting to see more, to hear more from Egyptian officials on the ground. So, we'll continue to monitor this, because one of the places they could be coming in Israel, we know children are expected to be in this group of 13.

We haven't confirmed that yet. But CNN's Chief International Correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is outside of a children's hospital near a helipad where we do believe that some of these hostages could be choppered from Egypt to exactly where you're standing right now, Clarissa.

How are officials and employees at the hospital bracing for the potential arrival of these hostages there?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a huge amount of preparation, Kaitlan, that has gone into getting everything ready for the arrival of these hostages here at the Schneider Children's Medical Center.

You mentioned behind me, it's a little difficult to see. There's a helipad there. You can see those blinking flashing lights. In the last couple of hours, we've also seen a number of ambulances pull up alongside that helipad.

And we've been speaking as well to staff members of the hospital who say that they've taken a huge amount of care in preparing the area, the sort of specialized unit where they would be brought, these children and mothers. They will not be separating any children who come with their mothers.

They said that the main objective, as they were making those preparations, was to ensure that it didn't look like a hospital. They didn't want it to feel sterile. They didn't want to feel intimidating or frightening. And so they have taken enormous pains to really try to create what they called almost like a beautiful hotel experience with a lot of toys and a huge amount of staff who they say they have handpicked specifically to make sure that they are the most sensitive, the most experienced, the best psychiatrist.

There are also obviously social workers on site. Each family, each group of hostages within the 13 who end up here will have their own social worker appointed to them. And the objective is to make sure that they have as calm and safe and intimate a space as is possible because as we have been discussing throughout the day, Kaitlan, it is anticipated obviously that these children will be exceptionally distressed. They have undergone a huge trauma.

We know and have seen those guidelines, those comprehensive guidelines that were put out by the Ministry of Welfare for the IDF soldiers who are currently going to be embarking on the process of identifying the hostages, carrying out a cursory medical search to make sure or determine just how much treatment they need and which hospital they should be sent to accordingly.

But they're trying to make sure they do it in the most sensitive way possible. They've been flagged already. Do not answer any questions when children may ask, where's my mommy, where's my daddy? Obviously, a lot of these children are now orphans. Some of them don't even know about it.


And so everybody really, whether it's at the hospital or the soldiers on the ground, the ministries, really trying to take painstaking care to ensure that everything is done, to be as sensitive to the trauma that these hostages have undoubtedly experienced, Kaitlan.

COLLINS: Yes, it's hard to even imagine. Clarissa Ward, thank you.

CNN's Senior White House Correspondent M.J. Lee is also tracking all of this from Washington, because although, M.J., we don't expect any Americans to be in this group, you have new reporting about what is happening inside the White House as they are watching this just as closely as the rest of us.

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kaitlan. White House officials are watching this release take place in real time, monitoring every movement that is going on right now. The president, of course, himself is being constantly briefed by his top advisers as well.

For U.S. officials, there has been such an emphasis on this first day and this first release of the first group of hostages going well because they believe that the first two days or so will really serve as a testing period of sorts that can pave the way for additional releases and the additional days that are to come with more hostages hopefully to be released.

And even though, Kaitlan, last month, we saw these two American hostages being released successfully. Of course, it is an entirely different undertaking that we are talking about because 2 people very different from 13 hostages.

Now, how today goes is especially significant now for the White House given that they do not believe any American citizens to be released among the 13 women and children that are going to be coming out of Gaza. That means that presumably they are going to be released on day two, day three or day four.

We have no way to know right now or predict exactly when we will see those American citizens. But, again, White House officials very closely monitoring the situation and very much hoping that everything goes well without a significant hitch and without a significant delay because they really, really want this to go successfully and have the American citizens that are to be released for that process to go well as well.

COLLINS: Yes, it's a template for all of this. M.J. Lee, Jeremy Diamond, all of you, thank you very much.

John, obviously, everyone is watching this closely as this is truly developing by the minute as these hostages are now in the process of having this handover underway, obviously, with the ultimate goal, and once people will really, you know, breed that sigh of relief here in Israel once they're on the ground in Israel, which they are not at this point, John.

BERMAN: I can give people a sense based on your reporting, Kaitlan, on what the movements are and will be over the next several minutes. Barak Ravid from Axios said that the 13 hostages held by the Hamas terrorists were turned over to the Red Cross in Khan Younis, that's right here, then they were driven to the Rafah crossing. That's nine miles. It's about a 20-minute drive down the main road.

We believe they're going to go from the Rafah crossing. They're in Egypt now, on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing. We believe they will go likely by road to this other crossing further south, Nitzana. This is a crossing from Egypt into Israel, they'll cross into Israel, then we believe from the border there they will be taken by helicopter to here, the Hatzerim Airbase. So you can see the Nitzana crossing right here. They would go from here to here.

And from the Hatzerim Airbase, which is where our Matthew Chance is, they would be flown to hospitals around the country from there. That's a sense of this journey, this odyssey that these 13 hostages that we do now understand are on Egyptian soil right here. That is what they will be going through. And, again, they've been in captivity for some 48 days. Some of them are children. So, this is quite an ordeal for them.

Let's get to retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton. Cedric, if you're with us right now, again, just comment on the logistics of this, the movement of these people, and also just, I think, that the psychological terror, how excruciating it's been, I think, for people in Israel to know that they were just a few miles away this whole time.

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, that's for sure, John. And let me tell you, from a psychological standpoint, this must be one of the most difficult things to deal with, not only if you're a hostage, the very fact that you were captured and spent so much time with these hostage takers, and then, of course, the families and everybody involved with trying to get these people out. It's been excruciating for many, many people in many different countries.

But, yes, from a logistical standpoint, John, what you're seeing is a movement that is really intricate. So, there's a lot of ground movement from Khan Younis to the Rafah crossing.


That then is where you take things over into Egypt. And when you go into the Rafah crossing, then it becomes the Egyptian responsibility. And like you mentioned, the most likely transport mechanism is going to be buses probably to that Nitzana crossing.

From that Nitzana crossing, the Hatzerim Airbase is one where Matthew Chance is, where they're going to have a lot of capabilities where they can take care of them, at least initially. It's kind of like a triage situation, at least from a psychological perspective.

These people will be put into an area where they can in essence see or feel the presence of the Israeli military right there. The Hatzerim Airbase is actually quite a legendary airbase. It's actually the very first airbase that Israel built from the ground up.

So, they built that in the late 1960s, has F-15s, F-16s, their Air Force Academy is there. So, it is major place for them to basically be reintegrated into Israeli society, kind of through that military mechanism there.

And, hopefully, that will give them the feeling that all these people on the military side, on the political side, on the diplomatic side, have been working with them and trying to get them out, trying to work this process. And, hopefully, that will help them eventually reintegrated into Israeli society.

BERMAN: You know, Cedric, as we are watching this, and, again, the primary concern today is for the welfare of these 13 individuals and hopefully the dozens of others who will be released over the next few days, but there is also an intelligence and a military aspect to what's happening right now because they know where they are. I mean, they know where they were. They knew they were in Khan Younis, which is right here, and then moving south here.

How much, without drones flying, can Israel see of this from an intelligence standpoint, and what kind of intelligence can they gather from the turnover of these hostages?

LEIGHTON: Yes, that's going to be really considerable, John, when -- you know, depending on, you know, how much they can glean from the hostages as they're being debriefed, that's going to really give them an idea. So, from a human intelligence perspective, that debriefing is going to be critical.

Now, as things are happening, the Israelis do have mechanisms where they can monitor this even without drones. They might even have access to satellites that are overhead that can provide some degree of coverage. There also are other mechanisms that they may have, and if they have human sources in any of these areas, they can monitor things as well.

From a distance, the Israeli forces that are positioned within Gaza can also have a way of looking at some of this. They may see movements on the ground that will indicate, you know, where the Red Cross is. They will indicate where Hamas is moving the hostages to and from. That's probably the most sensitive part of this, because Hamas is going to make every effort to make sure that the Israelis do not know where the hostages were before they were transferred at Khan Younis.

So, that's going to be the challenge from an intelligence perspective on the Israeli side. And, of course, from the Hamas perspective, they want to keep that under wraps, and they're going to try to minimize the degree of knowledge that the Israelis will be able to glean from all of these activities. But activities have their own signature, and that signature is something that the intelligence agencies are going to be looking at very, very carefully.

BERMAN: Yes. Just keep in mind one of Hamas' demands was that Israel would not be able to fly drones over Southern Gaza during this release because they don't want Israel to know where the hostages are. They want to be able to hide the dozens, if not hundreds, of remaining hostages that were there.

Cedric, I do want to ask one other question here. And, again, as we watch and wait for information on these 13 people who've been turned over and are moving now, we presume somewhere along the Egypt-Israel border right now, I want to talk about the military operations, again, Al-Shifa, around the Al-Shifa Hospital, where over the last several days, Israel has continued to release more and more videos of the tunnels that they say they found underneath that hospital. They say it's a Hamas command center underneath the Al-Shifa Hospital.

How much will they be able to do in search these tunnels as a military pause is underway for the next few days?

LEIGHTON: They might be able to do quite a bit, John, actually, because as far as I know, as far as I understand the agreement, there is no prohibition against the Israelis going through areas that they already control. And the area under the Al-Shifa Hospital is one, like you said, the Israelis are reporting and showing videos of all these tunnels that they found there.


So, what they're going to be doing is a lot of basically the equivalent of forensic analysis. And as we look at those videos, you can tell the kind of construction that was used in the building of these tunnels. You see some pretty sophisticated rooms that are laid out, just like you would lay out rooms in a house or an apartment building.

And it's something that will give some degree of an indication as to how these rooms, these tunnels were used. And that is something that I think is going to be critical from an intelligence perspective for the Israelis, so we'll probably see more videos like this.

BERMAN: All right. Colonel Cedric Leighton, as always, thank you very much.

Again, the breaking news that we're getting at this moment, 13 hostages held by Hamas terrorists have been moved from the Khan Younis area, we believe, into Egypt now. They are now in Egypt through the Rafah crossing. We think they're headed back over the border to Israel very shortly. We will bring you the very latest information.

Our special live coverage continues right after this.