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Israel-Hamas Truce Starts, First Captives are Released; Hamas Releases 13 Israelis and 12 Thai Nationals; Now, Israeli and Thai Captives are Entering Egypt; Convoy of Red Cross Enters Rafah Crossing from Gaza into Egypt. Aired 10:30-11a ET
Aired November 24, 2023 - 10:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We are following breaking news at this hour because right now we are told that the hostages, the first ones to be released by Hamas as a part of this deal that they have struck with Israel, are right now in the process of being released from Gaza. That includes 13 Israeli women and children, and we believe 12 Thai nationals who were also had their release negotiated for by Egyptian officials.
CNN's Eleni Giokos is following this live for us from Cairo. Eleni, you know, we had known that the 13 were initially expected to be released, these Israeli hostages coming here ultimately to Israel. But what can you tell us about the release of these Thai nationals that is also happening simultaneously?
ELENI GIOKOS, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this was a breakthrough moment, right? I mean, you know, hearing about the fact that we're seeing 13 Israeli woman and children that will be released today. And, you know, big focus on that cessation of fighting and importantly seeing aid passing through. I mean, about an hour ago, we had this information coming through from the state information services here in Egypt, and they announced that Egypt had intense negotiations with Hamas and was able to secure the release of 12 Thai nationals.
Whether they will be released today or in the coming days, that remains to be seen. And then just some updates in terms of the actual number, they told me a short while ago that this is still in progress. We know that we've heard from Thailand as well, from Thai officials, and they have confirmed that this is the expectation.
But this is really big news because you get the sense that the Egyptians are, of course, able to negotiate in tandem with what we see coming through with the Qataris, with Israel and Hamas, and be able to secure the release of other foreign nationals that are currently held hostage in Gaza.
COLLINS: And have we heard anything about what is the next step for these Thai nationals? I mean, we've known that there's a lengthy, complicated process for the Israeli hostages that are being released, Eleni. What have we heard about what's next for them? Do they stay in Egypt or do we have any idea of what could be on the horizon?
GIOKOS: Yes. So, that's a really good question because anyone that is a foreign national or is a dual passport holder, defector is able to come into Egypt, and that is the process that we've been seeing for many weeks now. We know that the Egyptians have told us in tandem with this announcement, they said the Rafah Border Crossing is waiting for hostages. And they mentioned that they are prepared and ready and waiting, not only for the Israeli hostages but also for the Thai hostages.
If we -- if the -- in terms of the precedent that has been set, all foreign nationals would be coming through into Egypt, and then they would be hosted here until an arrangement is made for them to leave, Kaitlan. So, that is the anticipation, given the fact that we've been seeing this playing out over the past few weeks.
COLLINS: All right. Eleni Giokos in Cairo, we'll continue to check back in with you.
CNN's Oren Liebermann also on the ground in Tel Aviv. Oren, obviously this is the start of what we expect to be a 96-hour process. Not just these 13 hostages and those 12 -- we believe 12 Thai nationals being released, but ultimately, at least 37 more Israeli hostages, from our understanding, of how this is going to go. What's next, and what are Israeli officials saying based on how this has happened so far on day one, since we've seen this temporary truce go into effect?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So far, the Israeli officials I've spoken with appear to have been pleased or be pleased right now with how it's playing out so far. Now, they realized the process isn't over yet. The 13 women and children are not in Israel yet, but they are en route. And that's the important part. It means we have gotten to this point, and to the critical phase of the return of the hostages.
But you're absolutely right to point out. This is 13 of 50. So, there are 37 more women and children who will come out over the course of the next 72 hours, the next three days. And the IDF warned that there could be changes up until the last second, and even once the process begins, there could be changes.
But crucially, we are at the critical phases of the exchange of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners. So, the next thing we're waiting for in terms of Israel is the announcement that the Palestinian prisoners have been released. 39 who are currently being held at Ofer Prison in the occupied West Bank, they will be released once the Israeli hostages return into Israel. And then effectively the first stage or the first 24 hours begins to wrap up.
At that point, we expect there will be another list of Israeli hostages that Israel will receive of tomorrow's group of hostages to be released, again, women and children. Israel will go through the -- that is the prime minister's office and the government will then go through the process of notifying that group of families.
So, again, it's that same agonizing wait to find out if they have -- if the families here have loved ones on that list, and then all of this needs to play out again. That is to say the truth -- truce, this pause in fighting needs to hold for another period. The humanitarian aid needs to continue going into Gaza. And then about 24 hours from now, we will see another release of hostages if everything goes well.
In terms of what's happening on the ground in Gaza, the IDF has made it clear that they will not allow passage from southern to northern Gaza. There have been reports that the IDF has opened fire to prevent people from crossing from southern to northern Gaza. So, that's just one more element that has to work and function for this whole deal to keep moving forward as it's supposed to. And then, Kaitlan, if we're still having this conversation in three days then we can talk about the possible extension of the deal. The release of more Israeli hostages, the release of more Palestinian prisoners.
COLLINS: Yes, they seem to be focused on just getting through the first 24 hours of this agreement before thinking about what comes after that. Oren Liebermann, thank you.
We are continuing to follow this live update as it is happening. Minute by minute, there are changes to this as the process is now underway of the first hostages since this deal was struck by Hamas in Israel to have them released by Hamas. We're watching it all very closely, checking in with our sources, and getting the latest. We'll be right back after a quick break. Stay with us.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEWS CENTRAL CO-ANCHOR: All right. To breaking news, 13 hostages that have been in Hamas custody held by Hamas terrorists inside Gaza for the last 48 days are in the process of being turned over to Israel right now. This is what we know, Barak Ravid of Axios says, they were turned over to the Red Cross in Khan Yunis right here in Southern Gaza some time ago. The route we expect will then take them south to the Rafah Crossing here. Once they go through the Rafah Crossing, they will be in Egypt.
It's unclear whether they have already crossed the border into Egypt or not, but that is the route we expect them to take. Then, by road inside Egypt, they will travel back south and cross back into Israel at the Nitzana crossing right here. We then expect them to be taken by helicopter from Nitzana here to an airbase right here, an Israeli airbase right there. It is from that airbase, after spending some time with people, being checked out, that they will then travel by helicopter to hospitals around Gaza.
So, you can see, this roundabout route, they're being taken on from Gaza to Egypt to Israel and then to other sites in Israel. Again, these 13 hostages, the process is happening right now. And this is the first of what we expect to be at least four days of this.
Our Kaitlan Collins standing by in Tel Aviv with the latest. Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Yes, john, we know the ultimate destination for those 13 women and children that have just been part of the first group to be released by Hamas from Gaza. Their ultimate destination is here in Israel, where they will be reunited with their families. In addition to undergoing medical checkups, having interviews with government officials about what the last several weeks have been like for them. What we've heard from the IDF is that Israeli helicopters will be the ones carrying those hostages. They're expected to land at an airbase in southern Israel. That is where CNN's Matthew Chance is joining us from that airbase.
Matthew, obviously there's a lot of waiting right now to actually see once these hostages have made it back. What are you expecting once those helicopters arrive?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CHIEF GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not so much when the helicopters arrive. Our understanding is that the hostages, once they're in Israeli custody, will be brought here by, you know, vehicles, by road. And that could take about an hour from when we have it confirmed that they're in Israeli hands. We're about 30 miles or so here at the HATZERIM air force base in central Israel. And so, it's going to take about an hour for them to get here.
The helicopters come into play sort of after the 13 Israelis who are being released in this first group under the hostage deal have been, you know, for a better word processed. They're going to be coming here, first of all. They're going to be able to -- they're going to be getting, obviously, medical checkups, you know, first straight away to see what their medical needs are. And then perhaps given food and water, perhaps a change of clothes. Many of them may have been weeks without, you know, having that benefit. There are also shower facilities here, I'm told as well.
Only then -- and that process could take 30 minutes to two hours, according to the Israeli military personnel that we've spoken to here on the ground. Only then will they be boarded -- then boarding the helicopters that are being prepared here, given noise cancelling headphones, according to the IDF press office who've issued a statement on this, to reduce the trauma of what is already going to be an incredibly traumatic situation for them.
Flown in these helicopters to the various hospitals around the country, particularly close to Tel Aviv where they'll be given further medical checkups and any treatment that's required. But obviously a very, you know, complicated logistical operation. The Israelis say they're trying to handle it with as much sensitivity as possible because some of these people who are coming out, and of course many of them are going to be children, will be coming into a world that has dramatically transformed from the one that they were violently torn from back on October the 7th.
Some of them don't know, we're told, that their parents, their loved ones have been killed. And so, you know, the sensitivity in which -- with which these people are going to have to be handled is obviously incredibly important in this first initial contact as they sort of start that long journey back home, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Yes. Matthew Chance, thank you for that.
And, John, Matthew makes a great point that that what all of these 13 believe that number is that what they're coming back to is a completely changed world. A completely changed Israel certainly for these hostages who are returning after being taken against their will into Gaza on October 7th. It's just even hard to imagine what they've been through for the last several weeks as you can see why the officials here at every step of this process that they're going through are handling things just so delicately.
BERMAN: And Kaitlan, we're looking at live pictures of the Rafah Crossing right now. This is the border between southern Gaza and Egypt. Why are we looking at that? Because we believe that the hostages are being driven through the Rafah Crossing right now. They're being taken -- we believe they met with Red Cross officials or were handed over to Red Cross officials and Khan Yunis in Southern Gaza, then taken over the Rafah Crossing, that's what you're seeing right now, those live pictures from Rafah. They will continue to move on back into Israel as Matthew Chance was just saying in an airbase there.
And Kaitlan, as you were saying, again, just imagine what these people have been through. The reporting that they'll be given noise reducing headphones for the helicopter trip. Yes, they're doing everything they can, the Israelis, to make their transition back into regular life more tolerable or to ease it in. But to think, you know, noise reduction headphones versus the 48 days in captivity, versus the knowledge that they're all going to learn over the next several minutes and hours about how many of their loved ones, their relatives, their parents were murdered six weeks ago. This is going to be an excruciating period for all of them, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Yes, there is no return to everyday life, really, because that everyday life has completely been upended by what happened that day. And just to speak to the significance, John, of what it means here in Israel, everywhere you go, you see the flyers of these hostages. The ones that you see in the U.S. and London and other countries.
And you can see there, that is the convoy. We don't know who's inside this convoy, but you can see, John, that convoy making its way through the Rafah Crossing. That is the crossing between Gaza and Egypt right now. You can hear cheers and horns honking.
BERMAN: Again, we are looking at pictures right now from the Rafah Crossing of a convoy moving through with beeping and honking. It's a Red Cross convoy. We cannot know for certain who is part of that convoy right now. If the hostages are part of it, but you did hear some honking, some celebration. They're unclear to me exactly where that celebration would be coming from. If it was the Red Cross convoy carrying those hostages, but we are seeing that activity at Rafah right here, which will be a key transit point, Kaitlan, for these hostages as they move through.
And you brought up another point here. One of the things, the developments, the twists today is not only has a number of hostages been turned over from Hamas to the Red Cross believed to be Israeli hostages, but several Thai hostages, people from Thailand who had been held, we understand they've been turned over as well. And it's not completely clear if those two groups are traveling together or separate at this point, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Yes, that is still something that we're trying to figure out, and this is a really fast-moving process. I mean, it's taking time for them to get from place to place, but there are several different layers of government involved here, different governments that are involved in this process.
This had been something that, as we were hearing, as Israel and Hamas were getting closer to this deal, which was being negotiated by Qatar, that there were also questions of other governments also negotiating for their foreign nationals who were being held by Hamas in Gaza to also be released.
You know, a lot of these that we had heard of that had been taken into Gaza, the point of this, of what we were hearing as we were talking about this from the ideological perspective is a lot of these were laborers who were at the kibbutzims. And that is something that we heard.
You know, when I went to kibbutz Kissufim, they talked about the laborers who had just been working there at that particular kibbutz. And the fact that they had also been taken hostage. You know, some of these are people who -- they're not Jewish. They're not Israeli yet they were also taken by Hamas into Gaza.
And so, that is something we're watching with the numbers here because that has been another critical part of this is that ultimately, we're told, it's 50 hostages that are being released. We got this additional information just a short time ago from Egyptian officials that these Thai nationals are also part of this. It is still a question of whether or not they are moving in this group together. Whether all of them were in that convoy that we saw just pass through the Rafah Crossing.
Those are things that we'll have better clarity on once they've made it through. We do know Israel expects to publish a list of who has made it into Israel once those hostages have made it here. They said they will not do so beforehand. And so, that is something that we're watching very closely. I know CNN's International Anchor Becky Anderson, also tracking this closely.
And Becky, you've been checking in with sources about the Thai nationals who are also being released by Hamas today. What else are you hearing about not just that, but also what we just saw happen, that convoy, the Red Cross convoy passing through the Rafah Crossing? BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: That's right. They've just left Gaza through that crossing and they will be making their way through that crossing on a -- if you were doing that as a normal individual, it would take some time to get through that crossing. But clearly that Red Cross convoy will move very quickly through that crossing and into Egypt.
As we understand it, this group of Israeli hostages are traveling in the same convoy as these Thai nationals. The Thai nationals, their release was a separate and unconditional deal struck separately from the hostage deal Hamas-Israel that was baked into this wider humanitarian pause.
I did put this question about whether there were any separate tracks being negotiated by the Qatari mediators to the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs just yesterday. And he described this, without answering the question specifically, he described this as a humanitarian effort.
So, I think what we can understand from that is that the Thai minister who was here in Doha a week or so ago had successfully worked with the Qatari mediation team, with support from the Egyptians and others including the United States, of course, He's been you know, very, very, very involved in what has been going on between Iraq -- Israel and Hamas. The Thais have been able to pull off a separate and unconditional deal to ensure that some of those Thai nationals who got caught up in this, workers at these kibbutzim have also been released.
Now, I think we have to be very clear, that we are not absolutely sure of the numbers. As we understood it, we were looking at 12 Thai nationals to be released into ICR hands -- ICRC hands today. And of course, as we understood it, there will be 13 Israeli hostages released by Hamas as part of the main deal to be released into the hands of the ICRC.
I think what we need to do now is just wait to see who is in those convoys as they leave Egypt and then make their way into Israel, if indeed that is what the Thais are doing. We'll probably make it, sort of, a loose assumption that everybody will be traveling together now into Israel, into the hands of the IDF.
And we've been reporting all morning, haven't we, about the sensitivities with which the IDF will be dealing with those Israeli hostages specifically. The -- and we have to assume that, you know, that they've got -- we know that they've got specific instructions about how to deal with the kids who've been, you know, through this traumatic ordeal. One can -- I mean, one can't even imagine it. I mean, I'm a mom, but you don't have to be a mom to try and imagine what it is that everybody's been through. Not least these little ones.
And we don't know who's being released specifically. The Thai authorities, do know who is released today in their group. But what we do know is that they are all traveling together in that convoy you've just seen go through the Rafah Crossing from the Gaza side, traveling, into the Egypt side and then into Israel.
That's as things stand at the moment again. Again, we've been saying this all morning, we're nearly two hours after what was the scheduled release of these hostages. This has happened a lot quicker, I think, than perhaps many people had anticipated, you know, so that's a good thing.
Obviously now we just have to wait to see what happens when we get some sort of eyesight on these hostages as they are delivered to the IDF, and then obviously into the care of psychologists, hospital workers, medics, some are going to need treatment. We don't know whom. We don't know how they are at this stage. But this is at least just seeing those scenes of that Red Cross convoy to cheers going through that border crossing, it just suggests where we are at. This is the biggest diplomatic breakthrough since this conflict began.
Let's remember, just a couple of weeks ago, the U.N. Security Council finally got a resolution through asking, pushing for not just one but multiple humanitarian pauses. At this stage, we have this one. It's four days, plus an extension if Hamas are prepared to release more hostages.
But let's just see how this goes today. Whether all 25 hostages are indeed in that convoy, whether those numbers are sufficient to suggest that Hamas has fulfilled its obligations. We don't know that because we can't see who's in those convoys. But we do know that it was expected that there would be 13 Israeli hostages and 12 Thais. At this point, it is not clear how many people are in those cars, Kaitlan.
COLLINS: Yes, Becky, you make a good point that you just have to be a human being to appreciate what's happening in this moment. And just to recap for everyone who's watching at home and just tuning in, what we are seeing is a key step in this process. The -- this temporary truce that was negotiated between Israel and Hamas with Qatar acting as the intermediary.
What we just saw happen is a convoy of Red Cross ambulances, making their way through the Rafah Crossing coming from the Gaza side. We have not yet confirmed who is inside that convoy. That is the way we were hearing from sources that those hostages were going to be traveling through. So, we are still waiting for official confirmation of that. But you can see this moment here as they are making their way into greater The Rafah Crossing.
As we're continuing to monitor this all as it is unfolding truly minute by minute here, CNN's Jeremy Diamond is near a crossing in Southern Israel near the Israel-Egypt border. And Jeremy, this is one of the two locations that we have heard, Israel-Gaza border, this is one of the two locations that we have heard officials say that hostages could be entering through. What is the latest that you're hearing from officials?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Kaitlan. And this is also a crossing point with quite a bit of history, both recent and longer. When you look back just a few weeks ago, the Raanan, Judith and Natalie Raanan, they had a similar journey. They came into Israel via that Kerem Shalom crossing. They were met at the border crossing by Gal Hirsch, the prime minister's special representative for hostage affairs. He brought them into Israel from there.
You go back to 2011 when Gilad Shalit was freed after more than five years of captivity in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. He went into Egypt first via that Rafah Crossing, and then he came into Kerem Shalom into Israel. It's important to note that Kerem Shalom is kind of right at the corner between Israel, Egypt and Gaza.
And while it's not an official crossing point between Egypt and Israel, it has been used in the past for these types of situations, and also to conduct security checks at times on aid that is going from Egypt into Gaza for Israeli officials to be able to verify the contents of those trucks.
So, there is a possibility for that release to happen here. The other option is the Nitzana Crossing, which is just between Egypt and Israel. It is a bit of further southwest -- southeast, forgive me, of our position where we are right now. And so, we will wait to see. But our understanding is that they will coming via a convoy by land into Israel, and then onward also by buses to a -- an air force base here in Israel.
From there, that is the first opportunity that we expect they will have to have contact with the families that they have not been able to speak to for nearly 50 days. They will also get a medical evaluation before they are ultimately taken to one of several hospitals that are ready to receive them.
But, you know, you just have to think about the families of those 13 hostages who were released today, and also the families of those who are still waiting for their loved ones. You have to imagine that there is some sense of hope when you see these scenes of this convoy.