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First Hostages Released As Israel-Hamas Truce Begins. Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired November 24, 2023 - 11:00   ET



JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Those who are still waiting for their loved ones, you have to imagine that there is some sense of hope, when you see the scenes of this convoy in crossing into Egypt, being received that way and knowing that they are very, very close to finally getting back onto Israeli soil.

This has been an anxiety-inducing, nerve-racking period of several weeks for these families who have watched the process of these hostage negotiations for weeks now, have followed mostly through public reports. They have had contacts with the Israeli government, but most of what they have learned, these families have told me has been through public reports. And they have watched as these talks have gotten close to the possibility of a deal before falling apart again.

And this week, they watched as just a couple of days ago, this process was delayed by nearly 24 hours. And now finally, perhaps a point where they will get to embrace their loved ones, at least those families of the 13 hostages released today, and providing some hope for the families of those who still remain in Gaza, that a deal is possible to release them, that Hamas can indeed deliver on its side of the bargain to deliver these hostages to the Red Cross into Egypt, and eventually, hopefully soon into Israel.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, and Jeremy just a note in a testament to their selflessness, we've heard from so many of these hostage families that even though it's not their loved ones coming home because they got a call from the Israeli government yesterday telling them whether or not it was their family members, they said they're still so happy for those 13 families that are getting their family members back in just a short time. Jeremy Diamond, thank you.

John, I mean, one remarkable aspect of this as we were, you know, hearing officials approach it with a lot of caution, a lot of trepidation from the U.S. to Israel, to all over is this is unfolding pretty much as we had expected. Obviously, this is the lengthiest part right here, this actual transfer of the hostages. But so far it has gone as we had been expecting and hearing from officials that they expected it to go.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And they are watching with hope that it will continue to do so with this added twist that there are these Thai hostages that were released also today that we were not told that that was going to happen leading up to. And Kaitlan just so people know what they were looking at when Kaitlan when talking to Jeremy moments ago, there was some video from inside the West Bank. That was we believe, the location where some Palestinian prisoners are being released from or at least moved to, I was told, we would have that video again. There you go. Right there.

That's from inside the West Bank. We believe that might be a location where some of the Palestinian prisoners, 39 today, will be released to the over prison here. You can see right here on that map is where that is. And in terms of the other locations that we were looking at right there, Jeremy Diamond was reporting from here the Kerem Shalom crossing. It is right around the corner between Gaza, Egypt and Israel.

The Rafah crossing where you saw video, you saw a new video, actually, we're looking at video right there, I believe from the Rafah crossing. That is video of the Rafah crossing from moments ago. That is a convoy of Red Cross, ambulances moving through. Let's look inside there. We can't know for sure who was inside those vehicles. But that is the closest look of the people inside those vehicles that we were getting.

It's possible again that we do not know for sure that those are some of the hostages. A 13 Israeli hostages, perhaps the dozen or so Thai hostages also being released by Hamas terrorists from inside Gaza, new pictures, best pictures yet of inside those ambulances moving through the Rafah crossing. And once they pass through that area we're looking at right now, they will be out of Gaza and into Egypt.

Again, these are the first time we've seen these images right there. There were men in the back seat there. We know those weren't the hostages and perhaps there as well. We see -- they could have been the Thai nationals, I suppose. We do not know the gender of the Thai nationals. But if you see a man for the most part, either it's a Thai National or Red Cross worker or not. We believe one of the Israeli hostages, unclear who was in that last vehicle.

We're trying to discern. We'll get more information when we can. We do know that the 13 Israeli hostages are on route right now. Their known path was from inside Gaza through the Rafah crossing that was the video you just saw right there. We believe they will be taken by car further south back into Israel from Egypt right here. And then it's on a crossing and then we believe taken by helicopter to the Hatzerim Airbase right here inside Israel, where they will be receiving more treatment and they will move on from there by helicopter, the hospitals around the country.


Again, this is the process that's going on right now. The video you're seeing we're getting in by the minute. We don't know when it's going to come. So we will bring it to you as it happens. These images, these views of these hostages, sensing freedom for the first time in more than 48 days. Where am I going to do now, guys? All right, Kaitlan, let's go back to you.

COLLINS: Yes, John, as we are watching all of this unfold minute by minute here, officials in Israel are doing the same thing. The Prime Minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the defense minister, they are watching as well from a military intelligence office space, that is where they're keeping a close eye to make sure what they have been facilitating and negotiating this deal with Hamas through an intermediary, Qatar, making sure that it goes according to plan because they're watching just as closely as we are to see that this day, this day is a template really, for further hostage releases. Because these are 13 of them, we believe there are 50 total expected, so how does it work for the other 37 here.

All of this is being carefully monitored. One big unknown is also the condition of these hostages. We have not gotten any kind of medical update. We don't know what condition they're in. That is something that they have been bracing for here in Israel trying to prepare for really, any scenario with all of this. CNN's chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is outside of a children's hospital that couldn't be receiving some of these hostages. We do expect there to be children among them that we do not have any official confirmation of who exactly is in this group yet.

Clarissa, has there been any new activity at the hospital? This is a lengthy process as we're seeing these hostages make their way eventually to Israel? What are you seeing at the hospital right now?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So behind me, and I don't know if you can see there's some flashing lights. That is the hospital's helipad. In the last few hours, we've seen a number of ambulances sort of park up alongside that helipad. Again, we don't know if that's where the hostages would arrive. But the assumption is that the children who are released and if they are with their mothers, their mothers, and they are in reasonable physical condition that they will be brought here to the Schneider Children's Medical Center, if they are in more serious condition, if they require lengthy or extensive medical care, they will likely be taken to another hospital called Soraka.

But here at Schneider Medical Center for Children, they have gone to great pains, Kaitlan, to make sure that they have done the best job they possibly can of preparing for the arrival of these hostages. They have taken over an entire area of the hospital and really gone to lengths to make sure that it doesn't look like a hospital. They want to create what one staff member told us was the feeling of a beautiful hotel. There's a lot of thought that's gone into having a lot of toys so that it feels warm, that it feels intimate. The hospital has gone to great pains as well, Kaitlan, to handpick the staff, who will be working with the hostages who will be arriving.

Obviously they want to ensure that they have the top psychiatrists, social workers ready to greet them. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Clarissa, we'll check back in with you. I want to go to Jeremy Diamond who is at Kerem Shalom, that border crossing between really, Egypt, Israel and Gaza. Jeremy, what are you hearing?

DIAMOND: We are just hearing helicopters arriving in this direction. This is the first time we've been here for hours today. This is the first time we have actually heard helicopters. And it may be a little bit dark but let me see if my cameraman, Matias (ph), can pan over to show you the helicopters that are landing very, very close to this Kerem Shalom crossing.

We are just two kilometers and we are now witnessing two helicopters landing right here very close to the Kerem Shalom crossing. They are flying extremely low, just as actually being kicked up in our direction as these helicopters come down. Now, this is not the crossing point itself, but it is again about two kilometers away from that crossing point between Gaza and Israel.

There is not an official Egypt Israel crossing point at Kerem Shalom, but it has been used in the past. There is a way for people to get from Egypt to Israel under special circumstances. It was the case with the Gilad Shalit deal in 2011 when he was released from custody from Hamas. He went into Egypt via the Rafah crossing, and then he came in via Kerem Shalom.

Now, I don't know what these helicopters are doing here in particular, I don't know what they are, you know, whether this is related to the hostages. But certainly this is the first kind of activity of this time that we have seen here today. And as we know, there are effectively two points where we believe that these hostages would cross into Israel.


One of them is the Nitzana crossing which is further southeast from where we are and the other is Kerem Shalom, which is right behind me. These bright lights that you see here, this is the area of the Kerem Shalom. And right next to us now, we have two helicopters that just touched down. We can see some flashlights, it appears from people who are maybe getting off of the helicopter.

And so this is obviously a developing situation, Kaitlan, and we'll, these appeared to be Blackhawk helicopters, from what our understanding is, so certainly military helicopters landing, again, about two kilometers from where this crossing point is.

COLLINS: OK. So Jeremy has we're waiting to see, I mean, you had been at this crossing point for hours now. And this is the first time that we have seen two helicopters in that time span arrive here, still waiting to figure out whose helicopters these are, whether they're there to facilitate the transfer or what we are expecting next.

DIAMOND: Yes, that's right.

COLLINS: Are you -- Jeremy, can you see if those are officials walking to the helicopter?

DIAMOND: It is difficult to see from here. I'm also getting some dust kicked up into my face right now. But certainly these are military helicopters that have landed about two kilometers from this Kerem Shalom crossing. We have Israeli military officials who are at this location where we are. We actually happen to be here already, because we knew it was vantage over Kerem Shalom. But Israeli military officials brought some photographers and Israeli journalists to this point, in order to witness the possible crossing.

Again, we have not fully officially confirmed that they are coming through Kerem Shalom crossing. But obviously this kind of activity would suggest that that is very, very possible. I think with the light now you might be able to get a little bit of a better look at some of these helicopters, not clear if they're picking somebody up here, if they're moving on. But again, certainly the most activity that we have seen at our location, as we know, at this moment, that convoy of hostages is in Egypt, making their way, it would appear, towards Israel.

Which crossing? We don't know. This is certainly the closest one to the Rafah crossing. This will be the closest point for them to drive to. And so I suspect that in the next, you know, half hour or so, we may get a clearer picture of exactly what is happening and whether or not they're in fact crossing here.

BERMAN: Yes, Jeremy, I could show people on the map where you are. It will give people a sense of just how small these distances actually are here. This is the Kerem Shalom crossing right there that Jeremy was talking about, which is officially a crossing between southern Gaza into Israel. But as Jeremy points out, there's also a way to get from Egypt to Israel through there also, if they handle it a certain way. We do know -- we did expect that the hostages would be moved south from inside Gaza through the Rafah crossing, which is just right here.

I'm just putting little dots there because the distance is, it's really -- you're really talking like barely even a couple miles right there between the Rafah crossing and the Kerem Shalom crossing right there. So it's possible that they moved out from Gaza into Egypt through Rafah in their will move into Israel again, at the Kerem Shalom crossing right there. Another possibility, as Jeremy said, is they'd be brought back into Israel much further south. And then it's on a crossing right there.

But this process appears to be underway, including video that we saw, not long ago, of a convoy of Red Cross vehicles with people sitting in the back of these Red Cross vehicles. There appear to be both men and women inside them. It was hard to get a good look at their faces. Obviously, among the Israeli hostages, we've been told that only children and women would be released today as part of the first group of Israeli hostages.

We also learned today there's a group of Thai hostages, workers from Thailand who were taken by the Hamas terrorists some 48 days ago, about 12 of them being released also. So we're trying to discern whether they were in the back of those vehicles or not. Once they will move from here, whether they move from the Kerem Shalom crossing or down here at Nitzana, we do expect them to go to the Hatzerim Airbase right here.

Again, this is a process, and Jeremy as you are there, watching these helicopters, anymore you're able to discern from the movements that you're seeing? DIAMOND: No. Not at this moment, John. Those helicopters appeared to be stagnant at this location, very near to the Kerem Shalom border crossing. They landed here a few minutes ago. You saw it live on air. And for now they appear to be sitting here, some folks appear to have gotten off the helicopter perhaps. Others may be getting on. It's not exactly clear from my vantage point. It is quite dark here. But again, this is, you know, we are seeing activity, more activity than we've seen all day. I just can't confirm anything at this point.


BERMAN: Jeremy, while we have you here, you're at Kerem Shalom and then Rafah is not far from you. Just explain who's involved on a normal day at the Rafah crossing from goods and people moving from Egypt into Gaza? And then now, how complicated this situation is?

DIAMOND: Yes. It's gotten extraordinarily complicated, in part because the Kerem Shalom crossing was one of the main places where goods would cross into Gaza. It is one of the largest areas for humanitarian aid and commercial goods to go from Israel into Gaza. But those crossing points, all crossing points between Israel and Gaza, Kerem Shalom included, were closed after those October 7th attacks happen.

And so instead, what has happened as aid has started to trickle into Gaza in recent weeks, is that the aid has been almost exclusively going in via the Rafah crossing. But Israeli officials are still conducting checks on all of the goods that enter Gaza. They are the ones conducting a layer of the security checks on those trucks of humanitarian aid, more recently of fuel. And it appears that the helicopters are now taking off again.

I think you can, hopefully you can still see our shot, John. But it looks like these helicopters are moving. We can just pause for a second. Yes. It seems to be just moving into a different position, but they're not all together leaving our location here. But yes, as we were talking about, John, you know, the situation in terms of getting things in and out of Gaza has been complicated by this war, has been complicated by Hamas's attack on October 7th.

And so now there is a whole new layer of difficulty, but it is not altogether unusual for Egypt and Israel to coordinate over the entry and exit of people and goods into Gaza. As you know, the Gaza Strip has faced, you know, significant, significant blockade effectively of certain goods, of a lot of activity in and out of Gaza, not just from Israel's crossings into Gaza but also from Rafah.

There is a reason why journalists, you know, we have wanted to get into Gaza for weeks now during this war. The Israel-Gaza crossings are closed. But in Rafah, which Egypt controls they are still not letting journalists in that room either. And I think you can see here some officials appeared to be arriving on the grounds here.

I'm not sure who they are, but there are lights around them perhaps even cameras. I'm not sure if you might have a better view on these officials than I do, John, with a bigger screen. BERMAN: Yes, I'm not looking at big screens either here, Jeremy. But we do see people milling about those helicopters in that lit area that is in Kerem Shalom, which is a crossing normally between Gaza and Israel. It is not far from the Rafah crossing, which is between Gaza and Egypt where I do believe we just got some new video in as well.

Let's take a look at that new video we're getting, this is I'm now told is live from Rafah. These are Egyptian ambulances lined up waiting at Rafah, number, frankly, of Egyptian ambulances lined up waiting there, one, two, three, four, five, you know, a dozen 13, 14 ambulances waiting there. We believe there are 13 Israeli hostages being released, 12 Thai hostages. We believe they were brought over the border, the Rafah crossing from Gaza into Egypt moments ago.

This appears to be a group of ambulances waiting maybe to greet them there. The number of ambulances there shows you obviously the concern for the wellbeing of each of these individual hostages being released right now. There's Rafah, hang on. There's a little girl.

These are live pictures. This is the first time we're seeing that right now. And for the first time we just saw a little girl getting out of one of those ambulances and walking into a building there. It could have been that that was one of the Israeli hostages, the young children released not long ago as part of this deal.


We'll keep our eye on this and watch if we see anyone else. Kaitlan Collins is watching right alongside with me. And Kaitlan, I don't know if you did see that. But that did appear to be a young girl walking from one of those ambulances right there. That could have been our first clear look at one of the children released today.

COLLINS: Yes. And she appeared to be with a woman. We had been told by Israeli officials who would not confirm identities for obvious reasons that they did expect families to be included in this group of hostages not to be separated as they were released by Hamas.

I will say, John, we have just now official confirmation on the actual numbers that we've been talking about. There had been some questions about how many Thai nationals were included in this group. The Red Cross, which of course facilitated that transfer, there's that moment again, there, John, with the little girl in the yellow shirt that you can see at the bottom of your screen.

The Red Cross is saying that they are relieved to confirm I'm quoting them now the safe release of 24 hostages. We do still believe that 13 of those are the Israeli hostages that were negotiated as part of this deal. So that raises the question of the numbers of the rest are those Thai nationals that we had heard from the Egyptians. They say they facilitated this by transporting them from Gaza to what you're looking at right now. That is the Rafah border and the Rafah crossing that we saw them come through in that convoy that we believe was holding these hostages earlier. Obviously, John, still a lot of questions to come.

And I think when you noted the number of ambulances here, it's also it was a big question mark for these officials, the condition of the -- these hostages and what they were going to be greeted with upon arrival. They didn't know. And so I think that is one thing here. And of course, you have seen some elderly people as well in this group that we are looking at that we are still waiting for that official list from the Israeli government. There's another woman going inside the door into what we believe is this medical facility.

BERMAN: Yes, an older woman right there being led in, presumably a medical worker there with her arm around the older woman. A short time ago, we saw a young girl being led in. I'm not exactly clear who the stewards are here, presumably with the Red Cross, the International Committee of the Red Cross, helping these people out or through.

But again, at this point, it does appear that we've had a look at, at least two of the hostages that have been released, a young girl and an older woman. This process playing out before our eyes at the Rafah crossing. This is Egypt now. So they are free, whatever you want to call it, they're free, no longer in the hands of Hamas terrorists. But in safety inside Egypt for the first time in 48 days impossible to know, Kaitlan, what's going through their minds, impossible to know how they are physically, although both people we just saw there the young woman and the older, the young girl and the older woman were walking without aid. And they were moving along right there. Remarkable to see that video, the first look we've had we believe at any of these hostages now for 48 days. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yes. It's also remarkable, John, how we're watching this all play out minute by minute by minute live before our very eyes because previously when we had seen some of the hostages being released, I'm thinking of Judith and Natalie Raanan. They were released. We got a photo of them as they were being walked across by Israeli soldiers. We did not see an actual video of them.

There was one I believe released by Hamas, one video that we chose not to show for obvious reasons. We're watching this all play out as they have been making this trip. We saw where Jeremy was where those two helicopters are. That's still a question of what those helicopters are intended for, who's going to be getting on them at Kerem Shalom and then of course here at the Rafah crossing, where we're seeing this line of ambulances.

Clarissa Ward is at a children's hospital here in Israel. They've been bracing for the potential arrival of some of these hostages as they are being released. Clarissa, obviously, where John and I are just seeing a few of these what we believe to be hostages, it still remains to be seen exactly who the identities of these people are. What are you seeing from your vantage point?

WARD: So Kaitlan, I actually can't stand in front of the shot right now just because we have -- we're using a major zoom lens. And we have pushed in as hopefully you can see now. This is the scene at the helipad at the Schneider Children's Medical Center. And we have definitely noticed an uptick in activity earlier on. We'd seen a few ambulances parking up. And now as you can probably see there are a number of paramedics, medical personnel.


We've also seen a significant security presence, some people talking on their phones, so definitely an uptick in the amount of activity that we're seeing here at the helipad. And this is expected to be the destination for a number of those hostages, particularly children, any children who are with their mothers who are in reasonable condition, those who are more seriously injured or have medical conditions will be taking to different hospitals.

But here they are expecting the arrival of some of those children, mothers, if they are traveling with their mothers. They have gone above and beyond to try to create an area in the hospital that does not look clinical, that does not look like a hospital. They've tried to decorate it, make it as warm and intimate as possible, make it feel like a hotel. They filled it with toys, they told us.

They said they've handpicked medical personnel with the most expertise and children's trauma, psychiatrists that each family or group or individual hostage that arrives will be paired up with a social worker. And there is a heightened sense here of the importance of this moment. Of course, there's a lot of tension and nerves around it. But really, the focus is I'm trying to be as sensitive as possible to the state that some of these hostages and particularly children will be in after going through the trauma that they have been through these last seven weeks.

We talked earlier about how the Ministry of Welfare has put out guidelines, a comprehensive list for IDF soldiers and any personnel who will be coming into contact with the hostages before they arrive here. You can see another car there with flashing lights driving past. They've been told not to answer questions that the children might potentially have. Where's mommy? Where's daddy?

Of course, a lot of these children may be orphans. They may not know that they are orphans. And so they've been given instructions about how to deal with those questions. They've been told that they should say, I'm sorry, sweetheart, I can't answer your questions. I'm here to take you to safety and you'll be soon reunited with people you know who can answer your questions. They've been told small things like, don't pick the children up without asking them first, offer first.

We know as well that they've put teddy bears in some of the locations where they may first be identifying them and carrying out cursory medical examinations on the children, noise cancelling headphones for those helicopters that they are likely to be embarking on to be taken to the various hospitals. There are five hospitals we believe where they may be coming.

But this certainly here at the Schneider Medical Center for Children expected to be the primary destination for those hostages who are children or traveling with children who are not seriously injured. Kaitlan?

COLLINS: Yes. They're bracing for what is about to come their way. Obviously something that is a welcome moment here in Israel, also a bittersweet one, John. And just remarkable to see these images that we were seeing earlier. That's Petah Tikva, where Clarissa is in Israel outside of that Children's Hospital. But we've also been watching at the Rafah crossing as a line of ambulances and what appear to be hostages going in.

And just what is a major moment the fact that this deal that has been brokered between Hamas and Israel is playing out as they had hoped it would. There are still a lot of hostages to go 37 as a part of this deal, but obviously more than 200 still being held by Hamas in Gaza. But to see these hostages in this moment being brought to safety and eventually being brought back to Israel is just -- it's a breakthrough of a moment that, you know, there haven't been many of those since October 7th happened?

BERMAN: No. And what you're looking at now, it took place just moments ago at the Rafah crossing, the border between Gaza and Egypt. Video -- the first video we've had of this group of hostages who were released by the Hamas terrorists today. We did see video of a young girl walking from an ambulance into a building there. We also saw a video of an older woman walking from the ambulance to a building there.

I believe we've rewrapped this and cued it up again so you can see it all again. But what you're looking at now is this line of ambulances, plural, there for the 24 hostages, that we now know where we're least today that includes, we think, 13 Israeli hostages and then that would make 11 Thai hostages.