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Hamas Hostage Releases Begin. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired November 24, 2023 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Welcome to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.
We are tracking the release of 24 hostages now safe in Israel. I'm Boris Sanchez, alongside Jim Sciutto in Washington, and Wolf Blitzer's live force in Tel Aviv.
Right now, 13 Israelis, 10 Thai citizens and one Filipino citizen are free after 48 days as hostages of Hamas and other groups in Gaza. In this video, you see the bus that was carrying them entering Israel, this video taken just moments ago.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Israeli officials say the freed hostages are now en route to receive further medical care and to, of course, be reunited with their families.
The 39 Palestinian prisoners being released by Israel in exchange today as part of this agreement are also, as we understand it, on the move -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And we now have the names and ages of the 13 Israelis who were released today.
This is from the Israeli government. Let me read the names of those released and their ages, Yafa Ader, 85, Ruth Monder, 78, Margalit Mozes, 77, Hanna Katzir, 76, Adina Moshe, 72, Keren Monder, 54, Danielle Aloni, 45, Doron Katz-Asher, 34, Ohad Monder, 9 years old, Emilia Aloni, 5 years old, Raz Asher, 4 years old, Aviv Asher, 2 years old. And, finally, Hannah Perry, she's 79 years old.
We have worldwide coverage of all these very dramatic, historic developments unfolding.
Let's begin with CNN's Clarissa Ward. She's over at the children's hospital near Tel Aviv in Petah Tikva, where some of these people will be treated.
Clarissa, what stages of the process are these hostages in right now? What are you learning?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, everybody here very much anxiously arriving -- awaiting the arrival of some of those potential hostages.
They're expecting children, and particularly those children who might be traveling with their parents as well, such as Emilia Aloni, her mother, Danielle.
And I'm just going to step outside of the shot for one moment, Wolf, so you can see if we can push in to the helipad behind me. We have seen quite a lot of activity at that helipad over the past couple of hours. We have seen a number of ambulances parked up. We have seen a lot of paramedics there, people on their phones, some security personnel, and a sense of heightened activity as we await the potential arrival of some of those now freed hostages.
There's obviously been a huge amount of thought and consideration that's gone into how exactly the hospital should be preparing to greet them. They have taken an area of the hospital and tried to ensure that it no longer looks like a hospital, Wolf. They have tried to fill it with toys to make it warm, to make it intimate.
They say that it now has the feel, to use their words, of a beautiful hotel. They are ensuring that they have handpicked and selected the most appropriate staff to deal with and to treat those who will be arriving here. They are talking about psychiatrists, social workers. Each family will have a different social worker appointed to them.
And so, really, you have seen along the various nodes of this operation a huge amount of thought going into how to be as sensitive as possible to the almost certain state of trauma that these hostages will be in, that these children will be in. Even those who may be in reasonable health have been through an ordeal, some of them marking their birthdays in captivity.
They have been held off an underground for nearly seven weeks. And so we're expecting now that they would be deployed potentially on a helicopter, hence the helipad, to these hospitals after undergoing those initial medical checks. They had their identity checked.
We know also, Wolf, an important detail, I think that the IDF, Israeli forces, who will be dealing with these hostages, now-released hostages, have been given guidelines, comprehensive framework for how to talk to them, particularly the children, what to do if they're asked questions, for example, about where's my mommy or where's my daddy or where are my family members?
Not to answer those questions until -- to say essentially, sweetheart, I can't answer that for you, but we're taking you now to a safe place where you will be reunited with loved ones who will be able to answer those questions.
So, a lot of care, Wolf, going into making sure that this is as seamless a process it can be and done in as calm and as sensitive a manner as possible, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Clarissa, so I just want to be precise. They're reuniting with their families right away. Is that what you're
WARD: So we're hearing that the people who are brought here -- and I should stress that anyone who has a severe medical condition or is in need of serious medical treatment will be taken to another hospital, but those who will be brought here to the Schneider Children's Medical Center, they will be reunited with their families, according to hospital staff, here.
There are quite a number of journalists in the lobby already. They're awaiting. There's a sort of a press conference that is anticipated to be given at some time. We don't know when that will happen, because we don't know yet, Wolf, when that helicopter or when that transport with those now free hostages may arrive here at the center.
But it is certainly very much the expectation that at least six or so of those hostages will be coming here to the Schneider Medical Center, where so many staff have been working around the clock. They told us they did not sleep last night. They have been working very hard to ensure that every possible preparation has been made for their arrival, Wolf.
BLITZER: And these 13 Israelis who have been released now and are now free, they are women, for the most part, elderly women, and little children, little kids as well.
Clarissa, stand by. We're going to get back to you.
I want to check in with Nada Bashir, who's joining us from the West Bank right now.
Nada, I know you're tracking the Palestinian prisoner release, those 39 Palestinians Israel is now freeing as part of this arrangement. Where do things stand on this front?
NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Well, Wolf, you can see the crowds that have gathered behind me.
We're outside the Beitunia municipality building just a couple of hundred meters away from that crossing point where we have now seen buses leaving from the Ofer Prison, presumably with -- carrying those 39 prisoners who are being released as part of this exchange agreement with Israel, between Israel and Hamas.
As we understand it, of course, there are 24 women, 15 children who are set to be released as part of that total 39 in this first phase. They are the first amongst what is expected to be 150 Palestinian prisoners who are set to be released over the next four days, so long as that truce is indeed upheld for those four days.
And, of course, that release was very much dependent on the safe evacuation of those hostages held by Hamas inside Gaza. We were waiting, of course, for that confirmation while those prisoners were in the Ofer Prison, where they also received checks from the Red Cross. But upon that confirmation, we have now seen buses leaving the Ofer
Prison and we have seen crowds gathering both at the crossing point and here at the municipality building, where we are expecting those buses to arrive, where we are expecting those prisoners to be released.
And we have seen many family members now waiting at this municipality building, waiting for their loved ones, for their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters to be released. We have been speaking to many of them today who have told us that, while they certainly welcome this development, for them, this is not a moment of total celebration, because, of course, for them, this has come at a heavy price, they say, that price, of course, the war in Gaza.
For many, they say the release of loved ones from prison simply isn't worth the human death toll that we have seen -- the civilian death toll, rather, that we have seen in the Gaza Strip, so quite a statement from many of these families. But, as you can see, the local community here has certainly shown up here in the occupied West Bank.
We have seen people travelling from across the West Bank, it has to be said, to meet these prisoners who have been -- who are set to be released here. And, of course, we have seen -- seeing fireworks now being set of.
Earlier in the day, in the afternoon, in fact, we did see some tensions, some clashes between some of those who had gathered at the crossing point and Israeli forces at the crossing point, Israeli forces throwing tear gas at these crowds, where the crowds had gathered, where many members of the press were at that point in time.
And, in return, we saw young people, young men throwing stones at Israeli forces, so some minor clashes there. And, as we understand it, according to the (AUDIO GAP) one person, a 16-year-old boy, was injured after being shot with live fire in the area where we had been reporting from a little earlier in the day.
No comment at this point from the Israeli forces (AUDIO GAP). Where we are now, at the municipality building, we aren't seeing those same tensions, though there has been some tear gas in the nearby areas. But this is a welcome moment for this community. And while many have said they are not going to be celebrating, as they typically would in previous times before the war when Palestinians were released, many here are, of course, happy to see this development for the Palestinian community.
Important to understand, Wolf, while we are expecting that total figure to be about 150 Palestinian prisoners released over the next four days, that is a fraction of the number of Palestinians held in Israeli custody. It is a fraction, according to the Palestinian Prisoners Society, of the more than 3,000 Palestinians currently held under administrative detention, meaning no charges are laid against them, meaning no ongoing legal process.
But, of course, it remains to be seen whether or not the terms of that truth are indeed upheld over the next four days -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Nada, we're going to get back to you. Stand by.
I want to check in with Becky Anderson. She's joining us from Doha, Qatar, right now.
This was an incredibly complicated undertaking, Becky, as all of us know, so many entities involved. Based on everything you're hearing and reporting, has everything gone according to plan, at least so far?
BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A palpable sense of relief, I think, in speaking to the mediators involved in what they say has been a mostly successful first day of the implementation of this humanitarian pause, specifically speaking to the hostage release, the 13 Israelis released, and, indeed, as Nada is reporting now, the release of the Palestinian prisoners.
They got a bonus. There had been a separate track, as I now understand, outside of the negotiated humanitarian pause, which came with an obligation on both sides to release the hostages on the one side and the Palestinian prisoners on the other. The separate track was the release of these foreign nationals.
And I think it's fair to say it came as some shock to the mediators here in Qatar that those Thai hostages and one Philippine citizen were actually released at the same time. It's not clear yet whether most of those foreign nationals had been working at the same kibbutz as those who were released on the Israeli side, but, certainly, to a certain extent, a bonus that these foreign nationals were also released, again, a separate track outside of this deal to implement a humanitarian pause.
So, certainly, those extra 11 people don't -- aren't included in the 50 hostages that must be released by Hamas if they are to fulfill their commitments on this deal over the past four days. And the mediators here thanked their partners in Egypt, in the U.S., other stakeholders, including the ICRC, who have been so integral to getting these talks across the line.
The operation center here, Wolf, in Doha today was full of members of the mediation team and members of the international committee of the Red Cross, and they were monitoring the process of the release of these hostages literally every step of the way.
By phone, they were in contact with the ICRC on the ground. And they were getting sort of a minute-by-minute update on who had been released, when they were handed over, when what they were safely into the ICRC's hands, where they were in Gaza, how they got out of the Rafah -- out of Gaza into Rafah and subsequently, as we now know, into the hands of the Israelis, or certainly soon to be in the hands of the Israelis.
So, it has been -- it's been tense, and it's been an anxious day, I think it's fair to say, for these mediators, but those who've been involved in these incredibly tense, very complicated talks, made so much more difficult, at times, they tell me, by the escalation in violence on the ground, and certainly feel as if at least day one has gone as well as could be expected, perhaps even better than could be expected.
But they say their work is not done. This is a four-day phase, plus some, if it all goes to plan, so day two tomorrow. Hamas are obliged to provide a list of those that they will release. It has to be at least 10 hostages. And, in exchange, there will be at least 30 from the list that the Israelis have of Palestinian prisoners to be released.
What I will say is that we're getting a lot of messages from those on the ground in Gaza, regular civilians who say this is the first day when the place has been silent. They have been free of the hostilities that they have endured for 49 days, because, of course, this is a lull in the fighting.
And that, I think, has been a real welcome relief to those civilians who have been caught up in this conflict for nearly 50 days -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Becky Anderson in Doha, Qatar.
Qatar playing a significant, very significant, maybe the most significant role in this arrangement that is now unfolding. So far, so good.
Becky, we will get back to you.
And we're just getting word from the White House right now that President Biden will be addressing the nation, making a statement on this hostage release development at 1.45 p.m. Eastern, in about a half-an-hour or so from now. We will, of course, have live coverage of that, so stand by for that.
In the meantime, I want to bring in Itay Raviv right now. He's related to three of the hostages released today. Keren, Ohad, and -- Keren, Ohad and Ruth Monder.
Itay, thank you so much for joining us.
Has anybody in your family been able to get a direct touch with these family members, at least so far?
ITAY RAVIV, FAMILY MEMBER OF RELEASED HOSTAGES: Yes.
So, it's -- I'm a cousin, so I'm not a first-degree relative. So, the first -- Keren's partner and Ohad's dad and Ruthi's sisters have spoken to them. They're on their way now to hospitals in Israel.
So, we are very happy today, but still very worried, because we have to remember that my uncle, Ruthi's husband and Keren's father is still in Gaza, held in captivity by Hamas, and with him 200 other hostages. And we need all of them back home as well.
BLITZER: Do you have any word yet, Itay, on their spirits, how they're doing, how they're feeling?
RAVIV: No, not that I can say now. I haven't spoken to them.
All we got so far is the pictures that you have seen probably as well. They all look very tired, very scared. And I really want them to sleep in their beds already tonight and be with the family.
BLITZER: And how is your family dealing with all this? The ordeal must have been awful during these nearly 50 days that these family members were taken hostage.
RAVIV: Yes, it's been nerve-racking. It still is, especially the last few days.
We didn't know until the last hour if they are, in fact, going to be released today. We're very happy that they were released. Again, we're waiting for Avraham and 200 other hostages. And it's been a nightmare so far, 50 days in a nightmare. They have been abducted from their homes, in their pajamas, from their beds.
Kids -- today, four kids have been released. There are over 30 more kids that still need to be released as well. We can't wait for everyone. We have all become one big family, all the families of the hostages. We need all of them back. This is just the beginning. It's not even close to being the end.
BLITZER: Yes, it's such a happy moment right now, but coming on the heels of what you have been going through, our hearts, of course, go out to you.
And let me just repeat, your family members who are released now, freed now, Keren, Ohad and Ruth Monder. And I just want to point out, Ohad Monder -- there's Keren Monder, who is 54 years old. Ohad Monder is only 9 years old. There's a picture of him, a little boy. And it's so encouraging at least to see these pictures, and now knowing they are no longer hostages.
Itay Raviv, thank you so much for joining us. Please pass along our love to your family. And good luck in these immediate days and weeks ahead. Thanks once again for joining us.
RAVIV: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: All right, there were jubilant cheers as a convoy of International Red Cross trucks headed into Egypt from Gaza.
The organization played a truly crucial role in the handover of the hostages. I will speak to the organization's spokesman about that delicate process.
That's coming up next.
BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN's special live coverage of the first hostage prisoner exchange in the Israel-Hamas war.
The hostages are now in Israel after 48 days in captivity. As they were moving from Gaza into Egypt, they were transported by vehicles marked by symbols of the Red Cross. The organization is a neutral party in the conflict and is now playing a key role in these prisoner hostage exchanges.
Joining us now is Jason Straziuso, the spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Jason, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for everything that the Red Cross is doing.
I know your organization is tasked with providing medical care for those who are being released by both sides right now. First, what are you hearing from your team that's with the Israeli hostages, now former hostages? Do you know how they're doing?
JASON STRAZIUSO, INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE OF THE RED CROSS: So, first of all, the operation that took place earlier today that involved eight of our team members, four vehicles, you have seen the images, 24 people released after being held for seven weeks by Hamas, a carefully planned operation, meeting the Hamas operatives, driving them across the border at the Rafah Crossing into the hands of Egyptian and Israeli authorities.
Of course, how they're doing, both physically and psychologically, a very important issue for the authorities to look at and examine now. The recovery will be days, weeks, months, difficult for the experience that they have had.
Wolf, I'd love to give you some details about their condition, but that's one of the things that we don't talk about, of course.
BLITZER: You don't want to share those kinds of details, which is totally, of course, Jason, understandable.
But have they been -- can you just to tell us, have they been speaking to your representatives from the Red Cross? And if they have been, what are they saying?
STRAZIUSO: Well, there certainly would have been conversation as they were getting in the car, moving into the back of those Land Cruisers and then working their way across the Gaza.
I don't have any details from the teammates, the team members who were interacting with the 24 hostages. We had a doctor with them, so he would have given them all the medical check and make sure that they were able in condition to move through Gaza in the back of the vehicle, and, of course, ask them if that's what they wanted to do.
Of course, they all wanted to do that. So those conversations were taking place in terms of offering a humanitarian voice, a voice of support, a new face of safety, let's say, because, clearly, they were in distress for those seven weeks. And we were happy to be able to move them to that new point of safety, into their arms -- into the arms of their family.
BLITZER: Yes, so, so encouraging, so important indeed.
I spoke to the father, Jason, of a hostage earlier today who's holding out hope that the Red Cross will be allowed to visit his son and check on his welfare. So far, among the 13 Israelis who have been released, they're either for the most part elderly women or young little children.
Is that going to be the case? Are you going to be allowed by Hamas to go visit the other Israeli hostages who are still being kept?
STRAZIUSO: So, when we see communities around the world, and including in Gaza and Israel, and they're -- they have their lives upended by conflict, they have to leave their homes, they have to go to a new location and live, maybe with limited food, limited water, probably limited medical care, and all that is a personal disaster at the family level, really difficult life circumstances.
But one of the things that people say to us over and over again is that the most difficult part of these consequences of war is being separated from their family. It's absolute anguish, the depths of despair. People have trouble sleeping. It's all they can think about. They're consumed by the fact that they're no longer with their son or daughter, separated from their spouse.
So, of course, we want to be able to visit the remaining hostages. We have been insisting in our conversations with Hamas that we'd be able to do so, so that we can allow these hostages to communicate with their family, so that we can do a medical check with them.
So now the question was, are we going to be able to visit them? We're insisting that we be allowed. We don't yet have the permissions that we need to be able to do so. And we're going to keep trying to make that happen.
BLITZER: Well, what do they say to you, Jason, when you say, let us go at least check in and see how these other hostages are doing and saying no? What excuse are they giving?
STRAZIUSO: So, from day one, we have had direct conversations with Hamas.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has a longstanding operational relationship to tackle humanitarian issues with Hamas. Last week, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross traveled to Qatar. She met with the political head of Hamas, had this discussion with him directly.
One of the modes of operation of the ICRC -- and we use this phrase, bilateral and confidential -- it means that, when we meet with governments or we meet with military groups to try to further humanitarian goals, that conversation is private, and we don't share the details of it. People know that. The people we meet with that know that.
And it gives them the faith and the trust to allow us to have those difficult conversations and make humanitarian progress. I wish I could give you some details, but I'm not able to do so.
BLITZER: I know you're working on trying to get access, and we appreciate that much. We appreciate everything the International Committee of the Red Cross is doing.
Jason, thank you so much for joining us. We will stay in very close touch with you. Good luck.
Still to come: Fighting is paused.