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24 Hostages Released In Gaza As Biden Expresses Optimism And Hope For Further Rescues. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired November 24, 2023 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: This is CNN Breaking News. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm Boris Sanchez alongside Jim Sciutto in Washington. And we have Wolf Blitzer live for us in Tel Aviv, Israel, where we are monitoring remarkable moments in the Middle East. It's freedom after 48 hellish days in the hands of Hamas and other groups in Gaza. Today, the first 24 hostages were taken into Egypt, and you can see them in this footage just moments after their release at the Rafah border crossing. This is just the start of their journey back after they were ripped from their homes on October 7th.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST AND ANCHOR: The Israeli Defense Forces shared this video of the moment a bus carrying the hostages entered Israel. Most of the people released today are women and children. We are told they include 13 Israelis. You see their pictures here. As well as 10 Thai citizens and a Filipino citizen who were also taken on October 7th. Over the next few days, we'll see more of them. Over the next few days, we do expect to see at least 37 more hostages released. That was the figure we heard, 50 total, Wolf. And as I understand it, that does not include the Thai and Filipino nationals.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting indeed. Boris and Jim, we'll get back to you in a moment. I want to pick up our coverage right now with CNN's Matthew Chance. He's live at the Hatzerim Air Base in Israel, southern Israel. Matthew, I understand some of the freed hostages just arrived there. You're getting new information. What are you learning? What's going on there now?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Within the past few minutes, Wolf, the Israeli military, the IDF, has confirmed to us that 22 civilians that were hostages in Gaza and freed earlier on today have now arrived at this Hatzerim Air Base in central Israel. There were 24 people who were released, of course, including the 13 Israeli women and children, the 10 Thais, the one Filipino. But 2 Israeli civilians have been taken directly to hospital, we're told, by the Israeli military. It's not clear why that is, why they haven't come here for the checks and the psychological evaluations that the rest of them are said to be receiving right now.
But, you know, that's the situation. Twenty-two people here, 2 Israelis, have gone directly to hospital. What we're expecting now and what the Israeli military are telling us is happening now is that because this is such a traumatic period that these hostages have gone through, they will be undergoing not just medical evaluation, but psychological evaluations as well to make sure people are fine to travel on after spending, what is it, 49 days. In some cases, it's believed people were kept underground, away from the light. That has a psychological impact as well as a medical impact as well.
And there's also basic necessities like washing, food, water, to make sure everybody's feeling fit and well before they're moved on. In about, you know, between half an hour and 2 hours from now, it'd be a lot easier for them to get back to work. Depending on how long this process takes, onto the helicopters from a landing pad, which is just a short distance behind me here at this airbase, where they'll be taken onto those helicopters and taken to various hospitals in Israel according to their respective medical needs.
I mean, look, Wolf, one of the reasons why the Israeli military are saying this is such a sensitive moment is that some of the hostages that have been released today, some of the Israelis at least, are not aware that their loved ones may have been killed. And so that adds to the trauma of them being kept, you know, kind of hostages underground for the past 49 days to then have to learn that your family members have been killed, were killed on October the 7th, you know, while they were abducted, is just another layer of trauma that they're having to deal with sort of straight away. And it's obviously going to be a very long and very painful process, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly will be, Matthew Chance at the Hatzerim Air Base in Israel, for us. We'll get back to you. Thank you for that update. I want to go to our chief international correspondent, Clarissa Ward. She's joining us now from Petah Tikva, just outside of Tel Aviv. Clarissa, you're at a very important children's hospital there in Petah Tikva. Have any of the hostages released today already arrived there? And what do we know about what happens next for those released today?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, none of the hostages have arrived here yet, Wolf, but there are definitely a lot of preparations in the works for their arrival, which could be, you know, in the next hour, certainly. I want to step outside of this shot for a second so that you can see behind me. That is the hospital's helipad, and we have been seeing a slow but steady increase in activity around there. We see some police cars, we see ambulances, we have seen paramedics, medical personnel, some security officials on their phones. Clearly, it appears that they are getting for the arrival of some of those 13 hostages now, or I should say now freed hostages.
The ones that they had been specifically anticipating the arrival of are children and children who may be with family members. So, we talked about Amelia Aloni, for example, and she is with her mother, Danielle. I would say there is a very good chance that they will be brought here. As well as others, the hospital has been working around the clock, Wolf, to make sure that everything is in place. They have created an entire area for these families. It is designed specifically not to look like a hospital, not to feel clinical and intimidating and frightening, but rather they said they were trying to create the feel of a beautiful hotel.
They have made it very warm. They have put lots of toys in there. And most importantly, perhaps, as we have seen in the past, there is a lot of room for the family to have fun. As I've alluded to what Matthew was talking about, they have hand selected the staff who will be here, who will be working with these families. They have picked the psychiatrists, who know how to deal with victims of great trauma. They have got social workers, one social worker assigned to each family, because as Matthew said, and I think it's very important, some of these now freed hostages will not know, what has happened to their family members, will not know the full extent of what transpired here on October 7th.
And the Israeli Ministry of Welfare put out guidelines for Israeli forces who would be interacting with these hostages, talking about the importance of not answering specific questions such as where's mommy, where's daddy, where's grandma, or whoever it may be, but also saying that it is very important that they should quickly answer the questions and quickly give them answers about the questions. So here at the Schneider Children's Medical Center, everyone bracing themselves. They said they haven't been sleeping. They've been doing everything they can to make sure this is as smooth and seamless as possible and arrival. Wolf.
BLITZER: Interesting. Clarissa, stand by. We're going to get back to you. And I just want to remind our viewers that 4 of the 13 Israelis, 4 of the 13 Israelis who were released today are our little kids, Ohad Munder, 9 years old, Emilia Aloni, 5 years old, Raz Katz-Asher, 4 years old, and Aviv Katz-Asher, 2 years old. So presumably those children will be coming over to the Children's Hospital to be checked out as well. Oren Liebermann is standing by for us. Oren, I understand you're getting some new information as well. You're here in Tel Aviv with us. But tell our viewers exactly where you are and what's going on.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right now, we're at Wolfson Medical Center in South Tel Aviv, the hospital here is preparing to receive some of the hostages who have been rescued. Their families are already here, as we understand. And we also just got a statement a short time ago from the IDF that says two of the hostages have been transferred by ambulance to a hospital. We believe that's here. We're waiting for confirmation of that. Regardless, some of the hostages who came out of Gaza today will be coming to this hospital.
A short time ago we did hear from a doctor who represents the hostages and family forum, and he basically said, he basically laid out what he expects will play out here and what help the hostages who come here will need. And we just got confirmation that the 2, what I said a moment ago, that two of the hostages who were transferred by ambulance were brought here to Wolfson. So, we know now that two of those Israelis brought out of Gaza were brought here. We don't know which 2 specifically, but we do expect that this is the hospital that will focus more on the elderly hostages who were rescued as opposed to Clarissa, who you just heard from at Schneider.
That will focus on the younger, the older hostages. Getting back to the doctor here who represents the hostages and family's forum, he said he has been in touch with some of the hostages, has spoken to them a little bit.
One of the most important parts of their recovery, of the process of bringing them out of the captivity they have been in over the course of the past seven weeks, will be first and most importantly, seeing their families. So they'll be checked on at the Hatzerim Air Base for a quick evaluation, but then it'll be here for further medical checks, meeting with their families. That's a critical part of it. He said in speaking to the hostages, some of them have effectively stomach issues that will have to be handled, of course, and that's just part of the process here. It will be a long process, he says, but for several of those hostages, it will be a process that begins to play out here at Wolfson Medical Center in South Tel Aviv.
And just like they have prepared to handle the children and the youngest of the hostages who were rescued at the hospital where Clarissa is standing, here they're preparing to handle the elderly hostages. We'll be getting updates throughout the night with the hospital. What they're able to tell us, and we will certainly, Wolf, keep you updated on what we learn here at Wolfson Medical Center in South Tel Aviv.
BLITZER: Oren Liebermann reporting for us from Tel Aviv. Oren, thank you very, very much. I just want to remind our viewers, momentarily within the next few moments, we're told the President of the United States, President Biden, will be addressing the nation, indeed the world, because we're going to have live coverage of his thoughts on the release of these hostages. You're looking at the podium over there. The President momentarily will be walking over there making a statement. I don't know if he'll be answering reporters' questions, but we'll check it out. We'll see what he does. I'm anxious to hear what he has to say on this historic and very important day.
As we await the President, I wanted to bring in Shai Venkert. His 22- year-old son, Omer, is currently a hostage in Gaza. Shai, thank you so much for joining us. Our hearts go out to you. What are you feeling as you see this first group of Israelis now safely back in Israel? What are you feeling as you see these people back in Israel, knowing at the same time that your son, Shai, is still in captivity?
SHAI WENKERT, SON HELD HOSTAGE IN GAZA: Thank you for the opportunity to say. I welcome the release of each hostage returned to the family. But our demand remains as it was, the immediate release of all hostages. We demanded that the deal be conditioned by ensuring the security and the welfare of the remaining hostages held captive by Hamas, and that they at the very least receive a visit of the Red Cross or even medicine, as they said it. But we don't see it now.
BLITZER: This initial deal, as you know, it includes women, mostly older women. And children. Have you gotten any word at all from the Israeli government about your son's prospects for release, at least in the longer term?
WENKERT: We got information that our son is not going out on this deal, on this specific deal. Every evening the IDF needs to get a list of the hostages that goes out. And immediately we'll get information. And they'll update us about his release. We don't know yet. For this deal, they talked about women and children. We thought that the children will come with their mothers. And I saw also all this that went out, and I'm very happy for it. And all this that needs healthcare, and they need to suppose to be gone home.
BLITZER: We're told Shai, that your 22-year-old son, Omer, suffers from colitis, and you say he can have very serious attacks. Last hour, a representative of the International Red Cross told us that they have not been given the green light by Hamas to visit hostages in Gaza and provide medical checks and medication, if necessary. Do you have any indication of whether your son, Shai, has received any significant medical care?
WENKERT: I didn't get any information from the Red Cross. I know there is a line at the deal. The Red Cross will go probably inside or to go with the medicine to all hostages. My son is sick. He has a colitis. It's a very, -- it's a chronic disease of the stomach, and it's getting severe when he's in a stress, like a situation like this. It's horrible to think about how he feels now, because he needs his medicine. He needs a medical aid by a doctor. It's a life danger for this disease, and we demand the Red Cross to go inside Gaza and to give all hostages the right support for medical or medical aid, or even such a small, tiny life, or something we have to, because I heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said that the Red Cross committed that he will go inside and to take care of all hostages that are staying in.
I didn't get any message or receive any information from the Red Cross. It's impossible to think about it. The Red Cross is an independent health care, and I think they are not doing enough. They are not doing the pressure they need to do.
BLITZER: Shai Venkert, we hope you're reunited with your son, Omer, very, very soon. Thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you and your family.
VENKERT: Thank you. Well, unfortunately --
BLITZER: We're standing by. We're told now that within the next minute or so the President of the United States will be speaking. He's in Nantucket, Massachusetts, and there you see the podium right there. He's going to be addressing the nation on this hostage situation that has unfolded in Israel and Gaza within the past few hours. We want to hear precisely what the President has to say. We're told he's walking over to the microphones fairly, fairly soon, and we'll hear what he has to say. This potentially could be a significant signal of the U.S. stance as far as the continuing release of more hostages is concerned on this truce that has gone into effect earlier today.
So far, it's been working but everyone is clearly very, very nervous about what's going on and we're told now the President is walking over to the microphones. Let's listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOESEPH BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All right. Yesterday families all across America gathered together with their loved ones and to give thanks. We must be thankful for an America. The food in our tables, the family and loved ones in our homes and the many blessings that come from living in the greatest nation on Earth. Today we can also be thankful for families being recruited and reunited with loved ones who have been held hostage for nearly 50 days.
Beginning this morning under a deal reached by extensive U.S. diplomacy including numerous U.S. calls I've made from the Oval Office to leaders across the region. Fighting in Gaza will halt for 4 days. This deal also is structured to allow a pause to continue for more than 50 hostages to be released. That's our goal. This morning I've been engaged with my team as we began the first difficult days of implementing this deal. It's only a start but so far, it's gone well. Earlier this morning 13 Israeli hostages were released including an elderly woman, a grandmother and mothers with their young children, some under the age of 6 years old.
Separately several Thai nationals and Filipino nationals were also kidnapped by Hamas on the 7th. They were released as well. All of these hostages have been through a terrible ordeal, and this is the beginning of a long journey of healing for them. The teddy bears waiting to greet those children at the hospital are a stark reminder of the trauma these children have been through and at such a very young age. Jill and I, Jill is with me here, are keeping them all in our prayers today.
Today has been a product of a lot of hard work and weeks of personal engagement. From the moment Hamas kidnapped these people I along with my team have worked around the clock to secure their release. We saw the first results of this effort with the release of 2 American hostages in late October followed by the release of two Israeli hostages. I've consistently pressed for a pause in the fighting for 2 reasons, to accelerate and expand humanitarian assistance going into Gaza and 2 to facilitate the release of hostages.
And over the past several weeks I've spoken repeatedly with the Emir of Qatar, the President el-Sisi of Egypt and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel to help secure this deal, to nail it down. And I want to thank all 3 leaders for their personal partnership to get this done. I spoke with the Emir --, amd President el-Sisi and Prime Minister Netanyahu again on Wednesday to confirm the elements of the engagement. As I said, today's release are the start of a process. We expect more hostages to be released tomorrow and more the day after and more the day after that.
Over the next few days, we expect that dozens of hostages will be returned to their families. We also remember all those who are still being held and renew our commitment to work for their release as well. Two American women and one 4-year-old child, Abigail, who remains among those missing. We also will not stop until we get these hostages brought home in an answer to their whereabouts. I remain in personal contact with the leaders of Qatar, Egypt, and Israel to make sure this stays on track and every aspect of the deal is implemented.
You know, this extended pause in the fighting brings a critical opportunity to deliver much-needed food, medicine, water, and fuel to the civilians in Gaza, and we are not wasting one single minute. Since my trip to Israel last month, I've been focused on accelerating the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza in coordination with the United Nations and the Red Cross. I just spoke with my special envoy for the Middle East Humanitarian Initiative, David Satterfield, for an update, and I've asked him to monitor our progress hour by hour and keep me personally informed.
From the beginning, we put in place mechanisms to prevent Hamas from diverting these supplies, and we're continuing that effort. To make sure aid gets to the people who need it. More than 200 trucks arrived at the crossing point in Egypt into Gaza today. These trucks carry food and medicine, as well as fuel and cooking gas. The fuel will be used not only to power the trucks delivering these life-saving supplies , but for desalinization, for water wells, for hospitals, and for bakeries. And hundreds more trucks are getting into position as well, ready to enter Gaza over the coming days to support the innocent Palestinians who are suffering greatly because of this war that Hamas has unleashed.
Hamas doesn't give a damn about them. We also look to the future. As we look to the future, we have to end this cycle of violence in the Middle East. We need to renew our resolve to pursue this 2-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can one day live side by side in a two-state solution with equal measure of freedom and dignity. Two states for 2 people. And it's more important now than ever. Hamas unleashed this terrorist attack because they fear nothing more than Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace. You know, to continue down the path of terror and violence and killing and war is to give Hamas what they seek. And we can't do that.
So today, let's continue to be thankful for all the families who are now and those who will soon be brought together again. And I want to once again thank the Emir of Qatar, President el-Sisi of Egypt, and Prime Minister Netanyahu for their partnership to make what we've done so far possible. And for their continued leadership as we all keep working to implement this deal. And over the coming days, I'll remain engaged with leaders throughout the Middle East as we all work together to build a better future for the region. A future where this kind of violence is unthinkable. A future where all children in the region, every child, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, grow up knowing only peace.
That's what we do. We're waiting now. I mean, it's just a matter of, I thought, maybe even as soon as by the time I got here. But in the next hour or so, we'll know what the second wave of releases are. And I'm hopeful that is as successful we anticipate. So, thank you all for listening. I'll take a few questions.
UNKNOWN: Mr. President, when will the first American hostages be released and some were included today?
BIDEN: We don't know when that will occur, but we're going to be expected to occur. And we don't know what the list of all the hostages are and when they'll be released. But we know the numbers when they're going to be released. So it's my hope and expectation will be soon.
UNKNOWN: And of the 10 Americans that are unaccounted for, do you know all of their conditions? Are they all alive?
BIDEN: We don't know all of their conditions.
UNKNOWN: Mr. President, how long do you expect this war is going to take? And have you encouraged Prime Minister Netanyahu to step in (inaudible)
BIDEN: I've encouraged the Prime Minister to focus on trying to reduce the number of casualties while he is attempting to eliminate Hamas, which is a legitimate objective he has. That's a difficult task and I don't know how long it will take. My expectation and hope is that as we move forward, the rest of the Arab world and the region is also putting pressure on, both sides to slow this down, to bring this to an end as quickly as we can.
UNKNOWN: Mr President do you trust ---
UNKNOWN: Mr. President, what are the chances that this truce could be extended?
BIDENT: I think the chances are real.
UNKNOWN: Mr. President, there are members of your party who would like to see the additions placed on aid to (inaudible). What is your view on that? They would like to see, you know, a reduction in the following years.
BIDEN: Well, I think that's a worthwhile thought, but I don't think if I started off with that, we'd ever gotten to where we are today. We have to take this a piece of the time.
UNKNOWN: Mr. President, do you trust Hamas to hold their end of the deal?
BIDEN: I don't trust Hamas to do anything right. I only trust Hamas to respond to pressure.
UNKNOWN: Mr. President, you said you were hoping to get cooperation from Arab leaders. What are you hearing from them when you talk to them? What would you like to hear?
BIDEN: I'm hearing a lot, but I'm not going to speak to it right now. There's an overwhelming desire on the part of the region to, let me back up. I cannot prove what I'm about to say, but I believe one of the reasons why Hamas struck when they did was they knew that I was working very closely with the Saudis and others in the region to bring peace to the region by having recognition of Israel and Israel's right to exist.
You may recall when we did the G20 a little while ago. We were able to get a resolution, a statement passed through there saying we're going to build a railroad from Riyadh all the way through the Middle East into Saudi Arabia, Israel, et cetera, and all the way up to Europe. Not the railroad, but it would be an underground pipeline and then railroad. The whole idea is there's overwhelming interest, and I think most Arab nations know it, in coordinating with one another to change the dynamic in their region for a longer-term peace.
And that is what I'm going to continue to work on. Thank you all very, very much. I appreciate it. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving to you all. I hope you're enjoying it.
SANCHEZ: We've been listening to President Biden there addressing the press from Nantucket, Massachusetts during the Thanksgiving holiday. A mix of optimism and caution from the president there. He spoke about today being the result of extensive diplomacy by the United States, talking about making numerous calls to world leaders to secure the release of these hostages. Just today, 24 of them being released by Hamas and other groups.
He talked about the structure of the deal being in place to allow for more than 4 days of a truce, to allow for more than 50 hostages to be released. He said that was the goal. And then he also looked at the big picture and reiterated his desire for there to be a 2-state solution for the Palestinians and Israel.
SCIUTTO: It's interesting watching the president, whenever he's commented on this, almost virtually every time he's commented, going back to October 7th, he's made sure to comment on this. He's made sure to come back to that point, saying that the U.S. supports that as a long-term solution. Some news in there as well. He did say that the next hour, he, the administration, whether they make this public is another question, expects to know the makeup of the second group of hostages to be released.
And a key question, which of course he addressed, is will there be Americans in that group? Because there are 2 women and, of course, this poor little girl, Abigail Adon, who turned 4 today, who have not yet been released, but there's an enormous amount of hope that she is released soon.
SANCHEZ: Yeah, he said that was his hope. He reiterated the U.S.'s commitment to getting others out of the country, noting that there are still Americans that are missing and unaccounted for.
SCIUTTO: Yes and he said, we don't know the conditions of the remaining hostages.
SANCHEZ: Yeah, an important bit of news there as well. We want to bring in Arlette Saenz, who's there. Arlette, what was your takeaway from the president's speech?
ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: : Well, Boris, President Biden said that this hostage release that occurred today is just start of the process, but he believes that the way things have unfolded is that things are going well. Now, the president was hopeful that Americans would soon be out, but he cautioned that they don't know the exact timing for when those 3 Americans, 2 women and that 4-year-old Abigail Adon, will be released from Gaza by Hamas.
The president said that he hopes in the next hour that they hope to have an idea of what the next release will look like, who will be included in that release. But the president also talked about the possibility of more than 50 hostages being released in this initial round, and talking about the possibility also that there could be an extension in the pause in fighting that has been seen. But the president also used this as a moment to talk about his conversations with world leaders in the Middle East, offering thanks to the leaders of Qatar, as well as Egypt and Israel.
And the president made clear that he will stay in contact with these leaders, who we all spoke with on Wednesday, to ensure that this plan remains on track. Officials have been watching the release that was conducted today, really viewing it as a testing period to ensure that all of the plans and mechanisms that they had outlined in this deal would actually fall into place. The president was hopeful that the release would be in time for the next round of hostages to be released.
He also talked about the need to get additional aid into Gaza, that this would include fuel, food, medical supplies, and that they are trying to ensure that these supplies and aid are not diverted in any way.