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Biden Speaks After Hamas Releases 24 Hostages; First Group Of Released Hostages Now In Israel; Biden Says Two-State Solution Now More Important Than Ever; 39 Palestinian Women And Children Released; 24 Hostages Back Safely In Israel; Interview With U.S. Mission To The United Nations Former Spokesperson Hagar Chemali; Interview With Center For Strategic And International Studies International Security Program Director Seth Jones. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired November 24, 2023 - 14:30:00   ET




ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: To get additional aid into Gaza, that this would include fuel, food, medical supplies, and that they are trying to ensure that it's -- these supplies and aid are not diverted in any way by Hamas, but are making it directly to Palestinian civilians.

And the president, as you mentioned, reiterated his views for long- term peace in the region, saying that ultimately this will need to be a two-state solution for the Israelis and Palestinians, talking about things in the long-term.

President Biden, once again, seeming hopeful today that these hostages will continue to be released in the coming days and specifically that they will be able to get these Americans out as well.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: No question. So, good news there. And as he said, it's only a start, but so far, it's gone well. Of course, the open question at this point is, right now they're talking about women and children. We haven't begun the discussion about military age men and women. Hamas considers them soldiers. Many of them are soldiers. And that, of course, is a much longer process. Much be -- much more difficult negotiations likely as well.

Arlette Saenz traveling with the president in Nantucket, will continue to monitor events, not just here in the U.S., the president's reaction to that deal in Israel, but also what we're learning from Israel. Please do stay with us.



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: If you're just joining us, we heard from President Biden moments ago, his first remarks since the initial exchange of 24 hostages being held by Hamas and other groups in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners released into the West Bank. CNN's Wolf Blitzer is live for us in Tel Aviv. Wolf, your impressions of President Biden's remarks?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I thought they were pretty significant. He made some news, I thought, in terms of discussing this overall Israel Hamas war. At one point, he said that in his opinion, eliminating Hamas, which is one of Israel's goals, as we all know, eliminating Hamas, he says, is a legitimate objective. I think that's the first time I heard him say that eliminating Hamas is a legitimate objective. That's what we keep hearing from the Israelis, as we know.

He also went one step further in terms of blasting Hamas. He says, Hamas doesn't give a damn about the Palestinians in Gaza and the impact that this war has had on the Palestinian civilians living in Gaza. He was very pleased that more humanitarian aid, fuel and medical equipment and other critically important needs were coming in on these trucks coming into Gaza now. He was very pleased about that, but he said, Hamas doesn't give a damn about what's going on with the Palestinians.

And as you guys pointed out, he referred specifically, once again, as he has been all of these weeks for a long time, for the need eventually to solve the Israeli Palestinian problem with a two-state solution, Israel living alongside a new state of Palestine. He keeps saying that he doesn't have support for that yet from the Israeli government, the Prime Minister Netanyahu, but he keeps saying that.

And one final point I thought that was significant, and Jim Sciutto, let me get your thoughts on this as well. When he said that he believes that Hamas launched this war, went into Israel, went to those kibbutzim along the border with Gaza, and started slaughtering all those Israelis and others, was because Israel was getting closer and closer to some sort of recognition, some sort of deal with Saudi Arabia. The U.S. was working on trying to get the Saudis, like the Emiratis, the Bahrainis, and others in the Arab world to formally establish diplomatic relations, normalize relations with Israel.

And one of the things he said that Hamas wanted to prevent from happening was this kind of expansion of Israel's acceptance in major parts of the Arab world. And I thought, Jimmy Sciutto, let me get your thoughts on that. I thought that was significant that he said that as well.

SCIUTTO: No, it's notable. I'm glad you pointed that out, Wolf, because certainly when I was there, and I'm sure you heard the same thing, there was a lot of speculation that Hamas, and by the way, Hamas' backers, Iran and others, were not happy about the prospect of a normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, so that the timing was suspect because, as you note, they were very close to exactly that deal and wanted to disrupt it.

It's notable to hear that idea, that speculation in effect endorsed by President Biden as well. And we'll see, I suppose, if those attacks were enough to disrupt it, because I've spoken to diplomats in the region who have said that actually that deal might survive this, that they might find a way forward given time. But to your point, Wolf, notable for the U.S. president to see that as part of the motivation for these attacks.

BLITZER: Yes, very significant indeed. So, I thought that the president's statements had some several important newsworthy items included. I want to check in with CNN's Nada Bashir right now. She's getting new information as well on the release of Palestinian prisoners into the West Bank. It's part of this deal as well.

Nada, what are you learning right now?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Look, as we know, Wolf, that first 39 batch of prisoners, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody have now been released that was very much dependent on this safe evacuation and rescue of those hostages as agreed upon under the terms of this truth from Hamas captivity in Gaza. And as soon as that was confirmed and took place, we've begun to see that process unfolding.

Here, we're at the Beitunia municipality center, where we did see a number of those 39 prisoners who have now been released arriving, being reunited with their family members. A little earlier, we did see huge crowds, thousands of people gathering here to celebrate that release, although the crowds have dwindled somewhat where we are now. But of course, there has been a huge amount of relief and celebration across the occupied West Bank of the news of the release of those 39 prisons.

As we know, this is the first batch of prisons which are set to be released amongst 150 Palestinian prisoners agreed upon in that truce in exchange for some 50 hostages held inside Gaza by Hamas. It's unclear who else will be released. We got that list of the details of the 39 released today earlier in the morning.


But as we know earlier in the week, Israeli authorities released a list of some 300 prisoners who were under consideration for potential release.

Now, of course, this is all very much dependent on the terms of that four-day truce being upheld by both sides. There is a certain -- there is certainly an amount of hope here that we could continue to see more Palestinian prisoners being released.

As we know, the vast majority in that initial list of 300 were minors, people under the age of 18, including teenage boys, many of them between the ages of 16 and 18 charged with minor offenses, some of whom were also under administrative detention.

Of course, this is just a small fraction of the more than 3,000 Palestinians, according little to the Palestinian Prison Society, who are under administrative detention in Israeli custody, meaning that they haven't had any official charges laid against them, that there isn't a clear ongoing legal process.

Now, as I mentioned, the crowds have dwindled somewhat here, but though we did see thousands earlier celebrating. But we have heard from some Palestinians here, including family members of those released, who have told us that this isn't a time to celebrate when the country -- when the Palestinian people rather in Gaza are facing a war.

BLITZER: Nada Bashir reporting for us from Beitunia on the West Bank. Nada, we'll stay in very close touch with you.

And very significantly, I want to remind our viewers the president, just a few moments ago, said what is going on right now. It's only a start, but so far, it's gone well. And then he added these words, he said, we will not stop until all the hostages are home.

And we're going to have much more of our special live coverage from here in the Middle East. That's coming up right after this.



SANCHEZ: We are following significant breaking news directly from President Biden as the release of two dozen hostages from Gaza has been finalized.

SCIUTTO: It has been more than 14 hours since a truce began in the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Right now, 24 former hostages are back safely in Israel. You could see them in this video here, earlier in the evening, boarding a bus. This at the Rafah Border Crossing in Southern Gaza during what has been a highly anticipated return for some of the more than 200 people Hamas has held since October 7th.

Those released now include 13 Israeli women and children. In addition to that, 10 Thai nationals and one Filipino national.

SANCHEZ: Here to discuss is Hagar Chemali, a former spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. She's also the former director for Syria and Lebanon on the National Security Council. And also joining us is Seth Jones. He's a director for the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Hagar, first to you, I'm wondering what most stood out to you about Biden's speech and his insistence that ending Hamas, eradicating Hamas from Gaza was a legitimate goal?

HAGAR CHEMALI, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, U.S. MISSION TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Well, it doesn't surprise me actually that the focus remains on defeating Hamas and its military capabilities and its ability to govern Gaza and also to focus on making sure that Hamas doesn't continue to pose a threat to Israel, right? This is a war about defeating Hamas as much as it is a war about deterrence and ensuring that Hamas and no other proxy can pose a threat to Israel this way.

The thing that struck me -- there were two things that struck me, and the first was that just how much the U.S. has been involved in these negotiations and in prioritizing the release of hostages. And he's made it very clear that he's going to continue to do that. And I really applaud the Biden administration's efforts on this. And also, the focus about the Saudi Israel relations.

And to be honest with you, I am not surprised that those talks will continue. Hamas has played spoiler in the peace process for the last three decades. And so, that's not surprising, but I was surprised as to the extent to which that was a motivator in in Hamas' October 7th terrorist attack, as Biden said.

SCIUTTO: Seth Jones, also notable, and Wolf pointed this out as well just a few moments ago, that Biden said, in his words, Hamas doesn't give a damn about the Palestinian people in Gaza. That's, of course, something you've heard from Israeli officials as they talk about military action there that Hamas deliberately embeds itself inside civilian areas using civilians as human shields.

But you've even heard that in some of the public comments from Hamas leaders, saying that, listen, civilian casualties on their own side. They compare it to the number -- further, Hamas leader compare it to the number of Germans who died fighting Russia, you know, in the millions. An important thing to be said, is it not for the U.S. president to not allow folks to paint Hamas as anything more than a terrorist organization that it is?

SETH JONES, DIRECTOR, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY PROGRAM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, I think it really is important. It needs to be said that it was Hamas that started this conflict in the first place with attacks against civilians. I mean, that's what really is striking about this, the way this started, the -- and we see it with the release of hostages now, women and children, they knew that that kind of action would be met with a violent response to target Hamas leadership in Gaza. So, they were not surprised in any way, shape or form.

So, Hamas in doing this, you know, block and knew they were bringing a war on in Gaza that was going to affect their population. So, I think it does need to be said.


SANCHEZ: And, Hagar, I think part of casting Hamas as an illegitimate arbiter of what happens in Gaza and the West Bank and what happens to Palestinians is part of Biden's call for a two-state solution. The difficult part in sort of going that route is that there isn't exactly a replacement for Hamas that many Palestinians see as legitimate. I think the Palestinian Authority has sort of lost some of its claim to legitimacy in that regard.

What is the transition look like then to a separate government, a separate leading organization in Gaza and the West Bank moving forward?

CHEMALI: Well, so, on one hand, you have the Palestinian Authorities kind of the only thing you have, it's the only legitimate representation of the Palestinian people.

You are right, it is very weak, it is very corrupt. It's the leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who's been the leader -- the president since the '90s, himself is very weak and very corrupt. He raised his hand and said that he would be happy to take charge of Gaza, to which Bibi Netanyahu said that he'd rather some other alternative governing body. And by the way, I think Bibi is on his way out too.

And so, is there a chance? It's possible. The Palestinian Authority, by the way, is really a creation of the United States coming out of the 1993 Oslo Accords. So, it is possible they could create something different. But at the end of the day, when you have a situation like this, I don't know that creating something new is really going to be feasible. You might have to go with what is already existing. What is, by the way, the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. They have a representative office in the United States. And so, that would be the best chance.

But I think your point about Hamas, and Hamas is the one that is seeking to commit genocide. Hamas is the one that sought this on its own people and doesn't care and has said it very bluntly about how they have to sacrifice their people when they're pursuing their goals. And so, I think that's a very important point to make. But hopefully, they will be focusing on the day after. It's very important. But I think the Palestinian Authority might be the only chance.

SCIUTTO: And the clear distinction between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. By the way, Palestinian Authority, it cooperates with Israeli forces in the West Bank in terms of counterterror operations, et cetera. So, you know, Bibi may not like them, but of course, they have more support among some Palestinians. That said, there are many Palestinians who have questions about the Palestinian Authority as well.

Seth, I want to ask you, just in terms of military, what are legitimate military goals in the view of the president. And he said, eliminating Hamas is a legitimate objective as opposed to a realistic goal, because I've spoken to a lot of former commanders who raise the question, what does that look like? What does eliminating Hamas in Gaza look like? Particularly in light of the enormous civilian casualties we've seen so far from Israeli military operations, but also, you know, you can eliminate many -- perhaps most or close to all of the fighters, but then the ideology remains.

JONES: Yes. I don't actually think that eliminating Hamas is an achievable military objective. And I do think both U.S. leaders and certainly Israeli ones have to be careful about making military promises that are going to be difficult to keep over the long run.

But I do think it is certainly a plausible military objective to capture as many Hamas military and political leaders, destroy much of their infrastructure, weapons, command and control centers, as is feasible, their tunnel infrastructure in Gaza. So, much of that is feasible.

But again, there is a resistance ideology, not just from Hamas, but elements of Palestinian Islamic jihad and other organizations. But I think based on this war, which will and already has impacted civilians, will continue in some form. But again, I think significantly degrading the military infrastructure and individuals involved is achievable.

SANCHEZ: Yes. To that point, eradicating terrorism is difficult because it's an ideology, and the U.S. had that experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, Seth, a moment that, to your point, caught my eyes when a reporter asked President Biden what advice he had given Benjamin Netanyahu about what happens perhaps after this temporary truce ends when all the hostages are out.

The president seemed to take a long pause and seeming to weigh what he was going to say, and then essentially said that eradicating Hamas is extremely difficult, but it's something that must be done. It seems that there is some daylight between the United States and Israel over how to approach the targets and the intensity by which the IDF is carrying out its mission in Gaza.

JONES: Well, I do think the U.S. is -- has been a lot more cautious in the targeting of in and around civilian infrastructure like hospitals. The U.S. had been pushing significantly for this type of ceasefires that humanitarian assistance could go into Gaza so that hostages could be released. So, that has been the optics of this war, are and have been important for the U.S.


Now, the real difficulty, as we move into the next phase of the war, is as the Israelis move south, it is a much more difficult environment, even more than the north, because civilians are going to be blended in with Hamas, Islamic jihad and other fighters in the south. So, even more of an opportunity, I think, for civilian casualties. I think this is where U.S., of course, it's going to be important here to think about civilians.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, they tried right? I mean, there's a marine general who had overseen U.S. military operations in Iraq, who gave advice. And when he left, he even said, he said, well, there are things they listened to, things they didn't listen to, in terms of the Israeli military command.

Hagar Chemali, Seth Jones, thanks so much to both of you.

CNN special live coverage continues right after a short break.