Return to Transcripts main page

CNN News Central

Next Steps in Israel's Offensive Against Hamas?; Israel-Hamas Truce Extended. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 27, 2023 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Welcome to CNN NEWS CENTRAL. I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington, with Wolf Blitzer in Tel Aviv.

And the agreement has been reached to extend the Israel-Hamas truce by two days. Since Friday, 58 hostages have been released by Hamas in exchange for 117 Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli custody. Today was supposed to be the fourth and final day of releases, but Qatar says the agreement has been extended, the White House just confirming that Hamas will release 20 additional hostages over the next two days, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: And, Brianna, there's a major caveat right now. This extension will only take effect, only take effect once today's releases are complete.

Earlier, there were significant delays over today's list of hostages. We're now told, by the way, by Israeli officials that they have the final list of women and children set for release and have notified their families. We're tracking this across the region right now.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is here with me in Tel Aviv. Jeremy Diamond is over at Kerem Shalom, the border crossing.

Jeremy, there were talks on two fronts, today's hostage releases and the extension. Get us up to speed on all the moving parts that are going on right now.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, a critical agreement reached today between Israel and Hamas mediated by the Qatari government with the assistance of the United States to extend that truce.

We have seen four days so far of a pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas, and now that pause will be extended for an additional two days. But, earlier today, Wolf, it appeared as if even this fourth day of hostage release might be going off the rails. And that's because there were a number of ongoing issues earlier in the day between Israel and Hamas.

One of the issues, in particular, I'm told, centered on the fact that it appears that Hamas was once again perhaps going to be in violation of this part of the agreement that the Israelis say exists to have women -- to have mothers and their children who are held in captivity by Hamas released at the same time.

We know, of course, that Hila Rotem was released on Saturday without her mother, Raya. You spoke of course, Wolf, with Hila's uncle earlier today about that very issue. And, today, it appears that that was once again an issue with the initial list that Hamas provided. Since then, though, Wolf, an updated list has been provided to the Israelis that includes additional mothers who were not included in that first list.

So it appears that that issue has been resolved. And now it appears that this hostage release today is moving forward.

BLITZER: Jeremy, how much of a role did the United States play in getting this pause, as it's called, extended?

DIAMOND: Well, Wolf, we know that the United States has been playing a critical role throughout these negotiations between Israel and Hamas mediated by the Qatari governments, in part because, of course, there are several Americans who still remain hostage in Gaza.

We know that this announcement today came after the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, spoke with the prime minister of Qatar on -- earlier today, and so, clearly, some diplomatic efforts behind the scenes. I also am told that the United States was involved in trying to resolve those issues earlier today involving that initial list that Hamas provided of the final 11 hostages that they intended to release today as part of that initial agreement of 50 people.

But now, Wolf, of course, we have watched this week as there have been days where this process has gone very smoothly. There have been other days where issues have arisen and we have seen hours-long delays in the release of these hostages.

But, for now, at least, Wolf, it appears that those issues today were resolved, and now we will get an additional two days of pause, if Hamas moves forward with the release today, of course, and then it will have to come up with another 10 hostages to release tomorrow and another 10 hostages the day after.

Wolf, ongoing questions still about whether that pause can be extended even further than that. A major issue arising,we know that there are many hostages who appear to be held by other -- by groups other than Hamas. And so we will see whether or not Hamas is able to wrangle those other hostages and get them released as well to extend this pause in fighting.


BLITZER: Yes, it's a really important issue, indeed.

Jeremy, stand by.

I want to bring Oren Liebermann into this conversation.

Oren, 58 hostages have been released by Hamas, at least so far. Tell us what you're learning about them and about what they went through. OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, first, about the breakdown in

the numbers, 58, as you point out, we have seen so far; 40 of them have been Israeli; 18 have been foreign nationals, of those, 17 Thai, one Filipino.

The biggest issue we have heard from doctors who have treated the freed hostages who have come out has been severe, in some cases, malnutrition. That's been the biggest physical issue. There is, of course, the mental health question. That is a much more difficult question. That will take much longer to deal with and much longer to recover from.

Many of those have been in pretty good condition. Stable condition is a word we have heard quite a bit. But I want to focus in on two hostages specifically, first, 84-year-old Alma Avraham. She was brought out in critical condition because of that malnutrition, having lost weight.

Her son, in fact, tried to bring her or get the Red Cross to bring her medication into Gaza, but was unable to do so because of the lack of contact between the Red Cross and the hostages over the course of the past 50 days. A doctor with the forum for the families and the hostages said the neglect she faced is something no human should have gone through. She remains in critical condition at the hospital.

We will talk about one other hostage specifically. That is Roni Krivoi. He is the Israeli-Russian citizen. Hamas released him outside of the framework of this deal. He is, in fact, the only young man to have been released, not included in the 50 under the agreement.

His aunt spoke with Israeli radio and said that the building in which he was being held was actually hit by an Israeli airstrike. That allowed him to escape, and he was on his own for four days inside of Gaza. But because he didn't know where he was and didn't know how to try to escape from Gaza itself, he was then recaptured by Gazans, according to his aunt, and turned back over to Hamas.

He was released, effectively, as a favor from Hamas to Russian President Vladimir Putin. So there remain about 198 hostages inside of Gaza, according to the Israeli government. Twenty of those are foreign nationals.

As of this agreement, only women and children will be released. It was clear to us from officials familiar with the negotiations the next group that could come under discussion would be elderly men, and then the negotiations can try to get to other men, and those who are soldiers, men and women in the Israeli military.

The expectation was always that Hamas would demand a far higher price for those, and it's unclear even if those discussions have begun. As you heard from Mark Regev, senior policy adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, first, you have to get through today's release of hostages, and only then can you talk about the next two days.

Discussions beyond that haven't substantively begun, as far as we understand. BLITZER: Good point. Let's get through today first and see what

happens after that.

Oren, thank you very much. Jeremy, thanks to you as well.

Among the 40 Israeli hostages released by Hamas so far, four surviving members of one family -- they include four surviving members of one family, Chen Goldstein Almog and three of her children were abducted from their home in Kfar Aza and spent 50 days in captivity.

Thank God they are now safe here in Israel, part of the third group of hostages freed on Sunday. Chen's brother says she and her children knew throughout their ordeal that two of their family members had been murdered back on Saturday, October 7. Listen.


OMRI ALMOG, BROTHER OF FREE HOSTAGE: They knew the whole time that Nadav and Yam murdered at the house. And they go -- they went to Gaza as hostages. They kidnapped with this idea.

And we're very happy to have them and healthy and good spirits back in Israel.


BLITZER: Joining us now is Omer Lubaton Granot. He's the cousin of Chen Goldstein Almog, also the founder of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum in New York.

Thanks so much for joining us.

Let me ask you first of all how Chen and her children are doing today both physically and mentally.

OMER LUBATON GRANOT, COUSIN OF HAMAS FREED HOSTAGE: So, as we heard from Omri, all in all, they are in decent shape, although it was a very long and stressful day and there was poor conditions.

We understand that they are making progress, trying to understand what happened, seeing the professionals. So we understand that they are OK, as much as possible.

BLITZER: Omer, have you -- have they talked at all about how they were treated while there were hostages in Gaza?

GRANOT: I haven't heard much about it yet. We understand that they treat them fine. I think that Hamas understood the importance of the hostages.


But during all the time, there was -- and we heard from another family there was not enough food, there was barely sunshine, the conditions was not easy at all. And I think that they had to hold in mind for 51 days what happened to them. They lost their father, they lost their sister, they lost their house. They have nowhere to go back to.

And after all of the tragedy that happened to them on October 7, now they need to think and start and understand how they will rebuild their life and rebuild the kibbutz and rebuild this community. And it's very hard.

BLITZER: Very hard, indeed. It's so heartbreaking to hear all these stories that, sadly, are so true.

Chen told family here in Israel, as you know, that she knew her husband and daughter were both killed by Hamas. How are they coping with the trauma of this entire ordeal, at least so far?

GRANOT: We don't know yet. I think time will tell.

And I think that we need to understand that the kibbutz, it's one big extended family, all of this area. They have so many friends here that helped to bring them home. They have a lot of friends here in New York who put their faces all over, and they have grandma and grandpa from both sides that will help them.

So we want to give them time and privacy, but we also remember the other friends from the kibbutz that are still there, the other Israelis that are still there. And I think that the mission is far from being complete.

And I think that, as a community, they will find a way to heal together and rebuild their life together. And I hope it will be back in Kfar Aza, which was a beautiful and quiet kibbutz. And now it's a war zone.

BLITZER: Yes, it's so sad to even think about it.

Omer, you mentioned rebuilding, but what's next for Chen, Agam, Gal and Tal?

GRANOT: I think that we need to focus on one step at a time to see how they get out of the hospital.

They -- trying to get a professional help they need, the hug from the family. I think this is it. We can't think about too far and what's going to happen. But I do want to say and mention again that there are still a lot of hostages there, and we're all highly devoted to help and bring everyone back home.

BLITZER: It's so important to bring all those hostages back home, indeed.

Today, officials in Qatar, Omer, announced that there is an agreement to extend the truce by another two days. As someone who has seen family released because of this truce, what's your reaction to today's announcement?

GRANOT: I think it's super important.

I think that any effort to bring innocent people that were kidnapped from their homes is good, is crucial. I think this is the agreement that there is between government and their people, and especially in Israel, where the solidarity is so strong. Israel is such a small and close community.

We all know each other. We know -- I know more hostages. I know more people that were victims. I know more people that were murdered. And it's not only about our story. It's the story of Israel now. So, any effort that can bring more people home is crucial and important.

And I think that the pressure that we put on Hamas by military means, by diplomatic means, by the help of the U.S., and by the backing that we got from the international community, from the U.K. and, in other places, that's what has made this deal happen. That's what will help us to complete this deal.

And that -- this is what will help us to make more deals, because we need more deals. So, we need to keep and put pressure on Hamas. And as long as we can trade cease-fire in hostages, we should do it. But, after that, and if not all the hostages will come back, then we will have to keep and fight in the most assertive way in this horrible terror organization that the atrocities that they have done on October 7 will stay with us forever.

BLITZER: Omer Lubaton Granot, thank you so much for joining us. And good luck to you and your entire family. We will certainly want to stay in close touch. Appreciate it very, very much.

And still to come here, we're following all the breaking news.


Celebrations and reunions, by the way, are continuing out in the West Bank as well, as we wait for more Palestinians to be released as part of the hostage deal. We will have much more on that just ahead.

And the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pays a visit to IDF troops in Gaza.

Our special live coverage continues right after this short break.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Tel Aviv.

We're awaiting the release of more Palestinians as part of Israel's deal with Hamas. So far, 117 Palestinian women and children have been freed to exchange for 58 people held captive by Hamas in Gaza.


All weekend long, jubilant homecomings like this have been playing out in the West Bank. This ex-prisoner, Israa Jaabis, was sentenced to 13 years after her car blew up at a checkpoint, burning 60 percent of her body, including her face. She has repeatedly denied the attempted murder charge against her.

On Sunday, Jaabis was overjoyed seeing her son.


ISRAA JAABIS, FREED PALESTINIAN PRISONER (through translator): I'm shy to hug him, my son, because he became a man. But when he calls me my mom, I have him back as a small child in my eyes.


BLITZER: CNN's Ben Wedeman is joining us now from Jerusalem. He's following all the latest developments on the issue of the Palestinian prisoners and detainees.

Ben, Hamas said that it has received the list of who will be released now by Israel. Tell us who's on this list.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, Hamas has only put out that there will be 33 people released, that three of them are women, two women from Jenin and one from Jerusalem. In fact, she lives very nearby here in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in occupied East Jerusalem.

They say, in addition to the three women, there will be 30 teenage boys. We don't -- they have not yet published their names as of yet. But we expect more celebrations. But, for those, for instance, like this young girl who was arrested at the age of 16 after she stabbed a woman settler nearby here, she will be returning to this area, where, of course, it is under Israeli control.

And Itamar Ben-Gvir, the Israeli national security minister, has made it clear that any sort of celebrations by relatives and friends for those detainees and prisoners who have been released are forbidden. There have been instances where families have been taken away and detained while their relative is returned to the house to avoid, to prevent any sort of celebration.

So, oftentimes, in areas under Israel's control, when people are released, there are scuffles, there are tensions with the Israeli police -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, as you know, Ben, it's been reported that, while prisoners, Palestinian prisoners, have been released, more than 200 Palestinians have been detained.

What do we know about this?

WEDEMAN: Yes, this comes from the Palestinian Prisoners Society, which is a nongovernmental organization that looks after the affairs of prisoners, who say that since this truce went to effect last Friday, 260 Palestinians have been detained in East Jerusalem and around the West Bank.

And, certainly, what we have seen is that there has been a huge uptick in violence in the West Bank since the war in Gaza began. Over the weekend, eight people, some of them militants, were killed in Jenin. And a total of 240 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed. So, we have seen, reflecting the situation in Gaza, the tensions have really skyrocketed in the West Bank.

And, of course, even U.S. officials are very worried about the situation here and have repeatedly warned their Israeli counterparts that they need to, for instance, rein in those settlers who are harassing Palestinians, who are driving them from their homes.

There have been many instances where Palestinians have simply abandoned their villages because of this harassment by settlers. So, you have this situation here that's making the Americans very concerned, feeling that perhaps the Israelis simply don't have these extremist elements among the settlers under control -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman reporting from Jerusalem for us.

Ben, thank you very much.

Let's go back to Brianna -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Well, Wolf, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entered the war zone amid this truce, his office releasing video of his visit with soldiers on the front lines there in Gaza.

And he told the soldiers in Hebrew -- quote -- "We have three goals for this war, to eliminate Hamas, to return all our abductees, and to ensure that Gaza does not again become a threat to the state of Israel."

Let's talk now with CNN military analyst retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton, who was a member of the Joint Staff at the Pentagon.

Colonel, at this point in time, of course, with this truce, what are the risks that the Israeli military is weighing as this has been extended two days?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Brianna, there are several risks that they're looking at here.

One of them is that, with the extension of the truce, they have got a situation where Hamas can use that to its advantage. They can move forces into areas that had previously been occupied by the Israelis, but then abandoned as the Israelis moved forward, for example.


They can also use areas that are basically destroyed right now to lay ambushes against Israeli forces. They can also put in IEDs, do things like that. So these are the kinds of things that put Israeli forces at risk.

And as Israel is watching what Hamas is doing, even without drone coverage for part of the day, they are really cognizant of these kinds of activities, and they are hoping that Hamas will not engage in them. But I think history proves that they probably will engage in them.

KEILAR: That they're undoing some of the work, in a way, that the IDF has done. LEIGHTON: That's right. That's exactly what they're doing.

KEILAR: Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut is another Democrat who's calling for putting conditions on Israel when it comes to U.S. aid that goes to the nation. And he's responding to the deaths, of course, of nearly 15,000 people in Gaza since October 7, which is details that we have according to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry there.

Let's listen to what he said.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): I guess I'm not sure what would be controversial about simply saying that aid we give any country has to be used in compliance with international law.

And, yes, of course, I do think that Israel needs to be more careful in the way that it is conducting these operations. I think that you can defeat Hamas without this level of civilian casualty.


KEILAR: He's making this case, look, this is what the U.S. does for anyone that it gives military aid to.

And, as I mentioned, you were on the Joint Staff. How does conditional military aid work?

LEIGHTON: So what it would mean, basically, is that if, you use American military aid, you would then have to meet certain criteria. In other words, you will use the aid only for legitimate military purposes. You will not violate the rules of war, would be a possible example of a condition.

And that would be a logical example of a condition of this type. And it would really mean that the Israeli forces would have to follow what amounts to American procedures when it comes to targeting, and certainly not target civilians.

KEILAR: How much different is that, American targeting, compared to what you're seeing with Israel?

LEIGHTON: So, when we do targeting -- and I was involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Shock and Awe phase of that -- we were very careful to assess whether or not a target was a legitimate civilian target.

Every time we went after a certain place, whether it had -- was used as a mosque, for example, or a school or a hospital, we had to make sure that it was not being used by Iraqi forces or by civilians, and -- or, if there was dual use, then most of the time it ended up on the no-strike list.

So, we have to make sure that the Israelis understand that they can make use of no-strike lists and use the types of force that they have in a much more coercive, but yet thorough way. In the sense, it's a more focused way. And that's what we really need the Israelis to do in this case.

KEILAR: It's clear how different their approach is, compared to what you're describing here.

House Republicans are trying to resist tying aid to Israel to aid to Ukraine. How do you view the investment of U.S. aid in these two conflicts?

LEIGHTON: So, when you look at the broader global picture, if you take the autocracy versus democracy statements that the Biden administration has made seriously, and you follow that kind of policy, both are very important.

But Ukraine is actually more important from a strategic standpoint than Israel is at this particular juncture in time. Israel is going to survive this. Ukraine may not survive the Russian onslaught if they don't get U.S. and other Western aid.

So the key thing here is that, when you look at this type of military aid, the types of things that we can do to help both countries, we have to, yes, make them conditions-based, that both sides, both the Ukrainians and the Israelis, follow certain American rules when it comes to targeting and using a military force and make sure that it's proportional and that it's done in a way that really allows us to achieve U.S. goals.

The key thing about Ukraine is, if you don't support Ukraine at this particular point, you risk losing all the gains that we have made since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

KEILAR: You really drive home the impact this opposition, especially in the House, could have there.

Colonel, great to have your perspective. Thank you so much.

LEIGHTON: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: The suspect in the shooting of three Palestinian college students in Vermont faced a judge today.

We will have some details on that and the DOJ investigation into whether this was a hate crime next.