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Liz Cheney Blasts Republicans in New Book; Hamas Hostage Releases Continue. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired November 29, 2023 - 13:00   ET



BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Welcome to a special edition of CNN NEWS CENTRAL. I'm Boris Sanchez alongside Brianna Keilar in Washington and Wolf Blitzer live in Tel Aviv, Israel, for us.

It is now the sixth day of the Israel-Hamas truce, a pause that's expected to last only a few more hours. So what are the chances it'll be extended? More hostages are set to be handed over to the Red Cross by Hamas. And sources tell us that group includes at least one American.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And as this exchange plays out today, there's a full-court press under way to extend the truce yet again, perhaps to include the release of adult male hostages, which is a major sticking point at this point.

The top White House hostage envoy is in Israel. This is very important to note. And officials from Qatar, the key mediator in all of this, are optimistic, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Brianna, there are still 161 hostages believed to be in Gaza right now.

The Red Cross was supposed to be able to visit them by the end of the fourth day of this temporary truce. Sources tell CNN those visits still have not happened. And that would be a clear violation of the current agreement.

I want to bring in our reporters. Oren Liebermann is here with me in Tel Aviv. Ivan Watson is joining us from Beirut.

Oren, let me start with you.

What's the status of today's planned hostage release?


First, we're seeing reports that the transfer has begun inside of Gaza. Not certain yet. We will keep an eye on that, but, crucially, the process is moving forward. We haven't seen the same sorts of delays and roadblocks on the way to yesterday's exchange, so we expect it will officially begin here shortly for 10 Israeli women and children. I will make one more point, and that's that the Israeli military, the

IDF, said just a short time ago in a statement that two hostages, Israeli hostages, were handed over to the Red Cross that are in addition to the 10 women and children. So we're waiting for more details from that, but the process of those two has already begun, and we expect the process for the 10 others to begin soon as well and continue throughout the next few hours.

BLITZER: It was said.

Hamas claimed today, as you know, that the youngest hostage, 10-month- old Kfir Bibas, his 4-year-old brother, Ariel, and their mother, Shiri, are all dead. Has Israel confirmed this yet?

LIEBERMANN: Not yet. And we're going to deal with this very carefully, because it is obviously a very sensitive and delicate story.

The IDF has said they're looking into in assessing the claims made by Hamas' military wings, the al-Qassam Brigades, that 10-month-old Kfir Bibas, the youngest hostage in Hamas captivity, his older brother, 4- year-old, Ariel Bibas, and their mother, Shiri, were killed in an Israeli airstrike.

The Hamas statement gave no information about where or when that strike was. It offered no evidence at all, in fact. Crucially, it also came out on the sixth day of a truce. Israel hasn't struck Gaza since Friday in any significant fashion. So there's no information about when or how this happened.

The IDF says they have been in touch with the family and they hold Hamas ultimately responsible for anything that happened not only to this family, but to all the hostages calling for the release of all the hostages. We also got a statement a short time ago from the Bibas family. I will read this to you here.

They say: "Our family has learned of Hamas' latest claims. We are waiting for the information to be confirmed and hopefully refuted by military officials. We thank the people of Israel for their warm support, but kindly request privacy during this difficult time. Thank you very much."

Wolf, crucially, as we wait for more information -- we don't have to say this. It's obvious. It is an incredibly difficult and sensitive time for the Bibas family and, of course, for all of the other families who still have loved ones in captivity in Gaza.

BLITZER: Yes, there's so many of these heartbreaking stories. It's hard to digest, I must say. You and I have been trying to appreciate what's going on. It's a really awful, awful situation.

As far as the negotiations to extend this temporary truce for at least a few more days, where do things stand right now?

LIEBERMANN: Ongoing. We got confirmation, or at least acknowledgement from the senior

Israeli official, that they're looking at the possibility of extending the truce longer. That was the first we heard from Israel that was happening. The Qataris expressed quite a bit of optimism, that it would be possible to extend it for 24, 48 hours.

Hamas has expressed willingness to do this. So, the possibility is there. Israel and Hamas haven't confirmed that it will happen, but it's unlikely you would see Israel acknowledge that until after they see the release of hostages tonight. So that's what we will be looking for, the U.S. obviously applying pressure here.


Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it. It's important to keep this truce going as long as possible, because it would allow for a few things, first, humanitarian aid to continue to flow into Gaza, second, the release of more Israeli hostages, women and children, and, third, the release of more Palestinian women and children from Israeli prisons.

The problem is, Wolf, at some point, this runs into a cold, hard math problem. There are only so many women and children left to release. And at that point, what happens? Either the fighting resumes, as Israel has promised that it will, or you need another part of the agreement or another form of a framework to allow for the release of elderly men who are held hostage in Gaza, or the soldiers there, the women and men there.

That may require more negotiations. And keep in mind how many weeks it took just to get to the first part of this agreement. But we're watching all those movements.

BLITZER: Yes, it's really a sensitive moment right now.

Oren Liebermann, thank you very, very much.

Ivan Watson is in Beirut watching all of this unfold.

Ivan, give us a sense of this race against the clock right now from your perspective. What are you learning? Where do things stand?


Well, I think let's turn to the Qatari government, which has played such a critical role in mediating the existing truce. They have said that, if there is an extension, it will follow the same provisions of the truce that we have seen over the last six days, in other words, what Oren was talking about, allowing for exchange of women and children who are currently Hamas hostages, hostages of other factions in Gaza for Palestinian women and children currently in Israeli jails.

The adviser to the Qatari prime minister spoke to our own Kaitlan Collins. Take a listen to what he had to say about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAJED AL-ANSARI, QATARI FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: It's an ongoing negotiation right now. I can't comment on the details of what's happening in the negotiating room at the moment, but it is happening in a positive environment, and it fills us with hope that we will be able to announce something positive by the end of the day.


WATSON: Now, the next part of this would be potentially broadening the categories of prisoners of hostages that could be exchanged.

And that is something that we're hearing that the CIA director, Bill Burns, who's in the region right now, that he's been involved in. And that's trying to look at the possibility of exchanging some of the men who are hostages of Hamas and the other Palestinian factions, of exchanging them for Palestinian men, and then potentially for military hostages as well.

So this is a separate kind of set of discussions that we're hearing are also under way, also talks about the possibility of trying to return the bodies of hostages that have died in Gaza to get them out, but all of this, again, so delicate right now. And, as we have seen, there have been roadblocks that emerged at the last minute over the course of this six-day truce.

BLITZER: So, Ivan, if an agreement doesn't materialize in the coming hours -- and we all hope there is an agreement to extend this truce -- what actually would begin to happen on the ground?

What could it look like when military operations resume?

WATSON: Well, I think it would look a lot like it did before six days ago, and potentially much, much worse.

I mean, as Oren has pointed out, the Israeli government has made it clear it wants to destroy Hamas in Gaza. And as part of six-and-a-half weeks of fighting there, the death toll, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in the West Bank, has been more than 14,800 Palestinian civilians killed.

So if the fighting resumes again, that slaughter of Palestinian civilians will likely resume again.

It'll be complicated by the fact that 1.2 million of those Palestinians in Gaza are -- have been displaced and, due to bad sanitation, sewage and destroyed infrastructure, they are -- many of them are suffering, the World Health Organization, from disease that may kill, the WHO says, more people than the actual fighting will kill as well, and all of these military operations, of course, in retaliation for the initial Hamas slaughter of more than 1,200 people on October 7 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's why it's so important to extend this temporary truce and a lot more hostages to leave, to delay any Israeli military action, and to allow more humanitarian aid to get into Gaza at the same time. Lots at stake right now. Ivan Watson in Beirut for us.

Thanks, Ivan, very much.

As we wait to learn whether the truce between Israel-Hamas will once again be extended, anxiety continues to grow for the families of the hostages who have not yet been released. Clearly, this is a very delicate, sensitive moment right now.


One of those who is still missing is Romi Gonen. She was kidnapped at the Nova Music Festival in Israel just outside of Gaza back on October 7. As Gonen and a friend tried to escape, Gonen was shot in the hand. Her friend, sadly, was murdered. And as the carnage unfolded that day, Gonen called her sister.

Joining us now is Romi's sister, Yarden Gonen.

Yarden, thank you so much for joining us.

First of all, talk to us a little bit about the last time you actually spoke with your sister.

YARDEN GONEN, SISTER OF HAMAS HOSTAGE: So, first of all, thank you for inviting me. I appreciate it a lot.

The last time that I spoke with my sister was at October 7 morning from 6:30 a.m. until something about 10:00 a.m. It was on and off with me and my mom. And my mother got the last phone call from her.

Most of the conversations that she had with me was about, what is she going to do? First, it was about their rockets and the missiles that were flying around like rain on them. And they didn't know -- they didn't have where to hide, because it's an open-air festival.

And then, afterwards, it was a bloodshed of screaming, shooting around. People were terrified, panicking. Romi was acting -- I don't know. She was terrified. And she was hiding inside a bush for two hours. And she heard and saw all the terrorists, all Hamas terrorists around her. And she even told me to be quiet on the phone and to not speak, so they won't hear me throughout the phone.

The last time that I heard her voice was a very hopeful one. And this is what I keep in my heart. She called my parents, each and every one of them separately, told them that Ben Shimoni, may he rest s in peace, picked them up, and they're heading home.

So, I called her immediately, and she was freaking out, saying that she is so panicking, but everything is OK, because he knows the road. We even spoke about, I don't know, regular stuff, like what is she going to do, because her key was left behind her, and she doesn't have -- how to enter her apartment.

So I was calming her down and said that everything will be OK, and soon enough she will be with my mom and come home, and we can take care of anything else afterwards. And it was a very hopeful conversation. Unfortunately, 10 minutes after, my mom got a phone call from her saying that she got shot and Ben was murdered, Gaya was murdered, and Ofir that was with them also wounded pretty badly.

And she herself was -- she have a gunshot on her hand, and her hand couldn't function, and...


BLITZER: Since that last exchange, Yarden, have you heard -- have you -- since that last exchange you were just talking about, Yarden, have you heard anything about the status or condition of your sister in these weeks since she was kidnapped?

GONEN: Unfortunately, no.

Maybe it will happen in the next few days, but it's not enough, because I haven't heard from her for 54 days, 54 days that my sister is held by Hamas ISIS, the ones that did all that slaughtering, that raping, murdering, all these horrors that nobody can imagine even that it's real, that it's actually happened.

And I don't know even if she's -- have -- if she has her hand or not, if -- maybe she's cut off. Maybe she's not alive. And I can't stress how much the unknowing is painful, truly painful in our bodies.

BLITZER: It's so painful, indeed. In fact...

GONEN: And we're trying to stay so strong, because we know that she's -- sorry. No, she's strong, you know? She's...

BLITZER: I spoke with your mother last week, Meirav.


BLITZER: And she's a very strong woman, indeed.

GONEN: She told me.

BLITZER: What gives your -- what gives your family strength to deal with this horrible, horrible situation?

GONEN: First of all, if you're seeing my sister's picture right now, I can see her amazing smile, and that it's really radiating outside of the posters.

And we know she's strong, so we have to stay strong for her. We can't afford ourself to think otherwise. And we're a big family, so we really unite in -- to that, to that cause, to get her home. And fortunately, we have also many friends that take care of us, many -- we have our new family, unfortunately, and all of the families of the other kidnapped from the festival, from their homes.


And, also, all the civilians in Israel are amazing. The forum of the families is holding us up. And everyone, everyone here and also international places, we get so much strength and belief and hope.

And we still try to stick on that. Unfortunately, it's not enough. Until she's here, I don't feel safe. I don't feel truly whole. And I can't wait to see her and everyone else sooner, than later. She's injured. She's not the only one that -- injured. We know that they don't give good enough treatment to the ones that over there.

We saw how Alma Avraham came back from captivity. And it's a very, very hard neglect. And I'm afraid. I really do -- afraid for my little -- little sister.

BLITZER: Well, we...

GONEN: There is so many that she can take, you know?


BLITZER: Yes, we hope you and your sister -- we hope you and your sister are reunited soon with your entire family and that she's OK.

Yarden Gonen, thank you so much for joining us.

GONEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck to you. Good luck to the family.

And coming up: Take a look at this. These are live pictures of International Red Cross vehicles seen at the Rafah Border Crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

We're going to bring in the latest developments, all the breaking news, when we come back.



SANCHEZ: Back in the United States, we're getting a closer look at a devastating take down of Republican lawmakers from one of their own.

In former Congresswoman Liz Cheney's new book, "Oath and Honor," Cheney paints a scathing picture of the party's leaders, calling them enablers, collaborators and cowards for their actions in the days following the 2020 election.

KEILAR: She writes -- quote -- "So strong is the lure of power that men and women who had once seemed reasonable and responsible were suddenly willing to violate their oath to the Constitution out of political expediency and loyalty to Donald Trump."

Ron Brownstein is with us now to talk a little bit about this.

And, Ron, Cheney writes about how then-Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy actually spoke to Trump right after the election and that Trump acknowledged to McCarthy that he lost. McCarthy said -- quote -- "He knows it's over. He needs to go through all the stages of grief." How much of a revelation is that to you?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's an enormous revelation, and, out of the disclosures in the CNN piece about the book, the most significant politically and politically legally.

Obviously, the prosecutors looking at Trump, both in the federal prosecutor and in Georgia, looking at his role in trying to overturn the 2020 election, are looking at his frame of mind. I don't know if Cheney's specific admission is admissible, because it's a third-party communication, but it certainly puts a bullseye on Kevin McCarthy and what he heard directly from Trump, that he knew he lost before he undertook all his efforts to overturn the election.

Of course, it also puts into a stark relief what congressional Republicans did, so many of them joining the Mike Johnson lawsuit to overturn the results, voting to overturn the results, when their leader knew directly from President Trump in the immediate aftermath of the election that it was all based, all fundamentally rooted in a lie.

SANCHEZ: And, Ron, you mentioned that legal effort by Mike Johnson, who's now the House speaker, to try to drum up support to get the Supreme Court to toss out the 2020 election.

Cheney specifically writes about him, saying -- quote -- "When I confronted him with the flaws in his legal arguments, Johnson would often concede or say something to the effect of, 'We just need to do this one last thing for Trump.'"

Now, with hindsight, we know Trump didn't go away. He stands far and away the leading Republican candidate for the GOP nomination. Do you think these revelations, though, from Cheney are enough to move primary voters?

BROWNSTEIN: No, I don't think this is going to have an impact in terms of the Republican primary.

We already know the kind of the breakdown in the share of Republicans who essentially believe Trump's lie that the election was stolen, Boris, but the implications of what she's revealing there are incredibly profound for 2024 and 2025.

I mean, I think that one of the key messages that comes out of what we know about this book so far is that it underscores the willingness of a broad range of Republicans to participate in an effort to overturn the election, despite, as I said, their leader knowing from the outset, in essence, from the horse's mouth, that it was all based on a falsehood.

And that has big implications for 2025. I don't think Republicans are going to countenance another full-scale physical attack on the Capitol, but this does raise, I think, the issue of how far they would go again if they are in control of the House when votes have to be certified in January 2025 to support efforts by Trump to overturn the election, particularly if they are in the majority and he is the nominee again.

SANCHEZ: Yes, it's striking that a lot of these leaders are still in power, as you noted, Ron.

So is the concern then that that message isn't going to get to the right ears, that either voters or lawmakers are not going to change their apparently unwavering support for Donald Trump?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, it's a very different issue what this means in a primary and what it means in a general election.

As I wrote in the Atlantic last week, historically, the rule of thumb was a president had to get to 50 percent approval in order to be considered likely to win reelection. There are a variety of reasons, with the economy and other factors, his age.


It may make it very hard for Biden to reach that historic threshold, which means that, in order for him to win reelection, particularly if he's running against Trump, he's going to have to convince some people who are dissatisfied with his performance that the alternative is even worse.

And I think Liz Cheney here is showing what a powerful asset she can be in making the case that Trump is simply unacceptable, he's an existential threat to American democracy, as we have known it. There may not be a huge number of Republican primary voters who will accept that message.

But the issue for Joe Biden is probably going to be, are there four or five points of general election voters who are dissatisfied with the economy or disenchanted with his performance or think he is too old who, as in 2022, will vote for Democrats anyway because they view the Trump alternative as too extreme?

And I think this book gives you a preview of the kind of firepower that Liz Cheney can bring to making that argument, perhaps along with some of the former first-term Trump officials, like John Kelly and Mark Esper potentially.

So I think this shows -- gives you an idea of what a player on the board she might be in 2024 in what is going to be a crucial effort for Biden to win some voters who are not wowed by his record over his four years.

KEILAR: Yes, so many outspoken people who worked for him or at one point supported him.

Ron, thank you so much for talking about this with us. We appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: Coming up: A search-and-rescue mission is under way right now off of the coast of Japan for a U.S. Air Force Osprey that crashed. Japan's Coast Guard says at least one person was killed.

We're going to have the latest on what we know ahead.