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Ongoing Truce Negotiations Between Israel And Hamas; Release Of Russian-Israeli Women Held By Hamas; U.S. Hostage Envoy And Secretary Of State Involved In Talks; Potential Extension Of Truce; Uncertainty Surrounding Hostility Resumption. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired November 29, 2023 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIANNA KEILAR: It is the top of the hour. I am Brianna Keeler here with Boris Sanchez in Washington. Wolf Blitzer is live from Tel Aviv. And right now, intense talks are underway to try to extend this truce between Israel and Hamas. Here in just hours, the current deal is set to expire.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And we have some new video we want to share with you showing a Red Cross convoy entering the Rafah Crossing from the Gaza side. This as we wait for Hamas to release another group of hostages today. A source tells us that includes at least one American, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And right now, Boris, as these critical talks continue, we know the top U.S. hostage envoy is here in Israel. And the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is headed here in the coming days. He'll be in Israel very, very soon. A key mediator from Qatar says that Qatar is hopeful. His words, hopeful and extension will be announced soon. An extension of the truce. CNN is following all these angles of a very, very fast developing situation. Alex Marquardt is standing by live in Washington. But let's start with Oren Liebermann. He's here with me in Tel Aviv right now. Oren, what new details are you learning about the potential hostage exchange set for today?
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT; The process has already begun. We learned from the idea for a short while ago that two Israelis were handed over from Hamas to the Red Cross and have now entered Israeli territory and will now follow that medical process, which is a quick medical checkup and then the hospitals for further evaluation. Their names are 50-year-old Yelena Trupanov and 73 year old Irena Tati.
Now, it's important to note these are Russian Israeli citizens that were released essentially as a favor to Russian President Vladimir Putin by Hamas. They are not part of the 10 Israeli women and children that we expect to be released later on tonight. That process, as far as we know, hasn't begun yet. But we do expect it to play out here sometime over the course of the next several hours. Crucially, the process of the overall release has begun on this sixth and as of right now, final day of the truce agreement, as there are massive diplomatic efforts to continue it.
BLITZER: These two women, they're dual citizens, Russian and Israeli citizens. Is that right?
LIEBERMANN: Correct. That's what we've learned from the statements from the IDF, as well as from Hamas, saying we have released two of these two here.
BLITZER: Hamas is also claiming, and I want to get your thoughts on this, Oren, that the youngest hostage, a little 10 year old Kfir Bibas and his four-year-old brother Ariel and their mother, Shiri, are all dead. What is the Israeli military saying about this?
LIEBERMANN: So, we're going to treat this story very carefully because of the lack of evidence that Hamas put out in their claim. The IDF says they are assessing this claim, but they haven't said whether they are right or not. So, this begins with a statement from Hamas's military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, earlier today, saying that the family of the youngest Israeli hostage, 10 month old Kfir Bibas, his older brother, four year old Ariel Bibas and their mother, Shiri Bibas, were killed in an Israeli airstrike.
Crucially, there is no evidence to support this claim and there is no timing on it. It's worth noting that we're on day six of a truce here, which means it couldn't have happened any time in the last six days, the last Israeli strikes were early Friday morning. So, there is information missing here. The IDF says they are in touch with the family and are assessing this claim. It's also worth noting that the family who has spoken with us extensively as they have lobbied for more information and for the release of the Bibas family, we're pushing for the Red Cross to be able to visit their family to make sure they were healthy and to make sure they were okay.
That never happened. The Bibas family released a statement a short time ago. We'll put this up on our screens here. They said our family has learned of Hamas's 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.
So, they're also waiting for more information. A senior Israeli official who spoke earlier today said he hoped it wasn't true, but the information is not there yet as the IDF assesses this claim from Hamas.
BLITZER: We'll see what happens at that front. Oren, thank you very much. Alex, you're in Washington. First of all, you're doing a lot of reporting on all of this. What can you tell us about where the negotiations stand right now to try to extend this temporary truce?
ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly the U.S. hopes that this will be extended. We will know in the coming hours. Essentially, it comes down to whether Hamas presents another list of hostages that they will release tomorrow. Israel has said clearly that if Hamas agrees to continue releasing hostages, at least 10 per day, that they're willing to extend this pause. So certainly, the Biden administration has been pushing for this pause to be extended as much as possible in order to get more hostages out. We've seen the CIA Director Bill Burns in Doha yesterday meeting with regional counterparts. He really has been the point person on this hostage portfolio.
And there is a belief, Wolf, that Hamas still holds enough women and children that they could release at least 10 for at least two more days. So, if we're in day six now, there is a belief that this pause could be extended to at least an eighth day. Here's what Secretary of State Antony Blinken had to say earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: We'd like to see the pause extended because what it has enabled, first and foremost, is hostages being released. It's also enabled us to surge humanitarian assistance into the people of Gaza who so desperately need it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARQUARDT: And, Wolf, we also know that the CIA Director Bill Burns was wanting to start the conversation about negotiations over the other groups of hostages. That would mean the elderly men, the IDF soldiers, both men and women who harm a host of hostages, Hamas are holding in. It's also believed, although we don't know the number, that Hamas does have some bodies of hostages that were either brought into Gaza or who died in Gaza.
One last thing, Wolf, on that question of Red Cross access. We know that the U.S. has been pushing Qatar to then press Hamas to allow the Red Cross to visit with those hostages who are still being held. And the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan actually spoke to the head of the Red Cross to emphasize that as well, Wolf.
BLITZER: Alex, if the extension of this temporary truce does not happen, so what happens next? The resumption of military activity? Is that right?
MARQUARDT: That is the expectation. In fact, we heard from the Israeli Minister of Defense just a short time ago who said that, you know, if these hostage talks were to end or the hostage releases were to end, that the Israeli military is ready to resume land, sea and air operations immediately. Now, we would expect these negotiations to continue over the remaining hostages, but you can imagine that a military operation is going to take place immediately. So, we know that the resumption of military activity would greatly complicate those talks.
There is a major fear on the U.S. side, Wolf, because the expectation is that Israel will move its military campaign into the southern part of the Gaza Strip. As you know, Israel has told north Gaza residents to move down to the south. The majority, close to two million Gaza residents, have moved into the south and are currently displaced. So, what we have learned is that the Biden administration has issued really a stark warning. They say that they have expressed in very clear terms to the Israeli military that they do not want to see the Israeli military carry out a similar campaign in the south as they did in the north, where we have seen such extraordinary destruction and more than 14,000 people killed, Wolf.
BLITZER: And very quickly, Alex, you point out that the CIA director is now in Doha, Qatar, helping to try to negotiate an extension of this temporary truce. I think it's significant that he's meeting among others, with the head of the Israeli intelligence service, the Mossad David Barnea is also in Doha, Qatar, meeting with the head of the CIA, trying to come up with some sort of extension of this temporary truce.
It's interesting, especially because Israel and Qatar do not have formal diplomatic relations, although they talk to each other, they have informal relations. But it's significant that they are all there trying to do what they need to do.
MARQUARDT: It really is, Wolf. We don't think that they're meeting today. We don't think that they're meeting today. In fact, we think that the director, Bill Burns, has left, but that meeting took place yesterday. He was meeting with the Qatari prime minister and his intelligence counterpart, but also, as you point out, the Israeli head of Mossad, David Barnea, and the Egyptian head of intelligence.
So, of course, the U.S. does not speak with Hamas directly, but the Egyptians and the Qataris do. Now, the reason that Bill Burns is so involved in this process is because you need someone who is extremely experienced. Bill Burns, of course, is a veteran diplomat, but also because the Israelis named Barnea, the head of Mossad, to really be the point person, the Israeli point person, on these hostage negotiations.
So, it made sense for his American counterpart, Bill Burns, to be the one involved in these conversations. What is complicated on the Israeli side, Wolf, is that if there are agreements, and we've seen this in the past where Barnea and the other parties, the U.S., Israel, Qatar, and Egypt, do come to an agreement, but that then has to be taken back to the Israeli government. And then it becomes much more political, and these decisions are made among various Israeli politicians. So, the negotiations are taking place in that intelligence stream, but then they are agreed to, at least on the Israeli side of things, on the political side of things. Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, the stakes clearly are enormous right now. Alex Marquardt, thank you. Oren Lieberman, thanks to Oren as well. As these negotiations are continuing over trying to extend this temporary truce, I want to get some perspective right now from someone who was heavily involved in the al-Qaeda hostage-taking crisis back in the early 2000s. Dan O'Shea is a former Navy SEAL commander. He was also the coordinator of the hostage working group for the U.S. Embassy in Iraq.
During his tenure, he directly managed the interagency response to more than 400 international kidnapping incidents. Dan, thanks so much for all your -- work over the years. Thanks so much for joining us. As you know, and as we just mentioned, Secretary Blinken will be traveling here to Israel in the next day or two. He says the next few days, the focus will be to extend the pause in Gaza. What do you think these talks are looking like right now? How do you assess the situation?
DAN O'SHEA, FORMER NAVY SEAL COMMANDER: Well, to be honest, the fact that the ceasefire has been extended another 48 hours shows that it's working and that both sides are getting hostages back for Israel and prisoners back to Palestine. And this is a blueprint for how we're going to get more hostages out. But again, they're a joining asset. And every time Hamas gives up one of these hostages, they're losing the leverage. And they are their bargaining trip for survival.
So, I can guarantee you we're down about, what, 130, 140 now. But when we get under 100, it's going to get even, the stakes are going to be even higher. And as if it could get any higher with everything laid out in the previous segment in terms of how high stakes this is for the U.S. and the fact that they've committed, you know, the senior government officials from the Secretary of State to the CIA director to play a direct role in trying to get these hostages home.
BLITZER: Yeah, it is such a critical moment indeed. As you know, Dan, only one American hostage so far has been released. There could be a second one today, but a handful remain hostage in Gaza right now. Why do you think more American hostages, at least so far, have not been released?
O'SHEA: Well, again, just as I mentioned, the high stakes involvement of every official in the U.S. government all the way up to the president. I hate to say this, but that high profile exposure by the president, Secretary of State, CIA director, what it's done is raise the value of the American hostages to Hamas. And that is why they're holding on to them, because that's -- they are their strongest leverage right now. And sadly, when you raise the level of the value of the hostage to the hostages, guess what? The price to get them out goes markedly higher. And that's what I believe is happening here.
BLITZER: Interesting. If the truce, the temporary truce, Dan, gets extended again, and let's hope it does, it gets to a point where all the women and children have been released by Hamas and all that remain are men and IDF soldiers who are being held by Hamas. What are the chances that real negotiations can happen to release these two hostages groups still held captive in Gaza?
O'SHEA: Well listen, Hamas was under pressure. They're leveraging two things: the hostages and world opinion. The fact that they grabbed grandparents, women, and children, they lost the propaganda side of that. But now, once it's down to just military age males and females for the Israeli hostages remaining because women in Israel serve in the IDF and I believe women still serve in the IDF until the age 40. So every military-age male and female who has an IDF affiliation, their hostage drama is going to be extended out over weeks, months, and maybe longer. As we know the last Israeli soldier was held for five years, and he was released for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. So that's -- this situation is only going to get more complicated and not easier, unfortunately, as this rolls on.
BLITZER: That Israeli soldier was Gilad Shalit. Dan O'Shea, thanks so much for all your service over the years. Thanks so much for joining us. And we'll have much more news right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDETIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to fight for every single person in New Hampshire. We think it's important. I think New Hampshire primary has always been an incredibly important point in the election cycle. And so, we're going to fight until the very end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Fresh off of her big endorsement, Nikki Haley is knuckling down in New Hampshire. The Republican presidential candidate is out on the stump right now in the Granite State. This happening one day after she landed the backing of the powerful Koch network. Are the new donors a surge in the polls and also an uptick in news coverage enough, though, for her to try to take out Trump? We have CNN's Jessica Dean and Harry Enten here with us to talk about this. All right, Jessica, first to you, let's talk about Haley's strategy here on the homestretch. What is it?
JESSICA DEAN, CN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. We're closing in on the Iowa caucuses January 15th, so not that far now. And, of course, we talk about everything, but until people start voting, we really don't know. But here's what we do know right now. This endorsement yesterday was a big deal in the sense that she is now going to have so much money, that is being thrust behind her.
So, we're talking about ads up in all of the early states and also in Super Tuesday states. We're talking about an incredible network of contact information, donor information, so they can go door knocking, things like that. The question becomes, though, Brianna and Boris, is can this convert into real momentum for her? We're seeing those data points you just laid out, but she has to not only convince people that she is the best Trump alternative, which she's vying against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for that slot. In addition to that, she also has to start peeling off Trump supporters. It's a high bar and it's tough to do.
SANCHEZ: Yeah, and will those dollars translate into votes, right? How do you see them going to work? Are we going to anticipate more pro- Nikki Haley ads, or should we see more anti-everybody else ads?
DEAN: Well, I mean, we saw the ad, -- they launched an ad yesterday that was all her when Americans for Prosperity announced that they were putting their backing behind her, they talked about turning the page. That they believe that Republicans have been putting up what they consider to be not good candidates that Americans are rejecting.
Now, for his part, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his campaign calling this a donation, an in-kind donation to the Trump team, to former President Trump, making the argument that DeSantis is the only one that can actually beat him. Of course, Haley's team and she have also been making the case that no, that's actually her. I'll let her say it for herself. Here's what she's been saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HALEY: I think that's what a candidate says when they're losing. You know, I mean, I think you look, there's nothing establishment about a candidate who was the Tea Party candidate who ran for governor. There's nothing establishment when you have Americans for Prosperity, the most conservative grassroots organization in the country, come out and endorse me. I think he's saying what he has to say because he's grasping at this point.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: And of course, she's talking about DeSantis there. They're really trying to cast her, is now the establishment's choice, that he's still the grassroots guy, the guy that can beat Trump, that she's now become this establishment that has this establishment backing. But here's the thing for Nikki Haley. She's got to convince everyone in this primary. She's got to get out of a primary first, which means you hear her saying, I came from the Tea Party. I'm a bona fide conservative. But then she's got to win in a general as well. So, it's a tricky needle to thread.
KEILAR: Jess, thank you so much. We do have some new developments coming out of Israel. We need to get straight to Jeremy Diamond, who is there in Ophiuchus. Jeremy, what are you seeing? What are you hearing?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What you're seeing right now is two of those newly freed hostages, two Russian-Israeli women who are in Ophiuchus, greeted by a big crowd of people here who are obviously thrilled to see these Israeli-Russian women freed from Hamas captivity. They were released earlier today, not part of that framework of 10 Israelis per day, but rather as a part of an outside- of-the-framework deal, it appears, between Russia and Hamas. We have seen another Russian-Israeli citizen released earlier this week in that very same manner.
Right behind me here is the entrance to the Hatzerim airbase, where we believe that they will then be getting on helicopters to head towards a hospital in Israel. But as you can see, people here are thrilled to watch their fellow compatriots coming home after being held in captivity for over 50 days. And we are expecting that a second convoy, with all 10 of those Israelis, will indeed be coming through here as well. And you can see that people here are simply fired up and want to show them the love that they didn't get, obviously, during those 50 days in captivity.
SANCHEZ: Jeremy, obviously, there's jubilation right now, but it comes with the understanding that this lull in the war may soon come to an end. We understand there are officials in Qatar right now negotiating an extension to this truce. Have you heard from folks there on the ground about how they feel regarding the, the, the sort of uncertainty surrounding when hostilities might pick back up?
DIAMOND: Well, people are certainly hoping that more hostages will be freed. I mean, whether it is someone who, whether you have someone who is in captivity or you simply know someone who is simply Israeli, everyone here feels very, very connected to the fate of those hostages. And so, we will see whether or not they can achieve that extension of the pause. We know that there have been ongoing negotiations between the Israeli and the Israeli, excuse me, Israeli and Qatari, Hamas, U.S. officials to see if they can extend the truce.
The initial goal, Boris, will be to see if they can initially extend that to get all of the women and children out from Hamas captivity. I spoke with a senior Israeli official earlier today who said only after they get all of the women and children out will they then consider an expanded deal to try and get men as well as Israeli soldiers who are also believed to be held by Hamas.
KEILAR: Jeremy, just tell us a little bit more about the scene there. It's pretty extraordinary. I mean, we saw the camera there catching a glimpse of one of these vehicles with one of these hostages who had been released driving by. You were there in the middle of a crowd, awfully close, obviously, to these vehicles, a lot of jubilation around you. What has the scene been like?
DIAMOND: I mean, look, people, word travels fast here, right? When we first got here, there were only a few people, and very quickly this square effectively started to fill up with men, women, children, lots of children behind me, as you can see, who are just thrilled to welcome these folks home. We saw this scene a couple of nights ago, but there's been different ways that this hostage release has happened.
Sometimes they have been flown directly in helicopters from the Karim Shalom crossing, as we saw last night, for example, directly to hospitals. Other nights. Of course, there are times where they come in a convoy, and they come to this airbase in order to then be lifted to hospitals. But clearly the people here are thrilled that they were able to come in the convoys to get a close-up look at these newly freed hostages. And I think you could also see the smiles. I saw at least one of those two Russian-Israeli women in that convoy, and just her smile, I mean, you can tell that it has an impact for them to be welcomed in this way as they come back to their country.
SANCHEZ: Jeremy, you mentioned that these two Russian-Israelis, these two Israeli women, were not released as part of the framework of the truce between Hamas and Israel. We know that there have been other hostages released similarly, not as part of this framework. Do we anticipate there may be more coming soon? Are there more talks going on in the background as we speak? DIAMOND: Yeah, we are still waiting for the official group, right? There is the two Russian-Israeli women outside of this framework who were released. We are still waiting for the 10 Israeli citizens who are set to be released today, women and children expected in that latest batch. And we do expect that they will also come here in the same way, driving this time rather than taking helicopters directly, coming to this airbase, and certainly people here are happy that they're able to welcome them in this manner.
KEILAR: We should be clear at this point, Jeremy, there are still, according to Israel, 159 hostages who are still currently held in Gaza. So, obviously, this is the hope here is that they will get women and children out and then tackle a difficult issue, which is going to be what about these male hostages and also tracking down these hostages where it seems that Hamas may be having difficulty exactly locating them if they are being held perhaps by other militant groups.
DIAMOND: That's right. And there are believed to be at least 40 of those hostages who are held by other groups. I mean, I've spoken with Israeli officials who tell me that they don't believe that Hamas should have any trouble either locating or getting those hostages back in their captivity. Hamas is firmly in control of the Gaza Strip, and they have some power over some of these other militant factions that exist there as well. But nonetheless, that has been cited by Hamas as one of the factors, the difficulties of getting some of these individuals released.
It's also why over the course of these last four days, they sought to have drones blocked, Israeli and American drones stopped their flights for six hours per day, not only to be able to get these hostages without revealing the locations where they were hiding them, but also so that they could carry out over those initial four days a search for the other hostages, speaking with other militant groups and trying to get them back into their captivity.
Of course, there's also an element of this where it's simply Hamas trying to regroup for the next phase of this war. And that's also something that even as we see these scenes of jubilation, something to keep in mind here, which is that once this pause, ends, we will be returning to war here in Israel and in Gaza. That has been made explicitly clear by Israel's political leadership that this is not a permanent ceasefire, that they want to get as many hostages out as possible, but they will eventually return to the critical mission as the Israeli prime minister has laid it out to not only get all the hostages out, but also to destroy Hamas and to remove it from its hold on power in Gaza.
SANCHEZ: And key officials are also looking at the day after Hamas. That's part of the talks, as we heard from Secretary of State Antony Blinken signalling his conversations in Qatar. Jeremy Diamond, please stand by. We may come back to you, depending on what we see, as he noted. More hostages expected to come through that road in the near future.
KEILAR: Yeah, it's so much jubilation. We see that. But at the same time, we also have to remember these are families where, as the women and children are coming out, often, they are leaving their spouses and their fathers behind, some of them coming home to realize that some of their loved ones were killed on October 7th and they weren't necessarily aware of that.