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Israeli Cabinet Approves Deal To Release Hostages Held By Hamas; Source: Truce To Begin At 10 AM Israel Time, 3 AM ET Thursday; Israel And Hamas Agree To Hostage Deal, 4-Day Fighting Pause; Israel Reacts To Deal With Hamas On Hostage Return. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired November 22, 2023 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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ABBEY ONN, THREE RELATIVES HELD HOSTAGE BY HAMAS: We want everyone home, right. We have in just my family, two of them that would be considered in this deal, but over it wouldn't. But I think the thing we all agree on is that children are not part of war. And so, if there is a deal where they can bring the babies and the children home, then it gives us hope. It turned our lives upside down. I barely work.
This is a full time 24/7 job where you're not eating, you're not sleeping. This is what you think about if your eyes closed at night, and when you wake up in the morning. And it's all consuming, it is something that we are not processing. We're just living through until everyone of these hostages are home and our soldiers are safe.
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KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CO-ANCHOR, NEWS CENTRAL: 16 hours now until that truce sets in. So much to come. Thanks for being here, Omar. Thank you all so much for joining us. This is CNN News Central. Inside Politics starts now.
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Audie Cornish in today for Dana Bash. 15 hours from now we're expecting the first of dozens of Hamas hostages to walk free out of Gaza. They've been captive since October 7, when Hamas terrorists stormed the border with Israel and brutally murdered 1200 people.
Now the first hostages to be released are expected to be women and children. In exchange, Israel agrees to pause its assault on Gaza for four days, release 150 Palestinians from Israeli prisons and allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza that could include hundreds of trucks carrying fuel and supplies. Now for families of the missing in the past 46 days have been unbearable. And these next few hours will be just as intense as they wait to find out whether their relative will be among those freed.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My family, like all the other families is going to go through a terrible week. We don't know if my cousin is going to be amongst those released in this round.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's nobody that's giving up hope. It's just that we actually need to see Abigail come out and then we will be able to be to believe it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want a chance to see our loved one back. This is all we want. I really hope that this is just the first step.
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CORNISH: Now, even if this deal is carried out successfully, some 200 hostages remain. But the hope is that this is a turning point in this war. CNN is covering the story from all angles. And Oren Liebermann is in Tel Aviv. We have MJ Lee at the White House. And we're going to begin with you Oren. What's the next step in this conversation.
OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Audie, we're now 15 hours away from this pause in the fighting taking effect, at which point Israel and Hamas will put a hold on this war. And then shortly after that, we expect the transfer of Israeli hostages to begin, women and children. It'll be a small number each day, over the course of four days somewhere in the range of 10 to 12.
We don't know if they'll all come out at once. We don't even know yet frankly, how they'll come out. It will be as the other Israeli hostage just came out way at the beginning of this war, or if there's a new plan to bring them through one of the other border crossings.
Crucially, at this point and speaking with the families, it seems they haven't heard who's coming out yet. And that's what part of that makes this so nerve wracking for them. They want to know if their loved ones are part of the 50 that will come out in this first tranche but that as of right now is unclear.
Meanwhile, on the flip side of that, in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza, there will be the release of Palestinian prisoners, also women and children. 150 of them for the first 50 Israeli hostages released. It's unclear who on that list comes out from Israeli prisons.
We have looked at that list of 300. It is largely for what are considered smaller offenses, such as throwing stones or connections to a terror organization. So not any of the major offenses. Most of those Palestinians, if not all of them are from the occupied West Bank or Jerusalem. So, we'll see how that process plays out.
We are also at the same time seeing ongoing fighting in Gaza, large scale Israeli airstrikes from the video we have seen coming out of there, red alerts indicating possible rocket fire from Gaza. It's important to note though that that does not mean the agreement is off. It simply means the pause in fighting hasn't started yet.
We still have every expectation that it will take effect at 10 o'clock tomorrow morning. So, nerve racking moments for the families as we wait to see this agreement take effect here. And what the world hopes, frankly, will be a much larger possibility for a ceasefire. But as of right now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising the war is still on when this pause is over.
CORNISH: Oren, thank you so much. Of the 50 hostages set to be released, three are expected to be U.S. citizens. One name on that list that of Abigail Edan. She's supposed to celebrate her fourth birthday on Friday. When this deal was announced, President Biden issued a statement where he said, "the deal should bring home additional American hostages, and I will not stop until they are all released."
CNN MJ Lee joins us now from the White House. And first, MJ could give us some background about how the deal itself came together and what the president's role was?
MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Audie, we know that there were weeks and weeks of painstaking negotiations that ultimately got us to this point. What we have learned is that shortly after October 7, there was a top-secret channel of communication that was established, including just a small number of White House, Israeli and Qatari officials to essentially negotiate with Hamas about the hostage situation.
And of course, what we saw last month was the release of those two American citizen women from Gaza. And when that was successfully executed, it essentially signaled to U.S. officials that they had a bit of a blueprint in place to effectively negotiate with Hamas over these hostages as slow going, that communication was at times.
But there were many, many challenges that U.S. officials and their Israeli counterparts and their Qatari officials as well confronted when trying to negotiate with Hamas, we learned that Hamas was refusing for a period of time to offer any identifying information about the hostages. This turned out to be a major sticking point.
We also learned that in recent days, Hamas for a period of time went dark, just was unresponsive when messages were sent to them. And when they finally resurfaced, they raised issues about Israel's IDF raid on the Al-Shifa Hospital. And so all of this made for sort of a painfully slow and touching go process throughout the weeks that the negotiations were going on.
Of course, there were many, many phone calls and conversations that took place between President Biden and other top aides here and their counterparts in the Middle East region as well. Some of these conversations we were told were so sensitive at the time that they weren't even read out in real time, which is pretty unusual.
And now Audie, what the White House is hoping for is that three American hostages at least could be among the 50 that are released. Here's Jon Finer earlier today.
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JON FINER, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We know that there are three Americans, we believe were held in Gaza in that category. Two women, it is our strong conviction and expectation that they'll be released in this group. Until we actually see people coming out of Gaza, we will not know exactly who is going to be released.
We do not have proof of life for all the hostages. Certainly, we know that there have been some who have been found by the IDF who had been killed tragically during the course of this. And that's what underscores the imperative of getting all of these people out of Gaza as soon as possible.
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LEE: And of course, just the execution of their release is going to be incredibly complicated as well. Not to mention for these women and these children, there's just a very long road ahead in terms of their rehabilitation and making sure that they can get the medical help that they need. Audie?
CORNISH: MJ Lee at the White House, thanks so much. Now this pause in the fighting is -- as we said set to start tomorrow 10 am local time. That does not mean that the bombardment of Gaza has stopped. IDF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner is here to talk about what happens next. Welcome to the program.
Now, as we said, starting tomorrow, if all goes well, hostages will be released but it also means the pause in fighting and four days for Hamas to potentially regroup, move retrench. How does this complicate things for your military strategy going forward?
LT. COL. PETER LERNER, IDF SPOKESPERSON: Just let me give a brief comment on the last report that we're hearing what you just broadcast. The 240 people that have been held by Hamas, the emotional roller coaster that has been reflected in the reports that you just broadcast it. And indeed, the emotional rollercoaster of entire country being torn to pieces. By the actions of Hamas office terrorist organization, just exemplifies specifically why Hamas need to go.
I would say that the reality on the ground is one where we will receive our instructions from the government. We will hold fire. We will take up defensive positions in order to be prepared for any attempt of Hamas to try and take advantage of the situation. Indeed, there is a chance that they will regroup and they will resupply themselves, but this is going to be a -- -
CORNISH: Is that why bombing has continued? Are you trying to make some areas more or less in a hospital hope for them?
LERNER: No, we have not had an instruction to hold our fire at this stage. And that is why we continue to seek out and destroy and dismantle Hamas wherever they're hiding. Indeed, they have continued to fire rockets in Israel. They continue to attack our forces on the ground, and we are engaging them, destroying their talent capability, taking out their squads, their cells wherever they are operating. And indeed, making sure that they are pursued.
[12:10:00] The reality on the ground is one that the war is ongoing. And even if there is and when the operational force takes -- comes into force it will be over and when the hostages are released. And then we will continue our operation as the government has directed us.
CORNISH: Are you prepared to hold if more hostages are released?
LERNER: This is what we understand according to the plan that has been widely publicized. You know, this is one of our goals of this war is to bring home the hostages, every last one of them. This is the reality, and this is what we need to aspire for.
Hamas cannot be allowed to hold the Israelis and foreign nationals that they abducted and are holding them hostage in the Gaza Strip, and we need to bring them home -- we need to bring them home now. So hopefully tomorrow, we will see the first installment of that.
CORNISH: In the meantime, the stated goal has been to eradicate Hamas. At the same time that has meant going after people in urban environments or urban warfare. Is there any thought to having a safe zone or a no strike area to help protect civilians?
LERNER: We have a humanitarian zone in the southwestern parts of the Gaza Strip, the area called them Mawasi. Indeed, we've seen a huge evacuation from people -- from the north to the south. And in hand-in- hand with the operational force is an increase as Oren Liebermann rightly pointed out of humanitarian aids of trucks that are supposed to come in, in order to alleviate the dire situation that the people of Gaza aren't in facing because of the war.
CORNISH: Are those areas save from strikes altogether?
LERNER: The areas in the south, there are still Hamas operations in the south, but the Mawasi even though the Hamas have fired rockets from that area. We've not responded because we realized that that needs to be a safer zone, a humanitarian zone, a place where people can escape the war as much as possible. The reality though, unfortunately, is Hamas where they will continue to operate from in around and building hospitals. They'll continue to launch rockets from adjacent to U.N. facilities.
CORNISH: So, you consider those areas not being off limits still?
LERNER: Excuse me, I missed the question.
CORNISH: So, it sounds like you consider those areas are still not off limits, as long as you perceive the threat of Hamas being among civilians in those areas.
LERNER: We will seek out Hamas wherever they hide, and we will take them out because they can no longer -- or they can never ever be permitted to wield the power of government because we saw what happens when they have the power of government. They utilize the power of government, they subordinated and enslaved all of its powers in order to build a terrorist army that came into our towns, came into our kibbutzim, came into our villages, brutally massacred, murdered, raped, beheaded and abducted over 1300 people. So, we have no choice but to make sure that Hamas can never have this power ever again.
CORNISH: We know that there is a list of Palestinians who could be released in this deal. They include women, a lot of teenagers, their charges range from throwing stones to harming regional security. What concerns do you have about who might go free?
LERNER: Of course, this list is compiled by the prison service and the other security services. The IDF is -- could be more involved in engaging the terrorists on the ground. It is of course of concern and -- but it is what the government has decided to do, and we will implement the government's decision to the letter.
CORNISH: Lieutenant Colonel, thank you so much for speaking with us.
LERNER: Good evening.
CORNISH: We're going to continue to follow news about these hostage negotiations. We're also going to hear from an Israeli writer and journalist from the region, so stay with us.
CORNISH: The families of those held hostage by Hamas spent days, pressuring the Israeli government to prioritize bringing their loved ones home. Those families have become a unified and powerful voice in Israel. To help us with the context behind this deal, we have writer and journalist Yossi Melman.
And Yossi, first I just wanted to start with the fact that the families have really pushed, bringing home the hostages, being the number one priority. But they've also been concerned that all of this was getting lost amid other priorities. So, did this deal actually help to calm those concerns?
YOSSI MELMAN, ISRAELI WRITER AND JOURNALIST: Yes, indeed Audie. But it's not just the family -- actually, most of the former Israeli security officials and current Israeli officials are in favor of a deal, of any deal. An all-out deal or for dealing in phases as we are expecting to be materialized tomorrow.
So, the public was behind the deal. And I think eventually after a few weeks, the government caved in to the public pressure, to the former security officials pressure and opinions and eventually realized that it should be a number one priority or at least equivalent at equals put with the other goal of the government, which was the first goal to smash Hamas and to decapitated its leaders and to dismantle its military capabilities.
CORNISH: Yossi so, what were the fault lines that began to appear during the debate? You said the government's been reluctant. What were some of the voices saying who were reluctant?
MELMAN: Well, there were voices who were saying that once there is a ceasefire or opposes Israel refers to the Israeli Government that the military refers to, it would weaken the determination of the Israeli military to continue the war. But I think it's a wrong impression.
And eventually, the fact is that the government decided that these two goals to smash Hamas and to release the hostages should be on the same footage, on the same foot with equal priority. So, I militarily speaking, I don't think if there is opposed of four-five days, it would stop the Israeli military, the Israeli forces to continue the war.
CORNISH: I want to ask one question to that point. How is it heard in Israel international outcry over civilian conditions in Gaza? And with it that accompanying push for a humanitarian pause, for a ceasefire, as you're saying that could go longer than would meet the goal of eradicating Hamas?
MELMAN: Well, the IDF has been very, very cautious and sensitive to the Palestinian casualties. However, it's a war. And a lot of people have been killed. I think the Palestinian figures are at 11,000 or 12,000. A lot of them have children. So, there Israeli public is concerned about it. But above all, it is more concerned about the trauma which occurred on October 7, and about the future and the destiny of the hostages, and therefore, it's a less of a public concern as far as the Palestinians are concerned.
CORNISH: Yossi Melman, thank you so much for this perspective.
MELMAN: Thank you.
CORNISH: Now, as we said, the families of the 236 hostages held by Hamas wait to see if their loved ones will be among those 50 release. As part of the deal, we're going to speak to an Israeli man who escaped Hamas on October 7, however, his brother is still missing. We'll talk about that family's hopes and their story next.
CORNISH: Israel and Hamas are hours away from a truce, the one that's likely to last for just a few days. Dozens of hostages are set to be freed after Hamas fighters rip them from their homes six weeks ago. Now this pause in fighting is set to begin at 10 am local time. That's 3 am eastern. But until then, the IDF continues its assault. These are explosions seen in northern Gaza earlier today. CNN's Jeremy Diamond joins us live from Sderot. And Jeremy, can you just talk about what you're seeing across the border there in Gaza?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just over 14 hours away from the beginning of that expected truce between Israel and Hamas. We are continuing to hear outgoing artillery large explosions inside the Gaza Strip. And that's a scene that we've been witnessing over the last several hours.
When it was daylight here, we could see several large plumes of smoke in different parts of the Northern Gaza Strip, and also seeing some of those illumination rounds being fired into Gaza as well. As the Israeli military indicates very clearly that it will continue to carry out its military operations to take out Hamas forces and infrastructure inside Gaza up until that truce actually goes into place.
In the meantime, though, what we are witnessing and hearing across Israel is the anxiety the extra anticipation of so many of these families in particular of the children and women being held hostage inside of Gaza, as they wait to see whether or not their family members will be part of that initial release of 50, women and children hostages released over the next four days.
Many of those families -- some of whom, I've spoken with today are still in the dark about whether or not their families will be part of this round. I spoke with Hen Avigdori earlier today whose 12-year-old daughter is believed to be held hostage inside of Gaza. And he said that look, he's optimistic but he doesn't want to get his hopes up until he knows that she is indeed alive and that she will indeed be crossing back into Israel. Audie?
CORNISH: Jeremy, thank you for your reporting. I want to turn to this hostage crisis in more depth. 236 people are being held captive in Gaza, with several nationalities and we've learned about many of them through their friends and relatives.
Now in Israel, the hostages and missing family's forum is a group that formed in the wake of the October 7 attack, and they count just over 200 Israelis who are believed to be alive and still in Gaza. Here's some numbers for you. 39 of them are children, including a 10-month- old, 29 are senior citizens, including three people who are 85 years old, and 44 of the Israeli hostages are women.