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The Situation Room
Ten Israeli Hostages Just Freed, Including One U.S. Dual Citizen; House to Vote Friday on Wether to Expel Rep. George Santos (R-NY); Nikki Haley Scores Key Endorsement from Koch Network; Convoy of Newly Released Israeli Hostages Arrives At Hatzerim Airbase; U.S. Charges Indian National In Attempted Murder-For-Hire Plot In NYC. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired November 29, 2023 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: According to PNC Financial Services, which, for some reason, makes this calculation every year. So Ten Lords-a- Leaping has leapt to the top of the list. It will cost more than $14,000 Eight Maids-a-milking remains the cheapest at $58, reflecting the federal minimum wage and, no doubt, the pay in equity for Maids-a- milking. The biggest change percentage-wise, it's $750 for the rare Twin Turtle Doves that flew up 25 percent from last year.
Our coverage continues now with one Mr. Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll see you tomorrow.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news, ten more Israeli hostages are now free and safe in Israel, including a woman who also is a U.S. citizen. We're standing by for new information about their release just a short while ago and their condition after more than seven weeks in brutal captivity.
All this comes as the truce between Israel and Hamas is due to end just a few hours from now following a six-day pause in the fighting. The U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is now here in Israel amid urgent negotiations aimed at extending the truce and potentially allowing more hostages to be released.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Tel Aviv and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The new group of hostages released by Hamas has now arrived here in Israel, including an Israeli-American, as the truce that paved the way for their freedom is about to expire.
Our correspondents are covering the breaking news from every angle. First, I want to go to CNN's Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward. She's here with us in Tel Aviv.
Clarissa, first of all, what can you tell us about today's release of the hostages and whether this expiring truce will be extended?
CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, first on those hostages. As you mentioned, ten Israeli hostages have now been freed. We expect to see live pictures, any moment now of them, at the Hatzerim Air Base. From there, they will be flown or driven to various hospitals, depending on their condition.
We understand the youngest age, or I should say the age of the youngest hostage to be released today, is 13 years old, the oldest hostage, 54 years old. And as you mentioned, that dual U.S.-Israeli citizen, Liat Beinin, is among those hostages released.
This comes along with the release of four Thai nationals. And earlier, as a separate deal that was brokered by the Russian government, two Israeli-Russian dual nationals. So, in total, 16 hostages released today. And all eyes now on the question of whether this truce will be extended, or whether it will expire at midnight Eastern Time, 7:00 A.M. here in Israel.
Hamas has said that they very much hope to extend the truce. Israel has said that it thinks it is possible to extend a truce. And Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who actually has just landed in Israel, has also advocated for continuing this pause. He says it has been crucial in terms of getting hostages out, but also, of course, Wolf, in terms of getting desperately needed aid into Gaza, and giving the ordinary citizens of Gaza some much needed respite, Wolf.
BLITZER: And, Clarissa, as you know, we're also following a very sensitive and concerning situation about an Israeli hostage family. What can you tell us about this?
WARD: Well, this is the Bibas family, Wolf. And a lot of people have been watching their story very closely because this is a ten-month-old baby, Kfir Bibas, who was kidnapped along with his brother, Ariel, who's just four years old, and their mother, Shiri.
And because they were so young and because they had this bright red hair, so many people had been following the story so closely in Israel. We saw a tribute recently where they released red balloons into the sky calling for their release.
Now, the IDF has said that it has been in touch with the Bibas family about reports coming from Hamas, Hamas saying that the entire family was killed in an Israeli airstrike, the IDF saying it's trying to assess the accuracy of that information. We also did hear from the Bibas family on Israeli television tonight saying that they hold Hamas responsible for Shiri and her two little boys. The words that the family member used, the cousin of Shiri Bibas, was they were alive when they left Israel.
They need to be returned to Israel alive and Hamas is responsible for ensuring that will happen. So, a lot of concern now as to what may have happened to this family, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, a lot of concern indeed. Clarissa Ward, thank you very much.
Let's go over right now to CNN's Ben Wedeman. He's joining us live from Jerusalem.
Ben, what are we learning about the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for these Israeli hostages?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a list has come out, Wolf, of 30 individuals who are part of this day's, the sixth day of this truce exchange. It includes 29 detainees, 1 convicted prisoner. It is 16 boys between the ages of 14 and 18. The rest are women.
Now, interestingly enough, five of the women are not Palestinian residents of the West Bank, rather they are Israeli citizens, Palestinian-Israeli citizens.
So, once again, 29 out of the 30 are detainees. In other words, they haven't been formally charged with anything. They don't know what the charges against them are. They are in this system of administrative detention where they can be held up for six months at a time and that can be renewed time and time again. Most of them, of course, if not all, have been detained since the 7th of October. Wolf?
BLITZER: Ben, you were in Jenin, out in the West Bank, yesterday. And since then, Palestinian authorities say two Palestinian children were killed by Israeli troops there in the West Bank. What can you tell us about this?
WEDEMAN: Yes. This is just the latest in dozens of Israeli incursions into the city of Jenin, in the Northern West Bank, particularly the refugee camp there. They entered late at night. They left at about 3:00 P.M.
But what we're seeing -- there were several people, at least four people killed in this raid, but two of them were boys. And we need to warn viewers that some of these images can be very disturbing. They were caught on CCTV. One of them shows eight-year-old Adam Al-Rul (ph), who is hiding behind a car and then is hit directly by live fire. He falls to the ground. You can see him starting to bleed. Somebody, a friend, perhaps, tries to drag him to safety behind the car, but he was killed there.
The other one, 15-year-old Basil Abu El-Wafa (ph), also shot. Now, some of the video seems to show that he had some sort of device in his hand that he was trying to light. The Israeli army says that, I'm going to just read this here, a number of suspects hurled explosive devices toward Israeli soldiers who responded with live fire.
Now, I've covered Israeli incursions into refugee camps before. Oftentimes, the little kids are not throwing explosive devices. They're throwing firecrackers. Wolf?
BLITZER: Ben Wedeman reporting from Jerusalem for us. Ben, thank you very much.
I want to go to the White House right now and get some reaction to the release of an Israeli-American hostage. CNN's M.J. Lee is on the scene for us.
M.J., this is clearly very welcome news for the Biden administration. How does this fit into the diplomatic push now to extend this truce? M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, this is very welcome news for the White House, the news of Liat Beinin, a dual Israeli-American citizen being released from captivity tonight. She is the second American to be released after four-year-old Abigail Edan was released on Sunday.
The president just moments ago celebrating the news of Beinin after learning that she had arrived in Egypt. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: We've got some very good news to report. Liat Beinin is safe in Egypt. She's crossed the border. I talk with her mother and father. They're very appreciative and things are moving well. She'll soon be home with her three children.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEE: But keep in mind, Wolf, that there is one more American woman that the White House has said they believe is still being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza. There's no word tonight on her condition or the prospects of her getting out. That's not to mention the seven other unaccounted for Americans that the White House has previously said are men, but also no word on their conditions either.
But, Wolf, this is one of the biggest reasons why we are seeing U.S. officials continuing to push for an extension of the current truce. They say a longer truce means more hostages getting out, not to mention a surge in the humanitarian aid that has been possible in the recent days.
But officials I am talking to really are stressing that this is one day at a time. They first want to see women and children getting out, then they will turn their focus to men and potentially soldiers, not to mention the remains of the those that were killed in Gaza.
But the discussions have already begun between U.S. and Israeli officials about what Israel's military operations may look like once this truce is over, with the particular focus, we are told by U.S. officials, on making sure that the upcoming strikes, operations are really precise and deliberate and careful so as to avoid the mass casualties that we have seen in the recent weeks. Wolf?
BLITZER: M.J. Lee at the White House, thanks for that update.
And there's more breaking news ahead. We're watching several developments on this, the new release of Hamas hostages and talks to extend the truce. An Israeli government spokesman will join us live. We'll discuss what's going on.
Plus, a U.S. House vote on whether to expel Congressman George Santos is now expected on Friday. And Speaker Mike Johnson is weighing in on the indicted Republicans fate.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news on the release of ten more Israeli hostages from Gaza, including a woman who's also a U.S. citizen.
Joining us now, the Israeli government spokesman, Eylon Levy. Eylon, thank you very much for joining us.
So, first of all, can you give us an update on how these hostages who are now back in Israel and released and freed right now, how they're doing?
EYLON LEVY, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: We're taking these hostages directly to receive immediate medical treatment. It's important to understand these hostages were denied access to the Red Cross for the over 50 days that they were held in inhumane conditions in Hamas captivity.
First thing is to give them a check-up, check they're okay, and then we'll be able to reunite them with their families.
BLITZER: Was that a violation of the agreement that the International Red Cross could not meet with these hostages?
LEVY: It's a violation of basic humanity to abduct people, some with life-disfiguring injuries. We saw people going in with limbs that had been blown off. We saw one hostage coming back with bullets still in her leg from 50 days ago, an 84-year-old woman, barely conscious, a violation of basic humanity to deprive these people of the basic --
BLITZER: But was there a specific commitment in the truce agreement that the Red Cross would be allowed to meet with these hostages.
LEVY: We've been demanding from the very beginning, the Red Cross --
BLITZER: Demanding is one thing, but was there a commitment on the part of Hamas to accept that?
BLITZER: All right. Well, they just didn't accept it.
Let's talk a little bit about this ten-month-old hostage, Kfir Bibas. His four-year-old brother and his mother are dead. What can you tell us about?
LEVY: Well, according to Hamas and the whole country is, of course ,horrified by these claims that the Bibas family have become iconic emblems of Hamas' atrocities on October 7th could have been killed. The mother and her two children, they were abducted live and Hamas is now --
BLITZER: Has Israel confirmed that they're dead? LEVY: No, the IDF is investigating those claims. We're standing together, speaking with the Bibas family and it's horrifying because, Wolf, the only thing that could possibly mean more barbaric than holding hostage a ten-month old baby is holding hostage the body of a ten-month old baby.
BLITZER: I just want to be precise, Hamas is claiming they're dead but Israel has not confirmed them? Is that --
LEVY: We have not. We're investigating these claims.
BLITZER: Close to a conclusion?
LEVY: We're investigating the claims.
BLITZER: All right. I spoke to your colleague, Mark Regev, you know him well, earlier today. He said Israel is ready to keep extending these the truce as long as Hamas continues to release hostages. What's the latest on this front?
LEVY: Under the framework, the negotiated framework approved by the Israeli government last week, we lined up enough violent criminals in Israeli jails to secure from now on another three days of hostage release pause for every one day of hostage release, pause to get another ten hostages out.
On top of that, the government also prepared a list of another 50 Palestinian prisoners In case Hamas wants to keep releasing hostages. But our policy is clear, as soon as Hamas stops releasing hostages, we will stop the pause and we will continue to apply the military pressure that brought Hamas to its knees and to a position where it agreed to get them out in the first place.
BLITZER: So, the pause or the truce, whatever you want to call it, it's supposed to end, what, at midnight eastern time, 7:00 A.M. Israel time. Is that going to be extended?
LEVY: We're expecting to receive the list of the next hostages Hamas wants to release. We're expecting to get the women and children out first. And we want to continue getting out as many hostages as we can.
This is a vindication of Israel's strategy, which has been to put military pressure on Hamas, to clobber it, to have it begging for a breather, to be in a position where it wants to release those hostages. And so far, we're glad to say from 240 people or so who were taken hostage, there are still only -- still an enormous number, 145 left. And we're committed we're going to get them all back. There will be no one left behind.
BLITZER: But at some point the fighting will continue. Israel's military action to try to destroy Hamas in Gaza will continue. Will Israel be more precise in its targeting down the road as compared to what it was before so many innocent Palestinians were killed?
LEVY: We're constantly upgrading and fine-tuning our capabilities, trying to be more precise to reach the Hamas terrorists responsible for the October 7th massacre. Of course, we don't want to see any civilians being hurt. That's why we spent so long urging civilians to get out of harm's way in the areas where Hamas has embedded itself under civilian infrastructure. And it's a very, very sad fact that all the people who have been killed since the beginning of the October 7th massacre would still be alive.
If Hamas had not decided to launch this awful, barbaric war with the October 7th massacre and fight it from inside densely populated areas, that it was trying to stop Israel from evacuating civilians from harm's way.
BLITZER: Eylon Levy, thank you very much for coming in.
We'll continue this conversation down the road.
Coming up, a vote to kick embattled GOP Congressman George Santos out of the House of Representatives, that vote is now set for Friday. What we know about whether he'll be expelled and House Speaker Mike Johnson is telling his fellow Republicans to vote. Stay with us.
Plus, why a 2024 rival is accusing Nikki Haley of trying to have it both ways on this sensitive issue of abortion.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're here in Israel following the breaking news of more hostages just released by Hamas as we wait for any sign to see whether the pause in fighting will be extended by the deadline of midnight Eastern Time tonight.
But there's also news back in the United States we're following specifically up on Capitol Hill. The clock is now ticking toward a vote on whether to expel Congressman George Santos from the House with Speaker Mike Johnson weighing in following that bombshell report on his fellow Republican from the House Ethics Committee.
CNN's Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill watching all of this unfold for us. Melanie, what's the latest on how this vote is expected to play out?
MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: So, the House is going to begin consideration of this expulsion measure on Thursday. They will not take the vote though until Friday. And there are a growing number of Republicans who say they are going to support this expulsion effort after that damning House Ethics report that was put together by a group of Republicans and Democrats on the Ethics Committee.
But there are still some Republicans, including the new speaker, who say they have reservations about voting to expel someone who has yet to be convicted in the court of law. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R-LA): We're going to allow people to vote their conscience. I think it's the only appropriate thing we can do. We've not whipped the vote, and we wouldn't. I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith.
I personally have real reservations about doing this. I'm concerned about a precedent that may be set for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZANONA: So, those comments from the speaker could carry some weight with Republicans who are still on the fence about their position and, no doubt, Wolf, this is going to be a very tough vote for some Republicans. In fact, top Republicans were hoping that Santos would just resign so they wouldn't have to actually take a formal public position on this. And I'm told that the speaker actually spoke to George Santos yesterday and asked him to consider resigning as one of his options in order to spare some of his fellow colleagues from having to take a vote here.
But, so far, Santos has been defiant. He's insisting he will not step down. We'll see what he says tomorrow when he has a press conference here on Capitol Hill tomorrow morning, though, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Melanie Zanona up on Capitol Hill, thank you very much.
With less than 50 days to go before voting starts in the GOP primary race, Nikki Haley is gaining steam, securing a key endorsement from the influential Koch Network, even as she remains far behind the frontrunner, Donald Trump.
But Haley insists this is not a race for second place. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NIKKI HALEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't play for second. I never have. I'm not going to do it now. We are now in second place in Iowa, second place in New Hampshire, and second place in South Carolina. We've got one more fellow to catch up to and the momentum is growing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss with our political experts, and, Audie Cornish, I'll start with you. Haley may have some momentum right now, but Donald Trump put it this way on a social media account earlier today. He said she's down 50 points. She better start running fast. How do you see it?
AUDIE CORNISH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, he is right about the clock ticking, and she is not ahead of him even in her own home state. She is looking for money, she's looking for momentum and also attention. Some of that attention is coming from the media, and, of course, now some of that attention is coming from Trump himself, who's tried to give her some kind of nickname.
But it means she has a fighting chance. But I don't want to be false about what that chance is and how tough that is. I'm sure other people on the panel will talk about that. It is a big leap.
BLITZER: Let's bring in Alyssa Farah Griffin. Alyssa, Ron DeSantis is trying to blunt Haley's rise and labeling her the establishment candidate and calling her out of step. Take a look at how Haley responded to that. Listen.
(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.
I think he's saying what he has to say because he's grasping at this point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, what do you make of that?
ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, honestly, the establishment candidate in the race is certainly Donald Trump, but Nikki Haley is the most formidable option to take him on for frontrunner status. She's in second place now in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
To Audie's point, it's still a tremendous lead that Donald Trump has that she would have to overcome, but I think, you know, for someone like a Ron DeSantis, it's really Iowa or bust, and he's still not within striking distance of Donald Trump.
Nikki Haley, on the other hand, has focused quite a bit on New Hampshire. New Hampshire is unique in that independents can vote in the primary. I keep an eye on Governor Chris Sununu. That could be an endorsement. That could be incredibly beneficial to Governor Haley there and give her a real fighting chance heading into South Carolina in Super Tuesday. The governor has outperformed Donald Trump in his own state.
So, I think all eyes are really on New Hampshire if Nikki Haley is going to pull off a miracle.
BLITZER: Let's bring in Kate Bedingfield to discuss as well.
Kate, Chris Christie made some very critical comments about the way Nikki Haley has tried to thread the needle on the issue of abortion. Listen and watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can't say one thing in Iowa and something different in New Hampshire. Now, I was on the stage next to Governor Haley when she gave a long talk at, I think it was the second debate, about how we don't want to divide the country on this. We have to respect everyone's opinions. But then when she's sitting across from Bob Vander Plaats in Iowa, a much more conservative place, she says, I'd sign a six-week abortion ban. Well, which one is it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, is this a vulnerability for Nikki Haley, Kate?
KATE BEDINGFIELD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, no question. I think, you know, Chris Christie is absolutely right about that. And I think if Nikki Haley were somehow to pull an inside straight and get the Republican nomination, she would be answering for that six-week abortion ban answer for the entirety of the campaign.
I know certainly the Biden campaign and Democrats would be forcing her too. And we've seen across the country that that kind of position on abortion isn't palatable to voters.
So, yes, I think that is an enormous, that's enormous vulnerability for her. And I think, you know, this endorsement from Koch is interesting because, you know, Iowa is a ground game state. It's a state that's all about organization, having resources, having money to be able -- if she has any shot at sort of pulling off some sort of upset in Iowa.
Alyssa is absolutely right. She's focused on New Hampshire. But for DeSantis, the question is entirely Iowa. And if Nikki Haley can pull off even a better than expected performance, she doesn't have to win Iowa. But if she's able to pull off a better than expected performance, that's going to give her momentum going into New Hampshire. So, it's not impossible.
But the thing that we haven't talked about here that I think is important to think about is, if anybody other than Donald Trump gets the Republican nomination, Donald Trump is going to be there lobbing attacks at them. I don't think anybody thinks Donald Trump is going to step back and say, well, you know what, Nikki Haley won the nomination fair and square.
So, if another candidate is able to pull off an upset here, they're going to be grappling with Donald Trump in addition to taking on Joe Biden moving forward.
BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, Audie, you can't help but notice that these candidates are spending a lot of time targeting each other right now, rather than taking on, taking the fight to the front runner, Donald Trump. Is that a mistake?
CORNISH: Well, to the point we just heard earlier, if you can't handle the heat, you're certainly not going to be able to handle the fire later on when you are perhaps up against the frontrunner in this race. Also people have to draw some kind of distinction. And right now you're seeing with DeSantis it didn't totally work to say he was more to the right of Trump or that he was Trump without the baggage. Some of these arguments aren't working and you don't know that until they are critiquing each other.
So, I don't think it's a mistake, but, again, time is of the essence if you are trying to, in some way, bring together the people who are not supporting Donald Trump in the primary right now and convince them that you're a viable alternative.
BLITZER: Alyssa, as we approach the final stretch of the campaign now before Iowa, do you see an openness among Republican voters to actually picking a candidate other than Donald Trump?
GRIFFIN: I think so. I think that there is momentum and we, you know, polls can only tell us so much. Not a single vote has actually been cast. You know, the caucuses are, as you said, more than 50 days out. So, I think that Nikki Haley has been somebody who's emerged as somebody who can distinguish herself from Donald Trump.
I think world events, what we see with, you know, Israel and Hamas, she shows a knowledge and a depth on foreign policy that I think is appealing. And I do think she's able to resonate with independents in a way that Donald Trump is just radioactive.
But herein lies the problem that the GOP faces in the Trump era. Nikki Haley performs head-to-head much better against Joe Biden, beating him by nearly six points, but she's got to get through the primary, and that is still very much an uphill battle. I mean, Donald Trump is hands down the favorite at this point, but it's not too late to rule out some kind of an upset.
BLITZER: Important point, indeed. Thanks to all of you very, very much. We will, of course, continue these conversations down the road.
Just ahead my one-on-one interview with a key political figure here in Israel, a Palestinian-Israeli member of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, he weighs in on the efforts to extend the Gaza truce and release more hostages that's coming up next.
BLITZER: We're live here in Israel where a new group of freed hostages arrived just a short while ago, 10 Israelis released an exchange for 30 Palestinian prisoners and detainees.
I spoke earlier with a politician who truly has a unique perspective on all of these developments as a Palestinian-Israeli member of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, and the chairman of the United Arab List Party.
I spoke with this politician who has this unique perspective just outside of Tel Aviv. And I want to play this clip for our viewers.
BLITZER: Chairman Mansour Abbas, thank you so much for joining us.
MANSOUR ABBAS, PALESTINIAN-ISRAELI MEMBER OF KNESSET: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: This is a very difficult time right now, as you well know. The citizens of Israel are reeling from the October 7th massacre in the south near Gaza. And you have said, and I'm quoting you now, the Arab citizens of Israel feel the pain twice, once as an Arab and once as an Israeli. Can you explain what this pain feels like?
ABBAS: We are both citizens of Israel, we're part of this country, and we're also part of the Palestinian people. And our strive is to connect those two identities and to feel the pain of both sides and to feel the connection from both our civic identity and our peoplehood identity.
We try to connect and understand both the pains as well as the ambitions, the work of the Israeli people, their pain, their suffering, as well as their hopes and dreams.
And simultaneously we feel both the hopes and dreams of our Palestinian people as well as their pain as well.
And we hope to be connecting a positive view between those two things and linking both our civic identity as well as our peoplehood identity together.
BLITZER: We're meeting right now, Chairman Abbas, at a very, very sensitive moment. The temporary truce is continuing, but it's unclear how long it will continue. Looking at the situation right now, do you want to see this truce extended potentially into a longer ceasefire?
ABBAS: Yes. We are calling for ending this war and this conflict and extending this ceasefire, but not only to end this war in particular, but we are calling for ending of the entire Arab-Palestinian-Israeli conflict all together.
It is important to stop the hostilities and to bring stability, but it needs to be with a vision for a long-term plan. And we call for a change in this reality and to stop only looking at our past but also have a vision for the future of what we want to achieve in this place. And to work on creating mutual recognition in order to strive for a positive discussion over a true political initiative that will ensure an Israeli state alongside a Palestinian state.
BLITZER: I know, Chairman Abbas, you recently had a chance to meet with some Israeli families of hostages being held by Hamas and Gaza. What did you say to them?
ABBAS: So, first of all, it's important to state that the ceasefire is important in terms of bringing back the hostages. And, yes, I've met with the families of the hostages. This is a humanitarian issue. And my meeting with them is first. And my first meeting with them was, first and foremost, to show compassion and humanity and support and to offer my support in any way and shape I can. And everything that they asked for, I was ready to help and do. And we sent a mutual letter in my name and the name of the families of the hostages to President Biden, to the Turkish president, Erdogan, to the emir of Qatar.
And I'm also glad to say that, yesterday, the families that I've met with have all welcomed their loved ones back into their homes.
BLITZER: That's encouraging, thank you. And I know you have said, and I'm quoting you now, Mr. Chairman, that Hamas's actions, in your words, do not represent our Arab society nor our Palestinian people, nor our Palestinian nation. That's what you said. I know you have strongly condemned the Hamas attack on the Israelis along the kibbutzim near Gaza. How much damage has Hamas done to the Palestinian cause?
ABBAS: First of all, I need to stress this and to be very clear that any action that is taken against innocent people, against women, children, elderly is inhumane and it goes against the values of Islam as well. And we categorically condemn this. This cannot be discussed and it cannot be justified because it goes against all human values and religious values as well. But at the same time, of course, we cannot forget that there is a political struggle that is happening.
But the actions that the armed groups have decided to take and to use violence in order to achieve their means, looking at the past, have always failed. And the victim of each and every one of those militant attempts have been that the Palestinian people were the ones who paid the price.
In the past -- in this conflict, we look at the number of people killed. We're talking about over 15,000 Palestinians who lost their lives in this last war. And in order to move forward, the Palestinian militant groups need to take down their arms. They need to work hand in hand with the Palestinian Authority in order to realize a national movement that will aspire for a state of Palestine with a peace resolution alongside with the state of Israel.
BLITZER: And coming up, we'll have news from back in the United States on an alleged assassination attempt in New York City. New details on the arrest of a foreign national and why the U.S. Justice Department says one country in particular was directly involved.
BLITZER: We've got some more breaking news this hour. We want to show you right now some new video just into CNN. This is the first part of the convoy of those newly released Israeli hostages arriving at the Hatzerim Air Base here in Israel.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond is on the scene for us.
Jeremy, what are you seeing there because it looks very, very exciting?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there were scenes of absolute jubilation here in Ofakim, right outside of the Hatzerim airbase where those hostages were indeed headed in order to board helicopters and then to head to hospitals across Israel. We saw dozens of Israelis here, men, women and children, a lot of excitement, a lot of music to try to welcome and to give these newly released hostages a very warm welcome back to Israel, but you have to also understand that this is extremely overwhelming for many of these newly released hostages.
Earlier we saw two Russian-Israeli women arrived, one of them smiling and waving, this time we saw more people kind of standing behind and staying behind the curtains of the van. And I know from talking to families of hostages that for them, they come, and all of a sudden, everybody knows their faces, everybody knows their stories. And for so many of them, that can be a little bit overwhelming.
But certainly, they received a very warm welcome here in Ofakim, as they arrived back in Israel within the last couple of hours, Wolf. And now, they will be on their way to meet their families.
BLITZER: Yeah, we're so happy they are now back home in Israel.
Jeremy Diamond on the scene for us, thank you very, very much.
And we'll have more news right after this.
BLITZER: Tonight, we're learning about an attempted murder-for-hire plot in the United States. Federal prosecutors charging a man from India in connection with an alleged plan to assassinate an American citizen in New York City.
CNN's Brian Todd has more on the indictment.
Brian, this alleged plot is steeped in international political intrigue that extends far beyond U.S. borders.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are ties here to another plot in Canada, both allegedly ordered by the Indian government. These alleged plots were brazen, reckless, and in one case, deadly.
TODD (voice-over): For the second time in only about six months, we're learning of an alleged assassination attempt by the Indian government on North American soil. According to an indictment unsealed today, U.S. prosecutors have charged an Indian national in an alleged murder-for-hire plot against a Sikh activist in New York City. The indictment doesn't name the man who was targeted. But U.S.
officials familiar with the case tell CNN he is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an activist who's been pushing for a separate Sikh state in India.
GURPATWANT SINGH PANNUN, SIKH ACTIVIST: What we've got to do is to break the backbone of this India.
TODD: Today, he spoke to CNN.
PANNUN: I am aware that my life is in danger, they wanted to kill me.
TODD: According to U.S. prosecutors, the man charged in the latest case, Nikhil Gupta, agreed to pay an undercover officer who he believed to be a hitman $100,000 to target the victim, and did so at the direction of an Indian government official.
ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Brian, it's very sloppy, these things, and so risky, especially from a country who's got good diplomatic relations with the United States. This is such slapstick Hollywood. I can't believe it.
TODD: The suspect in this alleged plot was actually arrested back in June around the same time as another alleged Indian assassination plot against a Sikh activist, which succeeded.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar was gunned down near Vancouver, British Columbia, an attack which prompted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to point a finger at the Indian government.
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen.
TODD: Why would the government of nationalist Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi try to kill Sikh activists who are thousands of miles away? Analysts say while some Sikhs are pushing for an independent Sikh state in India, they're not considered a major threat to Modi's power. Still --
MICHAEL KUGELMAN, THE WILSON CENTER: The Indian governor led by Prime Minister Modi always wants to project strength, it wants to show they're willing and able to go after any type of potential threat to the Indian state.
TODD: "The Washington Post" reports that President Biden and his security team complained to Modi's government about the alleged plot in the U.S., and urged Modi to hold people accountable. But as for long-term consequences for Modi --
KUGELMAN: I would argue that the U.S. is willing to give some free passes to India, that it wouldn't necessarily give many if not most other countries because it views India as a critical partner to help the U.S. counter China.
TODD (on camera): The Indian government vehemently denied any involvement in the assassination in Canada regarding the alleged assassination plot here in the U.S., the Indian foreign ministry issued a statement saying that the Indian government takes the information seriously and is investigating, but the statement didn't confirm or deny the existence of a plot or any Indian government involvement in it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting, Brian, thank you very much.
Finally tonight, we want to update you on the status of one of the Israeli hostages. On Monday, some of you will remember I spoke with Yair Rotem just after his 13-year-old niece Hila was freed. But in what the IDF called a violation of the terms of the truce, she was released without her mother, who remained a hostage.
Here's a bit of my conversation with them. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YAIR ROTEM, UNCLE OF FREED HOSTAGE HILA ROTEM-SHOSHANI: She tells me everything in a really cold way. She tells me, mother is here and they came and they took us, and they didn't give us a lot of time to prepare, but I had time to give her a hug, and Raaya, my sister, her mother, was crying when the girls, the children left, and, yeah, that's how it ended. And Raaya is still there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We are so happy to report tonight that Hila's mother Raaya has now been released. She was released today and is now safely back in Israel.
We, of course, wish the entire family only the very, very best. Good news.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. You can always follow me on X, formerly known as Twitter. You can Instagram us @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitRoom.
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