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An ICRC staffer on carrying out the hostage exchange on the ground and aid for Gaza


A multi-day operation got underway yesterday, with vehicles traveling through the Rafah Border Crossing from Gaza to Egypt, carrying newly released hostages to celebratory shouts.


SIMON: Vehicles in that procession bear the emblem of the International Committee of the Red Cross. That's the agency at the heart of this activity during the pause in fighting. We're joined now by ICRC spokesperson Sarah Davies in Jerusalem. Thanks very much for being with us.

SARAH DAVIES: Thank you so much for having me.

SIMON: This is a very complicated operation. What can you tell us about - let's begin with the hostages released so far. Can you tell us where they are? What do they seem to be like?

DAVIES: So as you said, very complicated operation. Yesterday, we did begin the multi-day operation that will see the release and transfer of hostages, as well as the release of Palestinian detainees and the entry of really desperately needed aid into Gaza. I can speak, of course, about our operation yesterday. But as it is an ongoing operation, I'm sure you understand there are a lot of details...

SIMON: Yeah.

DAVIES: ...That I can't share at this time. Our teams have...

SIMON: So let me - you don't know anything about the state of the hostages now, physically or emotionally?

DAVIES: The ones that were released?


DAVIES: We did have - I have spoken to our teams. I can't speak to their conditions. I know that there was psychological, physical, mental, medical help for them on the crossing. But our teams, including a medical doctor, said that it was quite an obviously overwhelmingly emotional time.

SIMON: Yeah.

DAVIES: The most important thing for our teams was that they were in close proximity with those who were released - that they had the the human touch that we could provide. We don't know whether the hostages had been informed prior to their release of what was happening.


DAVIES: So what we wanted to do was make sure that they felt reassured - that we gave them the space and the empathy that they needed and just really let them know that they were safe, that we had them. They were with us, and we would be taking them to the border crossing and eventually to their families and home.

SIMON: Yeah. And how is the release proceeding of Palestinian detainees from Israel to the West Bank?

DAVIES: So yesterday, of course, we also did facilitate the release of Palestinian detainees. We know that the families of these detainees, in any - as in any case of a release, they were tense. They were anxious. They wanted to see how it unfolded. But we have successfully concluded that stage of the operation in the West Bank, as well, which is part of our ongoing work in detention.

SIMON: How - more hostages are to be released today, right?

DAVIES: It is a multi-day operation, yes.

SIMON: OK. What can you tell us about what happens on the ground? Who receives the hostages? How do you introduce yourselves? What happens?

DAVIES: So I'm sure you can imagine there are a lot of coordination aspects. There's a lot of sensitive issues. And there are also on-the-ground challenges. Our cars leave our office in Gaza. There were four vehicles yesterday, and there were eight staff members. And they go to a specific meeting point, but sometimes, getting there is not easy. It is a conflict zone. There is rubble. There is debris. Some roads are blocked. There are a lot of different challenges that can be faced. They meet at the meeting point, and they receive the hostages. They are taken out of one car. Our teams are there. They let them know who they are. They tell them their names, what will be happening, and then they escort them into our International Committee of the Red Cross vehicles. And once that aspect of the operation has concluded, they transport them. And in this case, that was to the Rafah Crossing.

SIMON: What can you tell us about humanitarian aid getting into Gaza?

DAVIES: We welcome the fact that this agreement that includes the release and transfer also includes aid entry into Gaza. We have trucks on standby with medical supplies. I have heard that United Nations and other organizations have also had trucks that entered. And this is really - I can't stress how desperately this is needed. We have an influx of patients in the hospitals that our surgical teams are at, and we simply don't have the supplies or the human resources to cope with that. So many hospitals have been unable to function. There are so many people who are internally displaced, and the weather is, unfortunately, dropping in temperature, which creates more challenges for so many civilians on the ground.

SIMON: Sarah Davies is a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross. Thank you very much for being with us, and good luck to you.

DAVIES: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.