President Joe Biden welcomed the initial release of hostages held in Gaza, calling Friday’s release of 13 Israelis a positive start toward the goal in the coming days of securing at least 50 women and children hostages, including three Americans.
“It’s only a start, but so far, it’s gone well,” Biden told reporters in Nantucket Friday afternoon. He also noted the release of several Thai nationals who had also been kidnapped by Hamas.
The three American citizens who fall into the category of women and children, including now-4-year-old Abigail Edan, were not part of this first release, but Biden renewed his commitment to seek their return.
“We also will not stop until we get these hostages brought home and an answer to their whereabouts,” he said.
Biden said he expects to soon get the names of those among the second wave of hostages who will be released Saturday, saying he was “hopeful it’s as we anticipate.” He said he did not know when the three Americans would be released, but confirmed he still does “expect it to occur.”
“My hope and expectation is it’ll be soon,” he said of the possibility of the release of the three Americans.
Biden suggested it is possible that the pause in fighting could extend by additional days to bring more than the expected 50 hostages home, telling reporters, “I think the chances are real.”
But asked whether all of the 10 unaccounted-for Americans are alive, he said, “We don’t know all of their conditions.”
And he offered a bleak assessment of Hamas’ objectives when asked whether he trusts the Palestinian militant group.
“I don’t trust Hamas to do anything right. I only trust Hamas to respond to pressure,” he said, later adding that Hamas “does not give a damn” about innocent Palestinian civilians.
The president also speculated on the reasoning behind Hamas’ October 7 attack: “I believe one of the reasons why Hamas struck when they did is that they knew I was working very closely with the Saudis and others in the region to bring peace to the region by having recognition of Israel and Israel’s right to exist,” he said, adding that he will “continue to work” on those efforts.
Biden cast the initial hostage release as the product of extensive US diplomacy and numerous calls he held with world leaders in the region, including the emir of Qatar, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egypt President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. He thanked each for their “personal partnership” during the painstaking, weeks-long negotiations and noted he would remain in close touch with the leaders to ensure the deal stays on track. He said that he has been in constant contact with his team and will “remain engaged” over the course of the implementation process.
Biden also pointed to the humanitarian aid going to Gaza as part of this pause, saying those in the region are “not wasting one single minute” to bring in critical supplies like fuel, medicine, cooking gas and food. US special envoy David Satterfield is monitoring the progress on that front and Biden said he has asked Satterfield to keep him updated “minute by minute.”
Biden reiterated the need for a two-state solution in order to bring peace to the region in the long term.
“As we look to the future, we have to end this cycle of violence in the Middle East. We need to renew our resolve to pursue this two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can one day live side by side in a two states solution with equal measure of freedom and dignity, two states for two people and it’s more important now than ever. Hamas unleashed this terrorist attack because they fear nothing more than Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace,” he said.
Biden said that he and the first lady were keeping the hostages in their prayers as they begin a “long journey of healing,” expressing empathy for the trauma the group has experienced.