Biden says he is ‘mildly hopeful’ for Gaza hostages and calls again for two-state solution

Biden backs Israel’s hospital raids amid protests and international criticism

Shweta Sharma
Thursday 16 November 2023 05:04 GMT
Biden says he is 'mildly hopeful' for Gaza hostages as he calls again for two-state solution

Joe Biden said he was “mildly hopeful” about the release of hostages held by Hamas as he defended Israel’s raid at Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital in the face of intense international criticism.

The American president said he discussed with Israelis their need to “be incredibly careful” as they worked to clear the hospital.

“I have been deeply involved in the movement of the hostage negotiations and I don’t want to get ahead of myself here because I don’t know what’s happened in the last four hours, but we have gotten great cooperation from the Qataris,” he said.

“I am mildly hopeful, I’m mildly hopeful,” he added.

Mr Biden was addressing a news conference on Wednesday following his meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative (Apec) conference in California.

Israel’s more than a month-long war in Gaza overshadowed the press briefing with most questions directed towards concern on the humanitarian situation in Gaza with Palestinian deaths crossing the 11,000 mark.

Mr Biden said the US had “great cooperation” from Qatar in trying to secure a deal with the Palestinian militant group for release of about 240 hostages but stopped short of going into the details of the negotiations.

It comes as Israeli forces raided Gaza’s largest hospital in what they said was a "targeted" operation against Hamas amid growing anger among pro-Palestinian groups over a military assault that has kept 2.3 million people under siege as aerial bombardment of the enclave continued.

In another pro-Palestinian call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, police in Washington used force to arrest and break a protest near the Capitol Hill neighbourhood.

US Capitol police said about 150 people were "illegally and violently protesting" near the DNC headquarters building and they used pepper spray before making arrests.

Members of U.S. Capitol Police try to push protesters away from the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee
Members of U.S. Capitol Police try to push protesters away from the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (Getty Images)

Similar scenes of agitation have become increasingly common in American cities, including New York, as college students and other groups escalated pressure campaigns on Mr Biden to force him to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza as the death toll escalated.

Human rights organisations have called for an urgent ceasefire, with a United Nations report finding that 70 per cent of those killed in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza were women and children – despite claims by the IDF that the airstrikes were targeting Hamas militants. The Gaza death toll crossed 11,000, which include over 4,000 children, according to the Hamas-run Gazan health ministry.

For the part of the question that asked if he was “comfortable with the Israeli operation going on indefinitely” Mr Biden said: “I think it’s going to stop when Hamas no longer maintains the capacity to murder.”

He told reporters “I am doing everything in my power to” free hostages held by Hamas militants, but that did not mean sending in the US military.

White-shrouded body bags representing victims in the Israel-Hamas conflict, are seen during a vigil in front of the White House in Washington, DC,
White-shrouded body bags representing victims in the Israel-Hamas conflict, are seen during a vigil in front of the White House in Washington, DC, (AFP via Getty Images)

Mr Biden reiterated that he has “made it clear” to the Israelis, including prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the war cabinet, that the only answer to the conflict was a two-state solution.

But said that “...we have to get to the point of being able to talk without worrying that Hamas is going to take part in the activities they did on October 7”.

He appeared to defend IDF’s actions in the hospital as he said he was absolutely confident sharing Israel’s assessment that Hamas maintains a significant military presence intermixed with civilian infrastructure.

“Israel is taking a risk of its people being killed going one on one through these hospital halls. It has been established that Hamas has headquarters and weapons below this hospital and in others,” he said.

The White House had said before Israel’s operation started it had its own intelligence that Hamas was using the hospitals to run its military operations. However, National Security Spokesperson John Kirby said the US does “not support striking a hospital from the air”.

“We do not want to see a firefight in a hospital where innocent people, helpless people, sick people are simply trying to get the medical care they deserve,” he added.

In a press statement on Tuesday night, Hamas rejected US administration claims about al-Shifa. “We reiterate our call for the United Nations to establish an international committee to inspect all hospitals in Gaza and expose the falsehoods in the occupation’s narrative, a narrative endorsed by its ally, Washington,” Hamas said.

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