Biden says he ‘will not stop’ until US hostages in Gaza brought home

US president says more hostages are expected to be released over the weekend

Andrew Feinberg
Friday 24 November 2023 21:37 GMT
President Biden says he 'does not know' when US hostages will be released

President Joe Biden on Friday vowed not to cease diplomatic efforts until all of the American hostages held by Hamas are returned to their families after it became known that no US nationals were among the first group of captives to be released.

Speaking from Nantucket Island, where he spent the Thanksgiving holiday with his family, Mr Biden called the first hostage releases, in exchange for a four-day pause in fighting, “the start of a process.”

“We expect more hostages to be released tomorrow. And more than a day after more than a day after that. Over the next few days, we expect that dozens of hostages will be returned to their families,” said the president, who acknowledged that the first group of 24 did not include any of the American nationals who were taken by Hamas during the attacks.

“We also remember all those who are still being held and renew our commitment to work for their release,” he added. “We also will not stop until we get these hostages brought home and an answer to their whereabouts”.

The terms of the ceasefire were worked out over a period of intense diplomatic efforts by US, Qatari, Egyptian and Israeli officials as well as representatives of Hamas, which serves as the de facto government in Gaza but has long been considered a terrorist organisation by the US and most Western nations.

Under the terms of the agreement announced earlier this week, Israel will cease attacks in Gaza for four days to allow for much-needed humanitarian aid — including fuel to power electrical infrastructure in the isolated territory — to enter through the Rafah checkpoint along the Egypt-Gaza border.

Should Hamas release more hostages, the pause in fighting will be extended. And in exchange for hostages, Israel has pledged to release some Palestinian prisoners from facilities in the West Bank.

Mr Biden said the temporary ceasefire “brings a critical opportunity to deliver much needed food, medicine, water and fuel to the civilians in Gaza” and vowed that not “one single minute” would be wasted, adding that he has been “focused on accelerating the delivery of humanitarian assistance to Gaza in coordination with the United Nations and the Red Cross” since his trip to Israel last month.

The president also stressed that mechanisms have been established to prevent Hamas from diverting humanitarian aid for the group’s own purposes, and said that his Middle East envoy, David Satterfield, would be monitoring the situation and updating him on an hourly basis as to the status of the relief efforts.

Continuing, Mr Biden said there were “hundreds” of trucks ready to enter Gaza laden with needed supplies to “support the innocent Palestinians who are suffering greatly because of this war that Hamas has unleashed”.

He also hit out at the US-designated terrorist group, which he said “doesn’t give a damn” about the Palestinians living in Gaza, which Hamas has controlled since 2007.

The temporary cease-fire comes after marathon negotiations led by a “secret cell” of Biden administration officials, who continued exerting pressure on the Israeli government to come to a negotiated solution to the weeks-old conflict and allow for the release of hostages, even as Mr Biden publicly supported the Israeli military campaign against Hamas.

The president has faced increasing pressure from the leftward flanks of his Democratic Party, including activists and officeholders who have for weeks called for a ceasefire by Israel and for future US aid to the country to be conditioned on Israeli forces not targeting Palestinian civilians.

He said all parties must “look to the future” for a way 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-state solution with equal measure of freedom and dignity to states for two peoples,” he said, adding that to “continue down the path of terror and violence and killing” would “give Hamas what they seek”.

Asked about the calls from members of his party to condition future aid to Israel on efforts to avoid civilian casualties, Mr Biden said such conditions would be “a worthwhile thought”.

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