WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden called the release of 24 hostages by Hamas on Friday “only a start” but said “so far it’s gone well.”
Biden predicted additional hostages would be freed in the coming days. No Americans were among the first group of what Biden expected would be more than 50 hostages released over a four-day pause in the fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Asked when Americans would be freed, Biden said “we expect it to occur” but did not know when. The president said U.S. officials also did not know the names or conditions of Americans or other hostages slated for release, only “the numbers.”
Those freed Friday included 13 Israeli women and children, 10 Thai citizens and one Filipino, according to Qatari officials. They were among more than 200 hostages that Hamas has held captive since its forces entered Israel on Oct. 7 to massacre and kidnap civilians.
The deal, negotiated over weeks by the United States, Qatar and Egypt, includes the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. On Friday, Israel released 39 prisoners.
But Biden indicated the current pause could open the door to a longer cease-fire.
“I think the chances are real,” Biden said in response to a question of whether he believed the pause in fighting might be extended for a few days. Biden spoke in Nantucket, an island off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he spent Thanksgiving with his family.
The president also speculated that Hamas attacked Israel because the militant group, which has avowed the destruction of Israel, feared that the United States was making headway in persuading Arab nations to recognize the Jewish state.
“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,” Biden said. “There’s overwhelming interest, and I think most Arab nations know it, in coordinating with one another to change the dynamic in their region for longer-term peace.”
More than 140 trucks carrying fuel, medicine and humanitarian aid had entered the Gaza Strip from Egypt on Friday, according to the U.N. humanitarian office. “Hundreds more trucks are getting in position as well, ready to enter Gaza over the coming days to support Palestinians who are suffering greatly because of this war that Hamas has unleashed,” Biden said.
The Israeli military occupies much of the northern half of the Gaza Strip, and some 1.7 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents have been forced to flee their homes.
Biden put the blame for that squarely on Hamas. “Hamas doesn’t give a damn about them,” he said.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.