President Biden said Monday that he would be willing to engage in talks about a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas if the hostages taken by the militant group were released.
In response to a question by a reporter about whether the U.S. would support a potential cease-fire for a hostages deal, Biden replied: “We should have those hostages released, and then we can talk.”
Among the more than 200 hostages taken during the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas are a contingent of Americans that the U.S. has been attempting to free. Two of those Americans were released last week by Hamas in a deal brokered by Qatar. On Monday, right around the time Biden made his remark, two more hostages were released, The Associated Press reported, citing the International Committee of the Red Cross.
National security spokesperson John Kirby said Monday that a handful of Americans are still being detained as hostages, while more than 10 Americans remain unaccounted for.
The White House has been sidestepping questions on whether it was asking Israel to delay its expected ground invasion after reports suggested it was doing so in the hopes that more hostages would be released.
Biden’s comment came after he had finished remarks on new regional tech hubs and turned the event over to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, saying he had to go to the Situation Room for “another issue that I have to deal with.”
Biden also answered a question about a call he had with Pope Francis on Sunday, saying the two are on the same page about the latest developments in Israel and Gaza.
“He was very, very interested in what we were doing to deal with some of the crises we’re facing, particularly in Israel this time around. And I laid out to him what the game plan was, how we thought we should be providing the kind of assistance to Israel they needed,” Biden said. “And, the Pope was across-the-board supportive of what we’re doing.”
Israeli forces have been striking Gaza by air since Hamas launched attacks that killed more than 1,400 people in Israel, including hundreds of civilians in their homes, at a bus stop and at a music festival Oct. 7.
The Israeli bombardment of Gaza has so far killed more than 5,000 Palestinians and injured more than 14,000 others. Israel has also cut off food, water, electricity and medicine to the region, intensifying the humanitarian crisis in the area.