By Jeff Mason
NANTUCKET, Mass. (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden said on Friday that the chances were “real” of a truce between Israel and Hamas being extended and he expressed hope that U.S. citizens taken hostage by the Palestinian militant group would be freed soon.
Biden also praised U.S. diplomacy behind the truce and Friday’s release of 24 hostages who were taken by Hamas to Gaza in its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, saying it was the start of what he expected would be further releases in coming days.
“Beginning this morning, under a deal reached by extensive U.S. diplomacy, including numerous calls I’ve made from the Oval Office to leaders across the region, fighting in Gaza will halt for four days,” Biden told a press conference.
Asked whether the truce could be extended, Biden said: “I think the chances are real.”
Biden declined to speculate about how long the Israel-Hamas war would last. Asked by a reporter what his expectations were, Biden said Israel’s goal of eliminating Hamas was a legitimate but difficult mission.
“I don’t know how long it will take,” Biden told reporters.
“My expectation and hope is that as we move forward, the rest of the Arab world and the region is also putting pressure on all sides to slow this down, to bring this to an end as quickly as we can.”
Under the terms of the truce, 50 women and children hostages are to be released over four days, in return for 150 Palestinian women and children among thousands of detainees in Israeli jails. Israel says the truce could be extended if more hostages are released at a rate of 10 per day.
Both sides have promised a return to fighting.
Abu Ubaida, spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing, said in a video message that this was a “temporary truce” and called for an “escalation of the confrontation … on all resistance fronts”, including the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant spoke similarly, calling the pause “short” and saying that at its conclusion “the war (and) fighting will continue with great might.”
Israel has retaliated against Hamas for the Oct. 7 attack in which the government says Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seized about 240 hostages.
The Israeli military has bombarded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, killing about 14,000 Gazans, around 40% of them children, according to Palestinian health authorities.
The civilian death toll has generated international outcry and protests even in the United States, a staunch ally of Israel.
Biden spoke to reporters on Friday while vacationing with his family on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket.
As Biden and his wife, Jill, walked around Nantucket after his remarks, some in the gathered crowd loudly shouted: “Free Palestine!”
Biden said earlier that he had raised civilian casualties with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I’ve encouraged the prime minister to focus on trying to reduce the number of casualties while he is attempting to eliminate Hamas, which is a legitimate objective,” Biden told reporters.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh, Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Leslie Adler and Grant McCool)