President Biden called the release of 24 hostages by Hamas on Friday “only a start, but so far it’s gone well.”
Speaking after Hamas freed hostages in Gaza and Israel released 39 Palestinian prisoners and detainees — the first exchange under their four-day truce — Mr. Biden predicted that more hostages would be released.
No Americans were among the first group of hostages freed, but Mr. Biden said his “hope and expectation” was that they would be released soon.
Mr. Biden, speaking from Nantucket, Mass., where he spent Thanksgiving with his family, said “the chances are real” that the pause could open the door to a longer cease-fire. He remains in contact with the leaders of Qatar, Egypt and Israel “to make sure this stays on track and every aspect of the deal is implemented.” Israel had already agreed to extend the truce if Hamas released at least 10 additional hostages per day.
Asked if he trusts Hamas to uphold its end of the deal, Mr. Biden said, “I don’t trust Hamas to do anything right. I only trust Hamas to respond to pressure.”
Marc Polymeropoulos, a former C.I.A. operations officer who has spent extensive time in the Middle East, said he believed Mr. Biden would face tremendous pressure from Democrats, Arab leaders and others in the international community to press for a permanent cease-fire.
“I think he’ll give Israel some runway, but pressure on him is growing,” Mr. Polymeropoulos said. The looming question after the four-day pause, he said, is “What happens on Day 5?”
The Israeli army has a mission to destroy Hamas, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said is not yet over. By some estimates, just over 2,000 Hamas fighters have been killed out of 40,000.
“So, the fight is far from over if the objective remains the elimination of Hamas,” said Mick Mulroy, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East.
Those freed on 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 cease-fire deal, negotiated over weeks by the United States, Qatar and Egypt, included the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Mr. Biden said that U.S. officials did not know the names or conditions of Americans or other hostages slated for release.
On Friday evening Mr. Biden attended a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in downtown Nantucket. A handful of protesters holding “Free Palestine” shouted repeatedly, “Biden, Biden, you can’t hide. We charge you with genocide,” until a man went to a microphone asking them to stop and to remind them, “this is a community tree lighting.”
More than 140 trucks carrying fuel, medicine and humanitarian aid had entered Gaza 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,” Mr. Biden said.
The Israeli military now 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.
Mr. Biden put the blame for that squarely on Hamas. “Hamas doesn’t give a damn about them,” he said.
Julian Barnes contributed reporting.