Efforts to secure hostages held by Hamas have posed an “incredibly intense process,” with “absolutely no guarantee,” the Biden administration revealed Friday.
The Hamas terrorist group exercises strict control over Gaza, where it is holding hundreds of hostages kidnapped from Israel when it attacked the country on Oct. 7.
“We are going to do all we possibly can to make sure that all the hostages of all nationalities come out of Gaza,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters in a call, noting the process is “incredibly difficult, complex, [and] time consuming.”
The official said the exact number of hostages is unclear but is well over 100 and possibly over 200. Securing their release involves multiple approaches, including “indirect engagement to try to find a framework to get the hostages out of Gaza,” he said.
He said that the two American hostages who were released last month showed what is possible, but the large number of hostages Hamas is holding makes the situation “extremely difficult.”
“Any arrangement to get 200 hostages out of Gaza is going to require a fairly significant pause in hostilities and the framework [is] being discussed,” he said. “Should we get to that point that [framework] would obviously go into place … should that get into place, there’ll be a very significant pause in hostilities to make sure that that arrangement can actually be implemented.”
“In fact, when we got the two Americans out a couple of weeks ago, there was a limited pause, a kind of testing, pilot, to ensure that the hostages will be handed over to the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and then taken out of Gaza,” the official said, referring to the Oct. 20 release of a mother and daughter, who are dual citizens of the United States and Israel. “So that was something that had been worked out and it went quite well.”
But due to the difficulty with communicating with Hamas, the official said he “can’t put a timeframe” on getting the remaining hostages released. “We are hopeful and doing everything we possibly can to get hostages out, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that it’s going to happen, or when it’s going to happen.”
Hamas Tried to Send Wounded Terrorists Out of Gaza: White House
The White House shared on Wednesday that five Americans, who were not hostages, were able to leave Gaza.
The arrangement came after Hamas had finally agreed to allow American civilians to leave the enclave, along with wounded Palestinians and other foreign nationals.
President Joe Biden told reporters on Thursday that another “74 Americans folks, dual citizens” were able to evacuate Gaza.
Hamas had significantly delayed efforts to evacuate civilians from the Gaza Strip, the senior Biden administration official shared on Friday. The terrorist group “did not allow anyone to leave Gaza,” he said, noting that this affected some 6,000 foreign nationals and about 500 U.S. citizens, mostly dual nationals, inside Gaza.
During a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that approximately 400 U.S. citizens and their families were stuck in Gaza. Mr. Blinken estimated that this number increased to about 1,000, including families, who wanted to leave the territory.
Hamas later said they would allow U.S. and foreign nationals to leave, “subject to a number of wounded Palestinians of being allowed to leave as well,” the official told reporters Friday. However, when the list of wounded Palestinians was provided and vetted, about a third of them “were members of Hamas.”
This was “unacceptable” to the United States, to Israel, and to Egypt. The process of finding a mutually acceptable solution took time, and negotiations continued until the wounded Palestinians leaving Gaza did not include Hamas terrorists, the official said.
Qatar and Egypt “were critical” in the negotiations with the terrorist group, he added.
The official also noted that the Rafah border crossing, where foreigners were to exit Gaza and enter Egypt, has a history of security concerns from Egypt dating back to 2008. At the time, there was a breach of the Rafah crossing by Hamas, which led to an influx of people from Gaza into Egypt. As such, the official said, the United States had to work carefully with Egypt and the United Nations to ensure the safe passage of people through the crossing.
The Gaza border authority on Thursday released a list of foreign passport holders, totaling 600 individuals, who are allowed to leave Gaza via the Rafah crossing, according to multiple reports. The number includes 400 Americans, as well as people from 14 other countries.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Thursday he expects more American civilians will be able to leave Gaza “at a similar pace, if not better than what we’ve seen.”
From The Epoch Times