(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden said the two-dozen hostages freed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip on Friday is “only a start,” with more hostages expected to be released soon — with hopes that some of the missing Americans are among them.
Early Friday, 24 hostages were freed by Hamas as part of a temporary truce with Israel after the militant group’s surprise terror attacks on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel’s retaliatory strikes in Gaza. More than 1,200 people were killed in Israel during the initial terror attack, according to Israeli officials. More than 14,000 people have been killed in retaliatory operations in Gaza since, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
“All of these hostages have been through a terrible ordeal, and this is the beginning of a long journey of healing for them,” he said in an address from Nantucket, Massachusetts, where he is celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday with his family. “Today has been a product of a lot of hard work and weeks of personal engagement.”
The Israeli government approved a deal Tuesday night that allowed for the release during a four-day pause in hostilities of at least 50 women and children held hostage. Among the hostages released Friday are women and children — some of whom are younger than 6 years old.
“The teddy bears waiting to greet those children at the hospital are a stark reminder of the trauma these children have been through at such a very young age,” Biden said.
Biden said two American women and 3-year-old Abigail Edan remain among those “missing.” A senior administration official had previously said that they are expected to be released in this group of 50 hostages released.
He said that Friday’s release is only the start of a process, and that more hostages are expected to be released in the coming days.
“We also will not stop until we get these hostages brought home and an answer to their whereabouts,” Biden said.
He said the U.S. does not know when the missing Americans will be among those that are released nor does he know their conditions at this time. But Biden said he expects them to be released and that it’s his “hope and expectation” that it “will be soon.”
The four-day cease-fire facilitated the hostages’ release. Biden said the “chances are real” for a truce to be extended further.
When fighting continues, Biden said he has “encouraged” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to focus on trying to reduce” the number of civilian casualties, while trying to “eliminate Hamas,” calling that a “legitimate objective.” The U.S. has designated Hamas a terrorist organization.
The Biden administration has faced increasing pressure, including from fellow Democrats to urge Israel to curb civilian casualties in Gaza as international organizations have highlighted the unfolding humanitarian crisis there.
And as he focuses on securing the release of hostages, Biden also highlighted efforts to increase humanitarian aid into Gaza to help civilians “who are suffering greatly because of this war that Hamas has unleashed.”
“Hamas doesn’t give a damn about them,” he said.
Biden emphasized the weeks of work that went into getting this deal done and personally thanked the Emir of Qatar, Egyptian president and Israeli prime minister. He said he’d continue to be in contact with them “to make sure this stays on track and every aspect of the deal is implemented.”
ABC News’ Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report.
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