WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Monday he believes a deal to free over 200 hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza is “close”.
Biden made the remarks during the annual White House Thanksgiving tradition of pardoning two turkeys on the South Lawn after he was asked if an agreement was close.
“I believe so, but I’m not prepared to talk to –” Biden said before he was cut off by the reporter, who pressed him: “You believe so?”
“Yes,” Biden replied before he crossed his fingers.
The Biden administration has said that 10 Americans who are unaccounted for are believed to be among the hostages.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said during Monday’s press briefing that he believes it’s “closer than we’ve ever been,” but said there are no updates to publicly discuss.
“I want to be careful here, I don’t want to negotiate in public, but if you’re going to secure the release of hostages, and we certainly hope we’re going to be able to do that soon, you’ve got to make sure they can get from where they are to safety and do that as safely as possible, which means you’re gonna have to have at least a temporary localized stop in the fighting to allow them to move,” he told reporters.
Kirby said the administration is working “hour by hour” to get a deal done but cautioned nothing is set in stone until it’s “all done.”
Hamas took over 230 hostages, including Americans, during its October 7 attack on Israel, according to Israeli officials. Over 1,200 people were killed in Israel in the initial attacks and several thousands have been killed in retaliatory operations in Gaza since, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
The war has prompted pro-Palestine protesters to refer to Biden as “Genocide Joe.” At first, Kirby said it was within the First Amendment right to air out their free speech.
“We’re not worried about nicknames and bumper stickers,” he said. “I mean, it’s First Amendment free speech.”
“Yes, there are too many civilian casualties in Gaza. Yes, the numbers are too high,” he added. “Yes, too many families are grieving. And yes, we continue to urge the Israelis to be as careful and cautious as possible. That’s not going to stop, from the president right on down. But Israel is not trying to wipe the Palestinian people off the map.”