United States

Biden Urges Egypt, Qatar Leaders To Press Hamas To Come To Agreement For Israeli Hostages In Gaza

President Joe Biden has called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to redouble efforts to reach a cease-fire in the six-month-old Gaza war.

President Joe Biden speaks at the Washoe Democratic Party Office in Reno, Nev., March 19, 2024. Photo: AP

President Joe Biden on Friday wrote to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar, calling on them to press Hamas for a hostage deal with Israel, according to a senior administration official, one day after Biden called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to redouble efforts to reach a cease-fire in the six-month-old war in Gaza.

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private letters, said Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will meet Monday with family members of some of the estimated 100 hostages who are believed to still be in Gaza.

The letters to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Qatar's ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, come as Biden has deployed CIA Director Bill Burns to Cairo for talks this weekend about the hostage crisis.

White House officials say negotiating a pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas to facilitate the exchange of hostages held in Gaza for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel is the only way to put a temporary cease-fire into effect and boost the flow of badly humanitarian aid into the territory.

Biden, in his conversation with Netanyahu, “made clear that everything must be done to secure the release of hostages, including American citizens,” and discussed “the importance of fully empowering Israeli negotiators to reach a deal,” according to the official. The first phase of the proposed deal would secure the release of women and elderly, sick and wounded hostages.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said earlier Friday that Biden underscored the need to get a hostage deal done during the Thursday conversation with Netanyahu that largely focused on Israeli airstrikes that killed seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen.

“We are coming up on six months — six months that these people have been held hostage. And what we have to consider is just the abhorrent conditions" the hostages are being held in, Kirby said. “They need to be home with their families.”

Biden had expressed optimism for a temporary cease-fire and a hostage deal during the runup to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but an agreement never materialised.

The White House said in a statement Thursday following Biden's call with Netanyahu that the US president said reaching an “immediate cease-fire” in exchange for hostages was “essential” and urged Israel to reach such an accord “without delay”.

White House officials acknowledge that Biden has become increasingly frustrated with Israel's prosecution of a grinding war that has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians.

The war in Gaza began when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 people hostage.

The Israeli military campaign in Gaza, experts say, is among the deadliest and most destructive in recent history. Within two months, researchers say, the offensive already has wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria's Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, Ukraine's Mariupol or, proportionally, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II. It has killed more civilians than the US-led coalition did in its three-year campaign against the Islamic State group.