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Business News/ Politics / Biden Says Israel Would Halt War During Ramadan if Hostages Released
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Biden Says Israel Would Halt War During Ramadan if Hostages Released

wsj

The president’s comments add pressure to negotiators who are racing to broker a cease-fire this week.

Israel launched a bombing campaign on Hamas’s stronghold in Gaza and then a ground invasion, with the nearly five-month-old war claiming the lives of more than 29,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials. . REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (REUTERS)Premium
Israel launched a bombing campaign on Hamas’s stronghold in Gaza and then a ground invasion, with the nearly five-month-old war claiming the lives of more than 29,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials. . REUTERS/Mohammed Salem (REUTERS)

President Biden said Israel has agreed to halt the war in Gaza during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan if Hamas releases hostages, adding pressure to negotiators who are racing to broker a cease-fire this week.

Israeli officials declined to comment on Biden’s remarks, made during an appearance Monday on NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers." Earlier on Monday, Biden said fighting in Gaza could stop as early as the coming weekend, the most detailed timeline to date from the White House on a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.

The U.S., Israel and Arab negotiators view the coming of Ramadan, which begins around March 9, as a key deadline to reach a deal for a weekslong pause in the conflict. The framework under discussion would allow for the release of some 40 hostages held by Hamas, more humanitarian aid to flow to starving Palestinians and the freeing of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

“The hostages being held must be released," Biden told Meyers. “There’s been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan, as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out."

Hamas took more than 200 hostages on Oct. 7 during a large-scale assault on Israel that included attacks on nearby farms and a dance festival, and the killings of hundreds of Israeli soldiers on military bases. Israeli authorities said 1,200 were killed, most of them civilians.

In response, Israel launched a bombing campaign on Hamas’s stronghold in Gaza and then a ground invasion, with the nearly five-month-old war claiming the lives of more than 29,000 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health officials. The figure doesn’t distinguish between militants and civilians.

Talks brokered by the U.S., Qatar and Egypt this year have been halting, with some mediators skeptical that the gaps between Israel and Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, could be closed in time for Ramadan. Israeli officials have said they would attack the last Hamas stronghold in the border city of Rafah if a deal isn’t reached by the beginning of Ramadan.

Biden told Meyers that “there is a path forward, with difficulty."

Earlier on Monday in New York City, the president responded to a question from a reporter about the negotiations and when a pause might begin. “I hope by the end of the weekend," Biden said.

The president added that his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told him, “We’re close."

A crucial meeting in Paris last week helped revive stalled negotiations. The mediators’ main challenge is to produce an agreement convincing Hamas that a permanent cease-fire would eventually be possible at the end of a humanitarian pause, while allowing Israel to avoid any such commitment, negotiators have said.

Any eventual deal may need Biden to step in himself, as he did last November to seal a weeklong cease-fire that freed more than 100 hostages with calls to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.

The latest meeting came after Israeli officials said there was a chance of progress in the talks. Hamas also had indicated to Egyptian officials it could be flexible in its demands for the release of more Palestinian prisoners in return for hostages.

Write to Michael Amon at michael.amon@wsj.com and Summer Said at summer.said@wsj.com

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