WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Wednesday that Israel and Hamas militants ought to “pause” fighting in order to allow time to free hostages held in the Gaza Strip, but stopped short of supporting a full ceasefire.
Biden made the comments while replying to a protester during a political fundraiser in Minneapolis. The president had traveled to Minnesota to garner support for his economic policies and raise money for his reelection.
Progressive groups, as well as Muslim and Arab Americans, have criticized Biden over his support for Israel’s campaign against Hamas that has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths in Gaza.
The protester interrupted Biden, saying “I need you to call for a ceasefire right now.”
The president said, “I think we need a pause,” adding: “A pause means give time to get the prisoners out.”
Biden took credit for getting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow time to “get the prisoners out” before launching a ground invasion, and for persuading Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to let foreigners and wounded Palestinians leave Gaza through his country.
Egypt earlier Wednesday opened its Rafah crossing with Gaza, allowing an initial group of people — including some Americans — to flee the fighting.
The president faced demonstrations earlier Wednesday in Minnesota over his support for Israel’s military offensive in response to the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre. The protester at the fundraiser identified themselves as a rabbi named Jessica Rosenberg.
“I understand the emotion,” Biden said. “This is incredibly complicated for the Israelis. It’s incredibly complicated for the Muslim world as well.”
At the Minneapolis fundraiser, Biden said he has supported a two-state solution that would result in the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. But he also defended Israel’s right to go after Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union, after militants killed roughly 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, and took around 240 people hostage.
“The fact of the matter is that Hamas is a terrorist organization. A flat-out terrorist organization,” the president added.
At an event earlier Wednesday, Biden said he was encouraged that the pace of aid flowing into Gaza had increased. He also called on Israel to conduct military operations “in a manner that is consistent with international humanitarian law, that prioritizes protection of citizens.”