“Today, thanks to American leadership, we secured safe passage for wounded Palestinians and for foreign nationals to exit Gaza,” the president said. “We expect American citizens to exit today, and we expect to see more depart over the coming days. We won’t let up working to get Americans out of Gaza.”
The president faced increasing pressure from both his right and his left to get trapped Americans and hostages out of the territory, though the two sides had different ideas about how to do it.
The State Department estimates there are 400 American citizens in Gaza and, including their families, roughly 1,000 people who want to leave. The department is also working to release up to 10 Americans who are unaccounted for, an unknown number of whom are being held hostage by Hamas.
“State Department personnel are in contact with their families,” an unnamed department spokesperson said in a statement to the Washington Examiner. “The U.S. government is working around the clock to determine their whereabouts and is working with the Israeli government on every aspect of the hostage crisis, including sharing intelligence and deploying experts from across the U.S. government to advise the Israeli government on hostage recovery efforts.”
The department has not released names or any other information about the hostages.
Thirty-three Americans have been killed in the Hamas attacks.
Critics on the Right have accused the Biden administration of not putting enough emphasis on freeing the hostages and criticized the press for not paying enough attention to them.
“In any other era, [the hostages] would have guaranteed wall-to-wall coverage in the press and regular updates from the president,” Charles C.W. Cooke wrote in National Review. “In different circumstances, we’d see the hostages’ photographs in the daily newspapers; we’d see ticking chyrons on cable news: ‘Hamas Hostage Crisis: 27 days and counting.'”
Another writer, Daniel L. Davis, opined in the National Interest that “if the president made it a priority to free our citizens, they would be out within twenty-four hours.”
While it won’t happen that fast, the administration is now promising progress on the matter.
National Security Council coordinator John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday that “a handful of Americans” are expected to leave Gaza on Wednesday and “we expect” more to leave in the coming days.
There has been pressure from the left to address Americans trapped in Gaza as well, but rather than flexing American diplomatic power, those calls have largely focused on calling a ceasefire or humanitarian pause to the fighting. Some far-left members of Congress and pro-Palestinian protests have stressed the idea of ending Israeli actions in Gaza.
“Why do you keep saying that a ceasefire would only benefit Hamas?” a reporter asked Kirby aboard Air Force One. “Why not stop the killing?”
Kirby responded by saying the administration may support a “temporary pause” to get people out, though he stressed that doing so would be complicated. Biden has said he will not support a ceasefire until Hamas releases all hostages.
It doesn’t appear that Hamas itself is ready to end the conflict. A Hamas official said on Lebanese television that the group wants to repeat its Oct. 7 terrorist attacks that left roughly 1,400 people dead.
“Israel is a country that has no place on our land,” Ghazi Hamad, a member of the Hamas political bureau, said. “We must remove that country because it constitutes a security, military, and political catastrophe to the Arab and Islamic nation, and must be finished.”
U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Hamas of preventing people from leaving Gaza. But they suggested that more Americans will be able to get out soon.
“American citizens are able to exit today as part of the first group of probably over 1,000,” Biden said Wednesday afternoon in Minnesota. “I personally spent a lot of time speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and President Sisi of Egypt and others to make sure that we could open this access for people to get out.”