US President Joe Biden
US President Joe BidenREUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday called for a “pause” in the fighting in the Gaza Strip in order to allow time to free hostages being held by Hamas, though he stopped short of calling for a full ceasefire.

Biden’s comments were made in response to a protester who heckled him during a political fundraiser in Minnesota and said, “I need you to call for a ceasefire right now.”

“I think we need a pause,” Biden replied, adding, “A pause means give time to get the prisoners out.”

It was initially unclear if Biden meant hostages when he said “prisoners”. The White House later clarified that Biden was indeed referring to the hostages held by Hamas after its October 7 attack on Israel.

Biden also took credit for getting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow time to “get the prisoners out” before launching a ground invasion, and for persuading Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to let foreigners and wounded Palestinian Arabs leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing.

“I understand the emotion,” Biden continued, adding, “This is incredibly complicated for the Israelis. It’s incredibly complicated for the Muslim world as well.”

Biden said he has supported a two-state solution but also defended Israel’s right to go after Hamas.

“The fact is the matter is that Hamas is a terrorist organization. A flat-out terrorist organization,” he stressed.

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.”