Biden administration calls for multiple 'pauses' in Israel-Hamas conflict

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(WASHINGTON) -- White House national security spokesperson John Kirby on Thursday said that Israel agreed to a temporary pause in the fighting in order for two American hostages to be safely freed last month and said the U.S. would be working to secure more pauses -- the first time the Biden administration has called for multiple pauses in an effort to allow aid in and help people leave Gaza.

"I mean, we're really not just talking about, like, one pause. What we're trying to do is explore the idea of as many pauses as might be necessary to continue to get aid [in], and to continue to work to get people out safely, including hostages," Kirby said.

The administration has resisted calling for a general cease-fire in the conflict.

"The president already worked on one such pause when we were able to get those two Americans out. And that's ... what we're kind of looking at," Kirby added. "And just to remind when we're talking about humanitarian pause, what we're talking about are temporary, localized pauses in the fighting to meet a certain goal or goals, as I said, get aid in, get people out."

Even while touting what he said was Israel's agreement to a temporary pause, Kirby appeared less than certain about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's support for multiple pauses, saying that the U.S. is "certainly hoping that that kind of cooperation will continue."

"Each instance of it, each effort to get a pause is going to be unique in its own way. And it's going to require negotiation and diplomacy. And the president, you heard him talking about this yesterday, is 100% committed to doing what it takes to pursue that kind of diplomacy," Kirby added.

Asked what the parameters of the pause to get the two Americans out were or how long it lasted, Kirby said he would not share.

"No, I won't go into the details of that, since we're going to be trying to see what we can do to get additional temporary pauses -- humanitarian pauses -- in place," Kirby told reporters.

Kirby said these pauses were critical for the safe passage of hostages.

"But in order to move hostages from where they were being held to safety, it does require a short pause in the fighting so that you can do it safely," Kirby added.

"I mean, why wouldn't you? I mean it would be -- it would be completely unsafe and irresponsible if you weren't trying to find some safe passage for hostages you got released while there's an area of combat going on," Kirby continued.

Kirby later argued the administration is specifically against a "general cease-fire," although the White House has tried to avoid using the word "cease-fire" since the war began.

"When we're talking about a general cease-fire, we're talking about a stoppage of fighting all across the front, if you will, all across the battlespace, where neither side is just everybody lays down your arms and it's a general cease-fire," Kirby explained. "Usually, when you're talking about a general cease-fire, it is about trying to find a cessation to the hostilities, to try to get to a truce, right, or to some sort of end -- end of the war. That's what we mean by a general cease-fire."

"We aren't advocating for a general cease-fire at this point," Kirby said. "As I said earlier, we believe that a general cease-fire would benefit Hamas in providing them breathing space and time to continue to plot and execute attacks on -- on the Israeli people."

"Humanitarian pause, when we talk about that, is temporary, localized and focused," Kirby continued. "Focused on a particular objective or objectives, humanitarian aid in, people out. And in a pause, again, each one would have to be negotiated separately and distinctly, but the general idea is that in that geographic space, for that limited time, there would be a cessation of hostilities, enough to allow whatever it is you're trying to allow."

So far, 74 Americans have left Gaza since the Rafah crossing into Egypt opened Wednesday, and more are expected to cross in the "coming days," according to President Joe Biden.

Biden said Wednesday night he believes there should be a "pause" in the Israel-Hamas conflict to get the hostages out after he was interrupted by a heckler at a campaign fundraiser, according to a report from the event.

"I think we need a pause," Biden told the heckler, who had interrupted a speech to call for a cease-fire in the conflict.

The heckler asked what Biden meant by his comment and the president replied, "A pause means give time to get the [hostages] out. Give time."

"I'm the guy that convinced Bibi to call for a cease-fire to let the [hostages] out. I'm the guy that talked to Sisi to convince him to open the door," Biden said of Netanyahu and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the latter remark seemingly a reference to the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza.

U.S. officials have reached out the roughly 400 American citizens and 600 of their immediate family members that have expressed a desire to leave Gaza, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Wednesday.

"We've asked them to continue to monitor their email regularly for the next 24 to 72 hours for specific instructions about how to exit. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is standing by to provide assistance to U.S. citizens as they enter Egypt," Miller said.

ABC News' Shannon Crawford contributed to this report.

Thursday, November 2, 2023 at 5:48PM by Fritz Farrow, ABC News Permalink