US families of hostages in Gaza get update from White House on efforts to secure their release

This comes as the U.S. urges Hamas to accept a deal on the table for a hostage release and cease-fire.
U.S. families of hostages get update
Posted at 12:48 PM, Jun 05, 2024

Families of Americans held in Gaza met with White House officials for the ninth time Tuesday, as the U.S. urges Hamas to accept a deal on the table for a hostage release and cease-fire.

This comes as U.S. officials head back to the region to continue talks.

The administration was still waiting for a formal response from Hamas as of Tuesday evening. The proposal transmitted last week would allow for the release of women, elderly and wounded hostages, and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from populated centers in a first phase, and pave the way for a cessation of fighting in a second phase.

The families were updated on the status of the talks in the more than hourlong meeting with National Security adviser Jake Sullivan, according to a source familiar with the meeting. The families expressed that they “remain encouraged by the international community’s continued pressure to reach a deal that brings everyone home — both the living and the murdered,” according to a readout provided on behalf of the families.

“I think it's a fair deal. I think each side can claim that he achieved what he was looking for and that we need to look at this in a larger perspective and look at the future and look at the future of our children. Not just the children of Israel, but the children in Gaza and the West Bank and think we as leaders, the leaders of those communities, what do we do to get to a better future?” said father Ruby Chen.

Chen’s son Itay was thought to be among the living hostages taken by Hamas. It was later learned Itay was killed by Hamas on Oct. 7, with the group still holding his body.

Itay, a soldier with dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship, was serving on the border on Oct. 7. His family previously said the 19-year-old moved to Tel Aviv after school, working to protect agricultural villages. His family said they heard from him that the base was under attack, then lost contact, before being told days later he was abducted.

“He joined and is part of 45 U.S. citizens that were killed on Oct. 7, which is the largest terrorist attack on U.S. citizens since 9/11,” Chen said.

Chen said he and his family are stuck in limbo, unable to undergo the Jewish mourning period.

“We are kind of like stuck in limbo, where that evolution that helps us go through the process is much different. And when talking to the president of the United States, the vice president, the secretary of state, I asked them, 'Do you know what a Shiva is?' And all of them concurred. And I explained to them that we as a family are not able to go and have a mourning period because Itay is not back,” Chen said.

President Biden outlined the Israeli proposal in a rare move last week. He said he felt it was important to publicly detail it given how long hostages have been held, past rejections by Hamas, and to show the seriousness with which Israel has taken it, according to National Security communications adviser John Kirby.

In the days since the proposal was transmitted to Hamas through Qatar, there has been greater international pressure for Hamas to accept the deal, as the Biden administration has undertaken a significant diplomatic effort to push it.

People speak during a Security Council meeting about the war in Gaza at United Nations headquarters

Israel at War

US urges UN Security Council to support Biden's cease-fire plan in Gaza

AP via Scripps News
6:19 AM, Jun 04, 2024

Officials, including President Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Sullivan, have had a flurry of phone calls with leaders of Middle Eastern and Arab nations to underscore the proposal. Meanwhile, G7 nations issued a joint statement urging the deal's acceptance. Blinken met with the U.N. secretary general. And the U.S. is also urging U.N. support of the plan, circulating a draft resolution among the U.N. Security Council.

“In all of these conversations, he has continued to echo the broad international view that Hamas must accept this deal, that we must finalize this cease-fire agreement and begin to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people,” State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said of Blinken’s engagements.

However, Israel has maintained a focus on its war aims as it has faced international pressure for a cease-fire.

“We have gone a long way to return them while adhering to the objectives of the war — first and foremost, the elimination of Hamas. We are insistent that we will achieve both. This is part of the outline, not something that I have just added. It is not something that I have added because of coalition pressure. This is something that we agreed on in the war cabinet unanimously,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

While President Biden said in an interview with Time there was “every reason for people to draw that conclusion” when asked if Netanyahu was prolonging war for political self-preservation, President Biden later — when asked if Netanyahu was playing politics with war — told reporters “I don’t think so; he’s trying to work out a serious problem he has.”

Tuesday, a senior Hamas official claimed it wouldn’t accept a deal without a permanent cease-fire and complete withdrawal from Israel. However, the rhetoric was not unexpected by the Biden administration.

After the comments, the administration underscored it would consider a formal response as one transmitted through Qatar, according to Sullivan, who noted they are in at times hourly contact with the Qataris and have yet to receive that.

“The onus is on Hamas and will remain on Hamas until we get a formal response from them,” Sullivan said.

A spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry said they were “waiting for a clear Israeli position that represents the entire Israeli government” while the Biden administration maintained clarity of it.

White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa Brett McGurk is heading back to the region for talks on hostages and Rafah, according to a source familiar with the plans.

Central Intelligence Agency director Bill Burns is expected to be consulting with Qatari leaders in Doha, who have had discussions with Hamas.

“Bill Burns will be quite interested in hearing firsthand in person what the nature of those discussions was and where they go from here,” Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, Chen said families will continue to advocate for a deal and support the U.S. and international pressure. That pressure is something the families of hostages initially called for and are encouraged by as they continue to meet with the administration and lawmakers.

“They also shared with us each time that you come, this gives us more energy. There's more things to do. There’s legislation that can happen around economic sanctions, for example, more pressure that can be put on Hamas to get to a deal and have the people of the world understand that terrorism is not a good business,” said Chen, who is also urging more focus on a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in 2019 that urges the return of the remains of those reported missing in conflict.

Chen notes the impact Itay continues to make. President Biden was among those who called after news of Itay’s death.

“Itay in his death has been able to make an impact on many, many people. And on the day that we received the notice from intelligence that actually he was killed on Oct. 7, the amount of people that called us and knew about Itay and were able to tell his story and see what type of impact he made, is something that we need to take as something that gives us some comfort,” Chen said.