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Families of Americans taken hostage by Hamas meet with Biden

Updated December 13, 2023 - 11:23 am

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Wednesday held his first in-person meeting with families of some of the eight Americans still unaccounted for and presumed taken captive by Hamas terrorists during its deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel, reassuring the families that his administration was committed to reuniting them with their loved ones.

“We felt before and we’re only reinforced in seeing and believing that we could have no better friend in Washington or in the White House than President Biden himself and his administration,” said Jonathan Dekel-Chen, whose son Sagui is among the Americans believed to be held by Hamas.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and principal deputy national security adviser Jon Finer joined Biden for the meeting. Thirteen of the family members attended in person, while three others joined the conversation with the president and his advisers by phone, according to the White House.

The Democratic president has previously met with some family members virtually and spoken to others on the phone.

Dekel-Chen declined to offer information on what, if any, details Biden and other administration officials offered the group about U.S. efforts to win their loved ones’ release. He said, however, that the administration made clear that it “is completely committed to getting the hostages out.”

Biden’s meeting with the families came as his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, was to head to Israel on Thursday to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, members of his war cabinet, and Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

The eight Americans remain unaccounted for after Hamas’ surprise air, sea and land terrorist incursion into Israeli towns, where the group killed about 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, and took more than 240 people hostage.

The White House has said that at least 31 Americans were killed by Hamas and other terrorist groups on Oct. 7.

Liz Naftali, the great aunt of 4-year-old Abigail Edan, who was released late last month after spending weeks in Hamas captivity, took part in the White House meeting and said the families are hoping for a “Christmas miracle.”

The child, who was taken hostage after her parents were killed, was released during last month’s temporary cease-fire to facilitate the swapping of hostages for Palestinian prisoners.

The meeting came as Pope Francis on Wednesday renewed his call for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza and for the return of hostages taken by Hamas.

“As we come to the Christmas holiday, I hope that the pope continues to speak and others around the world not only pray, but pray for us, pray for our families, pray for our leaders, pray for the president,” Naftali said.

Four Americans were released as part of a U.S.-negotiated cease-fire in Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza that was brokered with the assistance of Qatar and Egypt.

One American woman was supposed to be released by Hamas under the terms of last month’s cease-fire, but she remains unaccounted for — a development that contributed to the end of the temporary pause in the fighting.

“We know that they are working 24 hours a day, and they are going to work through the holidays and they are going to do everything they can to make sure that all of our loved ones — real people — come home to us and to the families across the world and Israel,” Naftali said.

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