Biden committed to freeing US hostages in Gaza, families say

Families of hostages held by Hamas meet with Biden
Image caption,Families of hostages held by Hamas meet with Biden for the first time in-person

By Chloe Kim

BBC News

The families of US hostages held by Hamas say they believe President Joe Biden is doing everything he can to secure the release of their loved ones.

The administration is “completely committed” to getting them home, one relative said after meeting Mr Biden.

There are believed to be eight Americans still held in Gaza.

The meeting came a day after Mr Biden said Israel is starting to lose global support over its “indiscriminate bombing” of the enclave.

This was the first in-person meeting family members of US hostages had with the president after a first virtual meeting in October.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer were also in attendance.

After the meeting, thirteen relatives held up photos of their loved ones as they spoke to the press outside the White House.

Jonathan Dekel-Chen, father of 35-year-old hostage Sagui Dekel-Chen, said they came away with the feeling that they “could have no better friend in Washington or in the White House than President Biden himself and his administration”.

The meeting came as Mr Biden faces scrutiny over his strongest criticism yet of Israel’s leadership, made on Tuesday during a fundraising event.

The president said that while Israel “has most of the world” supporting it, “they’re starting to lose that support by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place”.

He also said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must “change”, adding that “this government in Israel is making it very difficult”.

Mr Biden has offered unwavering public support to the country since Hamas launched its attacks on 7 October.

His remarks align with his administration’s recent approach to the war, with officials urging Israel to “put a premium on human life”.

On Wednesday, the White House said Mr Biden’s remarks “reflected the reality of global opinion”.

“Our support for Israel is not diminished,” White House security spokesman John Kirby said at a press conference.

“But we have had concerns and we have expressed those concerns about the prosecution of this military campaign, even while acknowledging that it’s Hamas that started this.”

Mr Kirby added: “It’s reflective of our constant efforts to urge the Israelis to be as precise and careful as possible”.

Hamas broke through Israel’s heavily guarded perimeter on 7 October, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages – some of whom were released during a brief truce

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says 18,600 people have been killed and 50,000 injured in the enclave since the start of the war.

Mr Kirby did not go into detail on what Mr Biden meant when he said Mr Netanyahu must “change”, saying: “It’s not for us to to dictate terms to a foreign sovereign government.”

On Tuesday, Mr Netanyahu said Israel had received the “full backing” of the US for its ground war as well as its goal of destroying Hamas and recovering hostages.

“Yes, there is disagreement about ‘the day after Hamas’ and I hope that we will reach [an] agreement here as well,” he said.

Meanwhile, families of some other Americans detained abroad stood outside the White House on Wednesday as the president hosted relatives of hostages in Gaza.

They said the administration has ignored repeated pleas for a meeting.

“We’re glad the president is meeting with the [families of] the Gaza hostages, but when he tells all of our families – or his staff tells all of our families – that we’re the highest priority, these actions clearly don’t point to that,” Harrison Li, whose father, Kai Li, has been detained in China since 2012, told CBS News, the BBC’s US partner.

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