Families of Americans held hostage by Hamas praise Biden’s commitment to their release

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(WASHINGTON) — The families of people being held hostage by Hamas terrorists praised what they called their “terrific” meeting on Wednesday with President Joe Biden.

Jonathan Dekel-Chen, speaking on behalf of the family members of the eight Americans believed to be held hostage in Gaza, said, “We could have no better friend in Washington or in the White House than President Biden himself and his administration,” as he recounted their meeting at the White House.

The families said they left the meeting feeling the Biden administration was “completely committed” to securing the release of their loved ones.

“We’ve seen that the U.S. administration from the previous round of negotiations and hostage release, the U.S. administration is completely committed to getting the hostages out, the eight Americans who remain there and the other nearly 130,” Dekel-Chen said. “We have no doubt about that.”

Dekel-Chen added that the meeting with Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken “only reinforced that and that they are willing and ready to do all that they possibly can, by any number of means, to get the hostages home.”

While the families declined to get into the specifics of the conversation when asked about updates on their loved ones, they said that the administration has been in frequent and transparent communication with members of the families since Hamas terrorists took the hostages during the Oct. 7 attack.

Liz Naftali, the great aunt of Abigail, the Israeli American toddler released last month after her parents were reportedly killed in front of her by Hamas terrorists, said the families were appreciative of the work Biden and his administration have done.

“What I can tell you is that Abigail is a miracle. She is a light in this very dark time and metaphorically. … We are here because the president and his team have been bringing out light in this dark time,” Naftali said.

“We are thankful to the president and to his team because 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 in Israel,” Naftali said.

Biden has publicly expressed his commitment to repatriating the hostages, saying Monday at a White House Hanukkah celebration, “I’m not going to stop until we get every one of them home.”

Naftali also said the administration has demonstrated empathy towards the hostages.

“That is what the president and Secretary Blinken understand — is that they’re just not numbers and they’re just not faces. They are sons. They are sons. They are grandparents. They are mothers. And that is what the president and his team understand,” Naftali said.

Biden was “moved” by the U.S. hostages’ families’ stories during his meeting with them at the White House on Wednesday, White House spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday afternoon.

“I would only add that the president was very grateful for the time that they afforded him, and he was moved by their stories, by the love they feel, by the hope that they still harbor, and he harbors that hope too, but as [White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre] rightly noted, he’s acting on that,” Kirby said. “The other thing that he made sure to do was to promise them that we’re going to keep them informed every single step of the way. And we’ll do that.”

Asked by ABC News’ MaryAlice Parks whether Biden’s comment at a Tuesday fundraiser that Israel is “starting to lose that support [of other nations] by indiscriminate bombing that takes place” meant that the U.S. should put additional requirements on aid to Israel, Kirby responded, “Every bit of security assistance we give any other country always comes with the expectation that the law of armed conflict is going to be respected and obeyed.”

“As I said earlier, we’re not going to assess every single airstrike here from this particular podium, that wouldn’t be appropriate. The Israelis should speak to their operations, but we have every expectation, as I said to my previous answer there that they will act in accordance with the law of armed conflict. And do everything that they can to match their intent, which is to minimize civilian casualties,” he continued.

“But if they aren’t, then isn’t there an obligation for the U.S. to change the way that it’s delivering military aid?” Parks pressed.

When Kirby replied, “That’s a hypothetical that I’m not prepared to engage in right now,” Parks said, “It’s not hypothetical if he said ‘indiscriminate bombing."”

“That’s a hypothetical I’m not going to engage in,” Kirby reiterated. “We have expressed our concerns. The president has, publicly and privately, with the Israelis about the need to reduce civilian casualties, and we’re going to continue to do that.”

Asked by Parks about whether the Biden administration is concerned that hostages could be held in tunnels in Gaza that Israel is reportedly flooding, Kirby responded that it’s “not beyond possibility that Hamas could be holding at least some of them in tunnels as they move them around,” noting that “some of the hostages have come out and said that they were held in tunnels.”

“But if you’re asking about the flooding specifically, I’m not going to speak for Israeli military operations. They should speak to that. I would just say that we all need to be remember — we all need to remember the particular, extra difficulty that they have going after a group like Hamas, which isn’t just — which is a terrorist group, but it also has sort of a military structure to it, and they deliberately tunnel under civilian infrastructure to allow for the movement of their fighters and to — for storing equipment,” he added.

Dozens of the more than 240 hostages have been released as part of a cease-fire and prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas in the wake of Hamas’ surprise Oct. 7 terror attack. Of those, 135 still remain as hostages, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

While the White House and families of hostages have advocated for pauses in the fighting to allow for aid and hostages to move within particular regions of the conflict, Israel has been more reluctant to do so, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arguing that breaks in the fighting allow Hamas time to regroup. The U.S. has agreed that a broad cease-fire would benefit Hamas and instead called for localized and limited pauses.

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