Hamas still has nine American hostages, the White House confirmed on Monday, a day after a four-year-old girl became the first American hostage taken during the Oct. 7 attack in Israel to be released.
Abigail Edan was reunited with her extended family on Sunday, one of 17 hostages released that day. Abigail’s mother and father were shot dead in front of her in their home on Kibbutz Kfar Azza during Hamas’ massacre.
President Biden wants the remaining Americans to be included in a new round of hostage releases expected over the next few days, John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, said on Monday, soon after Israel and Hamas agreed to extend a ceasefire for two more days. Israel originally agreed to pause the bombardment of Gaza for four days and release 150 Palestinian prisoners held in the West Bank in exchange for 50 hostages being returned home from Gaza.
Biden spent the weekend making calls on the negotiations around the ceasefire from Nantucket island off the coast of Massachusetts, where he spent the Thanksgiving holiday at the waterfront house of investor David Rubenstein.
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On Saturday, Biden spoke with Qatar’s Emir Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at a “very critical moment” to “help resolve an impasse,” involving which hostages would be released, Kirby said. On Sunday, Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to try to find terms under which Israel would agree to extend the four-day pause in fighting by another two days.
The initial pause in fighting allowed the largest single convoy carrying humanitarian assistance to enter Gaza since the Oct. 7 attacks, Kirby said. Two hundred trucks were sent to the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt on Sunday and 137 trucks of supplies were unloaded by the United Nations in Gaza. In recent weeks, the US government has assisted more than 840 American citizens and their families leave Gaza and enter Egypt, Kirby said.
As the Israeli military has waged a campaign to kill Hamas’s military leaders and destroy the group’s extensive tunnel network built under Gaza, more than 15,000 people in Gaza have been killed, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Biden has faced heavy criticism from some Democrats for not doing more to pressure Israel to do more to avoid civilian casualties.
Kirby suggested on Monday that Biden’s handling of the situation thus far had played a key role in the fragile progress toward peace made in recent days. “The president understands that there’s strong feelings on multiple sides,” Kirby said. “He also believes right down to his core, that the approach we’ve been taking has been getting results.”
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