American families of hostages in Gaza say they don't have time for 'progress' in cease-fire talks

The American families of hostages held in Gaza say they don’t have time for “progress” on a cease-fire deal

Via AP news wire
Friday 05 April 2024 23:22 BST

The families of four American hostages and others killed in the Israel-Hamas war said Friday that any cease-fire deal must bring their loved ones home from Gaza after half a year in captivity.

“By now, they are all in dire humanitarian condition,” said Orna Neutra, mother of hostage Omer Neutra. “A cease-fire with a partial deal, or with no deal, could be a death sentence for our son.”

Clutching photos of their relatives, the family members held a news conference in Manhattan to renew calls to free the hostages, and to mark the grim milestone of six months of separation. They were joined by New York U.S. Reps. Mike Lawler, a Republican, and Dan Goldman, a Democrat.

The families thanked the Biden administration for its efforts to negotiate a deal and keep them informed — but urged the president to get results.

“We are tired of hearing about progress towards a deal,” said Orna Neutra. “We don’t have time for progress.”

Her son is a U.S.-Israel dual citizen who was serving in the Israeli military on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel, killing over 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostages.

Around half of the hostages were released in a November cease-fire. Hamas is believed to be holding roughly 100 hostages, as well as the remains of about 30 people who were killed on Oct. 7 or died in captivity.

Israel's war in Gaza has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials.

Six surviving hostages are American, the State Department said in January. Efforts by the United States, Qatar and Egypt to broker a cease-fire appear stalled. In the meantime, the deceased hostages' remains are being held by Hamas as bargaining chips.

Ruby Chen, whose 19-year-old son Itay Chen was killed on Oct. 7 while serving military duty, said the family is still unable to begin the traditional Jewish mourning ritual of shiva, which starts the grieving process.

“We will not sit a shiva until Itai is returned back to us,” he said. “That is our demand.”

Some family members also expressed condolences for the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza and the dire humanitarian situation.

“The devastation in Gaza is so tremendous, yes. The starvation, the destruction, the illness, the death,” said Gillian Kaye, stepmother of American hostage Sagui Dekel-Chen. “How could people of conscience not feel that something has to happen? There needs to be a cease-fire.”

Hamas has previously proposed a phased release of all the remaining hostages in exchange for Israel ending the war and releasing Palestinian prisoners, including top militants. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called those demands delusional and said even after any hostage release, Israel will keep fighting until Hamas is destroyed, in what he calls “ total victory.”

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