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Family members of US hostages held by Hamas to attend State of the Union address

Biden faces mounting pressure over handling of Israel-Hamas conflict

Namita Singh
Thursday 07 March 2024 10:44 GMT
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Biden says Israel’s ‘conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top’

Family members of Americans held hostage by Hamas are expected to attend president Joe Biden’s State of the Union address this week as he faces mounting pressure over his handling of the conflict.

“It’s a living hell. A living hell from the moment you get up in the morning until you go to bed,”  Jonathan Dekel-Chen, father of American hostage Sagui Dekel-Chen, told NBC News. He is hopeful that his presence in the Capitol will remind Americans of the horrific situation of the hostages, as they continue efforts to secure their release.

“There really are no words to describe how difficult this is. I feel for my son; I am consumed for his wife and his three little girls who are waiting for him at home and have absolutely no idea what his condition is,” Mr Dekel-Chen told the outlet. He is attending the event as the guest of Democratic representative Josh Gottheimer. There are at least six remaining American hostages in Gaza.

Mr Biden’s State of the Union comes as the prospects of a ceasefire took a major hit on Thursday with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip continuing to hold an unspecified number of hostages, including both Israeli and American civilians.

Last week, families of hostages held in Gza and their supporters launched a four-day march from southern Israel to Jerusalem to demand their loved ones be set free.

According to the Israeli government, about 1,200 people have been killed, while around 240 people were kidnapped. Meanwhile, the civilian death toll from Israel’s assault and the resulting famine and other effects has passed 30,000.

Earlier on Sunday, vice president Kamala Harris called for an immediate ceasefire, as she condemned Israel for failing to allow humanitarian aid to citizens of the Gaza Strip.

“[G]iven the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate ceasefire – for at least the next six weeks, which is what is currently on the table,” said the vice president.

The remarks came after Israel’s military was widely criticised for opening fire as Palestinians swarmed an aid truck carrying flour. More than 100 Palestinians were killed in the incident, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane. And our common humanity compels us to act,” Ms Harris said.

“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses,” she added.

“They must open new border crossings. They must not impose any unnecessary restrictions on the delivery of aid. They must ensure humanitarian personnel, and convoys are not targeted. And they must work to restore basic services, and promote order in Gaza, so more food, water, and fuel can reach those in need,” Ms Harris said.

President Biden has been under immense pressure from his own party in recent days to pressure Israel to halt fighting in Gaza and allow the delivery of more humanitarian aid, as aid agencies warn that a famine is imminent. At least 15 children have died of malnutrition and dehydration in recent days, according to the Gaza health ministry.

This latest shift in the administration’s messaging comes after more than 100,000 voters in Michigan’s Democratic primary voted “uncommitted” after progressives including Rep Rashida Tlaib urged Michiganders to register protest votes against the administration’s handling of the war in Gaza.

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