Biden and 17 other world leaders call for ‘immediate release’ of hostages held by Hamas

‘There is a deal on the table that would bring a ceasefire immediately to Gaza... and Hamas has rejected that,’ said a White House official, referring to a pending negotiation currently ongoing in Qatar

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Thursday 25 April 2024 19:20 BST
President Biden and 17 other leaders are calling on Hamas to accept a deal to release hostages in exchange for a ceasefire
President Biden and 17 other leaders are calling on Hamas to accept a deal to release hostages in exchange for a ceasefire (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

President Joe Biden and a group of 17 other heads of state and government whose citizens are being held hostage by Hamas are calling for the hostages’ “immediate release” and urging the militant group to accept a deal that has been pending for some time now in a joint statement released on Thursday.

The statement — which was released simultaneously by the governments of Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania Serbia, Spain, Thailand and the UK — states that the “fate of the hostages and the civilian population in Gaza who are protected under international law is of international concern”.

“We emphasize that the deal on the table to release the hostages would bring an immediate and prolonged ceasefire in Gaza, that would facilitate a surge of additional necessary humanitarian assistance to be delivered throughout Gaza, and lead to the credible end of hostilities,” it reads.

The leaders’ statement also stresses that Gaza residents “would be able to return to their homes and their lands with preparations beforehand to ensure shelter and humanitarian provisions”.

The statement asked that Hamas “let us end this crisis so that collectively we can focus our efforts on bringing peace and stability to the region”.

A senior Biden administration official who briefed reporters on the announcement called the “collection of leaders” who have collaborated on the joint statement “quite extraordinary” and said that the reason the leaders were able to agree unanimously on the wording of the statement was “largely because of the current situation with the hostages”.

The leaders’ joint statement comes a day after Hamas released a proof-of-life video showing one of the hostages, Israeli-American Hersh Goldberg-Polin, after more than 200 days in captivity.

In the undated video, which appeared to have been made under duress, Mr Goldberg-Polin accused Israel’s government of abandoning the people who are being held hostage by Hamas and claimed that some 70 captives have been killed in Israel’s bombing campaign.

The 23-year-old Israeli-American was taken hostage at the Tribe of Nova music festival after Hamas launched its attack from nearby Gaza on 7 October. The video shows Mr Goldberg-Polin missing part of his left arm. Witnesses have said he lost it when attackers tossed grenades into a shelter where people had taken refuge. According to those witnesses, Mr Goldberg-Polin tied a tourniquet around his own wound before being bundled into the truck by Hamas militants.

On Wednesday, Mr Biden met with Abigail Edan, a four-year-old Israeli-American who was also taken hostage during the October attacks. She was released as part of an earlier temporary ceasefire deal negotiated in part by the US.

The official described the Oval Office meeting between the president, the four-year-old and her family as having lasted over an hour, during which Mr Biden allowed Abigail to play beneath the iconic desk made from timbers of HMS Resolute and crawl through the same door in the desk made famous in a photograph of John F Kennedy Jr, the son of then-president John F Kennedy.

The White House official placed the blame for the continued hostilities in Gaza squarely on Hamas’ rejection of the pending hostage deal, and in particular on Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar.

“It’s really down to one guy to accept the deal ... Now if there are adjustments here and there that need to be made, of course we’re very much open to that and we would support that because we want to bring these people home,” the official said.

“There is a deal on the table that would bring a ceasefire immediately to Gaza, simply with the release of women, wounded, elderly and sick hostages, that is ready to go. And we have worked it out in meticulous detail, and Hamas has rejected that. And because of that, we still have fighting ongoing in Gaza,” he continued.

“As awful as this crisis is in so many different dimensions, there’s a core fundamental truth to it that Hamas is holding hostages, releasing videos of the hostages and refusing to let the hostages go back to their families, and if they would do that, this crisis will wind down. It’s just a very clear path.”

Despite US pleas not to do so, Israel has said that it is “moving ahead” with a military campaign in Rafah.

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