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Another American hostage is free. But families of US hostages in Gaza want more to come home

WASHINGTON − The families of Americans still being held hostage by Hamas had a question for the Biden administration Wednesday morning.

“Where are the U.S. Citizens?” Ruby Chen, the father of a 19-year-old Israeli American soldier being held by Hamas, said he planned to ask White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

Chen, speaking with reporters Wednesday, wondered why only one American had been among the dozens of hostages released by Hamas in recent days.

By late afternoon, one more American – Liat Binin, a 49-year-old high school teacher and guide at Israel’s Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem – was returned to her family.

That left seven Americans and one permanent resident still in captivity.  Under the current negotiation's terms, only one qualifies for the release which cover women and children.

But Hamas has released other adult males outside the scope of the agreement with Israel, including Thai nationals and a 25-year-old Russian-Israeli man. On Wednesday, two other 18-year-old males were released.

There’s no indication that Hamas is using the Americans as “leverage,” White House spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday.

But Chen and the family members of other hostages want to discuss that when they meet with Sullivan on Thursday.

“I'm not privy to the details of how the negotiation is happening,” Chen said when asked if he thinks the Biden administration could be doing more. “But I think there is a very simple fact that many nationalities have been released. U.S. citizens have not.”

Ruby Chen, father of Itay Chen, an Israeli-American soldier missing since a Hamas surprise attack on the Gaza border, pauses after a news conference by U.S. citizens whose relatives are missing, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Ruby Chen, father of Itay Chen, an Israeli-American soldier missing since a Hamas surprise attack on the Gaza border, pauses after a news conference by U.S. citizens whose relatives are missing, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Hamas said Wednesday it released two Russian women at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Two Americans, a 17-year—old girl and her mother – were released last month as part of what the Biden administration described as a test run for a wider hostage release agreement between Israel and Hamas.

The parents of Omer Neutra, a New York-born Israeli soldier who was protecting a village when he was abducted, said the current agreement needs to be expanded beyond women and children.

“We’re so happy that kids and women are coming out,” said his father, Ronen Neutra. “But it’s also time for men to come out.”

The Nuetras and the Chens wore T-shirts emblazoned with photos of their sons.

Ronen (L) and Orna Neutra, parents of Omer Neutra, pose for a photo in New York City on November 6, 2023. The parents of Omer Neutra, a dual nationality US-Israeli soldier who is one of some 240 hostages seized by Hamas in its attack from Gaza, are counting on President Biden to get him back.
Ronen (L) and Orna Neutra, parents of Omer Neutra, pose for a photo in New York City on November 6, 2023. The parents of Omer Neutra, a dual nationality US-Israeli soldier who is one of some 240 hostages seized by Hamas in its attack from Gaza, are counting on President Biden to get him back.

Talks are ongoing to extend the cease-fire that began Friday. But a senior Israeli official who spoke to USA TODAY on the condition of anonymity said that, despite reports to the contrary, he was "not aware of any possibility" to turn the pause into a longer-term cease-fire involving all the remaining hostages, including men and soldiers, being released in exchange for all Palestinians in Israeli jails.

The family members of American hostages were making their third trip to Washington since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,200 people and capturing an estimated 240 who were dragged into Gaza.

Orna Neutra said she spoke with her son the night before the attack. He had been expecting a quiet weekend on patrol.

Since then, she said, “We haven’t heard anything. No sign of life.”

Ronen Neutra, who called his son fearless, said his one hope is that Omer is helping other hostages stay strong.

Relatives, friends and supporters of 22-year-old Omer Neutra, held hostage in Gaza since the October 7 attack by Hamas militants in southern Israel, take part in a protest asking for the release of Israeli hostages in Tel Aviv on November 25, 2023. (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP) (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images) ORIG FILE ID: AFP_344W74X.jpg

Those who have been released have described such conditions as being held in complete darkness, having little to eat and difficulty accessing a bathroom.

Family members of hostages said they are pushing the International Red Cross to try to get medical attention to hostages and to “be the conscience of the international community” in describing what’s happening.

“Their voice needs to be heard,” Chen said. “Specifically, what is the status of the hostages? Why are they not being permitted to visit the hostages?”

Chen brought with him to Washington an hourglass, which he overturned on the table in front of him with a bang to illustrate the urgency of the situation.

“We don’t,” he said, “have time.”

In this undated photo provided by Ruby Chen on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, Itay Chen poses for a photo. Itay, a 19-year-old Israeli-American, was captured on Oct. 7 while on military duty. (Ruby Chen via AP) ORG XMIT: XLON801
In this undated photo provided by Ruby Chen on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, Itay Chen poses for a photo. Itay, a 19-year-old Israeli-American, was captured on Oct. 7 while on military duty. (Ruby Chen via AP) ORG XMIT: XLON801

Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard 

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: More American hostages held by Hamas should be released families say