By Humeyra Pamuk
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The sister of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on Tuesday urged the Biden administration to remain focused on trying to bring him home from a Russian prison, and expressed concern that the Middle East crisis may distract Washington from hostage diplomacy.
In an interview with Reuters, Gershkovich's older sister Danielle said she and her family wrote special letters for Evan to mark his 32nd birthday on Thursday, which he would be spending in the Moscow prison where he has been held for more than six months.
The family is putting its faith on President Joe Biden's promise to bring him home, she said, despite the possibility that the Israel-Hamas war could hamper or delay those efforts.
"When we see the news, any news, we're always thinking of it through the lens of what does this mean for Evan? Our focus is on Evan," she said. "We just have to continue to ask President Biden to prioritize this and bring Evan home to us."
A White House official said there would be no let up in efforts to bring home detained Americans, including Gershkovich, and said there were “active meetings” this week on the cases of Gershkovich and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, also being held in Russia.
Gershkovich was arrested on March 29 in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on charges of espionage that carry up to 20 years in prison. He and the Journal have denied the charges and the newspaper called for his immediate release.
Russia has said Gershkovich was caught "red-handed" while the FSB, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, said he was trying to obtain military secrets.
The White House has called the charges "ridiculous" and Biden has said Gershkovich's detention is "totally illegal."
World headlines have been focused on the worst violence in the Middle East in years and on other prisoners since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants attacked inside Israel, killing some 1,400 Israelis and taking over 200 hostages back to Gaza, including some American citizens. Israel reprisals in Gaza have killed nearly 6,000 Palestinians, including children.
Hamas on Friday released Americans Judith Tai Raanan, 59, and her daughter Natalie, 17, who live in the Chicago area.
Danielle Gershkovich urged people who would like to help bring Evan home to read his stories and post on social media with the #IstandwithEvan hashtag.
"We're doing all that we can on our end to keep focus on Evan in the news," she said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Bill Berkrot)