Relatives of four dual American Israeli citizens Thursday said securing the release of 220 hostages held by Hamas should be the priority agenda for the international community.
The family members, who traveled from Israel to visit members of Congress in Washington, thanked President Biden for prioritizing their plight.
“I feel it’s upon us to make sure that there is continued pressure on members of Congress and the Senate to keep this topic front and center and to try to come to a resolution of this situation as quickly as possible,” Jeffrey Yehuda Beinin said. His daughter, Liat Beinin, and her husband were kidnapped from the southern Israeli community of Kibbutz Nir Oz.
Beinin said that he believes his son-in-law, a volunteer security officer with the kibbutz, was abducted and taken into Gaza early on in Hamas’s Oct. 7 assault, given that no traces of his son-in-law’s blood have been found in his home or the surrounding area.
“So the assumption is that he’s been abducted to Gaza,” he said.
Beinin said his daughter was kidnapped from her home.
“Hamas terrorists got to my daughters house and abducted her and set the house on fire, they killed the dog,” he said.
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Hamas, recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, has released just four hostages amid negotiations involving the U.S., Israel, Qatar, Egypt and the International Red Cross. Israel says it believes 220 people are being held by the group.
The U.S. has not confirmed how many hostages are Americans, although two of the four released were dual, U.S.-Israeli citizens.
Hamas kidnapped people from communities in southern Israel in attacks that left 1,400 people, predominantly civilians, dead. The Biden administration and members of Congress in both parties have compared atrocities committed by Hamas to the worst acts of the Islamic State.
The mission to recover the hostages is extremely daunting, and “unprecedented,” said Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), a co-chair of the Congressional Task Force on American Hostages and Americans Wrongfully Detained Abroad.
The task force was launched in 2021 to help guide congressional offices helping people wrongfully detained abroad by terrorist groups or foreign governments.
Hill said the scale of Hamas’s kidnapping, which covers people with more than two dozen nationalities, coupled with the information blackout on their captivity in the Gaza Strip makes negotiations to secure their release more likely than extradition.
Another complication is Israel’s aerial bombardment of Gaza. Israel says it is targeting Hamas military infrastructure, but it has resulted in the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and raised concerns that hostages may have been harmed or killed.
The U.S. has reportedly called for Israel to delay launching a ground incursion to allow more time for negotiations to recover hostages.
While Hamas said it released four hostages on “humanitarian grounds,” it has said that it hopes to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. It views the holding of Israeli soldiers, in particular, as valuable bargaining chips to achieve their aims.
But Hamas’s hostages also include young children, women, elderly people and sick and disabled victims.
Two of the family members present on Capitol Hill are fathers of young men who were serving in the Israel Defense Forces when they were believed to have been taken hostage by Hamas.
Ruby Chen is the father of Itay Chen, 19; and Ronen Neutra is the father of Omar Neutra, 22, who was serving in a tank unit near the border with Gaza.
Asked if he had spoken with the administration over what could be offered to Hamas, Hill said, “We’ve had conversations with the administration about the steps they’re taking, but I’d leave it at that.”
Noam Peri, whose 79-year-old father Chaim was kidnapped from Nir Oz, was among the people who traveled to Capitol Hill. She pleaded with those listening to recognize it is individual lives at stake.
“We’ve made this long trip to be able to tell you these stories, because we know the numbers are staggering and no one can think of 220 people in captivity,” she said.
She said those kidnapped from the small community of Nir Oz included 16 children, among them toddlers and a nursing baby.
“We also know there are 25 elderly above the age of 75. No one of these people should have a moment more [in captivity]. I’ve been here for the past three days meeting members of the Congress and Senate and we feel the overwhelming support and understanding and the willingness to take leadership on this humanitarian crisis in getting all the hostages back.”