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Hamas Hostage Families Urge US Lawmakers to Continue Negotiations

Families of hostages still held by Hamas urged U.S. lawmakers Wednesday not to let up on negotiations for their release.

The Israeli government said 12 hostages were released from captivity in Gaza on Wednesday, the sixth release of hostages during a negotiated cease-fire that international negotiators were working to extend.

“The release of these hostages has been a cause for hope,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin said in a statement Wednesday. “And we are equally encouraged by the lifesaving aid that has reached innocent Palestinians who are also victims of Hamas’ cruelty. But we must not allow complacency to deter us in our shared mission to bring home the other hostages held by Hamas, including American citizens.”

An estimated 240 hostages were seized when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, beginning the conflict. Of those, almost 100 have been released over the past six days.

“Keep the pressure on Qatar. Keep the pressure on Egypt. Rally the international community to use any resources they have. Get this done,” said Orna Neutra, mother of hostage Omer Neutra.

Omer Neutra, a dual Israeli American citizen serving in the Israel Defense Forces, is believed to have been held in captivity for more than 50 days.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said he viewed footage of the October 7 attack last week in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I’ve never seen the prime minister — who is a very stoic, strong man — driven to tears, watching his own people being killed in such a horrific manner: the rapes and the beheadings and the slaughter of innocent Jewish people. He will not rest until [Hamas is] eradicated, not just for the Jewish people but for the Palestinians,” McCaul said at a roundtable meeting with families of the hostages on Capitol Hill.

Congress passed a resolution Tuesday calling on Hamas to release all hostages and condemning the October 7 attack by a vote of 414-0. A second resolution affirming Israel’s right to exist passed 412-1-1. Democratic Representative Rashida Tlaib, who has faced criticism for her comments about Israel, voted present. Republican Representative Thomas Massie voted no.

Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, reacts to stories told by the families of victims of the Hamas attacks in Israel, at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 29, 2023.

“We will not relent. We will not stop. We will not forget. We will continue to work. We will put politics aside until your hope becomes a reality of the return of your love,” said Representative Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

As of Wednesday, only one American hostage had been freed.

Ruby Chen, father of hostage Itay Chen, who is also an Israeli soldier, told lawmakers, “This is not a U.S. issue. It’s an international community humanitarian issue that all of the international community needs to get behind in order to solve this problem.”

Liz Hirsh Naftali, great-aunt of recently released 3-year-old Abigail Edan, told lawmakers, “Abigail is home. Not in her home, but she is home in Israel because her home is destroyed. They can’t return to where they lived. She has no parents to go home to.”

Edan’s parents were killed by Hamas during the October 7 attack.

U.S. lawmakers have struggled to agree on the White House’s request for $13.6 billion in aid to Israel. Earlier this month, the Democratic-majority Senate did not take up legislation passed in the Republican-majority House of Representatives that paid for aid to Israel with budget cuts to the Internal Revenue Service.

The Senate is working on a deal for Republicans’ request for billions of dollars in border security funding in return for the votes needed to pass aid to both Ukraine and Israel.