WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden planned to host family members of Americans held hostage by Hamas on Wednesday as Israel intensifies its military campaign in Gaza after a pause in fighting during which more than 100 hostages were released.
Relatives of all eight Americans who are deemed unaccounted for after the Palestinian militant group’s deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel were expected to attend the gathering at the White House, a senior Biden administration official said.
Hamas gunmen took 240 people hostage when they burst through the border with Israel and killed around 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.
A seven-day truce saw more than 100 hostages released, including four Americans. The rest are still being held incommunicado as Israel bombards Gaza in an effort to destroy its Hamas rulers. More than 18,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to local health authorities.
Biden has been personally engaged on the hostage issue and has spoken numerous times with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the emir of Qatar on how to secure their release, the administration official said.
Biden previously held a virtual meeting with hostages’ families on Oct. 13.
His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, has met with the families numerous times, the official said, and was expected to discuss the hostages during his trip to Israel this week.
Two Americans, Natalie and Judith Raanan, became the first hostages to be released on Oct. 20.
During a subsequent pause in Israel’s military operation, a four-year-old American girl, Abigail Edan, was among 17 hostages freed by Hamas on Nov. 26. A fourth American, Liat Beinin, was released on Nov. 29, among 16 released on the final day of a truce in the Gaza war.
Israel released 240 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the hostages under a truce agreement reached with Hamas.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Sharon Singleton)