White House urges Hamas to release hostages as relatives meet with Harris

The White House pushed back on calls for a ceasefire in the IsraelHamas conflict by calling for the terrorist group to release hostages it has held for six months.

“You have a party, Hamas, who is holding innocent people that it took hostage a long time ago,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said. “There could be a ceasefire in place today that would extend for several weeks, to be built upon longer, if Hamas would be prepared to release some of those people.”

Sullivan complained that his point “doesn’t get a lot of attention” from “the commentariat” when it comes to the war and calls for a ceasefire.

As he spoke, vice president Kamala Harris met with the families of American hostages being held in Gaza. They spoke to the press outside the West Wing afterward and made a similar point.

“We are waiting now, and the world waits, for Hamas to get to yes [on a hostage deal],” said Jonathan Dekel-Chen, whose son was taken hostage on Oct. 7. “It is in their court.”

Jonathan Dekel-Chen, second from left, father of American hostage Sagui Dekel-Chen, along with other families of hostages in Gaza, speaks to reporters outside the White house in Washington, Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Rachel Goldberg, whose son was also taken in the attack, described the meeting with Harris as “very productive.”

“We are thinking of all 133 souls who are being held” in Gaza, she said. “We want results.”

The Biden administration and Congressional Democrats have been navigating a tough balancing act with the conflict, as the party’s left flank takes an increasingly anti-Israel position as the death toll rises in the Gaza strip.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer met Thursday afternoon with Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid and has called for new elections in the country to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The White House itself appeared to change its position amid an Israeli strike that killed seven aid workers, saying last week that an “immediate ceasefire” is essential and calling on Netanyahu to take steps to curb civilian casualties.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is set to vote this week on a resolution opposing the Biden administration over what Republicans consider “one-sided pressure on Israel with respect to Gaza.”

Yet Tuesday’s meetings and statements from Sullivan reiterated that the White House is pressuring both parties in the conflict to work toward a resolution, and that the release of hostages will be essential if one is to be reached.

CIA director Bill Burns met Sunday in Cairo with leaders from the U.S., Israel, Qatar, and Egypt, a discussion Sullivan said went late into the night.

“We have seen Israel take some steps forward in terms of what they’re putting on the table,” he said. “We’ve seen the public statements from Hamas that have been, shall we say, less than encouraging.”

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Sullivan also said he spoke with Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who is communicating with Hamas.

“He [Mohammed] does not yet have an answer from Hamas,” Sullivan said. “I pressed him to try to secure an answer from them as soon as possible. When we have more to report on that front, we will report it to you.”

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