Families join lawmakers to call for release of hostages in Gaza ahead of State of the Union

Families of hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip joined a group of bipartisan House lawmakers to call for their release Wednesday, one day before President Biden is set to deliver the State of the Union address.

Orna Neutra, the mother of American hostage Omer Neutra, pleaded for the release of her son, whom she said serves in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and has been held captive for 152 days.

“We are running out of words and running out of strength,” Neutra said Wednesday. “At times, I wish I could just retire to a place where there’s no media, just disappear until there is finally a breakthrough, until the phone call comes to the news of your release.”

Neutra is among the 17 relatives of American hostages in Gaza slated to attend Biden’s Thursday address as guests of lawmakers.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) on Wednesday called for the release of hostages and emphasized that it is on the militant group Hamas to accept the deal that was reportedly agreed upon by Israel. The deal would include a six-week cease-fire in exchange for Hamas releasing hostages considered at risk.

“The ball is in Hamas’s court here,” Wasserman Schultz said during the press conference Wednesday. “We have to tell Hamas to accept this deal right now.”

“Our message to these families, to our regional partners, the American people remains consistent and clear,” she later said. “Hamas must not succeed. The hostages must come home.”

Family members whose loved ones are held by Hamas have also asked lawmakers and their staffers to wear yellow ribbons and dog tags for Biden’s State of the Union speech to show solidarity.

“We are not asking members to take a political stance,“ Neutra said. “This is a bipartisan issue. It’s not about supporting one side or the other.”

Biden’s address comes as an increasing number of Democrats in Congress have called for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war. The progressive members of party have criticized Biden for his administration’s handling of the conflict.

Rep. Mike Lawler (R-N.Y.), who also attended the presser, said the Biden administration should continue pursuing all efforts to bring hostages back and for their family members’ voices to be recognized.

“This is bigger than politics,” Lawler said. “These families should be heard. Their loved ones should be remembered, and we as American government need to do everything we can to bring them home.”

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