US, Allies Press Hamas for ‘Immediate Release’ of Hostages

(Bloomberg) -- The US and 17 other nations pressed Hamas to release their citizens who are missing or held hostage in the Gaza Strip, in a bid to revive cease-fire talks that have stalled out in recent weeks and unlock more humanitarian aid.

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The countries’ leaders released a joint statement Thursday intended to reflect mounting concern about the well-being of the hostages and to intensify pressure on reluctant Hamas officials to accept a deal, according to a senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to brief reporters on the effort.

“We call for the immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza for over 200 days. They include our own citizens,” the leaders said. “The fate of the hostages and the civilian population in Gaza, who are protected under international law, is of international concern.”

Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Thailand, the UK and the US issued the statement.

The US has been seeking a temporary cease-fire in Gaza that would see Hamas release female, wounded, elderly and sick hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners and a surge of humanitarian aid into the war-torn territory.

Earlier: Israel War Cabinet To Make New Hostage Deal Push, Haaretz Says

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has personally rejected the deal, according to the senior US official, helping scuttle at least for the time being ongoing talks between Israel and Hamas that have been mediated by the US, Egypt and Qatar. A top Hamas political official told the Associated Press on Wednesday the group would lay down its arms if a Palestinian state is established along pre-1967 borders.

“We emphasize that the deal on the table to release the hostages would bring an immediate and prolonged cease-fire in Gaza that would facilitate a surge of additional necessary humanitarian assistance to be delivered throughout Gaza, and lead to the credible end of hostilities,” the 18 nations said in their statement.

Under the agreement, “Gazans would be able to return to their homes and their lands” after steps are taken to ensure it can happen safely, the leaders added.

Read More: Israel Intensifies Cross-Border Strikes on Hezbollah in Lebanon

There are fears the humanitarian crisis in Gaza will worsen as Israel prepares for a possible ground operation in the southern city of Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians have sought refuge.

Worries about the hostages also intensified when Hamas released a video on Wednesday that purported to show Hersh Goldberg-Polin, a dual Israeli-US citizen who was seriously wounded in the militant group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Goldberg-Polin’s parents released a statement saying they were glad to see him alive but are concerned about the health of their son and other captives.

The US government received the video on Monday and is conducting an analysis of it, according to the senior US official. Administration officials have been in touch with the hostage families as well as Egyptian and Qatari officials about freeing Goldberg-Polin and his fellow hostages, the official said.

Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union, abducted around 250 people during its attack on Israel. Around half of the hostages were released during a week-long pause in the fighting last year. It is unclear how many of the remaining captives are still alive.

--With assistance from Akayla Gardner.

(Updates with statement release beginning in first paragraph)

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