Home News Biden announces release by Hamas of four-year-old US hostage

Biden announces release by Hamas of four-year-old US hostage

A four-year-old American girl is safely in Israel after being released Sunday from captivity in Gaza, US President Joe Biden said as he urged the pause in Israel-Hamas fighting be extended to allow for more hostage releases.

AFP

“She’s free and she’s in Israel now,” Biden told reporters shortly after the Israeli army announced that 17 hostages were being freed by Hamas.

“She’s been through a terrible trauma,” Biden said of the child, Abigail, whose parents were murdered by Hamas militants when members of the Islamist group attacked Israel on October 7. On Friday in captivity, she marked her fourth birthday, the president said.

“Today, she’s free, and Jill (Biden) and I, together with so many Americans, are praying for the fact that she is going to be alright,” he said.

“She is now safely in Israel, and we continue to press and expect for additional Americans will be released as well. And we will not stop working until every hostage is returned to their loved ones.”

The White House has said that 10 Americans — seven men, two women and Abigail — were missing and presumed held hostage by Hamas.

Abigail’s case particularly gripped Biden, a senior administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Since the conflict’s onset, Biden “raised Abigail in nearly all of his phone calls with counterparts as well as with the emir of Qatar yesterday,” the official said.

Witnesses helped US officials track Abigail’s ordeal more closely than that of other US hostages, many of whom are in unknown locations in Gaza.

 

– ‘In front of her eyes’ –

 

“We learned early from witnesses what happened. Her mother was murdered in front of her eyes. Her father tried to protect Abigail — and then he was killed,” the official said.

She ran to a neighboring family but militants took the family and Abigail into northern Gaza, the official said.

US officials insisted that Abigail be included on an early list for release.

Her release Sunday held moments of drama. The convoy bearing Abigail and other freed hostages was diverted from the crossing at the border point of Rafah into Egypt to a more direct route into Israel due to another freed hostage, an 85-year-old woman, needing urgent medical care, the official said.

Questioned by reporters about when other US citizens might be released, Biden — speaking from Massachusetts, where he was wrapping up a Thanksgiving break — said: “I don’t have anything firmly to tell you at this moment.”

Biden said a total of 58 hostages have been released by Hamas during the current temporary halt in fighting, through what he called “intensive US diplomacy” by himself and administration officials working with Israel, Qatar, Egypt and others.

The US president said he hoped to see the pause extended.

“That’s my goal, that’s our goal, to keep this pause going beyond tomorrow so that we can continue to see more hostages come out and surge more humanitarian relief into those in need in Gaza,” Biden said.

Asked for how long he would like to see a pause in fighting, he said: “As long as prisoners keep coming out.”

“I get a sense that all the players in the region are looking for a way to end this so the hostages are all released and… Hamas is completely no longer in control of Gaza.”

He also pointed to the humanitarian benefits of the break in fighting, saying hundreds of aid trucks have been able to enter the besieged Gaza Strip, providing much-needed food, water, medicine and fuel.

The three-day-old truce “is delivering life-saving results,” Biden added.

“Critically needed aid is going in, and hostages are coming out.”

US Senator Thom Tillis, a Republican, said without mentioning Biden that it was “a great relief” Abigail was released. But he noted that a native of Tillis’s state of North Carolina, Keith Siegel, remained captive by Hamas.

Siegel’s spouse, Aviva Siegel, was released on Sunday even as her husband remained captive, the senior official said.

 

 

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