US and 17 other countries call on Hamas to release hostages

Leaders urge Hamas to accept ceasefire deal that would allow Palestinians to return to their homes and accelerate entry of aid

Relatives of Israeli hostages held in Gaza and supporters protest outside Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. AFP
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The US and 17 other nations on Thursday called on Hamas to release the hostages held in Gaza as a way of ending Israel's war on the beleaguered territory.

In a joint statement, leaders urged Hamas to accept the ceasefire deal currently on the table, which would allow Palestinians to return to their homes and accelerate the entry of humanitarian aid.

“We emphasise that the deal on the table to release the hostages would bring an immediate and prolonged ceasefire in Gaza,” the statement said.

“That would facilitate a surge of additional necessary humanitarian assistance to be delivered throughout Gaza, and lead to the credible end of hostilities.”

The development comes after Hamas released a video on Wednesday featuring Hersh Goldberg-Polin, a dual Israeli-American citizen.

Mr Goldberg-Polin has been held hostage in Gaza since October 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.

Experts received the video on Monday and are currently reviewing it, a senior US administration official said.

“We have worked it [the ceasefire deal] out in meticulous detail and Hamas has rejected that,” the official told journalists on a call.

“And because of that we still have fighting ongoing in Gaza, and we're working on other dimensions to the crisis every single day but the key, really, is the hostages.”

The official blamed Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in Gaza, for the failure of any ceasefire deal to materialise.

“There have been a number of times where the negotiations have made significant progress outside with Hamas leaders, you know, living in fancy hotels,” the official said.

“But Sinwar is the ultimate decision maker, and when the question goes to him, whether or not you’re going to sign up … the answer that comes back from Sinwar personally, is no.”

The official added that “justice will come” for the Hamas leader.

President Joe Biden, who is running for re-election, is eager to secure a ceasefire of at least six weeks in Gaza.

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed amid the Israeli siege of Gaza and famine is looming across much of the coastal enclave.

But efforts to broker a deal have stalled.

“There's a deal on the table, it meets nearly all of the demands that Hamas has had, including key elements,” the US official said.

“What they need to do is release the vulnerable category passages to get things moving.”

More than 100 hostages are believed to currently be held in Gaza by Hamas as well as other armed groups. Their locations are largely unknown.

Updated: April 25, 2024, 2:49 PM