US, 17 other countries urge Hamas to release hostages, end Gaza crisis

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

By Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States and 17 other countries on Thursday issued an appeal for Hamas to release all of its hostages as a pathway to end the crisis in Gaza, but Hamas vowed not to relent to international pressure.

"We call for the immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza now for over 200 days," a statement by the countries said, in what a senior U.S. official called an extraordinary display of unanimity.

The 18 countries all have citizens held by Hamas six months after the Palestinian militant group launched its Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel and killed 1,200 people. Hamas is believed to still be holding 129 hostages out of the 253 it took on Oct. 7.

The signatories were the leaders of the United States, Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Thailand and Britain.

"We emphasize that the deal on the table to release the hostages would bring an immediate and prolonged ceasefire 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 statement said.

"Gazans would be able to return to their homes and their lands with preparations beforehand to ensure shelter and humanitarian provisions," it said.

Senior Hamas leader Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters that Hamas would not be influenced by the statement and said the United States needs to force Israel to end its aggression.

"The ball now is in the American court," said Abu Zuhri.

A senior U.S. official, briefing reporters about the statement, said there were some indications that there might be an avenue for an agreement on the hostage crisis but that he was not totally confident.

He did not elaborate but said the resolution was dependent on "one guy," the Hamas Gaza leader, Yahya Sinwar.

The hostage proposal put forward earlier this year calls for the release of sick, elderly and wounded hostages in Gaza in exchange for a six-week ceasefire that could be extended to allow for more humanitarian aid to be delivered into the enclave.

It permits the unrestricted return of Gaza citizens to northern Gaza, the official said.

The idea for the joint statement arose about two weeks ago when White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with a group of family members of Gaza hostages, the senior U.S. official said.

It was issued a day after President Joe Biden met in the Oval Office with former hostage Abigail Edan, a 4-year-old American girl who had been captured after seeing her parents slain by Hamas fighters.

She played in the Oval Office and crawled under the president's Resolute desk, the official said.

U.S officials are analyzing the video of an American hostage, Hersh Golberg-Polin, that was released on Tuesday, the official said.

Israeli officials did not immediately confirm or comment on the offer detailed in the statement.

Israeli government spokesperson David Mencer told reporters when asked about hostage diplomacy that "it is Hamas that is dragging their feet" on an agreement.

"It is Hamas that continues to walk away from the table. It is Hamas that refuses to let our people go. They must be let go right now," he said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu, Dan Williams and Nidal Al Mughrabi; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)