18 countries demand hostage release; US: There’s a deal on the table, Hamas rejected it

American pressure has ‘no value,’ Hamas official retorts, even as administration official says proposed truce would ultimately lead to a permanent ceasefire, a core Hamas demand

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US President Joe Biden talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, April 25, 2024, before departing on a trip to New York. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
US President Joe Biden talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, April 25, 2024, before departing on a trip to New York. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

US President Joe Biden on Thursday led a joint statement from the leaders of 18 countries with citizens held hostage by Hamas, calling on the terror group to immediately release them from Gaza.

In a swift reaction, a Hamas official said US pressure had “no value.”

The leaders of Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, Thailand, and the United Kingdom joined Biden in the statement. Israel was not included as the focus was on international support for 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 fate of the hostages and the civilian population in Gaza, who are protected under international law, is of international concern,” the leaders said.

“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.

“Gazans would be able to return to their homes and their lands with preparations beforehand to ensure shelter and humanitarian provisions,” the statement added.

“We strongly support the ongoing mediation efforts in order to bring our people home. We reiterate our call on Hamas to release the hostages and let us end this crisis so that collectively we can focus our efforts on bringing peace and stability to the region,” the leaders said.

An Israeli couple holding Israel’s flag walk in Jerusalem in front of graffiti calling for the release of Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip since October 7 2023 by Hamas (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

A senior administration official told reporters in a briefing call previewing the joint statement that the US had tried to issue such a joint statement earlier on in the war, but there had been disagreements among the countries regarding the language, which prevented its publication.

During a meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan roughly two weeks ago, American relatives of hostages asked the administration to try again to put a joint statement together, the senior US official said.

The US managed to get unanimous support this time because of the understanding in the countries of the increasingly dire situation in which the hostages now find themselves, the official said. The White House also shared with them the elements of the deal on the table that Israel had accepted but that Hamas has rejected.

“There is a deal on the table that would bring a ceasefire immediately to Gaza with the release of women, wounded, elderly, and sick hostages, that is ready to go. We have worked it out in meticulous detail and Hamas has rejected that. Because of that, we still have fighting ongoing in Gaza,” the senior administration official said.

Following the statement from international leaders, Hamas reiterated its demand that Israel end the Gaza war rather than pause it as part of any deal to release hostages, with Sami Abu Zuhri, a senior official in the Palestinian terror group, telling Reuters that US pressure on Hamas “has no value.”

Asked about whether a sticking point for a hostage deal has been Hamas’s demand for a permanent end to the war, which Israel is not willing to accept, a senior Biden administration official indicated that the proposal on the table would effectively meet the terror group’s demand.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. (AP/Hatem Moussa)

“It’s an immediate six-week ceasefire, leading into a second phase and then a permanent restoration of calm,” the official said, adding that the US would serve as a “guarantor along with Egypt and Qatar to ensure those things happen.”

The US official ascribed Hamas’s ongoing rejection of the deal on the table to its Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar, who the official said was making the final decisions.

“Sinwar has made the decision he’d rather hold [the hostages] rather than securing a ceasefire in Gaza,” the senior administration official said.

The US official also said his country’s forensic analysis of Hamas’s new video of hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin has been ongoing since it received the video on Monday, adding that the White House has been in touch with the 23-year-old Israeli-American hostage’s family and is working with Qatar, Egypt, and others to secure his release, along with that of the other hostages.

US President Joe Biden holds freed Hamas hostage Avigail Idan at the White House, Washington, DC, April 24, 2024. (White House photo)

During the briefing, the official shared that Biden spent over an hour with Avigail Idan and her family in the White House on Wednesday, letting the 4-year-old girl released in the last hostage deal in November play in the Oval Office and crawl through the door of the Resolute Desk like John F. Kennedy Jr. was seen doing as his father worked above him in an iconic 1963 photo.

As Avigail played, Biden talked with her aunt and uncle who have been raising her since her return. The four-year-old was with her parents when they were murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7. The president also updated the family on the ongoing efforts to release the remaining hostages.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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