Biden hails rescue of hostages, vows to ‘not stop working’ until they’re all freed

Germany’s Scholz: Return of captives is ‘an important sign of hope’; Russian envoy welcomes rescue without mentioning Hamas; EU’s Borrell slams reports of ‘another massacre’ in Gaza

US President Joe Biden (L), flanked by French President Emmanuel Macron, give press statements following a bilateral meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on June 8, 2024. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
US President Joe Biden (L), flanked by French President Emmanuel Macron, give press statements following a bilateral meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on June 8, 2024. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

US President Joe Biden on Saturday welcomed the return of four Israeli hostages rescued alive in Gaza, as other world leaders also hailed their release from Hamas captivity.

Speaking at a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Biden said he joined his host in welcoming the return of the hostages and vowed, “We won’t stop working until all the hostages come home and a ceasefire is reached.”

“That’s essential to happen,” he added.

The operation came as Biden has been pushing an Israeli proposal for a hostage-for-ceasefire with Hamas with the aim of ending the war triggered by the terror group’s October 7 onslaught, discussing the matter with Macron during their meeting in Paris.

Hamas has yet to formally respond to the proposal and reiterated its demand that any agreement end the fighting, a condition rejected by Israel, which has vowed to destroy Hamas.

“The United States is supporting all efforts to secure the release of hostages still held by Hamas, including American citizens,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement hailing the “daring” mission by the Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli hostages pictured after their rescue from Hamas captivity in Gaza on June 8, 2024. From left: Shlomi Ziv (IDF); Andrey Kozlov and Almog Meir Jan (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90), and Noa Argamani (Courtesy)

The top Biden aide added that the four hostages “were taken from the Nova Music Festival on October 7, and Hamas filmed the horrific abduction of Ms. Argamani for the world to see,” referring to one of the most indelible images from the terror group’s devastating shock attack.

“Now they are safe and reunited with their families,” Sullivan said.

Given that the US has repeatedly expressed concern over civilian casualties in Gaza, Sullivan’s statement notably made no mention to the dozens of Palestinians that the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reported were killed during the rescue operation.

“The hostage release and ceasefire deal that is now on the table would secure the release of all the remaining hostages together with security assurances for Israel and relief for the innocent civilians in Gaza,” Sullivan said, stressing Washington’s continued efforts to fore an agreement.

“This deal has the full backing of the United States and has been endorsed by countries from around the world, including the G7, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, UAE, and Qatar, as well as the sixteen countries with their citizens still being held by Hamas. They all must be released — now,” Sullivan said.

Relatives and supporters of Israelis taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza in the October 7 attack hold a protest calling for their release, in Tel Aviv, June 8, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will visit Israel this week as part of US efforts to secure a hostage deal, also released a statement welcoming the rescue of the captives.

“The United States will not rest until every hostage is returned home,” Blinken said.

“The proposal that President Biden outlined eight days ago would bring relief to both the people of Gaza and the remaining hostages and their families through an immediate ceasefire that could lead to the release of all hostages, a surge of humanitarian assistance, Gaza’s reconstruction and an enduring end to the war,” he added.

“The only thing standing in the way of achieving this ceasefire is Hamas. It is time for them to accept the deal.”

At the press appearance with Biden, Macron also celebrated the rescue while accusing Israel of not doing more to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza. The French leader added that he supports the Israeli proposal, which Biden unveiled last week.

The rescue of the hostages was an “important sign of hope,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.

“An important sign of hope — in particular for the numerous Israeli families who continue to fear for those close to them. Four hostages are now free,” Scholz said on X, formerly Twitter, calling on Hamas to release all remaining hostages and the war to end.

A man holds an Israeli flag as Israelis gather inside Ramat Gan’s Sheba Medical Center, where four Israeli hostages were transferred after their rescue from Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip, June 8, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Russian’s Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov released a statement celebrating the rescue of Russian-Israeli Andrey Kozlov and the three other abductees, but neglected to mention Hamas or the terror group’s October 7 attacks.

“Without the full knowledge of the details of the rescue operation carried out by the Israel Defense Forces,” Viktorov wrote, “first of all, I would like to share with the relatives and friends of the now former hostages the joy of the safe rescue of their relatives from eight months of captivity and reunification with their families.”

He added that Russia had prioritized the release of hostages “from the very beginning of the unprecedented escalation in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict zone.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Israeli counterpart Israel Katz had discussed Russian citizens being held in Gaza on June 7, the statement noted.

Three Russian citizens — Ron Krivoy, Irina Tatty and Elena Trufanova — were previously released. Alexander Trufanov and Alexander Lobanov remain in captivity.

Viktorov emphasized that “not further escalation, but only an early cessation of hostilities adequately responds to the solution of all urgent humanitarian problems, including the release of the hostages remaining in Gaza.”

The parents of rescued Israeli-Russian hostage Andrey Kozlov at the airport in Saint Petersburg on their way to Israel, June 8, 2024. (Israeli Foreign Ministry)

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also welcomed the rescue of the four hostages, while stressing that the only way to free all the captives is through the proposed Israeli truce and hostage deal announced by Biden last week.

He also said, “Reports from Gaza of another massacre of civilians are appalling. We condemn this in the strongest terms. The bloodbath must end immediately,” referring to the unverified high number of casualties claimed by Hamas officials in the operation.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he was “very much relieved” by the rescue operation.

“However, far too many are still being brutally held hostage by Hamas. All of them need to be released immediately,” Nehammer wrote on X.

He also vowed to continue “all efforts” to free hostage Tal Shoham, who holds Austrian citizenship.

Outgoing Dutch Prime Minister similarly said the mission gave “cause for hope” and urged Hamas to immediately release the remaining hostages.

“A deal is still greatly needed so that all hostages are freed and humanitarian aid reaches the people of Gaza,” he said.

Rescued hostages Andrey Kozlov (white shirt) and Almog Meir Jan (black shirt), freed by the IDF from Hamas captivity in Gaza, are escorted from an IDF helicopter on arrival at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, June 8, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that.

Seven hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 19 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 41 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown. Hamas is also holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

Lazar Berman and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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