American families of hostages in Gaza say they don’t have time for ‘progress’ in cease-fire talks

NEW YORK — The families of four American hostages and others killed in the war between Israel and Hamas said Friday that any ceasefire agreement must bring their loved ones home from Gaza after six months of captivity.

“They are all now in a terrible humanitarian condition,” said Orna Neutra, mother of hostage Omer Neutra. “A ceasefire with a partial agreement, or without an agreement, could be a death sentence for our son.”

Holding photos of their relatives, the relatives held a news conference in Manhattan to renew calls to free the hostages and mark the grim milestone of six months of separation. They were joined by New York U.S. Reps. Mike Lawler, a Republican, and Dan Goldman, a Democrat.

The families thanked the Biden administration for its efforts to reach a deal and keeping them informed — but urged the president to deliver results.

“We are tired of hearing about progress towards a deal,” said Orna Neutra. “We don’t have time for progress.”

Her son, who has dual American and Israeli citizenship, was serving in the Israeli army on October 7 when Hamas militants stormed into southern Israel, killing more than 1,200 people and taking about 250 hostages.

About half of the hostages were released after a ceasefire in November. Hamas is believed to be holding about 100 hostages, as well as the remains of about 30 people killed or killed in captivity on October 7.

Israel’s war in Gaza has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials.

Six surviving hostages are American, the State Department said in January. The attempts by the United States, Qatar and Egypt to reach a ceasefire appear to have stalled. In the meantime, the remains of the deceased hostages are being held by Hamas as a bargaining chip.

Ruby Chen, whose 19-year-old son Itay Chen was killed on Oct. 7 while on military duty, said the family is still unable to begin the traditional Jewish mourning ritual of Shiva, which kicks off the grieving process.

“We will not hold shiva until Itai is returned to us,” he said. “That is our demand.”

Some relatives also expressed their condolences over the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza and the dire humanitarian situation.

“The devastation in Gaza is so enormous, yes. The hunger, the destruction, the disease, the death,” said Gillian Kaye, stepmother of American hostage Sagui Dekel-Chen. “How can conscientious people not feel that something needs to be done? There must be a ceasefire.”

Hamas has previously proposed a phased release of all remaining hostages in return for Israel ending the war and releasing Palestinian prisoners, including top militants. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called these demands delusional and said that even after the release of hostages, Israel will continue to fight until Hamas is destroyed, in what he calls a “total victory.”