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Families of American hostages held in Gaza push UN for their release


The U.S., Qatar and Egypt are trying to get Israel and Hamas to agree to a deal - a six-week cease-fire, the release of more hostages and additional aid to Palestinians. But Hamas is demanding a more permanent truce and continues to hold more than 130 hostages, including five Americans and the bodies of others who have died. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports that the families of some of those Americans came to U.N. headquarters in New York yesterday to support the agreement.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: After meeting the families of American hostages who were either killed, released or are still being held, the U.N. secretary-general reiterated his call on Hamas to release all hostages, including human remains. It was a message that Orna Neutra had been waiting to hear ever since her son was captured by Hamas on October 7.

ORNA NEUTRA: So to him, it's a humanitarian issue, which is, of course, the way we feel about it and the way we would expect the whole world to address this issue. And there should be no terms attached.

KELEMEN: Her son, Omer Neutra, is a 22-year-old American who was serving in the Israeli military when he was taken hostage. He has deep family roots in Israel but was born in New York just a month after 9/11, she says.

O NEUTRA: And I clearly remember walking over the Queensboro Bridge with him in my belly and thinking to myself that I cannot believe that this is happening on the - in the United States, in New York. And it's just incomprehensible that he's involved in this huge terror attack right now.

KELEMEN: This past week, the Israeli military informed the parents of another American serving in the Israeli army that their son, who was believed to have been held hostage in Gaza, had actually been killed on October 7 and his body taken to Gaza. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he's spoken many times over the months to Itay Chen's family, including this week, when they learned that he had been killed.


ANTONY BLINKEN: There are no good words. No one should have to go through what they've gone through and what the other hostage families continue to go through. It's another reason why getting the cease-fire would be so crucial to enable us to bring the hostages home.

KELEMEN: Those talks are still going on, and Blinken says Egypt and Qatar, which are mediating, are trying to bridge the gaps between Hamas' latest counterproposal and Israel, which says Hamas is still making unreasonable demands. Omer Neutra's father, Ronen, says he was devastated about the news of Itay Chen's death.

RONEN NEUTRA: And obviously, we've been spending the last almost six months together with his parents everywhere. I went with his dad to Qatar, met with the prime minister. We've been going multiple times to Washington, traveled to Israel together. It's a devastating news for us.

KELEMEN: The Neutra family has no news about their son. They've only seen videos of the day that Hamas attacked his unit on the Gaza border. And they worry that even if Israel and Hamas agree to a new hostage deal, he won't be released anytime soon. Under the deal being negotiated, Hamas would release women, children and the elderly in a first phase, which calls for a six-week pause in fighting and the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Israeli soldiers would be released in later phases, likely traded for far more Palestinian prisoners. Ronen Neutra says he's hoping his son and the other hostages are strong enough to survive a deal.

R NEUTRA: Some of them may be dying as we speak. And the world is silent. You know, we feel for the people in Gaza and major efforts to offer them humanitarian support. Where is the humanitarian support for our son? Where is the humanitarian support for the other hostages?

KELEMEN: Ronen Neutra and his wife say they will continue to push diplomats to get a deal done, to at least start a process that will bring relief to the families of the hostages and more aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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