President Joe Biden on Wednesday morning privately met with the families of Americans being held hostage by Hamas since the terrorist attack in Israel on Oct. 7.
The family members of eight Americans believed to be held hostage participated in the meeting in person. They included Yael and Adi Alexander; Ruby and Roy Chen; Ronen and Orna Neutra; Gillian Kaye; Jonathan Dekel-Chen; Aviva, Elan, Shir and Hanna Siegel; and Liz Naftali. Jon Polin, Rachel Goldberg and Iris Haggai joined by phone.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and deputy national security adviser Jon Finer also attended the meeting.
Afterward, the family members of the hostages spoke to reporters outside of the White House as they held up photos of their loved ones.
Jonathan Dekel-Chen, the father of 35-year-old hostage Sagui Dekel-Chen, said the meeting with Biden and other administration officials was a “terrific meeting and conversation.”
“I think we all came away feeling that as families of hostages, of American Israeli hostages — which are eight out of a total of 138 hostages — we felt that, and we felt before, and we were only reinforced in seeing and believing, that we could have no better friend in Washington or in the White House than President Biden himself and his administration,” he said.
Asked whether the president was able to share anything about the conditions of the hostages or where they are, Dekel-Chen said the group is going to “keep the content of the conversation private” because it was a private meeting.
Biden on Wednesday afternoon tweeted a photo of the meeting, saying, "I reassured them that I will continue doing everything possible to secure the release of their family members."
Naftali — the great aunt of Abigail Edan, who was released by Hamas last month as part of the cease-fire and hostage exchange agreement between Israel and the militant group — said Edan’s release is a “miracle” and stressed that Biden and administration officials are committed to working around the clock to help the release of more hostages.
“We appreciate, we are thankful to the president and to his team, because we know that they are working 24 hours a day and they are going to work through the holidays,” she said. “And they are going to do everything they can to make sure that all of our loved ones — real people — come home to us and to the families across the world and in Israel.”
Biden has held calls with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, with the aim of securing the release of Americans and all hostages held by Hamas.
The diplomatic efforts of the United States have helped secure the release of more than 100 hostages, including four Americans: Natalie and Judith Raanan were released Oct. 20 after extensive diplomacy by the administration; 4-year-old Abigail Edan, whose parents were killed by Hamas and whose mother is American, was released Nov. 26; and Liat Beinin, a high school teacher and a tour guide for Israel’s Holocaust museum, was released Nov. 29.
Eight Americans have been deemed as still “unaccounted for” since the fighting began, including those being held hostage, a White House official said. One of those is a woman who sought release under a previous deal with Hamas, but the deal collapsed when the militant group did not release the additional women they were holding.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan will discuss the hostages during his travel to Israel this week. He has met with the families multiple times, most recently last month, the White House official said.
Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff also met with the families on Oct. 27.
Biden’s meeting Wednesday with the families of the hostages marks his first in-person meeting with them after he spoke with them over Zoom in mid-October.
Biden’s meeting with the families comes a day after he offered his harshest criticism yet of Israel's right-wing government since the Oct. 7 attack, saying Netanyahu has a “tough decision to make.”
“I think he has to change, and with this government, this government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move,” Biden said during an off-camera campaign reception in Washington on Tuesday afternoon.