Biden’s message to hostages in Gaza: ‘Hang in there, we’re coming’

By Andrea Shalal and Katharine Jackson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he is engaged in daily discussions to secure the release of hostages held by the Hamas militant group and believes it will happen.

“Hang in there, we’re coming,” Biden said at the White House, when asked by reporters what his message to family members of hostages was.

Biden said he speaks daily with the parties involved in negotiations over a possible hostage release, but did not want to share the details.

Shortly after his remarks, the White House said Biden’s top adviser on the Middle East, Brett McGurk, is heading to the region for talks with officials in Israel, the West Bank, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other nations.

“In Israel, he will discuss Israel’s security needs, the imperative of protecting civilians in the course of military operations, as well as ongoing efforts to secure the release of hostages, and the need to rein in violent extremist settlers in the West Bank,” it said in a statement.

Hamas fighters surged across the border from Gaza into Israel on Oct.7, killing about 1,200 people and taking around 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials. Only four hostages have been released to date.

In a White House statement on Sunday, Biden “unequivocally” condemned the holding of hostages by Hamas, including many young children, one of whom is a 3-year old American citizen whose parents were killed by the group on Oct. 7th.

The families of Israelis being held hostage by Hamas in the Gaza Strip kicked off a five-day march on Tuesday from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to demand the government do more to secure their release.

In Washington, supporters planned a “March for Israel” later on Tuesday, following large protests across the United States and the world against Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

The Israeli bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 11,000 Palestinians, around 40% of them children, according to health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory.

Reuters last week reported that Qatar, where several political leaders of Hamas are based, has been leading mediation efforts between Hamas and Israeli officials over the hostages.

Violence has also been escalating in the West Bank, where at least 176 Palestinians have been killed in incidents involving Israeli security forces since the beginning of October and at least another eight Palestinians killed by Israeli settlers, according to the U.N. human rights chief.

Israel has said it has been conducting counter-terrorism operations against militants from Hamas and other Palestinian armed factions in the West Bank.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Steve Holland, Susan Heavey, Katharine Jackson; Editing by Doina Chiaacu and Deepa Babington)