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Families plead alongside bipartisan group of senators more action to release hostages held by Hamas


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It's been more than 100 days since Hamas attacked Southern Israel and took nearly 200 hostages captive. Now, the families of those victims are urging the U.S. and Israeli government to ramp up its efforts to bring them home. 

A group of bipartisan senators led by Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Foreign Relations Chair Ben Cardin, D-Md., held an emotional press conference Wednesday with five families whose loved ones are still being held hostage by Hamas.

"I discussed with a few of the families some new strategy that we can implement. And I promise to try and do that," Schumer said Wednesday. "There are always new initiatives as there are right now. And we are making slow, slow, slow, but important progress. Not that that progress can't come fast enough. And let me be clear, if Hamas had any basic shred of humanity, they would have released the hostages already."

Schumer and other senators did not immediately expand on what those new strategies or initiatives would entail. 

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Hamas is still holding 130 of the 240 hostages captive, including six Americans, whose conditions are unknown. Families lamented that Wednesday marked 103 days since the attack.

One of the victims' family members, Jon Polin, said during the press conference that his son, Hersh, was celebrating his 23rd birthday at the music festival when Hamas terrorists massacred over a thousand people. Hersh is one of the current victims held hostage.

"From eyewitness accounts and subsequent video footage, we know that he was loaded onto a Hamas pickup truck after having his left arm, his dominant arm, blown off," Polin told reporters. "And as Americans, we expect the United States, the greatest superpower in the history of the world, to use its full power to secure the hostages release. This includes making sure that all partners in the region make this a top priority."

Adi Marciano's daughter was killed in captivity while being held by Hamas terrorists. As she urged for more action to release the remaining victims, she said a "black cloud" hangs over her.

"Let's ensure that we do everything in our power to bring our loved ones home," she said. 

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Yarden Gonen's 23-year-old sister, Romi, was also kidnapped by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7. 

"You are all lawmakers of the most powerful country in the world, a beacon of democracy, a defender of civil and human rights," Gonen said. "Please, with this great power comes great responsibility. I ask you, please do everything you can to get our hostages home where they deserve to be. This is a violation of international law, of basic human rights."

Sen. Pete Ricketts, R-NE., said "Hamas must surrender" and that he and his colleagues will continue to "push for the release of hostages." Sens. Susan Collins, R-Me., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., were also in attendance. 

Ernst urged the Biden administration to do more to help the release of hostages. Some Israeli family members blamed Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not striking a deal to get their loved ones home. 

Cardin emphasized throughout the press conference that lawmakers will exhaust every possible avenue to progress toward bringing the victims home safely. 

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He also criticized the Qatar government for not doing more to advance the effort. 

"They do have opportunities that we don't have," Cardin said. "They have not been as effective as I would like to see them."

Israeli President Kibbutz Be'eri confirmed on Tuesday that two residents, Yossi Sharabi, 53, and Itai Svirsky, 38, held captive by Hamas, were killed. The announcement followed the release of a new Hamas video on the 100-day anniversary of the October 7 massacre, which also features a third hostage, Noa Argamani, 26.

Family members at Wednesday's press conference lamented that if action isn't taken swiftly to release the captives, their loved ones will inevitably be killed. 

"Every day that Prime Minister Netanyahu and the war cabinet do not negotiate a deal to release all the people who are hostages in Gaza is a failure," said Liz Natfali, a relative of 4-year-old Abigal Edan, who was the first American hostage freed by Hamas. 

An agreement to temporarily halt the war between Israel and Hamas was carried out in November, which resulted in the release of about 100 hostages and 180 Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. But the deal was short-lived after Hamas violated the pause and continued to hold more than 100 victims still captive.

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