Washington — President Biden is poised to meet Wednesday at the White House with family members of Americans who were taken hostage by the militant group Hamas during the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel, a White House official confirmed to CBS News.

Mr. Biden’s meeting will be the first held in-person with the family members and follows an earlier video conference call he held with the families of 14 Americans who were missing in October. Other senior members of the Biden administration, including Vice President Kamala Harris, second gentleman Doug Emhoff and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, have met in-person with the families.

It’s not clear how many families will be participating in the meeting. During a campaign fundraiser in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Mr. Biden pledged the U.S. is “not going to stop until every hostage is returned home.”

The president stressed during a Hanukkah reception at the White House on Monday that his commitment to the safety of Jewish people is “unshakeable,” and said his administration has been working “unrelentlessly” to ensure the return of hostages. 

Israel accused Hamas of taking more than 240 people captive during its brutal rampage across southern Israel on Oct. 7, when more than 1,200 Israelis were killed by the group. The U.S. has designated Hamas a terrorist organization.

More than 100 hostages, including two Americans, 4-year-old Abigail Mor Edan and 49-year-old Liat Beinin, were freed during a weeklong November cease-fire in the war between Israel and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip. Roughly 240 Palestinians were also released from Israeli prisons during the pause in fighting. Two other Americans, who are dual U.S.-Israeli citizens, were released in late October after being held by Hamas.

Approximately 137 hostages are believed to still be in captivity in Gaza. Fewer than 10 Americans remain unaccounted for, the White House estimates. At least 31 Americans were killed during the Oct. 7 attacks. 

Other families feel ignored by the president

Families of Americans who have been detained abroad elsewhere for years stood outside the White House on Tuesday, questioning why the families of Americans held hostage by Hamas have been granted a meeting with Mr. Biden while their repeated requests have been ignored. 

“We’re glad the president is meeting with the [families of] the Gaza hostages, but when he tells all of our families — or his staff tells all of our families — that we’re the highest priority, these actions clearly don’t point to that,” Harrison Li told CBS News. His father, Kai Li, has been detained in China since 2012. 

“It’s a gut punch,” Li added. “What message is he sending if he meets with some folks and not others?” 

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Family members of those wrongfully detained and held hostage around the world, who call themselves the Bring Our Families Home Campaign, outside the White House on Dec. 12, 2023. 

CBS News


Li is part of a group of family members of Americans wrongfully detained and held hostage around the world, who call themselves the Bring Our Families Home Campaign. The group set up picnic blankets with plates and photos of their family members outside the White House gates to signify the empty seats at their holiday tables. 

Aida Dagher, the sister-in-law of Zack Shahin, who is imprisoned in Dubai, said the lack of acknowledgement from the president makes them feel like “we don’t count.” 

“We’re second-class citizens. First-class citizens are meeting tomorrow,” she told CBS News. “It’s great if you meet with some families. We’re happy for them. But why not us? We’ve been begging him.” 

In May, the families made a similar plea outside the White House for Mr. Biden to meet with them. 

Li said no one has given him an answer for why Mr. Biden has not met with them. 

“It would show us at least that he cares,” Li said of what a meeting would mean to them. “The suffering …  it’s heartbreaking. We just need the president to hear that.” 

Sara Cook contributed to this report.

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