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Families of American hostages meet with Biden in person for the first time

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Wearing black T-shirts bearing the photos of their captive loved ones, families of American hostages held by Hamas met face-to-face with President Joe Biden for the first time, part of a high profile U.S. tour by the group to keep the hostages’ plight at the front and center of public discussions about the Israel-Hamas war.

“We are grateful to President Biden for his steadfast commitment to bringing our family members home and the compassion he demonstrated today,” said a statement from the families after they met Wednesday with Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“We are encouraged by our conversation today, and we urged President Biden to continue doing everything in his power to negotiate a swift and total release of the remaining hostages,” the statement said. “We also offered to do anything he needs to support his efforts to bring back our loved ones.”

Biden, Blinken and Jon Finer, the deputy national security adviser, met with 13 family members while another three phoned in. Together, they are related to eight hostages abducted by Hamas one Oct. 7, when thousands of terrorists invaded Israel, massacring more than 1,200 people and abducting more than 240.

In the days after the Oct. 7 attack, Biden held a 90-minute video call with family members of American hostages. Since then, Hamas has released four hostages with U.S. citizenship: Mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan on Oct. 20, and Abigail Edan and Liat Benin Atzili as part of a deal with Israel last month that saw the terror group release more than 100 hostages in exchange for a weeklong pause in the fighting and the release of hundreds of Palestinians held by Israel on security offenses.  More than 100 remain captive, and a number have been killed in captivity.

Wednesday’s meeting took place as family members of hostages have been pressuring the Israeli government to conduct negotiations to free the remaining hostages. Those relatives and their supporters marched on Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Tuesday and Wednesday, driven by fear that the ongoing fighting endangers the lives of those still held in Gaza.

Those who spoke with Biden on Wednesday included relatives of Edan Alexander, Itay Chen, Omer Neutra, Sagui Dekel-Chen, Keith Siegel, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, Judith Weinstein and Gad Haggai.

Siegel’s wife, Aviva, who was herself among those released during a recent pause in fighting, was among those meeting Biden. Also meeting Biden was Liz Naftali, Idan’s great aunt, who continues to advocate for the hostages.

Speaking to media following the meeting, the families praised Biden for his work in mediating the release of the hostages during the recent pause in fighting.

“We are here because the president and his team have been bringing out light in a dark time,” said Naftali, “and Abigail as a four year old is a symbol of that light.”

The families have visited other leaders in recent days. They joined for Hanukkah menorah lighting on Tuesday evening at the Capitol, with congressional leadership, and then at the Israeli embassy in Washington, where some were beset by pro-Palestinian protesters as they entered. They also met with Edmond Whalen, a Catholic bishop in New York, and New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

A number of them also recently joined Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Jewish Democrat, for a menorah lighting in Harrisburg, the state capital, where family members of the Jews massacred in the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue attack were also present.

With news of the war focusing more recently on the devastation in the Gaza Strip following weeks of intense Israeli airstrikes and an ongoing ground invasion, Jonathan Dekel-Chen, whose son is Sagui, said the families appreciated the broad support they were getting.

“We’ve been in frequent and very transparent contact with administration officials,” he said. “I think most importantly, our sons, daughters, fathers, sisters, brothers and others have also really seen how, in a very divided time [that] members of Congress, members of the Senate, from wall to wall showed solidarity with us.”


The post Families of American hostages meet with Biden in person for the first time appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Russia Extends Invitation to Palestinian Factions for Talks in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

i24 NewsRussia has extended invitations to various Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Fatah, for discussions on the Israel-Hamas conflict and broader issues in the Middle East.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov announced the initiative on Friday, highlighting Moscow’s desire to engage with all major players in the region amid heightened tensions.

The invitation included a dozen Palestinian groups and is slated for “inter-Palestinian” talks scheduled to commence on February 29.

Bogdanov, serving as President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy for the Middle East, emphasized the inclusivity of the invitation, stating, “We invited all Palestinian representatives — all political forces that have their positions in different countries, including Syria, Lebanon, and other countries in the region.”

Among the invitees are Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, alongside representatives of Fatah and the broader Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

The invitation comes at a critical juncture as the Israel-Hamas conflict continues to escalate, drawing international attention and concern. Russia’s proactive stance in convening discussions reflects its growing criticism of Israel and its Western allies, underscoring Moscow’s efforts to assert its influence in the region.

The post Russia Extends Invitation to Palestinian Factions for Talks in Moscow first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Netanyahu: Those Who Want us to Desist from Rafah Op Are Telling Us to Lose

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz in the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 28, 2023. Photo: ABIR SULTAN POOL/Pool via REUTERS

i24 NewsHamas drops its “delusional” demands, productive hostage talks could begin, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday, stressing Israel would not agree to the terror group’s current demands.

WATCH: PM Netanyahu delivers a statement after Hamas suspended negotiations pic.twitter.com/nxISPb4JUm

— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) February 17, 2024

“I insist that Hamas should abandon its delusional demands – and when it does, we will be able to move forward,” Netanyahu said in a statement live on TV.

“Those who want us to desist from the Rafah operation,” the leader said in an apparent reference to the U.S. administration of President Joe Biden, “are telling us we should lose. We won’t be dictated to.”

The post Netanyahu: Those Who Want us to Desist from Rafah Op Are Telling Us to Lose first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Iran Unveils New Air Defense Weaponry

Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad-Reza Ashtiani speaks at a press conference during the unveiling of a new surface-to-surface 4th generation Khorramshahr ballistic missile. Photo: Reuters/West Asia News Agency

i24 NewsIran demonstrated new weaponry on Saturday, including what it said was the locally made Arman anti-ballistic missile system and the Azarakhsh low-altitude air defense system, said the official IRNA news agency. Saturday’s unveiling ceremony of the two vehicle-mounted systems was held in the presence of Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Mohammad Reza Ashtiani.

“With the entry of new systems into the country’s defense network, the air defense capability of the Islamic Republic of Iran will increase significantly,” said IRNA.

Video of the new Azarakhsh SHORAD engaging a target drone

It’s radar has a detection range of 50km, with 25km for it’s EO/IR suite https://t.co/cZSCk4AmZj pic.twitter.com/7gEnZh0uef

— Iran Defense|نیروهای مسلح جمهوری اسلامی ایران (@IranDefense) February 17, 2024

The Arman missile system is said to be able to “simultaneously confront six targets at a distance of 120 to 180 km,” while the Azarakhsh missile system “can identify and destroy targets up to a range of 50 km with four ready-to-fire missiles.”

The announcement comes amid tensions across the Middle East, with Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis attacking vessels linked to the United States, UK and Israel in the Red Sea in a show of solidarity with the Gaza Strip.

Iran unveils domestically-manufactured Arman anti-ballistic missile and Azarakhsh low-altitude air defense system https://t.co/69YBsGqT0F pic.twitter.com/PVWlw0sIuj

— Press TV (@PressTV) February 17, 2024

The U.S. and its allies in the Middle East are concerned with Iran’s growing role at the international global arms market, The Wall Street Journal said on Friday. The transformation of the industry, boosted by Russia’s “purchase of thousands of drones that altered the battlefield in Ukraine, has helped Tehran scale up its support of militia allies in Middle East conflicts,” read the report.

The post Iran Unveils New Air Defense Weaponry first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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