Families of U.S. citizens held hostage by Hamas urge the Biden administration to ‘do more’ and plead for information

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TEL AVIV — Relatives of U.S. citizens feared to have been taken hostage by Hamas urged the Biden administration Tuesday to help free their loved ones, saying they had yet to receive “formal communication” from the White House.

Rachel Goldberg, the mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, said at a news conference here that the last words she received from her son came in a message telling her he loved her and was “sorry.”

Goldberg-Polin was among thousands of revelers at a music festival Saturday when Hamas militants descended on the event, leaving at least 260 people dead and taking an unknown number of attendees hostage.

Goldberg said she heard from witnesses that her son had part of his arm “blown off” before he was taken by the militants, who ordered anyone who could to “stand up and walk.”

The U.S. cannot ‘take a back seat’

On Tuesday, Goldberg and members of three other families called on the Biden administration and the Israeli government to do whatever they could to ensure that their loved ones are freed as they also called for more information on efforts to rescue their relatives.

The U.S. cannot “take a back seat,” said Ruby Chen, whose 19-year-old son, Itay Chen, was believed to have been taken hostage on Saturday while on active duty for the Israeli military, which he joined less than a year ago.

Seated from left: Jonathan Dekel-Chen, father of Sagui Dekel-Chen from Nahal Oz; Ruby Chen, father of Itay Chen, 19, a soldier in the armored corps; Ayala Neta, daughter, and Nahal Neta, son of Adrienne Neta, 66, a nurse living in Kibbitz Be'eri; Rachel Goldberg, mother of Hersh Goldberg-Polin, 23, who was attending the music festival, and Jonathan Polin, Hersh's father. (Maya Alleruzzo / AP)

The grief-stricken father told NBC News that he and other relatives of U.S. citizens feared to have been captured by Hamas had so far received “no formal communication with the U.S. government.”

“We heard from a person from here in the Tel Aviv Embassy, but beyond taking note that we filled out forms and defined him as missing, there’s been no formal communication to me as an individual or to us as a group communicating what do they know, what do they plan to do,” Chen said.

He and other families at the news conference expressed feeling left in the dark, with little information coming from both U.S. and Israeli officials.

He said he hoped the U.S. would play a role in helping track down his son and other hostages. “It has the power, it has the resources, it has the influence to do more,” he said.

Biden: U.S. citizens held hostage highest priority

President Joe Biden stressed in a news conference Tuesday that his highest priority is to secure the safety of U.S. citizens taken hostage and that he’s directing his team to share intelligence and consult with Israeli counterparts to aid in hostage recovery efforts.

The U.S. State Department and Israeli government press office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Chen said he believed the U.S. “is able to do many things that can be different than what the Israeli government could do.”

“We are asking on behalf of my family for President Biden to reassure his heart is in the right place when it comes to Israel, and secretary of state to do what they can to make this end for us as soon as possible to become family wholly again,” he said.

Nahar Neta, who participated in the news conference held by family members, said his 66-year-old mother, Adrienne Neta, who was born in California and now lives in Israel, was abducted by militants from a shelter in her home. He said it was important for the families to speak out because “without a strong public address, the situation of hostages is usually not quickly addressed.”

“I don’t think it is my place to tell the policymakers and decision-makers how to go about this process, he said. “I care about the result and the result that I care about is for my mom to come home and for me to be able to hug her. I trust these people to do what they need to do in order for that to happen.”

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