Thursday, June 20

Families of hostages taken in Israel on Oct. 7 plead for peace at interfaith conference in NYC

Families of hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7 came together with religious leaders for an interfaith conference in New York City Monday amid the ongoing war in Gaza. 

The attendees, comprising the family members of Jewish and Muslim hostages as well as pastors, rabbis, and imams, pleaded for peace at the discussion hosted by UJA-Federation of NY. 

“It’s time to bring this suffering to an end. It’s time to work out a deal that will bring our children, our fathers, our sisters, our mothers back and we urge everybody to do everything that they can to press in all directions to bring this deal to fruition,” said Ronen Neutra, the father of American hostage Omer Neutra. “We need them back. It’s urgent.” 

Former hostage Aviva Siegel, whose husband is still being held despite her release from captivity, said she still wanted the people of Gaza to have a better life too. 

“Last week somebody came up to me and said, ‘I don’t believe you. How could you want a good life for the people in Gaza after what you went through?’” Siegel said. “I am going to stay a good human being. So, I want everybody to be good, and believe that everybody deserves a better life. Also for the people [in Gaza].” 

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Notable attendees of Monday’s event included, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, Pearl and Ira Meyer Scholar in Residence at UJA-Federation New York; Rabbi Marc Schneier, President of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding; Rabbi Joel Levenson of the Midway Jewish Center, NYPD Detective Mohamed Amen; Danyal Khan, Deputy Director of the Muslim American Leadership Alliance; Zach Erdem, Restaurateur & Television Personality; and Father Ryan Muldoon, Director of Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Dialogue of Archdiocese of New York. 

Monday’s event came after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed that four more hostages kidnapped on Oct. 7 have died while in Hamas captivity. Three of those men were in their 80s and seen previously in a Hamas video begging to be released. 

About 80 hostages in Gaza are believed to be alive, alongside the remains of 43 others. In the days since President Biden announced the cease-fire proposal Friday, Israel has seen some of its largest protests calling on the government to bring them home. Although Biden said the proposal came from Israel, the Israeli leadership has appeared to distance itself from the plan, vowing to keep conducting military operations against Hamas until the militant group is destroyed.

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Hundreds of people, including relatives of the captives, gathered outside Israel’s Defense Ministry and military headquarters in central Tel Aviv late Monday, calling for a deal. Smaller protests took place across the country.

About 100 captives were released during a week long exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners in November. Three of the men declared dead Monday had female relatives who were released during the exchange.

Israeli bombardments and ground operations in Gaza have killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians. Israel has blamed Hamas for civilian deaths, accusing the terrorist group of operating from dense residential areas. 

Israel has been expanding its offensive in the southern city of Rafah, once the main hub of humanitarian aid operations. The Israeli invasion of Rafah has largely cut off the flow of food, medicine and other supplies to Palestinians facing widespread hunger.

Fox News Digital’s Peter Aitken and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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