President Joe Biden said Monday that at least 11 U.S. citizens have been confirmed to be among the massive death toll caused by an attack by Hamas militants this weekend and Israel’s ongoing retaliatory bombing of the Gaza Strip.
In a White House statement, Biden also said there were still missing American citizens and that the U.S. government was working with Israeli officials to obtain more information about their whereabouts.
“My condolences go out to every family affected by the terrible events of the last few days. The pain suffered by these families, the magnitude of their loss and the anguish of those still waiting for information is unimaginable,” the President said.
After Hamas’ massive attack on Saturday, Israel formally declared war on the armed militants who rule the 2.3 million Palestinians living under occupation in the struggling Gaza Strip. The Israeli military has since stepped up airstrikes on Gaza and threatened a possible ground invasion while sealing off the area from food, fuel and supplies.
According to local media, around 900 people had been killed in Israel as of Monday evening. According to Palestinian authorities, more than 680 people were killed in Gaza. Thousands have been injured on both sides and more than 123,000 Palestinians have fled their homes in Gaza.
Hamas has claimed it is holding about 100 hostages as part of its attack on Israel. In response to the Israeli airstrikes, a spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing said the group would kill a captured Israeli civilian every time Israel attacks Palestinian civilians in their homes in the Gaza Strip “without prior warning.”
Biden said the U.S. government believes it is “likely” that American citizens are among Hamas prisoners.
“The safety of American citizens – whether at home or abroad – is my top priority as president,” the president’s statement said, adding that he had instructed his team “in all aspects of the hostage crisis, including sharing “To work with their Israeli counterparts on intelligence and sending experts from across the United States government to consult with Israeli counterparts on hostage recovery efforts.”
The State Department is currently providing consular assistance and updated security alerts to American citizens still in Israel. Americans wishing to leave Israel can still do so via commercial flights and other ground options. The president warned Americans still living in Israel to “take sensible precautions” and follow the instructions of local authorities.
“In this moment of grief, the American people stand shoulder to shoulder with the Israelis. “We remember the pain of being attacked by terrorists at home, and Americans across the country stand united against these evil acts that have once again taken the lives of innocent Americans,” Biden said.
“It’s an outrage. And we will continue to show the world that the American people are unwavering in their resolve to resist terrorism in all forms.”
Biden’s statement included nothing about the Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli airstrikes, the now-displaced Gaza residents or the push by far-right Israeli officials to block Palestinians’ access to food, water and electricity. Nor was there any mention of the root cause – the endless apartheid that Israel perpetrates daily against the Palestinians – that led to the current moment.
Shortly after Biden’s comments, the White House, along with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, released a joint statement supporting Israel and condemning Hamas. This declaration also mentioned the goal of Palestine’s statehood.
“We all recognize the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and support equal standards of justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians,” the joint statement said. “But make no mistake: Hamas does not represent these aspirations and offers the Palestinian people nothing other than more terror and bloodshed.”
Since this weekend’s attack, the White House has been working diligently to secure a Senate confirmation hearing for Biden’s nomination to be U.S. ambassador to Israel. according to NBC News. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is expected to hold a confirmation hearing for former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew as early as October 18, according to reports.