US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he struggled to “find the right words” to comprehend what he saw after Israeli officials showed him graphic photos of babies, including one “riddled with bullets,” from Hamas attacks.
“Images are worth a thousand words, these images may be worth a million,” he said in a moving press conference in Tel Aviv on Thursday.
The top US diplomat had travelled to Tel Aviv to meet his Israeli counterparts as the Biden administration pledges its commitment to support the allied nation amid the ongoing violence in the Middle East.
During his visit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office posted distressing photos of some of the infant victims killed in the Hamas attack on social media and said that they had shared them with the US secretary of state.
The graphic images showed the bodies of what appeared to be three babies. Two of them were burned beyond recognition; the third image was blurred but showed blood-stained clothes on the infant.
During Thursday’s press conference, Mr Blinken was asked about his reaction to the photos.
In a solemn moment, he told reporters that what he had seen “defies comprehension” and is “simply depravity in the worst imaginable way”.
“We did see photos, videos that the Israeli government shared with us. Some I think have actually already been seen in public media. Others were new to me and I think new to our team,” he said.
“It’s hard to find the right words. It’s beyond what anyone would ever want to imagine, much less actually see and, god forbid, experience.”
Mr Blinken described some of the distressing images of what was left of the victims, saying the only way he could describe it was “overwhelming”.
“A baby, an infant, riddled with bullets, soldiers beheaded, young people burned alive in their cars or in their highway rooms.
“I could go on, but it’s simply depravity in the worst imaginable way,” he said.
“It almost defies comprehension and it’s been said to me in the most immediate future. Ot harkens back to ISIS and some of the very things we saw when it was on its rampage that thankfully was stopped.
“So I think for any human being to see this it’s really beyond almost anything that we can comprehend, digest.
“And I’ll add that when you see this you try to imagine, maybe not try, you can’t help but imagine yourself, your family, your loved ones, your friends in that situation, in that predicament and maybe the best word for it for me is overwhelming.”
Mr Blinken went on to say that the brutality of the attacks against Israeli civilians was a “moment of moral clarity”.
“I think what it’s done is united a country in profound grief but also united a country in resolve and it’s imperative that the rest of us share that resolve,” he said.
“I said this earlier: This is a moment for moral clarity. This is a moment where everyone needs to make clear that there is revulsion, disgust and a determination not to allow this to go forward.”
The Israeli military has said that more than 1,200 people have been killed since Hamas militants stormed across the Gaza border into Israel in a surprise attack on Saturday.
An unknown number of people have also been kidnapped and are being held hostage back in Gaza, with their desperate family members begging for them to come home safely.
At least 27 American citizens are among the dead, while 14 are believed to have been kidnapped, the White House said on Thursday.
Israel has responded to the Hamas attacks by pummeling Gaza with retaliatory air strikes which have killed at least 1,400 Palestinians, including 447 children, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.
Israel also ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza, cutting off supplies of electricity, water, food and fuel and sparking fears of an escalating humanitarian crisis.
Mr Blinken reinforced President Joe Biden’s stance that the US is firmly standing with Israel, saying that the administration will work “quickly and swiftly with Congress” to support Tel Aviv as its needs evolve.
“I came to Israel bearing a simple message. The US stands with Israel and with its people today, tomorrow, every day,” he said.
During his visit, Mr Blinken also met with the families of American citizens whose loved ones have been killed or taken hostage by Hamas.
“The enormity of their loss is immeasurable. For the families of the missing there’s an unrelenting agony in not knowing the fate of loved ones… No one should have to endure what they’re going through,” he said.
“There’s so many families like them, the US is one of 30 countries where family members, friends, entire communities are being forced to go through this wrenching experience because of Hamas disdain for human life and basic human dignity.”
Mr Blinken said that the US is “doing everything we can to secure the release of the hostages”.
He added: “Everywhere we’ve gone we’ve met people who’ve been touched one way or another by Hamas bloody hand – a loved one, family, a friend, a classmate, a colleague, killed, maimed, missing.”
While Mr Blinken said that the “choice could not be more clear” who the US stands with, he refused to confirm a report that the Biden administration is also taking steps to freeze $6bn in funds to Iran.
The $6bn of Iranian oil money was only unfrozen last month as part of a controversial prisoner exchange which saw five Americans freed. The money can only be used for humanitarian purposes in Iran and has not yet been released.
Sources told The Washington Post that the US and Qatari government have now agreed to block Iran from acccessing the bank account containing the humanitarian assistance – in light of the Hamas attacks on Israel.
Mr Blinken refused to confirm or deny the report, but did hint: “We have strict oversight of the funds and we reserve the strict right to freeze them.”
The US has yet to publicly tie Iran to the surprise invasion.
However, intelligence agencies are said to be exploring a potential link.
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