President Joe Biden on Monday said the US government is aware of “at least 11” Americans who have been killed in attacks on Israel by Hamas and warned that an as-yet unknown number of US citizens may have been taken as hostages by the terrorist group.
In a statement, Mr Biden said the updated toll of American fatalities was part of efforts to “continue to account for the horrors of the appalling terrorist assault against Israel this weekend and the hundreds of innocent civilians who were murdered” and stressed that the “immense scale and reach of this tragedy” is only now being understood.
“We also know that American citizens still remain unaccounted for, and we are working with Israeli officials to obtain more information as to their whereabouts,” he said, adding that his “top priority” as president is “the safety of American citizens—whether at home or abroad”.
“While we are still working to confirm, we believe it is likely that American citizens may be among those being held by Hamas,” Mr Biden continued.
He also said he has “directed” his national security team to “work with their Israeli counterparts on every aspect of the hostage crisis, including sharing intelligence and deploying experts from across the United States government to consult with and advise Israeli counterparts on hostage recovery efforts”.
Mr Biden stressed that US citizens still in Israel can make use of consular assistance and security alerts from the US Embassy in Jerusalem, and noted that commercial air transportation and ground routes out of the country are still available for those who wish to leave. He also cautioned that Americans in the country should “take sensible precautions in the days ahead and follow the guidance of local authorities”.
The president’s statement comes just hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli Defence Forces’ counterassault against the terrorist group — including air strikes against targets in Gaza — was just the start of a larger offensive.
In a televised statement, Mr Netanyahu said Israeli’s military forces “have only started striking Hamas” and warned that the enormity of the response to the surprise Hamas attack “will reverberate with them for generations”.
A Hamas spokesperson known by the nom de guerre Abu Obeida said the group would execute one hostage each time Israeli forces target civilians “without prior warning”.
In response, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen cautioned that such retaliations — which would be considered war crimes— “will not be forgiven”.
Earlier in the day, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced a “complete siege” on Gaza, including cuts to the territory’s supply of electricity and a blockade on food and fuel shipments.
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