White House acknowledges ‘innocent’ Palestinians killed in Israeli hostage rescue mission

Initial White House statement on Israeli operation did not mention civilian death toll

John Bowden
Washington DC
Sunday 09 June 2024 18:35 BST
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Freed Israeli hostage Noa Argamani celebrates father's birthday on her return

Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed reports that civilians appeared to have been killed during Israel’s mission to rescue four hostages held by Hamas over the weekend but said that the US was not in a position to verify an exact or estimated death toll from the operation.

Sullivan appeared across the Sunday show circuit as the Biden administration appeared to be taking something of a victory lap on the development. He had, a day earlier, congratulated Israel’s government and military for the successful rescue in a statement which did not mention civilian casualties, even as initial reports across Saturday indicated that dozens of civilians had been killed in the operation.

Palestinian health officials have said that more than 270 civilians were killed during the attack; IDF commanders have put their estimation at less than 100.

“We the United States are not in a position today to make a definitive statement about that,” said the president’s national security adviser on Sunday. “But we do know this, Dana, innocent people were tragically killed in this operation. The exact number we don’t know, but innocent people were killed.”

While acknowledging that Palestinian civilians living in Gaza were going through “hell”, Sullivan stuck to the Biden administration’s refrain: that the blame lies solely with Hamas for operating in areas tightly-packed with civilians.

“Every day that we see more innocent people lost is another horrible, awful, tragic day,” said Sullivan.

Today, Israeli security forces conducted a successful operation to rescue four hostages from the grips of Hamas in Gaza. All four were taken from the Nova Music Festival on October 7, and Hamas filmed the horrific abduction of Ms. Argamani for the world to see. Now they are safe and reunited with their families. We commend the work of the Israeli security services that conducted this daring operation.

Israeli forces separately issued a statement denying reports that emerged on social media claiming the attack was carried out by Israeli forces concealed within aid trucks brought into Gaza by the floating pier set up by the US military to facilitate humanitarian aid shipments.

On Saturday, as news of the rescue operation broke, the White House issued a statement congratulating the Israeli government. It also called on Hamas to accept a ceasefire deal with Israel, even as both governments have stated that a dissolution of the militant group is necessary as part of a path forward in Gaza.

Palestinians look at the aftermath of the Israeli bombing of the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza
Palestinians look at the aftermath of the Israeli bombing of the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza (AP)

“Today, Israeli security forces conducted a successful operation to rescue four hostages from the grips of Hamas in Gaza. All four were taken from the Nova Music Festival on October 7, and Hamas filmed the horrific abduction of Ms Argamani for the world to see. Now they are safe and reunited with their families. We commend the work of the Israeli security services that conducted this daring operation,” Sullivan said on Saturday.

“The United States is supporting all efforts to secure the release of hostages still held by Hamas, including American citizens. This includes through ongoing negotiations or other means. The hostage release and ceasefire deal that is now on the table would secure the release of all the remaining hostages together with security assurances for Israel and relief for the innocent civilians in Gaza.”

Noa Argamani with her father Yakov and a family friend Nir Givon, in Ramat Gan following her rescue
Noa Argamani with her father Yakov and a family friend Nir Givon, in Ramat Gan following her rescue (Reuters)

Sullivan said on Sunday that Hamas has not yet responded to the latest ceasefire offer brokered in part by the United States; US officials have repeated that assertion for several days while simultaneously deflecting concerns that Israel’s government – or at the very least important parts of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling coalition – are not on board.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza continues to climb and aid agencies warn that the entire region is under severe risk of famine. Shocking images of carnage continue to spread across social media and demonstrations carry on in major cities around the globe calling for the war to end.

On Saturday, one of those demonstrations took place in Washington, DC as activists formed a “red line” which encircled the White House with the aim of calling on President Biden to enforce his so-called red line in Rafah. The US president has said he will cut off some military assistance to Israel if a major operation takes place in the southern Gaza city.

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