At least 11 U.S. citizens were among the more than 900 people killed in Hamas’s weekend attack on Israel and Americans are probably being held hostage in Gaza, President Joe Biden says, raising the likelihood of Washington getting further drawn into the growing war.
“While we are still working to confirm, we believe it is likely that American citizens may be among those being held by Hamas,” the President said in a statement.
The Biden administration has scrambled warships and planes to the region, announced further military aid for Israel and pressed other regional countries to denounce the attacks in a bid to contain the fighting.
But the presence of American hostages in the besieged Palestinian territory would almost certainly force the U.S. government to become even more involved and escalate the international crisis.
Mr. Biden said his government will work with Israel on the abductions, “including sharing intelligence and deploying experts from across the United States government to consult with and advise Israeli counterparts on hostage recovery efforts.”
Israel has been hitting Gaza with air strikes since the Hamas attack on Saturday, killing more than 680 Palestinians. On Monday, Israel announced a siege of the territory, blocking food, electricity and fuel from getting in. The country is also girding for a potential ground invasion.
Mr. Biden met with a group of top diplomatic and national-security officials Monday morning to co-ordinate efforts to support Israel and push other countries not to escalate the violence, the White House press office said.
“He directed his team to follow up on coordination with Israel on all aspects of the crisis and to continue their work with regional partners to warn anyone who might seek to take advantage in this situation,” it said in a statement.
Threatening to expand the war is the possibility that Iran was involved in planning it, which The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. But so far, U.S. officials said Tehran’s exact role was not clear.
“Iran is broadly complicit in these attacks, for having supported Hamas going back decades, for having provided financial support, for having supported training, weapons to Hamas,” deputy national-security adviser Jon Finer said on ABC Monday. “What we don’t have is direct information that shows Iranian involvement in ordering or planning the attack that took place over the last couple of days. It’s something that we are going to look at closely.”
The Biden administration has previously floated the possibility that Hamas’s attack was a deliberate effort to thwart a U.S. attempt to broker a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
In a call with lawmakers, administration officials detailed the aid Israel is asking for, Politico reported Monday. It includes “precision-guided” artillery as well as more missiles for its Iron Dome defence system, which shoots down rockets from Hamas and Hezbollah.
Axios reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also told Mr. Biden in a weekend call that Israel will have to launch a ground war in Gaza.
Austria and Germany announced they were suspending tens of millions of euros’ worth of bilateral development aid to the Palestinians. The European Union said it would urgently review the bloc’s development aid for Palestinian authorities.
The U.S. resumed aid to the West Bank, which is governed by the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, and Gaza, run by Hamas, in 2021 after it was suspended during the previous Trump administration.
According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the country has committed US$500-million in help for 2021 to 2024. The aid funds humanitarian measures – such as food, medicine and water – as well as civil-society groups and small-business development.
The State Department told The Globe that it is not currently considering stopping Palestinian development aid.
In a joint statement Monday evening, the U.S. and the leaders of four of its G7 allies – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni – vowed to “ensure Israel is able to defend itself” and reiterated their “unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and its appalling acts of terrorism.”
The statement warned “any party hostile to Israel” not to “exploit” the attack. The leaders also recognized “the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people” and warned that “Hamas does not represent those aspirations.”
On Monday night, the White House was lit up with the blue and white of the Israeli flag.