WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said it is his priority to secure the return of American citizens kidnapped in the war, reaffirming the U.S. stance on the recent Hamas attacks. The administration said it is seeking more information regarding the safety of U.S. hostages, preparing to send intelligence to Israel.
“We must be crystal clear: we stand with Israel,” Biden said in his emotion-filled remarks Tuesday afternoon. The speech came hours after Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the third time in recent days. Meanwhile, the U.S. moved to send weapons and warships closer to Israel, while flowing in additional Iron Dome interceptors — one day after Israel ordered a complete siege over the Gaza Strip.
As of Tuesday, 14 U.S. citizens in Israel at the time of the attacks have been killed, with others reported missing. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a press briefing after Biden’s remarks that the administration had no information on the condition of the hostages nor a confirmed number of how many are being held. Sullivan said Biden has been in contact with the loved ones of those captured, while some families deny the president’s outreach.
“He has proven, in country after country, his willingness,” said Sullivan. “To go further than any other president has gone before — to bring those people home.”
In response to the attacks, Israel has launched missile strikes targeting Gaza. Palestinian authorities say 900 have been killed. When asked about the safety of Palestinians impacted by the siege, Sullivan did not comment on the specifics.
“This is something also that we have been discussing with our counterparts in Israel and with our counterparts in Egypt,” said Sullivan.
On Saturday, Hamas, the Islamist militant organization that currently governs the Palestinian territory of Gaza, launched a surprise attack firing thousands of rockets into Israel. Armed Hamas forces entered Israeli areas shortly after and raided a music festival in Southern Israel close to the Gaza border, killing more than 260 people and taking scores of hostages.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, violence in the area has not reached as intense of levels since the 2005 Palestinian uprising. The death toll from the war has topped 1,500, according to AP.
A spectrum of prayers and coalition-led protests erupted throughout the country over the weekend. In Washington, members of Jewish and Palestinian communities responded. Many called for an end to the violence while critiquing U.S. involvement in the region.
“There is no place for hate in America: not against Jews, not against Muslims, against anybody,” Biden said. “What we reject is terrorism.” Sullivan followed, stating that Hamas’ actions were comparable to ISIS.
When asked how long the U.S. plans to provide assistance to Israel, Sullivan dismissed the claim of a timeline. Biden said the next step domestically is to ensure Congress continues Israeli support amid the war in Ukraine.
“When Congress returns, we’re going to ask them to take urgent action,” Biden said. “This is not about party and politics. It’s about the security of our world.”