US President Joe Biden said Monday that Americans are likely being held hostage by Hamas after its surprise attack on Israel, adding that Washington is working with Israel on “hostage recovery efforts.”
At least 11 US citizens were among those killed in the “heart-wrenching” attacks, Biden said, adding that “the safety of American citizens — whether at home or abroad — is my top priority as president.”
“While we are still working to confirm, we believe it is likely that American citizens may be among those being held by Hamas,” Biden said in a statement after meeting with his national security team at the White House.
“I have directed my 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.”
Biden said that many of the 11 US citizens killed in the attacks at the weekend had “made a second home in Israel.” The State Department had earlier given the US death toll as nine.
“My heart goes out to every family impacted by the horrible events of the past few days,” he added.
Hamas, which dragged off about 150 hostages in its surprise weekend assault on southern Israel, threatened on Monday to kill them if Israeli air strikes continue “targeting” Gaza residents without warning.
The threat came after Israel imposed a total siege on the Gaza Strip, cutting off the water supply, which sparked UN fears of an increasingly dire humanitarian situation.
Reeling from the Palestinian Islamist group’s unprecedented ground, air and sea attacks, Israel has counted 800 dead and launched a withering barrage of strikes on Gaza that have raised the death toll there to 687.
The United States sent its largest aircraft carrier and five other warships near Israel in a show of support on Sunday, while boosting fighter aircraft squadrons in the region.