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11 Americans Killed, Others Held by Hamas After Blistering Israel Attack


Pictures of the dead, missing and those taken hostage are displayed beside candles during the Jewish Community Vigil for Israel in London, Britain, Oct. 9, 2023.
Pictures of the dead, missing and those taken hostage are displayed beside candles during the Jewish Community Vigil for Israel in London, Britain, Oct. 9, 2023.

President Joe Biden said Monday that his administration is supporting Israel in its all-out war with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and that he has put U.S. officials on high alert in the wake of the stunning, "heart wrenching" weekend attack on Israel by the U.S.-designated terrorist group.

He confirmed that at least 11 Americans were killed in the multipronged, surprise Hamas attack, and said officials believe that some of Hamas' hostages may be Americans.

"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," he said.

And domestically, he said, "in cities across the country, police departments have stepped up security around centers of Jewish life, and the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other federal law enforcement partners are closely monitoring for any domestic threats in connection with the horrific terrorist attacks in Israel."

The White House has been a hive of activity since Saturday morning's attack, with Biden and administration figures speaking to officials from countries in the Mideast, Palestinian officials, and close allies like the U.K., Germany and Italy.

In the U.S., political figures on both sides of the aisle condemned Hamas and spoke of the far-reaching global impacts of events in the Gaza Strip, which is an area about twice the size of Washington, D.C.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is in China with a congressional delegation, said he asked China's president to toughen his stance.

"I raised with President Xi [Jinping] the unfolding atrocities carried out against Israel and the need for the world community to stand together against terrorism and with the Israeli people, and pointedly requested from President Xi that the Chinese Foreign Minister strengthen their statement; they did," he said.

And Schumer's Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, demanded swift action against known Hamas supporter Iran.

"The West should reimpose extensive multilateral sanctions on Tehran and deny Iranian planes overflight rights. Impound the shipping vessels Iran uses to circumvent sanctions. Close Iranian banks with access to the West, and cease the Iranian operations of European businesses," he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed published Monday afternoon. "Treat Iranian officials like pariahs and sink Iranian naval boats that threaten international shipping."

Over the weekend, a senior Biden administration official told journalists: "it's too early to say whether the state of Iran was directly involved, or planning, or supporting," but added that "there's no doubt that Hamas is funded, equipped, armed by Iran and others. And so that's why we have taken action throughout this administration to hold Iran accountable, to impose sanctions on Iran for support to Hamas and other terrorist organizations. That is going to continue, believe me."

Biden did not mention Iran in his lengthy statement Monday.

Analyst Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations said that while a "shadow war" between Israel and Iran has been ongoing for some time — with officials from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps meeting with Hamas representatives, and with Israeli officials targeting Iranian officials, scientists and Iranians working with proxy forces in Syria — "All this is likely to be aggravated by Saturday's attack on Israel."

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said Monday, during a rally in New Hampshire, that Biden's policies led to the carnage seen over the weekend.

"As president, I will once again stand strongly with the state of Israel, and we will cut off the money to the terrorists on day one and reimpose the travel ban on terror-afflicted countries," he said.

By late Monday afternoon, an Israeli embassy spokesperson said the death toll had risen to at least 900 Israelis. And the Gaza Ministry of Health said at least 687 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli airstrikes. Both figures are expected to climb.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said nearly 6,000 people were wounded on both sides.

The number of hostages, Guterres said, numbered "over 100, possibly more," including civilian women, children and the elderly. Some, he said, were being held in Israel; others are believed to be inside the Gaza Strip.

This situation poses an extraordinary challenge to Israeli leadership, wrote analyst Natan Sachs of the non-profit Brookings Institution.

"Israeli sensitivity to POWs and MIAs is world-record-setting," he wrote, noting that Hamas' current leader in Gaza was himself part of a swap of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli soldier in 2011.

He added, "The Israeli government faces a conundrum: enter with force and risk many more Israeli casualties, both military and civilian. Refrain from it, and find yourself at the mercy of a terrorist organization on your border. Freeing all Hamas and Islamic jihad operatives from Israeli prisons, as these organizations demand, would be difficult for the Israeli government to agree to. Israel might eventually try to negotiate, or it might embark on risky rescue operations inside the Gaza Strip with the best case outcome being only partial success."

Advocacy group J Street, which describes its membership as "pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy Americans," encouraged the White House to show its support for Israel. On Saturday, hours after the initial attacks, Biden said his commitment to Israel remains "rock solid."

"We are deeply worried for the safety of the Israeli people, including the hostages now in Gaza, as well as for the safety of the Palestinian civilians who are now caught in the crossfire," the group said in a statement Monday.

J Street added, "We support the Biden administration as they take all necessary measures to aid, support and reinforce our Israeli allies, as they combat Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and guard against the threat of further attacks on additional fronts."

Margaret Besheer at the U.N. and Linda Gradstein in Jerusalem contributed to this report.