WASHINGTON — The number of U.S. citizens confirmed killed in the war between Israel and Hamas rises to at least 22, and at least 17 other Americans are missing, the State Department announced Wednesday. This represents an increase in the number of deaths compared to the 14 deaths the day before, in a war which has already left more than 2,200 dead on both sides.
A “handful” of American citizens are among approximately 150 hostages captured by Hamas militants during their shocking weekend offensive against Israel, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday.
In a further sign of American support for Israel, Secretary of State Antony Blinken left to meet officials there. And the U.S. military is moving a second aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean Sea as part of efforts to prevent the war from escalating into a more dangerous regional conflict.
Kirby said the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its ships would be an “available asset” if needed. The USS Gerald R. Ford, the Navy’s most advanced aircraft carrier, and its strike group have already arrived in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The attack raised questions about the role of Iran, Hamas’ main sponsor, and its direct participation in the operation. But the United States has collected information suggesting that senior Iranian government officials were caught off guard by the multi-pronged attack, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke under condition of anonymity. This intelligence informed White House officials, saying publicly that they had not yet seen evidence of direct Iranian involvement in the planning or execution of the Hamas attack.
“We have not seen anything to indicate that they specifically reduced controls to support this series of attacks, or that they were involved in the training. And obviously that required some training on the part of these terrorists,” Kirby said, while adding that the United States will continue to review the intelligence “and see if it leads us to different conclusions.”
In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has joined forces with a top political rival to create a war cabinet, establishing a degree of unity as the government faces public pressure to oust Hamas. Israel continued its destructive airstrikes in Gaza, where a potential ground offensive would likely result in large numbers of casualties on both sides of the conflict.
As many airlines suspend commercial flights to and from Israel due to ongoing rocket and missile exchanges, Kirby said the United States is exploring “a whole range of other options” to help Americans who wish to leave, appearing to leave open the possibility of a US-assisted evacuation.
Kirby said the administration was still in talks with Israel and Egypt to try to arrange safe passage for Gaza civilians. “These people are also victims,” he said. “They didn’t ask Hamas to do this.”
President Joe Biden, who is scheduled to meet with Jewish leaders later Wednesday, has sought to directly link the Hamas attacks to decades of anti-Semitism and violence endured by Jews around the world.
“This attack brought to the surface the painful memories and scars left by a millennium of anti-Semitism and genocide against the Jewish people,” Biden told reporters. He added: “We must be perfectly clear: there is no justification for terrorism, no. excuse and the type of terrorism that has been exhibited here is simply beyond the bounds, beyond the bounds.
Biden said he and Vice President Kamala Harris spoke by phone Wednesday with Netanyahu. It was at least the fourth call between Biden and Netanyahu since Saturday’s attack.
“The United States supports Israel and we will work on it throughout the day and beyond,” Biden said.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this report.