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US President Joe Biden. Picture: BONNIE CASH/REUTERS
US President Joe Biden. Picture: BONNIE CASH/REUTERS

Washington — US President Joe Biden said on Monday that at least 11 American citizens were among those killed in Israel following the weekend’s attacks by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

Washington believes it is likely US citizens are also among those being held hostage by Hamas, he said in a statement.

Biden said the US was working with Israeli officials to obtain more information as to the whereabouts of US citizens who are still unaccounted for.

“For American citizens who are currently in Israel, the state department is providing consular assistance as well as updated security alerts. For those who desire to leave, commercial flights and ground options are still available,” he said, adding that they should take precautions and follow the guidance of local authorities.

Hamas gunmen burst across the fence from Gaza on Saturday, killing Israeli soldiers and hundreds of civilians, and taking dozens of hostages back to the coastal enclave. Israel responded with its heaviest bombardment of Gaza, which it withdrew from nearly two decades ago after 38 years of occupation.

Biden said he has directed his team to work with Israeli counterparts on every aspect of the hostage situation, including sharing intelligence and deploying experts from the US government.

Police departments across the US have stepped up security around centres of Jewish life, he added.

Meanwhile, US presidential contenders weighed in on the Middle East conflict. Here’s what they had to say:

Joe Biden

Biden, a Democrat seeking a second term in the November 2024 general election, said his administration’s support for Israel remained “rock solid.” He said the country had a right to defend itself.

His administration pushed back against Republican criticism of a deal with Iran by which five detained US citizens were allowed to leave that country in exchange for the transfer of $6bn in Iranian funds for humanitarian-related purposes.

White House national security council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said that “these funds have absolutely nothing to do with the horrific attacks” and added that this was “not the time to spread disinformation”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that Iran has not yet been able to spend a single dollar of the funds that were unfrozen in a US-Iran prisoner swap in September.

Donald Trump

Former US president and Republican front-runner Donald Trump has touted his own record supporting Israel and blamed Biden for the assault, the worst breach in Israel’s defences since Arab armies waged war in 1973. “Joe Biden betrayed Israel,” Trump said at a campaign event in the early primary voting state of New Hampshire on Monday.

In a statement on Saturday, Trump falsely stated that “American taxpayer dollars helped fund these attacks.” The $6bn was Iranian money that had been frozen in South Korean banks. It was earmarked for humanitarian needs, and has yet to be spent by Iran.

Ron DeSantis

Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a distant second to Trump in national polls for the Republican presidential nomination, also assailed Biden over the attack.

“Israel, with the full support of the US, should kill Hamas members and extinguish their entire infrastructure,” DeSantis said in a post on social media site X, formerly known as Twitter. He also called for a “freeze” on funds “Biden has made available to Iran.”

Speaking at a campaign event in Iowa on Monday, DeSantis pushed back on the fact the funds had yet to be transferred to Iran. “You take Biden's $6 billion to plug that hole and you can free up other money for terrorism.”

Nikki Haley

Former US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, a Republican foreign policy hawk, urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “finish them” in an apparent reference to Hamas. “They should have hell to pay for what they’ve just done.” Haley also condemned the Iran deal.

Vivek Ramaswamy

Biotech entrepreneur and Republican contender Vivek Ramaswamy, who has faced criticism by supporters of Israel for previously suggesting a phase-out of aid after 2028, criticised what he called “barbaric and medieval Hamas attacks”.

Mike Pence

Former US vice-president Mike Pence, a long-shot Republican presidential candidate who has made support for Ukraine against Russia a plank of his campaign, took aim at some of his Republican rivals, including Trump, suggesting that their Ukraine positions had signalled a weaker US on the world stage.

“This is what happens when we have leading voices like Donald Trump, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Ron DeSantis signalling retreat from America's role as leader of the free world,” he said on CNN.

Tim Scott

South Carolina senator Tim Scott joined fellow Republican presidential contenders in criticising Biden, tweeting that “America’s weakness is blood in the water for bad actors”.

Robert F Kennedy Jr

Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and anti-vaccine activist who is running for the White House as a long-shot independent, condemned the “barbaric attacks”.

“We must provide Israel with whatever it needs to defend itself — now,” he tweeted.


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