At least 17 other Americans are unaccounted for, US officials say before Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Israel visit.
The number of United States citizens confirmed to have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war has risen to at least 22, with at least 17 more Americans unaccounted for, says the US Department of State.
That is an increase in the death toll from 14 on Tuesday, in a war that has killed more than 2,300 on both sides in five days.
A “handful” of US citizens are among the estimated 150 hostages captured by the Palestinian armed group, Hamas, during its unprecedented weekend assault on Israel, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on Wednesday.
“Right now we think the number that we know or we believe are held hostage is very small, very small, like less than a handful. But that could change over time,” Kirby told reporters.
Palestinian armed group Hamas on Saturday captured an estimated 130 hostages during an unprecedented assault into southern Israel.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is expected to arrive in Tel Aviv on Thursday as part of the Biden administration’s unequivocal support to Israel, on Wednesday said the death toll of US citizens in the continuing war could further rise.
The US military is moving a second aircraft carrier, USS Dwight D Eisenhower, towards Israel as an “available asset” after the USS Gerald R Ford, the US Navy’s most advanced aircraft carrier, and its strike group reached the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Hamas had previously threatened to kill the hostages if Israel bombed Palestinian homes in Gaza without warning.
The presence of the hostages also presents a dilemma for the Israeli military, which has given little indication that the presence of the hostages in the Gaza Strip will deter Israel from mounting a crushing response.
Israel has completely sealed off the enclave, tightening an already harsh blockade that it has had in place since 2007 and cutting off access to food, water, and electricity for the strip’s 2.3 million Palestinian residents – a war crime, according to United Nations statutes.
A nonstop barrage of Israeli air raids since Saturday has reduced entire neighbourhoods in Gaza to rubble and killed at least 1,055 people and wounded thousands of others, according to Palestinian officials.
Kirby said the Biden administration was still in talks with Israel and Egypt to try to arrange safe passage for Gaza’s civilians.
“These people are victims, too,” he said. “They didn’t ask Hamas to do this.”