Washington — Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the U.S. has not yet verified reports that Americans have been killed or taken hostage as Hamas militants.
“We’ve got reports that several Americans are among the dead. We’re working very actively to verify those reports. At the same time, the reports of Americans being taken hostage — there too, we’re working to get the facts to find out if those reports are accurate,” Blinken told “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the Gaza Strip,on Israel early Saturday, firing thousands of rockets as fighters infiltrated the heavily fortified border that Israel uses to contain Palestinians in Gaza.
Israeli officials confirmed early Monday that over 700 Israeli civilians and members of the military had died. Another 2,150 were reported wounded, and many Israelis, both civilians and security forces, have been taken hostage.
More than 300 Palestinians have been killed in retaliatory Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, Palestinian health officials said Sunday.
Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog told “Face the Nation” that dozens of Israelis and others have been kidnapped by Hamas, including women, children and the elderly. Herzog said he is under the impression that there were Americans taken hostage, but he didn’t have details.
Blinken said the assault is the worst attack on Israel since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when forces from Egypt and Syria caught Israel off-guard.
“But there’s a big difference,” Blinken said. “That was a conflict between countries, between armies. This is a massive terrorist assault on Israel, with terrorists going into Israeli homes, going into Israeli towns, gunning down civilians in their homes, on the street, grabbing people, men, women, children, and taking them into Gaza.”
The conflict has raised concerns that it could expand into neighboring countries or provoke direct conflict between Israel and Iran, which funds and provides weapons to Hamas.
“We suspect Iranian hands behind the scenes,” Herzog said. “As far as we are concerned, this is an Iranian-led coalition and we suspect that Iran is involved.”
Herzog would not say how Israel plans to respond to Iran.
“I’m not going to say what exactly Israel is going to do, but I will just say that whoever strikes Israel, we’ll strike back,” Herzog said.
When asked whether the U.S. has requested that Israel not strike Iran, Blinken indicated that had not been part of the discussion.
“The only things we said to Israel are that, ‘We’re here. We got your back. We want to make sure that you have the support that you need. We want to make sure that you have the assistance that you need,'” he said.
“Israel is focused entirely on Gaza and on securing its citizens, a number of whom remain under direct threat right now in Israel proper,” he added. “And as I said, trying to do what’s necessary to have accountability and to make sure that doesn’t happen again. That is Israel’s focus.”
Blinken said he did not view the attack as an attempt to take advantage of the West’s focus on.
“I don’t see that,” he said. “We’ll have to see as we learn more what the motivations were and what they are.”
He suggested it could have been in response to the U.S. trying to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region.
“Now, who’s opposed to that? Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran,” he said.