President Biden confirmed on Tuesday that Hamas is holding an unknown number of Americans hostage as he issued a scathing condemnation of the attack on Israel and vowed to stand by the embattled Middle East ally without equivocation.
Mr. Biden bristled with indignation during a 10-minute statement at the White House after speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, appearing as angry as he has in public since becoming president. He denounced the attack as “evil” multiple times and used words like “butchered,” “slaughtered,” “massacred,” “abhorrent,” “brutality” and “bloodthirstiness” to describe it.
“Infants in their mother’s arms, grandparents in wheelchairs, Holocaust survivors, abducted and held hostage,” Mr. Biden said while flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in the State Dining Room. “Hostages who Hamas has now threatened to execute in violation of every code of human morality. It’s abhorrent. The brutality of Hamas’s bloodthirstiness brings to mind the worst rampages of ISIS.”
The president confirmed without elaboration that at least some of the people seized by Hamas during its lightning blitz over the weekend were American citizens in addition to the 14 Americans known to have been killed. “We now know that American citizens are being held by Hamas,” Mr. Biden said.
Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser, later told reporters that there are “20 or more” Americans missing, but it is not yet clear how many of them are in the hands of Hamas. He said the government is in regular contact with their families.
Mr. Sullivan said some stocks of interceptors kept in Israel had already been released for use and that more shipments would be on the way. “You can expect American planes flying into Israel,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Mr. Biden spoke before cameras shortly after he and Ms. Harris wrapped up a call with Mr. Netanyahu in which they repeated their vow to support Israel. It was Mr. Biden’s third conversation with Mr. Netanyahu since the attack began on Saturday.
In addition to dispatching the first shipment of military equipment to Israel, the president has deployed ships and warplanes closer to the area in hopes of deterring Iran, Hezbollah or any other force from escalating the war. Mr. Sullivan said Congress would be asked to approve more aid.
The president made no effort to urge restraint from Israel as it responds, and he rejected suggestions that the attack was understandable if not justified given what critics consider to be Israel’s repression of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. “There’s no justification for terrorism,” he said flatly. “There’s no excuse.”
He added: “Hamas offers nothing but terror and bloodshed with no regard for who pays the price. The loss of innocent life is heartbreaking. Like every nation in the world, Israel has the right to respond, indeed has a duty to respond to these vicious attacks.”
Mr. Sullivan made clear that the issue is personal for Mr. Biden, who has been a strong supporter of Israel for more than half a century. “You’ve heard his voice, and this has been a deeply emotional time for all of us,” Mr. Sullivan told reporters, his own face reddening and his voice thick with emotion. “All of us have developed close relationships with our Israeli counterparts.”
Speaking of the president, Mr. Sullivan said, “He can hear the pain in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s voice when he talks with him.” He added: “This is not about policy or strategy. This is personal for us.”