Nine American citizens have been confirmed dead in the attacks on Israel conducted by Hamas from the Gaza Strip, the U.S. State Department has confirmed to Newsweek.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the victims and to the families of all those affected,” spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement. “We continue to monitor the situation closely and remain in touch with our Israeli partners and the local authorities. We are in touch with the families and providing all appropriate consular assistance.”
Amid the violence that has engulfed the region since Saturday, there is a spiraling death toll in both Israeli and Palestinian territories as fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian Islamist militants continues. More than 1,100 people have been confirmed killed and thousands wounded, including civilians.
The Biden administration was among those to pledge its “rock solid and unwavering” support for Israel, after a large number of rockets fired from Gaza preceded attacks by armed militants on Israeli territories near the Palestinian exclave, on Saturday morning—nearly half a century to the day from when the Yom Kippur War with Egypt and Syria began.
Early reports and video footage appeared to show militants taking citizens in Israeli territories they had infiltrated to Gaza. Hamas said they had been taken to locations across Gaza and demanded the release of all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, though analysts say they may have been taken to soften the military response by Israel on Hamas sites.
Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, confirmed American citizens were among those taken captive but gave no details about them or those who had been killed.
“Unfortunately, I can’t,” he told CNN. “We have a lot of dual citizens in Israel. I suspect there are several, but we’re still trying to sort through all of all this information after this horrific surprise attack and we’ll make sure to put that information out so that the loved ones of these people who were killed and who are held hostage, they know as quickly as possible.”
Administration officials briefed House lawmakers on Sunday evening that four U.S. citizens had been confirmed as killed, ABC and CNN reported earlier, citing multiple sources familiar with the matter.
Newsweek approached the Israeli government and the Palestinian Ministry of Health via email for comment on Monday.
Democrats Representative Dan Goldman and Senator Cory Booker said they had been in Israel when the attacks began and were forced to shelter. Goldman said in a statement he and his family had been in Tel Aviv for a Bar Mitzvah.
On Sunday, the Pentagon ordered the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group into the Eastern Mediterranean in a show of force aimed at deterring a further escalation. NBC reported that the fleet could form part of an evacuation of American civilians from the region if deemed necessary.
Saturday’s attack saw as many as a thousand militant fighters enter Israeli territory through several different means, targeting both Israeli Defense Force (IDF) installations along the border as well as civilian settlements. At a music festival in southern Israel, at least 260 people were killed.
As soon as the assaults occurred, questions were raised of Israel’s extensive intelligence network, which seemingly did not detect preparations for the attack—which would have taken weeks, if not months, to plan.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel was at war with Hamas, before IDF soldiers began recapturing settlements that had been taken by militants and the Israeli Air Force started conducting airstrikes on Gaza.
Israeli officials said it had sent messages to civilians in the areas telling them to leave prior to the strikes, and that Hamas often chose to house military sites within civilian populations. The United Nations said around 400 people have been killed in Gaza so far.
Hamas, which controls Gaza but has an armed wing, has long called for an end to the Israeli occupation of territories beyond the borders established in 1967 and the establishment of a state of Palestine. The building of Israeli settlements on what it sees as Palestinian territory and rocket attacks from Palestinian-controlled territories have led to a bubbling of tensions in recent years.
However, the latest attack by Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants may frustrate the group’s primary aim. Netanyahu’s public statements and images of an Israeli ground force build-up near the border with Gaza have prompted speculation that Israel could be preparing for an invasion and occupation of the Gaza Strip.
Additional reporting by Ellie Cook.
Update 10/09/23, 9:00 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include comment from the U.S. State Department.