With Hamas vowing to execute U.S. and other hostages on live television, U.S. and Israeli officials are scrambling to figure out how many American citizens are held captive in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas is believed to hold more than 150 hostages of various nationalities, including U.S. citizens, according to Israel News Service.
Several Americans are included in the hostages count, according to Israel Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer.
At least nine Americans have been killed by Hamas, according to a U.S. State department spokesman Matt Miller. It is not clear if they were killed by rockets, stray fire, or resisting capture.
“Biden faces a situation similar to Jimmy Carter, with many Americans being held hostage by a radical Islamic terrorist organization backed by Iran,” said Nathan Miller, a former speechwriter for Israel’s permanent mission to the United Nations. Miller is now CEO of strategic communications firm Miller Ink in Los Angeles. “The president has a responsibility to do whatever it takes to do to ensure that those Americans come home safely.”
The Iran hostage crisis, which featured 52 American diplomats being held for 444 days, became a nightly vigil on network television in 1979 and 1980 – effectively ending the presidency of Jimmy Carter.
Former House speaker Kevin McCarthy announced a five-point plan for the U.S. to respond to Hamas’s attacks on Israel, the first step of which is to free American hostages.
“Our top priority right now must be to rescue all American hostages. The Biden Administration cannot repeat the failures of Afghanistan. NO American left behind!” said Kevin McCarthy on Twitter.
Many hostages were taken at gunpoint from a “peace festival” held on a communal farm roughly 10 miles from the Israel-Gaza Strip border fence. Hamas militants descended by motorized paragliders, as revellers uploaded the video on their arrival as if it were part of the performance. Once the gliders landed, the Instagram-worthy moment became chaotic. Confused concertgoers soon learned that the men did not come in peace. Point-blank gunshot executions scattered the crowd, while other killers massed outside the emergency exits to mow down the unsuspecting. Militants roamed among tents, shooting students as they hid behind tables and trees. Young women were targeted as hostages, and many were dragged off on motorcycles or forced into the backs of four-wheel drive vehicles, screaming for help.
Hamas’ social media showed images of a long-haired young woman, with apparent blood on her shirt and sweatpants, her hands tied behind her back, being led away like a leashed animal.
Some 260 corpses have been recovered from the festival site. Some of the dead were still wearing keffiyeh, a garment that signals unity with the Palestinian people.
Some kidnapped women have been recognized through videos circulating on social media.
Shani Louk, a German-Israeli citizen, was attending the music festival when she was kidnapped. A video of Louk being paraded around Gaza by Hamas militants, bleeding and unconscious in a truck bed, later went viral.
Another video showed an Israeli woman, identified as Noa Argamani, being manhandled onto the back of a motorcycle by Hamas militants, while she pleaded for help that did not come.
Officials don’t know much about the U.S. hostages – except that they’re being held by Hamas in very precarious situation.
The hostage-taking comes just weeks after the Biden Administration paid some $6 billion to Iran for the return of five Americans.
There is little doubt about Iran’s involvement. Hamas spokesmen have publicly acknowledged Iran’s support and the Iran’s state-run television broadcast images of Iranian parliament celebrating the surprise attacks on Israel. A week before the attacks, Hamas and Hezbollah, two Iran-backed terror groups, met in Beirut with Iranian officials to finalize their plans, according to the Wall Street Journal. The State department has yet to issue a final determination on Iran’s involvement.
Meanwhile, Hamas announced plans to publicly execute its hostages, including U.S. citizens, in retaliation for Israeli air strikes, which followed the Hamas cross-border raids which temporarily seized 22 Israeli villages and towns and killed some 800 civilians.
“We announce that every targeting of our people who are safe in their homes without warning, we will regretfully meet with the execution of our enemy’s civilian hostages,” said Hamas’s Qassam Brigades spokesperson Aby Obeida, adding that the executions would be broadcasted live over audio and video.
When the surprise attack began on October 6, Hamas invaded by land, air, and sea. Some Hamas teams concentrated on taking hostages, but it’s hard to know where and when these kidnappings occurred. Israeli intelligence is still reviewing geo-located footages of images uploaded by Hamas or by Israeli citizens.
Hamas also claims to have kidnapped several Israeli Defense Soldiers in attempts to gain leverage over Israel’s retaliation.
The official press office of the Israeli government confirmed that at least 150 of its citizens have been kidnapped and are being held as prisoners by Hamas. The office also confirmed that the 2,600 Israelis have been injured and 900 have been murdered.
The U.S. Embassy in Israel updated its alert status to Level 4, the highest level that tells Americans “do not travel.”
Several airlines have suspended travel to Israel through the week, including American Airlines, Korean Air, Air India, and Norwegian Air.
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