US President Joe Biden condemns 'unconscionable' Hamas attacks

Pentagon is closely monitoring situation as Israel declares war

President Joe Biden has said the US will offer 'all appropriate means' of support for Israel after the attack by Hamas. AP
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US President Joe Biden has condemned the “unconscionable” attacks on Israel on Saturday and said America stood firmly with the Israeli people, after Hamas fired thousands of rockets in a surprise attack.

Mr Biden said he spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer “all appropriate means” of support to Israel.

"I told him the United States stands with the people of Israel in the face of these terrorist assaults. Israel has the right to defend itself and its people, full stop," Mr Biden said in a televised address from the White House.

The Israeli leader said his country is now “at war” following the attacks that have killed dozens of people and injured hundreds more as Hamas launched about 3,000 rockets in a matter of hours.

"Innocent people murdered, wounded, entire families taken hostage by Hamas, just days after Israel marked the holiest of days in the Jewish calendar. It's unconscionable," Mr Biden said.

He issued a warning against "any other party hostile to Israel seeking advantage in this situation".

Mr Biden said he spoke to Jordan's King Abdullah II and US congressional leaders. The US President did not mention the loss of life in Palestine.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Tzachi Hanegbi, on Saturday as the US remains in “close contact” with Israeli partners. The Pentagon was also “closely monitoring” the situation.

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US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the country's commitment to Israel's right to self-defence was “unwavering”.

“Over the coming days, the Department of Defence will work to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself and protect civilians from indiscriminate violence and terrorism,” Mr Austin said.

The US military’s Central Command said it was closely monitoring the situation and was in contact with Israeli counterparts.

“We stand with Israel and extend our condolences for the lives lost in these attacks,” Centcom said in a statement.

The Palestinian militant group unleashed a barrage of thousands of rockets in only a few hours, almost as many missiles as it fired over 11 days when it launched the most recent round of heavy fighting with Israel in May 2021.

The toll from what Hamas called “Operation Al Aqsa Flood” was rising quickly on Saturday.

The Palestinian Health Ministry announced at least 198 people in Gaza had been killed, with 1,610 wounded following Israeli strikes on the enclave.

Israel's ambulance service said at least 40 Israelis were killed and hundreds wounded, but the total was expected to rise, making it the deadliest attack in Israel in years.

Thomas Warrick, former deputy assistant secretary for counter-terrorism policy at the US Department of Homeland Security, said the Hamas offensive would benefit no one.

“It's only going to lead to further suffering,” Mr Warrick, now a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told The National.

“It's hard to see anything productive coming out of the violence that will undoubtedly ensue over the next several days or weeks.”

He predicted the conflict will follow the pattern of previous instances of violence on this scale.

“I expect we'll see a cessation. If it follows the pattern in the past, the Egyptians will work to lower tensions and we will end up with the uneasy peace in [the] way it was before this incident started,” he said.

Videos apparently showing Hamas fighters streaming through the border fence that encloses Gaza and into Israel have shocked many.

Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Washington-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies think tank, predicted a significant Israeli response.

“This is the first time I have seen Israel use the word 'war',” Mr Schanzer wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “The death and casualty toll in Israel is shocking.”

The expert pointed to the role of Iran, which supports Hamas, in the attacks.

“The Iran-backed group appears to have exploited an intelligence failure within Israel about Hamas’s intents and abilities,” he said.

Roger Wicker, a Republican senator who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, criticised the Biden administration for working with Iran, which recently secured access to $6 billion in frozen funds after it released five US inmates in a prisoner swap.

“Today’s attacks underscore the Biden administration’s naive approach to Iran,” Mr Wicker said in a statement.

“President Biden’s lenient policy has sent billions in cash to Iran to continue its funding of terrorists and has jeopardised our closest regional partner, Israel.”

Biden officials angrily pushed back on such claims as a deliberate mischaracterisation of the prisoner swap. None of the unfrozen funds have been released yet and the money can only be spent on humanitarian purposes.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said such claims were false.

"Let's be clear: the deal to bring US citizens home from Iran has nothing to do with the horrific attack on Israel," he said on X.

"Not a penny has been spent, and when it is, it can only go for humanitarian needs like food and medicine. Anything to the contrary is false."

Updated: October 07, 2023, 9:47 PM