Mahmud Hams/AFP via Getty Images
Nine U.S. citizens have died after the attack on Israel from Gaza by Hamas, officials from the U.S. State Department and the National Security Council confirmed Monday.
Three days since the conflict began, there are still a number of unaccounted-for U.S. citizens that the State Department says it’s working with its Israeli partners to help find, according to spokesman Matthew Miller. He did not provide any details about the victims or how they died.
“We extend our deepest condolences to the victims and to the families of all those affected. We continue to monitor the situation closely and remain in touch with our Israeli partners and the local authorities,” Miller said in an emailed statement.
The unprecedented attack by Hamas gunmen from the Gaza Strip, who infiltrated by sea, land and air into Israel, began on Saturday morning. They attacked homes, killing civilians and capturing hostages of all ages. A rave near the border with Gaza was also attacked. Three days on, it’s still unclear if Israeli forces have regained full control of all the southern territory where there were Palestinian gunmen.
“It is by far the worst day in Israeli history. Never before have so many Israelis been killed by one single thing, let alone enemy activity on one day,” Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Jonathan Conricus said in a recorded message late Sunday.
He said the Israeli military has amassed 100,000 reservists in southern Israel near Gaza’s border with the goal of preventing Hamas from having any military capabilities or power to govern the Gaza Strip. This raises the specter of a land invasion.
He said about 700 people were killed and 2,100 wounded in the attacks in Israel.
In retaliation, Israel has struck the densely populated Gaza Strip, home to 2.3 million Palestinians, most of them refugees. Palestinian health officials said Monday more than 570 people have been killed, about a fifth of them children. Around 2,900 have been injured.
The situation for Gaza’s residents is dire, with nearly all unable to leave the small coastal enclave due to a 16-year blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.
Israel announced a full siege of Gaza on Monday, saying it would cut off fuel, electricity and food supplies into the area. In announcing the complete siege, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said: “We are fighting human animals and we will act accordingly.”
Eman Abou Saeid, a woman in Gaza reached by NPR by phone on Monday, said she had just been told her cousin was killed in an Israeli airstrike. She said he was a civilian who leaves behind a wife and five children.
She said that the images of Israeli civilians being killed and taken hostage are disturbing, something many do not want to see. But she said this kind of reaction was “expected.”
“We don’t like to see images like that, but it’s a fight,” Saeid said. “It’s a reaction for what Gazans here living since 2006 and since the occupation started, from 1948, and no one just caring about Gaza.”
Hamas says Israeli airstrikes on Gaza overnight and into Monday morning killed four hostages and their captors from its military wing. The claim could not be verified.
The group released an image of one of the alleged hostages killed in the airstrike, a 19-year-old Israeli whom Hamas identified by name and described as an Israeli soldier. The image shows him seated on the ground, with his hands behind his head and alive at that time.
Meanwhile, in areas of the West Bank, 15 Palestinians have been killed and about 80 have been wounded since Saturday.
Israel’s military said Monday that its forces killed several militants who had infiltrated from the northern border with Lebanon and that Israeli combat helicopters attacked the area soon after.
Aya Batrawy reported from Tel Aviv, Israel; Jaclyn Diaz from Washington, D.C.
Michele Kelemen and Tamara Keith contributed to this report from Washington.