(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. is “keeping options wide” for the recovery of Americans being held hostage by Hamas, the White House said Wednesday, but at the same time acknowledged it had no update on their condition or whereabouts.
At least 22 Americans have died in Israel since the fighting began on Saturday when Hamas launched unprecedented surprise attacks. Seventeen Americans remain unaccounted for or missing, press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
According to White House spokesman John Kirby, a “number of those Americans” are being held hostage by Hamas. He said the public should prepare for the possibility that the number of U.S. citizens being held by the terrorist group will grow.
ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Mary Bruce asked Kirby if there were anything he could share about the hostages’ condition, and whether the administration is in contact directly or indirectly with Hamas about securing their release.
“Now, where they are and in what condition, no,” Kirby responded, adding the administration isn’t aware if they are in one group or at what frequency they may be being moved. “Sadly we don’t know. And that makes efforts very, very difficult.”
He also told ABC White House Correspondent MaryAlice Parks he is “not aware of any specific proof of life on any individual hostage.”
Kirby said the U.S. is in discussion with some countries, such as Qatar, that have lines of communication with Hamas on freeing the hostages.
Pressed on whether the U.S. has made any contact with Hamas, Kirby deferred to his previous answer — telling reporters that like in other instances where Americans are being held hostage or wrongfully detained, “the less you say out there publicly the better.”
Asked if President Joe Biden has ruled out sending any American forces into Gaza to help secure their release, if necessary, Kirby said they just “don’t have enough information to be able to make decisions like that.”
“Obviously we’re casting a wide net,” Kirby said about about discussions about hostages with allies and partners in the region. “We’re also keeping the options wide open right now as we get more information but we just don’t have enough granularity to be able to fine-tune those options.”
Israel is currently preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza, and the death toll on both sides continues to mount. At least 1,200 people have been killed in Israel and 1,100 people in Gaza since the fighting began.
The U.S. is actively working with Israel and Egypt on the possibility of a safe passageway for civilians, including Americans, in Gaza to escape before an Israeli ground incursion is expected to bring more casualties.
“We support safe passage for civilians,” Kirby said forcefully. “Civilians are not to blame for what Hamas has done. They didn’t do anything wrong, and we continue to support safe passage.”
Kirby, though, said he had no announcement today or details on a specific route.
“Civilians are protected under the laws of armed conflict, and they should be given every opportunity to avoid the fighting,” he added.
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