(JTA) — President Joe Biden said he is designating experts to help in the effort to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas. The announcement came following U.S. confirmation that there are Americans among the more than 100 captives the terror group took back to the Gaza Strip in its invasion of Israel.
“We’re working on every aspect of the hostage crisis in Israel including deploying experts to advise on assist and recovery,” Biden told a round table of Jewish leaders invited Wednesday to the White House for a briefing on what his administration was doing to assist Israel.
He said he knew he would be under pressure to give details, but that he would not.
“If I told you I wouldn’t be able to get them out,” Biden said. “Folks, there’s a lot we’re doing, I have not given up hope of bringing these folks home.”
Families of Americans believed to be held hostage by Hamas held a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday urging the United States to act, and John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesman, was peppered with questions about the hostages earlier Wednesday at a White House press briefing.
“We’re in discussions not only with the Israelis, about what hostage recovery could look like, but with other allies and partners in the region,” Kirby said. “And there are some countries like Qatar that have open lines of communication with with Hamas, so of course we’re casting the net wide as you would expect, we would we want to get all these hostages back with their families, particularly the American hostages.”
But he said there was little information at this stage. “Now where they are and in what condition? No, sadly, we don’t know,” he said. “And that makes efforts very, very difficult, again, in these early hours, but we don’t know where they are. We don’t know if they’re all in one group or broken up into several groups, We don’t know if they’re being moved, in with what frequency and to what locations.”
Kirby said that Israel has a formidable track record of returning hostages. “Sadly, they have had been forced to perfect that particular kind of capability but we also have a lot of know-how to and we’re offering to share that with the Israeli Defense Forces,” he said.
Kirby confirmed that there are at least 22 Americans among the more than 1,200 people who were killed in Hamas’ invasion. He did not know how many Americans are among the abducted.
In his talk with the Jewish leaders, Biden was as emotional as he had been in an address to the nation the day before.
“This weekend in synagogue the Torah teaches us that God made stars to give light on the earth and separate light from darkness,” he said. “It’s been hard to find that light during the darkness of the last few days.”
Hamas brought “sheer evil to the world,” he said. “I would argue it’s the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.”
He also repeated, as he has in recent days, that Israel should operate according to international law. He said he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “It’s is really important that Israel, for all the anger and frustration, that it operates by the rules of war.”
Biden told the room he had Israel’s back “and I have yours as well, both at home and abroad.” He saw, about half way across the room, Sheila Katz, the CEO of the National Council of Jewish Woman, tearing up. “You okay, kiddo?” he said. She smiled and nodded.
The meeting was chaired by the Jewish Second Gentleman, Doug Emhoff, who has been convening the Biden administration’s task force to combat antisemitism.