WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden painted a vivid picture of the horrors of the Israel-Hamas war in remarks to Jewish community leaders Wednesday — but the White House later had to clarify his claims.
“I never really thought that I would see and have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children,” Biden said in broader remarks about his administration’s support for Israel amid its war with Hamas and efforts to free American hostages.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for further details about Biden’s remarks. Two senior administration officials said Biden was referring to reports from Israel about beheaded children and cited several media reports of beheadings.
NBC News has not confirmed those reports. IDF Spokesperson Maj. Doron Spielman told NBC News: “That specific report and that number I can’t confirm.”
A spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that toddlers and babies were found in Kfar Aza, a kibbutz in southern Israel, with their “heads decapitated” after Hamas’ attack over the weekend, CNN reported.
Biden also discussed how the U.S. is sending experts to “advise and assist with recovery efforts” regarding hostages held by Hamas, but he did not go into specifics about strategy.
“I have not given up hope of bringing these folks home. But the idea that I’m going to stand here before you and tell you what I’m doing is bizarre,” he said.
The confirmed U.S. death toll in the war rose to at least 22, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a news briefing. Seventeen Americans remain unaccounted-for, she said.
Biden on Wednesday called Israel the only guarantee of Jewish safety.
“I truly believe were there no Israel, no Jew in the world would be ultimately safe,” he said. “It’s the only ultimate guarantee.”
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff, who is Jewish, also spoke at the event.
“Like all Jews, I feel a deep, visceral connection to Israel and its people,” he said. “We witnessed a mass murder of innocent civilians. It was a terrorist assault. There is never any justification for terrorism. There are no two sides to this issue.”
Earlier in the day, Biden addressed the war before his scheduled remarks about junk fees, reiterating that his “commitment to Israel’s security and the safety of the Jewish people is unshakable.”
Biden also said that he, along with Vice President Kamala Harris and members of their security team, spoke with Netanyahu earlier in the day. It was the fourth time the two leaders have spoken since Hamas’ attacks.
In a readout of the call, the White House said Biden and Netanyahu will “stay in regular contact in the face of an unprecedented and appalling assault by Hamas terrorists.”
Biden said earlier Wednesday: “This attack has brought to the surface the painful memories and scars left by a millennium of antisemitism and genocide against Jewish people. And in this moment, we have to be crystal clear: There is no justification for terrorism, no excuse.” He said the attacks were “beyond the pale.”
In a 10-minute address from the White House on Tuesday, Biden issued a stern condemnation of Hamas’ “vicious attacks” on Israel.
“There are moments in this life when pure, unadulterated evil is unleashed on the world,” Biden said, with Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken standing behind him as he reiterated his support for Israel. “The people of Israel lived through one such moment this weekend.”
As of Wednesday, at least 1,200 Israelis — including 189 soldiers — have been killed and more than 2,700 have been injured, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
At least 1,120 people in Gaza have been killed and 5,300 have been injured, according to the health ministries in Gaza and the West Bank.
Biden also confirmed Tuesday for the first time that Americans are among Hamas fighters’ hostages. He said he had directed U.S. officials to offer their expertise in assisting Israel’s efforts to free them. “I have no higher priority than the safety of Americans being held hostage around the world,” he said.
Biden excoriated Hamas for its “abhorrent” attacks, which he described as violations of human rights: “infants in their mothers’ arms, grandparents in wheelchairs, Holocaust survivors abducted and held hostage — hostages who Hamas has now threatened to execute in violation of every code of human morality.”
Family members of Americans believed to have been taken hostage have called on the Biden administration to take action to bring them home.
As he commits to supporting Israel, Biden is facing competing pressures within his own party, with some progressives having already signaled that they will push for Netanyahu to scale back the lethality of the counterattack if the civilian Palestinian death toll rises.
NBC News reported Monday that the Biden administration was sending ships from the Navy’s USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the eastern Mediterranean Sea and that officials plan to keep in place some F-16 and A-10 fighter jets that had been scheduled to rotate out of the region, according to a U.S. official. The move is intended to signal a message to “stand down,” the official said.
Israel said Wednesday morning that its fighter jets had struck 450 targets in Gaza in 24 hours. The military claimed Tuesday to have regained control inside the country after it launched a “full siege” of Gaza that cut off food, gas and power from the densely populated area.
Blinken left for Israel on Wednesday. After he arrives Thursday, he is expected to meet with senior leaders in the Israeli government and continue “discussions he and the president have been having with them since the initial attack,” a spokesperson for the State Department said.
Org: Peter Alexander