White House walks back Biden remarks about seeing images of beheaded Israeli children

John Kirby unaware of any 'proof of life' for 17 missing Americans

President Joe Biden walks to board Air Force One after delivering remarks on the 22nd anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, on September 11, 2023.
President Joe Biden walks to board Air Force One after delivering remarks on the 22nd anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, on September 11, 2023. | SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

The White House has retracted President Joe Biden's earlier statements about having seen images of Israeli children beheaded by Hamas terrorists, and a White House spokesperson said there is no "proof of life" for Americans unaccounted for in Israel.

President Biden told a roundtable of Jewish leaders at the White House on Wednesday that he never thought he would see or have "confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children."

"It matters that Americans see what's happening. I've been doing this a long time. I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed, pictures of terrorists beheading children," Biden said in his remarks.

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The White House later clarified that neither Biden nor any other U.S. officials had independently verified such images, The Times of Israel reported Wednesday.

The White House said the president based his comments on claims from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman and media reports from Israel.

This clarification comes on the heels of reports of a massacre of children in the Israeli Kfar Aza settlement near the border with Gaza, with an on-the-ground reporter from i24News reporting that Israel's military discovered the bodies of over 40 babies killed, some of whom were beheaded.

Dozens of dead civilians were found in the village; some burned beyond recognition. Another kibbutz, Kerem Shalom, also reported the killing of children, with the Israel Defense Forces releasing photographs of a child's bed covered in blood, according to The Telegraph

Biden described the attack, which has claimed at least 1,200 Israeli lives, as the "deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust." Israeli soldiers at the scene compared the murders to the Nazi pogroms of the Second World War.

While live on CNN Monday, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby struggled to speak, stating, "These are human beings. They're family members. They're friends."

Biden also expressed his emotional turmoil, stating that the core of every human being has a spark of decency that needs to be touched and spoken to.

The White House confirmed that 22 Americans had been killed since Hamas attacked Israel last Saturday. At a press briefing Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that 17 Americans remain unaccounted for. 

"We know that these numbers are likely to increase in the days ahead," she said. 

When asked about the condition or whereabouts of the American hostages, Kirby told reporters he was unaware of "any specific proof of life on any individual hostage."

Biden also said he was doing "a lot" to free hostages held by Hamas, including Americans, but did not reveal any details, according to ABC News.

The U.S. is reportedly in discussion with countries like Qatar that have lines of communication with Hamas. Kirby indicated that there was not enough information to make decisions like sending American forces into Gaza to secure the release of hostages.

According to two U.S. officials familiar with the matter, allies and partners in the Middle East in communication with Hamas are being helpful in advocating for the release of the hostages, ABC News reports. However, despite these diplomatic efforts, Hamas has shown no willingness to negotiate up to this point. 

Biden also emphasized the importance of Israel operating by the "rules of war," adding that he had spoken over the phone with Netanyahu and pledged U.S. support.

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