As the days pass since Hamas terrorists launched an attack on Israel, the United States and Israel face increasing pressure to help dozens of hostages believed to be held by Hamas across Gaza, but the two The choice of countries seems limited and very difficult.
U.S. President Joe Biden confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that Americans were among the hostages and that 14 Americans had been killed in fighting in Israel.
“We now know that among those held by Hamas are American citizens,” Biden said at the White House. “I have directed my team to share intelligence and deploy additional experts from across the U.S. government to work with them on hostage rescue efforts.” Israeli counterparts consult and provide advice because, as president, my highest priority is the safety of Americans held hostage around Israel and the world.”
A special edition of “20/20,” airing Wednesday, October 11, at 10 p.m. on ABC, looks at the lives threatened in Israel and Gaza and how this attack differs from those we have seen in the past in the region .
National security adviser Jake Sullivan raised the possibility of hostage negotiations, saying Biden “has proven in country after country that he is willing to go further than any other president to secure the release of hostages and bring these people home.” He will try to do the same under the circumstances.”
Sullivan told reporters that twenty or more Americans were still missing, detailing for the first time the number of Americans still missing. However, Sullivan stressed that this did not mean that all 20 or more people were being held hostage by Hamas.
“We do not know their condition and cannot confirm the exact number of U.S. citizens,” Sullivan said of the hostages.
When asked by ABC News’ Mary Bruce if the government had contacted families who have lost loved ones or may be unaccounted for, Sullivan confirmed, “We have actually updated the families of Americans who we know are unaccounted for. .”
“If there are Americans who are not contacted for some reason, we will take immediate remedial measures because Secretary Blinken, President Biden and everyone in the United States government have made this issue a top priority. So we are working with everyone All families are in very regular contact. “If someone is missing or unaccounted for, or not on the list for whatever reason, we will deal with that. That will be our priority,” he added.
Sullivan said the president has not yet spoken with the families of the 14 Americans who died, but the State Department has been in contact with their families. State Department spokesman Matt Miller said Secretary of State Antony Blinken will also travel to Israel this week to “engage directly with our Israeli partners” to discuss “how we can continue to best support them in combating these horrific attacks.” of terrorists”. .
Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations estimates Hamas is holding between 100 and 150 hostages, according to one official, and the United States has stepped up efforts to identify the American citizens. The government remains unable to say how many Americans may be detained due to the evolving situation in Gaza and a lack of visibility.
U.S. officials have been somewhat reluctant to focus on any Americans who might be arrested for fear they might be singled out by Hamas.But in private conversations ahead of Biden’s press conference on Tuesday aimed at encouraging Middle East allies to use their leverage with Hamas to push for the release of detainees, they stressed that Americans were almost certainly among the hostages, leaving the issue The importance of becoming the most important issue to the United States
While the United States also provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support to Israeli special operations forces, administration critics such as former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy have called for a more direct approach.
However, one official said the scale of the current situation requires large-scale military action, and while the situation may change soon, the government is not currently assessing whether a targeted rescue mission is feasible.
Israel, for its part, has made no secret of its preparations for a ground assault on Gaza, and sources said the administration does not expect Israel to wait for the hostage situation to be resolved before launching an operation if it ultimately decides to proceed. go out.
Despite previous prisoner exchanges and reports of states acting as “middlemen,” there is no sign that Israel is willing to negotiate with Hamas.
While the hostages will remain the administration’s primary focus, U.S. officials are well aware that any efforts to resolve the crisis face significant difficulties, especially given that Hamas appears to have much to gain from releasing prisoners.
“Hamas may believe that keeping hostages is more valuable than releasing them, and Hamas appears to value harming hostages more than not harming them,” said Dr. Nancy Zales, a forensic psychologist and former FBI contractor. . A unit dedicated to countering violent extremism. “Prospects for negotiations are bleak.”
Still, Zales said there were some reasons for optimism, including that Hamas so far appears to be failing on its promise to execute hostages in retaliation for Israeli airstrikes.
“If we negotiate after the and Hamas doesn’t kill hostages because of threats, then that’s a good sign that we’re making some progress in the negotiations,” she said.
But if those talks fail and Israel resorts to a ground invasion, hostages could complicate the operation, said Dr. Jon Altman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and co-director of the Commission on Hostage Taking and Wrongful Detention.
“Israel is extremely sensitive about hostage-taking, and in the past it has traded more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli soldier,” Altman said. “It has never encountered a situation like this: so many people, both civilians and soldiers, And could be scattered across multiple locations. Israeli military efforts to free the hostages could result in many deaths.”
ABC News’ Mary Bruce, Morgan Windsor and Luis Martinez contributed to this report.