US President Joe Biden reportedly rejected the advice of staff to refrain from repeating unverified reports that Hamas had beheaded babies during its attack on Israel on October 7.
Some White House advisors appealed to the president to “cut a line about Hamas beheading babies because those reports were unverified”, according to a report by The Washington Post.
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An Israeli news outlet made the original claim, which was picked up by media outlets across the globe. However, no such beheadings have been verified by any Israeli or international source.
Not long after Biden’s speech, the White House said in a statement that it had not confirmed the veracity of the reports.
The report published by the newspaper on Sunday gave accounts of divisions “to some degree” inside the White House between Biden’s senior longtime aides and an array of younger staffers over the handling of the conflict in Gaza.
According to the report, as Biden prepared his major pro-Israel October 10 address, Vice President Kamala Harris suggested that he should add a line denouncing Islamophobia to the speech, two White House officials told The Washington Post.
“Harris cited the way Islamophobia had dogged the Muslim and Arab communities for years after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Biden took the suggestion,” the report said, quoting two White House officials.
“But he rejected others, for instance dismissing the recommendation of some staffers that he cut a line about Hamas beheading babies because those reports were unverified,” the newspaper added.
‘Wrestling with emotions’
According to the report, Biden at times seemed to wrestle with his own emotions on the war when he voiced scepticism on October 25 about the Gaza death toll provided by the health ministry there.
The following day, Biden met with five prominent Muslim Americans, who protested what they saw as his insensitivity to the civilians who were dying.
The report said, quoting two people familiar with the meeting, that Biden appeared to be affected by their account.
“I’m sorry. I’m disappointed in myself… I will do better,” he reportedly told the group.
Meanwhile, two Jewish administration officials told the newspaper there was “widespread support internally for Biden’s response and his efforts to address” anti-semitism.
Hamas has released a total of 58 captives, including 39 to Israel, in the last three days amid a four-day truce deal, after seven weeks of fighting in Gaza.
Israel released 117 Palestinian prisoners during the same period.
The truce deal was agreed last week, halting fighting ongoing since Hamas’s October 7 attack, which, Israel says, killed 1,200 people as the group took about 240 captives back into Gaza.
In response to that attack, Israel launched an air and ground offensive in the enclave, killing over 15,000 Palestinians, health authorities in Gaza say.
The Israeli attacks also displaced hundreds of thousands of others.