The White House has walked back President Joe Biden’s claim that he saw pictures of beheaded children following Hamas’s deadly attack on Israel.
The reversal came after Biden on Wednesday described seeing images of mutilated children during a meeting with Jewish leaders at the White House.
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“I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed, pictures of terrorists beheading children,” said Biden, who described Saturday’s attack as the “deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust”.
Unverified claims about the beheading of Israeli children and sexual assault of hostages by the Palestinian armed group have gone viral on social media in the days following Saturday’s attack.
The claims blew up after Nicole Zedek, a reporter with Tel Aviv-based news channel i24, said during a live broadcast that she had spoken to Israeli soldiers who had witnessed decapitated babies.
In a response to questions by The Washington Post, a White House spokesperson said the president’s comments were based on news reports and claims by the Israeli government.
“A White House spokesperson later clarified that US officials and the president have not seen pictures or confirmed such reports independently,” The Post reported on Wednesday.
“The president based his comments about the alleged atrocities on the claims from Netanyahu’s spokesman and media reports from Israel, according to the White House.”
Biden’s claims were featured on the front pages of Western newspapers, and reports of beheaded babies have been cited in some quarters as justification for revenge attacks and the collective punishment of civilians in Gaza.
The Israeli army has said that it cannot confirm the claims, which were repeated on Wednesday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesperson Tal Heinrich.
But Israeli military officials have told a number of media outlets that women and children were “brutally butchered in an ISIS way of action”.
Hamas has denied claims that its fighters beheaded children and assaulted women, calling them “lies”.
Social media platforms such as Facebook, X and TikTok have been swamped with fake news on the Israel-Hamas war, according to an Al Jazeera investigation.
Of all platforms, Elon Musk’s X appears to have been the most prone to unverified information related to the war, including claims of beheadings and rapes.
More than 1,300 people were killed and 3,000 injured in the Hamas attack inside Israel, according to Israeli officials.
Israel’s retaliatory bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 1,200 people and left more than 5,600 others injured.
Source: Al Jazeera