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Israeli official says government cannot confirm babies were beheaded in Hamas attack

Jerusalem -- The Israeli government has not confirmed the specific claim that Hamas attackers cut off the heads of babies during their shock attack on Saturday, an Israeli official told CNN, contradicting a previous public statement by the Prime Minister's office.

"There have been cases of Hamas militants carrying out beheadings and other ISIS-style atrocities. However, we cannot confirm if the victims were men or women, soldiers or civilians, adults or children," the official said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated that people had been beheaded by Hamas in an appearance beside Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday, but did not specify if they were children.

The explosive allegations that children had been decapitated at the kibbutz of Kfar Aza emerged Tuesday in Israeli media. Israel Defense Forces later described the scene as a "massacre" in a statement to CNN. Women, children toddlers and the elderly were "brutally butchered in an ISIS way of action," the IDF said.

Tal Heinrich, a spokeswoman for Netanyahu, said on Wednesday that babies and toddlers had been found with their "heads decapitated" in Kfar Aza.

US President Joe Biden appeared to confirm that information. In a roundtable with Jewish community leaders on Wednesday, he said: "I have been doing this a long time, I never really thought that I would see… have confirmed pictures of terrorist beheading children."

A US administration official later clarified Biden's remarks, telling CNN that neither Biden nor his aides had seen pictures or had received confirmed reports of children or infants having been beheaded by Hamas. The official clarified that Biden was referring to public comments from media outlets and Israeli officials.

An IDF spokesman, Jonathan Conricus, later in the day said terrorists had likely carried out decapitations of babies in the Be'eri kibbutz.

"We got very very disturbing reports that came from the ground that there were babies that had been beheaded… I think we can now say with relative confidence that unfortunately this is what happened in Be'eri," he said.

Israeli officials initially avoided discussing the specifics of how its citizens were killed. They instead likened Hamas' brutality to that of ISIS, the Sunni terror group that beheaded captives and burned prisoners alive.

Hamas on Wednesday denied the allegations. Izzat al-Risheq, a senior official and spokesperson for the Islamist militant group, said that the international media had "spread lies about our Palestinian people and the resistance claiming that members of the Palestinian resistance beheaded children and attacked women with no evidence to support such claims and lies."

Al-Risheq's claim that Hamas did not attack women is demonstrably false. Women, children and the elderly at kibbutzim like Kfar Aza and Be'eri and were killed during the surprise attack. Videos posted online verified by CNN show women who were attending the music festival targeted by the group's gunmen being kidnapped.

CNN has pored through hundreds of hours of media posted online attempting to corroborate accounts of atrocities committed by Hamas. In one video, which CNN determined to be authentic but has not been able to geolocate, an assailant attacks an injured man with a garden tool in an attempt to behead him. But CNN has not seen anything that would appear to confirm the claims of decapitated children.

CNN also visited the ransacked ruins of Kfar Aza on Tuesday and saw no evidence of beheaded youths. Israeli officials have not released any photographs of the incident either.

But the fact that Israeli officials have not backed up their claim with photographic evidence is not surprising – sharing such graphic imagery would be regarded as deeply insensitive. "Because of the dignity of the dead, we do not speak about how they looked," said Maj. Nir Dinar, an IDF spokesperson. "It's a dead baby. Does it matter if it's burning or decapitation?"

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