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Israel may have breached obligations under international law: US report



By Iain Marlow

The Biden administration said Israel may have violated international law in its war against Hamas but won’t stop the flow of weapons and bombs to a key ally.


The State Department said in a highly anticipated report Friday that although Israel’s reliance on US weapons in Gaza means it’s likely that it breached obligations under international law, it has been unable to verify specific instances.

It’s “reasonable to assess” that US weapons “have been used by Israeli security forces since October 7 in instances inconsistent with its IHL obligations or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm,” the department said in the report, using an abbreviation for international humanitarian law.

“The nature of the conflict in Gaza makes it difficult to assess or reach conclusive findings on individual incidents,” it said, 

Aid Access

The department also said the US had “deep concerns” over Israel allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza, a situation that’s still “insufficient” but improved.

However, it said in the report “we do not currently assess that the Israeli government is prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of US humanitarian assistance” consistent with the Foreign Assistance Act.

The findings were included in a report that was sent to Congress Friday. Some Democratic legislators have pressed the Biden administration to suspend shipments of military aid to Israel over its handling of the war.

In February, President Joe Biden signed a memorandum looking into the issues of US weapons and aid in Gaza, including requiring counties that receive US weapons give “credible and reliable” assurances that the hardware isn’t being used to violate international law. The State Department on Friday said Israel provided those assurances. 

President Joe Biden around that time had blasted Israel’s Gaza campaign as “over the top.” That criticism has grown, particularly over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s threat to expand operations in Rafah, where about 1 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Delayed Shipment

Earlier this week, Biden announced the US was withholding a shipment of bombs to dissuade Netanyahu. The US has long argued that a full offensive in Rafah would be a humanitarian disaster, but Israel sees it necessary to finish off several remaining Hamas battalions.

Despite those rising tensions, US officials have long pushed back against accusations that Israel may have committed war crimes or violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza. 

Instead, the US has blamed Hamas, a US-designated terrorist group, for embedding fighters and military hardware within civilian infrastructure. The report on Friday notes that Israel has faced an “extraordinary military challenge” as Hamas fighters used Palestinians as “human shields.”

Although the US believes it’s reasonable to assess there have been possible violations of international humanitarian law, the US has not assessed that in any one particular case, a senior State Department official told reporters on Friday. 

There are numerous ongoing US government assessments of specific incidents during the conflict, and there are several open inquiries with the Israeli government asking for more information, the official added.

First Published: May 11 2024 | 8:14 AM IST

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