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US says it’s ‘reasonable to assess’ that Israel violated international humanitarian law using American weapons

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The Biden administration came out on Friday and said that it is “reasonable to assess” that the American weapons that Israel used in Gaza are “inconsistent” and abuse of international humanitarian law and, therefore, Israel’s actions are obviously not right as per the international standards.

Smoke rises over the city of Kiryat Shmona following a rocket that was launched from Lebanon and fired towards Israel, amid ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, in Kiryat Shmona, northern Israel, May 10, 2024. REUTERS/Ayal Margolin ISRAEL OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN ISRAEL(REUTERS)

However, the administration has not definitively stated that Israel has breached the law.

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A State Department-drafted report acknowledges ongoing investigations into possible violations but admits that they do “not have complete information to verify” the use of US weapons in purported breaches of international humanitarian law.

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‘In Gaza, it is difficult to assess or reach conclusive findings’

“Given the nature of the conflict in Gaza, with Hamas seeking to hide behind civilian populations and infrastructure and expose them to Israeli military action, as well as the lack of USG personnel on the ground in Gaza, it is difficult to assess or reach conclusive findings on individual incidents,” the report states.

“Nevertheless, given Israel’s significant reliance on U.S.-made defense articles, it is reasonable to assess that defense articles covered under NSM-20 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.”

Covering the period from the onset of hostilities with Hamas on October 7 to late April, the report does not conclude that Israel has impeded humanitarian aid to Gaza in contravention of U.S. statutes.

“We do not currently assess that the Israeli government is prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance,” the report said.

Despite not finding Israel in violation of the memorandum’s terms, the report is critically vocal about the repercussions of Israel’s military actions. This critique comes at a time when U.S.-Israeli relations are already tense, following President Joe Biden’s warning that he might limit weapon transfers if Israel initiates a significant offensive in Rafah.

The report’s ultimate conclusion is that Israel’s assurances under the national security memorandum are “credible and reliable” and will likely displease human rights and humanitarian groups.

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No actions are mandated by the report for the Israeli government

The US administration has generally refrained from supplying military support to Israel.

However, Biden said in a CNN interview, “I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities – that deal with that problem.”

The consequential report was declassified and sent to Capitol Hill on Friday afternoon, as mandated by a February national security memorandum, which President Biden issued amid pressure from Democratic legislators.

This marks the first US governmental evaluation of Israel’s conduct during the seven-month conflict with Hamas in Gaza, which was triggered by the terror group’s severe attack on October 7, resulting in over 34,000 fatalities and extensive destruction in the coastal region.

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