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Biden briefed on US review of Israel's war conduct

President Biden has been briefed on a State Department report scrutinizing Israel’s conduct in its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the White House said on Friday, but would not indicate if the report influenced his decision to hold back the transfer of thousands of heavy bombs earlier this week. 

The State Department transmitted the report to Congress on Friday. The report was expected to assess written assurances from Israel that U.S.-provided weapons were being used in line with international law, and that Israel was not hindering the delivery of humanitarian assistance. 

The report is not public. Media reports indicate U.S. officials issued deep criticisms of Israel’s war conduct in the Gaza Strip but held back from saying the Israel Defense Forces had violated laws that would restrict U.S. arms transfers to the country. 

“The president has been briefed and is obviously aware of the contents,” White House national security communications adviser John Kirby told reporters Friday.

“I am just not going to get into the specifics of when he was briefed and how that transpired, but he’s fully briefed on it.” 

The report was mandated by National Security Memorandum 20, which Biden issued in February under pressure from congressional Democrats to scrutinize Israel’s use of U.S. weapons in its war against Hamas.

The report was due to Congress on Wednesday.

News agencies briefed by U.S. officials on the report’s contents and conclusions described its findings as highly critical of Israel’s conduct in Gaza, but said it stopped short of saying Israel violated the terms of use for U.S. weapons. 

Biden, earlier in the week, paused the transfer of more than 3,000 heavy bombs to Israel. And the president warned in an interview with CNN — broadcast Wednesday — that the U.S. could hold back more arms transfers if Israel launched a major offensive into Rafah, the southern Gazan city believed to be the last holdout for Hamas but sheltering more than 1 million displaced Palestinians. 

Kirby said the White House is closely watching Israel’s military operations in Rafah, and that includes a seizure of a crossing with Egypt. 

“I wouldn’t go so far as to say what we’ve seen in the last 24 hours connotes or indicates a broad, large-scale invasion or major ground operation. It appears to be localized near the crossing,” Kirby said, but added that the White House is watching “with concern.”

Kirby called for Israel to reopen the Rafah crossing for humanitarian assistance deliveries into the strip. 

“Every day that that crossing is not available and usable for humanitarian assistance, there’s going to be more suffering and that’s of deep concern to us. And so once again, we urge the Israelis to open up that crossing to humanitarian assistance immediately,” he said. “That aid is desperately needed, and we urge them, as we have in the past, to be as careful, precise and discriminate as they can here so that they are not putting innocent lives at greater risk than they already are. But we’re watching this very closely.” 

Israel launched its war against Hamas following its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostage, with approximately 133 still held in the strip.

Biden has supported Israel’s determination to defeat Hamas, but has grown increasingly frustrated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prosecution of the war/ The president has come under pressure from Democrats and protests across the U.S. decrying a staggering Palestinian civilian death toll and an appalling humanitarian crisis. 

Efforts to secure a deal between Hamas and Israel to secure the release of hostages and implement a six-week cease-fire fizzled out this week amid discussions in Cairo. 

Source: The Hill

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