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Israel likely breached international law in Gaza with US weapons: State Department

US says it can't make any definitive conclusions because of a lack of evidence
A Palestinian man carrries a wounded girl after Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on 17 November 2023 (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Biden administration has released a report stating that there are reasonable grounds to believe Israel on several occasions used American-supplied weapons "inconsistent" with international humanitarian law.

However, the report says the US was unable to verify whether American weapons were used during those incidents, given the "lack of [US government] personnel on the ground in Gaza".

The report from the US State Department comes as a result of President Joe Biden issuing a national security memorandum (NSM-20) in early February on whether the administration finds credible Israel's assurances that its use of US weapons doesn't violate either American or international law.

If the administration concludes that Israel has used American weapons in violation of international law, it means Washington would have to suspend military assistance to the country.

The highly-anticipated report was supposed to be delivered to Congress earlier this week, but the administration delayed its release to Friday evening local time.

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It laid out several instances in which the Israeli military's actions raised "serious concerns". Those incidents included the Israeli air strike on aid workers with the international charity World Central Kitchen, the "Flour Massacre" Israel's military committed in northern Gaza, and its attacks on other international aid groups and charities operating in Gaza.

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Despite widespread reporting of these incidents, the report said the Biden administration could not make any definitive assessment as to whether US weapons were used in those attacks.

The report also says that "Israel has not shared complete information to verify whether US defense articles covered under NSM-20 were specifically used in actions that have been alleged as violations of" international law or international humanitarian law.

"Nevertheless, given Israel's significant reliance on US-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," the report said.

The Biden administration also asserted that Israel's "overall commitment to IHL is not necessarily disproven by individual IHL violations", noting that Israel has committed to investigating these individual violations.

"The State Department will continue to engage with the Government of Israel to establish a dedicated channel … to review incidents of concern and to make recommendations to reduce the risk of civilian harm," the report said.

Israel not impeding US aid to Gaza

The war in Gaza began on 7 October, when Palestinian fighters led by Hamas broke out of Gaza and launched an attack on southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people and taking around 240 people hostage.

Israel responded with a declaration of war, launching an indiscriminate bombing campaign followed by a ground invasion. So far, Israel has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians, the majority of them women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

The Biden administration responded to the war by fast-tracking weapons shipments to Israel and providing a diplomatic shield for Israel at the United Nations, blocking several resolutions calling for a ceasefire and an end to the war.

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However, after widespread protests across the country and with Biden's support for the war growing unpopular among his voter base, President Biden began to offer some limited criticism of Israel's war efforts.

The administration also paused a single shipment of munitions to Israel, a move rights groups said fell far from short of Washington's stated commitments to international law and human rights.

Another element of the report was an assessment of whether Israel was impeding the access of aid into Gaza.

Aid agencies, charities and rights groups have all accused Israel of restricting the amount of aid that is allowed to enter Gaza.

The United Nations has said that northern Gaza is facing a full-blown famine due to the lack of aid entering the area.

Israel denies it is blocking aid to the besieged Palestinian enclave. While the US said in its report that the amount of aid entering Gaza is not sufficient, it did not conclude that Israel is restricting Washington's efforts to deliver aid.

"We do not currently assess that the Israeli government is prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of US humanitarian assistance within the meaning of section 620I of the Foreign Assistance Act."

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