'Reasonable' to believe Israel broke international law in Gaza, US State Department says

Findings are some of the strongest US rebukes of Israel’s conduct in the war yet

The State Department said that high levels of civilian casualties in Gaza 'raise substantial questions' about Israel's actions. EPA
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A highly anticipated report sent to Congress on Friday by the State Department says it is “reasonable” to believe that Israel has used US-made weapons in Gaza in a manner that is inconsistent with international humanitarian law, but adds that “provision of defence articles” can continue.

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

“Nevertheless, given Israel’s significant reliance on US-made defence articles, it is reasonable to assess that defence articles covered under NSM-20 have been used by Israeli security forces since October 7 in instances inconsistent with its IHL [international humanitarian law] obligations or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm.”

The report added: “While Israel has the knowledge, experience and tools to implement best practices for mitigating civilian harm in its military operations, the results on the ground, including high levels of civilian casualties, raise substantial questions as to whether the IDF [Israeli military] is using them effectively in all cases.”

The findings are some of the strongest rebukes of Israel’s conduct in the war yet.

In February, President Joe Biden issued a national security memorandum that required the State Department to report to Congress on whether Israel was using American weapons in a way that breaks US or international law.

The department missed the original May 8 deadline set by the President and sent the report on Friday.

In addition to Israel, the report looks at Colombia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia and Ukraine, which are all involved in active armed conflicts.

While there have been circumstances in some countries that raise serious concerns, the State Department said it “currently assesses the assurances provided by each recipient country to be credible and reliable so as to allow the provision of defence articles covered under NSM-20 to continue”.

Earlier this week, Mr Biden said he would withhold weapons to Israel if the country went forward with a full-scale military operation into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than a million Palestinians are seeking refuge after fleeing from elsewhere in the enclave.

Senate foreign relations committee chairman Ben Cardin, a Democrat, said that while the report “has raised concerns”, he agreed with its assessment that “Israel has not violated international humanitarian law and that military assistance to support Israel’s security remains in the US interest and should continue”.

“In this regard, I differ with President Biden’s recent decision.”

Republican Senator Jim Risch, ranking member of the same committee, accused the Biden administration of “trying to have it both ways” by politicising Israeli support as the President faces political pressures during an election year.

“The administration is attempting to placate voters on the far left at the expense of a close ally in the midst of its justified war with Hamas terrorists,” he said in a statement.

Republican House foreign affairs committee chairman Michael McCaul said that, with the result of this report, the US is failing to stand with a close ally and withholding crucial weapons shipments.

“Now is the time for the United States to stand with our ally Israel and ensure they have the tools they need to quickly defeat the terrorists who pose a threat to their very existence,” he said in a statement.

Updated: May 11, 2024, 4:35 AM