Blinken defends weapons pause as Israel lacks 'credible plan' to protect Rafah civilians

State Department finds it 'reasonable' to believe Israel used US-made weapons in Gaza in a way inconsistent with international law

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the Gaza conflict 'extraordinarily complex'. AP
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday defended a decision to pause a weapons delivery to Israel over concerns they could be used in the Gazan city of Rafah, saying Israel lacked a “credible plan” to protect civilians there.

“We have real concerns about the way they [certain weapons] are used,” Mr Blinken told ABC News's This Week, adding that Israel needs to “have a clear, credible plan to protect civilians, which we haven't seen”.

“At present, the only thing that we've delayed and are holding back are these high-payload bombs, because we're in an continuing conversation with Israel, given the impact that those weapons can have when they're used in populated areas,” Mr Blinken told CBS's Face the Nation.

“When it comes to the use of weapons, concerns about incidents where, given the totality of the damage that's been done to children, women, men, it was reasonable to assess that in certain instances, Israel acted in ways that are not consistent with international humanitarian law.”

He also called the conflict “extraordinarily complex”, and said that it was difficult to determine “exactly what happened and to draw any conclusions” as to breaches of international law.

Mr Blinken declined to define a “red line” on Israel aid but said the US is in active conversations “about the provision of heavy or high-payload weapons”.

In a highly anticipated report sent to Congress on Friday, the State Department said that while Israel may have violated international law, the “provision of defence articles” can still continue.

The Secretary of State reiterated that US would not support a full-scale invasion of Rafah “in the absence of a credible plan to protect civilians”.

The Pentagon confirmed last week that it had paused a shipment of weapons to Israel amid an intensifying assault on Rafah. And President Joe Biden said he would halt other weapons transfers to Israel if it were to invade the southern Gaza city.

Netanyahu praises 'very important step' after seizing Rafah border crossing in Gaza – video

Benjamin Netanyahu praises 'very important step' after seizing Rafah border crossing in Gaza

Benjamin Netanyahu praises 'very important step' after seizing Rafah border crossing in Gaza

After weeks of threats, Israel issued evacuation orders to civilians in parts of Rafah last week and Israeli forces took over the Gazan side of the border crossing with Egypt.

Israel has insisted it must enter Rafah to achieve its goal of eliminating Hamas and freeing scores hostages taken into Gaza on October 7.

Despite the weapons hold, the US has maintained that Israel continues to need support in its continuing war against Hamas.

Mr Blinken said that in areas that Israel had previously cleared of Hamas elements, the militant group is regrouping, telling NBC's Meet the Press that the shared goal of the US and Israel is ensuring it cannot govern Gaza in the future.

“Israel's on the trajectory, potentially, to inherit an insurgency with many armed Hamas left, or if it leaves a vacuum filled by chaos filled by anarchy and probably refilled by Hamas,” he said.

“We've been talking to them about a much better way of getting an enduring result, enduring security in Gaza itself, and much more broadly in the region. Those conversations continue.”

He added that the US has been working with Israel as well as Arab countries and other partners on such a plan.

As to a potential ceasefire, he said that the quickest way to end the conflict would be “for Hamas to give up the hostages”.

“The fastest way to get hostages home is through an agreement and we're determined every single day to pursue that and to try to get it to happen.”

Talks on a ceasefire and a release of hostages ended in Cairo on Thursday without agreement after Israel said a proposal by Qatari and Egyptian mediators included unacceptable elements.

Hamas said on Friday that efforts to come to a deal were back to square one, with the White House saying it was trying to keep the sides engaged “if only virtually”.

Two hundred days of Israel Gaza war – in pictures

Updated: May 12, 2024, 5:04 PM