State Department report says Israel likely violated international law in Gaza

State Department report says Israel likely violated international law in Gaza

A State Department report has found “reasonable” evidence that Israel has violated international humanitarian law using US weapons in Gaza, according to the Associated Press.

The long-awaited report could have required the US to stop sending weapons to its ally if it had violated the terms of a weapons agreement.

But the investigation could not immediately link the violations to US arms, which leaves the Biden administration with some leeway on whether to restrict future sales.

An earlier story by the AP, citing an unnamed official, said that the report was expected to find Israel had not broken international humanitarian law.

The report was the result of a presidential directive that came following pressure from Democrats to force the administration to rule on whether US-made weapons sent to Israel were being used lawfully.

It is unclear if the US will continue to investigate if the violations contained in the report were carried out with US weapons.

A separate investigation by Amnesty International found that US munitions were used in two “deadly, unlawful air strikes on homes full of civilians in the occupied Gaza Strip” in October.

“The fact that US-made munitions are being used by Israeli military in unlawful attacks with deadly consequences for civilians should be an urgent wake-up call to the Biden administration. The US-made weapons facilitated the mass killings of extended families,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.

Israel insists it abides by international humanitarian law and blames Hamas for high civilian casualties for operating near civilians. It says it is fighting an existential battle against Hamas.

Mr Biden in December said “indiscriminate bombing” was costing Israel international backing, but this is the first time the US government has directly linked Israel to war crimes.

Senator Chris Van Hollen, who spearheaded the push for the investigation, told The Independent earlier this week: “This report will be a test of the Biden administration’s credibility as to whether or not they’re willing to look at all the facts and apply the law to the war in Gaza.”

In recent days, President Joe Biden explicitly threatened for the first time to withhold the delivery of weapons to Israel if it launched a major ground operation in the border city of Rafah.

Mr Biden made the declaration in an interview with CNN during a visit to Wisconsin on Wednesday, telling anchor Erin Burnett that he won’t stop the flow of defensive weapons like the interceptors used for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system even if he cuts off the flow of munitions such as the shipment of 2,000 lb bombs he acknowledged putting a hold on.

“We’re going to continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks that came out of the Middle East recently,” he said. “But it’s, it’s just wrong. We’re not going to – we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells.”

Mr Biden also said he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel “is not going to get our support, if in fact they’re going to these population centres”.

“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centres.”

The Independent has previously reported on claims from former State Department and Pentagon officials that the administration’s investigations into potential war crimes committed by Israel are being undermined by Mr Biden’s insistence on providing his close ally with billions of dollars in military support.

The former officials said the president’s decades-long and deeply held personal connection to Israel renders US laws and regulations concerning US arms sales essentially toothless.

“There’s no incentive to investigate if the president and the White House themselves have announced that aid is unconditional,” said Brian Finucane, who worked for a decade in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the State Department advising on arms transfers and the laws of war.

“That means they don’t want to hear inconvenient legal conclusions,” he told The Independent last month.

Charles Blaha, former director of the State Department’s Office of Security and Human Rights, which regulates weapons transfers, said investigations into breaches of humanitarian law in the Gaza conflict — if they are taking place at all — are likely not being taken seriously.

“My sense is that people get patted on the head and say, ‘this is all very interesting,’ But I think the president is the decider here,” he said in April.

The State Department has been working on the report for months. It was due to be delivered on Wednesday but was delayed.