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US Confirms Delaying Sale of Heavy Bombs Over Concerns of Israeli Use in Rafah


On Tuesday night, the Biden administration confirmed reports of holding back a significant shipment of 2,000- and 500-pound bombs, fearing Israel might use them in a major ground operation in the densely populated southern Gaza city of Rafah. This marks the first instance since the start of the Israel-Hamas conflict that the US has delayed a weapons shipment for the IDF, which it has consistently supported since October 7.

Washington strongly opposes a large-scale offensive in Rafah, expressing concerns about the safety of over 1 million Palestinians residing there. The US engaged in virtual meetings with top Israeli officials in recent months to voice these concerns and suggest alternative approaches to targeting Hamas in the city without a full-scale invasion. However, the White House deemed these discussions insufficient in conveying its concerns.

As Israeli leaders appeared to be nearing a decision on such an operation last month, the US began reviewing proposed transfers of specific weapons to Israel that could be used in Rafah. This review resulted in the temporary halt of a shipment containing 1,800 2,000-lb bombs and 1,700 500-lb bombs last week. Notably, no final decision has been made regarding this shipment.

Additionally, the Biden administration has delayed a sale of Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) to Israel, though this transaction is in an earlier stage than the shipment of heavy bombs held up last week. The administration clarified that these reviews concern future transfers and do not affect funds approved by Congress for Israel’s aid.

The confirmation from the Biden administration follows initial approval of an operation launched by Israel to take control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. While acknowledging Israel’s stated goals in the operation, the White House warned that its assessment could change if the offensive escalates and hampers aid shipments into Gaza.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has been adamant about conducting an operation in Rafah to eliminate remaining Hamas strongholds, regardless of ongoing hostage talks. Israeli defense officials estimate that four of Hamas’s six remaining battalions are in the city, along with members of the terror group’s leadership and hostages abducted during the October 7 conflict.

The IDF’s operation led to the closure of the Rafah crossing, a crucial gateway for aid into Gaza, as the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing also remained shut following a Hamas rocket attack over the weekend. While Israel committed to reopening Kerem Shalom and Rafah for fuel convoys, concerns were raised about the evacuation of civilians from eastern neighborhoods of Rafah without adequate support mechanisms.

Furthermore, the State Department was due to submit a report to Congress assessing whether Israel is using American weapons in compliance with international law. This report, part of a new policy introduced by Biden in February, aims to ensure aid recipients adhere to international law standards.

Progressive lawmakers have been pressuring the administration to deem Israel out of compliance with international law, potentially leading to restrictions on US military aid. Eighty-eight Democrats urged Biden to address concerns about the Israeli government’s conduct during the Gaza conflict, particularly regarding humanitarian aid. Israel maintains that it does not obstruct relief entering Gaza and attributes shortages to aid agencies’ distribution challenges, pointing to an increase in aid following pressure from the Biden administration to improve Gaza’s humanitarian situation.

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