08 May 2024, 10:43

US halts bomb shipment to Israel over Rafah concerns

 WASHINGTON, May 8, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - The United States paused a shipment of

bombs to Israel last week over fears it would invade the southern Gaza city
of Rafah, an official said Tuesday, marking the first time in the conflict
that President Joe Biden has squeezed military aid to the key US ally.

Washington halted the load of 1,800 2,000-lb (907 kg) bombs and 1,700 500-lb
(226 kg) bombs after Israel had not "fully addressed" US concerns about a
major ground operation, a senior administration official said.

News of the move comes as the White House blasted the "unacceptable" closure
of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt after Israel sent tanks in earlier
Tuesday -- while holding out hope for a ceasefire with Hamas.

The pausing of weapons marks the first time that Biden has acted on the
warning that he gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April that US
policy on Gaza would depend on how Israel treated civilians.

The US official said Biden's administration made the decision on the weapons
when it appeared Israel was on the verge of a major ground operation into
Rafah, which Washington has strongly opposed as more than a million people
are sheltering there.

Israeli and US officials had been discussing alternatives but "those
discussions are ongoing and have not fully addressed our concerns," the
senior US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"As Israeli leaders seemed to approach a decision point on such an operation,
we began to carefully review proposed transfers of particular weapons to
Israel that might be used in Rafah. This began in April."

The US official said Washington was "especially focused" on the use of the
heaviest 2,000-lb bombs "and the impact they could have in dense urban
settings as we have seen in other parts of Gaza."

"We have not made a final determination on how to proceed with this
shipment," the official said.

The US State Department is still reviewing other weapons transfers, including
the use of precision bomb kits known as JDAMs, added the official.

The White House said earlier that Israel had promised the military thrust
into Rafah earlier Tuesday was a "limited operation" and not the feared full-
scale invasion.

- 'Absurd demands' -

While facing a difficult reelection battle in November against Republican
rival Donald Trump, Biden has come under growing domestic pressure over his
support for Israel, with widespread protests at US universities leading to
police crackdowns and thousands of arrests.

Republicans have also piled on the political pressure, and US House Speaker
Mike Johnson -- who has repeatedly claimed the protests are anti-Semitic --
criticized on Tuesday any move to limit military aid.

"Just when we thought it was only university presidents who are caving into
the absurd demands of the pro-Hamas students, the president himself has now
reportedly halted ammunition shipments to Israel," Johnson said to reporters
ahead of the official US announcement.

Johnson said it was "undermining" a huge aid package with military support
for Israel and Ukraine that Congress passed after months of delays in April -
- although the US official said the halted shipment was not linked to that

Biden's move does however turn the screw on Israel to end the seven-month
conflict and to take more action on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

"The crossings that have been closed need to be reopened, it is unacceptable
for them to be closed," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told a
briefing earlier Tuesday over Israel's seizure of the Rafah crossing.

Meanwhile ceasefire talks involving Israel, Hamas, the United States, Qatar
and Egypt resumed on Tuesday.

"A close assessment of the two sides' positions suggests that they should be
able to close the remaining gaps, and we're going to do everything we can to
support that process," US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby

The war was sparked by Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in
the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP
tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel launched a retaliatory offensive that has killed at least 34,789
people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run
territory's health ministry.

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