17 May 2024, 10:00

US Republicans confront Biden over pausing arms to Israel

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - The Republican-led US House of Representatives voted Thursday to force President Joe Biden to end his hold on high-payload bombs approved for Israel but blocked over concerns about their use in Gaza.

The largely symbolic move -- it has no chance of becoming law -- is a response to Biden suspending the shipments over fears of mass Palestinian casualties as Israeli forces press their assault on the densely populated city of Rafah.

The Israel Security Assistance Support Act would prevent Biden from freezing any congressionally approved military aid to Israel, including 3,500 2,000-pound and 500-pound bombs that he has put on hold.

Republicans say Biden has no right to interfere with Israel's military campaign, but House Democratic leadership described the bill as "another partisan stunt" infringing on the president's ability to conduct foreign policy.

Nevertheless, 16 Democrats crossed the aisle to join Republicans in passing the bill by 224 votes to 187, while a further 13 did not vote, in a rare rebuke of Biden from a small but significant section of his own side.

The legislation will be dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Senate and Biden has pledged to veto it in any case.

The war in Gaza broke out after the October 7 attack by Hamas on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel's military retaliation has killed at least 35,233 people, mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The White House has voiced frustration with Israel over the rising civilian death toll and particularly in its ground assault on Rafah, where more than one million people are sheltering.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NBC on Sunday that Israel "is 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 again."

Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson accused Biden of "carrying water" for Hamas at the same time as doing nothing to stop the "dangerous nuclear buildup" in Iran, which attacked Israel last month.

"The president took no decisive action when Iran was planning to attack Israel, and now that Israel is fighting for its very survival, he is withholding weapons and threatening to veto legislation that would give the Israelis what they need to adequately defend themselves," he said in a statement.

"The president and his administration need to reverse course immediately to stand with Israel and against the terrorism and atrocities of Iran and its proxies."

The White House announced a $1 billion-plus package of arms for Israel this week that includes tank and mortar ammunition, offering cover for pro-Israel Democrats to reject the bill.


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