Saturday, May 25, 2024

Biden says will stop sending bombs and artillery shells to Israel if it launches major invasion of Rafah

US President Joe Biden stated for the first time Wednesday he would halt some shipments of American weapons to Israel – which he acknowledged have been used to kill civilians in the Gaza Strip – if Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orders a major invasion of the city of Rafah.

“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centers,” Biden told CNN’s Erin Burnett in an exclusive interview, referring to 2,000-pound bombs that Biden paused shipments of last week.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities – that deal with that problem,” Biden added.

The president’s announcement that he was prepared to condition American weaponry on Israel’s actions amounts to a turning point in the 7-month conflict between Israel and Hamas.

His acknowledgement that American bombs had been used to kill civilians in Gaza was a stark recognition of the United States’ role in the war.

The president has come under extraordinary pressure, including from members of his own party, to limit shipments of arms amid a humanitarian crisis in the besieged enclave.

The US has already paused a shipment of “high-payload munitions” due to Israel’s possible operations in Rafah without a plan for the civilians there, according to the Pentagon, though it announced a final decision on that shipment hadn’t been made. The administration has stated it is reviewing the potential sale or transfer of other munitions.

Testifying before a US congressional subcommittee on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Biden administration had paused “one shipment of high payload munitions” amid concerns about the Israeli military’s push to invade Rafah.

“We’ve been very clear … from the very beginning that Israel shouldn’t launch a major attack into Rafah without accounting for and protecting the civilians that are in that battlespace,” Austin told US lawmakers.

The Biden administration has faced months of criticism over its “iron-clad” support for Israel amid the Gaza war, which has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians and plunged the enclave into a dire humanitarian crisis.

But Washington has largely continued to provide military and diplomatic backing to Israel as the war grinds on.

Israel stepped up its bombardment of Rafah on Monday, killing dozens of people after ordering about 100,000 residents in the city’s eastern areas to evacuate.

Israeli troops also stormed the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, which serves as a major gateway for humanitarian aid.

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