WASHINGTON, Dec 8 (Reuters) – The Biden administration has asked Congress to approve the sale of 45,000 shells for Israel’s Merkava tanks for use in its offensive against Hamas in Gaza, according to four sources familiar with the matter, including an official American and a former American official.
The request comes even as concerns grow about the use of American weapons in a war that has killed thousands of civilians in the Palestinian enclave since Israel responded to an Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants.
The potential sale, valued at more than $500 million, is not part of President Joe Biden’s $110.5 billion supplemental request that includes funding for Ukraine and Israel. It is under informal review by the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees, allowing members the privilege of stopping the sale or having informal discussions with the administration about their concerns.
The U.S. State Department is pushing congressional committees to quickly approve the transaction, a U.S. official and former State Department official Josh Paul said, amid objections from rights advocates over the use of manufactured weapons. in the United States in the conflict.
“This went to the committees earlier this week and they are supposed to have 20 days to review the Israel cases. (The State Department) is putting pressure on them to come clean now,” said Paul, who resigned from the Department in October. of state in protest of what he called the administration’s “blind support” for Israel.
The administration is also considering using the Arms Export Control Act’s emergency authorities to allow a portion of the ammunition, 13,000 of the 45,000 shells, to bypass the committee and review period, two U.S. officials said. although a final decision has not yet been made. The move would allow Israel to prepare for contingencies given the high tensions in the region, one of the US officials said.
A State Department spokesperson said that, as a matter of policy, “we do not confirm or comment on proposed defense transfers or sales until they have been formally notified to Congress.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, said congressional input was a critical step toward big arms sales.
“The administration should not consider shortening the already short timeline for congressional review of this or any other arms transfer,” he said.
Online images of the war show Israel regularly deploying Merkava tanks in its offensive in Gaza and on its southern border with Lebanon, where skirmishes have broken out since October 7.
The tanks are also linked to incidents involving the deaths of journalists.
On Thursday, a Reuters investigation revealed that an Israeli tank crew killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and injured six reporters by firing two projectiles in quick succession from Israel while the journalists were filming cross-border bombings.
Israel has sharply increased attacks in the Gaza Strip since a seven-day truce ended a week ago, hitting the entire Palestinian enclave and killing hundreds of people in a new and expanded phase of the war that Washington says has gone off course. of Israeli promises to make. more to protect civilians.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll from Israel’s campaign in Gaza had risen to 17,487.
As the war has escalated, how and where exactly U.S. weapons are used in the conflict has come under increased scrutiny, although U.S. officials say there are no plans to put conditions on military aid to Israel or consider withholding any of it. .
Human rights advocates expressed concern about the sale, saying it does not align with Washington’s effort to pressure Israel to minimize civilian casualties.
“By continuing to provide Israel with weapons and diplomatic cover while it commits atrocities, including the collective punishment of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, the United States risks being complicit in war crimes,” said Louis Charbonneau, UN director for Human Rights. Vigilancia de los derechos.
The United States on Friday also vetoed a proposed U.N. Security Council demand for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, a move that diplomatically isolated Washington while protecting its ally.
Earlier this week, Amnesty International said the Israeli military used American-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) in two airstrikes on homes full of civilians, the first time a rights group human rights directly links US weapons to an attack that killed civilians. .
Israel says it is providing details about which areas are safe for civilians and how to reach them, and says Hamas is guilty of harming civilians because it operates among them, a charge the Islamist group denies.
Israel launched what it says is a campaign to destroy Hamas after the Islamist militant group attacked Israeli cities in a surprise cross-border raid on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 240 hostages.
Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Mike Stone in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations Editing by Don Durfee, Diane Craft and Grant McCool
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