Democratic Senator calls US report on Israel war conduct ‘woefully inadequate’

Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) described the Biden administration’s review of Israel’s war conduct in the Gaza Strip — which acknowledged the likely violation of international humanitarian law using U.S. weapons — as “woefully inadequate,” but did not indicate a ban on arms transfers.

“If this conduct complies with international standards, God help us all,” Van Hollen said in a call with reporters shortly after the State Department transmitted its report to Congress.

“Because that would set a very low bar for what is allowed, it would set a very low bar for the rules of war, it would set a very low bar what’s required to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

The Biden administration delivered a report to Congress late Friday afternoon, in which it determined it was “reasonable to assess” that Israel had violated international humanitarian law (IHL) in its conduct in Gaza. The report was mandated by National Security Memorandum 20 (NSM20), which Biden issued in February.

NSM20 required foreign governments receiving U.S. military assistance, and engaged in active combat, to provide written assurances to Washington that American-provided weapons are being used in accordance with IHL, and further was not hindering the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The memo also requires the State Department and Department of Defense to scrutinize credible reports of IHL violations.

NSM20 was an outgrowth of a push by Van Hollen to get President Biden to recognize a large-scale Palestinian civilian death toll in the Gaza Strip as a result of Israel’s war against Hamas, and the challenges on the Israeli side hindering the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Van Hollen called the Biden administration’s report “woefully inadequate” and demonstrated a “big gap” in the assessment of reports from international NGO’s that have scrutinized Israel’s war against Hamas over the course of seven months.

“While the administration has made some important general findings in this report, including the finding that it’s reasonable to conclude that Israel has violated international law in the use of American weapons, they all fall short of making difficult determinations in specific cases,” he said.

“But the administration ducked all the hard questions about making the actual determination,” Van Hollen continued.

“As I read this report, the Biden administration is taking at face value many the representations made by the Netanyahu government,” the senator said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The administration indicates in its report that Israel has engaged on investigations into the reports of violations of IHL.

Van Hollen said the findings may galvanize voices to restrict weapons transfers to Israel. President Biden held back sending more than 3,000 heavy bombs to Israel this week and warned of restricting more arms transfers in opposition to Israeli military action in the southern Gazan-city of Rafah.

“This report does not dig deep because I think by digging deeper you will not just reach a general conclusion about the likelihood of violations of international humanitarian law, you’d have to make judgments about specific cases,” Van Hollen said.

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