Israel ‘needs to do more’ to stop settlers sacking Gaza aid trucks, US says

Israeli officials “need to do more” to stop settlers attacking trucks loaded with food, water and other critical supplies from entering Gaza, a State Department spokesman said on Thursday.

The remarks came after videos emerged on X/Twitter showing Israeli settlers destroying packages of humanitarian assistance held on trucks bound for Gaza.

Vedant Patel, a State Department spokesperson, said that he could not verify the fate of the trucks seen in the video. But he added that Israeli officials “need to do more to hold actors like this accountable when action is taken that is inconsistent with what we know is important, which is getting more humanitarian aid into Gaza”.

“What I can say...humanitarian aid must not, and can not, be restricted, stopped or interefered with,” he said.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre also addressed the issue of aid convoys being blocked or harrassed on Thursday. “We remain concerned about ongoing limited operations at the Rafah boarding crossing,” she said.

“This level of aid remains insufficient,” Ms Jean-Pierre said on Thursday. “And we want to continue to press Israel to increase the level of assistant moving into Gaza.’

A video posted to X by an Axios reporter on Monday appeared to show at least a dozen Israelis throwing packages appearing to contain bottled water on the ground and smashing them, as they crossed from the West Bank into Israel, bound for Gaza.

Other videos and news reports, including from Haaretz this week, have also indicated that truck drivers were subject to assaults for participating in aid convoys.

The US continues to insist that these incidents, and the inability or unwillingness of Israeli security forces to stop them, do not amount to officially-sanctioned efforts by Israel’s government to restrict or halt the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, which would violate international law.

A spokesperson for the National Security Council told The Independent late Thursday afternoon: “It is totally unacceptable for Israeli protesters to block shipments of life-saving humanitarian assistance bound for Gaza. The Government of Israel must do more to both stop this sort of interference and hold perpetrators accountable. We are also looking at tools at our disposal to hold accountable those who are interfering with humanitarian assistance.”

The US State Department has faced heavy criticism for that finding, particularly following the agency’s report last week which found that in some “instances” Israeli forces could be reasonably found to have violated international humanitarian assistance laws.

The Biden administration continues to tread a fine line on the issue of aid to Gaza and Israel’s treatment of Palestinian civilians.

The US has repeatedly fought back against accusations that Israel, with US assistance, is committing a genocide in Gaza, and rejected the authority of an International Criminal Court investigation into the matter.

At the same time, White House and state department officials have repeatedly publicly pressed Israel’s government to increase aid crossings and take further steps to protect civilians, while condemning rhetoric from rightwing Israeli politicians embracing the destruction of Gaza.

President Joe Biden drew his red line for Israel’s conduct in a recent interview with CNN, saying that he would halt the transfer of some weapons to Israel should a major military assault against the city of Rafah in southern Gaza begin.

While violence has been reported in the area, US officials said Israeli operations in the area are limited and have thus far avoided population centres, skirting the president’s threat.

Israeli officials have pushed back on Mr Biden’s warning and have vowed to move forward with an invasion of Rafah, where more than one million refugees have fled fighting that has utterly leveled large parts of Gaza’s north.

More than 35,000 people, over half of them children, are thought to have been killed since the fighting began last year following a deadly Hamas terrorist attack in Israel that killed 1,152 people and resulted in hundreds being taken hostage by militants.

Over the weekend, Secretary of State Antony Blinken was questioned about the US’s handling of relations with Israel during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press and denied that the US was avoiding more serious criticism for fear of angering a US ally.

“We don’t have double standards,” Blinken said.“We treat Israel, one of our closest allies and partners, just as we would treat any other country, including in assessing something like international humanitarian law, and its compliance with that law.”