US underlines to Israel it must stick to international law on weapons

White House Counsel Spokesperson Ian Sams speaks to reporters during the daily press briefing at the White House

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has briefed Israel on a new U.S. national security memorandum that reminds countries receiving U.S. weapons to stick to international law, the White House said on Friday.

The memo is a statement of administration policy and was sent on Thursday from the White House to senior Cabinet officials responsible for national security to ensure its aims are carried out.

The memo does not impose new conditions on how U.S. military equipment may be used, but it does require the Biden administration to send a report to Congress annually on whether countries are meeting the requirements.

Since Oct. 7, nearly 28,000 people have been killed in an Israeli military campaign against Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian health officials. The Israeli assault was launched in response to a Hamas attack on Israel in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed.

Washington gives $3.8 billion in annual military assistance to Israel, its longtime ally. Leftist Democrats and Arab American groups have criticized the Biden administration's steadfast support of Israel, which they say provides it with a sense of impunity.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters in response to a question that U.S. officials had briefed Israelis on the memorandum.

"They reiterated their willingness to provide these types of assurances," she said.

Other nations that use U.S. weaponry were also notified, said a U.S. official, declining to name them.

Jean-Pierre said the memorandum emerged from discussions with lawmakers.

"There are no new standards in this memo. We are not imposing new standards for military aid," she said. "Instead we are spelling publicly the existing standards by the international law including the law of armed conflict."

One section of the memorandum reminds recipients of U.S. military aid to "respect their obligations under international law and reduce the risk of civilian harm."

The Israel-Hamas conflict falls under a complex international system of justice that has emerged since World War Two, much of it aimed at protecting civilians. Even if states say they are acting in self-defense, international rules regarding armed conflict apply to all participants in a war.

U.S. President Joe Biden has been dogged by criticism at home by Arab American groups who say he should be calling for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza conflict. Several Biden administration officials met on Thursday in Dearborn, Michigan, with Arab American leaders who have been vocal in their criticism of Biden.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Heather Timmons and Rosalba O'Brien)