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US paused Israel weapons shipment due to Rafah: Defense secretary Lloyd Austin – Times of India

WorldUS paused Israel weapons shipment due to Rafah: Defense secretary Lloyd Austin - Times of India

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden‘s decision to hold up delivery of high payload munitions to Israel was taken over a possible Israeli offensive in Rafah that Washington believes could put Palestinian civilians at risk, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Wednesday.
Austin was the first senior Biden administration official to publicly explain what appeared to be a possible shift in US policy towards arming Israel.Biden had pledged his complete support for Israel following the October 7 attack on the country by Palestinian militant group Hamas, and he sent Washington’s closest Middle East ally weaponry worth billions of dollars.
Austin stressed that the US commitment to Israel’s defense remained “ironclad” and that the decision on suspending the munitions shipment was not final.
Still, he said the US preference would be that “no major combat take place in Rafah” and that at a minimum any Israeli operation must safeguard civilian lives.
“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 a Senate hearing.
“And again, as we have assessed the situation, we have paused one shipment of high payload munitions,” he told a Senate hearing.
“We’ve not made a final determination on how to proceed with that shipment.”
Israel has threatened a major assault on Rafah to defeat thousands of Hamas fighters it says are holed up there, but Western nations and the United Nations say a full-scale attack on the city would triggger a humanitarian catastrophe.
Hamas’ October 7 attack killed about 1,200 people with about 250 others abducted, of whom 133 are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel’s campaign to destroy Hamas has led to a seven-month-long military campaign that has so far killed a total of 34,789 Palestinians, mostly civilians, the Gaza Health Ministry said.
The conflict has also left many of Gaza’s 2.3 million people on the brink of starvation and sparked protests in the US demanding that universities and Biden withdraw support for Israel – including the provision of weaponry. Biden is also under pressure from Democrats, including lawmakers in his party, to put more pressure on Israel.
A senior US official, speaking on Tuesday on condition of anonymity, said Washington had carefully reviewed the delivery of weapons that might be used in Rafah, and as a result paused a shipment consisting of 1,800 2,000-lb bombs and 1,700 500-lb bombs.
Austin did not detail the size or number of the munitions involved.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was among the Republicans who rebuked the Biden administration over the decision.
“This is obscene. It is absurd. Give Israel what they need,” Graham said, adding it wasn’t for Washington to second-guess how Israel fought a war against Hamas militants bent on Israel’s destruction.
US senator Deb Fischer, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called on Biden to drop “his politically-motivated hold”.
“American support for Israel cannot be in doubt, especially now,” she said.
For its part, the Israeli military appeared on Wednesday to play down the arms shipment hold-up, saying the allies resolve any disagreements “behind closed doors”.
Speaking at a conference hosted by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper as the Gaza war entered its eighth month, chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari described coordination between Israel and the United States as reaching “a scope without precedent, I think, in history”.

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