President Biden plans to send $1bn arms shipment to Israel

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The White House has informed Congress of its intention to allocate over $1 billion in new weaponry to Israel.

Despite the US’s opposition to a full-scale invasion by the Israeli military in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, it disclosed last week that it had temporarily halted the shipment of bombs to Israel due to concerns about potential civilian casualties in densely populated areas.

The proposed new package, as reported by US media, awaits approval from lawmakers. It includes $700 million in tank ammunition, $500 million in tactical vehicles, and $60 million in mortar rounds, according to the Associated Press news agency.

This allocation is distinct from a recent congressional bill providing $95 billion in aid to Israel, Ukraine, and Taiwan.

Meanwhile, Israeli tanks have advanced further into residential zones in the southeastern part of Rafah, approaching about a mile from the city center. Simultaneously, medical services are declining, with Doctors Without Borders informing the BBC that they ceased operations at one of the area’s field hospitals due to safety concerns.

The timing for Congress’s consideration of the new arms deal remains uncertain, but it is likely to face objections from certain members. Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen criticized the decision, suggesting that the US should withhold additional arms transfers until the Netanyahu government addresses President Biden’s concerns regarding Rafah and the provision of humanitarian aid.

A recent US State Department report highlighted potential breaches of international law in the use of American-made weapons by Israel. While critical of certain Israeli operations in Gaza, the report refrained from definitively concluding whether the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) campaign had violated international law. However, it deemed Israel’s assurances regarding the lawful use of US weapons as “credible and reliable.”

The proposed arms package represents the first such initiative since the Biden administration temporarily suspended arms transfers to Israel last week. President Biden cited concerns about the potential use of 2,000lb (900kg) bombs in ground operations as the reason for the delay.

Asked by CNN about the delay, Mr Biden said: “Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs.”

Weapons transfers to Israel have become a political liability for Mr Biden ahead of this November’s 2024 White House election.

News of the latest arms package emerged soon after voting ended in a presidential primary election in Maryland, where activists had urged voters to register a protest ballot against what they see as Mr Biden’s favouritism towards Israel over the Gaza war.

Republican lawmakers in Congress have introduced legislation intended to prevent any further pauses in weapons shipments to the US ally.

The House of Representatives this week will vote on a measure that requires the state department and defence department to ensure the “prompt delivery” of military equipment.

The White House has vowed to veto the bill, if it manages to pass the Senate, which is unlikely.

Israel initiated a military operation aimed at dismantling Hamas in response to the group’s incursion into southern Israel on October 7th, resulting in approximately 1,200 casualties and 252 individuals being held captive.

More than 35,170 people have been killed in Gaza since then, including 82 in the past 24 hours, according to the territory’s Hamas-run health ministry.

North America correspondent Anthony Zurcher offers insights into the White House race through his weekly US Election Unspun newsletter. If you’re in the UK, you can subscribe here. For readers outside the UK, sign up here.