Antony Blinken says US review of civilian deaths in Gaza ongoing as fury over Israel report spreads

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WASHINGTON − Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. is still collecting evidence and reviewing allegations that Israel violated U.S. policy and international humanitarian law in Gaza.

The State Department in a much anticipated report on Friday evening said it's "reasonable to assess" that Israel used U.S.-made arms in ways that did not sufficiently mitigate civilian harm, but it could not definitively conclude that any specific incident met the violation threshold.

"It's reasonable to assess that in a number of instances, Israel has not acted in a manner that is consistent with international humanitarian law," Blinken said Sunday on CBS.

The comments were Blinken's first public remarks on the report, which looked at use of U.S. weapons in conflict zones such as Israel and Ukraine.

But it is the assessment on Israel that has infuriated lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, with Republicans and Democrats arguing that President Joe Biden is trying to have it both ways on U.S. support for Israel in its war against Hamas. Biden paused a shipment of weapons to Israel last week that he said could be used by Israel to attack the densely populated city of Rafah in a manner that would cause significant civilian casualties.

Congressional Republicans appeared on Sunday to accuse Biden of undercutting Israel, particularly with his threat to withhold weapons if Israel launches a full-scale invasion of Rafah. The Israelis should be able to "prosecute" their war on Hamas as "they see fit," said U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, one of the possible running mates for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Other lawmakers on Sunday also addressed America's stance as the Israel-Hamas war rages on.

"In my view, Israel should not be receiving another nickel in U.S. military," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on NBC's "Meet The Press," accusing the country of violating international law over the deaths of civilians in Gaza.

Sen. Lindsay Graham R-S.C., also on NBC, said Israel is coping with Hamas' use of civilians as "human shields." Denouncing Sanders' statement, Graham said the Biden administration should help Israel in what he called a fight for its very existence.

"When you're telling the world you're going to restrict weapons delivery to the Jewish state who's fighting a three front war for their survival, it emboldens Iran. It emboldens Hamas," Graham said.

Biden has not commented on the State Department's report since its Friday release.

Blinken said Sunday that Biden continues to back Israel's ability to defend itself, but the U.S. has qualms with the slow pace of humanitarian assistance deliveries and Israel's use of weapons in its war against Hamas.

The secretary of state on "Meet the Press" said the U.S. cannot at this point be definitive about possible violations of international law. He noted that the war is ongoing and "this is an incredibly complex military environment."

Blinken also noted that investigations are continuing, including one in Israel itself.

According to the Gaza health ministry, nearly 35,000 Palestinians have died since Oct. 7, the day Hamas launched a massive attack against Israel and sparked the current war.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Blinken says US review of Israel weapons use in Gaza ongoing