US assessments on Israel's war conduct still ongoing, says State Dept

Smoke rises over Gaza, as seen from Israel

By Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Biden administration has so far not reached a conclusion that Israel has violated the international laws of war but the processes to assess that continue and are yet to produce a definitive assessment, the State Department said on Tuesday.

Speaking in a news briefing, Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the administration was due to submit a report to the U.S. Congress by May 8 as part of a February national security memorandum that reminds countries that receive U.S. weapons to stick to international law and not block humanitarian aid.

"These processes to assess their compliance with international humanitarian law are ongoing, they have not reached a definitive conclusion," Miller said.

"And the next step is we are due to provide Congress a report -- it's the next thing that's required by this memo on May 8 -- where we will get into these issues in more detail."

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 within 90 days on whether countries are meeting the requirements.

Israel last week submitted written assurances, as required by the memo, stating its use of U.S.-supplied weapons are not being used to violate humanitarian laws in Gaza, a U.S. official said.

Israel has launched strikes and shelling in Gaza that have killed over 32,000 Palestinians, according to the enclave's health authorities - the worst conflict between Israel and Hamas, an Islamist group that runs the territory.

The Israeli assault was launched in response to a Hamas attack on Israel in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed.

As the death toll soared and extreme shortages of food in the densely-populated enclave have prompted fears of famine, the conduct of Israeli military has come under increased scrutiny while calls on U.S. President Joe Biden to put conditions on the weapons it sends to Israel have mounted.

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 for Israel, which they say provides it with a sense of impunity.

Rights groups have flagged numerous incidents of civilian harm during Israeli army's offensive in Gaza but so far the Biden administration has said it has not made an assessment that found Israel in breach of international law.

Asked whether U.S. officials would reach a conclusion on that question before submitting its report to Congress in early May, Miller said there was an active process to figure out what the report would look like.

"This is a brand new process. We've never done one of these reports before," he said.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk, Editing by William Maclean)