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State Department report criticizes Israel, but doesn't make conclusions on law of war

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The State Department released a report this afternoon that is highly critical of many of Israel's military practices during its war in Gaza. The report does not reach a final conclusion as to whether Israel has broken U.S. or international laws of war. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre has been going through the report and is here in the studio. Hey, Greg.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Give us the specifics about what this report does and doesn't say.

MYRE: So it does cite many examples where large numbers of Palestinian civilians have been killed in Gaza, and it does raise serious concerns. But it also notes it hasn't reached definitive conclusions so far. It says, quote, "it is reasonable to assess that defense articles or weapons have been used by Israeli security forces in instances inconsistent with its international humanitarian law obligations" - so certainly suggesting that Israel has committed some abuses without saying so explicitly.

Now, the report also raises concerns about Israel preventing aid going into Gaza. It concludes, quote, "we do not currently assess that the Israeli government is prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance."

SHAPIRO: In another part of the program, we speak with an aid worker in Rafah about the limitations of humanitarian assistance coming in. But tell us in practical terms. Does this mean the U.S. is likely to limit future arms shipments to Israel?

MYRE: Well, the Biden administration voluntarily undertook this review after some pressure from Democrats in Congress, and it looked at Israel and six other countries getting U.S. weapons. The administration was not required to do this. It's not legally obligated to take any action, but it's certainly been feeling the heat. And the administration just this week announced it's suspending a shipment of large aerial bombs - one-ton bombs and 500-pound bombs, saying this is exactly the kind of weapon that should not be used in Rafah.

President Biden has said he could take additional steps. He's becoming clearly frustrated with Prime Minister Netanyahu's government. But he's stopped short of what many critics are seeking, including additional weapons prohibitions at this point.

SHAPIRO: Does that one pause on the shipment of weapons that you mentioned - is that going to have any impact on Israel's war effort in Gaza?

MYRE: Ari, I think in the short term, almost certainly not. We're talking about large bombs for air strikes. And the real issue in Rafah is whether Israel will launch a major ground invasion. Israel has talked about this kind of invasion for months, saying it's necessary to clear out the last Hamas stronghold in Rafah, where it's believed to have thousands of troops. Israel sent in tanks. It holds the Rafah border crossing with Egypt for the past few days. There are signs Israel is planning a larger operation against the city itself.

And a large ground operation just raises the prospect of bloody urban combat with many civilians caught in the crossfire. Some civilians have been fleeing, but they say they have nowhere else to go. Now, if Israel does launch a big operation like this, it has the resources to do it, and the suspension of one shipment of U.S. bombs would not really make a difference on the battlefield.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Greg Myre. Thank you.

MYRE: Sure thing, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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