US lawmakers reject $17.6 billion Israel aid bill

Israeli soldiers transport munitions off a vehicle at a position in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on January 2, 2023. (AFP)
Israeli soldiers transport munitions off a vehicle at a position in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on January 2, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 07 February 2024

US lawmakers reject $17.6 billion Israel aid bill

Israeli soldiers transport munitions off a vehicle at a position in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights on January 2, 2023. (AFP)
  • The standalone Israel bill would have provided $17.6 billion in military aid for the country, which is strongly supported by the vast majority of lawmakers in both parties as it responds to the deadly October 7 attacks by Hamas militants

WASHINGTON: US lawmakers voted Tuesday to reject a standalone Israel aid bill denounced by critics as a “cynical” bid to thwart a cross-party border security and foreign assistance package that would include cash for war-torn Ukraine.
Republicans in the House of Representatives scheduled the vote after the Democratic-led Senate released a bipartisan bill Sunday pairing billions of dollars for Israel and Ukraine with some of the strictest immigration curbs in decades.
But support for that $118 billion package has dwindled, with Donald Trump — who is running for a second White House term — pressuring Republicans to avoid handing President Joe Biden a legislative victory ahead of November’s election.
Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said after the border and foreign aid bill was unveiled that it would be “dead on arrival” if it reached the lower chamber of Congress.
The standalone Israel bill would have provided $17.6 billion in military aid for the country, which is strongly supported by the vast majority of lawmakers in both parties as it responds to the deadly October 7 attacks by Hamas militants.
But 167 Democrats voted no after Biden had threatened to wield his veto, angered that the legislation appeared aimed at undermining the larger package, hammered out after months of negotiations with a bipartisan group of senators.
The standalone bill was also opposed by 13 Republicans as it did not contain budgetary offsets that conservatives have been pushing for with every proposal for new spending.
One of Johnson’s first actions when he took office in the fall was to shepherd a bill through the House that would have provided $14.3 billion to Israel.
But it included steep cuts to the Internal Revenue Service, which Biden opposed.
The ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus blasted Johnson for “surrendering” to pressure for an even larger package which is not offset by cuts.
Biden’s Office of Management and Budget had said the Republican “ploy” would undermine efforts to secure the US border and support Ukraine against Russian aggression, while denying humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
But Johnson countered at a news conference Tuesday that it was “outrageous and shameful” Biden would suggest vetoing support for Israel “in their hour of greatest need.”
House Democratic leaders called the bill a “nakedly obvious and cynical attempt” to undermine the larger package, which ties the Israel cash to $60 billion aid for Ukraine and $20 billion for US border security but is deadlocked in Congress.
“Unfortunately, the standalone legislation introduced by House Republicans over the weekend, at the 11th hour without notice or consultation, is not being offered in good faith,” House Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in a letter to colleagues.


Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza; Israel denies

Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza; Israel denies
Updated 12 sec ago

Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza; Israel denies

Hamas says it captured Israeli soldiers in Gaza; Israel denies
  • An Al Qassam Brigades spokesman said the captives were for dead by a "Zionist force" that were lured into an ambush inside a tunnel in Jabalia
  • Israeli police disperse Tel Aviv demonstrators demanding urgent government action to bring home hostages held in Gaza

CAIRO/TEL AVIV: A spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing said on Sunday its fighters had captured Israeli soldiers during fighting in Jabalia in northern Gaza on Saturday, though the Israeli military denied the claim.

But if true, the new capture could put more pressure on the Netanyahu government as relatives of Israelis still being held hostage by Hamas step up protest actions.

“Our fighters lured a Zionist force into an ambush inside a tunnel ... The fighters withdrew after they left all members of the force dead, wounded, and captured,” Abu Ubaida, the spokesman for Al Qassam Brigades, said in a recorded message broadcast by Al Jazeera early on Sunday. The Hamas armed wing spokesman did not say how many soldiers had been abducted and showed no proof of the claim.

The Palestinian militant group's claim came a day after the Israeli troops retrieved the bodies of three hostages in an overnight operation in Jabalia.

In a statement, the Israeli military on Sunday said: “The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) clarifies that there is no incident in which a soldier was abducted.”
Hamas released a video that appeared to show a bloodied person being dragged along the ground in a tunnel and photos of military fatigue and rifle, although the video could not be independently verified.
The comments by Abu Ubaida came hours after prospects for a resumption of mediated Gaza ceasefire talks grew on Saturday.
An official with knowledge of the matter said a decision had been taken to resume the talks next week after the chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency met the head of the CIA and the prime minister of Qatar.
The source, who declined to be identified by name or nationality, said it had been decided that “in the coming week negotiations will open based on new proposals led by the mediators, Egypt and Qatar and with active US involvement.”
A Hamas official later denied Israeli media reports the talks would resume in Cairo on Tuesday, telling Reuters: “There is no date.”

After more than seven months of war in Gaza, the mediators have struggled to secure a breakthrough, with Israel seeking the release of hostages held by Hamas and Hamas seeking an end to the war and a release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Israeli police detain a protester during a demonstration in Tel Aviv on May 26, 2024, by relatives and supporters of Israelis taken hostage by Palestinian militants in Gaza in the October 7 attacks. (AFP)

Protests in Tel Aviv


In Tel Aviv, thousands of Israelis demonstrators demand urgent government action to bring home hostages held in Gaza on Saturday were dispersed by the police using water canons. A number of protesters were also arrested.

At the start of the rally, protesters observed a minute’s silence in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square in honor of the captives whose bodies were recovered by Israeli troops this month, an AFP correspondent reported.



The army said on Friday that troops had retrieved the bodies of hostages Chanan Yablonka, Brazilian-Israeli Michel Nisenbaum and French-Mexican Orion Hernandez Radoux. The families of the dead hostages were notified after forensic identification, the military said in a statement.
“In just a few hours, I will bury my 42-year-old brother... I feared this moment,” Yablonka’s sister Avivit said at Saturday’s rally.
“My brother, I promise you that I will continue to shout, support, fight and do everything so that all the hostages return home safely.
“They must be taken out of this hell now.”
The bodies of four other dead hostages — Ron Benjamin, Yitzhak Gelerenter, Shani Louk and Amit Buskila — were recovered last week.
Another protest, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an early election, was held nearby.
The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 252 hostages, 121 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,903 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.


(With Reuters & AFP)

The US government staffers putting principle over paycheck amid Israel’s Gaza assault

The US government staffers putting principle over paycheck amid Israel’s Gaza assault
Updated 26 May 2024

The US government staffers putting principle over paycheck amid Israel’s Gaza assault

The US government staffers putting principle over paycheck amid Israel’s Gaza assault
  • Appalled by the death of Palestinians, former staffer says she “could not in good conscience remain in government”
  • Concerned about America’s standing in the Middle East, many want the US to suspend arms sales to Israel

LONDON: Lily Greenberg-Call recently became the latest Biden administration official to step down in protest over the White House’s handling of the war in Gaza, amid a string of resignations from the US Department of State.

Greenberg-Call, who left her position at the Department of the Interior in mid-May, slammed the Biden administration for having “enabled and legitimized” Israel’s onslaught on the Gaza Strip.

In her resignation letter she said she “can no longer in good conscience continue to represent this administration amidst President Biden’s disastrous, continued support for Israel’s genocide in Gaza.”

Biden’s policy in the Middle East has repeatedly come under fire since the onset of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, particularly over the supply of weapons to the Israel Defense Forces, which rights groups say have been used to harm civilians.

The Israeli military’s bombing campaign in Gaza in retaliation for the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel has killed at least 35,000 Palestinians, razed entire neighborhoods, destroyed the enclave’s infrastructure, and displaced 90 percent of the population.

Israel and senior figures in the Biden administration have said Hamas shares in the blame for the high civilian death toll in Gaza.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, has previously said that Hamas’ tactics have placed “an incredible burden on the IDF, a burden that is unusual for a military in today’s day and age,” by hiding behind civilians as it conducts its war with Israeli forces.  

The day Greenberg-Call resigned, the Biden administration told Congress it planned to send $1 billion in new military aid to Israel, despite the president’s opposition to a full-scale invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza, the Associated Press reported. It will be the US’ first arms shipment to Israel since Biden paused the transfer of 3,500 bombs earlier in the month.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in April that Israeli troops would expand operations into Rafah — Gaza’s southernmost city. On May 6, Israel mounted a limited operation in Rafah, seizing control of its border crossing with Egypt.

Israeli military vehicles operate in the Gazan side of the Rafah Crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, in this handout image released on May 7, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS)

The US government said it had halted the bomb shipment to prevent Israel from using the munitions in its attack on Rafah, an area densely populated with civilians, most of whom have been displaced multiple times.

However, a lower chamber bill on May 16 condemned Biden for the suspension and voted to override it, with Republicans saying the president should not dictate how Israel uses American weapons in its war against Hamas.

But the US Arms Export Control Act of 1961 gives the President the authority to halt — or even terminate — American arms transfers if he finds that the recipient country “has used such articles for unauthorized purposes,” according to a 2020 report by the Congressional Research Service.

The vote prompted some 30 Congressional staffers to march to the base of the steps of the House of Representatives at the US Capitol, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and protesting the vote.

Thirty congressional staffers marched on the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. on May 16, 2024, to demand a ceasefire in Gaza. (AFP)

After announcing the halt on the bomb shipment, Biden told CNN that US-manufactured weapons had been used to kill civilians in Gaza.

“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centers,” he said on May 8.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah — they haven’t gone in Rafah yet — if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem.”

According to the Washington Post, the US has made more than 100 weapons sales to Israel since the start of the war in Gaza. The sales reportedly included precision-guided munitions, small-diameter bombs, bunker busters, small arms, and more.

In late April, human-rights monitor Amnesty International submitted a 19-page report to US authorities claiming that US weapons provided to Israel had been “used in serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and in a manner that is inconsistent with US law and policy.”

The newly revised US Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, released in February last year, stipulates “preventing arms transfers that risk facilitating or otherwise contributing to violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.”

Hala Rharrit, who stepped down as the Arabic-language spokesperson of the US Department of State in April after 18 years of service over the Biden administration’s policy on Gaza, stressed that the government should “abide by our own laws.”

She told Arab News: “We have systems in place within the State Department to ensure that our weaponry is not used to kill civilians, with requirements put in place requiring recipient countries to limit harm to civilians — to include both civilian populations and civilian infrastructure.

“There are multiple laws on the books that we are ignoring as a State Department — willfully ignoring,” she continued. “There’s the Arms Export Control Act, there’s the Foreign Assistance Act, the Leahy Law — there are multiple regulations that would ensure what’s happening now would never happen.”

Urging the government to follow those laws, Rharrit said: “We would automatically have to condition our aid and, most specifically, cut our offensive military assistance to Israel.”

By pausing military assistance to Israel, not only “would we ensure, hopefully, that the IDF does not go into Rafah,” but also “regain credibility amongst Arab states as well — that we’re actually conditioning our aid, we’re standing by our laws, we’re standing by international law.

“And that could provide leverage as well, both on the Israeli side and with Arab states to put pressure on Hamas to reach a ceasefire. We have the ability to use our leverage as the US, but we’re not using it at the moment.”

Asked about her resignation, Rharrit said: “I never anticipated resigning, and I certainly never anticipated resigning in protest of any policy.”

But the human tragedy in Gaza “completely changed that,” she told Arab News. “I could not in good conscience remain in government. After 18 years with the State Department, I decided to finally submit my resignation.”

She added: “I spoke up internally. I made my voice and my concerns heard, not based on my personal opinions, but based on what I was monitoring — and I was monitoring pan-Arab traditional and social media.

“And I was seeing and documenting, and reporting back to Washington, all of the growing anti-Americanism… Nothing was convincing anyone, and we had lost credibility.”

Rharrit, who previously served as a human-rights officer, continued: “It’s one of the things that we (the US) are known for and that we stand for, but every day I would see human-rights violation after human-rights violation. And it was clear that we had a double standard, and I could no longer support the policy or the administration.”

Despite their expertise, Rharrit said she and her colleagues were not being heard. “Our concerns, our feedback, our documentation of everything that was happening in the region was being ignored — and that was intensely frustrating.”

She said that US policy in Gaza “is a failed militaristic policy that has achieved nothing — over 35,000 Palestinians killed, over 15,000 of whom are children, the hostages remain in Gaza with their families in Israel protesting against Netanyahu and demanding a ceasefire.”

She added: “Despite all this unimaginable suffering and countless attempts by many on the inside to shift policy, it became clear to me that the status quo was resolute.

“Knowing that this policy continued to dehumanize and devastate the Palestinians, generating a vicious cycle of violence, hurting all sides involved, while undermining the US for generations left me no choice but to speak out against the policy from outside government.”

Preceding Rharrit in late March was Annelle Sheline, a foreign affairs officer in the department’s human rights bureau, who left after trying to “raise opposition on the inside,” she told ABC News on April 11.

“Many of my colleagues, people inside the State Department, are devastated by what US policy is enabling Israel to do to Palestinians inside Gaza,” she said. 

“They (the Biden administration) continue to send weapons. We’ve seen announcements of new weapons. It’s really shocking that this has been allowed to go on.”

In January, former Biden appointee Tariq Habash, a Palestinian-American, resigned from the Department of Education, saying the US administration “turns a blind eye to the atrocities committed against innocent Palestinian lives.”

In his resignation letter, which he shared on the social media platform X, Habash said his government “has aided the indiscriminate violence against Palestinians in Gaza.”

He added: “Despite claims that Israel’s focus is on Hamas, its military actions simultaneously persist across the West Bank, where there is no Hamas governing presence.”

Since Oct. 7, Israeli troops and Jewish settlers have killed at least 502 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Israeli authorities have also arrested more than 7,000 people in the territory, according to prisoners’ affairs groups.

Ten days after Israel began its Gaza offensive, Josh Paul, a former director overseeing US arms transfers, quit the Department of State, citing “a policy disagreement concerning our continued lethal assistance to Israel.”

In a letter he posted on LinkedIn, Paul said his government’s “rushing” to provide arms to Israel was “shortsighted, destructive, unjust, and contradictory to the very values that we publicly espouse.”

He described the Hamas attack on southern Israel as “a monstrosity of monstrosities,” but said he also believed “the response Israel is taking, and with it the American support both for that response and for the status quo of the occupation, will only lead to more and deeper suffering for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people.”

Protests by US administration staffers against its policy in the Middle East have taken various forms besides public resignations. In November, more than 400 of Biden’s employees signed an open letter calling on him to urgently pursue a ceasefire in Gaza.

With the approaching US presidential election complicating Biden’s room for maneuver, the Israeli government committed to continuing its offensive, and with negotiations brokered by Qatar and Egypt making scant headway, such a ceasefire seems unlikely anytime soon.


Gaza war is ‘real genocide,’ Spanish defense minister says

Gaza war is ‘real genocide,’ Spanish defense minister says
Updated 25 May 2024

Gaza war is ‘real genocide,’ Spanish defense minister says

Gaza war is ‘real genocide,’ Spanish defense minister says
  • Defense Minister Margarita Robles says Spain’s recognition of Palestine is not a move against Israel, adding that it is designed to help end violence in Gaza

MADRID: The Spanish defense minister said on Saturday that the conflict in Gaza is a “real genocide” as relations between Israel and Spain worsen following Madrid’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state.

Israel has strongly rejected accusations made against it by South Africa at the International Court of Justice that it is committing genocide against Palestinians, saying it is waging war on Hamas.

The remark by Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles in an interview with TVE state television echoed a comment by Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz, who earlier this week also described the Gaza conflict as a genocide.

“We cannot ignore what is happening in Gaza, which is a real genocide,” Robles said in the interview, during which she also discussed the Russian invasion of Ukraine and conflicts in Africa.

She also said Madrid’s recognition of Palestine was not a move against Israel, adding that it was designed to help “end violence in Gaza.” 

“This is not against anyone, this is not against the Israeli state, this is not against the Israelis, who are people we respect,” she said.

Israel’s campaign in Gaza has killed nearly 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, and destroyed much of the enclave. Israel launched the operation to try to eliminate Hamas after the Palestinian group attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Spain, along with Ireland and Norway, declared this week it would recognize a Palestinian state on May 28, prompting an angry response from Israel, which said it amounted to a “reward for terrorism” and recalled its ambassadors from the three capitals.

Judges at the ICJ, the top UN court, on Friday, ordered Israel to immediately halt its military assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, in a landmark emergency ruling in the case brought by South Africa accusing Israel of genocide.

On Saturday, Spain’s Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares said that Israel must obey the court’s ruling.

In a post on the social media site X, he said, “The International Court of Justice’s precautionary measures, including the cessation of Israel’s offensive in Rafah, are mandatory. We demand their application.”

South Africa has accused Israel of failing to uphold its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Israel rejects the accusation, arguing it is acting to defend itself and fighting Hamas after the Oct. 7 attack.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Wednesday that if more nations recognized the Palestinian state, it would add to international pressure for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Egyptian sports critic to sue authorities in Israel after Shin Bet confuses him with Hamas member

Egyptian sports critic to sue authorities in Israel after Shin Bet confuses him with Hamas member
Updated 25 May 2024

Egyptian sports critic to sue authorities in Israel after Shin Bet confuses him with Hamas member

Egyptian sports critic to sue authorities in Israel after Shin Bet confuses him with Hamas member
  • Media expert Hassan Makawi says simple Internet search would have uncovered ‘appalling mistake’
  • He says fiasco shows Israeli media reports ‘must be scrutinized closely’

CAIRO: Egyptian sports critic Mohamed Shabana plans to sue authorities in Israel for defamation after Israeli security agency Shin Bet published his photograph by mistake instead of an image of a Hamas leader in Rafah who it believed had been killed.
Shabana said he would demand substantial compensation for the damage inflicted on him, his family, and his audience in the Egyptian media.
He also said his political career was being damaged following the incident.
He said he would donate the compensation to the “Palestinian cause — a cause we all fight for.”
Shin Bet sparked controversy on social media after posting a picture of Shabana, claiming that he was a Hamas leader killed in Rafah.
Local Israeli media initially reported the assassination of Mohammed Shabana in Rafah, a leader of the Rafah brigade of the Al-Qassam Brigades, using an image of the Egyptian media personality.
However, the Israeli media immediately corrected the error, acknowledging the failure of the assassination attempt, as reported by Yedioth Ahronoth.
The blunder sparked an initial social media uproar, with the Egyptian sports audience recognizing Shabana, making a mockery of the incident.
The fiasco also raised doubts about the capabilities of Shin Bet, which not only posted the incorrect image of a Hamas leader but also failed in the assassination attempt.
Shabana told Arab News that he came across a photo of himself trending on social media, accompanied by sarcastic comments about the Israeli army.
He said: “I did not understand what was happening and began reading to grasp what had occurred.”
Shabana said some friends and family also contacted him over the phone to express their disbelief.
He added: “They joked that the Israeli security service had assassinated me, which made me laugh too. But it did not take long before I realized how ignorant and backward the Israeli security agencies were, fabricating events, which makes me doubt everything they say.
“I know that Shin Bet is one of the strongest security agencies in Israel, and it’s unnatural for them to make such a mistake.
“But I think the chaos in the Israeli state made them fabricate or even mishandle the accuracy of their publications.
“Perhaps they Googled the name Mohammed Shabana, the leader in Hamas, and my photo popped up, so they published it, which is quite ridiculous.”
Media expert Hassan Makawi said: “What happened is a major blunder for the Israeli security forces. But the bigger blunder, in my opinion, is that of the Israeli media, which followed its agency without verifying the facts.”
Makawi said a simple Internet search would have “uncovered their appalling mistake.”
Makawi told Arab News: “It’s clear that Israel is not as strong as they claim, nor is their media as reliable as it describes itself.
“Therefore, we must scrutinize their statements and publications as they may contain many lies.”

Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says

Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says
Updated 25 May 2024

Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says

Heavy seas batter US Gaza maritime aid mission, CENTCOM says
  • No injuries were reported and the aid pier remains fully functional

TAMPA: Heavy seas battered the US maritime humanitarian mission to Gaza on Saturday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said, with four vessels serving a floating aid delivery pier breaking free from their moorings.

No injuries were reported and the aid pier remains fully functional, CENTCOM said in a statement, adding that no US personnel would enter Gaza.

Two of the affected vessels were now anchored on the beach near the pier and the other two were beached on the coast of Israel near Ashkelon, CENTCOM said, adding that efforts to recover the vessels were under way with assistance from the Israeli Navy.