U.S. approved more bombs to Israel day of World Central Kitchen strikes

U.S. approved more bombs to Israel day of World Central Kitchen strikes

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The Biden administration approved the transfer of thousands more bombs to Israel on the same day Israeli airstrikes in Gaza killed seven aid workers for the charity group World Central Kitchen, three U.S. officials told The Washington Post this week after the incident elicited global condemnation.

The transaction demonstrates the administration’s determination to continue its flow of lethal weaponry to Israel despite Monday’s high-profile killings and growing calls for the United States to condition such support on greater protection for civilians in the war zone. A U.S. citizen was among the dead.

The move also casts new light on the emotional statement by President Biden that he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the tragedy and was insistent that such events never happen again.

“They were providing food to hungry civilians in the middle of a war,” Biden said. “They were brave and selfless.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

The Israeli government confirmed it carried out Monday’s strike but called it “unintentional,” saying the military would conduct a “transparent” investigation and make the results public.

The State Department approved the transfer of more than 1,000 MK82 500-pound bombs, over 1,000 small-diameter bombs, and fuses for MK80 bombs, all from authorizations granted by Congress several years before the latest hostilities between Israel and Hamas began, said the U.S. officials, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive arms deals.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed the approval and said it occurred sometime “prior” to when the Israeli aircraft struck the aid convoy.

The U.S. government has the authority to suspend an arms package any time before delivery, which the spokesperson said probably would not occur until 2025 or later. It has not done so in this case.

When asked why the Biden administration did not at least pause the process after the incident or until the Israelis’ investigation was completed, the spokesperson did not provide further comment.

Officials have not publicly disclosed what type of munition struck the aid truck, but the small-diameter bombs the United States has provided to Israel are “certainly comparable,” said Josh Paul, a former State Department arms expert who resigned in protest of the administration’s Gaza policy.

Biden, in his statement following the attack, offered his most pointed criticism to date of Israel’s treatment of humanitarian workers, who have died in greater numbers than in any other recent conflict.

“Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers trying to deliver desperately needed help to civilians. Incidents like yesterday’s simply should not happen,” Biden said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the slain workers, who included individuals from Australia, Britain, the Palestinian territories, Poland and a U.S.-Canadian dual national, were “heroes.”

“They have to be protected. We shouldn’t have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk,” he said.

Some Democratic supporters of the Biden administration criticized such statements, saying they result in little change when U.S. actions convey unconditional support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

“Until there are substantive consequences, this outrage does nothing,” Ben Rhodes, a former foreign policy adviser to President Barack Obama, said on X.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “obviously doesn’t care what the U.S. says, it’s about what the U.S. does,” he said.

Republicans in Congress have been broadly supportive of weapons transfers to Israel and have defended its tactics and methods in the six-month conflict. Former president Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee in this year’s election, has said Hamas’s killing rampage in southern Israel on Oct. 7 was “one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen” but that Israel needs to end the war soon.

“You have to finish it up, you got to get it done,” he told an Israeli newspaper last month.

Chef José Andrés on April 3 said that the World Central Kitchen aid group had clear communication with the Israeli military before the strike. (Video: Reuters)

World Central Kitchen on Thursday called for a third-party investigation into the attacks and urged the home countries of the killed workers to join the charity in calling for an independent review.

The strikes hit three of the group’s vehicles as they traveled in Gaza on a route that had been coordinated and cleared with the Israeli military, the charity group said. The workers were killed shortly after overseeing the unloading of 100 tons of food brought to the enclave by sea.

José Andrés, the celebrity chef who founded World Central Kitchen, has alleged that Israel targeted the aid workers “systematically, car by car.”

“This was not just a bad luck situation where ‘oops’ we dropped the bomb in the wrong place,” he told the Reuters news agency.

“This was over a 1.5, 1.8 kilometers, with a very defined humanitarian convoy that had signs in the top, in the roof, a very colorful logo that we are obviously very proud of,” he said. It’s “very clear who we are and what we do.”

Israel launched its military assault in Gaza after Hamas-led militants rampaged across the border on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking more than 250 hostage. Israel’s ensuing assault on Gaza has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants and says the majority of the dead are women and children.

The Israeli siege has created a chronic shortage of food, water and medicine as the health system has collapsed and dozens of children have died of malnutrition and starvation, according to the United Nations.

The dire need has compelled humanitarian workers from around the world to help provide aid to the besieged enclave, but Monday’s killings are forcing aid groups to reassess the security environment.

U.N. relief agencies have paused night operations to make a security assessment, a spokesperson said Wednesday. At least two other aid groups have also said they would pause operations in Gaza because of safety concerns for their staff. About 200 aid workers have been killed during the war, most of them Palestinian, according to the United Nations.

The latest arms transfers represent small portions, valued in the millions of dollars, of much larger foreign military sales that were approved by Congress years ago but never fulfilled in their entirety. The use of older cases means the State Department is not required to provide a new notification to Congress, even though the geopolitical and humanitarian context has changed significantly since the sales were approved.

When asked Tuesday about the State Department’s role in continued arms transfers, Blinken cited regional threats to Israel from Iran and Hezbollah, saying the weapons “go to deterrence, trying to avoid more conflicts. They go to replenishment of their supplies and their stocks.”

But U.S. weapons are also being used in Gaza, which U.S. intelligence officials and a growing number of Democrats worry could pose a security threat to the United States from extremist groups seeking to retaliate against Washington’s policies.

“Every moment that this nightmarish humanitarian condition continues inside Gaza is a day that the United States is less safe, because we bear global responsibility side by side with Israel,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told MSNBC on Wednesday.

“Until commitments can be made to open up more humanitarian access, the United States needs to stop sending military aid,” Murphy added. “It’s not only because we hope that it has some impact on decision-making inside Israel, but also because we think that actually helps insulate us from some of the blowback that is going to occur as terrorist recruitment grows.”

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