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Amid Rafah Siege, Biden Officials Delay Report on Alleged Israeli War Crimes

The report was supposed to be released this week — as Israel embarked on the beginning stages of its invasion of Rafah.

A boy stands before an impact crater at the site of a building that was hit by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 8, 2024.

As Israel intensifies its horrific blockade of humanitarian aid into Gaza, Biden administration officials have indefinitely delayed the release of a long-awaited report on whether the U.S. finds that Israel has violated international law in its genocidal assault of Gaza.

Multiple congressional aides told Politico that the White House recently notified Congress of the delay, saying that the report won’t be finished by Wednesday as expected.

If the report being prepared by the State Department finds that Israel is committing war crimes — which ex-Biden administration officials, experts and humanitarian groups have said Israel has committed countless times throughout its assault — then the U.S. will be compelled to suspend its military assistance to Israel.

U.S. law prohibits U.S. weapons from being used to violate international humanitarian law, meaning that continuing to send weapons to a country knowing they will be used to commit war crimes could make U.S. officials legally complicit.

The email sent to Congress said that the report is “briefly delayed,” while State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Tuesday: “We are trying very hard to meet that deadline … It’s possible it slips just a little bit, but we are trying to get it done by tomorrow.” An administration official told Politico that they expect the report to be delayed by “less than a week.” None of the parties involved provided a reason for the delay.

The news of the delay comes just after Israel began its ground invasion of Rafah, which was Palestinians’ last refuge in Gaza after Israel forced 1.4 million people into the city as part of its ethnic cleansing campaign, promising safe harbor even as Israeli forces shelled Rafah and the surrounding areas. This week, Israel ordered the evacuation of part of Rafah as it bombarded the city and seized the Rafah border crossing, the main entry point for humanitarian aid into Gaza.

With the seizure of the Rafah crossing, Israel effectively blocked the entry of all humanitarian aid into the region in a time of worsening famine; Israel has claimed that it has reopened the Karem Abu Salem border crossing in the south, but UN officials have said that no aid has actually entered through that point.

Palestinians trapped in Rafah and humanitarian groups have been warning for months that a ground invasion of Rafah would be catastrophic, threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians. In fact, UN officials have warned that a ground invasion of Rafah would in itself result in Israel committing war crimes in the form of indiscriminately killing civilians — killings that could be prevented by a suspension of military aid due to findings by U.S. officials of other potential war crimes.

President Joe Biden had previously said that invading Rafah was a “red line” that Israel must not cross. But now that the invasion has started, administration officials have shifted the goalposts, saying on Tuesday that the invasion hasn’t crossed the line — without laying out any specifics about what could, other than saying that they supposedly oppose a “major operation.” Israel’s shelling of Rafah has already killed dozens of people since Monday.

A group of advocates for press freedom and human rights urged the Biden administration to release the findings of the State Department investigation this week ahead of the May 8 deadline, saying that the report is crucial for allowing the public to understand the U.S.’s position on what many have said are war crimes.

“Access to the May 8 report will allow the press to more fully and accurately report on how elected leaders are making decisions about military aid to foreign countries,” the groups wrote in their letter. “In addition, access to the May 8 report will allow the public to assess the thoroughness and accuracy of the U.S.’s assessment of foreign country’s assurances, particularly in cases where there have been allegations that recipients have used U.S. assistance in a manner that violates international and U.S. law.”

The letter was signed by groups like Amnesty International USA, which recently put out a report finding that Israel has indeed committed multiple war crimes using U.S. weapons in Gaza and Lebanon in recent months, including strikes that killed dozens of civilians with Boeing-made bombs sold by the U.S.

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