A group of prominent humanitarian organizations is calling on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to halt military and other aid to Israel over its operations in Gaza that they say have caused “staggering” civilian harm, according to a letter sent to the Pentagon chief on Wednesday.
The groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, urged Austin in the letter to “withhold U.S. assistance, in accordance with U.S. law and policy, that would facilitate violations of international humanitarian law” and “refrain from transferring explosive weapons to Israel for use in Gaza.” The letter, which POLITICO obtained, was also sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser.
The groups argue Austin has failed to live up to his own sweeping overhaul of the Pentagon’s efforts to reduce harm to civilians in U.S. military operations, under the Civilian Harm Mitigation and Response Action Plan.
“The Department’s response to the devastating harm in Gaza has failed to live up to – and actively undermined – the commitments set by the CHMR-AP,” the groups wrote, using the acronym for the action plan. “To protect civilians in Gaza and live up to the aspirations of the CHMR-AP, administration rhetoric on the protection of civilians must be backed by action and leverage.”
The letter comes as Austin and Gen. C.Q. Brown, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, huddled with their Israeli counterparts this week in the Biden administration’s latest effort to press Israel to do more to stop the bloodshed in Gaza. Israel says it warns civilians before strikes and blames Hamas for hiding within civilian locations like schools and hospitals, pledging to continue operations until the militant group is eliminated. [Continue reading…]