US paused shipment to Israel over concerns about Rafah offensive

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The US last week paused a shipment of bombs to Israel over concerns about its looming ground operation in Rafah, a senior administration official said on Tuesday.

The move marks the first known time that the US has held up a potential weapons delivery since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7 and the Jewish state launched its retaliatory offensive against the militant group in Gaza.

Israel sent ground troops into Rafah on Monday night, seizing the main border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, and has threatened to expand the operation further.

Israel says Rafah is the last bastion for Hamas, but the Biden administration remains opposed to any operation in the border city that would not take into account the more than a million people who have fled there.

The US made the decision to withhold the shipment last week after discussions with Israel over how it would meet the humanitarian needs of civilians in Rafah did not fully satisfy Washington’s concerns.

This prompted the US “to carefully review proposed transfers of particular weapons to Israel that might be used in Rafah”, the official said, adding that it began the process in April before last week deciding to withhold 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs.

“We are especially focused on the end-use of the 2,000-pound bombs and the impact they could have in dense urban settings, as we have seen in other parts of Gaza,” the official said. “We have not made a final determination on how to proceed with this shipment.”

The Biden administration has also informally delayed shipments of Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kits and small-diameter bombs, according to people familiar with the matter. The official said these cases remained under review.

“For certain other cases at the state department, including JDAM kits, we are continuing the review,” the official said. “None of these cases involve imminent transfers — they are about future transfers.”

None of the delays are connected to supplemental funding of $14.1bn for Israel passed last month, the senior official said.

“We are committed to ensuring Israel gets every dollar appropriated in the supplemental,” the official said, adding that the US had just approved $827mn in weapons and equipment for Israel.

Netanyahu has vowed to eliminate Hamas after the group killed about 1,200 people and seized 250 hostages in its October 7 invasion of southern Israel, according to Israeli figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive on Gaza has killed almost 35,000 people, according to Palestinian health officials.

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