State Dept won’t say if it is investigating Israeli strikes cited by UN as possible war crimes

State Dept won’t say if it is investigating Israeli strikes cited by UN as possible war crimes

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller declined to say Thursday whether the U.S. is investigating six Israeli strikes on Gaza cited in a new United Nations report as possible violations of the laws of war.

The report from the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, published Wednesday, detailed six “emblematic” attacks by Israeli forces in Gaza, all of which occurred in October, November or December of last year.

Miller, asked about the report by The Hill, said he was not going to speak “to specific incidents that are under review” but that there were a “broad number of incidents that we’re looking at.”

Miller was asked specifically about one of the six strikes detailed in the U.N. human rights report.

On Oct. 25, residential buildings in Gaza City were hit by “large explosions,” according to the report. The U.N. body said it has verified that 105 people were killed, with 32 women and 47 children among them.

The report noted that at least seven structures, including a residential building called the Taj3 Tower, were completely destroyed. It further found that it was “likely,” given the structural damage and the size of the craters left in the aftermath, that “several” 2,000-pound bombs had been used.

Eight months have passed since the attack, without any public determination by the U.S. as to whether the strikes violated international law.

“It’s very difficult to draw fact-specific conclusions when we don’t have someone on the ground and we’re in the middle of an active conflict,” Miller said in response to a question about the timeline.

Miller noted there was an issue with the “number of incidents that we have to review and the limited resources that we have to make those assessments.” But he insisted that government personnel were “working hard on it, day and night.”

Groups ranging from Amnesty International to the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) chief prosecutor say they have found evidence of Israeli war crimes. Asked about those findings, Miller noted that “different organizations have different burdens, different responsibilities, and we take ours very seriously.”

He added that the administration wants to finish its assessments “as soon as possible but it’s important that we get them right.”

More than 37,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza, which was launched in reprisal for the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas. Israeli actions have displaced around 80 percent of the population in Gaza, which is suffering a humanitarian crisis.

Israel rejected the findings of the new U.N. report, calling it “factually, legally and methodologically flawed.”

The ICC’s Prosecutor Karim Khan announced in May that he would seek arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders, all under suspicion of having committed war crimes.

The Biden administration has sharply criticized that effort. The U.S. is not a party to the ICC.

About 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed in the Oct. 7 attack. Around 250 hostages were also taken; about 120 remain, with 43 pronounced dead, according to The Associated Press.

Israel’s conduct of its war in Gaza has divided opinion internationally and in the United States, where President Biden’s Democratic Party is deeply split over the issue. Netanyahu is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress July 24.

The specific issue of whether Israel has abided by international law has been controversial for the Biden administration.

In May, a State Department report found that while it was “reasonable to assess” that Israel had committed violations of international humanitarian law, it was “difficult … to reach conclusive findings on individual incidents.”

The report also found that “action and inaction by Israel” had delayed the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza but that the U.S. government did not “currently assess” that the Israeli government was breaking specific regulations.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) was strongly critical of the State Department report, saying that it was part of a pattern in which expert opinions were “swept aside to facilitate a predetermined policy outcome based on political convenience.”

Wednesday’s U.N. human rights report emphasized that the “scale of human death and destruction wrought by Israel’s bombing of Gaza” has been “immense.” It noted that between Oct. 7, 2023, and Feb. 19, 2024, more than 29,000 targets in Gaza had been attacked.

The human rights report stated that armed Palestinian groups had also acted in violation of international law even after the Oct. 7 attacks, because they had “continued to fire inherently indiscriminate projectiles toward Israel.”

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