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US to halt arms supplies if Israel invades Rafah

President Joe Biden has warned Israel that the US will stop supplying some weapons if it launches a major ground operation in the Gaza city of Rafah.

The comments amount to the president's strongest warning yet over a potential ground invasion of Rafah, and mark the first time he has said the US could stop shipments of American weapons to Israel.

The weapons being held back by the US are related to a future delivery, so the move is unlikely to have an immediate impact. But given the rate at which Israel is bombing it will probably affect future strikes fairly soon.

This follows the publication of a US State Department report which notes that Israel is likely to have breached international humanitarian law with American weapons during its military campaign in Gaza.

However, the long-awaited US State Department report added that Israel’s forces did not act in a way that would prevent Washington sending further military assistance to its ally.

While it was “reasonable to assess” that Israel had used US-supplied weapons in ways that could be deemed illegal, it also said that officials in Washington could not reach “conclusive findings” that they were used in specific breaches.

Israel had not shared “complete information to verify whether US weapons had been used in ways that could be a breach of international law, or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm,” the report said. But Israel’s “significant reliance on US-made defence articles” meant that this was a reasonable assumption, it added.

Assurances the State Department had received from Israel about adhering to the legal use of US weapons were “credible and reliable”, and so weapons shipments could continue, it concluded.

The White House commissioned the report into Israel’s conduct after pressure from some congressional Democrats, who questioned whether the ally had complied with US and international law.

Chris Van Hollen, a Democratic senator, said the administration had “ducked all the hard questions” and avoided looking closely at whether Israel’s conduct should mean military aid was cut off.

“This report contradicts itself because it concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe violations to international law have occurred, but at the same time that says they’re not finding non-compliance,” he told reporters on Friday.

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