US paused weapons delivery to Israel over Rafah offensive concerns.

Staff Correspondent: US President Joe Biden’s administration paused a shipment of weapons to Israel last week in opposition to apparent moves by the Israelis to invade the southern Gaza city of Rafah, a senior administration official has said.

Biden has been trying to head off a full-scale assault by the Israelis against Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere in Gaza. The AFP, Associated Press and Reuters news agencies on Tuesday reported unnamed United States officials saying that the US began to “carefully review proposed transfers of particular weapons to Israel that might be used in Rafah” in April when it seemed Israel appeared close to making a decision on the assault.

“As a result of that review, we have paused one shipment of weapons last week. It consists of 1,800 2,000-lb (900kg) bombs and 1,700 500-lb (225kg) bombs,” the official said.

“We are especially focused on the end-use of the 2,000-lb bombs and the impact they could have in dense urban settings as we have seen in other parts of Gaza. We have not made a final determination on how to proceed with this shipment,” the official was quoted as saying. The news agencies said he spoke on condition of anonymity given the issue’s sensitivity.

Reuters reported that four sources said the shipments, which have been delayed for at least two weeks, involved Boeing-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), which place precision guidance systems onto bombs, as well as Small Diameter Bombs.

Citing unnamed officials, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier on Tuesday that the US had delayed the shipment of some 6,500 JDAMs.

The delay comes at a time when Washington is publicly pressuring Israel to postpone its planned offensive in Rafah until it has taken steps to avert civilian casualties. The White House and Pentagon declined to comment on the shipment delays.

Withholding arms from Israel

Biden on Monday held a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and stressed US opposition to a ground offensive in Rafah, according to the White House.

But in the early hours of Tuesday, just hours after Hamas, the group that runs Gaza, said it had accepted a ceasefire proposal put forward by international mediators, Israeli forces seized control of the Rafah border crossing.

Without addressing whether there had been a hold-up in arms shipments, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reaffirmed that Washington’s commitment to Israel’s security was “ironclad”.

Still, when asked about the reports on the arms delays, she added: “Two things could be true, in the sense of having those conversations, tough, direct conversations with our counterparts in Israel … in making sure citizens lives are protected … and getting that commitment.”

The Pentagon said on Monday that there had not been a policy decision to withhold arms from Israel, the US’s closest Middle East ally.

The Rafah crossing is crucial for both aid and an escape route for those able to flee into Egypt. Some 1.4 million Palestinians, including more than 600,000 children, are sheltering in the southern city, and the United Nations, US, European Union and international humanitarian organisations have warned an attack would be catastrophic.

Israel’s war on Gaza has left many of Gaza’s 2.3 million people on the brink of starvation and led to protests in the US and other countries demanding that universities and Biden withdraw support for Israel – including the provision of weaponry.

A senior Israeli official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, did not confirm any specific hold-up in arms supplies but appeared to shrug them off: “As the prime minister has already said, if we have to fight with our fingernails, then we’ll do what we have to do.”

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