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Article: US implicates five Israeli units in rights violations before Gaza war, but does not restrict assistance

US implicates five Israeli units in rights violations before Gaza war, but does not restrict assistance

US implicates five Israeli units in rights violations before Gaza war, but does not restrict assistance

PHOTO CAPTION: Illustrative photo — An Israeli soldier aims a weapon during clashes with Palestinians, in Hebron, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 26, 2023. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

 

 

By Simon Lewis and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States found five units of Israel's security forces responsible for gross violations of human rights, the first time Washington has reached such a conclusion about Israeli forces, the State Department said on Monday, though it has not barred any of the units from receiving U.S. military assistance.

Israel has conducted "remediation" in the cases of four of the units in compliance with U.S. law prohibiting military assistance to security force units that commit such abuses and have not been brought to justice, State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.

The incidents in question took place outside of Gaza before conflict broke out between Israel and Hamas in October, Patel said.

Human rights groups say they have reported incidents involving Israeli units including extrajudicial killings, torture and physical abuse to the State Department, most of them committed against Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Patel declined to offer specifics on the violations U.S. officials looked at, which units were involved or what remediation steps were taken.

"Four of these units have effectively remediated these violations, which is what we expect partners to do," Patel said.

In the case of a fifth unit, Washington has not yet determined whether there has been sufficient remediation and was still in discussions with Israel, he said.

The fifth unit is believed to be the Netzah Yehuda battalion of the Israel Defense Forces, which has been implicated in the 2022 death of 78-year-old Palestinian-American Omar Assad.

All the units remain eligible for U.S. assistance, Patel said.

Israel's military conduct has come under increasing scrutiny as its forces have killed some 34,500 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the enclave's health authorities, many of them women and children. The Gaza Strip has been reduced to a wasteland, and extreme food shortages have prompted fears of famine.

The Israeli assault was launched in response to the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed and scores of hostages taken.

LEAHY LAWS

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on April 19 said he had made determinations regarding allegations that Israeli units had committed violations after the Pro Publica investigative news organization reported State Department officials had recommended Israeli units be disqualified from receiving U.S. aid under the Leahy Laws - authored by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy in the late 1990s.

Following that statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would fight against sanctions imposed against Israeli units and Israeli war cabinet members Benny Gantz and Yoav Gallant both held calls with Blinken.

Dealings with Israel have become an intense focus of U.S. election-year politics, and House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, the country's highest-ranking Republican, asked Blinken for assurances over the timely delivery of military aid to Israel included in a funding bill passed last week, Johnson's office said.

A letter to Johnson from Blinken in response, seen by Reuters, said determinations would not delay delivery of any U.S. assistance to Israel and would "have no impact on our support for Israel's ability to defend itself against Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah, or other threats."

Blinken also said in the undated letter that three of the five units were IDF battalions and two were under civilian authority.

Blinken appeared to refer to Netzah Yehuda, a battalion set up in 1999 to accommodate the religious beliefs of ultra-Orthodox Jews and other religious nationalist recruits in the army, which was deployed to the West Bank until it was moved in late 2022 after U.S. criticism.

Israel reprimanded a Netzah Yehuda commander and two officers over Assad's death, which came after soldiers gagged him and cuffed his hands, but authorities said it was impossible to determine that his cause of death was caused by the soldiers' conduct.

Blinken wrote that one unit "has been acknowledged by the Israeli government to have engaged in conduct inconsistent with IDF rules and, as a result, was transferred from the West Bank to the Golan Heights in 2022."

"The Israeli government has presented new information regarding the status of the unit and we will engage on identifying a path to effective remediation for this unit," Blinken said.

(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Patricia Zengerle, Susan Heavey and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Ros Russell and Jonathan Oatis)

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