A member of the press consoles a woman outside Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir el-Balah on Wednesday.—AFP
A member of the press consoles a woman outside Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir el-Balah on Wednesday.—AFP

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration has established a mid-March deadline for Israel to sign a letter committing to adhere to international law when using American weapons.

Furnished by Washi­ngton, the letter also mandates Israel to facilitate humanitarian aid into Gaza, where over half a million Palestinians are on the brink of famine.

Axios, a US news outlet, which has a copy of the letter, reports that on Tuesday, US officials in both Washington and Tel Aviv formally briefed their Israeli counterparts on this new policy. They provided them with a draft letter, essential for Israel to sign.

According to a senior Israeli official, the US has requested written assurances by mid-March. This timeline aligns with Secretary of State Blinken’s goal to certify them by month-end. Israel has the flexibility to designate the government representative signing the letter.

Mid-March deadline set to sign commitment to adhere to international law

Similar letters have also been presented to several other nations utilising US weaponry, as disclosed by a US official to Axios.

This assurance is mandated under a memorandum President Biden issued earlier this month and indicates a shift in US policy towards Israel. The change follows concerns voiced by some Democratic senators regarding the Israeli military campaign in Gaza. Failure to provide the assurance by the deadline will result in a pause in US weapon transfers to the country.

The Biden administration’s latest push for Israel to adhere to international laws of war and peace is perceived by many as insufficient and belated. According to a survey of American voters released on Tuesday, 57 per cent disapprove of President Biden’s Middle East policy, while 36 per cent approve, with some respondents expressing no opinion.

The Data for Progress survey also highlights that 67 per cent of voters want the US to endorse calls for a permanent ceasefire and a de-escalation in Gaza.

Earlier this week, Aaron Bushnell, a 25-year-old active-duty member of the US Air Force, set himself on fire in protest against the Biden administration’s Gaza policy. He died on Sunday at a Washington hospital.

Bushnell live-streamed himself walking towards the Israeli embassy in Washington, and upon reaching the destination, dousing himself in gasoline before lighting a match on his clothing and repeatedly shouting “Free Palestine”.

On Tuesday, the UN Security Council heard from various UN aid agencies that well over half a million Gazans were just a step away from famine. They blamed the world body’s failure to enforce a ceasefire in Gaza for the current situation.

Russia, China, and some other nations blamed the US for vetoing all ceasefire moves in the council.

“All council attempts towards this end have been blocked by the United States, who has used its veto four times for this purpose,” said Russian Ambas­s­ador Vassily Nebenzia while addressing the council.

“By doing so, Washington bears full responsibility for the significant number of civilian victims in Gaza,” said the ambassador, stating that the cost of such vetoes is 30,000 lives.

The US representative, Robert Wood, however, said that Russia was in no position to criticise any country while Moscow continues to bomb Ukraine.

Opposing the Israeli plan to invade Rafah, Wood said a major ground offensive should not proceed in Rafah “under the current circumstances”.

The Pakistani representative noted that Israel was now preparing for a ground offensive on Rafah, which will further intensify the suffering of the Palestinians.

Against this backdrop, Pakistan stressed the need to secure a complete and durable ceasefire without any conditions; implement and enforce the provisional measures ordered by the International Court of Justice; and halt the demonisation of UNRWA.

Published in Dawn, February 29th, 2024

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