Mar 6, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Democrats say Rafah invasion "likely" violates U.S. military aid rules

Dark smoke billowing from fires in the Gazan city of Rafah at night time.

Smoke billows during an Israeli bombardment of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Feb. 12, 2024. Photo: Said Khatib/AFP via Getty Images.

A group of House Democrats is making the case to President Biden that an Israeli invasion of Rafah could violate his requirement that U.S. military aid be used in accordance with international law, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: It places new pressure on the Biden administration to consider suspending aid to Israel should the country move forward with the operation.

What they're saying: More than three dozen House Democrats, in a letter to Biden, cited a memorandum he signed last month requiring any recipient of U.S. aid to provide "credible and reliable written assurances" it will comply with international law.

  • An invasion of Rafah, they argued, "would likely contravene" the memorandum, noting the "the absence of a credible plan" to protect civilians.
  • The lawmakers urged Biden to "use every tool at your disposal to ensure ... that all recipients of U.S. aid are held accountable to the commitments demanded" by the memorandum.

Between the lines: The signers of the letter, led by Reps. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), include many senior Democrats and close Biden allies.

State of play: Democrats and Biden officials have expressed concerns that an invasion of the city, which houses more than a million Palestinians, could result in a human rights catastrophe.

  • Biden voiced opposition to the Rafah operation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu without a plan for ensuring the safety of civilians.
  • Negotiations for a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas are ongoing, with Netanyahu saying last week an agreement would delay — but not cancel — plans for the Rafah operation

The big picture: The letter reflects growing concern among Democrats across the ideological spectrum towards the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has seen tens of thousands of Palestinians killed.

What's next: Secretary of State Antony Blinken has until March 25 to certify that Israel has signed the commitment sought by the memorandum.

  • If the certification is not given, U.S. weapons transfers to Israel would be suspended.
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