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9 Apr, 2024 20:26

‘No evidence of genocide’ in Gaza – Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin said the US remains “committed” to funding Israel, denying mounting accusations of genocide
‘No evidence of genocide’ in Gaza – Pentagon chief

The United States does not have any evidence that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza as it carries out its war against Palestinian militant group Hamas, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said.

Israel declared war on Hamas last October after a surprise and deadly cross-border raid staged by the militant group, in which at least 1,200 people were killed and more than 200 taken hostage. The subsequent Israeli bombing and ground operation in Gaza has killed at least 33,000 people, according to the territory’s Health Ministry.

Austin, who was delivering opening remarks on the Pentagon’s 2025 budget request, was interrupted twice by anti-Israeli protesters who made it into the hearing room on Capitol Hill, demanding that the US “stop funding Israel” and supporting a “genocide” in Gaza. The demonstrators forced the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to pause while police removed them from the room.

Asked by Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) if he agreed with the protesters’ claims of genocide, Austin said he did not.

“We don’t have any evidence of genocide,” Austin replied. “I would remind everybody that what happened on October 7 was absolutely horrible.”

Last month, UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur Francesca Albanese concluded in a report that there are, in fact, “reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel’s commission of genocide is met.”
The UN has also warned of further humanitarian “catastrophe” if the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) goes through with a planned ground offensive in Rafah, the last remaining Palestinian shelter in Gaza. On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government had set a date for the offensive to begin.

Although the Biden administration has chided Israel for not doing enough to protect aid workers and other civilians in Gaza, it has refused to throttle back support for the IDF or to place conditions on weapons shipments.

The Pentagon chief further stated on Tuesday that the US remains “committed” to assisting Israel in “defending its territory and people.”

Last week, media reported that the White House had agreed to provide thousands more bombs to Israel, helping to replenish stockpiles depleted by West Jerusalem’s six-month bombardment of Gaza.

The transfer was finalized hours after news broke that the IDF had killed seven aid workers, including US and UK citizens, in a drone strike targeting a humanitarian aid convoy in the Palestinian enclave. Nearly 200 aid workers have reportedly been killed in Gaza and the West Bank since Israel’s war against Hamas began in October.