U.S. put more scrutiny on arms transfers to Israel during Gaza crisis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration, which urged Israel do more to prevent civilian casualties in its conflict with Hamas militants, placed U.S. arms shipments to Israel under greater scrutiny during the Gaza crisis, the U.S. State Department said on Thursday.
After more than a month of intense conflict, which killed 1,945 Palestinians, many of them civilians, as well as 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel, a fresh truce between Israel and Hamas appeared to be holding.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that White House and State Department officials were caught off guard during the Gaza conflict that the Israeli military had quietly secured U.S. ammunition supplies from the Pentagon.
The newspaper also said the Obama administration had since tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel, a close U.S. ally that has strong support within the U.S. Congress.
Asked about the report, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said U.S. arms transfers were put under greater scrutiny but she sought to play down the idea that the White House or State Department were surprised by the Pentagon's shipments or that there was any diminution of U.S. support for Israel.
"Given the crisis in Gaza, it’s natural that agencies take additional care to review deliveries as part of an interagency process. That is by no means unusual and, again, does not indicate any change in policy," Harf told reporters.
"I’m not going to give a specific reason behind why, during a crisis, we would take a second look," she added.
The United States repeatedly called on Israel to do more to prevent civilian casualties during the fighting, which was set off by rocket launches from the Gaza Strip into Israel, which then launched both air strikes and a limited ground invasion.
On Aug. 3, the State Department issued an unusually harsh statement after shelling at a U.N. school in Gaza. While it did not explicitly blame the shelling on the Israeli military, it urged greater care to protect civilians.