Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin rejects accusations Israel has committed genocide in Gaza

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that the United States has seen no evidence that Israel committed genocide during its military operations against Hamas in Gaza.

“We have no evidence of the creation of genocide,” Austin said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing focused on President Joe Biden’s latest budget request.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.Francis Chung / POLITICO via AP

Asked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., whether this means Israel is not committing genocide in Gaza, Austin replied: “We have no evidence of that. »

The assertion comes at a critical time in the war between Israel and Hamas, during which many countries, including the United States, have criticized the manner in which the Israeli Defense Forces conduct their military operations in the Gaza Strip. According to the Gaza Health Ministry, more than 33,000 people died during the conflict and more than 75,000 people were injured.

Earlier in the hearing, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., asked the defense secretary whether Hamas’ attack on Israel on Oct. 7 should be considered an act of genocide.

“What we saw on October 7, senator, was a horrific terrorist attack by Hamas,” Austin said, adding that “it is certainly a war crime.”

Israel has been accused for months of committing genocide in Gaza. In January, the Israeli government defended itself against the allegations before the United Nations’ highest court, the International Court of Justice, in a case brought by South Africa. Lawyers there argued that Israel violated the 1948 Genocide Convention – the first human rights treaty adopted by the United Nations General Assembly following the Holocaust.

The court’s judges ruled that there was a case to be heard regarding genocide, and while that legal process played out, they ordered Israel to take all measures to prevent acts of genocide against the Palestinians. However, the court has no power to enforce its decisions.

Austin’s testimony Tuesday comes at a potential turning point in the war, as the United States attempts to influence Israeli strategy in Gaza in an effort to further minimize civilian casualties. Last week, Biden warned in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that U.S. policy toward its longtime ally could change if Israel does not change course on Gaza.

Hours later, Israel agreed to open additional aid routes to allow more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza.

The changes came after Israel killed a convoy of World Central Kitchen aid workers in a military strike in Gaza early last week.

On Sunday, the Israeli military announced it was withdrawing its troops from southern Gaza, although it was unclear whether the move represented a change in its offensive operations.

U.S. officials have pushed for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, but negotiations have yet to reach a conclusion.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Wicker asked Austin whether Hamas would stop its aggression against Israel if the country laid down its arms today.

“I seriously doubt it,” Austin said.

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