WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Jack Reed (D-RI) led the majority of the Senate Democratic Caucus in a letter to President Biden condemning the brutal terror attacks by Hamas, expressing support for immediate funding to replenish Israel’s defensive systems, and seeking information on two clear U.S. priorities: supporting an Israeli strategy that will effectively degrade and defeat the threat from Hamas and taking all possible measures to protect civilians in Gaza.
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In addition to Durbin, Duckworth, Van Hollen, Murphy, Schatz, and Reed the letter was signed by Senators Peter Welch (D-VT), Angus King (I-ME), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tina Smith (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tom Carper (D-DE), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Laphonza Butler (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Tim Kaine (D-VA).
“We have joined you in condemning the brutal terror attacks that Hamas conducted against Israel and agree with you that Israel has the right to defend itself and hold Hamas accountable. We applaud your actions to secure the release of two American citizens held hostage and support your continued efforts to free the remaining hostages. In the days and weeks since these attacks, you have rightly demonstrated America’s commitment to support Israel in this dark hour,” the Senators wrote.
They continue, “The attacks of October 7th brought back chilling memories of the United States’ own confrontation with terror twenty-two years ago. In light of our own experience, we want to underscore how critical it is that Israel: (1) learn from the mistakes the United States made in our fight against terrorism by focusing on realistic and achievable military goals; and (2) abide by the laws of war, including the protection of civilians. Doing so also offers Israel the very best chance of success against Hamas in the days and weeks ahead. These steps are also necessary to create the conditions for a lasting peace, including two states for two peoples.”
“We believe the United States should immediately provide Israel with the funding it needs to replenish its defensive systems, including Iron Dome and other air defense capabilities. But to better understand the efficacy of U.S. funding that supports Israel’s operations inside Gaza, we respectfully ask your team to provide us with information relative to these two clear U.S. priorities: supporting an Israeli strategy that will effectively degrade and defeat the threat from Hamas and taking all possible measures to protect civilians in Gaza,” the Senators wrote.
The Senators go on to ask for responses on a series of wide-ranging points, including an assessment of the viability of Israel’s military strategy in Gaza, and whether it prioritizes the release of hostages, whether there is an achievable plan for governing Gaza when the Israeli military operation ends, and if Israel supports the conditions necessary to ultimately achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Senators also ask what specific mechanisms the Administration is putting in place to ensure that Israeli military operations conducted inside Gaza are carried out in accordance with international humanitarian law and to ensure that any U.S.-provided equipment is used in a manner consistent with U.S. law. They request an assessment of whether Israel’s military rules of engagement, particularly regarding mitigation of civilian casualties, align with U.S. policy and practice. And they ask the Administration to seek immediate public assurances from Prime Minister Netanyahu that his coalition government will immediately stop the escalating extremist settler violence directed against unprotected Palestinians in the West Bank, as well as assurances from President Abbas that his government take steps to quell any violence against Israelis.
Lastly, in their letter, the Senators press for answers on how assistance will advance our efforts to engage with Israel, Egypt, and the broader international community to address the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, noting, “We must not only do our part to provide urgently needed humanitarian relief to Gaza, but also insist that Israel take all necessary measures to help us facilitate such relief to the two million civilians living there, half of them children. That includes fully restoring water, electricity, and communication services, expediting fuel deliveries through already well-established systems for avoiding diversion to Hamas, and opening the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel to increase urgently needed humanitarian relief to Gaza. Aid workers and civilian sites like schools, hospitals, and UN facilities must be protected.”
They close, “We support additional assistance to Israel that: 1) aligns with an Israeli strategy that you believe will effectively degrade and defeat the threat from Hamas; 2) prioritizes the release of hostages; 3) advances a viable and achievable military plan that supports a long-term vision for peace, security and Palestinian self-determination in the form of a two-state solution; 4) abides by U.S. and international law, including the protection of civilians; and 5) advances efforts to provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza. The information requested in this letter will help us assure that U.S support for Israel’s operations inside Gaza achieves these objectives.”
The full text of the letter is available here.
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