WASHINGTON, May 8 (KUNA) -- Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday confirmed reports that the United States had paused shipment of "high-payload munitions" to Israel amid concerns over potential use in incursion into Rafah city, southwest Gaza Strip, without a plan to protect civilians there.
"We're going to continue to do what's necessary to ensure that Israel has the means to defend itself, but that said, we are currently reviewing some near-term security assistance shipments in the context of unfolding events in Rafah," CNN quoted Secretary Austin as saying at a Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing.
"We've been very clear -- that Israel shouldn't launch a major attack into Rafah without accounting for and protecting the civilians that are in that battlespace, and, again, as we have assessed the situation, we've paused one shipment of high-payload munitions," said Austin.
The decision to pause the shipment appears to send a strong message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has warned for weeks that an invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah will occur at some point in the future, even as the US and others have publicly stated that such a ground operation should not occur.
The Biden administration has called for a comprehensive plan to protect more than a million civilians sheltering in Rafah and avoid an expansion of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the coastal enclave.
Israeli officials privately expressed to US officials "deep frustration" on the pause in shipments as well as the US media briefings on the decision, according to a source briefed on the matter.
The officials raised concerns "that the move may jeopardize the hostage deal negotiations at a critical moment," the source told CNN. The Israelis also emphasized that US pressure should be directed towards Hamas, the source added.
A US official told CNN on Tuesday that the shipment, which was held back last week, includes 1,800 bombs weighing 2,000 pounds and 1,700 bombs weighing 500 pounds.
"We are especially focused on the end-use of the 2,000-pound bombs and the impact they could have in dense urban settings as we have seen in other parts of Gaza," the official said.
CNN reported over the weekend that one shipment of ammunition to Israel had been paused, but the reason was unclear. (end) amm.gb