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US skips congressional review for emergency sale of tank shells to Israel

The United States government has used an emergency authority to allow the sale of about 14,000 tank shells to Israel without congressional review, says the Pentagon.

The State Department on Friday used an Arms Export Control Act emergency declaration for the tank rounds worth $106.5m for immediate delivery to Israel, the Pentagon said in a statement on Saturday.

The shells are part of a bigger sale the Biden administration is asking the Congress to approve. The larger package is worth more than $500m and includes 45,000 shells for Israel’s Merkava tanks, regularly deployed in its offensive in Gaza, which has killed thousands of civilians.

At least 17,700 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since October 7, with more than 48,800 wounded.

On Friday, the US vetoed a UN Security Council demand for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. The vote came after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a rare move on Wednesday to formally warn the 15-member council of a global threat from the two-month war.

As the war intensifies, how and where exactly the US weapons are used in the conflict has come under more scrutiny, even though US officials say there are no plans to put conditions on military aid to Israel or to consider withholding any of it.

Rights advocates expressed concern over the sale, saying it doesn’t align with Washington’s effort to press Israel to minimise civilian casualties.

A State Department official on Saturday said Washington continues to be clear with the Israeli government that it must comply with international law and take every feasible step to avoid harm to civilians.

The proposed sale conveys US commitment to Israel’s security and it will bolster Israel’s defensive capabilities, the official said.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined and provided detailed justification to Congress that the tank shells must immediately be provided to Israel in the national security interests of the US, according to the Pentagon statement.

The sale will be from US Army inventory and consists of 120mm M830A1 High Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose with Tracer (MPAT) tank cartridges and related equipment.

“Israel will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense,” the Pentagon said, adding that there will be no adverse impact on US defense readiness as a result of the sale.

Israel’s Merkava tanks, which use 120mm shells, are also linked to incidents that involved the death of journalists.

On Thursday, a Reuters news agency’s investigation revealed that an Israeli tank crew killed journalist Issam Abdallah and wounded six reporters by firing two shells in quick succession from Israel while the journalists were filming cross-border shelling.

Since the Gaza war broke out, at least 63 journalists have been killed, including 56 Palestinians, four Israelis, and three Lebanese nationals, according to media watchdog, Committee to Protest Journalists.

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