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Biden wont sanction Israeli military units accused of human rights violations in West Bank before start of war with Hamas

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(WASHINGOTN) — The Biden administration has determined that three military battalions with the Israel Defense Forces committed “gross human rights violations” against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank but will remain eligible for U.S. military aid regardless because of steps Israel says it’s taking to address the problem, ABC News has learned.

The administration assessment, which has not yet been made public, was outlined in an undated letter by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to House Speaker Mike Johnson obtained by ABC News.

The U.S. determination “will not delay the delivery of any U.S. assistance and Israel will be able to receive the full amount appropriated by Congress,” Blinken wrote.

The allegations involving each of the units occurred before the Oct. 7 war began when Hamas attacked Israel. None of the cases involves operations against Hamas in Gaza or against Iran or its proxies.

Still, the decision is likely to roil critics of the Biden administration who say not enough is being done to hold Israel accountable for military operations in Gaza that have pushed the civilian population toward famine.

Administration officials counter that its process in reviewing human rights violations has been fair and that Israel was not given preferential treatment. They also note that it’s not uncommon for the U.S. to work with countries through a process known as “remediation” that can encourage foreign countries to weed out bad actors within their militaries.

“Each of these situations is different, and we have to do our best to collect the facts and follow the facts and that’s what we’re doing,” Blinken told reporters Monday at a press briefing when pressed for details on the U.S. review.

Under a federal measure known as the Leahy Law, the U.S. military is required to withhold weapons, training and other military assistance to any foreign military unit that commits gross human rights abuses.

The law, however, allows an exception for countries that have taken steps “to bring to justice the responsible members of the unit,” according to Blinken’s letter.

According to a person familiar with the process, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision that hasn’t been made public, the U.S. and Israel also have a special agreement that requires the U.S. to consult with the Israelis before making any decisions related to the Foreign Assistance Act. The person said those consultations remain ongoing.

Overall, five units — three military and two civilian — were under review for human rights violations. According to Blinken’s letter, four have undergone proper remediation steps.

Israel also has “acknowledged” that another IDF battalion had engaged in “conduct inconsistent” with Israel’s rules. As a result, the unit was transferred from the West Bank to the Golan Heights in 2022, Blinken noted.

That description matches the Netzah Yehuda battalion, established for ultra-orthodox Jewish men.

“The Israeli government has presented new information regarding the status of the unit and we will engage on identifying a path to effective remediation for this unit,” Blinken wrote.

“But this will have no impact on our support for Israel’s ability to defend itself against Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah, or other threats,” he assured Johnson, a staunch supporter of Israel who helped push a foreign aid bill through Congress this week.

Blinken noted that no other units were found in violation of the Leahy Law.

The secretary spoke with top Israeli officials this week following reports by Axios and ProPublica that the U.S. planned to “sanction” IDF units.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would fight the Biden administration on such a move, calling it a “moral low.”

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