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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Rejects Accusations Israel Has Committed Genocide in Gaza

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on President Biden’s proposed budget request for the Department of Defense on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., April 9, 2024. 

Amanda Andrade-Rhoades | Reuters

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday said the U.S. has seen no evidence that Israel has committed genocide during its military operations against Hamas in Gaza.

“We don’t have any evidence of genocide being created,” Austin said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing focused on President Joe Biden’s latest budget request.

Asked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., whether that means Israel is not committing genocide in Gaza, Austin said again, “We don’t have evidence of that.” 

The assertion comes during a critical point in the Israel-Hamas war, in which many countries, including the U.S., have been critical of the way the Israel Defense Forces are conducting military operations in the Gaza Strip. According to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health, more than 33,000 people have died during the conflict and more than 75,000 people have been injured. 

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

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

Israel has faced accusations for months that it has been committing genocide in Gaza. In January, the Israeli government defended itself against those allegations before the United Nations’ top court, the International Court of Justice, in a case brought by South Africa. Lawyers for that country argued Israel had violated the 1948 Genocide Convention — the first human rights treaty adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in the wake of the Holocaust.

Protesters interrupted Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin as he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on April 09, 2024 in Washington, DC.

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

The court’s judges ruled that there is a case to be heard regarding genocide, and while that legal process unfolds, they ordered Israel to take all measures to prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians. The court, however, has no power to enforce its rulings.

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

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

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

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

U.S. officials have been pushing for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, but negotiations have not yet been successful.

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

“I seriously doubt that,” Austin said.

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