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Top Senate Democrat joins growing chorus of lawmakers breaking from Biden on Israel

Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., said Friday that military aid to Israel should continue in a departure from the White House position.

In a statement, Cardin said he disagreed with President Biden, who has threatened to withhold offensive aid from Israel if it proceeds with a ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where millions of Palestinians have sought refuge from the war. 

‘While the most recent report regarding Israel under the NSM-20 has raised concerns, I agree with its assessment that Israel has not violated International Humanitarian Law and that military assistance to support Israel’s security remains in the U.S. interest and should continue,’ Cardin said. 

‘In this regard, I differ with President Biden’s recent decision,’ he said. 

Cardin’s statement came in response to a State Department report released Friday, which raised ‘serious concerns’ based on credible U.N. and non-governmental sources about alleged human rights violations by Israeli forces. The report documented credible allegations of human rights abuses by Israeli security forces, ‘including arbitrary or unlawful killings, enforced disappearance, torture, and serious abuses in conflict.’ 

The State Department report also said an estimated 34,700 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict with Israel since the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack, citing figures from the Gaza Ministry of Health. The report deemed the estimate ‘credible’ but noted that the Hamas-controlled ministry does not distinguish between Hamas fighters and civilians in casualty counts.

The State Department said it is ‘reasonable to assess’ that U.S. defense articles ‘have been used by Israeli security forces since October 7 in instances inconsistent with its [international humanitarian law] obligations or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm.’ However, the report came short of accusing Israel of specific humanitarian law violations and noted that Hamas hides military targets behind civilian populations and infrastructure. 

Israel’s continued military operation in Gaza has created a political problem for Biden as left-wing anti-Israel agitators in the U.S. have grown increasingly upset at his support for Israel. 

Biden signed off on a pause of a shipment of bombs to Israel that could be used in a potential assault on Rafah last week — but the White House National Security Council kept the decision quiet until after the president delivered a long-planned speech on Tuesday to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Associated Press reported.

The shipment was supposed to consist of 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs, a senior U.S. administration official told the AP on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter. 

In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Biden said he would halt some shipments of U.S. weapons to Israel if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a major invasion of the city of Rafah, the last major Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip. It was the first time Biden said he was prepared to condition American weaponry on Israel’s action in the seven-month-long war launched in response to the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks. 

‘Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centers,’ Biden told CNN’s Erin Burnett. ‘I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet — if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem.’ 

His decision has prompted backlash from a growing chorus of pro-Israel Democratic lawmakers — now including Cardin — some of whom have suggested Biden’s decision was motivated by politics and the upcoming election in November. 

‘I suspect it’s pandering to the far left,’ Rep. Ritchie Tores, D-N.Y., told Axios. ‘It looks like election year politics was driving it. That’s my impression.’ 

The Democratic Party is divided on Israel amid a massive wave of student protests at U.S. college and university campuses. Anti-Israel agitators have set up illegal encampments on at least 50 campuses and more than 2,800 have been arrested by police called to disperse the unlawful gatherings, according to the Associated Press.

Sen. John Fetterman, D-Pa., an outspoken advocate for Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas, told Axios that he opposed Biden’s pause on weapons shipments. 

‘I strenuously disagree,’ Fetterman said. ‘We have to stand with our key ally throughout all of this.’

Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., said security assistance to Israel should be ‘unconditional’ while Israel faces threats from Iran and its proxy groups, like Hamas. 

‘The administration should not do anything that undermines Israel’s ability to defeat Hamas and address mounting threats across the region,’ she told Jewish Insider.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., agreed that U.S. support for Israel should continue. 

‘I don’t know what the president meant. I haven’t seen what the actual operation in Rafah is, but I certainly hope that we’ll continue to provide support militarily and diplomatically that Israel needs to defend itself,’ he said. 

The White House pushed back on the suggestion that Biden’s decision on Israel was motivated by politics. 

‘The American people expect their presidents to have the guts to make hard national security decisions, and to put our safety, interests, principles, and alliances above politics,’ White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement. ‘That’s exactly what Joe Biden is doing.  He is standing with Israel as they fight the Hamas terrorists who committed the hideous October 7th attacks, and is making clear that how Israel defends itself matters because we do not want to see any more civilians killed.’

‘Joe Biden is the only president in our history to have ordered the American military to actively defend Israel from a foreign attack, and the only president to have literally stood with Israel — on Israeli soil — during wartime,’ Bates added. 

Fox News Digital’s Jeffrey Clark and Danielle Wallace contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on FOX NEWS

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