US State Department
US State DepartmentiStock

The United States is reviewing reports that Israel has harmed civilians in its war in Gaza under a set of guidelines aimed at ensuring countries receiving US arms conduct military operations in line with international humanitarian law, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

The Biden administration has faced criticism for continuing to supply arms to Israel amid allegations that American-made weapons have been used in strikes that have killed or injured Gazan civilians.

"We do seek to thoroughly assess reports of civilian harm by authorized recipients of US-provided defense articles around the world," Miller told reporters at a press briefing, adding that a process under the State Department's Civilian Harm Incident Response Guidance (CHIRG) was assessing incidents in the current conflict.

CHIRG was established in August last year, noted Reuters. The guidance sets out a process by which State Department officials investigate specific incidents where civilians may have been harmed by U.S. weapons.

Miller did not specify when the CHIRG process was initiated or say how many incidents were being reviewed. But a source familiar with the process said the department was looking at least 50 reported incidents of civilian harm.

"That process is not intended to function as a rapid response mechanism," Miller said, adding, "Rather, it is designed to systematically assess civilian harm incidents and develop appropriate policy responses to reduce the risk of such incidents recurring in the future and to drive partners to conduct military operations in accordance with international humanitarian law."

Reuters reported last month that Washington had set up a channel to get answers from Israel about incidents in which civilians have been killed or injured or where civilian facilities have been targeted.

According to the report, the channel was set up after a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israel's War Cabinet, during which Blinken expressed concern about the "constant" reports of Israeli strikes that either hit humanitarian sites or resulted in large numbers of civilian deaths.

In the meeting, Blinken told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz that Washington needed to know "what the answers are" when it comes to reports of strikes, and sought a "reliable channel" through which the United States can raise such issues with the Israelis regularly, one of the US officials said.

While US President Joe Biden was initially vocal in his support for Israel’s fight against Hamas in Gaza, he has become more critical in recent weeks.

Last Thursday, Biden told reporters at the White House, "I'm of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top.”

The President added that he is working hard to bring about a lasting pause in the fighting in order to facilitate a deal for the release of hostages and the entry of additional humanitarian aid to the Strip.

A day later, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre clarified that Biden was referring to Israel’s military operation when he described the conduct of the response in Gaza as “over the top”.

“He was obviously talking about Israel’s conduct in Gaza,” Jean-Pierre told reporters at a press briefing, though she also said that Biden’s position “hasn’t changed”.

“He’s been clear that the US wants to see the Hamas terror organization defeated. That is a shared goal that we have with Israel,” she added. “At the same time, the president has also been very clear that they must do so by ensuring that their operations are targeted and conducted in a way that they are protecting innocent civilians.”