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Democrats abandon plan to delay Israel arms sale amid Gaza onslaught

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman said he decided against the move after the White House offered to hold a briefing on the proposed $735 million sale
Israel has been bombarding the Gaza Strip for more than a week killing at least 217 people (AFP)
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Washington

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee appeared to back away from a plan to urge the Biden administration to delay a $735 million US weapons sale to Israel despite opposition from some of the committee's members.

Congressman Gregory Meeks, who initially planned to send a letter to US President Joe Biden requesting a delay in the sale, said he decided against the move after the White House offered to hold an "informational session" about the sale for lawmakers on Wednesday.

"The purpose of the letter initially was to make sure that there's dialogue, conversation," Meeks said, as reported by CNN.

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"We're going to have a meeting with the administration tomorrow where the issues and the questions that one may have will be able to be asked and that was the purpose of considering the letter."

The plan to send a letter came after an emergency meeting on Monday evening where Democrats agreed to seek a delay in the sale in the hopes of pressuring the Israeli government to enter into a ceasefire.

Israel has been bombarding the Gaza Strip for more than a week killing at least 217 people.

According to medical officials, 12 people in Israel have died, including two children, while at least 300 have been wounded.

The White House has been repeatedly criticised for placating Israel over its offensive on Gaza, with Biden being slammed for not openly opposing Israel's planned forced evictions of Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

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Some lawmakers, however, took issue with Meeks's reasoning and said the letter was not to seek a White House briefing on the sale but to protest the deal, saying that it leaves the wrong message as Biden has so far refrained from openly calling for a ceasefire.

The arms "wouldn't be sent for months anyway," one lawmaker said, according to Politico. "The question is whether it would be wise to announce licensing now while the bombing is ongoing and we are trying to encourage a cease-fire."

Lawmakers also said reviewing arms sales was one of the few points of leverage that Congress gets when it comes to foreign policy.

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"One of the few levers we have is the arms sale," said Congressman Mark Pocan, a leading progressive, Politico reported.

"And I think we have to figure out how to de-escalate at every cost."

Congress has the authority to block weapons sales, but the review window for the $735 million sale to Israel - which the Foreign Affairs Committee was notified of on 5 May - closes at the end of the week.

Pocan earlier on Tuesday demanded that Biden call for a ceasefire, following calls from other Democrats, including Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Senator Bernie Sanders, one of Biden's challengers in last year's Democratic presidential nomination, has called the devastation in Gaza "unconscionable", and said on Sunday that the US should take a "hard look" at the $3.8bn in military aid it provides each year to Israel.

Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign assistance, and in 2016, Washington agreed to provide $38bn in military aid to Israel between 2019 to 2028.