BEIRUT: Amnesty International said late Wednesday that a US-chartered ship carrying a large shipment of munitions had delivered its cargo to Israel.
In a press release, Amnesty said the Wehr Elbe, a German cargo ship chartered and controlled by US Military Sealift Command, docked and unloaded its cargo of over 300 containers at the Israeli port of Ashdod, just 40 kilometers north of Gaza by road. The German ship left the US for Israel on December 20, a week before the start of Israeli attacks on Gaza.
According to Amnesty, the delivery "throws into question whether President [Barack] Obama will act to prevent the US fueling further Israeli attacks against civilians that may amount to war crimes, as were perpetrated in Gaza."
"Legally and morally, this US arms shipment should have been halted by the Obama administration given the extent of the evidence showing how military equipment and munitions of this kind were recently used by the Israeli forces for war crimes," said Brian Wood, Amnesty International's arms control campaign manager. "Arms supplies in these circumstances are contrary to provisions in US law."
Amnesty cited the Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits the export of arms to governments that have demonstrated a pattern of rights violations. However, this provision can be circumvented if the president certifies that "extraordinary circumstances" exist. Amnesty also cited the Leahy Law, which prohibit the US from providing most forms of security assistance to governments or militaries that are "committing gross human-rights violations."
Asked about the Wehr Elbe, a Pentagon spokesperson confirmed to Amnesty International that "the unloading of the entire US munitions shipment was successfully completed at Ashdod [Israel] on March 22." The spokesperson said that the shipment was destined for a US pre-positioned ammunition stockpile in Israel. Under a US-Israel agreement, munitions from this stockpile may be transferred for Israeli use if necessary. Another US official told Amnesty International that they are reviewing Israel's use of US weapons during the Gaza conflict to see if Israel complied with US law, but no conclusion has yet been reached.
US Military Sealift Command charters for a further two US munitions shipments from Navipe-Astakos, Greece, to Ashdod, which explicitly included white-phosphorus munitions, were announced on December 31 during the Gaza conflict and then cancelled on January 9. But a US military spokesperson subsequently confirmed that the Pentagon was still seeking a way to also deliver those munitions.
"There is a great risk that the [recently delivered] munitions may be used by the Israeli military to commit further violations of international law, like the ones committed during the war in Gaza," Wood said. "We are urging all governments to impose an immediate and comprehensive suspension of arms to Israel, and to all Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a substantial risk of serious human-rights violations," he added.
The US was by far the largest supplier of weapons to Israel between 2004 and 2008, Amnesty said. The US government is also due to provide $30 billion in military aid to Israel, despite the blatant misuse of weaponry and munitions in Gaza and Lebanon by the Israel military, it added.
According to one US official, Obama has no plans to cut the billions of dollars in military aid promised to Israel under a new 10-year contract agreed to in 2007 by the Bush administration. This new contract is a 25-percent increase compared to the last contract agreed by the previous US administration. - The Daily Star