The Biden administration has asked Congress to approve the sale of 45,000 shells for Israel's Merkava tanks for use in its offensive against Hamas in Gaza, according to a US official and a former US official.
The request is being made even as concerns grow about the use of US weapons in a war that has killed thousands of civilians in the Palestinian enclave since Israel responded to an attack on Oct. 7 by Hamas militants, Reuters reported.
The potential sale, worth more than $500 million, is not part of President Joe Biden's $110.5 billion supplemental request that includes funding for Ukraine and Israel. It is under informal review by the Senate Foreign Relations and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committees, which allows members the privilege to stall the sale, or have informal discussions with the administration about concerns.
But the US State Department is pushing the congressional committees to quickly approve the transaction, said a US official and Josh Paul, a former State Department spokesperson, amid objections from rights advocates over the use of US-made weapons in the conflict.
"This went to committees earlier this week and they are supposed to have 20 days to review Israel cases. State (Department) is pushing them to clear now," Paul told Reuters.
A State Department spokesperson said as a matter of policy, "we do not confirm or comment on proposed defense transfers or sales until they have been formally notified to Congress."
Reuters could not establish why the State Department would be pushing to clear the sale quickly.
The administration is also weighing using Arms Export Control Act (AECA) emergency authorities to allow a portion of the ammunition, 13,000 of the 45,000 shells, to bypass the committee and review period, the US official said, although a final decision was yet to be made.
Online images of the war show that Israel regularly deploys Merkava tanks in its Gaza offensive and on its southern border with Lebanon, where skirmishes have erupted since Oct. 7.
The tanks are also linked to incidents that involved the death of journalists.
On Thursday, a Reuters investigation revealed that an Israeli tank crew killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and wounded six reporters by firing two shells in quick succession from Israel while the journalists were filming cross-border shelling.
Israel has sharply increased strikes on the Gaza Strip since a seven-day-long truce ended a week ago, pounding the length of the Palestinian enclave and killing hundreds in a new, expanded phase of the war that Washington said veered from Israeli promises to do more to protect civilians.