Allegations of Israeli Human Rights Violations Closely Scrutinized, Says U.S. State Department

Statement comes in response to letter from Senator Patrick Leahy and 10 other Democrats asking for reassessment of military aid due to alleged 'gross violations of human rights.'

AP

The Obama administration has assured Democratic members of Congress that it is closely tracking allegations of Israeli human rights violations and will restrict United States military aid to Israel if the claims prove true, the Politico website reported on Thursday.

The statement came in a State Department response to a letter sent to Secretary of State John Kerry in February by senior Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and 10 other Democratic Congressmen.

"There have been a disturbing number of reports of possible gross violations of human rights by security forces in Israel and Egypt," the congressmen wrote. "[These] incidents may have involved recipients, or potential recipients, of U.S. military assistance. We urge you to determine if these reports are credible and to inform us on your findings."

The letter listed several examples of alleged human rights violations in both Egypt and Israel, including potential extrajudicial killings of four people by Israeli security forces.

The letter was blasted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said in a statement that "the IDF and security forces are not murderers."

"Where is the concern for the violations of the human rights of many Israelis who have been murdered or wounded by criminal killers?" Netanyahu asked. "This letter should have been addressed to those who incite children to engage in acts of cruel terrorism."

Leahy is the author of the Leahy Law, which conditions U.S. military aid to foreign countries on their human rights records.

Dated April 18, the State Department response explains that it has a careful, Leahy-related vetting process for foreign military units that U.S. embassies nominate for American training and assistance.

U.S. embassies often choose not to even nominate units for aid if they suspect human rights violations, the response said. "Thus, the Leahy Law has an impact before we even get to the stage where a unit is formally vetted." The response was signed by Julia Frifield, assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs.

"In Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the Department has noted several of the allegations concerning extrajudicial killings referred to in your letter," the response continues. "No individual or unit potentially involved in those incidents has since been submitted to receive U.S. assistance."

"We are unaware of any Israeli individuals or units that were not nominated for training because of human rights concerns," said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

The State Department added that U.S. officials were closely watching the case of Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who was shot to death while incapacitated after allegedly attacking an Israeli soldier in Hebron on March 24. The shooter, an IDF soldier, is currently facing manslaughter charges.

A number of Egyptian security units implicated in extrajudicial killings, including an August 2013 massacre of nearly 1,000 people, "remain ineligible for assistance," according to the State Department.

Politico reported that a spokesman for Leahy had declined comment. An aide to Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson, one of the signatories on the letter, said the Congressman "appreciates the [State Department's] response and will continue to monitor the situation."