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Blinken will testify before the US Congress in the shadow of the divisions in Israeli policy

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken must make his case for the presidency Joe Biden‘s request for a $64 billion foreign affairs budget during four congressional hearings this week, amid deep disagreements with Republicans over spending priorities and Israeli policies.

Blinken is scheduled to testify Tuesday in the Democratic-controlled Senate before the Foreign Relations Committee and before the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees diplomatic and foreign aid spending.

He returns to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for two more testimonies during hearings of the Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee and a House Appropriations subcommittee.

The hearings are expected to focus on Israel’s policies, after Biden said earlier this month that he would delay a shipment of bombs to Israel and consider withholding other bombs if Israeli forces launched a major invasion of Rafah, a city full of refugees in the south of Gaza.

The developments sparked angry criticism from Republicans, some of whom have accused Biden of abandoning Israel despite billions of dollars in US military aid still in the pipeline for the prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu‘s government.

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But Biden has also drawn criticism from many of his fellow Democrats, who want him to do more — including placing conditions on arms exports — to push Netanyahu’s government to protect Palestinian civilians. Israel is fighting to root out Hamas militants who attacked Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages, according to Israeli figures.

Palestinian authorities say more than 35,000 people, including many women and children, have been killed during Israel’s campaign in Gaza. Malnutrition is widespread and much of the coastal enclave’s population has been left homeless, with much of the enclave’s infrastructure destroyed.

PROTESTS

When Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testified in the Senate on Oct. 31 about Biden’s request for security assistance for Ukraine and Israel, they were repeatedly interrupted by protesters who denounced the officials for supporting what they called “genocide” against the Palestinians mentioned in Gaza.

Anti-Gaza protests have since intensified across the United States, including on college campuses where dozens of arrests have taken place.

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The massive foreign aid package for Israel, Ukraine, Taiwan and humanitarian needs was finally passed by Congress in April after being held up for months by Republicans dissatisfied with the billions of dollars in aid Washington has sent to Kiev to fight Russian invaders .

The package passed the House of Representatives only because a majority of Democrats supported it, and the parties remain divided over how much more aid Washington should provide to Ukraine.

Republicans also expressed outrage on Monday when the International Criminal Court in The Hague requested arrest warrants against Netanyahu and his defense chief, and against three Hamas leaders for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the appropriations subcommittee where Blinken is testifying on Tuesday, called the ICC’s actions “outrageous” and vowed to take action.

“I will work feverishly with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to impose devastating sanctions against the ICC,” Graham said in a statement.

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Democrats also criticized the ICC’s action, with Biden calling it “outrageous.” Blinken raised questions about the court’s jurisdiction and the procedure in filing the request. He added that this could jeopardize negotiations on a hostage agreement and ceasefire.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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