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Israel lashes out as U.S. expected to cut aid to IDF battalion over alleged human rights violations

U.S. probing Israeli unit over human rights issues
U.S. investigating Israeli military unit for possible human rights violations 02:17

Tel Aviv — Israeli leaders have lashed out at the prospect that the Biden administration may cut off aid to one of the Jewish state's army battalions over accusations that it's committed human rights abuses in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. According to a report by Axios, sanctions against the Israeli army's ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion could be announced in the coming days.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested a decision had been made on Friday when he was asked about internal investigations under a U.S. law that prohibits military aid being sent to foreign forces found to be violating human rights.

Asked about the U.S. probe, Blinken said Friday that it would be "fair to say that you'll see results very soon. I've made determinations; you can expect to see them in the days ahead."

Graduation Ceremony For Ultra-Orthodox Soldiers
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man greets volunteers during a military graduation ceremony on May 26, 2013 in Jerusalem, Israel, for members of the Netzah Yehuda battalion, which was formed in 1999 to allow ultra-Othodox Israelis to enlist. Lior Mizrahi/Getty

The government has been investigating the IDF unit since 2022, a U.S. official told CBS News. The battalion came under heavy criticism after a 78-year-old Palestinian-American man was found dead in January of that year after being detained by IDF soldiers at a checkpoint in the West Bank.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reacted angrily to the possibility of his military being sanctioned over the more than two-year-old accusations as it continues its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

"If anyone thinks they can impose sanctions on a unit of the IDF, I will fight it with all my strength," said the Israeli leader.

In a separate statement, Israel's Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant lauded the Netzah Yehuda battalion, heaping praise on it for fighting Hamas' ally Hezbollah along Israel's northern border with Lebanon, and "most recently, they are operating to dismantle Hamas brigades in Gaza."

"The battalion's activities are carried out in accordance with the values of the IDF and in accordance with international law," Gallant said, insisting that "any event that deviates from the aforementioned standards is addressed accordingly" by the IDF and Israel's justice system.

"Any attempt to criticize an entire unit casts a heavy shadow on the actions of the IDF, which operates to protect the citizens of Israel. Damage to one battalion, affects the entire defense establishment — this is not the right path for partners and friends," he said. "I call on the U.S. Administration to withdraw its intention to impose sanctions on the Netzah Yehuda battalion."

Israel strikes Rafah, conducts operation in West Bank 02:35

A U.S. official pointed out that the U.S. is not and has not been considering sanctioning units in the IDF clarifying that "without confirming what may be under consideration, under the Leahy Act, certain units would be ineligible for American security assistance until the violations are remedied."

The suggestion that the U.S. could cut off aid from a military unit of its long-time ally has turned the spotlight on the IDF as Netanyahu and his military continue dealing with a domestic backlash for failing to thwart Hamas' bloody Oct. 7 terror attack, which sparked the war in Gaza.

In the first top-level fallout from that failure, the IDF announced that the head of Israel's military intelligence agency, Major General Aharon Haliva, would be resigning as soon a successor was appointed.

Haliva said last year, not long after Oct. 7, that he accepted responsibility for the intelligence failures that allowed Hamas to launch its unprecedented attack on Israel. That assault saw Hamas kill about 1,200 people and take more than 200 others hostage.

Israel's war of retaliation against Hamas, with which Netanyahu has vowed to destroy the Palestinian group, has killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health. The ministry's tally does not distinguish between combatant and civilian casualties, but a majority of those killed have been women and children, according to the United Nations.

A Palestinian hospital worker stands next to the bodies of Palestinian men in the mortuary of Tulkarm Hospital, after Israel's military said 14 terrorists were killed in an operation at the Nur Shams refugee camp, in Tulkarm, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, April 21, 2024. WAHAJ BANI MOUFLEH/Middle East Images/AFP via Getty Images

The IDF released video that it said was of a counter-terrorism operation in the West Bank city of Tulkarm over the weekend. The IDF said 14 militants were killed, but residents, just like Palestinians in Gaza, say they have borne the brunt of Israel's retaliation.

When the IDF forces pulled out of Tulkarm, they left massive destruction in their wake, and residents told CBS News they had seen nothing like it before in the occupied Palestinian territory, which is considerably larger than Gaza.

During the mission, Israeli bulldozers smashed through homes and shops, tore up roads and severed pumps and power lines — cutting off electricity and water supplies.

"The attack was wild," said resident Salah Yousif. "They came from four different sides."

Israeli attacks on Gaza continue
Relatives of Palestinians killed in an Israeli airstrike mourn as they take the dead bodies from the morgue of El-Najar Hospital to be buried in Rafah, Gaza, April 21, 2024. Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu/Getty

In Gaza, meanwhile, the war grinds on toward the seven-month mark, with officials in the Hamas-run enclave saying nearly 15,000 children have been killed. That includes members of a family killed in a strike over the weekend on the southern city of Rafah. Gazan officials said 16 people were killed in that strike, most of them children.

The U.S., along with other Israeli allies, has warned Netanyahu against carrying through with his plan to launch a major military ground operation in Rafah, fearing it could lead to huge civilian casualties in the city, where an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge. It is the only major city in Gaza that IDF forces have yet to invade since Oct. 7, but Netanyahu has vowed to order the incursion as he says there are still a couple Hamas combat units hiding out there.

Tucker Reals and Sara Cook contributed to this report.

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