US review on IDF unit over rights allegations ongoing, source says

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States has received new information from the Israeli authorities about a specific Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) unit that Washington was reportedly going to designate for human rights allegations in the West Bank, a source familiar with the matter said on Friday.

In light of the new information, Washington is looking into whether the unit is on a path to remediation, the source said. "If they aren't, there will be restrictions on the provision of U.S. assistance," the source added.

No final decision has been made, the source stressed.

The new information appears to have put on the breaks on any imminent decision involving the unit's alleged involvement in the death of a Palestinian-American.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week said he has made determinations regarding accusations that an Israeli military unit violated U.S. laws that prohibit the U.S. from providing military assistance to individuals or security force units that commit gross violations of human rights.

"You'll see the results very soon. I made determinations. You can expect to see them in the days ahead," Blinken said last week, raising expectations of an imminent punitive action.

The statement drew an immediate rebuke from Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would fight against any sanctions being imposed on IDF units. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and minister Benny Gantz called Blinken on Sunday, urging him not to go ahead with the move.

When asked at a Monday news conference whether those calls had changed his mind and when the announcement on any action would take place, Blinken did not directly respond.

"I don’t have more to say about it today, but I think you’ll see in the days ahead that we will have more to say, so please stay tuned on that," Blinken said.

The Leahy Laws, authored by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy in the late 1990s, prohibit providing military assistance to individuals or security force units that commit gross violations of human rights and have not been brought to justice.

The specific IDF unit involved, the Netzah Yehuda battalion, was set up in 1999 to accommodate the religious beliefs of ultra-Orthodox Jews and other religious nationalist recruits in the army.

The United States called for a criminal investigation after Netzah Yehuda soldiers were accused of being involved in the death of a 78-year-old Palestinian-American, Omar Assad, who died of a heart attack in 2022 after he was detained and was later found abandoned at a building site.

Israel's military conduct has come under increasing scrutiny as its forces have killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the enclave's health authorities, many of them women and children. The Gaza Strip has been reduced to a wasteland, and extreme food shortages have prompted fears of famine.

The Israeli assault was launched in response to the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed and scores of hostages taken.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama; Editing by Bill Berkrot)