Lloyd Austin rejects allegations that Israel committed genocide in Gaza

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III told a Senate committee Tuesday that the Pentagon had no evidence that Israel was carrying out genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Mr. Austin made the comments in testimony at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that was interrupted several times by demonstrators protesting U.S. support for Israel's assault on Hamas. More than 33,000 people have died in Israel's bombing of Gaza, according to Gaza health officials, and severe hunger is spreading across the Palestinian enclave.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a Republican, asked Mr. Austin to address the protesters' concerns.

“Is Israel committing genocide in Gaza?” asked Mr. Cotton.

“We have no evidence that genocide was created,” Mr. Austin responded.

“So that's a no?” asked Mr. Cotton. “Is Israel not committing genocide in Gaza?”

“We have no evidence of that, as far as I know,” the defense minister responded.

South Africa has filed a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice arguing that Israel's military campaign in Gaza constitutes genocide, a charge Israel vehemently denies.

The court issued an interim ruling that Israel must take actions to prevent acts by its forces in Gaza prohibited by the 1948 Genocide Convention. The prohibited actions include the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians and “deliberately inflicting living conditions on the group calculated to cause its total or partial physical destruction.”

Critics who say the campaign is genocide accuse Israel of indiscriminate bombings that have leveled civilian apartment blocks, public buildings and mosques. Many of the dead were women and children. They also accused Israel of using hunger as a weapon by limiting aid entering Gaza.

Israel has argued that its bombing campaign was aimed at military targets, accusing Hamas of using civilians as shields. The Israeli army says Hamas has built hundreds of kilometers of tunnels under buildings in the densely populated enclave.

Israeli officials also deny they have unduly restricted aid coming into the country and have accused United Nations agencies and other humanitarian organizations of being inefficient in distributing aid.

The hearing room wasn't the only scene of protest on Capitol Hill Tuesday. Police arrested about 50 people who briefly closed a cafeteria for senators, their aides and visitors to the Capitol.

Dozens of protesters, including clergy and lay members of various Christian denominations, peacefully occupied the cafeteria during the lunch rush, chanting and chanting to call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and an end to US arms transfers to Israel.

“The Senate and its staff cannot eat until Gaza eats,” declared protest organizers, led by Christians for a Free Palestine.

Capitol Police locked down the cafeteria for about 30 minutes while it was cleared. Staff members who were eating lunch crowded into a nearby seating area, then quickly returned to the canteen when it reopened.

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