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Biden administration is moving ahead on new $1 billion arms sale to Israel, congressional aides say

WASHINGTON — (AP) — The Biden administration has told key lawmakers it plans to move forward on a new $1 billion sale of arms and ammunition to Israel, three congressional aides say.

It's the first weapons shipment to Israel to be pushed ahead since the administration put another arms transfer, consisting of 3,500 bombs of up to 2,000 pounds each, on hold this month. The Biden administration, citing concern for civilian casualties in Gaza, has said it paused that bomb transfer to keep Israel from using those particular munitions in its offensive in the crowded southern Gaza city of Rafah.

The new package disclosed Tuesday includes about $700 million for tank ammunition, $500 million in tactical vehicles and $60 million in mortar rounds, the congressional aides said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an arms transfer that has not yet been made public.

Rep. Greg Meeks of New York, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday that the package notified to lawmakers this week was in the works for some time and does not use money from the national security spending package signed into law by Biden last month, which included roughly $26 billion in aid to Israel and humanitarian relief for people in Gaza.

Meeks said if allowed to go forward, the arms would be transferred in the next two to three years.

The Biden administration has come under criticism from both parties over its handling of Israel's now seven-month-old war against Hamas in Gaza, with President Joe Biden's stewardship of the conflict threatening to sap support from Democrats as he runs for reelection against former president Donald Trump.

Some of Biden's fellow Democrats have pushed him to limit transfers of offensive weapons to Israel to pressure the U.S. ally to do more to protect Palestinian civilians. Protests on college campuses around the U.S. this spring have only amplified the anger from progressives and young voters against Biden and his handling of the war in Gaza.

Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers have said any lessening of U.S. support for Israel — its closest ally in the Middle East — weakens it as the country fights Hamas and other Iran-backed groups. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., the GOP whip, told reporters Wednesday that initiating the process for this round of arms sales “doesn’t make up” for the Biden administration withholding the bomb transfers last week.

The GOP-controlled House was preparing a vote this week that would force Biden to deliver offensive weaponry for Israel, an effort that will not be signed into law but could further divide Democrats. The White House has said it would veto that bill, but it could still pick up support from some of the two dozen House Democrats who sent a letter to National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan last week, saying they were “deeply concerned about the message” sent by pausing the bomb shipment.

In addition to the veto threat, the White House has been in touch with various lawmakers and congressional aides about the legislation, according to an administration official. Still, Democrats were anticipating some defections from their own party. One of the letter’s signers, New York Rep. Ritchie Torres, said he would likely vote for the bill, despite the White House’s opposition.

“I have a general rule of supporting pro-Israel legislation unless it includes a poison pill — like cuts to domestic policy,” he said.

Despite the one-time suspension of a bomb shipment, Biden and administration officials have made clear they will continue other weapons deliveries and overall military support to Israel, which is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissed any notion that the two efforts — pausing one shipment of bombs yet advancing another package of weapons — were sending a mixed message.

“Two things can be true. We can have tough conversations with our friends and allies,” Jean-Pierre told reporters during the daily press briefing on Wednesday. She added: “And we can say to our ally that look, we want to make sure that you're able to defend yourself.”

Meeks also defended the Biden administration’s approach.

“I think that it’s consistent with the president wanting to stop the 2,000 pound bombs that indiscriminately killed innocents, but he’s not turning his back away from going after Hamas utilizing different types of weapons,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal first reported on this week's notification of the $1 billion weapons package. That notice was not the final and formal notification before a sale occurs, one of the congressional aides said. The process can be lengthy and Congress has some power to block arms transfers, such as the leaders of the House Foreign Affairs Committee or the Senate Foreign Relations Committee placing a hold on the package. The State Department generally will not proceed if that occurs.

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Associated Press writers Stephen Groves, Lisa Mascaro and Aamer Madhani contributed.

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