US President Joe Biden’s decision to green-light the Joint Direct Attack Munitions sale is stirring opposition among some of his fellow Democrats as the death toll in Gaza soars amid intensified Israeli attacks.

An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in Gaza near the security fence on May 18, 2021.
An Israeli artillery unit fires toward targets in Gaza near the security fence on May 18, 2021. (AP)

US President Joe Biden's administration has approved the potential sale of $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel.

Congressional sources on Tuesday said that US lawmakers were not expected to object to the deal despite Israel's relentless assault on Gaza.

Three congressional aides said Congress was officially notified of the intended commercial sale on May 5, as part of the regular review process before major foreign weapons sales agreements can go ahead.

The sale was first reported by the Washington Post.

Congress was informed of the planned sale in April, as part of the normal informal review process before of the formal notification on May 5. 

Under US law, the formal notification opens up a 15-day window for Congress to object to the sale, which is not expected despite the ongoing Israeli attacks.

The sale of Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, made by Boeing Co, was considered routine at the time, before the start last week of the fiercest hostilities in the region in years.

There were no objections at the time by the Democratic and Republican leaders of the congressional foreign affairs committees that review such sales, aides said.

At least 212 Palestinians have been killed, including 61 children, in Israeli attacks on Gaza since last week, according to the Gaza-based Palestinian Health Ministry.

More than 1,305 people have also been injured and dozens of buildings destroyed or damaged in the Israeli assault.

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Divide among Democrats over criticism of Israel

Asked for comment, a State Department spokesperson noted that the department is restricted under federal law and regulations from publicly commenting on or confirming details of licensing activity related to direct commercial sales like the JDAMs agreement.

"We remain deeply concerned about the current violence and are working towards achieving a sustainable calm," the spokesperson said.

But the approval came amid then-mounting criticism of Israel's planned expulsions of Palestinian residents from occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood Sheikh Jarrah, and repeated raids on Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

"A new crop of younger lawmakers willing to challenge the party’s pro-Israel orthodoxy has put pressure on the Biden administration and congressional leaders," the article said.

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'We cannot just condemn rockets'

Israel has a deep bench of staunch defenders in Washington, according to the Post, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey.

However, even they criticised heavy Israeli bombardment that targeted not only civilians but some media offices as well.

Menendez released a statement on Saturday after an air strike targeted and destroyed a building housing the Associated Press and other media outlets in Gaza. 

“I am deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets,” Menendez said. 

“We cannot just condemn rockets fired by Hamas and ignore Israel’s state-sanctioned police violence against Palestinians, including unlawful evictions, violent attacks on protestors & the murder of Palestinian children,” Rep Mark Pocan said in tweet. 

“US aid should not be funding this violence.”

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'A green light for continued escalation'

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar said shortly after the Post's story was published that the sale should not be completed "while crimes against humanity are being committed with our backing."

"It would be appalling for the Biden Administration to go through with $735 million in precision-guided weaponry to Netanyahu without any strings attached in the wake of escalating violence and attacks on civilians," she said in a statement, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"If this goes through this will be seen as a green light for continued escalation and will undercut any attempts at brokering a ceasefire," added Omar.

Strong support for Israel is a core value for both Democratic and Republican members of the US Congress, despite calls from a few of the most progressive Democrats to take a tougher stance against the Netanyahu's government.

US law allows Congress to object to weapons sales, but it is unlikely to do so in this case. 

Because Israel is among a handful of countries whose military deals are approved under an expedited process, the typical window for objecting will close before lawmakers can pass a resolution of disapproval, even if they were inclined to.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies