Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was adamant Tuesday that “we don’t have any evidence” Israel is committing genocide of Palestinians as part of its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip — but warned that the Jewish state must provide “meaningful” aid to civilians in the coastal enclave.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) elicited the response from Austin after the Pentagon chief’s appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee was interrupted repeatedly by protesters accusing Israel of genocide.

“Senator Cotton, we don’t have any evidence of genocide,” Austin said.

Cotton then gave Austin the chance to respond to accusations from the demonstrators who charged the US with aiding the systematic destruction of Palestinians.

“We committed to help assist Israel in defending its territory and its people by providing security assistance,” Austin said. “And I would remind everybody that what happened on October 7 was absolutely horrible. Numbers of Israeli citizens were killed, and a couple hundred were taken hostage.”

“I don’t think Israel is committing genocide,” Cotton agreed. “I don’t believe you greenlit genocide either.”

In an exchange with ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Austin declined to describe the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas terrorists as genocide, but affirmed that “it certainly is a war crime.”

Throughout the hearing, in which Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Charles Brown testified about their defense budget request for fiscal year 2025, the defense secretary repeatedly stressed the need for Israel to safeguard civilians.

“If Israel wants to create lasting effects, then it must address the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people and not in a marginal way, in a meaningful way,” Austin told committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-RI).

President Biden has similarly attempted to pressure Israel into taking more robust steps to minimize civilian casualties and allow aid into the beleaguered Palestinian territory.

Last week, following a tense call between Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel announced it would open up the closed Erez crossing point to allow aid into northern Gaza.

Cotton took issue with the notion that Israel has a responsibility “to provide aid to Gaza.”

“They were the victim of the attack,” the Republican said. “Why should they provide aid to the aggressor? We did not provide aid to Germany and Japan during World War II.”

“I really do believe, senator, that if they want to create a lasting effect in terms of stability, then I think that something needs to be done to help the Palestinian people,” Austin reiterated.

Later in the hearing, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) voiced her dismay at the Palestinian death toll reported by the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health, and pressed Austin about whether he felt an Israeli invasion of the southern Gazan city of Rafah was necessary.

“There’s no question that there have been far too many civilian casualties in this conflict; far too many,” Austin said. “What we continue to emphasize to Israelis is that civilians in that battle space, need to be not only evacuated but properly taken care of once they’re evacuated out of that battle space.”

Warren, who suggested last week that there is “ample evidence” Israel is committing genocide, then asked Austin whether the US would ever “systematically choose to execute military strikes that are more likely to kill civilians, including children.”

“Absolutely not. Just the opposite. We routinely go out of our way to make sure that we do everything we can to minimize civilian casualties,” he replied.

Netanyahu declared Monday that a date has been set for a military operation into Rafah, which is home to an estimated 1.4 million Palestinian refugees and has been yet another flashpoint between Israel and the Biden administration.

Both Austin and Brown also pleaded with lawmakers to pass a supplemental aid package for Ukraine, which is currently languishing in the House of Representatives.

The Senate passed a $95 billion package that included $60 billion for replenishing aid to Ukraine back in February.

Republicans on the panel danced between voicing skepticism over Ukraine’s war aims and disparaging the Biden administration for not providing Kyiv with more lethal weaponry or greenlighting more aggressive warfare against Russia.

Cotton pressed Austin at one point about why the administration has “discouraged Ukraine from launching refinery strikes against Russia.”

“Certainly, those attacks could have a knock-on effect in terms of the global energy situation. But quite frankly, I think Ukraine is better served in going after tactical and operational targets that can directly influence the current fight,” Austin replied.

Cotton then alleged the real reason for the White House stance was that “the Biden administration doesn’t want gas prices to go up in an election year.”

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