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Senate Democrats meet with IDF officials for 'extremely frank' discussion of Israel-Hamas war

The meeting on Capitol Hill wasn’t classified, but senators kept many of the details private.
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Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Sipa via AP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A group of Senate Democrats met with senior-level Israel Defense Forces officials Monday evening in the Capitol to discuss the Israel-Hamas war and concerns about a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

At least 10 senators attended the meeting, which Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, described as “extremely frank.”

"We just want to be assured that they are abiding by American values as they try to dismantle Hamas, and we all conveyed that collectively and clearly," Schatz told reporters. "I do believe they heard us, but obviously we have a long way to go.”

The meeting was not classified, but senators kept the details of the discussion private. The IDF officials did not comment when reporters approached then after the meeting.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., arranged the meeting, which lasted about two hours and came as a growing number of Senate Democrats have raised concerns over the civilian casualties and property destruction in Gaza as a result of Israel's military campaign against Hamas.

“There were tough questions and very strong answers,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said. “And I think generally our Israeli friends ... did some substantial good in explaining the challenges of conducting this war against Hamas and dismantling Hamas as a terrorist organization. And there was no question about the solidarity and support of Israel, even if there were some critical comments.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said it “was informative and important to hear the Israeli military perspective,” but he reiterated his belief there should be conditions on any aid the U.S. approves for Israel.

"I think the idea of simply giving Israel $14 billion without any conditions would be counterproductive,” he said. “I think the American people are very, very concerned about the number of women and children who have been killed so far."

Sanders has previously called for conditioning aid to Israel on a series of factors, including "an end to the indiscriminate bombing," "a freeze on settlement expansion" and "a commitment to broad peace talks for a two-state solution."

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who also attended the meeting, said the discussion included "perspectives on the current situation and asking questions about anticipated next steps.”

“We talked about the humanitarian situation. We talked about the day after the end of the temporary cease-fire. So it was a good back-and-forth,” he said.

Van Hollen spearheaded a letter this month to President Joe Biden that emphasized it was “critical” for Israel to “abide by the laws of war.” The letter, signed by 26 senators, called for the administration to provide more information about U.S. priorities related to Israel and Gaza, as well as the White House’s assessment of Israel’s military strategy.

Lawmakers are set to decide whether to approve the White House's request for more U.S. aid to Israel and Ukraine. Both Democrats and Republicans have talked about setting conditions for providing any additional aid.

Last month, Biden asked Congress to provide more than $61 billion in aid for Ukraine and more than $14 billion for Israel.