CIA, intel director struggle to say if Israel is actually ‘exterminating’ Palestinians

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When questioned by Sen. Tom Cotton on Monday, national security officials grappled with whether they believe Israel is engaged in the systematic destruction of the Palestinian people. 

During the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s annual Worldwide Threats hearing — which was interrupted several times by protesters demonstrating for a ceasefire between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas — Cotton asked both CIA Director William Burns and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines if Israel was “exterminating” Palestinians in Gaza.

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Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., listens during the confirmation hearing for Lieutenant General Timothy Haugh, nominee to be the Director of the National Security Agency, and Michael Casey, nominee to be the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, in the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, July 12, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

“Some of our audience members are accusing you of pretty serious conduct,” Cotton said, referencing the protesters. 

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“I want to give you a chance to respond to what’s been said,” he continued. “Is Israel exterminating the Palestinian people?”

Burns responded: “I think there are a lot of innocent civilians in Gaza who are in desperate conditions right now.” He added that there are also hostages in “desperate circumstances.”

CIA Director William Burns speaks

CIA Director William Burns speaks on “Addressing the Global Threat Landscape” during an event as part of the Trainor Award ceremony at Georgetown Hotel and Conference Center on Feb. 2, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

When pressed by Cotton, Burns said, “No,” and said he understands Israel’s need to respond to the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. But, he said, “I think we also have to be mindful of the enormous toll that this has taken on innocent civilians in Gaza.”

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The Arkansas Republican then turned the question toward Haines, asking her opinion. 

“I really don’t have anything to add to what Director Burns has said,” she explained, adding that she fully endorsed his response. 

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines arrives for an official State Dinner in honor of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, at the White House in Washington, DC, on June 22, 2023. (Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

When Cotton asked Burns if Israel was starving children, as protesters claimed, the CIA director said, “I think the reality is that there are children who are starving.”

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The senator pressed him as to whether this was Israel’s doing, to which Burns didn’t respond. 

Tom cotton

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., leaves a meeting with the Senate Republicans at the Capitol building on Nov. 16, 2022 in Washington, DC.  (Getty Images)

“They’re starving,” Burns reiterated. 

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Cotton then stated for the record that he doesn’t believe Israel or any of the national security witnesses are either “exterminating the Palestinian people or starving Palestinian children.”

The senator told Fox News Digital afterward that he was “disappointed” by their answers. 

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