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Biden imposes sanctions on four Jewish settlers for violence in West Bank

Will receive bodies of soldiers killed in Jordan base attack

By AFP

February 2, 2024 09:33 AM


File photo

The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on four Israeli settlers as President Joe Biden said violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank had reached intolerable levels.

The sanctions marked a rare US move against Israelis as war rages with Hamas in the Gaza Strip following the militants' October 7 attack. It came as Biden traveled to Michigan, where many in the sizable Arab American community have voiced anger over his support for Israel.

"The situation in the West Bank -- in particular high levels of extremist settler violence, forced displacement of people and villages, and property destruction -- has reached intolerable levels and constitutes a serious threat to the peace, security and stability," Biden said in an executive order laying the groundwork for US actions.

The State Department later announced sanctions against four settlers. Any assets they hold in the United States will be blocked, with Americans forbidden from financial transactions with them.

The four include David Chai Chasdai who is accused of leading a riot in the flashpoint town of Huwara in which Palestinian homes were torched and a Palestinian civilian killed following an attack that killed two Israelis.

Other targets included Yinon Levi, who is accused of leading a group of settlers from the unauthorized outpost of Meitarim Farm who have assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, burned their fields and destroyed their property.

"Israel must do more to stop violence against civilians in the West Bank and hold accountable those responsible for it," said Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has repeatedly raised settler violence with Israel and leaves shortly on a new trip to the region.

Blinken warned against actions that jeopardize the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, an idea that is strongly opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government which includes settler advocates.

Israel criticized the sanctions by its close ally, saying the "overwhelming majority" of its citizens in the West Bank were law-abiding.

"Israel acts against all Israelis who break the law, everywhere; therefore, exceptional measures are unnecessary," said a statement by Netanyahu's office.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said that Israel had prosecuted three of the four settlers but that more action was needed.

"We will not hesitate to take additional actions as necessary," he said.

- Most violent year on record -

The action marks the first financial sanctions against settlers although the Biden administration earlier announced that it would refuse visas for extremists involved in violence.

Biden has defended Israel's right to respond, and resisted calls to seek a ceasefire, after the Hamas attack inside Israel on October 7 killed around 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Biden, however, has also voiced exasperation with Netanyahu and the high toll on civilians as Israel pounds the Gaza Strip with a stated goal of eradicating Hamas.

At least 26,900 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, have been killed, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

Arab Americans largely backed Biden as he defeated Trump in 2020 and, while a small part of the national population, they could swing the election in Michigan, which is critical for the Democratic president's success in an expected rematch against Trump in November.

The mayor of one Detroit suburb is refusing to see Biden on his trip due to his refusal to press Israel to end the military campaign.

Israeli settlers killed at least 10 Palestinians and torched dozens of homes in the occupied West Bank in 2023, making it the "most violent" year on record for settler attacks, according to the human rights group Yesh Din.

About 490,000 settlers live among approximately three million Palestinians in the West Bank, in settlements that are considered illegal under international law.

Biden has largely returned to historic US opposition to the settlements after Trump switched gears and declined to criticize the outposts, with his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, visiting a settlement late in his term.

The Biden administration is also renewing calls for the creation of a Palestinian state, an idea strongly opposed by Netanyahu's government.

Biden will receive bodies of soldiers killed in Jordan base attack

President Joe Biden on Friday will oversee the return to the United States of the bodies of three American soldiers, killed in a drone attack at a base in Jordan that Washington has blamed on Iran-backed militants.

Amid strikes between US forces and Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria, as well as exchanges with Yemen's Huthi rebels, these were the first US military personnel killed by hostile fire in the region following the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

The bodies of William Jerome Rivers, Kennedy Ladon Sanders and Breonna Alexsondria Moffett will arrive at an air force base in Dover, Delaware, where they will be received with military honors.

The president previously received bodies at the base following the August 26, 2021 bombing at the Kabul airport, during the US pull-out from Afghanistan.

The White House has said a militia called the Islamic Resistance in Iraq was behind the attack on the base in Jordan, near the Syrian border. Biden has vowed a response, the nature and timing of which have not been declared publicly.

Pressure is mounting on the Democratic president during an election year where Republicans, including his predecessor Donald Trump, hope to retake the White House.

The Democrat, who has suffered many family tragedies of his own, is known to get emotional when greeting mourning Americans.

He already called each of the three families of the soldiers killed in Jordan, in part to make sure they were OK with his presence at the ceremony.

"I know there is nothing anybody can say or do to ease the pain, I've been there," Biden said in one call, recorded and shared by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.

"I got one of these phone calls," Biden says in the video, his voice coming in over speakerphone, referring to the death in a car accident of his first wife and their infant daughter in 1972.

His son Beau died of cancer in 2015.

But Friday's ceremony will likely do little to quiet his critics, who are pushing him to strike Iran in response.

"He had to wait for people to die to say, OK, maybe we need to do something. Are you kidding me?" Republican primary candidate Nikki Haley said

Trump, her primary challenger for the party’s nomination, has attacked Biden as weak.

Anger over Israel's devastating campaign in Gaza -- which it launched after an unprecedented attack by Hamas on October 7 -- has grown across the Middle East, stoking violence involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, as well as Yemen.

American forces in the region have been attacked more than 165 times since mid-October.

US forces have been striking targets in response, while Washington has said it wants to avoid a regional war and conflict with Iran.

The White House has promised a "very consequential" response to the Jordan base attack.


AFP


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