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US announces further sanctions on far-right Israeli settlers

The US State Department says would 'not hesitate' to impose extra sanctions if violence in the occupied West Bank continues
Israeli settler Benzi Gopstein, the leader of the extreme right-wing movement Lehava, Organization for Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land, is escorted out of a Jerusalem court on 18 December 2014 (Gali Tibbon / AFP)

The US State Department on Friday imposed new sanctions on far-right Israeli settlers over their involvement in violence in the occupied West Bank.

Among those listed is Ben Zion Gopstein, leader of Lehava, a far-right Jewish supremacist group that gained notoriety in Israel for attempting to prevent marriages between Jews and Arabs.

The Treasury Department also designated Mount Hebron Fund and Shlom Asiraich over their role in establishing fundraising campaigns for two US-sanctioned far-right Israelis.

"We are deeply concerned about the escalation of violence in the West Bank in recent days and call on Israel to take all appropriate measures to prevent attacks by violent extremist settlers and hold those responsible accountable," the State Department said in a statement.

"The United States will not hesitate to take additional steps to promote accountability if necessary."

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Earlier this year, Washington sanctioned five violent settlers and two illegal outposts in the West Bank.

One of the entities sanctioned on Friday, Mount Hebron Fund, launched an online fundraising campaign that raised $140,000 for settler Yinon Levi, according to Treasury, after he was sanctioned on 1 February.

Levi had led a group of Israeli settlers who assaulted Palestinian civilians and burned their properties and agricultural lands.

The other entity, Shlom Asiraich, raised $31,000 for David Chai Chasdai, who Washington said initiated and led a violent riot in the Palestinian town of Huwwara that resulted in the death of a Palestinian civilian.

Sanctions on security units urged

Although the US has moved to sanction some Israelis involved in violence in the West Bank, it has otherwise resisted calls to impose penalties on other Israeli bodies or individuals.

A report by ProPublica on Thursday, citing several current and former US officials, said Secretary of State Antony Blinken had ignored recommendations from a special State Department panel to suspend assistance to Israeli military and police units, after those units were being probed for alleged human rights abuses against Palestinians.

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The report said that in several incidents where this panel had reviewed cases of human rights abuses committed by Israeli forces, including extrajudicial killings by police; the gagging and handcuffing of an elderly Palestinian-American man who later died; and an allegation that Israeli interrogators tortured and raped a teenager.

The review of those incidents was obtained by ProPublica and did not include which ones led to a recommendation of sanctions.

The task force, known as the Israel Leahy Vetting Forum, is made up of Middle East and human rights experts and is named after former Senator Patrick Leahy, who authored the Leahy Laws. Those laws require Washington to cut off assistance to any foreign military or law enforcement units accused of flagrant human rights violations.

According to ProPublica, the recommendations for actions against certain Israeli security units were sent to Blinken in December.

The incidents reviewed by the news site took place prior to Israel's war on Gaza, which began in October in response to Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel that killed around 1,163 people and took more than 200 hostage.

Israel launched a full-scale war on the besieged enclave of Gaza, carrying out a relentless bombing campaign followed by a ground invasion that has levelled much of Gaza's civilian infrastructure.

Israeli forces have killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, most of whom are women and children, and have targeted schools, UN shelters, mosques, and hospitals.

The Biden administration's response to the war has been to provide Israel with diplomatic and military cover by fast-tracking arms shipments and blocking UN resolutions for a ceasefire in Gaza.

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