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US hints at sanctioning Israel military over alleged abuses

By AFP

April 22, 2024 08:16 AM


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The United States appears close to sanctioning an Israeli military unit over alleged human rights violations in the West Bank, a move the Israeli prime minister angrily denounced as "the height of absurdity."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hinted at such steps when asked by a reporter in Italy about reports that his department had recommended cuts in military aid to an Israeli unit involved in violent incidents in the West Bank.

The allegations precede the deadly October 7 attacks by Hamas on southern Israel.

Blinken, without providing details, said his department was conducting investigations under a law that prohibits sending military aid to foreign security units that violate human rights with impunity.

He then added: "I think it's fair to say that you'll see results very soon. I've made determinations; you can expect to see them in the days ahead."

In late 2022, the State Department directed embassy staff in Israel to investigate alleged abuses in the West Bank by the army's ultra-Orthodox Netzach Yehuda battalion.

That included a January 2022 incident when a 78-year-old Palestinian American died of a heart attack after being detained.

Although the allegations precede the Hamas attacks and Israel's retaliatory war in Gaza, the suggestion of any sanctions against Israeli forces drew an angry response from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"In recent weeks, I have been working against the imposition of sanctions on Israeli citizens, including in my conversations with senior American government officials," he posted late Saturday on social media platform X.

"At a time when our soldiers are fighting the monsters of terror, the intention to impose a sanction on a unit in the IDF is the height of absurdity and a moral low. The government headed by me will act by all means against these moves."

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant similarly slammed the possibility of sanctions, after discussing the issue with army chief Herzi Halevi.

"The commanders and troops of the Netzach Yehuda battalion operate on the frontline –- since the outbreak of the war, they have been working to push Hezbollah forces from the northern border, to thwart terrorism in Judea and Samaria, and most recently, they are operating to dismantle Hamas brigades in Gaza," he said, adding that they were operating in line with international law and the Israeli military's values.

He urged Washington "to withdraw its intention to impose sanctions" on the battalion.

The Axios website, citing three US sources with knowledge of the matter, reported Saturday that Blinken was expected to announce sanctions against the battalion "within days."

It said the sanctions would ban the unit from receiving any US military aid or training.

An earlier report from ProPublica said a special State Department panel had recommended in December that Blinken disqualify several military and police units serving in the West Bank from receiving any US aid.

The latest developments came even as the US House of Representatives on Saturday overwhelmingly approved a bill to provide $26 billion in new emergency aid to Israel.


AFP


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