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Biden signs executive order sanctioning 4 Israeli settlers in occupied West Bank

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday issued an executive order that targets Israeli settlers in the West Bank who have been accused of attacking Palestinians in the occupied territory, imposing financial sanctions and visa bans in an initial round against four individuals.

U.S. ready to impose financial sanctions on Israeli settlers engaged in violence

A clean-shaven older man in a suit and tie speaks at a podium in front of American flags.

U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Thursday that targets Israeli settlers in the West Bank who have been accused of attacking Palestinians in the occupied territory, imposing financial sanctions and visa bans in an initial round against four individuals.

Those settlers were involved in acts of violence, as well as threats and attempts to destroy or seize Palestinian property, according to the order. The penalties aim to block the four from using the U.S. financial system and bar American citizens from dealing with them.

U.S. officials said they were evaluating whether to punish others involved in attacks that have intensified during the current Israel-Hamas war.

Biden's order is a rare step against the United States' closest ally in the Mideast who, Biden says, has the right to defend itself.

But the Democratic president has pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to show greater restraint in its military operations aimed at rooting out Hamas. Netanyahu denounced the U.S. penalties.

WATCH l Palestinians in West Bank fend off attacks, arrests they say are indiscriminate:

Palestinian family happy for son's return from Israeli jail but arrests continue

2 months ago

Duration 2:37

A Palestinian family is happy to have their son back from an Israeli jail, but his mother continues to worry about her children, saying Israeli soldiers could return any time. While the Israelis released hundreds of prisoners during the seven-day truce with Hamas, the arrests continue.

Palestinian authorities say some Palestinians have been killed, and rights groups say settlers have torched cars and attacked several small Bedouin communities, forcing evacuations.

"This violence poses a grave threat to peace, security and stability in the West Bank, Israel and the Middle East region, and threatens the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement.

The order notes that the violence by settlers undermines U.S. foreign policy objectives, "including the viability of a two-state solution and ensuring Israelis and Palestinians can attain equal measures of security, prosperity and freedom."

The order will give the Treasury Department the authority to impose financial sanctions on settlers engaged in violence, but it is not meant to target U.S. citizens.

A substantial number of the settlers in the West Bank hold U.S. citizenship, and they would be prohibited under U.S. law from engaging in transactions with the sanctioned individuals.

The State Department announced in December it would impose travel bans on extremist Jewish settlers implicated in a rash of recent attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank.

Concerns about U.S. support

Since the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has occupied the West Bank, which Palestinians want as the core of an independent state. It has built Jewish settlements there that most countries deem illegal.

Israel described the vast majority of West Bank settlers as "law-abiding" on Thursday.

"Israel takes action against all law-breakers everywhere, and therefore there is no need for unusual measures on the issue," a statement from Netanyahu's office said.

Biden is facing growing criticism for his administration's strong support of Israel as casualties mount in the conflict, which began when Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, led attacks in southern Israel on Oct. 7 that, according to Israeli officials, killed about 1,200 people..

As a result of Israel's military retaliation, more than 25,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza, according to Gaza's Health Ministry.

About 380 Palestinians have also been killed and 4,200 others injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank, according to figures released this week by the Palestinian Health Ministry.

WATCH l Israelis turn to arming themselves:

Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank are arming themselves

3 months ago

Duration 2:48

Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank and other Israelis are arming themselves at the encouragement of the government in the wake of the Oct. 7 attacks. And that's raising concerns about whether the practice will protect lives, or escalate to more violence.

Biden has spoken out against retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers and pledged that those responsible for the violence will be held accountable. He said in late October that the violence by "extremist settlers" amounted to "pouring gasoline" on the already burning fires in the Middle East.

"It has to stop. They have to be held accountable. It has to stop now," Biden said.

U.S. lawmakers have zeroed in on the role of Americans or dual citizens in the settler violence and intimidation.

In a letter last month, Sen. Ben Cardin, chair of the Senate's foreign relations committee, asked the White House to take action against any U.S. citizens involved in attacks against Palestinians.

"There's got to be a strong message against the extreme activities taken by some settlers in the West Bank, jeopardizing the lives of Palestinians as well as the peace in the region," Cardin told reporters Thursday.

Biden administration officials said there are no plans to penalize far-right Israeli ministers who have defended the violence by Israeli settlers and have called for the expansion of settlements.

WATCH l Some Israelis, officials believe attacks open door to more Jewish settlements:

Israeli conference pushing Gaza settlements draws international condemnation

3 days ago

Duration 3:12

A controversial gathering promoting the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza to build Jewish settlements that was attended by high-ranking Israeli officials received international condemnation.

The new executive order comes as Biden was set to visit Michigan, a key presidential battleground state with the largest Arab American population in the country.

The Democratic president has faced sharp criticism from Arab and Muslim leaders over his handling of the war with Hamas, and some of his speeches have been interrupted by protesters.

Last week, the president's campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, travelled to suburban Detroit and found a number of community leaders unwilling to meet with her. Some frustrated by Biden's Israel policy are working to discourage voters from supporting the president in the general election.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the administration would send officials to Michigan to engage with community leaders on a range of issues, including the war.

When National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby was asked whether the timing of the order was related to domestic pressure facing Biden, Kirby said, "Not at all."

Officials have been working since November on potential action to respond to violence by settlers, he said.

With files from Reuters

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